- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

April 19

Miami Herald on online voting registration:

Online voting registration is an idea whose time has come. And why not? It’s favored by all 67 election supervisors in the state, most legislators and the League of Women Voters.

Currently, Florida law says those registering to vote must mail or deliver a paper registration form to an elections office, or they can apply when getting a driver’s license at the Division of Motor Vehicles.

After confirming eligibility to vote, the elections office then must manually transfer prospective voters’ information into its computer database - not a very nimble process. If Floridians could register online, the information could more easily and more accurately be transferred.

But the idea is getting a lot of pushback from Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who also is the state’s elections chief. In the past two weeks, Detzner has testified before two state Senate committees. Each time, he offered up dire consequences for online voter registration.

Detzner says fraud could be rampant and he’s worried about having to coordinate with 67 counties while his agency and the state highway safety department, which oversees driver’s licenses, are both upgrading their databases - the backbone of the system used to verify voters’ identities.

Detzner has even cited “forces of evil” that he said will conspire to disrupt elections.

Some lawmakers have slapped down his concerns. Let’s face it, the “forces of evil” seeking to disrupt state elections have come from inside, not outside, the Scott administration. How about the purge of voter rolls in 2012 and the squirrelly tactics to clamp down on early voting in 2014?

And as for fraud, Detzner is right to be concerned. However, again, this administration has turned a blind eye to reforming absentee balloting, where fraud is well documented, and has focused on keeping people - especially Democratic-voting people - from easily voting at the polls.

While online registration is not foolproof, neither is today’s process, sometimes abused. Miami-Dade County alone has seen questionably marked absentee ballots, dead people casting votes and other fraudulent behavior.

So far, none of the 20 states with online registration has reported major problems. And election supervisors in both parties say electronic registration will save money and reduce the possibility of human error and fraud.

To address Detzner’s concerns, lawmakers have offered to adopt online voting registration after the 2016 presidential election, moving the start date to October 2017. Senate Bill 228 only requires Detzner to show the Legislature his timetables for implementing the system by Jan. 1, 2016.

Why such strong opposition to a practice adopted in other states with little fanfare? Skeptical lawmakers say that all this might have to do with the governor’s political ambitions. Should he run for the U.S. Senate in 2018, online registration could create a flood of new voters - younger, minority - who have not supported him in past elections. If true, Mr. Scott would not be the first elected official looking for political advantage. But he and Detzner should be thinking first of what’s to their constituents’ - and Florida’s - advantage.

Low turnout, barely reaching 20 percent in recent major elections, is an embarrassing reality. If more people are given the convenience of registering online, more citizens have the ability to vote.

Lawmakers should pass this progressive legislation, and Detzner needs to get on board.




April 21

Tampa (Florida) Tribune on the state’s health care mess:

Gov. Rick Scott’s threat to sue the federal government over the Low Income Pool program, known as LIP, could be devastating to hospitals that treat people without insurance.

At Tampa General Hospital, it means a sudden $86 million loss in funding unless a resolution is found. The state should find a way out of this mess that doesn’t involve the expense and turmoil of a protracted lawsuit. But don’t expect that to happen.

Scott has reason to be cautious, but his enmity for the federal government and for the Affordable Care Act is clouding his judgment. He should be seeking a reasonable compromise that could ensure adequate funding for the state’s charity hospitals and for an expanded Medicaid program that could provide health insurance for 800,000 Floridians.

Putting the legal arguments aside, the decisions Scott and the leadership of the Florida House are making deny health insurance to people who otherwise can’t afford it. And the decisions go against the wishes of the state’s leading business groups and hospital executives, who argue it’s good for business and for jobs in the state. They are ignoring a reasonable plan passed by the state Senate, which would require recipients pay a modest monthly premium and be employed or enrolled in school.

Instead of adopting that plan, Scott has asked Attorney General Pam Bondi to explore the legal avenues available for challenging a decision by the federal government to end its funding for LIP, a $2.1 billion pool of money for charity hospitals in Florida. Scott says the federal government is reverting to extortion by refusing the LIP funding unless the state expands Medicaid in Florida under the Affordable Care Act, something he and the House refuse to do.

He points to a U.S. Supreme Court decision related to the Affordable Care Act that said the federal government could not hold a gun to the heads of the states and force them to expand Medicaid. Florida is not among the 28 states expanding Medicaid, with Scott and House leaders insisting that the federal government can’t be trusted to fund the program as promised and might leave the state on the hook for billions of dollars down the road. The LIP funding, Scott argues, is separate from the Medicaid expansion question.

Legal scholars differ on the strength of Scott’s legal argument, but almost all of them point out that the federal government signaled LIP’s eventual end some time ago. That didn’t stop Scott from fashioning a state budget that included the LIP money this year. Its absence will leave a hole in the budget that is expected to delay passage of a state budget this year.

Scott should never have budgeted for the money. He should have listened to the state’s business leaders and supported the Senate plan to take the billions in expanded Medicaid money, which he once supported doing but no longer does. And he should have pressured the House, which has refused to pass a Medicaid expansion plan, to do what’s best for the state.

As former Republican state lawmaker Paula Dockery pointed out in a recent Tribune column, the state is demanding the federal government give it money to pay hospitals for treating the poor after they become sick, but is refusing to accept federal money to provide health insurance that might keep those same people from having to use the charity hospitals.

We already pay Medicaid taxes, so accepting the money is a return on our investment. It’s not a tax increase. In fact, the cost of caring for the uninsured constitutes a hidden tax by driving up health insurance premiums for those who can afford to pay.

Helping the working poor in Florida get health insurance shouldn’t be this complicated. But thanks to Scott and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, the state has chosen a course that is bad for business and bad for the well-being of nearly a million of our neighbors.




April 18

News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Florida, on the state House abandoning its brinkmanship:

With two weeks left in this year’s regular session, the Florida Legislature is not any closer to resolving an intra-party dispute over Medicaid and funding indigent health care.

In fact, the two sides are further apart than they’ve ever been, and time is running out on reaching an agreement.

The federal government has notified the state that in June it will stop funding its half of the $2.2 billion Low-Income Pool, which helps cover the costs of charity care at hospitals across the state. Losing that money would deal a severe blow to local hospitals - Halifax Health, which provides about $50 million in uncompensated care and community health programs annually, would forfeit $14 million, and Bert Fish Medical Center would be denied about $2 million.

From the start, the Florida House and Senate, both controlled by Republican majorities, have disagreed on what to do. To maintain a LIP funding stream and avert a crisis, the Senate has proposed accepting additional Medicaid funds from Washington and using them to create the Florida Health Insurance Affordability Exchange. FHIX would provide private-policy health coverage for the 800,000 Floridians not already covered by Medicaid. Able-bodied recipients would be required to pay modest premiums and be employed, looking for work or enrolled in school. Proponents argue this would inject some market forces into the health insurance system.

The House, though, has refused even to consider the Senate plan, maintaining that it merely applies lipstick to a Medicaid pig. Most House Republicans oppose Medicaid expansion of any type on the grounds that it’s a component of the reviled Obamacare, that the program doesn’t actually provide quality health care, and that the feds can’t be trusted to keep their promise to fund 100 percent of the expansion the first three years and 90 percent of it thereafter.

Two weeks ago, Gov. Rick Scott said he was reversing his previous (tepid) support for expanded Medicaid and criticized the Senate plan for undermining the state’s negotiations with Washington to continue LIP funding. Then last Thursday, the governor announced that his office would sue the Obama administration for making LIP’s future contingent on the state expanding Medicaid.

Scott and the House Republicans are digging in for trench warfare when they should be exploring ways to cover the $1.3 billion LIP shortfall. Not only have they not developed an alternative to the Senate plan, they haven’t even budgeted a contingency to assist hospitals losing LIP money. Of course, if the state made up the difference, that would necessitate cuts in other spending - and/or reductions in the $690 million package of tax cuts the House has passed.

The Medicaid split has caused the House and Senate spending plans to be more than $4 billion apart, and with neither side budging it’s increasingly likely that the Legislature will fail to pass a reconciled budget by the May 1 deadline. Lawmakers then will be forced to hold a special session.

This is pure brinkmanship by the House - staring down not only the Senate but also the Obama administration, and expecting one or both to blink. Its dangerous game of obstinacy is sowing political chaos and threatens economic harm. The cost of doing nothing: Hospitals could be forced to cut personnel and services; taxes and insurance premiums could rise to cover shortfalls at safety-net hospitals.

We call on this area’s legislative delegation to help break the impasse. Reps. David Santiago, Fred Costello and Paul Renner - all Republicans - should push the House leadership to work toward a solution that rescues area hospitals and avoids a train wreck.



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