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404 posts from April 2011

April 29, 2011

Senate signs off on changes to police lineups

A measure setting new guidelines for police lineups now heads to the Florida House after state senators signed off on the proposal Friday.

With a 34-5 vote, the Senate approved SB 1206, intended to reduce the number of wrongful convictions by, for example, having lineups supervised by police officers who are not involved in an investigation and don't know who the suspect may be.

The bill was put forth by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, a lawyer and member of the state's Innocence Commission.

"Let's not pick out the wrong person out of a lineup to begin with," Negron said. "The vast majority of people who go to trial are convicted."

Though few of Negron's colleagues voted against the proposal, it faced stiff opposition from Sen. Steve Oelrich, a Gainesville Republican and former sheriff who said the bill unfairly targets law enforcement officers.

"Isn't it much more common that the witness just picks out a wrong person, not some skulduggery on the part of law enforcement?" he asked. "The argument can't be that we have every confidence in our cops, yet we're going to make them pay the price."

Add former Miami police chief to chorus opposing immigration overhaul

Former Miami Police Chief John Timoney and current Mayor Tomás Regalado have not always seen eye-to-eye. The ex-chief was forced to step down shortly after Regalado's election.

But they agree on one thing: opposing immigration crackdown bills in the state Legislature.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center released a letter Friday from Timoney to state lawmakers, urging them to consider the consequences HB 7089 and SB 2040 could have on law enforcement.

"It has been my experience (and that of many other police professionals) that maintaining the trust of immigrants is essential to protecting the public, solving crimes and keeping the peace," Timoney wrote.
"I am very concerned about the potential impact that two bills (HB 7089 and SB 2040) could have on the effectiveness of local police and public safety, particularly in the many areas of Florida that now have significant immigrant populations."

As an example, Timoney cited the 2003 case of the Shenandoah rapist in Miami. Police would have had a more difficult time solving the case "without tips and information from immigrants in the community," he wrote.

"The proposed legislation threatens public safety," Timoney concluded. "I ask you to reject HB 7089 and SB 2040."

Regalado sent lawmakers a letter on Wednesday cautioning about how the immigration bills could hurt tourism in Miami.

About face: Fasano will cut state-funding component from his pill mill bill

With the House and Senate miles apart on legislation to combat prescription drug abuse in Florida, Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said he'll make a major change to the Senate bill he's sponsoring. Fasano said he plans to file an amendment today to remove a provision in the bill that would repeal a ban on state funding for the prescription drug monitoring database.

That should make Rep. Rob Schenck, R-Spring Hill, who is managing the House bill, and Gov. Rick Scott happy. They both wanted to kill the database altogether. They settled for leaving it in place in the House bill, but want to prohibit donations from pharmaceutical companies to the foundation that supports the program. Neither wants to use state money for the program, and the language in Fasano's bill gave Scott serious heartburn.

Today's news marks a huge about-face for Fasano, who had amended SB 818 to actually provide $1.75 million in state funding for the program. After the amendment passed on Thursday with barely a blink, Senate President Mike Haridopolos said it was a mistake and he would ask the Senate to repeal it. But the morning session passed without the bill coming up for a vote.

When the chamber broke, Fasano said he didn't know why Haridopolos didn't bring the bill to the floor, but that he planned to amend his bill in a way that would have prohibited the amendment he introduced on Thursday altogether.

Strangely, Fasano also managed to get $1.75 million in the Senate's budget for a pilot program to fight pill mills in his home county of Pasco. On Thursday, he said that money was separate from the general fund money that his amendment would have used to fund the database. On Friday, he said the pilot program money would have instead been used for the database instead of his county's program. 

Both Fasano's bill and Schenck's bill include multiple provisions sought by Attorney General Pam Bondi to make it easier for law enforcement to target pill mill operators.

But there are huge sticking points. Beyond Fasano's repeal of the state funding ban for the database, the House bill prohibits doctors and many small pharmacies from dispensing narcotics and sets a limit of 5,000 dosages per month for those that do dispense. Fasano says the dispensing prohibition hurts small businesses, and the dosage limit will prevent people who legitimately need medication from getting it.

Sexting bill clears House floor

Lawmakers in the Florida House voted unanimously on Friday to decriminalize sexting, the practice of sending sexually explicit text messages.

HB 75 sailed through with a 117-0 vote. It has a companion, SB 888, pending to be taken up on the Senate floor.

The version of the measure that the House approved added language saying that if a minor receives an unsolicited "sext," does not send it to anybody and takes reasonable steps to report it -- say, by telling a teacher about it -- then he or she could not be accused of possessing pornography.

GOP Chair diagnosed with ALS

bitner1.jpgRepublican party chairman David Bitner has been diagnosed with ALS, often called Lou Gehrig's disease, a progressive and ultimately fatal neurodegenerative disease. With his wife Wendy at his side, the chairman this morning sounded as upbeat and energetic as ever.

"My wife and I are strong believers in God and our faith drives us," he said. "God has blessed me in being able to do what I'm doing."

Bitner said he will continue to serve as chairman for as long as possible, and that his doctor told him some ALS patients have been known to go 15 years without much change in their condition. Bitner has been using a motorized scooter for a couple months, but shows no sign respiratory problems.

Bitner was in Madison County last night for a Lincoln Day dinner, will be in Jacksonville Saturday for a Greatest Generation Event, and has and has an upcoming quarterly meeting in Orlando and RNC meeting in Dallas, and Okaloosa County Lincoln Day. "I'm not slowing down at all."

Bitner is participating in an experimental drug program, but noted that it's not a cure but an effort to learn more about ALS. His prognosis is uncertain, but his spirits are high.

"I know the greatest physician of all," he said. "That great physician could cure me tomorrow."


Moreno Poll: Gimenez rising, Robaina falling in Miami-Dade mayor's race

Folks in Miami-Dade County Commissioner Carlos Gimenez camp are gloating over a new talking-points survey (which they commissioned) that shows he's gaining ground on Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina in the race for Miami-Dade mayor. But the poll doesn't note that there are 8 candidates in the race (not 2). And they haven't released the cross tabs for the Dario Moreno survey, but here's the power-point they're using to drum up some funds: Download Mayorrace

The document shows Robaina's favorability ratings are falling as Gimenez's rise. It also indicates the campaign is message testing and is likely to whack Robaina over property taxes, "investigations," and his salary.

A few results:

  Robaina Gimenez Undecided
Overall 26% 20% 54%
Hispanics 41% 18% 40%
Anglos 12% 25% 64%
Blacks 5% 17% 78%
Latins 60+ 44% 20% 36%
Latinos60- 34% 16% 50%
Hispanic GOP 46% 17% 27%
Hispanic Dems 30% 27% 43%
Hispanic NPA 35% 17% 48%
Anglo GOP 16% 34% 50%
Anglo Dems 10% 21% 69%
Anglo NPA 12% 12% 76%



House, Senate clash on professional deregulation proposal

Here are the professions they could agree to deregulate: hair braiding, body wrapping, rooming houses and outdoor theaters.

That leaves a lot of unfinished business. The Senate does not want to deregulate talent agencies, auctioneers, athlete agents, interior designers, motor vehicle repair shops, yaught and ship brokers, health studios, dance studios, telemarketers, household movers, water vending machine operators and travel agents.

Also, the House was swayed on the Senate's proposal to keep oversight of charitable organizations.

If the Senate had its way, commercial interior designers, athlete agents and telemarketers would continue to need state licenses to practice.

But the House isn't willing to cave on those parts of HB 5005, its professional deregulation bill. At least not now.

The differences surfaced during conference committee negotiations on the bill this week. Rep. Dorothy Hukill and Sen. Alan Hays could not agree on which industries to deregulate, bumping the issue to budget chiefs Sen. JD Alexander and Rep. Denise Grimsley.

"None of these issues have been vetted in the Senate at all, and they're very important issues," said Hays, R-Umatilla. "Without proper committee vetting here, I just think it's uwise to go any further than we went."

The state will lose $6 million if the bill passes in full, according to House staff analysis. The sponsor, Hukill, R-Port Orange, acknowledged the hit but said Thursday night that the bill is meant to help business owners who will not have to pay licensing fees.

"It's a balancing," she said.

Term limits are another problem in winning the Senate over, Hays said, because they create a lack of institutional knowledge among lawmakers.

"Due to term limits, not very many of the current legislators have any idea of the history of these issues. When these regulations were put into effect, what were the reasons for doing so?" he said. "Candidly, my personal thought is we need to do away with term limits."

The interior designer debate has evoked tears and impassioned pleas from both sides during public testimony this session. On Thursday, interior design lobbyists from Washington, D.C., flocked to Tallahassee to defend the state’s licensing requirement, warning deregulation would bring grave consequences for their industry.

“No interior designer will be able to work in a commercial setting,” said Don Davis, American Society of Interior Designers’ director of government affairs.

Joining them was Rep. Charles Van Zant, a Republican architect from Keystone Heights. Van Zant said architects and engineers depend on registered interior designers for their ability to "sign and seal" plans and the "safety and well-being" of spaces.

The pro-deregulation side rebutted Davis' claim, saying more Floridians and businesses would be able to offer the commercial service without Florida's license requirement.

"Cutting bureaucratic tape and reducing regulation increases jobs, not eliminates them," said Sarah Bascom, who represents the National Kitchen and Bath Association.

Read more background on this fight in this Times/Herald story and this PolitiFact Florida report.

Jack Latvala chokes up on Senate floor for Larcenia Bullard

Burly Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, became unexpectedly emotional on the Senate floor this morning when he presented ill Sen. Larcenia Bullard's bill to declare the Schooner Western Union the official state flagship.

His voice cracking and choking up, Latvala grew said he misses his colleague, who hasn't attended session this year. Friends say she might not come back or serve out the balance of her term.

"She was always a very very friendly person to deal with, a friendly loving person, always had a smile for anyone who came in her path," Latvala said. "She alwyas had a smile, always had a hug always had a good word."

A little history: The Western Union laid undersea cable from the time she was launched in 1939 until 1974 when she was put out of business by satellites. More here on the Western Union. The above painting is from Keys artist David Harrison Wright


Will barking tree frog become offical state amphibian?

As of this moment, the Senate hasn't taken up House Speaker Dean Cannon's controversial Supreme Court overhaul bill (Hmmm. How many votes did the bill lose over night?), but they did vote unanimously to make the barking tree frog the state's official amphibian.

Sen.  Steve Oelrich, R-Cross City sponsored the bill, saying the frog is friendly and can be held for a long time, without causing warts. The frog is also known for its lovely coloring, he said, and is so attractive it was once featured as a centerfold in the magazine, Florida's Fabulous Reptiles and Amphibians.

Oelrich handed out pictures of the attractive frog and played audio of its "bark." 

The trouble? A companion bill in the House, sponsored by Rep. Charles Chestnut, D-Gainesville, is languishing in committee. Maybe Cannon is waiting to see what happens with his courts bill.

Controversial billboard provision amended in House transportation bill

The Florida House late Thursday signed off unanimously on a catch-all transportation bill that includes a billboard provision aimed in part at the city of Miami.

The original provision would have prohibited cities and counties from collecting a yearly permit fee of more than $500 per billboard -- effectively undoing a Miami ordinance that was expected to bring the city millions of dollars a year. The provision was linked to a pending billboard settlement in the city that commissioners put off last week until after the legislative session ends.

The updated language in HB 1363, approved by the House with a 116-0 vote, does not include the $500 number. It says local governments "may" establish a sign permit fee schedule and "may" assess fees for billboards. The fees must be based on -- and not exceed -- the cost of administering the billboard program. Cities and counties must maintain information to justify the costs of the program.

And the provision does not apply to any other agreements or regulations regarding signs -- or require the repayment of fees already paid.

The House sent its bill to the Senate, which may or may not take it up in the remaining week of session. A similar, Senate transportation bill stalled in a budget committee.