November 05, 2015

Florida high school athletics back in play for 2016 session

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Members of the Florida House Education committee are again contemplating legislation that could relax eligibility rules for high school student-athletes and add oversight to the private, non-profit governing body that oversees almost all high school sports statewide.

Chairwoman Marlene O'Toole, R-The Villages, said Friday the committee had hoped to have a draft bill presented this week, but it's "not quite ready." It should be available by the panel's Nov. 18 meeting, she said.

The Senate also had a hearing last month about the Florida High School Athletic Association, but no specific legislation for 2016 has been proposed in that chamber yet.

Last spring, a bill that, some said, threatened the very existence of FHSAA cleared the House but died in the Senate.

Rep. Manny Diaz -- a Hialeah Republican who will again spearhead the House legislation for the 2016 session -- said Friday he's planning to pitch similar policy proposals that would (1) make it easier for students to be immediately eligible to participate in sports when they transfer schools, (2) add oversight for FHSAA financing and operations, and (3) improve the appeals process for investigations into athletes' eligibility.

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November 04, 2015

Body-camera bill, back in Florida House for 2016, easily wins initial approval in first committee hearing


As police officer-worn body cameras become a more common accountability tool in Florida and throughout the country, state lawmakers again want to require law enforcement agencies to have standard protocols in place for officer training, use of the device and storage of the footage it captures.

After earning unanimous favor in the House last spring, the proposal stalled in the Senate amid the chaotic end to the 2015 legislative session.

New legislation filed for the upcoming 2016 session unanimously cleared the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee during its first hearing Wednesday.

Broward County Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, said House Bill 93 is meant to ensure "the citizens and the police are held accountable and kept safe."

"If you look at the news, if you look at a lot of what’s taking place right now, you’ll find there’s a lot of pointing-fingers taking place — whether from the citizens’ standpoint or from the police aspect," said Jones, who's co-sponsoring the bill with Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee.

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Guns-on-campus bill continues to move ahead in the Florida House

Greg steube


In its second of three committee stops in the House, a bill that would allow guns on Florida's college and university campuses garnered support again Wednesday, mostly along a party-line vote.

The House Higher Education & Workforce Subcommittee passed HB 4001, 10-3. Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee -- a co-sponsor of the bill -- joined Republicans in supporting it.

The proposal -- introduced by Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota -- would allow the 1.4 million Floridians with a concealed-weapons permit to carry their weapons and firearms on college and university campuses statewide.

The legislation continues to draw passionate testimony from both gun-rights supporters and gun-control advocates.

However, public comment and debate was limited Wednesday because of time, and most of the 70 people who attended didn't have time to comment. The committee spent an hour and 20 minutes holding a workshop on textbook affordability, leaving barely an hour to consider the campus-carry bill -- which Democrats on the committee took issue with.

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November 03, 2015

Former law enforcement officers-turned-Democratic lawmakers unite against open carry, campus-carry gun bills



Four Democratic lawmakers -- all former law enforcement officials -- say they intend to fight bills moving through the Florida Legislature that would allow concealed-weapons permit-holders in Florida to carry guns on college campuses and openly in public.

State Reps. Dave Kerner of Lake Worth, Victor Torres of Orlando, John Cortes of Kissimmee and Clovis Watson of Alachua said the "dangerous" legislation won't make Floridians safer and their opposition to the bills doesn't equate to an attack on the Second Amendment, as the bills' proponents have claimed.

"This is bad public policy and the fact that the state of Florida is legitimately considering these concepts is frightening to me," Kerner said. "What we are dealing with now are policies that go way beyond the simple bearing of arms."

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Term limits proposal for Florida Supreme Court justices, appeals judges advances in the Florida House

John wood


Florida’s Supreme Court justices and District Court of Appeals judges would be limited to two terms in office, under a proposed constitutional amendment that gained initial favor from a House committee Tuesday.

Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven, said term limits for the state’s seven justices and 64 appellate judges would ensure “diversity of legal philosophy,” “enhance the proper role of the judiciary,” and “create a true balance of power” with the Legislature and the governor, which are already subject to term limits.

Wood is co-sponsoring HJR 197 with Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora.

But some lawmakers, as well as attorneys speaking on behalf of The Florida Bar, fear the proposal could lead to less-experienced judges and high turnover on the bench, among other consequences.

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October 22, 2015

Florida lawmakers again want to reform how juveniles are tried as adults

Juvenile justice


For several years, state lawmakers have tried to change how Florida's child offenders can be tried as adults -- and they're making another go at it in 2016.

In Florida, prosecutors have wide discretion on how juveniles are charged and tried; there's very little check on that power, and the decision to transfer a child into the adult system -- a process called "direct file" -- can have long-lasting, far-reaching consequences, juvenile justice advocates and policy experts say.

Lawmakers have been so far unsuccessful in passing reforms, but they're coordinating with human rights groups this fall to raise awareness, educate stakeholders and make another push during the 2016 session for overhauling the direct-file rules.

Some 10,000 juveniles in Florida have been transferred into the adult criminal justice system in the last five years -- more than any other state, said Sal Nuzzo, vice president of policy for the James Madison Institute.

"The disparities among the jurisdictions in the state of Florida are a big challenge," Nuzzo said, during a reception JMI held Wednesday night attended by a dozen lawmakers and representatives from several human rights and juvenile justice organizations.

Once a child offender is transferred into the adult system, they're treated like an adult in every sense: adult jail and prison, adult probation programs and none of the services other juvenile offenders receive to encourage rehabilitation and reduce the chance of re-offending.

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Florida police, sheriffs groups oppose open-carry gun proposals

Javier ortiz


Groups representing Florida sheriffs and police officers came out this week in opposition to a controversial legislative proposal that would allow anyone with a concealed weapons permit to openly carry their guns statewide.

Law enforcement representatives say Senate Bill 300 / House Bill 163 would restrict the ability of officers to ensure public safety and the bills fail to include enhanced training and requirements for the holstering and handling of openly carried weapons, among other concerns.

Supporters of the legislation -- sponsored by Republican father-son duo Sen. Don Gaetz of Niceville and Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach -- argue it strengthens Second Amendment rights for Americans to defend themselves.

The Florida Fraternal Order of Police unanimously opposes the legislation, specifically because of a provision that would prohibit an officer from asking for someone's concealed-carry permit unless the officer had "probable cause" -- a more stringent legal standard than what is currently in law. If the officer made the request without probable cause, the officer could face a $5,000 fine and the agency they work for could be fined $100,000, under the proposed law.

"If something happens and an officer is not allowed to, at least, ask someone and inquire during the situation of a protest if they should be openly carrying, you’re tying their hands," Lisa Henning, the group's legislative liaison, told senators this week.

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October 21, 2015

Legislative Black Caucus wants 'independent investigation' into Corey Jones shooting

Black caucus


Members of the Florida Legislature’s Black Caucus want Republican Gov. Rick Scott to launch an independent investigation into the police-involved shooting death of Corey Jones in Palm Beach County on Sunday, and they say the tragedy is another example of why legislation is needed to improve transparency and accountability from local police agencies.

“Once again, another young black man has been killed by being someplace he rightfully belonged in our state,” said Rep. Ed Narain, D-Tampa, the caucus chairman.

Scott’s office said he has offered the assistance of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to Palm Beach County authorities, but he did not commit to a separate state-level investigation.

“Our office continues to monitor any developments,” Scott’s spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said in a statement.

Jones, a 31-year-old church drummer and Boynton Beach resident, was shot dead at around 3:15 a.m. after an encounter with a police officer when his vehicle broke down on an I-95 exit ramp in Palm Beach Gardens. The officer, Nouman Raja, was on duty in plain clothes and driving an unmarked police vehicle.

The Palm Beach Gardens Police Department said Raja was investigating what he thought was an abandoned vehicle and when Raja left his own vehicle “he was suddenly confronted by an armed subject.” Raja’s vehicle had no dash camera and he wore no body camera. The Palm Beach Gardens Police Department waited nearly two days before commenting on the shooting, after getting pressure from the local police union.

Although the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and Palm Beach County State Attorney’'s Office are each looking into the shooting, Rep. Bobby Powell, D-Riviera Beach, said “an independent and thorough investigation by an outside agency” — in this case, the FDLE — would help restore public confidence.

“This has to stop,” Powell said. “There’s no evidence that we’ve seen to indicate that this man was a trouble-maker. ... My community is frustrated and rightfully so.” 

More here.

October 20, 2015

Proposal allowing people to break into cars to save people, pets gets first hearing


Dana youngLegislation aimed at curbing the number of hot-car deaths in Florida will get its first hearing this afternoon.

House Bill 131, sponsored by House Republican Leader Dana Young, of Tampa, and Rep. Jared Evan Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs, adds a provision to Florida's "Good Samaritan Act" -- which would allow people to break into vehicles in order to remove a senior citizen, person with disabilities, child or pet if there is a "good faith belief" that person or animal is "in imminent danger of suffering harm."

Under the bill, the person breaking into the vehicle could not be held civilly liable for the damage, so long as they call 911 beforehand and remain with the person or pet until emergency services arrive. More here.

Today's hearing starts at 1 p.m. before the House Civil Justice Subcommittee. A House staff analysis noted a potentially problematic loophole: The immunity granted by the bill doesn't protect against criminal prosecution, should the vehicle's owner wish to seek that.

A similar bill has been filed in the Senate by Fort Myers Republican Lizbeth Benacquisto, but it has not been scheduled for any hearings yet.

Since 1998, 72 people in Florida -- including four this year -- have died from being left in hot cars. The incidents often involve children left unattended.

Photo: Rep. Dana Young

October 06, 2015

Open-carry bill passes Florida House subcommittee


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.

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