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Scott on ObamaCare: “no is not an answer”

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott continued Wednesday to shift away from his once staunch opposition to the federal health care overhaul, with his office underscoring his willingness to negotiate how Florida can take part in the effort.

Scott last week told the Palm Beach Post that ”just saying no is not an answer,” to the Affordable Care Act, a position that has become clear following President Obama’s re-election.  Scott had expected the election of Republican Mitt Romney and a Republican-controlled Congress to lead to repeal of the 2010 law.

But Thursday, Scott’s office issued a press release containing an Associated Press story in which the governor is quoted saying he is looking to work with federal officials on implementing the law in Florida.

“The election is over and President Obama won. I’m responsible for the families of Florida…If I can get to yes, I want to get to yes,” Scott is quoted.

The health care law requires consumers to carry insurance beginning in 2014 face a penalty.  Coverage would be purchased through online health marketplaces — called exchanges — employer-provided insurance, Medicaid or Medicare. Some who can’t afford insurance will be eligible for subsidies.

If Florida doesn’t establish its own exchanges, the federal government will do it for the state. Scott and other governors have until Friday to tell federal officials if they plan to implement their own exchanges. States planning to do so must supply a blueprint by Dec. 14.

Scott and incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, both acknowledge that Florida would be hard-pressed to meet these deadlines. Scott and Republican leaders in the Legislature effectively have ignored provisions of the Affordable Care Act, rejecting millions of dollars in benefits already offered states.

 

Weatherford rounds out leadership team

Monday, October 22nd, 2012 by John Kennedy

Incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford continued Monday to round out his leadership team, naming some close allies to top spots in the chamber he’ll soon command following the Nov. 6 elections.

 Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, named Rep. Rob Schenck, R-Spring Hill as Rules Committee chairman, a role that gives the six-year lawmaker major influence over what legislation makes it to the House floor.

Schenck had been Health and Human Services Committee chairman the past two years, and helped shape the Legislature’s move to revamp Medicaid into mostly a managed-care program, a change still awaiting federal approval.

Rep. Marti Coley, R-Marianna, was named speaker pro tempore; and Rep. Chris Dorworth, R-Lake Mary, who is in line to succeed Weatherford, was appointed majority leader. Coley and Dorworth will play a significant role in guiding the House Republican caucus.

Weatherford has already named Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, as appropriations chairman.

Weatherford adds Mears, Duffy to House speaker’s office

Thursday, June 7th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, has begun staffing up in anticipation of taking over the state House reins following the November elections.

Weatherford on Thursday announced he has hired veteran Capitol aide Kathy Mears as his chief-of-staff. Mears began her Tallahassee career as spokeswoman for then-House Speaker Daniel Webster, R-Winter Garden, who in 1996 became the first Republican to lead the Florida House in 122 years.

Mears has since been a deputy chief-of-staff and legislative director under Gov. Charlie Crist, a deputy chief and communications director for Senate President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, and spokeswoman for Senate President Tom Lee, R-Brandon.

Weatherford also named Ryan Duffy as his communications director. Duffy recently worked as spokesman for the Republican leadership team in the House, and formerly was a speechwriter for Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Mel Martinez. He was also a deputy communications director for former Attorney General Bill McCollum’s gubernatorial campaign in 2010.

GOP leaders praise lawmaker heading toward exit

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012 by John Kennedy

Leading Republicans praised a Central Florida House member who formally announced Tuesday that he was at least temporarily ending his legislative career — rather than challenge a fellow GOP lawmaker in a redrawn House district.

Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, who is in his second term representing parts of Orlando, revealed his decision in a Tuesday Op-Ed in the Orlando Sentinel. Eisnaugle said he wouldn’t duel with “my friend and fellow conservative,” Rep. Steve Precourt, R-Orlando, for the House District 44 seat they both share in the new, redistricted House map.

Precourt is a close ally of  incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.  But Eisnaugle’s decision to take one for the team also helped underscore the position of House and Senate Republican leaders that legislative and congressional maps were not drawn to help incumbents, a view apparently now shared by courts and federal officials, who have given the plans the go-ahead.

Florida Republican Chairman Lenny Curry said Eisnaugle’s “decision to put his family and his personal commitments above himself is commendable.”

Weatherford also held out the possibility that Eisnaugle’s decision to step aside — for now — may help his political future.

“ He is a true rising star,” Weatherford said of Eisnaugle. “I believe he will continue to earnestly serve his community, not as an elected official, but as a neighbor and a friend. That’s the kind of leadership that earns the trust of voters; it’s why I believe he will be back in the Florida Legislature one day.”

Court rules against Democrats in congressional redistricting

Monday, April 30th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Florida Democrats were dealt another blow in redistricting Monday when a Leon Circuit Court judge denied their bid to have the 27-seat congressional plan declared invalid.

The ruling by Judge Terry Lewis comes after the Florida Supreme Court on Friday upheld the Republican-ruled Legislature’s map for redrawing Senate boundaries. Democrats and allied organizations also had sought to have the Senate plan ruled unconstitutional for favoring incumbent Republicans and hurting minority voters.

Earlier in the day Monday, the House also announced that the U.S. Justice Department had concluded its review of the House, Senate and congressional maps and determined that they complied with the Voting Rights Act. The preclearance determination is a key step in assuring that the redistricting plans will be in place for candidate qualifying, June 4-8.

Democrats did not immediately respond to the actions. But Republicans cast the federal approval as effectively the end of the redistricting fight.

“Today’s preclearance by the U.S. Department of Justice signifies the final approval of the state legislative and congressional maps passed by the Florida legislature,” said House Redistricting Chairman Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. “I appreciate the hard work of my colleagues and all of the input we received from Floridians throughout the process.  With their help, we were able to draw fair and compact maps that puts the interests of Floridians over the interests of politicians.”

A week after redistricting finished, Bondi still holds Senate plan

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012 by John Kennedy

A week after the Florida House approved the Legislature’s latest attempt to redraw Senate districts, the plan Tuesday still had not been forwarded by Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi to the state Supreme Court.

Bondi’s delay is raising concerns among Democrats — who say it’s part of a larger GOP strategy to heighten pressure on the court and U.S. Justice Department, which also must approve the state plan. Candidate qualifying is set to begin June 4, and the timetable for the reviews already comes close to hitting that deadline.

 ”Florida Republicans efforts to delay the court’s review of the maps is nothing more than a Hail Mary pass,” said Florida Democratic Party spokeswoman Brannon Jordan. ”After the Florida Supreme Court’s historic rejection of the first state Senate map, Republicans are not confident their second gerrymandered map can withstand court muster so they are stalling.”

The week that has passed since the special session ended with a redrawn Senate plan represents a marked contrast to Bondi’s speed in sending both a House and Senate redistricting proposal to the court in February.  Under state law, Bondi has 15 days to act after legislative approval.

But when the first plans were approved, Bondi sent the maps to justices about 24 hours after the final vote in the Senate. At that time, Republican legislative leaders had talked of fixing any failings the court might find in the maps while the Legislature was still in session.

Instead, justices unanimously approved the House plan. But they rejected the Senate’s proposal in a 5-2 decision also made public March 9, the last day of the regular session. The special session which ended last Tuesday was called by Gov. Rick Scott for lawmakers to redraw the Senate map.

House Redistricting Committee Chairman Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said he has “no idea” why Bondi has held the revamped plan a week.  Bondi’s office said the attorney general has until April 11 to file a petition with justices.

“We will file the petition by the deadline,” said Bondi spokeswoman, Jennifer Meale.

Weatherford said he is confident, “it will not have an effect on the (qualifying) deadline.”

But Democrats say the clock-eating approach fits a pattern.

Attorneys for the Republican-led Legislature have already sought — unsuccessfully — to have a trial delayed until after the November elections on the lawsuit filed by Democrats and allied organizations challenging proposed congressional district boundaries.

Last week, Bondi joined with House and Senate attorneys in asking federal officials to begin their review of the new Senate plan — even before it goes to the state Supreme Court.

 But Democrats think that request, likely a longshot, may be mostly public relations. They say it’s intended to blunt accusations that Republicans are stalling  in hopes courts will adopt the current map to avoid adding chaos to the candidate filing period.

“I don’t know if the Justice Department will look at the Senate map,” Weatherford said. “But now there’s nothing stopping them.

“The Supreme Court could look at it, too, even before it’s sent by the attorney general. It’s all online,” Weatherford said. 

 

Weatherford’s pitch for bipartisan backing of budget falls flat

Friday, March 9th, 2012 by John Kennedy

A last-ditch appeal for bipartisan support from Speaker-designateWill Weatherford  fell flat Friday night, as the House voted 80-37 in a partyline vote to approve the state’s $70 billion budget for 2012-13.

A Senate vote is expected later Friday.

Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said that it has only been over the last six years that Democrats began voting against the state budgets, and he called for the minority party to put aside differences and join Republicans in approving the plan.

No dice.

Rep. Scott Randolph of Orlando was among the Democrats who blistered the budget for cutting university spending, reducing hospital payments, and doing nothing to lift motorist tax- and fee-hikes approved three years ago.

“You are all taxing the middle class and you are taxing them out of existence,” Randolph said.

Following Randolph, Weatherford’ s appeal for bipartisanship fell flat.

“This is an opportunity for you to rise above party,” Weatherford said.

Senate redistricting plan rejected by court; House proposal OK’d

Friday, March 9th, 2012 by John Kennedy

The Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the Legislature’s plan for redrawing Senate districts was unconstitutional — a decision that will bring lawmakers back into a special redistricting session later this month.

Justices upheld the House maps. But the Senate plan was ruled lacking in the way senators drew minority districts and relied on “communities of interest,” in its determination of compactness, required under the constitutional amendments 5 and 6.

“We recognize that the Senate did not have the benefit of our opinion when drawing its plan. However, it is clear from a facial review of the Senate plan that the pick and choose method for existing boundaries was not balanced,” Justice Barbara Pariente wrote for the majority.

The court unanimously endorsed the House plan but rejected the Senate’s in a 5-2 decision. Chief Justice Charles Canady and Justice Ricky Polston said they thought the majority overreached in ruling the Senate plan was flawed.

The court also didn’t accept how senators had districts renumbered to affect which two-year election cycle they fall in; this would insure that most incumbents could serve as many as 10 years in the chamber, a provision also seized on by justices. Senators are normally limited to two four-year terms.

“Adopting a renumbering system that significantly advantages incumbents by increasing the length of time that they may serve by two years most assuredly favors incumbents,” justices wrote. “Further, purposefully manipulating the numbering of the districts in order to allow incumbents to serve in excess of eight years would also appear to frustrate the intent of the voters when the term limits amendment was adopted.”

House Redistricting Chairman Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, announced to the full House Thursday morning that the maps drawn by House members was accepted by the court. That drew a lengthy, standing ovation from representatives.

House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, later added the caveat about the Senate plan, telling lawmakers they would be returning soon for a special session.

The Florida Democratic Party, which challenged the maps as drawn to assure continued Republican dominance, praised the justices’ ruling — although they rejected many of the party’s arguments.

“Today’s ruling is a victory for the people of Florida.” said Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith. “This ruling confirms what we had anticipated, that the Senate map violated Fair Districts. We applaud the court for stepping in to implement the will of the voters of Florida. We look forward to getting down to the business of drawing maps that comply with the expectations of the people, as expressed in these constitutional amendments.”

Session sleepwalks toward finish

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012 by John Kennedy

The Florida Legislature’s last week of session is usually a frenzied time of bills passing and last-minute cajoling by lawmakers to keep other must-pass measures from fading into oblivion.

It’s usually not a time when the House and Senate adjourn, as they did Wednesday, well before nightfall.

“Anti-climactic in the last week of session is usually a good thing,” said Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, in line to become House speaker this fall. “I think the citizens want us to do our work on time, under budget, and get out of town, without too many fireworks. And, hopefully, that’s what we’ll see in the next 48 hours.”

A decision on whether to revamp the state’s personal injury protection requirements for motorists looms as the only big-ticket issue both the House and Senate are working toward a consensus.

Gov. Rick Scott also wants a deal on PIP, which leaders say is rife with fraud.But settling the issue also involves untangling a knot of well-connected doctors, lawyers, pain management clinics and insurers.

A special session on PIP, however, is expected if a deal isn’t done by Friday’s scheduled finish.

Other than PIP, a $70 billion budget awaits a Friday vote. And a Supreme Court ruling on the Legislature’s redistricting plans could emerge by week’s end, which could also force a special session before the month is out.

But when asked about other finish-line priorities, Weatherford was coy.

“We want to pass our bills,” Weatherford said.

House OK’s new district maps in partyline vote

Friday, February 3rd, 2012 by John Kennedy

In partyline votes, the House on Friday approved redrawn boundaries for legislative and congressional districts — sending the maps back to the Senate, which is expected to sign-off on the proposal next week.

The move came with few fireworks. But it did include efforts by ruling Republicans and outnumbered Democrats to set some legal standards for redistricting’s upcoming course through the courts.

Spanning seven hours of debate over two days, Democrats basically charged the proposed maps again pack minority voters into select districts, “bleaching” surrounding seats to make them more likely to elect Republican lawmakers. Democrats say maps were flawed early, when Republicans sought to maintain current minority access districts.

House Redistricting Committee Chairman Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, denied the allegation.

“The last thing we would ever want to do is pack, and there is none of that in any way, shape or form,” Weatherford said.

Weatherford also blistered Democrats for listening more to legal advice than judging the merits of the maps.

“If a decision is based on politics, and if you’re pushing the red button because an attorney told you to, I can’t respect that,” Weatherford said.

House poised to OK new redistricting maps; Democrats ready for court

Friday, February 3rd, 2012 by John Kennedy

Redrawn legislative and congressional district maps, which Democrats say will unfairly maintain Florida’s Republican dominance,  are readied for a final vote Friday in the state House.

Redistricting Chairman Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, withstood hours of questioning Thursday from Democrats. He denied that new electoral boundaries were drawn to help or hurt incumbents, or assure that Republicans retain control of the Legislature or congressional delegation.

“At no point, were these maps drawn with any political intent,” Weatherford said.

But the Democrats are clearly looking to build a legal case against the maps, which must be reviewed by the state Supreme Court and the U.S. Justice Department, to assure minority-voting rights are protected.

The House is poised to vote Friday, sending the plans back to the Senate for final action, probably next week. The courts would then begin their work.

Here’s the rest of the story: http://bit.ly/yaNwA4

Weatherford says West not being targeted by Legislature

Monday, January 30th, 2012 by John Kennedy

House redistricting maps slated for a vote this week put a number of incumbent Republicans in tough spots, including U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Plantation.

But the chairman of the House Redistricting Committee, Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, fired off a statement Monday refuting lingering speculation that West was being singled out.

In both the House and Senate congressional plans, West loses a Republican-leaning section of his district in northern Palm Beach County to the seat now held by fellow Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Tequesta.

Rooney’s brother, Patrick, is a Republican state representative from West Palm Beach. The Rooney family’s ownership of  Palm Beach Kennel Club also has positioned them as political players in Tallahassee for decades.

“There are rumors that the Florida Legislature has targeted Congressman Allen West,” Weatherford said Monday. “This is patently false. I personally have supported and endorsed Allen West. I will continue to support this extraordinary member of Congress who has brought a much needed conservative voice to Washington, D.C.

“However, my personal support cannot and will not trump the Constitution,” Weatherford said, pointing out that the redistricting effort is guided by a range of state and federal standards.

West apparently doesn’t feel he’s getting the short end of the stick from state lawmakers. West’s chief of staff, Jonathan Blyth, told the Post last month his boss is taking a long view of the redistricting proposals, which may undergo further changes following eventual court reviews.

“This is the second minute of the first round of a boxing match,” Blyth said, when the House congressional maps surfaced and bore a strong resemblance to those out of the Senate.

While West loses a key piece of Palm Beach County, the redistricting plans push him deeper into Democratic-leaning Broward County.

Rooney’s district is reduced from a rambling eight counties to a more manageable four, under both the House and Senate proposals. But while still Republican-leaning, Rooney’s district doesn’t clearly favor the GOP, since it also acquires large portions of St. Lucie County that backed Barack Obama in 2008.

Education officials urge Scott to put down veto pen

Thursday, May 19th, 2011 by John Kennedy

State education officials are trying to get Gov. Rick Scott to back away from his veiled threat earlier this week to veto millions of dollars in college and university building projects to ease the state’s rising tide of red ink.

Ava Parker, chair of the State University System’s Board of Governors, wrote Scott assuring him Thursday that the robust list of bond-financed projects — topping $123 million– was needed repairs, renovations and expansions by the schools.

Governor, you can be assured that the entire list of State University System PECO projects as listed in the 2011 state budget on your desk adheres to all standards, were approved by their respective university boards of trustees, and are among the top priorities for the State University System,” Parker wrote, urging the chief executive to contact her or Chancellor Frank Brogan before wielding his veto pen.

Locally, among the projects is $3.2 million for new roofs and other maintenance at Florida Atlantic University.

More troubling, however, may be the $46 million worth of campus expansion, new buildings and renovations wedged in by Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, for his favored University of South Florida Polytechnic in Lakeland.

More than $100 million in Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) projects for the state college system also is getting a close look. Included among them is $7.3 million for a west campus building at Palm Beach State College.

The governor also may be looking toward at least one that could be seasoned with pork: a $7 million classroom building at Pasco-Hernando Community College, included in the budget late and in the hometown of House speaker-in-waiting Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.

 Scott has until June 1 to act on the $69.7 billion budget approved earlier this month by lawmakers.

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