Bills offered to regulate Florida’s oil and gas resources

June Fletcher, (@ndn_jfletcher) and Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, (@Jenna_Buzzacco)

Two Republican lawmakers want to regulate Florida’s oil and gas resources, but an environmental group argues the proposed bills don’t go far enough.

Drilling has come under increased scrutiny in the past year, partly because the Collier-Hogan well, south of Lake Trafford, was fracked at the end of 2013.

Hydraulic fracturing is not illegal in Florida, and neither Sen. Garrett Richter of Naples, nor Rep. Ray Rodrigues of Estero, is proposing such a ban — unlike some Democratic legislators.

In December, Sen. Darren Soto and Sen. Dwight Bullard filed legislation (SB 166) to ban hydraulic fracturing in the state. In January, Rep. Evan Jenne filed a similar measure (HB 169). Both bills are currently in committee.

Instead, both Republican lawmakers are calling for changes to state oil and gas law to include “high pressure well stimulation.”

Richter’s bill (SB 1468) defines the process as a “well intervention performed by injecting more than 100,000 gallons of fluids into a rock formation at high pressure” to create fractures to increase production at an oil or gas well.

He said the bill was crafted with the help of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, with input from other stakeholders including Collier County and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.

Dee Ann Miller, a spokeswoman for the DEP, said the agency collaborated with Richter on the language of the bill but could not confirm if it would suggest changes or push for its passage.

“The department will continue to review and monitor this and other related bills,” she said.

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Medicaid expansion for Fla. filed in Senate

Though its chairman this week said a bill filing would take another week or two, the Senate’s Health Policy committee quietly filed a Florida Medicaid expansion plan Thursday night.

Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando
Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando

Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, alerted fellow senators to the bill in a letter. The proposal is set to be heard by Sen. Aaron Bean’s committee next Tuesday.

“More than 800,000 uninsured Floridians can qualify for Medicaid if we decide to expand coverage,” wrote Gardiner, a vice president for the nonprofit Orlando Health hospital system. “Extra federal funds will enable more of our friends and neighbors to obtain health coverage.”

The plan – called Florida Health Insurance Affordability Exchange Program, or FHIX – would insure more working poor and require enrollees to have a job or be in school, a condition for conservatives’ approval.

“Some say Florida should not expand the existing Medicaid program and I agree,” Gardiner added. “But we have the obligation to make coverage affordable … while promoting personal responsibility.”

Though lawmakers are barely a week into the state’s 60-day legislative session, health care funding already is causing turmoil in the budgeting process.

Sen. Tom Lee, the Brandon Republican who heads Appropriations, Thursday warned that a potential loss of more than $1 billion in federal aid for hospitals could jeopardize tax cuts and school spending increases.

Republican leadership in the House disagrees, saying they expect Florida to work out a new funding deal with federal officials. The House also has refused to consider expanding Medicaid for the last two years.

State funding needs weren’t attached to the Senate’s plan (SB 7044).
Under the Affordable Care Act, however, the federal government agrees to pay 100 percent of the first-year costs and 90 percent for the subsequent three years. Florida could receive close to $51 billion over 10 years.

Under the Senate plan, individuals making up to $16,000 a year are eligible, as well as “parents who earn up to approximately $33,000 for a family of four.”

Once enrolled, patients would have to pay a monthly premium based on income, $20 to $25 for the working poor.

If those premiums aren’t paid within 30 days, the insurance is dropped and can’t be reactivated for six months.

To dissuade people from visiting emergency rooms, they’d be penalized for “inappropriate” use, $8 the first time and $25 for each time thereafter. Inappropriate usage isn’t defined in the bill.

Those provisions struck one expansion advocate as “punitive.”

If you miss a premium payment, “my private insurance doesn’t cut you off for 6 months,” said Karen Woodall, executive director of the progressive-leaning Florida Center for Economic and Fiscal Policy.

Such a condition, known as a “lockout period,” may hurt more than it helps, she added.

“If the goal is to get people to not use ERs, it’s counterproductive to shut them off for six months,” Woodall said.

Under the bill, the first participants could get coverage starting July 1.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

–James L. Rosica (@jlrosicaTBO)

New statewide mailer set to drop in murky Amendment 1 funding fight

Matt Dixon, (@Mdixon55)

After a round of television ads hit the Tallahassee media market, the Florida H2O Coalition, a group backed by business lobby Associated Industries Florida, this weekend will start sending mail pieces statewide with the message “Amendment 1 is for Everyone.”

It’s a reference to a constitutional amendment that requires 33 percent of real estate tax revenue be spent on the environment. It passed in November with 75 percent of the vote, and equates to about $750 million next year.

The coalition is in a messaging battle with The Everglades Trust, which has recently run its own television ads in Fort Myers, Orlando, Tallahassee, Tampa Bay and West Palm Beach markets. It is encouraging the state to use Amendment 1 money to buy 46,800 acres of land south of Lake Okeechobee from U.S. Sugar. The land would be used to move water from the lake south to help prevent harmful discharges from flowing down the Caloosahatchee River and into the St. Lucie Estuary toward the Indian River Lagoon.

The AIF-backed coalition says the money should be used for things like lake and river cleanup, Everglades restoration, and beach renourishment, according to a new mail piece that is dropping in every House and Senate district across the state.

It says the Everglades Trust’s push to secure money for the U.S. Sugar land buy amounts to a special interest group seeking cash for “pet projects.”

“Some special interest groups want the lion’s share of the money for their pet projects,” reads the mailer. “And that’s just wrong.”

The industry opposes the land buy, and says projects approved through the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan should be priority No. 1. The plan is a framework that aims to “protect and preserve the water resources of central and southern Florida, including the Everglades.”

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It’s unclear who is funding the high-profile messaging and political push on either side. Both organizations are setup as 501c(4) corporations, which means they don’t have to disclose their donors.

During the last election cycle, political committees run by Associated Industries of Florida, which is leading the Florida H2O Coalition’s effort, did receive nearly $1 million from U.S. Sugar and other industry interests that oppose the land buy.

The Everglades Trust has been using the sugar industry’s noted reputation as large campaign donors as a messaging weapon.

“Since 2010…sugar has been lobbying the Florida government to not go through with the deal,” according to a video on the Everglades Trust’s website.

Who is paying for the Trust’s site, its ads, or its overall push in favor of land buy is also unclear because the group also does not disclose its donors.

The land buy fight is heating up as the clock ticks on an October deadline. In order to complete the deal in time, it means lawmakers would likely have to approve the funding during the 2015 legislative session, which began last week.

The land buy has high profile opposition from House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, but last week state Sen. Joe Negron, a Republican whose district includes the Indian River Lagoon, said the state should consider the land deal. Negron is one of his chamber’s most prominent members, and is likely a future Senate president.

School leaders and charter operators meet with lawmakers to discuss charter reform

Jacob Carpenter, (@NDN_JCarpenter)

In a rare meeting by the Florida Senate’s powerful appropriations panel to discuss education policy, several of the state’s top superintendents and charter school operators made the case for charter reform Thursday.

The meeting, a sign of growing support for changes to the state’s charter law, was unusual before the full Senate Appropriations Committee because its members don’t routinely weigh in on charter schools, a subject typically confined to education committees in Tallahassee. But Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon and appropriations chairman, said he wanted “to flush out those issues” in front of the budget-crafting committee.

As the Daily News reported last year, about 125 charter schools have closed because of academic, financial or mismanagement problems since 2008.

“There are obviously issues that are circulating,” Lee said.

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Trey Radel opens media consulting company

Ryan Mills, (@NDN_RMills)

RADEL_14465132_ver1.0_640_480A little more than a year after he resigned from Congress amid a cocaine scandal, Trey Radel returned to the public spotlight Thursday with the announcement that he has launched a media consulting and management company.

Radel announced the new company, Trey Radel Media Group, at 4:30 p.m. on Twitter.

“Thank you for the kind support this past year. Proud to share what’s next,” Radel Tweeted, including a link to his company website, Attempts to reach Radel at the company’s listed phone number and email address were not immediately successful.

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