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Business Observer Saturday, Mar. 17, 2012 6 years ago

Capitol Chatter: March 16

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Crist's election ambitions, expert witness standards, business tax credits and more.
by: Rod Thomson Staff Writer

Flexible Charlie Crist
mulls run as Democrat?

In what cannot be a surprise to Florida political observers, former Gov. Charlie Crist appears interested in running for office as a Democrat -- his third party in two years.

First, Crist told MSNBC's Chuck Todd in January that he would consider voting for President Barack Obama in November.

“I really think he's sincere and genuine. I think we have a lot time, a lot of issues to talk about, but I think, in his heart, he's trying to do what's right for the country overall,” Crist said on the show. He said at that time he would not rule out running as a Democrat.

Next, David Axelrod, chief political strategist for Obama, fairly glowed with praise for Crist to the Tampa Tribune two weeks ago.

“The president has a very high regard for Gov. Crist. He made a really courageous decision back in 2009,” Axelrod said. “You know we all talk about that we want public officials who are willing to put the next generation ahead of the next election and he was willing to make a decision like that. So we admire him.”

It's safe to say that a Crist run as a Democrat against Gov. Rick Scott would have the wholehearted backing of Obama.

And finally, the Shark-Tank, a Florida political blog, reported several Democrats discussing the possibility of Crist running as a Democrat.

Crist is nothing if not...flexible. He was the man who called himself a “Reagan conservative” when running against Marco Rubio in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate.

Republicans were no longer buying Crist. As he was being crushed by Rubio in the polls, he bolted the party to run for the Senate as an Independent.

As far back as 2010, Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas called on Crist to run as a Democrat against Rubio.

But Moulitsas and others should know: If that doesn't get him elected to something, Crist may run as a Libertarian or Green Party. He's just that flexible.

Expert witness bill
defeated again

In a major win for trial lawyers and loss for business organizations, the Legislature could not agree on changes in the state's “expert testimony” law.

Expert witnesses are brought in by lawyers to explain why their client should prevail based on detailed information. But they must meet a minimum standard that a judge can apply to determine if their testimony is trustworthy.

Business organizations want the nationally accepted standard known as “Daubert” because it will get rid of what many call “junk science” that is allowed under the current law, known as the “Frye” standard. The Florida Justice Association, the state's trial lawyers group, and Democrats want to retain the Frye standard and have fought changing it each year.

The Frye standard has resulted in businesses being forced to make huge payouts and given the state a reputation as an easy place to sue companies, according to proponents of the bill. A Harris Interactive Poll ranked Florida 42nd in the nation in legal climate for businesses.

The House wanted the Daubert standard, but the Senate went for a watered down version of change, which the House did not accept. So the session ended with no change. Frye remains the standard.

One-day lobbyists
can get their say

It's not just the professional lobbyists who can apply the pressure on lawmakers. Special interests come in many colors under many banners, and large numbers of voters can be persuasive to lawmakers.

One recent day near the end of the session, in just one hotel near Interstate 10, a host of green-shirted men and women swarmed through the lobby to head to the Capitol.

Their mission? Protest cuts to Medicare in large numbers and then meet with legislators from their districts.

This particular group was from OPIS Management Rescources LLC, a Tampa-based firm that manages and operates skilled nursing centers and assisted-living communities throughout Florida. It also has a medical supply division.

Cuts in Medicare — each state plays a role in dispensing and matching Medicare money -- represent a potential threat to its customers' care and a very real threat to its business model.

OPIS is part of larger health-care lobbying organizations that organize their members to travel to the Capitol. They operate under “health care Wednesday.”

This is a constant feature during a Tallahassee spring, ranging from teachers being organized by the Florida Teachers Association to police being organized by the Police Benevolent Association and other public sector unions getting out their members in an organized way. It can have an impact.

Gov. Scott's powers
clarified in rule-making

Often when a bill passes the Legislature, the real effect comes when the state implementing agencies write up the rules that enact it. It has been an intersection that has caused businesses indigestion at times and frustrated the lawmakers who passed the original bills.

It seems that the bureaucrats will, at times, put their own spin on legislation when enacting it.

When Gov. Rick Scott came to office last year, he attempted to freeze all new rule-making and unravel some of the more onerous rules. But the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the Legislature placed such rulemaking authority with the state agencies.

So the Legislature approved a new law -- 81-33 in the House and 29-11 in the Senate — that says that the governor has the authority decide how agencies under his control carry out the rule-making of laws unless the Legislature spells out otherwise.

Business tax credit
to schools expanded

The Legislature gave final approval to $229 million in tax credits to companies to help low-income children attend private schools -- giving a potential way out to kids, particularly inner city kids, trapped in crummy schools.

The law is an expansion of the well-used current program, which allowed up to $140 million in the tax credits.

Individuals or businesses donate money to non-profit scholarship-funding organizations and receive the tax credit against their corporate income tax. The bill passed the Senate 32-8 and the House 92-24 and Gov. Scott is expected to sign it.

It was opposed by the education lobby, teachers unions and some Democrats.

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