November 18, 2015

Stand-your-ground changes advance in Senate, despite stalling in House


It's not done yet. A Senate committee today advanced NRA-backed legislation that would enhance Florida's "stand your ground" law, a day after a House committee effectively killed its version of the proposal.

Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice, by a 5-1 vote, approved the bill sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island. It would shift the burden of proof in a pretrial hearing to the prosecutor, who would have to prove why a defendant claiming self-defense isn't immune from prosecution.

Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, was the lone dissent on the committee. He panned the bill as "a massive expansion of 'stand your ground' with an unprecedented burden shift."

Committee Chairman Joe Negron -- a Stuart Republican who's poised to be the next Senate president -- spoke at length in favor of it, a rare moment of debate that he said he felt compelled to do because of the importance of the legislation.

"If the state of Florida is going to accuse a citizen of committing a crime, then the state of Florida has the burden of proving at each and every part of the proceeding, to prove guilt beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt," Negron said. "You don't have to prove anything as a defendant."

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November 17, 2015

Drone liability bill narrowly advances in Florida Senate

Drones AP


Facing opposition from prominent business groups, a Florida Senate committee on Tuesday narrowly passed a proposal from a Miami Republican that would make Floridians who own or operate unmanned drones liable for the cost of any damage and injury they cause.

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed an amended version of Chairman Miguel Diaz de la Portilla's measure by a 5-4 vote.

Drones have become increasingly more common for a variety of commercial and recreational uses. Senate Bill 642 would allow Floridians to recover costs from the owner or operator of a drone if "negligent operation" of the device caused them injury or damaged their property.

Lobbyists representing the Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Retail Federation, the National Federation of Independent Business and other groups said Tuesday they can't support the bill in its amended form, because of where the proposed law would be placed in statute and because of the wording it contains.

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Effort to repeal Florida's cohabitation ban moves in Florida Senate


A proposal to scrap Florida's 147-year-old ban on unwed men and women living together got unanimous approval during its first committee stop in the state Senate for the 2016 session.

Senate Bill 498 -- proposed by Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood -- gets rid of the second-degree misdemeanor crime, which Sobel says 4.4 million Floridians are committing. The law is rarely enforced.

Sobel's bill now goes to the Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration.

A House version of the repeal effort also got initial favor earlier this fall. That bill is sponsored by Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee.

Unlike the House hearing in September, Tuesday's Senate committee hearing prompted no debate.

Only Florida, Michigan and Mississippi still have laws making cohabitation illegal. Eight other states that once had similar laws have repealed them.

November 16, 2015

Lawmakers want to ban Florida from implementing EPA clean air rule


Two Republican state lawmakers are joining Florida's Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi to fight what they view as an over-reaching plan by President Barack Obama's administration to combat the effects of climate change and reduce the nation's carbon footprint.

State Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, and Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, have introduced legislation that would prohibit state agencies from implementing a proposed rule from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency dubbed the "Clean Power Plan."

The rule requires Florida to cut its carbon dioxide emissions 26 percent by 2030 -- a mandate that Diaz says could harm the state's economy and threaten Floridians' jobs.

Diaz said in a statement today that he views it as his job as a lawmaker "to ensure that over burdensome regulations do not hurt Florida’s most financially vulnerable citizens" and "to push back against a regulation that was adopted by unelected bureaucrats who do not understand what the cost to Floridians will actually be."

House Bill 639 and Senate Bill 838, both filed last week, state that "the Legislature must establish and direct the state's energy policy to best protect the standard of living of its citizens." The bills would prohibit state agencies from limiting -- or even planning to limit -- carbon dioxide emissions unless Congress enacts legislation directing it or a federal court upholds the EPA rule.

Last month, Bondi joined 23 other states in a lawsuit challenging the EPA over the "Clean Power Plan," calling it both an economic and states' rights issue. Her participation in the lawsuit made her the target of a recent attack ad launched by the political committee run by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

November 09, 2015

Joe Negron's Florida Senate presidency designation set for December



With the battle for the next Senate presidency settled last week between Sens. Joe Negron and Jack Latvala, Senate Republican leaders announced today the date for Negron's designation ceremony.

It will be held 2 p.m. Dec. 2, during the middle of the final committee week scheduled in advance of the 2016 legislative session.

The planned vote by the Republican caucus is to designate Negron, R-Stuart, as the next Senate president for a two-year term starting in November 2016.

Praising Negron's legislative experience and leadership, current Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said he is “pleased to see the caucus unite around Senator Negron.”

Up until Thursday, Negron had been engaged in a three-year battle for the chamber's top post with Latvala, a Clearwater Republican. In exchange for Latvala withdrawing from the race, Negron announced he would make Latvala the next chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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November 06, 2015

Republicans express relief over end of Florida Senate leadership fight


There is one common theme in reactions from state legislators about the end of the leadership fight between Joe Negron and Jack Latvala.


Whether they supported Latvala for Florida Senate president or Negron, legislators asked about Latvala conceding the race said it was just good news to have the tension that surrounded the contest finally come to an end after years of hovering over the Legislature. Late Thursday, Latvala, a Clearwater Republican, officially threw in the towel, dropping out of the Senate race and leaving Negron with a clear path to the pivotal leadership post in 2017, the year after current Senate President Andy Gardiner’s term will have expired.

“The healing begins and now we can move forward,” said State Sen. Rob Bradley, a Clay County Republican who had supported Negron. “There were some internal dynamics that were challenging. Those challenges were overcome and we're now moving forward. It's a great day.”

Sen. John Legg, a Pasco County Republican who backed Latvala said it was simply time for the race to end.

“I think he could have dragged it out longer,” Legg said of Latvala.  “But I think it would have been destructive to the Republican caucus from this point on out.”

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, a Fort Myers Republican who backed Negron, said it was just welcome news for so many that the “lingering fight” was finally concluded. 

In comments to reporters on Thursday, Latvala acknowledged that the presidency race had become too consuming. He said it bothered him that the race was contributing to a boiling point he said was hitting in the Senate.

“As someone who has made a lot of my life here, that really disturbed me greatly,” said Latvala, who served in the Senate from 1994 to 2002, then came back again in 2010.

November 05, 2015

VIDEO: Florida Senate, House leaders sound off as special session ends


After the Legislature's special Senate redistricting session ended tonight without a redrawn map of Senate district boundaries, Republican leaders addressed the next steps and whether they could have reached a different outcome.

Read our coverage here.

October 28, 2015

Conflicts erupt as Florida Senate passes map 22-18

via @MaryEllenKlas

The personal and political conflicts that have divided Florida Senate Republicans for months reached the boiling point on Wednesday as the Senate narrowly approved a redrawn redistricting map 22-18 and two powerful senators pointedly used the opportunity to finger each other for the chamber’s mistakes.

Democrats voted together in opposition to the map, which they said would be struck down by the court as unconstitutional violation of the anti-gerrymandering rules of the Florida Constitution. They were joined by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and three other Republicans.

Following the debate, however, angry emotions spilled into view as Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, who was redistricting chairman when the invalidated 2012 maps were approved, rose for a rare “point of personal privilege," a rule that supercedes all others, and used it to criticize Latvala for blaming Gaetz for the Legislature having to redo the Senate map.

“Sen. Latvala says Don Gaetz is the cause for the special session. You decide. I am am sorry for my mistakes. Sen. Latvala should be sorry for his,’’ he said, reading from prepared remarks. “I take no satisfaction from this exchange. I did not seek it. But when a bully throws a sucker punch, you hit back and never give in.”

Over the last two months, Latvala has been harshly critical of Senate leadership because of the court’s rejection of the map drawn during the 2012 term, pointing out a Herald/Times report that the taxpayer cost of the redistricting litigation has risen to $11 million and suggesting the blame should be placed on Gaetz.

In arguing against the map on Wednesday, he did not mention Gaetz by name but said, “there’s a lot of doubt whether we here in this Senate have handled this issue in a way that we can be proud of.”

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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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