October 08, 2015

Confederate Flag in Florida Senate seal on its way out

@ByKristenMClark

Citing historical inaccuracies and a need to reflect modern values, a Senate committee unanimously recommended Thursday that the Confederate flag be removed from the Florida Senate’s official seal.

The vote came after little discussion and no opposition from the bipartisan panel. A two-thirds majority vote of the full Senate, or support from 27 of 40 members, is needed to complete the change.

Sixteen different flags have flown over Florida in its long history, and the state shouldn’t endorse flags of illegitimate governments, he said, referring to the Civil War rebellion of the southern states.

For others, the rule change embodies something more personal: a desire to rid the Senate’s insignia of a controversial symbol that has a widespread effect, “especially [for] those of us who have African ancestry as it relates to a dark period in our history that still has a profound effect upon many of us,” said Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner of Tampa.

More here.

October 06, 2015

Open-carry bill passes Florida House subcommittee

@ByKristenMClark

Gun owners in Florida with concealed-carry permits are one step closer to getting the right to openly carry those weapons in public, under legislation that cleared a House subcommittee today by a 8-4 vote.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, who introduced HB 163, said it “restores and vindicates” Second Amendment rights and promotes public safety. But critics of the proposal said it should, at a minimum, include better training requirements and also better protect property owner’s rights if they don't want weapons in their homes or businesses.

Those who are in total opposition said an open-carry law in Florida would instill fear, rather than calm.

“When I am out at Starbucks and there’s a cop there with his gun, it’s intimidating and it’s scary,” said Shawn Bartelt, a retiree and mother of two teenagers from Orlando. “I do not want to walk around when I walk my dogs and know that somebody’s carrying a gun out there. … I don’t want my kids raised in a world where we’re being less civilized.”

Gaetz argued that fighting for gun-owners’ rights has the opposite effect, and he said federal crime statistics are on his side.

“While we will certainly hear from shrill voices on the left that open carry will lead to the wild, wild west, that is not borne out by any of the data we have,” Gaetz said. He said U.S. Department of Justice statistics from 2012 actually show less violent crime in states with open-carry laws.

Florida is one of only five states and the District of Columbia, which prohibit openly carrying firearms and other restricted weapons.

Continue reading "Open-carry bill passes Florida House subcommittee" »

October 05, 2015

Jones: ‘No performance issues’ with corrections’ I.G. who resigned

Julie jones

@ByKristenMClark

Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones told a Senate committee Monday that the re-assignment of her agency’s inspector general was of his own choosing, not because of performance issues.

Jeffery Beasley announced last week that he is stepping down to head up the department’s intelligence division. Beasley’s job change comes as the corrections department has been plagued for more than a year by widespread criticism and allegations that Beasley and his office failed to investigate or may have even hindered investigations into suspicious deaths, beatings and medical neglect of inmates in the state prison system.

While giving an update to the Senate Criminal Justice Committee on Monday afternoon, Jones spoke about ways she's trying to improve the environment within the agency by focusing on values, such as supervisory accountability. Senators had one question about Beasley's job change -- specifically, how Jones' vision jibes with Beasley's re-assignment.

“I’m trying to understand how someone goes from being an I.G. that perhaps they didn’t perform well or something, and then they get integrated in the system,” said Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, vice-chairwoman of the committee. “What kind of signal does that send?”

Jones said there were “no performance issues” with Beasley.

“He did four years’ worth of good duty and has elected to step away from his position and do something different,” she said.

Beasley, 41, similarly told the Miami Herald last week that he elected voluntarily to move into the new role.

“This is a phenomenal move and opportunity," Beasley told the Herald. “This is not the secretary running me out of the position. This is not the governor forcing me out of the office."

Beasley is expected to continue as inspector general for a few more weeks. The intelligence division, which Beasley will now oversee, is tasked with probing inmate-generated crime, including identity theft and drug and tobacco trafficking.

Jones told reporters she will have no role in recommending Beasley's successor.

"That is not my responsibility," she said, adding that Melinda Miguel -- Gov. Rick Scott’s appointed chief inspector general -- will advertise the position and put together an interview board, which will make recommendations to Miguel and Jones.

 Photo credit: The Florida Channel

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

Guns

@ByKristenMClark

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.

Continue reading "Bill allowing open carry of guns in Florida gets first hearing Tuesday" »

September 25, 2015

House Rules chairman sets kick-off for Florida Senate run

@ByKristenMClark

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

@ByKristenMClark

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

@ByKristenMClark

IMG_brandes.jpg_2_1_S34B3CH5_L112445816
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:

Continue reading "Senate chairman wants data, info on driver's license suspensions" »

September 18, 2015

House, Senate education panels react differently to FSA review

Pamstewart@ByKristenMClark

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.