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.

Proposed law, aiming to reduce deaths in hot cars, gets favorable support


Legislation aimed at curbing the number of hot-car deaths in Florida got unanimous favor from a House committee on Tuesday.

The bill — sponsored by House Republican Leader Dana Young, of Tampa, and Rep. Jared Evan Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs — would allow people to break in to locked vehicles in order to free 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 House Bill 131, the person breaking in to the vehicle could not be sued for the damage if they call 911 beforehand and remain until emergency services arrive. They also can’t use any more force than is necessary to rescue the person or pet inside.

Young said she’s not aware of any instances where someone has been sued for rescuing a pet or person from a locked car. She said she hopes the proposal brings awareness and empowers bystanders to help save lives.

“We don’t ever want to be in a situation where someone was thinking about doing the rescue and paused, worrying about the liability, and in those moments … something tragic happens,” Moskowitz said.

More here.

October 20, 2015

Proposals allowing open carry, guns on campus advance


Two Florida Senate committees advanced controversial gun bills Tuesday that would make it easier for the 1.4 million Floridians with concealed-weapons permits to carry firearms openly in public and on college campuses and universities.

Both bills still have to be vetted by other committees before they could reach the Senate floor for an up-or-down vote. Companion bills are also being considered in the House.

A bill allowing concealed guns on Florida’s colleges and university campuses passed the Senate Higher Education Committee by a 5-3 vote, along party lines with the panel’s three Democrats opposed.

The proposal -- Senate Bill 68, sponsored by Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker -- would allow anyone with a concealed weapons permit to carry firearms on college campuses.

Supporters of the “campus-carry” bill, including one woman who said she was a rape victim, argued that it would allow students, professors and staff to defend themselves against active shooters or sexual assault attacks.

“You certainly have my support to defend yourself the way you see fit,” Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, told the woman.

Continue reading "Proposals allowing open carry, guns on campus advance" »

October 19, 2015

VIDEO: Gun bills go before Senate committees on Tuesday


Two controversial gun bills being considered by the Republican-led Florida Legislature for the 2016 session will get another vetting on Tuesday before two Senate committees.

The guns-on-campus bill -- which would allow anyone with a concealed weapons permit to carry firearms on a college or university campus -- will be heard by the Senate Higher Education Committee. And a bill to allow conceal-carry permit-holders to carry openly goes before the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. Both hearings are at 9 a.m.

The guns-on-campus bill received favorable votes from both House and Senate criminal justice committees last month. This is the Senate's first crack at the open-carry legislation, which received a favorable vote two weeks ago in the House.

Expect passionate debate and some changes to each of the bills. Amendments have been filed for both committees to consider tomorrow.

Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, wants to let colleges and universities opt out of the guns-on-campus proposal, should they desire to. And for the open-carry bill, Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, filed an amendment that fortifies the right of private property owners to dictate whether someone can pack heat on their property.

Confederate battle flag will be removed from Florida Senate seal


Color Senate seal 12x12In an unscheduled action -- and after some confusion and back-and-forth -- the Florida Senate voted today to remove the Confederate battle flag from its official seal.

The topic was surprisingly broached at the start of the legislature's third special session of the year, the sole topic of which was supposed to be reapportionment of state Senate seats.

The Senate wasn't expected to consider changing the seal until the regular session in January -- although the Senate Rules Committee unanimously endorsed changing the seal earlier this month to a design that replaces the rebel flag with the Florida state flag.

Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, allowed the issue to come forward so that the transition to a new seal could begin as soon as possible, he said.

"It was not our intent to catch people off guard," Gardiner said. 

Continue reading "Confederate battle flag will be removed from Florida Senate seal" »

October 13, 2015

Gardiner: It's time for Florida Senate to 'rally around somebody'

Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, says he decided to call a caucus meeting of all 26 Senate Republicans in December because of the need for senators to "rally around somebody" and bring to an end to the long-running leadership battle between Sens. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater.

"It's been three-and-a-half years that Senator Negron and Senator Latvala have been at it. We are going to get to a point where there's got to be a resolution," Gardiner told the Times/Herald in his most extensive comments on the subject. "The unification of a caucus is very, very important. As a member, you should look at who can unify the entire caucus to come together, and a caucus meeting may allow for that discussion to happen."

Gardiner noted that past Senate caucus meetings to designate future leaders have usually been held in December, though Gardiner's predecessor, Sen. Don Gaetz, was chosen in September. What's unprecedented in this chain of events is that the Senate has acknowledged that its current districts are unconstitutional.

With future control of the chamber not yet settled, the Senate must realign its own districts in a three-week special session that begins next Monday, so the stakes are very high.

What the new Senate map will look like is anyone's guess. The result, subject to the approval of the Florida Supreme Court, could benefit Negron or Latvala -- or the Democrats. Even though Negron has declared victory and has named all 14 of his pledges, a majority of the caucus, Gardiner left open the possibility that the outcome could still change.

"I've made it pretty clear we should have a caucus meeting in December. I'm not speculating on the outcome of that caucus," Gardiner said.

Gardiner said the logjam must be broken, and the losing senator must show humility and accept defeat on Dec. 2. "Our caucus has to rally around somebody to lead them," he said.

October 08, 2015

Confederate Flag in Florida Senate seal on its way out


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 07, 2015

Florida Senate could remove Confederate flag from its seal


SenatesealLawmakers are meeting Thursday morning to discuss whether to update the decades-old insignia for the Florida Senate and rid it of a reference to the controversial Confederate flag.

The rebel flag has drawn renewed criticism nationwide since the racially motivated shooting at a Charleston, S.C. church last summer.

At the request of Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner of Tampa, the Senate Rules Committee will "review and evaluate" the official seal, which was adopted in 1972.

Per chamber rules, the seal's center contains "a fan of the five flags that have flown over Florida" -- those of Spain, France, Great Britain, the Confederate States and the United States of America.

A proposal that will be presented to the committee tomorrow removes reference to the five flags and lists specific ones that "have flown or presently fly over Florida" -- the "1513 Spanish flag, the current Florida State flag, the current United States flag, the 1564 French flag, and 1763 flag of Great Britain."

The revision swaps out the Confederate Flag in the seal for the current state flag. The change would also affect the coat of arms for the state Senate. Download Senate Seal_Proposed Senate Rule Change

Changes to the Senate seal require a two-thirds majority vote of the Senate.

The "Southern Cross"-style flag that's included in the current insignia is actually battle flag for the Confederacy, not the rebellion's official flag. That banner was known as the "stars and bars," which depicts 13 white stars arranged in a circle on a block of blue, next to horizontal red and white bars.

This is possibly not the only discussion over the Confederate flag that Florida lawmakers could have next session.

Democrats Rep. Darryl Rouson, of St. Petersburg, and Sens. Geraldine Thompson, of Orlando, and Dwight Bullard, of Cutler Bay, have filed bills for the 2016 session that would prohibit local, county or state government entities in Florida from displaying any Confederate flag or similar symbols. House Bill 243 and Senate Bill 154 have each been referred to four committees in their respective chambers, but no hearings have been scheduled yet.

Image credit: archive.flsenate.gov

FHSAA: Harsher penalties needed for high school athletics recruiting

Cook27 MiamiCentralFB SPTS


State law needs to be changed to make it easier for high schools to crack down on the recruiting of student-athletes, the executive director for the Florida High School Athletic Association told a Senate committee Wednesday.

Roger Dearing asked lawmakers to pursue legislation in their 2016 session that would instill harsher penalties for coaches and teachers who recruit athletes and that would make it more reasonable for schools to prove wrongdoing and improper behavior.

Students are supposed to change schools for academic reasons or because they move into a different district; coaches and teachers are not allowed to entice a student to change schools to play for a sport. But athletic recruiting is still a somewhat-common, yet hard-to-prove practice, particularly in highly competitive areas such as South Florida.

Dearing told the Senate Pre-K-12 Education Committee that he continues to hear stories from parents about coaches or school representatives who have approached student-athletes to convince them to join their programs -- even going so far as using burner phones to contact the teenagers in secret.

"We really need some statutory help with that. Recruiting is our hugest problem," Dearing told senators. The FHSAA is a private, non-profit organization that, under Florida law, serves as the official governing body for interscholastic athletics. It has 800 member schools statewide.

Why is recruiting prohibited? "You can’t have adults manipulating children for their own gain," Dearing told reporters after the hearing.

Dearing told the committee the FHSAA has received 12-15 complaints of alleged recruiting in the past four years. None were investigated last year, but two schools have investigations underway now: one in the Florida Panhandle and another in South Florida. (Dearing declined to say which South Florida school, but did confirm it's not in Miami-Dade.)

State law was changed a few years ago to set a higher bar in order to prove recruiting: “clear and convincing evidence,” which Dearing said is the “same preponderance of evidence in a murder case.”

"It’s next to impossible to prove recruiting," he said. "The level of proof is just a little bit higher than we can actually reach in most cases."

Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, asked Dearing to suggest wording for legislation that could replace the existing law.

The FHSAA's oversight of high school athletics has been the subject of legislative discussions for several years. Last year, for instance, a bill that, some said, threatened the very existence of FHSAA cleared the House by an 86-29 vote. It died in the Senate.

Lawmakers are expecting "several bills" to be filed for the 2016 legislative session that could affect high school athletics and the FHSAA's governance authority.

The Senate committee's workshop on Wednesday was being held to prepare members for those future discussions, said Vice-Chairwoman Nancy Detert, R-Venice.

Photo credit: Miami Central running back James Cook gets tackled by Booker T. Washington defensive back Marquis Decius during first half of a high school football game Saturday night Sept. 26, 2015. Gaston De Cardenas / Miami Herald

October 05, 2015

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

Julie jones


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