October 05, 2015

Bill allowing open carry of guns in Florida gets first hearing Tuesday



As the national debate over gun laws has resurfaced in the wake of last week's deadly community college shooting in Oregon, Florida continues to debate its own proposals here in Tallahassee.

Next up is a bill that would relax existing state law by allowing anyone who is licensed to carry a concealed weapon to also openly carry that firearm in public. The proposal gets its first hearing before the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee on Tuesday morning, and it's sure to draw input from both gun-rights advocates and gun-control supporters.

HB 163 is sponsored by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach. It's co-sponsored by Republican Reps. Neil Combee of Polk County, Brad Drake of Eucheeanna, Dane Eagle of Cape Coral, Jay Fant of Jacksonville and Charles Van Zant of Keystone Heights.  Van Zant and Fant both sit on the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee. Download HB163_AsIntroduced

Gaetz's father, Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, introduced the Senate companion (SB 300), which has yet to be referred to a committee in that chamber.

Matt and Don Gaetz are holding a press conference at 8 a.m. Tuesday to discuss their legislation at the Capitol.

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September 25, 2015

House Rules chairman sets kick-off for Florida Senate run


Republican state Rep. Ritch Workman plans to celebrate the launch of his Florida Senate campaign on Oct. 10 with a bash at his Melbourne home.

Workman, who is chairman of the House Rules Committee and a noted part-time Uber driver, is one of many House members gearing up for state Senate campaigns in 2016. 

An invite for Workman's campaign kick-off fundraiser notes that Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, is on his host committee, as well as several local officials in Brevard County.  Download Invitation for 10-10-15 Kick Off

In inviting family, friends and political supporters to his home, Workman emailed his guests that he's not asking for any specific contribution amount. "Anything is welcome," he wrote.

September 23, 2015

VIDEO: Congressional redistricting maps back in court this week


Attorneys for the Florida House and Senate, as well as a group of plaintiffs, will be back in court tomorrow to make their case for which congressional redistricting map Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis should recommend to the Florida Supreme Court.

Times/Herald bureau chief Mary Ellen Klas and reporter Michael Auslen break down the latest in this first installment of the "Times/Herald Tallahassee Update."


September 22, 2015

Senate chairman wants data, info on driver's license suspensions


Sen. Jeff Brandes

Taking the next steps in an effort to "produce a substantive bill to reform the inequities in the practice of driver license suspension," the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee on Tuesday asked two state agencies and court clerks statewide to gather information and provide it to senators.

The requests by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, come about a week after the first of what is expected to be several committee hearings on the topic before the 2016 legislative session starts in January.

A report last month by The Miami Herald found that 77 percent of all license suspensions in Florida between 2012 and 2015 occurred because of a failure to pay fees. In Miami-Dade County alone, 29 percent of all drivers had their licenses suspended, many of them the working poor who can't pay the high fees to get reinstated.

In letters to the heads of the Departments of Corrections and of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles and the president of the Florida Association of Court Clerks and Comptrollers, Brandes asked for data including:

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September 18, 2015

House, Senate education panels react differently to FSA review


Call it a tale of two education committees.

Both the House and Senate had hearings this week to discuss the results of an outside study to evaluate the new Florida Standards Assessments, and specifically whether the glitch-ridden roll-out last spring affected the accuracy of the test results.

The contrast in the tenor of both hearings was stark, as was the reception of Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart who spoke before both panels. (She had only a couple minutes before the Senate committee, but more than 90 minutes before the House committee.)

The Senate Education Pre-K-12 Committee on Thursday afternoon was concerned and skeptical, questioning the mixed results of the independent review and whether the Department of Education had a hand in crafting the final report, because the agency had the chance to review two drafts in a "fact-checking" effort. More here.

Meanwhile, the House Education Committee on Friday morning repeatedly thanked Stewart for her work, saying she isn't thanked enough for the "tough" job she's had. Their questions didn't focus much on the FSA review, but rather the future - such as how collective results of last spring’s Florida Standards Assessments will be used in the coming months to help determine school grades and evaluate teachers across Florida. More here.

Photo credit: The Florida Channel

July 22, 2015

State Senator proposes $15 per hour state minimum wage

The first bill filed for the 2016 Florida Legislature session is a bill that would increase the state minimum wage to $15. But don't expect the bill to ever become law.

State Sen. Dwight Bullard officially filed SB 6 on Wednesday, six months before the Legislature’s regular session starts in January. But recent history shows the bill has little chance of winning support in the Republican dominated Legislature or with Gov. Rick Scott who spoke against raising the minimum wage on the campaign trail.

Twice over the last two regular legislative sessions, Bullard, a Miami Democrat, has filed bills calling for the minimum wage to jump to $10.10 an hour. Those bills never even made it out of committee for a full vote of the House or Senate.

Still Bullard said by filling the bill at the higher amount he is hoping to see more momentum build for the idea of raising the wage. He said other states and cities around the nation are boosting their minimum wage and businesses he talks to are less resistant to the idea.

"I'm hopeful that conversation will continues about raising the wage," Bullard said on Wednesday.

Florida’s current minimum wage, which is $8.05 per hour, is not even enough for many people to even rent a place to live in many cities in the state, Bullard said.

The filing comes just days after a research and watchdog group Integrity Florida aimed to debunk the argument that raising the minimum wage results in lost jobs. The group found that 25 states raised the minimum wage, and every one experienced job growth except for West Virginia.

During his 2014 re-election campaign, Scott, a Republican, opposed the state raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

March 16, 2015

Legislator blames testing woes only on cyber attack

On day 1 of the new computerized standardized tests in Florida, students and administrators across the state couldn’t log on to the tests, forcing some districts to postpone the assessments.

The problems that started March 2 spanned the state and hit Florida's largest counties including Miami-Dade, Broward and Hillsborough. Initial reports were that it was a technical glitch in the hands of the testing vendor, American Institutes for Research.

But by the end of the week, state law enforcement were also investigating a cyber security attack. Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho would later call it a "catastrophic meltdown," and the testing problems added more fuel to the fire about Florida’s focus on tests.

During a House Education Appropriations Committee meeting March 12, chairwoman and state Rep. H. Marlene O'Toole, R-Lady Lake, put the blame solely on the cyber attack.

"On the testing problems, many of you may have read in the media, that the problem was not that of a vendor, the problem was not that of the test materials itself, it was the product of a cyber attack," she said. O’Toole’s claim suggested that the sole problem was the cyber attack, but that conflicted with news reports and information provided by the state Department of Education.

Turn to PolitiFact Florida to see how we rated this claim. 

March 12, 2015

How much of the state budget goes to Medicaid?

After rejecting Medicaid expansion in 2013, the Florida Legislature is taking a serious look at it this session. The program pays for health insurance for the very poor.

On March 10, a state Senate panel approved a proposal that would allow Florida to accept $50 billion in federal dollars to expand coverage to about 800,000 low-income residents. The plan would establish a state-run private insurance exchange for residents who earn less than $16,000 a year or $33,000 for a family of four.

Though the bill won unanimous support of the GOP-dominated Senate Health Policy Committee, it faces an uphill battle in the more conservative House. Also, it would require the federal government to grant Florida a waiver. The feds might object to parts of the Senate proposal that require beneficiaries to pay a monthly premium based on their salary, ranging from $3 to $25.

During the Senate hearing, the Florida Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Mark Wilson said he had met with legislators to discuss the chamber’s ideas for a Medicaid proposal.

"We recommended a 32 percent cap on state expenditures, we are coming close to 30 percent right now," he said. "It's the biggest expenditure at the state and we’d like to protect taxpayers with a 32 percent cap."

Does Medicaid come close to eating up nearly one-third of the state budget and is it the state’s biggest expenditure?

Turn to PolitiFact Florida for the answer.

March 01, 2015

Ken Plante, former state senator and lobbyist, dies at age 75

Former state Sen. Ken Plante died Sunday night after a three-year battle with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

 Plante, 75, was hospitalized last week as his condition worsened.

A Republican born in Orlando, Plante was elected to the Senate from Winter Park in 1967. He left the Legislature in 1978, but remained in Tallahassee as a lobbyist for a number of commercial clients and Gov. Jeb Bush.

Bush, now exploring a run for president,  visited Plante at his home last month during a fundraising trip to Tallahassee. Plante left his private lobbying clients to become director of legislative affairs for Bush after he became governor in 1999.

Bush said Sunday night that Plante met “the terrible diagnosis in the way he seemed to face all challenges – with great courage, incredible resolve, and unwavering faith.”  Bush noted that “Ken was a steady hand, and provided our team with the much needed reassurance that ‘everything would be okay in the end’ during our first legislative session. We were chaotic, but Ken was always calm, and his experience helped us navigate the process.”

Plante was an uncommon lobbyist, esteemed by legislators, governors and his fellow lobbyists. 

Plante often talked about his growing dislike of the influence of money in the political process where he worked for more than 30 years.  In the final years of his life, Plante worked with former Gov. Reubin Askew and others to try and draft a constitutional amendment to limit the money political candidates can raise and spend. They wanted to find a way to impose limits despite various U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have overturned many attempts to limit contributions.

With the death of Askew a year ago and Plante’s illness, the effort foundered and died.

“The money has become obscene,’’ Plante told the Times in 2012. “Somehow we have got to turn this thing around.’’

More here.

-- LUCY MORGAN, Tampa Bay Times

December 11, 2014

Ice cream-truck pedophile could go free thanks to bad FL law, Supreme Court case


McdadeHey, pedophiles and extortionists, you have an unwitting friend in the Florida Legislature.

For about 40 years, Florida has generally prohibited people from secretly recording others – including criminals -- without their knowledge. There are some exceptions.

But being a little girl who's raped by your mom’s boyfriend?

Nah. You can't make a secret audio recording of his illegal sexual activities. It’s not admissible in court.

No one’s happier about that than Fort Myers’ own pedophile ice cream-truck operator Richard Russell McDade, 68.

The convict won the right to a new trial after the Florida Supreme Court Thursday reversed a Second District Court of Appeal ruling that said the recording could be used. The victim, who testified that McDade had sex with her from the ages of 10 to 16, said he threatened to have her and her mother deported to Mexico because they were illegal immigrants.

There's a pretty good chance McDade could escape a future conviction (and perhaps sell more ice cream to more kids on the streets) because, as the Second DCA said in its now-reversed opinion:

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