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Senate pill mill bill sails through committee

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011 by Dara Kam

A Senate committee this morning unanimously approved a measure strengthening the state’s yet-to-be-implemented prescription drug database and creating harsher penalties for pill mills, one of Attorney General Pam Bondi‘s top priorities.

The Senate Criminal Justice Committee also stripped out a measure that would have created made it easier for doctors to prescribe tamper-proof narcotics that prevent drug addicts from crushing the pills to snort or inject the pain meds. Most generic drug manufacturers wanted that out of the bill because no generic drugs yet come in tamper-proof form.

Bondi urged the committee to pass the bill (SB 818) to make it easier for her and other prosecutors to crack down on rogue pain management clinics and doctors.

Bondi said she’s “never seen anything like” the illicit pain medication epidemic in her 20 years as a prosecutor in Tampa and stressed the need for the prescription drug database opposed by Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Dean Cannon. A House committee recently approved a measure that would repeal the database created by lawmakers two years ago. Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, is refusing to back down from his support for the database.

“It’s unreal. It’s everywhere you go,” she said. “We need a comprehensive plan. We need the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program.”

Bondi said drug dealers thwarted by a prescription drug database in their state are flocking to the Sunshine State to purchase drugs and sell them in Appalachia.

Sen. Mike Fasano, the bill’s sponsor, also pushed the committee to sign off on his proposal.

“There’s not a person in this room today…that hasn’t been affected by this epidemic,” Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said.

Overrides a’coming in the House

Monday, March 21st, 2011 by John Kennedy

The House looks poised to take another swipe at former Gov. Charlie Crist, with Speaker Dean Cannon saying Monday that veto overrides could be coming this week on a couple of bills.

The House is looking to revive legislation killed by Crist that would give party leaders in both chambers enhanced authority over campaign cash they collect. The leadership funds legislation and another vetoed bill, shielding farm land from certain local fees, were both advanced Friday by the House State Affairs Committee.

The House has scheduled lengthy floor sessions Thursday and Friday. A two-thirds vote there would position the measures for similar Senate action.

Cannon allocates cash — and some promises

Monday, March 21st, 2011 by John Kennedy

Just hours before Senate budget panels begin work Monday afternoon, House Speaker Dean Cannon did his own bit of budget calculus — unveiling the amount of taxpayer cash he’s allocated to each of the state’s big spending categories.

As usual, education is getting the biggest share of dollars, $8.2 billion for public schools, alone. Close behind is Heath and Human Services, drawing $7.1 billion in general revenue, even as both the House and Senate look to trim future costs with a sweeping overhaul of the Medicaid program.

In outlining the spending in a memo to fellow lawmakers, Cannon also made some commitments. (more…)

Should court be able to strip lawmakers’ amendments off ballot?

Monday, March 21st, 2011 by Dara Kam

A measure that would bar the Florida Supreme Court from stripping proposed constitutional amendments off the ballot because of deficiencies in the ballot title or summary narrowly made it through its first stop in the Senate this morning.

The proposal (SB 1504) also would impose more restrictions on petition gatherers.

House Speaker Dean Cannon and Senate President Mike Haridopolos have gone after the court for tossing a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow Florida to opt out of the federal health care law. The proposal would require the court to send an amendment back to the state department with instructions on how to fix it and allow the secretary of state to alter it and then place it directly on the ballot without further court review.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. David Simmons, R-Maitland, would also:
-Require the paid signature gatherers to be eligible vote in Florida;
- Prohibit them from being paid by the petition;
- Require that their names be on all the petitions;
- Reduce from four years to 20 months the amount of time the petitions are valid.

The bill passed on a 7-5 vote, with Republican Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, joining Democrats in opposition.

Drug database repeal DOA in Senate

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Senate President Mike Haridopolos is refusing to back down from his insistence that the state’s prescription drug database get up and running despite opposition from Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Dean Cannon.

A House committee last week passed a bill repealing the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program lawmakers created two years ago but yet to be implemented. A separate bill would also scrap all of the oversight of the pill mills.

“How do I say this nicely. We have a law on the books. It’s a database. If we choose not to fund it with taxpayer dollars, whatever happens there, we have secured private sector dollars,” Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said when asked if he supports the House’s elimination of pill mill regulation. I understand how laws are passed and it has to pass both chambers. We are not going to adjust the database. We believe it’s a very good idea. I strongly believe that we have to get a handle on this…We have no interest whatsoever of scrapping that database.”

Haridopolos said he tapped his “good friend” Sen. Mike Fasano, an ardent supporter of the database who sponsored much of the legislation cracking down on pill mills, to negotiate with the House on the issue.

“We’re the pill mill capitol of the world probably. We need to stop it. We have a device that other states have used successfully…I’m very comfortable with where we’re at,” Haridopolos said.

GOP leaders send warning to GOP Gov

Monday, March 14th, 2011 by John Kennedy

House Speaker Dean Cannon  and Senate President Mike Haridopolos sent memos Monday to  lawmakers, noting they could still consider a number of overrides to vetoes made last spring by former Gov. Charlie Crist.

But is the real target here new Gov. Rick Scott?

The memos warning that the Republican-led Legislature is ready to exert its muscle, follows Scott’s decision Friday to freeze at least until July $235 million in contracts for SunRail, the Central Florida commuter rail hailed by Cannon, Haridopolos and most other Orlando-area lawmakers.

 The delay threatens the $1.2 billion rail project. And it comes just weeks after the Republican governor antagonized many lawmakers — and was unsuccessfully sued by two of them — after refusing the federal government’s offer of $2.4 billion for high-speed rail linking Tampa to Orlando.

The two leaders’ notes are worded cautiously. But the intent is clear: Scott can mess with lawmakers, but they can mess right back.

” I am directing the committee chairs to evaluate potential veto overrides in their area and, should they find a candidate for an override, to conduct a public hearing on the bill,” Cannon wrote. ” The House will take up any override formally recommended by a committee.”

Haridopolos wrote, “Over the past few weeks, several members of the Senate have also expressed an interest in considering some of the remaining vetoed bills, and it is my desire to be open and inclusive in considering these requests.”

 Budget vetoes and slightly more than a dozen bills are eligible for override, the leaders wrote. Included are one measure that would shift the state’s Department of Management Services away from sole oversight by Scott and put it under the authority of the governor and the three independently elected Cabinet officers.

Another would create so-called leadership funds. These accounts would give legislative leaders total control of what typically is millions of dollars in campaign cash they raise but must deposit within the state’s political parties.

House committee passes measure abolishing Rx drug database

Thursday, March 10th, 2011 by Dara Kam

The House Health and Human Services Committee passed a measure that would scrap the state’s yet-to-be-implemented prescription drug database.

The committee approved the bill (PCB HHSC 11-04) with a 12-5 vote after hearing testimony from supporters of the database law enforcement officials, including Attorney General Pam Bondi, believe is necessary to crack down on prescription drug abuse.

Port St. Lucie vice mayor Linda Bartz urged the committee to vote against the measure, tearfully sharing the story of her daughter’s struggle with narcotics. Bartz said she had her daughter arrested to save her life.

“I believed when I had her arrested as I believe today that she was facing imminent death from a drug overdose,” she said. She said her daughter was able to get the drugs by “doctor shopping,” which the database is designed to reduce.

“I’m one of the lucky ones. My daughter is not one of the seven yet,” Bartz said.

But committee chairman Robert Schenck, R-Spring Hill, said the database, not yet in operation, is not working and, like Gov. Rick Scott, believes it is an invasion of privacy.

“The database simply tracks the problem of most law abiding citizens and at the expense of sacrificing our privacy,” he said.

The database has House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, and Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, at odds. Cannon wants to scrap it while Haridopolos wants it up and running and is willing to pay to keep it going. Current law forbids any state money from being spent on creation or maintenance of the drug-tracking system.

UPDATE: Judge dismisses drug database protest

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: Department of Health spokeswoman Michelle Dahnke didn’t reveal much about how the agency will proceed with the database after the judge’s ruling.

“The Department will determine our next steps following a review of the ruling,” she wrote in an e-mail.

An administrative law judge today dismissed a bid protest that kept the state’s controversial drug database from being implemented but the program hailed by law enforcement officials remains in limbo.

In a 71-page order, DOAH Judge Robert Meale ruled that the Department of Health didn’t do anything wrong by awarding the bid to Health Information Designs. Competitor Optimum Technology challenged the bid, saying the department erred in calculating the companies’ proposals.

Under the Health Information Designs contract, the database will cost $887,059 to get up and running. Optimum’s bid – $565,044 – didn’t win because the company scored lower overall. The case is now closed.

The judge’s ruling paves the way for department officials to move forward with the database, but that’s unlikely to happen because Gov. Rick Scott wants lawmakers to repeal the law they passed two years ago creating it – even though they also prohibited the use of any state funds to underwrite it.


Cannon defends “this House”

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011 by John Kennedy

House Speaker Dean Cannon kicked off the 2011 session by delivering an opening address that was a fast-paced call to action.

Riffing off the theme, “This session, in this House,” Cannon laid out plans for lawmakers to overhaul Medicaid, revamp the court system, introduce teacher merit pay, steer clear of Washington hand-outs, and cut state spending by billions of dollars.

He also condemned the politics of catchy labels, criticizing such lines as “Eight is Enough,” “The Anti-Murder Act,” but avoiding any mention of new Gov. Rick Scott’s signature, “Let’s Get to Work.”

“A catchy label doesn’t make a bad idea good,” Cannon, R-Winter Park, told House members, seated in the chamber behind mountains of desktop flower arrangements, with family members at their elbows.

He also offered the reminder, “As we move forward to put together the 2011-12 budget, I would ask all of you to recall this basic truth – you cannot cut government spending without cutting government services.” (more…)

Senate prez on protests: ‘Welcome to America’

Monday, March 7th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Protests planned on tomorrow’s opening day of the 2011 legislative session by unions and tea party activists are “exciting,” Senate President Mike Haridopolos told reporters this morning.

“This is America. People have every right to protest, positively or negatively. I think it’s exciting that people are taking such an interest in their government and they want to be vocal about where they stand,” the Merritt Island Republican, running for U.S. Senate, said. “If there are protests on either side, welcome to America.”

Asked if the protests might reach the heated level as Wisconsin, where union activists have camped out for weeks in the Capitol, Haridopolos shrugged.

“It might happen. If I was a protester and I had the choice of going to Wisconsin or Florida, I’d probably come here too,” he quipped.


Cannon shows his cards — sorta

Monday, March 7th, 2011 by John Kennedy

House Speaker Dean Cannon says he has no immediate political ambition beyond leading the state House the next two years.

But he could have a future as a Texas hold ‘em poker player.

Cannon on Monday unveiled some dramatic House positions on the courts, pill mills, immigration and Medicaid — on the eve of the Legislature’s opening. He also delivered them using what has become a typical Cannon approach: deeply layered policy changes formed with seemingly little attention paid to those most affected.

As a rising House member, Cannon used a similar tactic in advancing measures affecting property taxes, Medicaid and offshore oil-drilling.  But unlike past years, Cannon floated his ideas out early Monday — instead of the waning hours of a legislative session. (more…)

Cannon ready to revamp Supreme Court

Monday, March 7th, 2011 by John Kennedy

House Speaker Dean Cannon, wrangling with the Florida Supreme Court since it killed three constitutional amendments pushed last year by the Republican Legislature, unveiled his latest idea Monday — overhaul the Supreme Court.

Cannon said the House will propose creating two, five-member Supreme Courts, one charged with overseeing civil matters, the other criminal cases. Justices from the current, seven-member court could form the core of the new, 10-justice lineup, but there would be no guarantees, he conceded.

The Winter Park lawmaker, during a briefing with reporters, also said he wants to change existing merit retention election standards. He’d require appellate justices to win the support of more than 60 percent of voters to stay on the bench. Currently, justices only need to secure a majority. (more…)

Worst budget year and ideology drives GOP cuts

Sunday, March 6th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Facing the worst budget year in memory, new Republican Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP-packed Florida Legislature begin the 2011 session this week, pledging to slash spending and make good on campaign pledges that powered them last fall.

With the approach of the opening day Tuesday, unions, teachers and scores of groups in the cross hairs of budget cuts have been rallying against Scott and fellow Republican leaders who, in turn, are pulling support from tea party loyalists eager to shrink government.

Though it hasn’t commanded the national attention of Wisconsin and other partisan battlegrounds, purple state Florida is in for a bruising spring, with lawmakers looking to close a $3.6 billion budget hole and revive an economy flat-lined by an almost 12 percent jobless rate.

“Priority number one is the budget,” said House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park. “Everything else is number two.”

But it’s not a simple numbers game.

Political ideology is shading most of the exchanges between Republicans in power and Democrats pushed to Florida’s fringe by the November elections.

Read full story here:



Cannon gets to work — jobless watch out!

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011 by John Kennedy

In the ‘let’s get to work’ House, Speaker Dean Cannon told lawmakers in a memo Thursday that one of the first bills slated for action next week will dramatically change the playing field for Florida’s jobless.

Cannon, R-Winter Park, said the House’s rewrite of state unemployment compensation laws will be poised for final approval the opening week of the session.

CS/HB 7005 would cut the maximum weeks of state benefits from 26 to 20, and make it easier for employers to challenge those seeking unemployment benefits.

Business organizations have been clamoring for the changes — warning that a sharp hike in the unemployment tax rate paid by employers will lead to more job losses. Florida has 1.1 million people out-of-work, almost 12 percent of the population.

The legislation poised for House action also ties the length of benefits to the state unemployment rate. Benefits would last 20 weeks if the unemployment rate is 9 percent or higher, but would fall to as low as 12 weeks as the economy improves. (more…)

Scott says no thanks to feds’ $2.4 billion for hi-speed rail

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott announced this morning he’s rejecting $2.4 billion in federal stimulus money from President Obama’s administration for a high-speed rail project from Orlando to Tampa.

Scott made the announcement at a hastily-called press conference this morning where he blasted the president’s budget.

“You don’t have to be an economics expert to know when you spend more money than you take in you will fail,” Scott said, saying ridership studies were overstated.

Scott’s move will certainly draw cheers from tea party activists who have railed against the high-speed rail project. Scott, who rolled out his budget at a tea party event earlier this month, met privately with two Tampa tea party activists last week. The pair urged him to say no to the high-speed rail project that had the support of powerful GOP legislative leaders as well as Republican U.S. Rep. John Mica, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

“I am deeply disappointed in the decision to not move forward with the Orlando to Tampa passenger rail project,” Mica said in a statement. “This is a huge setback for the state of Florida, our transportation, economic development, and important tourism industry.”

Scott was also asked about Central Florida’s controversial $1.2 billion SunRail project — which critics have called a worse deal for taxpayers than high-speed rail.

“I’m still reviewing SunRail,” the governor said.

House Speaker Dean Cannon issued an ambiguous statement about Scott’s decision to scrap the project that would have brought jobs to his hometown.

“I have not spoken to the Governor regarding today’s announcement, but I watched the Governor’s press conference. I’m encouraged that he is focusing on the practical realities of government programs, and their long-term impacts. As the Constitutional officer charged with carrying out transportation policy, the Governor seems to have determined that at this time he cannot feasibly implement high-speed rail in Florida. I have confidence that he will bring the same level of scrutiny to other issues,” Cannon, R-Winter Park, said.

Crist, Sink rally in Tally against offshore drilling

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Former Gov. Charlie Crist and former Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink will lead a bipartisan rally today to support a constitutional ban on offshore drilling today.

Crist, a Republican-turned-independent, and Sink, a Democrat, will appear with lawmakers and others at an event at 12:30 on the steps of the Old Capitol in Tallahassee.

Crist called lawmakers in for a special session last year to pass a similar amendment to put on the November 2010 ballot, but they snubbed him. The legislature met briefly and adjourned without doing anything after Crist abandoned the GOP and became an independent to avoid a Republican primary in the U.S. Senate race, which he eventually lost to Marco Rubio.

Before leaving office in January, Sink struggled to get BP claims czar Ken Feinberg to improve his claims process after tens of thousands of Panhandle residents, and hundreds of Floridians throughout the state, complained about problems with his Gulf Coast Claims Facility.

That system remains troubled as Feinberg is set to begin making final payments to more than 500,000 applicants for damages caused by the April 20 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

Yesterday, senators discussed creating a state system for victims of BP’s massive oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico to expedite the claims system.

Next Friday, Feinberg will appear before a House committee at the behest of House Speaker Dean Cannon. Hundreds of Panhandle officials and residents are expected to show up. Complaints about Feinberg’s payments from the $20 billion fund set up by BP include delays, an inability to find out where claims are in the process, and inconsistencies in who gets paid and how much.

A federal judge recently ruled that Feinberg is not independent of BP, as he contends, and ordered him to quit saying that he is.

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood is so fed up with Feinberg’s erratic claims system that on Monday he asked a federal judge to take it over “to facilitate the timely and just processing of claims.”

House speaker sets up government reorg committee

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011 by Dara Kam

House Speaker Dean Cannon created a new committee to look into reorganizing state government, a good for Gov. Rick Scott and his ambitious plan to merge agencies and shift agency functions, something that requires legislative action.

Cannon’s memo to House members about the Select Committee on Government Reorganization expressed skepticism of Scott’s pledge to run government more like a business but the goal of the committee dovetails with the governor’s proposal to combine certain departments and possibly do away with others.

“Privatization, performance standards, running government like a business, and information technology are appealing ideas but not panaceas. Reform cannot consist of simply combining, recombining, dividing, or redividing government agencies. Our goal instead is to engage in the work of identifying the specific and necessary work of government in order to eliminate the extraneous tasks that have been added over the years. Florida government should be focused on core goals and structured to achieve those goals,” Cannon, R-Winter Park, wrote.

Rep. John Legg, R-Port Richey, will chair the committee.

The committee will “look at government programs that purport to promote or regulate private sector economic activity and “look at government programs involved with health and human service delivery systems.”

Scott’s transition team recommended merging the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Department of Health and to combine the departments of Community Affairs, Environmental Protection and Transportation to streamline permitting and regulations.

House, Senate will hold 20 hearings on redistricting

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011 by Dara Kam

House and Senate leaders will hold at least 20 public hearings throughout the state regarding the drawing of Florida’s legislative and Congressional seats, Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairman Don Gaetz announced today.

House Speaker Dean Cannon, who yesterday asked to join the lawsuit challenging one of the amendments approved by voters barring lawmakers from drawing districts that favor incumbents or parties, has yet to appoint his members to the House’s redistricting committee.

But Gaetz said that should happen soon and that the House and Senate will hold joint meetings around the state to get the public’s input on the new districts.

Florida lawmakers should be able to begin drawing new districts as early as the end of March when the block-by-block census data is scheduled to be released.

Lawmakers draw the new districts for legislative and Congressional seats every 10 years.

But they’ll have to do it differently this year based on two amendments overwhelmingly approved by voters in November that bar lawmakers from drawing districts that favor incumbents or parties.

Days after he took office, Gov. Rick Scott withdrew the state’s request to the feds to sign off on the amendments. Florida is one of several states that require U.S. Department of Justice approval before any changes are made to voting rights and elections.

Lawmakers fiercely opposed the amendments last year and tried to put their own redistricting amendment on the ballot to counteract Amendments 5 and 6, or the “Fair Districts” amendments, placed on the ballot through the petition initiative process. But the Florida Supreme Court threw out the legislature’s amendment, ruling it was misleading to voters.

UPDATE: Dems outraged over Scott secret withdrawal of redistricting amendments

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: A spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott responded to his withdrawal of redistricting amendments for federal approval.

“Consistent with Governor Scott’s effort to assess the rules, regulations and contracts of the previous administration, he has withdrawn the letter requesting a DOJ review of Amendments 5 and 6. Census data has not been transmitted to the state yet and the Legislature will not undertake redistricting for months, so this withdrawal in no way impedes the process of redrawing Florida’s legislative and congressional districts,” Scott spokesman Brian Hughes said in an e-mail.

In his first few days on the job, Gov.Rick Scott quietly withdrew the state’s request for a federal go-ahead to move forward with two redistricting amendments overwhelmingly approved by voters in November.

Scott sent the request to the U.S. Department of Justice, which has to sign off on any changes to Florida elections laws affecting voters’ rights, on Jan. 7, just two days after he announced the reappointment of Department of State Secretary Kurt Browning. After Browning left Gov. Charlie Crist’s administration last year, he headed up a political committee that fought Amendments 5 and 6, aka the “Fair Districts” amendments. Crist’s temporary secretary of the state department submitted the application for “preclearance” to DOJ officials on Dec. 10

Scott’s move, offered with no explanation to the feds and no public announcement, left Democrats and supporters of the amendments hopping mad, and the state’s top Democrat is demanding Scott resubmit the preclearance application.


House Speaker orders investigation into oil spill claims system

Thursday, January 13th, 2011 by Dara Kam

House Speaker Dean Cannon is asking his economic development committee to investigate reports of problems with the Gulf Coast Claims Facility payments to BP oil spill victims.

BP claims czar Ken Feinberg has paid out almost $1.2 billion to nearly 70,000 claimants.

But more than twice that many claims – about 157,000 – remain in the system.

“Recently, numerous breakdowns and inconsistencies within the claims process have been brought to my attention,” Cannon, R-Orlando, wrote to House Economic Affairs Committee Chairwoman Dorothy Hukill.

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