The week that was in Florida politics: Are these truths self-evident?

By on July 7, 2012

The United States turned 236 years old this week and Americans celebrated the founding of a nation, an annual summer hiatus that translated into a slow week in Florida’s capital city.

But the week was not totally relegated to barbecues and corn on the cob, producing some fireworks as the debate over Obamacare continued and the courts weighed in on a host of issues from guns to insurance.

A review via Michael Peltier of the News Service of Florida.

OBAMACARE: WEEK 1:

Gov. Rick Scott started off the week vowing Florida won’t expand its health care system for the poor because it will hurt the state’s effort to create jobs, a contention that was quickly contested by groups that said the governor was overreaching.

A week after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld key provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act but left it up to the states to decide if they want to expand their Medicaid rolls, the governor remained defiant, telling different groups throughout the week that the state wouldn’t play.

“Floridians are interested in jobs and economic growth, a quality education for their children, and keeping the cost of living low,” Scott said in a statement. “Neither of these major provisions in ObamaCare will achieve those goals, and since Florida is legally allowed to opt out, that’s the right decision for our citizens.”

Along with not expanding Medicaid, Scott said the state would not participate in the so-called “exchanges” that are part of the ACA, a stance that would mean, in all likelihood, that the insurance clearinghouses would be federally run affairs.

Health exchanges are key components of the ACA, providing individuals not covered by their employers a way to choose from a list of approved insurance plans. If states don’t implement them, the federal government will.

“We’re not going to implement the health care exchanges because it’s not going to drive down the cost of health care, it’s going to raise the cost,” Scott said while speaking at the Southeastern Press Convention near Destin on Friday.

Republican legislative leaders were less intransigent, but not much, as they too chafed at the idea of implementing a program they find anathematic to their political beliefs. But they also left open some doors.

House Speaker-designate Will Weatherford predicted the House would take a “rational, deliberative” approach to deciding whether to expand coverage.

“I was no big fan of ObamaCare, that’s for sure,” Weatherford said. “But we also have to recognize that it has been upheld by the court.”

Key members of the Senate also gave measured responses.

“My general guiding principal is that I prefer state programs over a cookie-cutter federal model, but that’s an issue we’re going to have to explore,” said Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and chairman of the Senate health care budget committee.

Democrats, meanwhile, touted the other side of the equation, saying the system of near universal health care would result in economic benefits for the nation and the state. Spending money – mostly federal dollars – as part of the Medicaid expansion would put more money into a health care industry that has been among the leading growth industries.

“Medicaid is jobs,” said Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich, D-Weston. “And health care is one of the few areas that didn’t suffer job losses during the recession.”

COURTS WEIGH IN:

A federal court in Miami this week struck down (again) a state law backers say is needed to protect gun owners from unreasonable queries from health care practitioners. Following up on a temporary ruling made in September, U.S. District Court Judge Marcia Cooke barred enforcement of a 2011 law that restricted doctors from asking their patients whether they owned guns.

Cooke ruled the state had failed to make its case that gun owners were being unduly burdened by the law, which restricted doctors and other medical providers from asking questions about gun ownership during medical visits. In a 25-page ruling, Cook permanently barred the state from enforcing the law, known officially as the Firearm Owners ‘ Privacy Act.

The ruling brought an immediate response from Second Amendment supporters, who said the decision was especially disturbing given the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on health insurance.

“The general feeling is that keeping the law is especially important now that ObamaCare has been upheld,” said Marion Hammer, former national NRA president and the group’s Florida lobbyist.

The Florida Supreme Court rejected a provision in a 2008 law restricting the ability of public insurance adjusters to contact homeowners immediately after a storm. In a unanimous ruling, the court struck down the insurance industry-backed effort to prevent public adjusters from visiting clients within 48 hours following a storm.

The law was written in response to claims that public adjusters were taking advantage of distraught homeowners following the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons.

The justices upheld an appellate court ruling that the state could not prevent public adjustors from visiting potential clients immediately after a storm, saying such a prohibition violated the adjusters’ First Amendment rights.

Speaking of the Florida Supreme Court, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement this week closed its investigation into criminal allegations that three justices used state employees to file campaign paperwork.

The FDLE said it found no wrongdoing on the part of Justices Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince. who had court staff notarize documents necessary for them to seek retention on the court.

The investigation was closed after State Attorney Willie Meggs, a Democrat, wrote a letter to FDLE saying the justices might technically have violated a law, but “the law does not concern itself with trifles.”

But the issue is not settled. The Southeastern Legal Foundation, a conservative legal group, has filed a lawsuit in Leon County circuit court on behalf of two state residents, arguing that the three justices would not have made the ballot if they hadn’t used state employees. The suit asks for the justices to be booted from the ballot.

In a statement issued shortly the FDLE announcement, Gov. Rick Scott suggested that the outcome of the investigation was far from a clean bill of health for the three.

“According to FDLE findings, it appears using state employees to complete and file campaign forms and other documents is ‘common practice,'” Scott said. “Now this case is before the courts where a determination will be made as to whether this ‘common practice’ is legal.”

STORY OF THE WEEK: Obamacare reverberates across the state. Gov. Rick Scott remains defiant while legislative leaders take more measured approach.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “(Obama) does not want you to have the self-esteem of getting up and earning and having that title of ‘American. He’d rather you be his slave and be economically dependent upon him.” U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Florida, speaking to supporters during a campaign event.

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