April 08, 2016

Like this year, 2018 legislative session will start in January



Florida's legislative session will get an early start in 2018, just like this year.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill today that moves the 2018 session's start to Jan. 9.

The Florida Constitution allows the Legislature to start session early in even-numbered years. Otherwise, session begins on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March. (The 2017 session will start March 7.)

Lawmakers were divided in moving the session date up for 2018. SB 7076 passed the Senate by a 27-11 vote and the House by a 89-28 vote.

During Senate debate, some senators questioned the cost and need for having an earlier session. Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, responded at the time: "When you’re on spring break with your kids this year, you’ll understand the significance of it."

Scott also signed 16 other bills into law today, including one that helps the families of law enforcement and first responders who are killed on the job.

SB 7012 -- sponsored by Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, and Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers -- provides the deceased individual's monthly salary to their beneficiaries for their lifetime.

The expanded benefit applies to law enforcement officers, firefighters, corrections officers, emergency medical technicians, paramedics and probation officers. The benefit takes effect July 1 and retroactively applies to eligible individuals who were killed in the line of duty on or after July 1, 2013.

"This legislation will ensure that these brave Floridians have the peace of mind knowing that their family will have financial support if the unthinkable were to ever happen," Scott said in a statement today.

Here were all of the new laws Scott approved today. He still has 26 bills pending on his desk from the 2016 session.

Continue reading "Like this year, 2018 legislative session will start in January" »

March 24, 2016

Gov. Rick Scott signs 34 bills, including body cameras, slungshots & dental carve-out

@ByKristenMClark and @MichaelAuslen

Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed 34 bills into law today, including one requiring law enforcement agencies to adopt policies and training protocols for using officer-worn body cameras and another that makes it legal again for Floridians to carry concealed slungshots.

Scott also signed legislation carving out dental services from Medicaid managed care plans. It's a change supporters say will lower costs and better mirror the private insurance market, where medical coverage and dental coverage are generally provided by different insurers.

Currently, Medicaid recipients' dental coverage is from the same provider as their medical.

The bill requires a study by the Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability to assess the idea before it goes into effect, allowing lawmakers to come back to the table and change course if need be. In his letter approving the legislation, Scott issued a stern warning to lawmakers:

"While I am giving my approval to this bill today," he wrote, "if the results of the study do not demonstrate better quality dental care at reduced costs than the net benefits provided under Statewide Medicaid Managed Care today, I expect the 2017 Legislature to amend the statute immediately to protect Medicaid recipients and the services they receive through Statewide Medicaid Managed Care."

Meanwhile, the body-camera legislation (HB 93) sailed through the Legislature this session, garnering unanimous approval from both chambers. The new law doesn't require agencies to use body cameras but will ensure that those that do have proper procedures in place.

As of October, 18 police agencies in Florida — including Miami and Miami Beach — used body cameras. Another 10, such as Tampa police, were operating pilot programs.

“This bill gives us that opportunity to go further to make sure that we are providing transparency to our citizens but also give accountability to our law enforcement,” Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, said after the legislation passed the House earlier this month.

The bill dealing with slungshots (HB 4009) lifts a ban on the manufacturing or sales of the weapon and allows individuals to carry it concealed without a permit. A slungshot -- which is a weight attached to a cord or strap -- was originally a maritime tool that later became a weapon used by gangs in the 19th century.

Other bills Scott signed today deal with various criminal justice issues, agriculture, education and public records exemptions, among other topics.

Here is the full list of new laws:

Continue reading "Gov. Rick Scott signs 34 bills, including body cameras, slungshots & dental carve-out" »

March 03, 2016

Florida Senate supports starting 2018 legislative session in January


Florida senators voted Thursday to start the 2018 legislative session two months early -- in January, as they did this year.

Senators did not debate the measure prior to approving it by a 27-11 vote.

But they had a short discussion Wednesday when Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, questioned the cost of and need for having an earlier session.

"When you’re on spring break with your kids this year, you’ll understand the significance of it," Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said, cracking a smile.

Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, also noted another benefit of an earlier session. He jokingly inquired about the "average temperature during a regular session."

The House has yet to sign off on moving the start date for the 2018 session.

The Florida Constitution allows the Legislature to start session early in even-numbered years. Otherwise, session begins on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March.

Four Republicans and seven Democrats in the Senate opposed having an earlier start in 2018.

They were: Republicans Lizbeth Benacquisto of Fort Myers, Jeff Brandes of St. Betersburg, Denise Grimsley of Sebring, and Jack Latvala of Clearwater, and Democrats Dwight Bullard of Cutler Bay, Jeremy Ring of Margate, Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale, Eleanor Sobel of Hollywood, Darren Soto of Orlando, and Clemens and Braynon.

February 02, 2016

Former NFL, FSU players lobby for payment in Devaughn Darling's death

From the News Service of Florida:

Family members and former teammates of a Florida State University football player who died while working out nearly 15 years ago gathered Tuesday at the Capitol to urge lawmakers to approve a bill that would compensate his family.

Devaughn Darling was a freshman for the Seminoles in 2001, when he collapsed and died during a training session. His family later agreed to a $2 million settlement with the university.

But under the state's sovereign immunity laws, the family could not collect more than $200,000 without legislative approval of what is known as a "claim" bill. Such bills have been filed repeatedly to compensate the Darling family but have not passed.

Devaughn Darling's twin brother, Devard, said it is difficult for his family to have to lobby lawmakers year after year.

"Nothing can bring him back, no amount of money,'' Devard Darling said. "$1.8 million isn't worth Devaughn's life, but like everyone has said, it is just the closure that we are looking for. We have to relive this every year."

Several former NFL players and FSU teammates joined the Darling family at the Capitol. Bills (SB 16 and HB 3513) that call for paying the Darling family have yet to be heard by legislative committees this session.

"I'm going to be here to support them (family members), and I hope that those that will vote on this issue and will bring this issue to the table will just think of the family,'' said Corey Simon, a former Florida State and NFL player.

December 18, 2015

For sale: Ernesto Perez's fancy $2 million Coral Gables home


Former Dade Medical College owner Ernesto Perez is selling his luxurious Coral Gables house. Asking price is $2.15 million.

The two-story Spanish-style home has five bedrooms, six and a half bathrooms, and boasts “Desert Bloom marble floors from Dubai,” according to the sales listing on the Zillow real estate website.

The photos of the 5,291 square-foot home provide a window into how Perez’s for-profit college empire provided a comfortable lifestyle. The master bedroom has a skylight feature, and the room appears to be roughly the size of a studio apartment.

Other amenities: a “stunning gourmet kitchen with Turkish stone counters,” a large pool/jacuzzi, and a “unique Zen Garden.”

Perez’s college suddenly shut down on Oct. 30, after the U.S. Department of Education placed the school under heightened financial scrutiny. For years, some Dade Medical students had complained that the college enrolled them with false promises, and failed to deliver a quality education. At the Hollywood campus, only 13 percent of nursing graduates last year passed the state’s required license exam.

More here.

December 14, 2015

Judge Reynolds starts Senate redistricting trial today -- as each side claims the other drew maps to benefit partisans

Galvano mapThe weeklong redistricting trial scheduled to begin in a Tallahassee courtroom Monday will determine the fate of Florida’s 40 Senate districts and the future of the 29 incumbents seeking reelection.

The rare political scramble is forcing all of them back onto the ballot in November, including many of whom thought they could sit out this election because they were elected to a four-year term in 2014. And they each want to know: Who will have to move to get reelected, who faces new competition and who faces new communities to represent?

The remaining 11 senators are not seeking reelection because they are either leaving because of term limits, or seeking another office.

It is the vestige of the Fair Districts amendments to the state constitution that were approved by voters six years ago, and the districts remain in limbo because legislators admitted to manipulating the political boundaries three years ago to benefit Republicans — in violation of the amendments — then tried and failed to redraw the Senate map during a three-week special session.

Now, the job of preparing a new map is left to Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds, and he has only a week to do it. Both sides have submitted maps and each will accuse the other of drawing a map with improper partisan intent.

More here.

December 03, 2015

Just don't call it climate change in Tallahassee

Miami beach flood


KEY WEST -- Climate change is still a dirty word in Tallahassee.

On the last day of a three-day Key West summit on climate change in South Florida, local lawmakers said they are chipping away at problems tied to rising sea levels and a host of ills linked to a warming planet, as long as they call it something else.

"You’re not allowed to talk about climate change. I don’t think that’s literally the policy, but because of the environment, you're not allowed to openly engage," said State Rep. José Javier Rodríguez, a Miami Democrat.

Rodriguez, along with State Rep. Kristin Jacobs, D-Coconut Creek, said in addressing woes projected for the state - from declining coral reefs to a six to 12-inch rise in South Florida seas in the next 15 years - they struggle to delicately describe it as something else. Finding money for projects, they say, is easier than changing policy. Just don't mention the dreaded C words.

"Everyday we’re seeing people accept things that I didn’t think they would," Jacobs said. "Who would have thought Republicans would be for passing marijuana?"

Continue reading "Just don't call it climate change in Tallahassee" »

November 30, 2015

Are Florida lawmakers ready to tackle for-profit college abuses?


After a year of repeated for-profit college scandals — including the recent closure of Dade Medical College — Florida lawmakers are poised to consider new, tougher rules governing the schools.

The change follows several years in which lawmakers loosened standards and opened up more public money to for-profits. For the moment, the buzz is about greater consumer protections at the schools, which rely heavily on taxpayer money but receive little government oversight.

For-profit colleges enroll nearly one in five Florida college students — close to 300,000 students in total.

Though lawmakers are talking about stronger regulations, the proposals so far aren’t as aggressive as what some other states have done to protect students. And some Florida lawmakers may be hesitant to take any action whatsoever against an industry that donates generously to political campaigns, and has many powerful friends.

That’s particularly true in the conservative House. Two House lawmakers who chair important education-related committees were previously honored as “legislator of the year” by the for-profit college industry.

The 2016 legislative session starts on Jan. 12. Committee meetings have already begun.

One for-profit college bill that’s being debated would shut down schools with student loan default rates over 40 percent — resulting in the closure of a handful of beauty schools and barber colleges. It easily passed its first Senate committee stop in mid-November.

Other proposals are directly linked to the fallout from the Oct. 30 closure of Dade Medical College.

More here.

Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio dominate PolitiFact Florida's Top 5 for November 2015


Statements by South Florida’s GOP presidential rivals Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio led PolitiFact Florida’s website in November, touching on taxes and Rubio’s spending while speaker of the Florida House.

Here are the five most-read fact-checks from PolitiFact Florida in November, counting down to the most popular.

November 24, 2015

Miami for-profit college owner goes to prison, had ties to U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings


Miami for-profit college operator Alejandro Amor had a 54-foot yacht, a $2 million waterfront home, and his own private plane.

Now he’s headed to prison.

On Tuesday, a Miami federal jury convicted Amor of 12 counts of theft of government money, and one count of conspiracy. He will be sentenced on Feb. 3.

Before being raided by the FBI in 2012, prosecutors say FastTrain admitted roughly 1,300 students who didn’t have high school diplomas — using fraud to make the government think the students were eligible for financial aid.

In return, FastTrain received $6,560,000 in Pell grants and student loans for those students. For-profit colleges are known for aggressive recruiting, but FastTrain turned it up a notch. Ex-employees told investigators that Amor boosted enrollments by hiring former strippers as recruiters, some of whom wore “short skirts and stiletto heels” to work.

Amor allegedly told one employee to “hire some hot mommas” and “hire the sluttiest girls he could find.”

When it came to high school diplomas, FastTrain took advantage of lax federal rules that are vulnerable to abuse. A college that wants to enroll non-eligible students can accept diplomas from a “diploma mill” school — and there is no federal or state of Florida list that identifies known diploma mills.

Some accreditors allow their colleges to simply take a student’s word that they finished high school. The student signs an “attestation” that they have a diploma, and no further verification is done.

More here.