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332 posts from March 2015

March 31, 2015

Senate panel advances abortion bill

After 20 minutes of rushed discussion Tuesday, a Senate panel approved a plan that would require women to wait 24 hours before having an abortion.

The party-line vote took place at the end of a Senate Health Policy Committee meeting, which also included a discussion on medical marijuana. Only one senator had time to speak about the abortion bill, along with just two of the 32 citizens who had signed up to testify.

The fast pace infuriated women’s rights activists, who blasted the panel after the meeting during an impromptu press conference.

"It was purposely put before lunch to stifle free debate," said Terri Wonder, a member of the Democratic Women’s Club of Manatee County.

The bill (SB 724) would require women to discuss the risks of having an abortion with their physician at least 24 hours before the procedure. The conversation would have to take place in person.

Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, said she sponsored the proposal because an abortion is a "major medical procedure."

"You don't go into a knee surgeon one day and say tomorrow I want to get a full knee [replacement]," Flores said. "I don’t think this should be treated any differently."

More here.

WaPo: New group formed by Jeb Bush ally can accept secret, unlimited donations

From the Washington Post:

Jeb Bush has given his tacit endorsement to a new group that can collect unlimited amounts of money in secret, part of a bold effort by his advisers to create a robust external political operation before he declares his expected White House bid.

The nonprofit group, Right to Rise Policy Solutions Inc., was quietly established in Arkansas in February by a friend and former Bush staffer. The group shares the name of two political committees for which Bush has been aggressively raising money — blurring the line that is supposed to separate a campaign from independent groups.

While ideological nonprofits have become major players in national politics in recent years, this marks the first time one has been so embedded in the network of a prospective candidate.

More here.

UPDATE: The Washington Post has published a follow-up story in which the founder of the nonprofit group says he hasn't ruled out releasing donors' names. That story is here.

Judge: Ex-Miami Lakes mayor can return to office

via @Paradise_Afshar

Former Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi has won his reinstatement lawsuit against the town and current Mayor Wayne Slaton, although the judge who ruled in his favor issued a 30-day stay to allow the town time to appeal.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Gisela Cardonne Ely ruled Tuesday afternoon that Pizzi can return immediately to his duties as mayor, and receive back payments, allowances and benefits from Aug. 13, 2013 to the present. The mayor’s position earns $18,000 annually, but that doesn’t include the cost of the benefits, which Pizzi figures exceeds $40,000 a year when tallying salary and benefits.

“This a total and complete victory for democracy and the constitution and rule of law,” Pizzi said following the ruling. “The big winners are the people of Miami Lakes, who are getting their rightfully elected mayor back where he belongs, in town hall — where I should have never left.”

Pizzi has been fighting to return to the mayoral seat since being acquitted of federal bribery charges in August 2014.

More here.

Senate advances medical marijuana fix but new hurdles emerge

Leticia Wilson black farmersA bill attempting to get the implementation of the state's Charlotte's Web marijuana law back on track has created a new dilemma for its sponsor: how to make it equitable for black farmers.

Under the existing law, only farms that have been in continuous existence for 30 years and grow 400,000 or more plants are eligible to bid for one of five licenses to cultivate and distribute the non-euphoric strain of cannabis for patients with epilepsy, cancer and chronic muscle spasms.

According to the Florida Department of Agriculture, there are 99 Florida farms that qualify for the list. Left out of the equation, however, are hundreds of black farmers who say that 30 years ago they were still arguing with the U.S. Department of Agriculture over discriminatory lending practices and were not yet in business.

The result: the law has a "disproportionately negative impact on minority farmers,’’ said Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, sponsor of the original legislation, which passed on the last day of the 2014 session.

Bradley has filed a new bill, SB 7066, that attempts to expedite the implementation of the law which intended for the non-euphoric marijuana to be available to families by now. But, but with every step forward, he has found a new hurdle.

Continue reading "Senate advances medical marijuana fix but new hurdles emerge" »

South Florida students celebrate STEM day at the Florida Capitol

Students from five South Florida high schools dazzled lawmakers with their robotics skills Tuesday.

It was part of a celebration of STEM education. (That's science, technology, engineering and math, if you've been living under a rock.)

Joining the students: Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart and Department of Economic Opportunity Director Jesse Panuccio.

"Florida is laser-focused on being a global leader for jobs and a critical component of that must be the development of a talented workforce," Lopez-Cantera said. "We are proud of the work our students are doing to learn about what it takes to compete in today's global economy."

The students came from TERRA Environmental Research Institute in Miami-Dade, Western High School in Davie, NOVA High School in Davie, West Broward High School in Pembroke Pines, and North Broward Preparatory School in Coconut Creek. They belong to teams participating in the FIRST Robotics national competition.

Patrick Hermes, who directs the Northwest Florida Regional Tournament for FIRST, said the teens were gaining skills that would help them in the workforce.

"Today they are competing in robotics competitions," he said. "But tomorrow they will be using this technology for the greater good, helping to improve healthcare, transportation, and even our nation's space program."

Tuesday's celebration was sponsored by Florida FIRST Robotics and the Motorola Solutions Foundation, which has invested nearly $2 million in STEM-related education in Florida since 2007.

Miami Commissioner Willy Gort draws a challenger in reelection campaign


Looks like Miami Commission Chairman Wifredo "Willy" Gort will have to campaign to keep his seat after all.

Gort, who is running for his second consecutive term representing Miami's District 1, stood unopposed until Monday, when Miguel Angel Gabela filed to challenge him. Gabela, formerly a member of Miami's Planning, Zoning and Appeals Board, briefly filed to run against Gort in 2011 but quickly withdrew.

Although Gort only just now drew a challenger, he hasn't rested on his laurels. The incumbent had raised $86,000 as of the last campaign report, filed March 10.

Fact-checking Jeb Bush's claim comparing the religious freedom laws in Florida and Indiana

Likely presidential candidates have reacted to Indiana’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act as Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican, has had to defend the law against those who say it discriminates against gays and lesbians.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush sided with Pence in a radio interview on Monday.

"I think Gov. Pence has done the right thing," Bush said in a radio interview with Hugh Hewitt on March 30. "Florida has a law like this. Bill Clinton signed a law like this at the federal level. This is simply allowing people of faith space to be able to express their beliefs, to be able to be people of conscience. I just think once the facts are established, people aren’t going to see this as discriminatory at all."

How similar is the Florida law to the Indiana law, or the federal law before that? When we reached out to Bush’s office, they reiterated that Bush was describing the laws as "very similar." We decided to delve into the evidence for a complete picture.

Hold the anchovies! Florida senator suing pizza delivery guy

Hold the anchovies: Republican Sen. Charlie Dean of Inverness is suing a 19-year-old former delivery guy for Hungry Howie's pizza.

News reports say the delivery man took a wrong turn on a dark night in Inverness, ended up in Dean's backyard and the imposing former Citrus County sheriff appeared in the moonlight with a flashlight in one hand and a gun in the other. Dean is seeking nearly $15,000 in damages to cover his legal costs and is claiming harm to his reputation. The Citrus County Chronicle's account, with all the toppings, can be found here.

School guns bill suffers setback in Florida Senate

A contentious proposal that would let designated teachers bring their guns to school suffered a serious setback Tuesday when a Senate panel declined to vote on it.

Because the Senate Education Committee won't meet again, the bill (SB 180) won't have another opportunity for a committee hearing. It could still be incorporated into another proposal, but Senate Education Committee Chairman John Legg said he would raise strong objections.

"It would be a large lift knowing that the Education Committee [deferred] it," the Trinity Republican said.

Legg said he has "significant concerns" with the bill, which would allow school employees with law enforcement or military experience to carry concealed weapons on school property.

"Deputizing private citizens to protect a school is not an avenue I want to go down," he said.

Both the Senate and House are considering a separate proposal that would allow permitted individuals to carry concealed weapons on college campuses (SB 176/ HB 4005).

The so-called campus carry bill has found support in both chambers. Legg says he supports the proposal because it is about "individual protection."

But college presidents and police chiefs say the campus carry bill is just as dangerous as its K-12 counterpart. And on Tuesday, the non-profit Everytown for Gun Safety and the Florida Chapter of Moms Demand Action released a poll showing 61 percent of Floridians oppose allowing concealed weapons on college campuses.

"We already know campus police, college presidents, faculty, and students stand against this legislation," said Chryl Anderson, a volunteer with Moms Demand Action. "This is more evidence that the legislators who support these dangerous bills are out of touch with what Floridians really want."

Florida lawmakers travel to DC to talk health care

ReneWondering why Sens. René García, R-Hialeah, and Garrett Richter, R-Naples, aren't in Tallahassee today?

They are meeting with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The two lawmakers flew to Washington at the request of Senate President Andy Gardiner, spokeswoman Katie Betta said.

The purpose of the trip: to get a better idea of where Florida stands on some key health care issues.

"With tomorrow marking the halfway point of the session, we are nearing the time when the legislature is going to have to start finalizing decisions on the budget," Betta said.

Among the unresolved issues: what the future holds for Florida's Low Income Pool program.

The federal government has said it will not renew the $2.1 billion program, which helps hospitals treat uninsured and Medicaid patients, as it exists today. But the state and federal government have been unable to reach consensus on a successor program. 

The Senate recently recommended a new program would distribute the Low Income Pool funds more broadly than the original program. It was not clear how the idea was received by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The Senate has also been driving a push to expand health care coverage to nearly one million poor Floridians. That, too, would require approval from the federal government, assuming it passed through the resistant House.