Thursday, January 30, 2014

U.S. Senate votes to delay flood insurance hikes

From U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. on Thursday:
The U.S. Senate today approved rate-hike relief for millions of homeowners covered by the government’s flood insurance program. 
By a vote of 67-32, lawmakers approved legislation advanced by Sen. Bill Nelson.  The bill would delay many of the flood insurance rate increases for four years, during which time the country's distaster agency, FEMA, would be required to study the affordability of policies and re-evaluate the accuracy of new flood maps. 
“We are finally coming to the point at which we can grant homeowners and businesses some relief from the huge, gargantuan – sometimes tenfold – increases in flood insurance premiums,” Nelson said. 
The Florida Democrat and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) led the charge for a rate-hike delay. 
Congress provided some relief for some of the affected homeowners last month when it passed the $1.1 trillion government funding bill.  
Language in that budget bill prevents the government from spending any money for the remainder of this fiscal year to enforce higher premiums on homeowners who would have seen them under new flood maps.  And it gives FEMA 60 days to provide Congress with a report on ways to keep rates more affordable. 
But, according to Nelson, that was only a partial solution that the legislation passed today seeks to remedy. 
The higher flood rates are the result of Congress having passed the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012.  It was intended to make the flood insurance program more financially sound.  The program was in a downward spiral exacerbated by damage caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. 
The measure the Senate passed today still must pass the House where tea party members have said they intend to defeat it.

Manatee elections office has certified almost 15,000 medical pot signatures

The Manatee County Supervisor of Elections has certified 14,746 of the 21,595 petitions it received in support of medical marijuana amendment, Supervisor Mike Bennett said Thursday.

The measure last week had enough petition signatures for the November 2014 ballot, and the Florida Supreme Court earlier this week ruled the ballot language meets all legal requirements.

Statewide, the measure needed 683,149 valid petition signatures by Feb. 1 to qualify for the ballot.

Bennett said his office had certified 8,420 of 11,075 petition signatures received for a water and and conservation amendment.

“My staff has worked hard verifying these two petitions over the last 6 months," Bennett said in a news release. "Both amendments will appear on the November 2014 ballot."

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Buchanan votes for farm bill, touts $250 million for citrus greening research

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, on Wednesday voted for the new 5-year farm bill, touting the money it includes for research on citrus greening, a disease threatening Florida's most valuable cash crop.

Here's a news release from Buchanan's office.
WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-FL, today voted to provide vital research funding to combat citrus greening – the deadly bacterial disease crippling Florida’s citrus industry. The five-year Farm Bill, which passed the House 251-166, includes $125 million in mandatory funding and an additional $125 million in discretionary funding -- all devoted to finding a citrus greening cure. 
“Today’s vote is a win for the Florida citrus industry and Florida jobs,” said Buchanan, the author of House legislation (H.R. 853) to combat citrus greening. “Finding a cure for this destructive disease is vital to maintaining a strong economy and protecting jobs right here at home. This measure represents a crucial step forward by securing a sustainable funding source necessary to combat this pervasive disease.” 
As the top citrus producing state in the nation, the Florida citrus industry generates $9 billion in economic activity and employs nearly 76,000 people. Sarasota and Manatee counties alone support $994 million in economic activity and employ 8,700 workers. 
“This critical funding is a wise investment in one of Florida’s signature industries,” said Michael W. Sparks, Chief Executive Officer of Florida Citrus Mutual. “I cannot thank Congressman Buchanan enough for his tireless work on this issue.” 
Buchanan is the author of separate House legislation, supported by every Florida Democrat and Republican, to provide federal funding for citrus greening research. Citrus greening first appeared in Florida citrus groves in 2005, spreading to all 32 citrus-growing counties across the state within just two years. It now affects crops in California, Texas, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Hawaii. Florida is currently suffering from the smallest orange crop harvest in 24 years. 
The measure now goes to the Senate for a vote.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Poll shows Florida Gov. Rick Scott gaining on Democratic challenger Charlie Crist

Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald reports on the latest poll on the race for Florida governor:
Gov. Rick Scott is gaining ground on former Gov. Charlie Crist in the latest survey from Public Policy Polling, which shows the Democrat leads the incumbent by just 2 percentage points. 
In late September, when PPP last polled the Florida race, Crist led by 12 points.
That net loss of 10 for Crist is fueled in great part by Republicans, who appear to be coming home to the once-deeply unpopular Scott.
GOP voters have shifted 22 points in Scott’s direction as the governor solidifies his base, according to a comparison of the two surveys by the firm, which tends to poll for Democrats and liberals.
The poll indicates Democrats have shifted 9 points in Scott’s favor. Independents have barely changed on balance. Put it all together, and Crist’s 58-30 percent lead in September is now 43-41.
Scott’s improvement was bound to happen in Florida, an evenly divided state where close elections are the norm. Indeed, Scott isn't a strong candidate. He barely beats former Weston state Sen. Nan Rich, a Democrat, 40-34 percent.
Still, Scott's fortunes appear to be improving along with the overall condition of the economy. 
Scott and the Republican Party of Florida also spent money on paid TV ads in November bashing Crist, once a Republican governor, as an “opportunist.” 
Recently, the campaign and party have shifted focus and tied Crist closer to Obamacare, which likely helps drive GOP voters farther away from Crist.

Read more here:
PPP also surveyed voters about Obamacare, same-sex marriage, guns, as well as the statewide race for attorney general. Read more here.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Rep. Vern Buchanan recovering after back surgery

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan is recovering after undergoing surgery Monday to repair a herniated disc in his back.

"The operation was successful and the congressman is expected to make a full and speedy recovery," his office said Tuesday morning in a news release.

Buchanan, 62, on Saturday postponed a scheduled appearance in Holmes Beach after his office said he had thrown out his back.

Monday, January 13, 2014

National seniors group hits TV airwaves with ad in support of Blake Medical Center's trauma center

The 60Plus Association, a national seniors advocacy group, has hit the airwaves to rally support for Blake Medical Center in Bradenton and other Florida hospitals fighting an effort to force them to close their trauma centers:
Despite all the uncertainty and heated rhetoric coming out of Washington, D.C., Florida is fortunate to still have autonomy over one of the most crucial pieces of its healthcare system- its trauma network. 
But if taxpayer-funded hospitals have their way, your local trauma center will be shut down leaving you, your family, your friends and your entire community without access to life-saving trauma care. This move to shut down privately-funded trauma centers is a prime example of anti-competitive behavior by publically-funded institutions that threatens to decrease access to life-saving care and drive up health care costs.
St. Joseph's Hospital and Tampa General Hospital recently filed motions with the First District Court of Appeals in Tallahassee to ask the court to close the trauma centers at Blake Medical Center in Manatee and Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point in Pasco, citing their own economic hardships if the new centers stay open, said Stephen Ecenia, an attorney representing Blake Medical Center, said earlier this month.

The filings were the latest move in a three-year legal battle by the publicly-funded hospitals to shutter their competitors' trauma centers. As the wrangling continues, Blake's trauma center remains open.

The 60Plus Association says it plans to spend $250,000 on ads defending the new trauma centers, targeting television viewers in the Tampa, Ocala and Tallahassee media markets:

The 60 Plus Association, which on its website acknowledges its reputation as a "conservative alternative" to the AARP, is "a non-partisan seniors advocacy group with a free enterprise, less government, less taxes approach to seniors issues."

Friday, January 10, 2014

Despite apparent decline in wealth, Rep. Vern Buchanan still one of Congress' richest members

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, in 2012 slipped from fifth place to sixth in the latest look at the wealth of members of the U.S. House.

Determining a lawmaker's exact wealth is difficult because representatives and senators only have to report their assets and liabilities in broad ranges. The Center for Responsive Politics, which compiles information gathered from publicly available disclosure forms, derives an average to develop its rankings.

In 2012, CRP said Buchanan's wealth was somewhere between a minimum net worth of minus $58.1 million  to more than $235.7 million, for an average of  $88.8 million, down from $108.2 million a year earlier.

On his 2012 disclosure form, Buchanan listed 142 assets, with a value of between $58.6 million and $259.6 million. His holdings include stocks, bonds, real estate, auto dealerships and an aircraft leasing firm.

He also listed 18 liabilities, mostly mortgages and other loans, worth between more than $26.9 million and $132 million.

Despite the apparent decline in his wealth, Buchanan did remain in the list of 10 wealthiest members of Congress, including both the House and Senate. On that list, he fell between Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., with an average wealth of almost $101.3 million, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., at $88 million.

The wealthiest member of Congress, according to CRP, is Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., at more than $464.1 million.