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401 posts from April 2013

April 30, 2013

House adds late texting while driving amendment that supporters fear could threaten bill

A late amendment that supporters of a texting while driving ban fear could kill the legislation passed Tuesday morning.

The amendment proposed by Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami, would allow cell phone records to be used as evidence only in the case of a crash resulting in death or personal injury. Oliva said the purpose of the amendment is to “protect civil liberties” not derail the bill.

But Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, said it was “deceptive and dishonest” to tack on an amendment at the last minute.

Rep. Dane Eagle, R-Cape Coral, said “We see amendments every day and no one is accusing anyone else of being scheming or being dishonest."

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice and Reps. Doug Holder, R-Sarasota, and Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota.

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House Dems retaliate -- demand that all bills will be read in full

Where is Siri? In a act of retaliation against the stalemate on health insurance reform, the House Democrats demanded that the Republican-controlled chamber read every bill in its entirety for the remaining days of session.

House Democratic Chairman Perry Thurston and Rep. Mia Jones met with the Gov. Rick Scott this morning and warned him that they were prepared to use the parlimentary manueuver -- Florida's equivalent of a filibuster -- to draw attention to the health insurance issues. Scott has endorsed a Senate plan to draw down $5 billion in federal money to expand health insurance to the uninsured poor in Florida but House Republicans have refused that plan and have proposed an alternative that accepts no federal Medicaid money.

Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, said he was angered by the reaction of House leaders, particularly Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity, for calling the move "jihadist." Democrats met in the back of the chamber to discuss the move, calling it "the nuclear option." After debate on a bill relating to nuclear cost recovery, Democrats declared "the nuke is a go." It was 2:35 p.m.

Under House rules, House members are required to remain in the chamber as the bills are read in their entirety. Democrats employed the tactic in 2008 when Marco Rubio was House speaker. Since then, the House has purchased an auto-reader named Mary. The soporific tones of an computerized woman's voice began reading SB 1388, about instructional educational materials.

House Rules Chairman Rob Schenck postponed a series of Democrat-supported bills rather than have them read. The second bill read was SB 1792, a bill to limit the liability of doctors and hospitals in medical malpractice cases, a priority of the Senate President Don Gaetz. The House and Senate had agreed to a deal earlier in the day in which the House pension bill would get a vote on the Senate floor in exchange for the Senate medmal bill coming to a vote in the House. To get through the 15-page bill, Mary the auto-reader was put on fast-play. 

Senate approves 'NegronCare' but not unanimously

Sen. Jeff Brandes was the lone spoiler in the Senate's attempt to maintain a unified front on the Medicaid expansion debate.

The St. Petersburg Republican was the sole "no" vote on HB 7169, which the Senate approved 38-1. This amended bill contains the Senate's plan, an alternative to expansion that qualifies for $51 billion federal dollars to insure 1 million people.

The measure now heads back to the House but likely won't be taken up again since that chamber already rejected the Senate plan last week.

Brandes said he voted against the plan because it relies heavily on federal dollars. He doesn’t believe the government can afford it now, and he doesn’t believe it will make good on its promises over the long term.

"Our federal government has run a huge deficit and this is just going to continue to add to that deficit, and I truly don't believe they're going to continue the federal match," Brandes said after the vote.

The Senate's plan, originally contained in SB 1816, had received unanimous votes in its two previous committee stops. But that is partially because Brandes doesn't sit on either of them.

Legislature will create new 'Lauren's Kids' specialty tag

The Florida Legislature will create a batch of new specialty license tags in the final days of the session, including one for "Lauren's Kids," a foundation dedicated to preventing child sexual abuse run by the daughter of South Florida lobbyist Ron Book.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, an enthusiastic supporter of specialty tags, is sponsor of a Senate amendment to create the new Lauren's Kids tag. "Her cause is extremely important," Brandes said of Lauren Book. "It's a good cause and I'm excited to support it."

Lauren Book recently completed a 1,500 mile walk to call attention to the issue of child sexual abuse, and many legislative leaders attended a rally outside the state Capitol. The group's website, www.laurenskids.org, says its cause is "to prevent sexual abuse through awareness and education, and to help survivors heal with guidance and support."

For three years, Lauren's Kids has been one of the causes to which motorists can donate $1 when they renew their motor vehicle registrations, so there's a ready universe of Florida drivers interested in buying the tag, which will cost an extra $25. The foundation has paid to include 6 million inserts in motorists' car registration applications, mailed by tax collectors.

The budget awaiting a final vote by legislators includes $500,000 for Lauren's Kids, plus another $3 million for an elementary school curriculum developed jointly by Lauren's Kids and the Monique Burr Foundation of Jacksonville. Ron Book said the goal of the two groups is to make the curriculum mandatory in grades 1-5 all over the U.S.

Ron Book is one of the Capitol's most experienced lobbyists. He's the lead lobbyist seeking to pass a bill that would create a mechanism for taxpayer subsidies of the Miami Dolphins' home, Sun Life Stadium.

-- Steve Bousquet

Senate kills parent trigger bill

The Florida Senate killed the controversial parent trigger bill Tuesday.

The bill died almost exactly as it did last year: in a 20-20 vote in the final week of the session.

"The second time is just as sweet," said Florida Education Association President Andy Ford, who helped lead the opposition against the bill. "I'm happy that the Legislature stepped up and did what's right for the state of Florida."

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Kelli Stargel, would have let parents demand sweeping changes at failing public schools, including having the school transformed into a charter school.It had been watered down by an amendment from Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, that would have allowed school boards to reject parent petitions.

Most observers thought the Simmons amendement would have given Stargel the votes she needed to pass the bill out of the upper chamber. But a handul of Republicans joined the Democratic opposition Tuesday, including: Sens. Nancy Detert, Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, Rene Garcia, Jack Latvala, Greg Evers and Charlie Dean.

Detert pointed out that parents across the state had opposed the legislation.

"The minute you vote yes, your PTA is going to call you and say, What were you thinking?'" she said. 

The bill was considered a priority for former Gov. Jeb Bush and his education non-profit, the Foundation for Florida's Future.

Democrats to open new Little Havana office

@PatriciaMazzei

The Florida Democratic Party and Miami-Dade Democratic Party plan to open a new Little Havana office Monday in an effort to target Hispanic voters, the organizations announced Tuesday. It will be the state party's first office in the Florida's largest county.

"We have an aggressive effort to win South Florida by similar margins as 2012 and having the Florida Democratic Party open an office for the first time in Miami-Dade shows our commitment to growing our opportunities in a key region of the state," Allison Tant, chairwoman of the state party, said in a news release.

Added Miami-Dade Chairwoman Annette Taddeo: "In 2012, we increased our margin of victory in Miami-Dade by 70,000 votes. Now we are building on that momentum by continuing the OFA ground game in order to defeat Rick Scott and take back Tallahassee."

OFA refers to President Obama's campaign machine.

Read the press release below.

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Horse trades begin -- pension vote for medmal shaping up

It's that time in the Florida Legislature when surprises emerge from every corner as votes become commodities and policy debates take a back seat to raw gamesmanship as the clock tick toward's Friday's end of session.

So it is that we saw action this morning on House Speaker Will Weatherford's priority -- his bill to end the state's defined benefit system for new employees so that the state can shift the risk from taxpayers to workers. Senate leaders agreed to allow a version of his plan come up for a vote in the Senate, with no guarantee of passage. The board vote is being sought by the Florida Chamber and other proponents of the plan,which could potentially use it against Republicans in a primary. 

In return for the favor, the House is expected to take up a bill to limit medical malpractice for doctors that is the priority of Senate President Don Gaetz's. Reps. Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers, James Grant, R-Tampa, told the Herald/Times they have agreed to withdraw their amendments. The amendments were opposed by the bill's sponsors, including Gaetz' son Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar.

Among them was an amendment by Grant who believes that the medmal bill could be used by insurance companies who represent the doctors to create a private registry of gun owners. 

Grant said he wasn't aware of a trade but wouldn't be surprised. He expects the House to take up the Senate bill.

"I have no idea what’s been negotiated,'' he said. "If you are asking me whether or not I’m surprised trades are happening back and forth, that happens it’s the end of session. Nobody has asked me to withdraw because of a vote on pensions or any other bills." Stay tuned. 

 

Horse trades begin -- pension vote for medmal shaping up

It's that time in the Florida Legislature when surprises emerge from every corner as votes become commodities and policy debates take a back seat to raw gamesmanship with the clock ticking on the end of the session.

So it is that we saw action this morning on House Speaker Will Weatherford's priority -- his bill to end the state's defined benefit system for new employees so that the state can shift the risk from taxpayers to workers. Senate leaders agreed to allow a version of his plan come up for a vote in the Senate, with no guarantee of passage. The board vote is being sought by the Florida Chamber and other proponents of the plan,which could potentially use it against Republicans in a primary. 

In return for the favor, the House is expected to take up a bill to limit medical malpractice for doctors that is the priority of Senate President Don Gaetz's. Reps. Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers, James Grant, R-Tampa, told the Herald/Times they have agreed to withdraw their amendments. The amendments were opposed by the bill's sponsors, including Gaetz' son Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar.

Grant said he wasn't aware of a trade but wouldn't be surprised. He expects the House to take up the Senate bill.

"I have no idea what’s been negotiated,'' he said. "If you are asking me whether or not I’m surprised trades are happening back and forth, that happens it’s the end of session. Nobody has asked me to withdraw because of a vote on pensions or any other bills." Stay tuned. 

 

Democrats meet with governor, tell him they're prepared to stall session

At an early morning meeting at the governor's mansion, the top Democratic leaders of the Florida House urged the governor to consider vetoing the entire budget as a statement of his opposition to the legislature's expected failure to pass plan to expand health insurance for the poor. They also urged him to call a special session to enact the law. 

Reps. Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale, and Mia Jones of Jacksonville told the governor at their 6:30 a.m. meeting that with four days left in the session, they are prepared to used procedural moves to demonstrate their protest as well, said Mark Hollis, the Democrat's spokesman. "They feel an absence of an adequate plan to expand health care coverage is unacceptable,'' he said. 

The House is awaiting action by the Senate today as it takes up its plan to accept federal funds under the so-called Negron plan. "We want passage of the Senate bill,'' Hollis said.

If the House fails to adopt that bill, House Democrats are prepared to use their parlimentary tools to call attention to the issue. Among the options they have used in the past is a requirement to read bills in full. 

Democrats also know that the governor's priority, the expansion of the tax break for manufacturers, has not passed the House or Senate and it requires a two-thirds vote to happen. In the House, that means that Republicans need five of the 44 Democrats for the bill to pass. 

Weatherford's pension overhaul not dead yet

Ethics and campaign finance reform await Gov. Rick Scott’s signature. A sweeping education bill has been passed. And an elections bill is expected to be passed this week.

All were among Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford’s top priorities this session.

With less than a week left, it looks as if one main priority, pension reform, has stalled out, adrift in the the flow of bills between the House and Senate. Weatherford, usually so chipper about his prospects, sounded last week as if he’s willing to concede that his wish to get HB 7011 passed won’t be fulfilled.

“Hey, we’re three for five so far,” Weatheford told reporters Friday. “We’d like to be five for five, but there are no guarantees.”

Don’t fall for Weatherford’s sudden humility.

Weatherford has been pushing for a Senate vote all session on HB 7011, and it looks like today, for the first time, he’s got a chance.

 

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