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April 14, 2015

Shield of police body camera videos tightened

plan to shield the release of video taken from police body cameras is moving through the Senate. But it's been scaled back some amid criticism.

The bill, SB 248, would still shield videos taken in private places from disclosure under open records laws. Sponsor Sen. Chris Smith, D-Ft. Lauderdale, said this is necessary to protect people’s privacy, especially in their own homes.

However, after being amended by the Senate Tuesday, it no longer applies to all medical emergencies, including incidents of police brutality that have endeared body cameras to reformers.

“That would have been overly broad because technically a lot of circumstances that you need to see a video sometimes involves injury,” Smith said Tuesday.

Barbara Petersen of the First Amendment Foundation said Monday that the exemptions would be too broad and prevent journalists or members of the public from accessing video evidence in cases of police use of force, such as the shooting in North Charleston, S.C., last week.

Despite these changes, Petersen said Tuesday that the foundation remains opposed to the bill.

“If privacy is a concern,” she wrote in an email, “the bill should be amended to protect any information that would identify a person in the video by obscuring faces, house numbers, etc.”

Repeal of gay adoption ban clears Senate

Senators approved Tuesday a bill promoting adoptions that has become a source of heated debate.

HB 7013, sponsored by Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, in the Senate, will create incentives for state employees who adopt. But it will also strike a ban on gay Floridians adopting.

The ban’s repeal is largely symbolic. A judge ruled the state’s ban unconstitutional five years ago, and gay parents have been adopting ever since.

“There is a poison pill in it that will not allow me to vote for the bill,” Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, said. “Before you vote, think about the long-term implications for every one of these children...Put the politics aside and think about the children. That’s all I ask.”

But Gaetz said regardless of the politically charged nature of the gay adoption ban, passing the bill will ultimately help children looking for permanent families.

“So I ask you today to follow the law,” he said. “Follow the law that says we don’t discriminate, and follow the law that gives these children a fair chance.”

Rick Scott's claim about LIP and Medicaid

Florida simply can’t trust the federal government to follow through on expanding Medicaid because Washington has already abandoned funding a current statewide health care program, Gov. Rick Scott says.

Scott is pointing to the state’s loss of federal money for safety net hospitals called the Low Income Pool. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services made it crystal clear in February 2015 that some $1.3 billion in Florida’s LIP funding won’t be renewed after June 30. That left a billion-dollar hole in Scott’s proposed budget, which assumed that LIP money would be available.

"The same federal government that offers some money for a program is walking away from another health care program," Scott said during an April 9 stop in Sarasota. "How can you feel comfortable picking up another federal program when they are walking away from an existing program?"

The Florida House and Senate are currently debating a potential state solution to Medicaid expansion, but this claim deals with the specifics of this LIP funding -- namely what it is, how it’s funded and when Washington told Florida they’d be doing without. The issue sounds confusing, but don’t worry, Joshua Gillin of PolitiFact Florida will nurse you through it.

As expected, Rep. Ron DeSantis is thinking of Senate run

via @learyreports

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach said today he is thinking of entering the race for Marco Rubio's Senate seat, an expected development.

In a statement the Republican said: 

Marco Rubio has done a great job in the U.S. Senate. His 2010 campaign inspired me to consider running for office, and I have no doubt that he will make a compelling candidate on the national stage. As it became clear that Senator Rubio was likely to run for President, I received encouragement to consider running for the Senate. Casey and I will use the next several weeks to discuss the race with our friends and supporters and will make a decision in short order.
The country is suffering from stagnation at home and indignities abroad. We need a new generation of leaders who will promote policies that will foster economic growth and alleviate the middle class squeeze, defend America's national security against those who threaten our people, reform the culture of Washington, D.C., and reassert the constitutional principles that make our country unique. Whatever shape my future service takes, I look forward to doing my part to help get our country back on track.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Did Marco Rubio vote to deport Dreamers?

On the day Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., announced his presidential campaign, opponents came out with an ad attacking his record.

People for the American Way, a liberal advocacy group, released a Spanish-language radio ad that calls Rubio "just another Republican with a dangerous plan" and claims he supports tax cuts for the wealthy and cutting Medicare funding. The ad is set to run in Denver and Miami, Rubio’s hometown.

The ad also pits Rubio against "Dreamers" -- young people who arrived in the United States illegally as children who have been granted temporary status for deferred deportation under a 2012 White House program.

"Instead of giving Dreamers an opportunity to go to college and build a future, Marco Rubio voted to deport them," the ad’s narrator said.

Rubio, a son of Cuban immigrants, has long been an advocate for changing immigration law, including a path to citizenship. Did he really vote to deport the approximately 700,000 immigrants covered by this program?

See what Lauren Carroll of PolitiFact found and see our full Truth-O-Meter record for Rubio.

Senate passes growler, tap room bill

The Florida Senate was ready to vote on a bill allowing craft breweries to fill and sell half-gallon beer growlers — then Sen. Jack Latvala filed a rare amendment on the floor, changing the language.

The bill (SB 186) still passed, by a unanimous vote.

Last-minute changes bring the bill closer in alignment with the House version, said Latvala, a Clearwater Republican.

“We’ve done it this way to kind of facilitate our negotiations on the other side of the hall,” he said on the floor Tuesday. “We’ve come up with some language that — I’m not going to represent that the House has agreed to it — I’m going to represent that I think it’s pretty close to final language.”

New language allows growlers to be sold at breweries, the issue that started a years-long legislative battle over craft beer.

But it also allows craft breweries to open tasting rooms and have up to eight (down from nine in the earlier language) retail licenses for selling their beer, ending the need to use an exemption in law meant for tourism sites.

The legislation, if passed by the House and signed by Gov. Rick Scott would give more freedom to craft brewers, who see some of these reforms as opportunities for growth. Opposing groups, particularly beer wholesalers and distributors, have stood firmly against growlers for years. This session, though, they’ve come out in support of legalizing the containers.

Don Gaetz (net worth $25M) eyes wide-open U.S. Senate seat

Republican Sen. Don Gaetz of Niceville said Tuesday he's considering entering Florida's wide-open 2016 U.S. Senate race as a self-funding candidate. He said his wife Victoria is totally on board with him leaping into the void created by CFO Jeff Atwater's unexpected decision to not seek the seat held by Sen. Marco Rubio.

"With Jeff Atwater out, that just shows how much the eggs have been scrambled in Florida, that I have people calling me and offering substantial commitments of support," Gaetz said.

Gaetz's interest was first reported by CQ Roll Call. The Panhandle lawmaker and former Senate president said he's "a long way" from making any decision and that he's under no illusions about the challenge he faces building statewide name recognition.

But Gaetz does have a reported net worth of $25 million (in 2012), and said he's willing to spend his own money -- a big advantage in a crowded race with no-big name candidates."I could do that if I got in the race," he said, "and my wife told me last night that she was all in, and she was a lot more in than I was."

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera and at least four Republican members of Congress are also looking at the seat.   

Gaetz recalled Allan Bense, an effective House speaker who was recruited to run against Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in 2006 but declined entreaties from Karl Rove, among others. "He had statewide name recognition of about 3 percent," Gaetz said. "I don't flatter myself that anybody outside my district could probably pick me out of a lineup."

Scott signs Florida testing bill

Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday signed a sweeping education bill aimed at reducing the testing requirements for public schoolchildren.

In addition to eliminating an 11th grade English exam and capping the amount of time students can spend taking state-mandated tests, the bill (HB 7069) delays the release of school grades and teacher evaluations until the new Florida Standards Assessments are deemed valid.

Scott conceded that there was still work to be done.

"I agree with many teachers and parents who say we have too many tests, and while this legislation is a great step forward, we will keep working to make sure Florida students are not over tested," he said in a statement.

Rita Solnet, one of the founders of the group Parents Across America, said Scott should consider signing an executive order holding students harmless during the transition to new standards and exams.

"While we are pleased that the legislature dialed back some unattainable demands and that they engaged in a healthy discussion on how we must restore credibility to Florida's accountability system, we are disappointed that children are still at risk of harsh penalties during this transitional period," Solnet said in a statement.

No word yet on if Scott would consider taking that kind of action. 

HB 7069 also allows school districts to start classes as early as Aug. 10. Some district leaders have said they will not take advantage of that flexibility in 2015, as many families in Florida have already begun planning their summer vacations.

Marco Rubio says he'd grow Guántanamo

via @carolrosenberg

If President Barack Obama manages to close Guantánamo prison, would-be GOP nominee Marco Rubio said Monday, a President Rubio would reopen it.

Rubio, talking to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos after announcing his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination, said America needs an intelligence and detention center for interrogating suspected terrorists.

“They’re killed by a drone or they’re targeted in some other way,” he said. “But there’s tremendous value in capturing people that are enemy combatants and from them being able to gather actionable intelligence that can not only prevent attacks against the homeland and abroad but allow us to disrupt the cells they’ve created in different parts of the world.”

He added: “We’re no longer doing that as aggressively as we once did.”

Rubio, who serves on the Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees, toured the detention center in May 2012 as a freshman senator, and has a gallery of photos from the day trip on his Senate website.

More here.

Trujillo unveils House plan to tighten prison oversight

The chief inspector general of the prison system and most of his top staff would be replaced, prison guards would wear body cameras, a hotline would log abuse claims and five regional oversight boards would conduct unannounced prison inspections under a massive rewrite of the House prison reform bill.

The proposal will be offered Tuesday by House Criminal Justice Committee Chairman Carlos Trujillo as an amendment to HB 7131, in an attempt to bridge the gap between a comprehensive Senate bill and the weaker House version. Both bills are a response to allegations of abuse and corruption in Florida’s prison system.

“This bill is taking us 80 percent of the way there, but it is a work in progress,’’ Trujillo told the Herald/Times of his proposal, filed late Monday. “There are other things that can’t be addressed in one bill, but it’s a start.”

Trujillo said he was motivated to revise the House proposal after testimony from inmate families and prison reform advocates who pleaded with the House to strengthen its legislation. It will be voted on by the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

The proposal envisions a wholesale review of all hiring practices, employee retention policies and employee training, Trujillo said. It requires that the state create five regional oversight boards, staffed by state employees whose terms would last no more than four years, and the goal would be to increase oversight and accountability at the troubled agency.

More here.