The day in Tallahassee, March 10, 2009
The Associated Press
Florida will apply for its first installment of federal Medicaid stimulus money, Gov. Charlie Crist said Monday at a meeting of the Florida Hospital Association.
Paperwork will be filed Tuesday to increase the federal share of the state-federal health care program for the poor from 55.4 percent to 67.6 percent and that would send $817 million in stimulus to Florida for a six-month period retroactive to October.
As a result, the state would save money on the Medicaid program that can be used for other purposes such as avoiding a potential budget deficit and cutting other programs. The Legislature, though, would have to appropriate the additional federal dollars before it could be used for anything.
Gov. Charlie Crist and Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink warned lawmakers Tuesday to keep their hands off the $8 billion Florida Prepaid College Plan.
Crist and Sink said they oppose any notion of taking dollars from the trust fund that holds and invests money for families who have prepaid their child’s college tuition at today’s rates.
Some state senators floated an idea last week of borrowing some cash from the fund to help pay some of the state’s bills amid an anticipated $5 billion budget gap in the upcoming fiscal year which begins July 1. Florida is required to maintain a balanced budget.
The organizer of a day that brought nearly 200 Florida Muslims to the state Capitol to lobby politicians Tuesday was called a "known terrorist sympathizer" by a head lawmaker and others, a label the leader emphatically rejected.
House Majority Leader Adam Hasner said his colleagues should learn more about the head of Tampa-based United Voices For America before deciding whether to meet with any of the men and women at the Capitol for Florida Capitol Muslim Day. The group is about a year old and has four staff members and about 100 volunteers around the state. It had urged Muslims to come to talk to lawmakers about education and health care issues.
Rep. Will Weatherford thought class size limits were a good idea when, as a college student, he joined millions of other Floridians in voting for them nearly seven years ago.
Now faced with having to pay for the smaller classes as a lawmaker, he’s still not opposed to the concept but wants to loosen the requirements to give schools some leeway and save money.
Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, is sponsoring a proposed state constitutional amendment (HJR 919) that would ask voters to modify what they passed in 2002.
The measure cleared its first committee Tuesday. The largely party-line vote in the House Pre-kindergarten-12 Policy Committee was 10-3. All Republicans and one Democrat voted for it. The other Democrats were against it.
Former Miami Heat basketball star and kidney transplant recipient Alonzo Mourning met with lawmakers and Gov. Charlie Crist on Tuesday to urge passage of a law to help more Floridians get needed transplants.
Looking up to the 6-foot-10 Mourning in the governor’s office, Crist promised his support.
He invited Mourning to the signing ceremony if the legislation gets to his desk. Mourning responded by inviting Crist to the Heat’s March 30 home game against the Orlando Magic for a ceremony to retire his No. 33 jersey.
Similar bills (SB 1022, HB 675) have been filed in the Senate and House. The House version has cleared the first of three committees, but the Senate bill hasn’t yet been heard in committee.
A proposal to cap the growth of state and local taxes, fees, fines and other revenues cleared its first legislative committee Tuesday, but the panel’s chairman predicted lawmakers won’t take any final action until next year.
That would be plenty of time, though, because it wouldn’t go on the ballot until the 2010 election.
The Senate Community Affairs Committee heard arguments that echoed a similar debate in the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission before that panel decided against putting a similar proposed amendment on the ballot last year.
The tax commission won’t meet again for another 20 years, but lawmakers are in session annually.
Florida would remove state sales tax on electric cars and give businesses who use them a tax credit under a bill moving through the House.
Rep. Adam Hasner, who leased an electric car for 90 days last year, is sponsoring the legislation (HB 879). The House Energy & Utilities Policy Committee unanimously approved the bill Tuesday.
Afterward, Hasner, a Republican from Delray Beach, said: "This is a way for Florida to take the lead in advancing the electric car movement and getting more cars on the road that use zero gas and have zero emissions."
The bill also would provide a $2,000 rebate for the first 100 entities that install public recharging stations for electric cars.
When lawmakers debate bills that could affect Kim Glusky’s autistic son she can virtually look over their shoulders from the comfort of her central Florida home.
Legislative floor action and certain committee meetings flow onto her computer screen by way of streaming video available on the Legislature’s "Online Sunshine" Web site. She particularly monitors potential budget cuts that could gut her 18-year-old son’s residential care program.
Online Sunshine links to separate House and Senate sites that let citizens search for bills that may interest them, follow the progress of each measure through committee and floor votes and read staff analyses that explain what they would do, including their cost. Bill information is not only available for the current legislative session that runs through May 1, but back to 1998.