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19 posts from April 17, 2013

April 17, 2013

House passes restrictions on massage businesses suspected of sex trafficking

 A bill that aims to reform massage businesses that are fronts for sex trafficking passed the House quickly by a 117-0 vote on Wednesday and was sent to the Senate.

Freshman legislator  Rep. Dave Kerner said that owners of these shady businesses "force victims of sex trafficking to live in the confines of that establishment. Oftentimes, they aren't allowed to leave and they're forced to live there."

The women working at these places are often in the country unlawfully and don't speak English. "They won't reach out to law enforcement," said Kerner, D-Lake Worth. "But I think we can agree they should all be protected by the law."

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Weatherford's pension overhaul appears in jeopardy

With a little more than two weeks left in the Legislative session, Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford’s plan to overhaul the state’s pension fund appears in doubt.

Since becoming Speaker last year, Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, has declared pension overhaul one of his top goals. He said the Florida Retirement System’s pension fund, which has about 1 million members, is a “ticking time bomb” in the state’s finances.

But he’s had trouble convincing union groups, Democrats and some Senators of the urgency in revamping a $132 billion fund that is generally considered to be on safe fiscal ground.

On Wednesday, Weatherford met with Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-New Port Richey, to discuss the status of negotiations in the Senate. Simpson, who is sponsoring the Senate version of the pension overhaul, said afterward they were far from agreement.

“He said he prefers the House version,” Simpson said. Asked if Weatherford wants the House version of the bill, and not Simpson’s version, to be voted on in the Senate instead, Simpson said: “The speaker would like to see his bill passed.”

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Energy mogul T. Boone Pickens name-checks Miami-Dade school board, Super. Allberto Carvalho over natural-gas buses


One-time oil-man turned into all-things-energy man T. Boone Pickens name-checked Miami-Dade's school board and its superintendent for discussing whether to power school buses in the district (Florida's largest) with natural gas.

Pickens is bullish on natural gas and appears to be an investor. Pickens makes it sound as if the board acted, but right now it just approved a study to evaluate the benefits of using compressed natural gas in school buses.

Here's the video and transcript

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After gun bill falters in Congress, Fla. Legislature sends 'Hands off our guns' memorial to Obama

Though gun control efforts in the U.S. Senate appear to stall Wednesday, the Florida Legislature is sending a message to Washington just in case: Hands off our guns.

In a 81-36 vote, the Legislature passed House Memorial 545, which warns federal officials not to infringe on the rights of gun owners.

"Laws that forbid the carrying of arms...disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes,”  said bill sponsor Rep. Neil Combee, R-Polk City, quoting a 19th century essay by Cesare Beccaria. “Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants.”

When a Democratic lawmaker pointed out that the Manchin-Toomey compromise on expanded background checks failed in the U.S. Senate, some lawmakers burst into applause in the chamber. Combee’s bill was co-sponsored by 57 other House members.

Combee said he still wanted the letter to be sent to Washington just in case the federal government considers gun control in the future.

One Representative shouted out “Let liberty ring!” before making the sound of loading a gun and asking his colleagues to support the bill. It passed in a lopsided vote that broke down mostly along party lines.

Democrats did not speak much on the bill (the agenda for the day was quite long and the House had been debating for six hours by the time the memorial was heard).

One Democrat did get a gun bill passed shortly after the memorial vote.

A bill to require expanded gun restrictions for some mentally ill people passed the House 117-1. It was sponsored by Rep. Barbara Watson (D-Miami Gardens) and supported by the National Rifle Association. It was a small victory for gun control advocates, who have filed several gun bills this year with little success in the Legislature.    

Public counsel files suit challenging PSC's decision on FPL settlement

Public Counsel J.R. Kelly has officially filed his legal challange to Florida Power & Light's rate settlement and on Wednesday asked the Florida Supreme Court to reject the settlement state regulators appoved between the company and its largest utility customers last August.

Kelly, whose office represents all consumers in rate cases, claims that the Public Service Commission violated the state constitution when it approved the $350 million rate increase beginning in January without including his office as a party to the agreement.

The settlement, reached between FPL, large military installations, South Florida hospitals, and members of the Florida Industrial Power Users Group, also allows FPL to raise rates again when three new power plants start operating.

The Office of Public Counsel was created by the Legislature to represent consumers statewide in utility issues before the PSC and the August rate case agreement was the first time the commission has approved a settlement without the public counsel's participation.

Kelly contends the settlement is a bad deal for most of FPL's 4.6 million customers. FPL, a unit of NextEra Energy Inc., contends that the agreement will benefit all of the company's customers and will result an improved financial prospects.  Download SC 13-144 - Citizens Initial Brief


Miami-Dade School Board endorses immigration reform

via @NewsbySmiley

Count the Miami-Dade School Board among those wading into immigration reform Wednesday.

Board members and Superintendent Alberto Carvalho gathered in a break from their monthly meeting to laud an immigration bill filed overnight in the U.S. Senate and support bringing millions of undocumented immigrants “into the legal economy.”

“For us, this is a matter of fairness, a matter of justice and obviously a matter of law and order,” said board member Carlos Curbelo. “Our current, broken immigration system costs the school district over $20 million a year that no one reimburses us for.”

In Miami-Dade, there are close to 70,000 foreign-born students enrolled in classes

Close to 1,000 new immigrant students enter classes on average each month, totaling about 11,000 a year, according to a district report released last month. Each likely costs the district about $2,000 more than those students who come from South Florida and don’t require additional language services, the report states.

“Often times we educate children that are undocumented,” said Curbelo, who requested the report. “They spend 10, or 12 years in our schools only to face deportation or in other cases to be denied access to higher education. These children reach dead-ends after we have invested tens of thousands of dollars in them.”

Curbelo hosted a news conference after the board unanimously supported his proposal Wednesday to endorse five principles of the Partnership for a New American Economy, a group bringing together bipartisan mayors advocating immigration reform.

Among those principles: Bringing 11 million undocumented immigrants into the economy to pay taxes and attain a better education.


House 119-0 vote shows unusual support for abortion-related bill

 Amid contentious debate on a few abortion-related bills, a divided House gave rare, unanimous, bipartisan support to a measure that would require medical practitioners to provide emergency care in the event an infant is “born alive” after an abortion attempt or face criminal penalties.

HB 1129, sponsored by Avon Park Republican Rep. Cary Pigman, which passed 119-0, was the only abortion-related bill that legislators agreed to vote on today, bypassing another day of debate.

The measure passed as a gruesome criminal case in Pennsylvania draws heightened national attention. Dr. Kermit Gosnell is charged with causing the deaths of a patient and seven babies who prosecutors say were born alive. Gosnell is also accused of performing illegal late-term abortions.

Pigman said he wanted to guarantee “respect and humanity to infants born alive, regardless of how they entered the world.”

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Gambling opponents raise doubts about independence of company hired to write report

Despite hours of testimony hearing about the state's gambling industry, and two years debating whether to open Florida to resort casinos, the Florida Legislature this year decided to spend $388,000 in taxpayer money to hire an outside consultant to study the state's gambling market.

Senate Gaming Chairman Garrett Richter, a Naples Republican who has never served on a gaming committee, said the study was necessary to help lawmakers next year in their efforts to conduct comprehensive rewrite of the state's gambling laws. Senate leaders persuaded the House to go along and the contract was signed last week with Spectrum Gaming Group, a New Jersey-based gambling consulting company, and announced on Tuesday.

Now the contract has drawn sharp criticism from gambling opponents.

 “Spectrum is part of the roll-out team for a casino expansion," said Les Bernal, Executive Director of Stop Predatory Gambling, a national opposition group to government-sponsored gambling based in Washington, DC.

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Drone bill sails toward Gov. Rick Scott's office

With no hint of opposition, a bill that would limit how law enforcement uses unmanned drones for surveillance is headed for Governor Rick Scott’s office to be signed into law.

SB 92, sponsored by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, bans local law enforcement officials from using drones without a warrant or threat of a terrorist attack and prohibit information collected by drones to be used as evidence in courts. It received not one “no” vote in its various stops through the Senate. It passed the House by a vote of 117-0 on Wednesday.

A companion bill in the House by Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, was put aside so the House could vote Negron’s bill. Not a bad gesture before the House and Senate begin meetings this week to negotiate the state budget. Negron is the Senate’s appropriations chair.

Scott gave the legislation a rare gubernatorial nod of approval.

“Privacy should be protected and I applaud the House for unanimously passing this bill today," Scott said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon. "I applaud Representative Workman and Senator Negron’s efforts on this legislation because this law will ensure the rights of Florida families are protected from the unwarranted use of drones and other unmanned aircraft. I look forward to signing it when it reaches my desk.”

Negron's bill is similar to legislation filed in Congress by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who filibustered the confirmation of CIA director John Brennan over U.S. drone attacks on Americans.

Drones, or unmanned flying aircraft, range in size from 6 inches to 246 feet and weigh between 4 ounces and 25,600 pounds, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates their use in the United States. They can be outfitted with cameras so powerful that they can track objects 65 miles away, according to a Florida Senate staff analysis.

This year's legislation by Negron and Workman was popular all along the political spectrum, but it's not clear what, if any, affect it will have on how law enforcement will use the drones. In Florida, the Miami-Dade Police Department became the first major metro police agency to get permission to operate drones two years ago.

Sheriff's deputies in Orange County also have approval to operate two drones. As does Polk County, though the Sheriff's Office there grounded the program, citing costs. But to actually use them requires so many approvals from the FAA that they rarely get flown.

Officials with Miami-Dade police testified that by the time they got the approval during a hostage crisis, the situation was resolved. That's the only time they were close to using a drone, said Lt. Aviel Sanchez.

Negron said he knows the current laws and policies make it difficult to fly drones.

He said he's more concerned about future regulations that might relax the rules. In February 2012, Congress passed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, which requires the FAA to safely open the nation's airspace to drones by September 2015.

Marco Rubio's claims on Che Guevara and amnesty

From PolitiFact

If you look at any major Washington issue lately, it seems Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is never far from the action.

The Republican Party star appeared on seven Sunday talk shows in a single day this week. He’s at the forefront of the immigration debate. He has weighed in on gun issues. And when pop stars Beyonce and Jay-Z traveled to Cuba recently, Rubio had something to say about that, too.

PolitiFact checked out a couple of his recent statements.

In promoting the new bipartisan immigration bill, Rubio told Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace that it’s "not amnesty." We talked to experts and concluded that while Rubio is correct that the proposal doesn’t grant across-the-board legal status to people in the United States illegally, it does allow them to remain in the country while working toward a green card. We rated the statement Half True.

On ABC’s This Week, Rubio had some criticism for rapper Jay-Z.

"One of his heroes is Ché Guevara. Ché Guevara was a racist. Ché Guevara was a racist that wrote extensively about the superiority of white Europeans over people of African descent. So he should inform himself on the guy that he's propping up."

As a young man, Guevara wrote in his travel journal, The Motorcycle Diaries, that black people he encountered in South America were "indolent," another word for lazy. But Rubio’s statement suggested that Guevara wrote much more about the superiority of white Europeans over blacks than he really did, experts told us. And later in his life, Guevara espoused support for racial equality. Our rating: Mostly False.