December 01, 2014

Richardson the first openly gay representative to hold House leadership post

State Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, has been selected as the Democratic Floor Leader by House Democratic leader Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, and Democratic Leader pro tempore, Mia Jones, D-Jacksonville. Richardson will be the first openly gay representative in Florida history to serve in a leadership position in the Florida legislature, according to House Democrats. 

Here's the Democrats' press statement:

Richardson, D-Miami Beach, was the first openly gay member ever elected to the Florida Legislature when he was elected on August 14, 2012. Richardson has been a licensed CPA in Florida for 30 years and began his career as a Pentagon auditor identifying fraud, waste and abuse in government contracts. He was re-elected earlier this year to represent House District 113 for his second two-year term and is the only openly gay member of the Florida Legislature. Richardson joins the leadership team that will guide policy and action for House Democrats. As Floor Leader, he will serve as the chief liaison between the Democratic Leader and the Office of the Speaker. Richardson will also serve as ranking member on the House Rules, Calendar & Ethics Committee. In that role, Richardson will work on daily schedules of action for the House. Richardson will also manage, in conjunction with Republican leaders, floor debate on bills and amendments.

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October 06, 2014

Movers & Shakers

Update on the Status of Women: Melissa Hagan has been appointed by Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, to the Florida Commission on the Status of Women.

Hagan and her husband, Aaron, own Emerald Coast Interview Consulting, and she recently served as chief development Ooficer for Gulf Coast State College. Hagan, of Lynn Haven, is a former teacher, curriculum designer and caseworker for at-risk youth.

The Commission, established in 1991, makes recommendations to the legislature, governor and cabinet on issues affecting women.

Her term starts immediately and expires Oct. 1, 2017.

Connie Mack IV joins public relations firm:  The former Florida congressman and state representative has joined Levick, a Washington D.C.-based public relations & communications firm, as an executive vice president.

Mack will also lead Levick's expansion into Florida and will open the firm's Miami office.

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August 04, 2014

Movers & Shakers

Sen. Grimsley named to new human trafficking council

Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, has been appointed by Senate President Don Gaetz to the Statewide Council on Human Trafficking, which was established by the legislature this session.

The first meeting of the 15-member council will be held at 2 p.m. Aug. 18th in Room 214 of the Knott Building at the Capitol.

Grimsley, chairwoman of the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, is the newest addition to the council. Rep. Jeanette Nunez, R-Miami, was appointed by House Speaker Will Weatherford. The two remaining members will be appointed by Gov. Rick Scott.

Attorney General Pam Bondi, the council's chairman, appointed Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle; Martin County Sheriff William SnyderTerry Coonan, executive director of the Florida State University Center for the Advancement of Human Rights; and Dotti Groover-Skipper, chairwoman of the Community Campaign Against Human Trafficking to the council.

The other members are Mike Carroll, interim secretary of the state Department of Children and Families, who will serve as vice chairman; State Surgeon General Dr. John ArmstrongElizabethDudek, Secretary of the state Agency for Health Care Administration; Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey; Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Interim SecretaryChristina Daly; and Education Commissioner Pam Stewart.

Florida ethics commission elects a new chairman

Linda McKee Robison, the former vice chairman of the Florida Commission on Ethics, was elected its chairman at the panel's July 25th meeting.

Robison, who is a partner in the Corporate Transactions Group of Shutts & Bowen, LLP, has served on the commission since 2011.

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May 13, 2014

ALF reforms fail again in Legislature

TALLAHASSEE -- Legislative leaders identified reform of Florida’s assisted-living facilities as one of their top goals this session, but once again lawmakers did not adopt measures to improve conditions in the 3,048 facilities around the state.

It is the third year the Legislature has not passed reforms proposed after a 2011 Miami Herald investigation that revealed the neglect, abuse and death of residents at some in ALFs.

The most recent Senate and House proposals fell apart in the final days when the House attached other health care related bills to the Senate’s ALF bill and they couldn’t resolve their differences.

“We still have the same antiquated, dangerous system that was in place when the Miami Herald wrote its series,” said Brian Lee, executive director of Families for Better Care. The state “has not fixed the abuse and neglect, and residents are still in trouble.”

Getting rid of the “bad apples” in the ALF industry and adding more oversight affects not only the elderly who live in facilities that can house a total of more than 80,000 residents, but also Florida’s economy and future generations, said Jack McRay, advocacy manager for AARP Florida.

“Florida seniors pay more in taxes than they get back in services,” McRay said. “It’s essential that they are able to remain and stay in Florida... We need to get it right.”

What happened this session “is a classic example of politics again trumping policy,” McRay said. “It became part of a healthcare ‘train’ that became a train wreck.”

The Senate unanimously passed SB 248 early in the session. The House passed its version, HB 573, at the end of April. While House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz identified ALF reform as one of their session goals in their “Work Plan 2014” program, it failed to make any progress.

Gaetz blames the House, and the ALF industry, for the bill’s demise.

“It wasn’t the trains that killed the bill. It was the House that killed the bill,’’ he  told the Herald/Times. “Speaker Weatherford gave me his commitment they would try to do this. The ALF industry lobbied very hard against reforms. They lost a lot of credibility. It’s a real shame.”

He said that when the House bill began to be “picked apart” in that chamber, he urged the Senate prime sponsor, Sen. Eleanoer Sobel, D-Hollywood, to start attaching it to several high priority House bills. In retaliation, the House attached language to the ALF bill that the Senate didn’t want -- language about surgery centers and visitation rights for grandparents.

“Healthcare is a complex issue, and we just weren’t able to get agreement between the two chambers,” Weatherford said after the session ended May 2.

Gaetz said he vowed to be Sobel’s first co-sponsor and will work to pass the bill next year.

"Frankly,’’ he said. “Those of us who support her efforts need a little bit more enthusiastic help.”

Sobel and House sponsor, Rep. Larry Ahern, R-Seminole, both vowed to renew their efforts next session.

"I’m very disappointed,” said Sobel, who also blamed “special interests” for the bill’s failure. “I believe we were very close and got further than we have in previous years,” she said.

Ahern said the important thing for next year “is to agree on something the first month of session and get this done early.”

Among the provisions, the ALF bill would have required facilities with one or more, rather than three or more, state-supported mental health residents obtain a limited mental health license; authorized ALF staff members, with increased training, to perform additional medication-related duties; and to assist with the self-administration of medication with increased training.

The most contentious issue was a new rating system for all licensed ALFs, similar to the system used for nursing homes. It would help consumers pick the best home for their loved ones. Family members often find themselves in a quandary when the hospital discharges a patient who cannot go home, McRay said.

“The consumer doesn’t know where to go or which ALFs are good and which are bad. A rating system has worked very well with nursing homes.”

The idea of a ratings system rankled the ALF industry. One industry group, the Florida Assisted Living Association (FALA), raised objections that people could post anonymous, possibly damaging comments on a website that would be managed by the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration.

The ratings system, along with a change in the fine structure that FALA said could affect smaller homes, were among the group’s key objections, said  Shaddrick Haston, its CEO, but he contends that members were not trying to sabotage the bill.

“Actually, most of the bill had great things to help residents age in place,” said Haston, who is AHCA’s former head of licensing for assisted-living facilities. “The industry wanted an ALF bill this year.”

One concern of Lee's, director of Families for Better Care, was a change that would reduce monitoring visits for homes that met certain criteria. Even a home that has had a good reputation can falter, he said.

In the fall, he noted, the state fined the Royal Palm Retirement Centre, an ALF in Port Charlotte, $22,500 for several violations found during a visit. AHCA’s inspection report noted that among resident-care problems, the facility “failed to provide adequate nursing supervision in providing care for four insulin-dependent diabetic residents.”

AHCA, Lee said, “needs to put more boots on the ground in ALFs, not fewer.”

Herald/Times staff writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report. Contact Rochelle Koff at rkoff@miamiherald.com

April 06, 2014

Session at midpoint: Election year squelches controversy, aids harmony and rewards contributors

The Florida Legislature has passed the halfway point of its 60-day session and the fruits of its labor can be summed up in two words: election year.

With Gov. Rick Scott struggling in the polls as he seeks a second term in November, the Republican-led legislature has worked to send him bills to bolster his image while avoiding issues that could complicate the governor’s political prospects.

In one month, lawmakers swiftly passed a repeal of the 2009 auto tag fee that will save most drivers $25 a year and touted it as the largest general revenue tax reduction in a decade. They enacted tuition credits for returning military in an effort to make the state friendly for veterans. They strengthened penalties for perpetrators of sex crimes in response to newspaper reports on repeat sex offenders.

And, in one of many bills pushed by the National Rifle Association, they sent the governor a measure Thursday to allow people to fire warning shots in self-defense.

Before the session began, House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said his goal was to help Scott “put points on the board” by passing popular legislation.

This week, Weatherford declared that the goal is “not to worry about elections this session. We’re here to do what we think is right.” Story here.


Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/04/05/4041743/at-session-midpoint-legislature.html#storylink=cpy

January 22, 2014

House leadership adds hurdle for parents seeking help from marijuana extract

The proponents of a proposal to decriminalize a non-euphoric marijuana strain that helps kids with seizures are winning hearts, but not the support they need from Florida House leadership.

A key legislator, Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, fears the idea will get confused by voters who think it’s a sign lawmakers support a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana for some medical use.

“I don’t want to be the first to start down a slope of approval on the use of illicit drugs under the claim of medical protection,’’ he said. “But I’m not saying I wouldn’t vote for something that would help these families.”

Baxley, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, wants a stand-alone bill that is not tucked into a criminal-justice package as its House sponsor, Rep. Matt Gaetz, has done. Baxley’s approach has the support of House Speaker Will Weatherford but is opposed by supporters of the bill, who say it will make it easier for naysayers to kill it.

The proposal supported by parents with children suffering seizures would allow a marijuana strain known as Charlotte’s Web to be legally developed in Florida.

“I think the supporters make a compelling case for the use of Charlotte’s Web to treat children with severe seizures. There is currently no member bill filed on the matter,” Weatherford said in a statement to the Herald/Times.

Meanwhile, the Florida Sheriff’s Association and the Florida Medical Association, which represents doctors, say they remain vigorously opposed to legalizing marijuana for medical use, but they acknowledge the value of strains high high in cannabidiol (CBD), the ingredient that controls seizures, but is low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound that creates a high. More here.


Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/01/04/3852689/parents-of-children-with-epilepsy.html#storylink=cpyThose strains have shown promise for stopping or slowing the seizures in children with severe epilepsy and provides other medical benefits for people with other conditions. More here.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/01/22/3886681/house-leaders-add-hurdle-for-parents.html#storylink=cpy

House speaker 2020? For Eisnaugle, the race is on

EisnaugleEric Eisnaugle, a 36-year-old Republican from Arcadia isn't a member of the Legislature but he is already campaigning to be speaker of the the Florida House in 2020. Sound like a long time away? It is, but it's the latest dance in the term-limits foxtrot politicians in Florida engage in behind the scenes, with little public attention.

Eisnaugle, who stepped aside after serving two years when his district was conflated with Rep. Steve Precourt's under redistricting in 2012, isn't the only candidate for House Speaker 2020. Also on the list is Rep. Mike Hill, R-Pensacola, who was elected in a special election last year, Rep. Shawn Harrison, a Tampa lawyer and Republican who is trying to regain a seat he lost in 2012 to Rep. Mark Danish, a Democrat, and Chris Sprowls, another Tampa lawyer and Republican.

Fundraising for Eisnaugle is happening now. A flyer announcing a mega-fundraiser on Jan. 28 at the Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando features Reps. Frank Artiles, Ritch Workman, David Santiago, Mike LaRosa and Jason Brodeur and is being promoted as "an event to support Eric Eisnaugle in his Speaker's race." If elected, Eishaugle, like Hill, will have an extra year of seniority over the other legislators elected in November who will also be termed out of office in 2022. 

Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, is a leading Eisnaugle advocate. "He has the most experience. He has the advantage,'' he said.

Precourt resigned earlier this month to take a $175,000 + job at the Orlando-Orange County expressway and Eisnaugle is the leading candidate in a March 11 special election to replace him. 

If elected, Eisnaugle would technically be a "red shirt" freshman, like Hill. Preceding him in the speaker office, if all goes as planned, would be Reps. Steve Crisfulli, Richard Corcoran and Jose Oliva. Obviously, Hill is seen as competition for Eisnaugle, with his name also being mentioned as future House speaker material. 

January 14, 2014

Sexual predator reforms gain momentum as legislators pass a flurry of bills

Senate and House committees on Tuesday speedily passed additional measures to tackle the issue of sexually violent predators, considered a major priority for the upcoming session.

Sen. Eleanor Sobel, chairman of the Senate’s Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee, said the proposed bills would “plug in the holes in the program and protect our vulnerable children and protect others from sexually violent predators.”

She held up a photo of 8-year-old Cherish Perrrywinkle of Jacksonville, who was murdered by a newly released sex offender, before the panel began reviewing two bills.

Senate Bill 522, sponsored by Sen. Denise Grimsley, would add a prosecutor, victim’s advocate and law enforcement officer to the multidisciplinary team that evaluates offenders considered for civil confinement. It would also expand the scope of inmates who can be evaluated under the predator law.

“The bill addresses the weaknesses in the current Sexually Violent Predator Program” that allows some violent predators to avoid evaluation and civil commitment, said Grimsley, R-Sebring.

The bills include recommendations made by Esther Jacobo, interim secretary of the Department of Children & Families after a September review of the Sexually Violent Predator Program.

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December 16, 2013

Movers & Shakers

Longtime legislative analyst retiring from Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee

Carol Preston will be retiring after a long career with the legislature at the end of the year. Preston, the chief legislative analyst for the Senate Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs, served for five years in the Senate and 14 years in the House.

Praising Preston at a Dec. 10th meeting of the Senate Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs, Sen. Nancy Detert, said the analyst “personally wrote most of the laws that we’re dealing with and fixed the ones that needed fixing.

“I know I couldn’t do my work on this committee without Carol Preston,” said Detert, R-Venice. "Just want her to know how grateful I am for her and always will be for her wonderful work. I think what people want to know at the end of their work career is ‘Did your life matter?’ And Carol Preston’s life certainly mattered to all of us.”

The committee also announced the addition of two new staffers. Peggy Sanford, who was an attorney with the Department of Children & Families, will be replacing Preston as the new chief legislative analyst. Barbara Crosier, an attorney who was the director of the Division of State Group Health Insurance at the Department of Management Services, is replacing Ashley Daniell as chief attorney. Daniell left the Senate for the private sector.

New communications director for Sen. Bean

Meghan Tarsitano is the new communications director for Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach. Tarsitano previously worked for U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw's re-election campaign.

Governor appointees

Elena Spottswood, a Key West community activist, has been appointed by Attorney General Pam Bondi to the Florida Commission on the Status of Women.

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December 12, 2013

With broad support for cut in auto fees, now it's a matter of "How much"?

It's no surprise that Gov. Rick Scott has plenty of support among legislative leaders for his plan to announce in Tampa this afternoon his proposal to cut auto registration fees in next year's budget.

After all, the Senate's plan to do the same, SB 156 , has picked up strong support and looks like an easy sell in next year's legislative session, which begins in March. 

But there is a big difference between the two. Scott wants to cut auto registration fees by $401 million. The senate bill, which is sponsored by budget chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart, only slashes them by $233 million. Though lawmakers are expected to be facing a surplus of $1 billion, that $168 million difference between the two plans is no small thing.

Yet so far, at least, Republican leaders are shrugging that this difference won't be too difficult to bridge.

Florida Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said he was happy that Scott was supporting the car fee reduction while downplaying the differences.

"We welcome the governor getting on Joe Negron's bandwagon," Gaetz said. "He's pushing it a little bit faster, but that's good."

Gaetz said it's too early to dwell on details of where the money will come from. In Negron's bill, the money to pay for the cuts would come from general revenue. He said estimated revenue, while overall promising, has been shifting too much to propose specifics details just yet. But Gaetz did suggest that Negron's bill could be changed, perhaps to include a bigger break for motorists.

For instance, Gaetz said the $225 "origination fee" that motorists pay to put new cars on the road could be reduced. To do so, however, might cost another $100 million. 

"We can make Negron's bill even stronger," he said. "There's a chance for Negron 2.0."

Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford said he, too, was supportive of Scott's proposal to reduce fees.

"The governor's plan, Negron's bill, it's all good stuff," Weatherfood said. "It's just a question of 'How much?' We'll work with the governor and Pres. Gaetz to get a number that everyone will agree with."