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Business Observer Friday, Jun. 1, 2012 6 years ago

Capitol Chatter: June 1

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Turner sex scandal, workers comp drug law and foreclosure settlement cash.
by: Rod Thomson Staff Writer

Hillsborough appraiser flap starts Tallahassee dominoes

The fallout from the sex scandal surrounding Hillsborough Property Appraiser Rob Turner could have far-reaching effects in the state Legislature in Tallahassee.

Turner has admitted that he sent sexually explicit messages to the former human resources director in his office who was also his onetime girlfriend, but says they were mutual. However, the woman, Carolyn Filippone, has filed a sexual discrimination complaint and now Turner has fired her.

With Turner politically weakened by the scandal, candidates are jumping into the race for the appraiser seat.

State Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, has announced her decision to not run for reelection to the state Senate but rather to run for the property appraiser's office. And former Democratic state Rep. Bob Henriquez has announced his intention to run for the appraiser position, which pays about $132,000 per year. Florida legislators make $30,000 per year.

Henriquez will have to run in a primary against fellow Democrat James DeMio, a real estate broker who announced his candidacy in April.

Storms' decision prompted former state Senate President Tom Lee to jump into the race for her Senate seat. Other Republican politicians are also said to be interested in Storms' seat, including young state Reps. Rachel Burgin and Shawn Harrison. If either or both of them jump into the race for Senate, then that opens up more seats to continue the domino effect.

Storms and Lee are long-time politicians. Storms was a Hillsborough County Commissioner for 12 years and is in her second four-year term in the Senate. Lee was in the Senate for 10 years, the last two as president ending in 2006, when he lost his bid to be the state CFO to Alex Sink. Lee's prominence could keep the other Republicans from making a bid for Storms' open Senate seat.

However Turner, who has been the county appraiser for 16 years, is not going quietly from his long-time position.

Workers comp drug law to resurface
Special interests were able to torpedo an attempt during the last legislative session to change the rules on drug “repackaging” to reduce marked up physician-dispensed drugs under the workers compensation program.

But backers of changing the law appear ready to make another pass at it during next year's session.

At issue is a loophole in the workers-compensation law that allows physicians to dispense repackaged drugs from their offices and charge employers rates far beyond the reimbursement limits on the same drugs dispensed at pharmacies. The relabeled prescription drugs are sold at rates up to nearly 700% more than what a pharmacy is allowed to charge under workers compensation rules.

The loophole accounted for nearly one-third of the 9% increase in workers comp premiums this year. Capping the doctor's prices would save about $62 million annually. Doctors and those representing them argue that dispensing medication in their offices helps ensure that patients get their drugs. This was one of only a few business priorities that did not pass this past session.

So a subcommittee of the Florida Government Efficiency Task Force has recommended the changes as a way to help cut workers-compensation insurance costs for companies. Whether the full task force will take it up or not is not clear, but the lines are being drawn and they are the same as last year.

Task Force Chairman Abraham Uccello said his group may not have time to vet the issue. But in a letter to Thomas Panza, a lawyer for Automated HealthCare Solutions, a politically connected company that sells technology to doctors and has been a major source of opposition, Uccello said the issue is of “such importance” that it will undoubtedly be part of the upcoming legislative session.

Panza is already lobbying against changes by suggesting that a member of the task force subcommittee, former House Speaker Larry Cretul, is also part of the Florida Chamber of Commerce's political operations.

Foreclosure settlement cash to mostly help homeowners
Only 10% of Florida's $334 million cash portion of the national settlement with five large lenders over foreclosure fraud will go into the state's general fund. The rest of the money is designated for homeowners through state programs.

ProPublica, the online news reporting agency, has reported that other states are using most of the money from the $25 billion settlement to plug gaps in state budgets. The settlement between several states attorney generals did not stipulate how the money was to be used.

But Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi told the Tampa Bay Times that 90% would go to homeowners and the remaining 10% would go to the state's general revenue coffers as a civil penalty.

Bondi nuptials not in Caymans
Speaking of Pam Bondi, she and her fiance, Tampa opthamologist Greg Henderson, are not getting married in the Cayman Islands but will be knotting things up in a few weeks in Tampa.

However, the pair were in the Caymans to celebrate their upcoming wedding along with Gov. Rick Scott and his wife, Ann; South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson and Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober.

It was supposed to be a secret celebration, except Facebook struck when state Sen. Paula Dockery posted she was on the same flight with Bondi and even posted a photo of Bondi having fun on the plane playing stewardess.

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