Ana Ceballos – Page 4 – Florida Politics

Ana Ceballos

Ana covers politics and policy for Florida Politics. Before joining Florida Politics, she was the legislative relief reporter for The Associated Press and covered policy issues impacting immigration, the environment, criminal justice and social welfare in Florida. She holds a B.A. in journalism from San Diego State University. After graduating in 2014, she worked as a criminal justice reporter for the Monterey Herald and the Monterey County Weekly. She has also freelanced for The Washington Post at the U.S.-Mexico border covering crime in the border city of Tijuana, where she grew up. Ana is fluent in Spanish and has intermediate proficiency in Portuguese.

Rob Bradley kills his criminal justice bill to ‘fund school safety initiatives’

After a criminal justice bill sponsored by Senate budget chief Rob Bradley was zeroed out Wednesday in early  negotiations, he said he will kill it to help fund plans to harden schools and fund for mental health services.

“I have killed my own bill,” Bradley told Florida Politics.

The move to abandon the bill took Sen. Jeff Brandes, the co-sponsor of the measure and the Senate’s top criminal justice budget-writer, by surprise.

“I one-hundred percent did not know this was going to happen,” Brandes said.

The sweeping criminal justice reform (SB 484) would have cost taxpayers $10 million to fund and would have authorized counties to create supervised bond release programs and allowed qualifying inmates to be moved from prison to county jails in cases when they are terminally ill and given less than a year to live.

The bail bond industry last week lobbied hard against the measure.

“In light of the cuts that we are taking across all areas of the budget to fund school safety initiatives, I decided to address that issue next session,” Bradley added.

His measure had cleared two Senate committees and was in its last stop, Senate Appropriations, a panel chaired by Bradley. Appropriations is scheduled to meet Friday, but that bill will not be put on the notice anymore.

Brandes, the Senate’s top criminal justice budget-writer, has introduced several criminal justice reforms this year that focus on rehabilitating inmates. The measure that Bradley has killed would have helped divert more people out of the criminal justice system.

An estimate 4,200 inmates would have been eligible to be sentenced to a county jail under this bill, according to data from the Department of Corrections.

“I think that it is an idea that is still one that has value and frankly should be considered,” Brandes said. “I was surprised tonight, but there might be an opportunity to discuss it in the future.”

Save the ‘sporks’? Amendment yanked from Senate veggie garden bill

A broad amendment to the Senate vegetable garden bill that would have preempted local ordinances that ban plastic straws, or really any plastic utensils, was withdrawn Wednesday after facing scrutiny.

“I am going after the paper straws,” Sen. Rob Bradley said.

The powerful state senator and sponsor of the bill (SB 1776) filed the utensil amendment two hours before the Senate brought the vegetable garden bill up for debate.

“My wife has started a little garden, how would your amendment on straws impact her garden?” said Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat.

Bradley said it would not affect it and that “freedom would reign in the Thurston household.”

But after concerns were raised on the amendment, Bradley pulled it from consideration and asked to push his vegetable garden bill to third reading.

Without the straw amendment, the bill would only preempt local bans on vegetable gardens.

“The Legislature intends to encourage the development of sustainable cultivation of vegetable and fruits at all levels of production, including for personal consumption, as an important interest of the state,” the bill states.

If passed, the proposal would make local ordinances regulating vegetable gardens on residential properties “void and unenforceable.”

No more baby deliveries: Rural hospital affected after state’s Medicaid cuts

As the House and Senate begin final budget negotiations, one of the biggest Medicaid funding differences will be cuts to hospitals, an area that was slashed last Session and is already having a real-life impact on one rural hospital in DeSoto County.

No more baby deliveries.

“Effective February 1, 2018 at 12:01 a.m. DeSoto Memorial Hospital will no longer be delivering babies. Please communicate with your doctor and have a plan in place,” the hospital website states.

For mothers who are in labor, that plan may entail driving about 30 miles to the nearest hospital in Charlotte County, Dan Hogan, the Chief Financial Officer of DeSoto Memorial, said.

Hogan said the decision to slash obstetrician care from the hospital’s services was a result of a “perfect storm” that arose from an estimated $840,000 Medicaid reimbursement rate cuts to his hospital this year. Other factors that played a role in the decision: a drop in baby deliveries and paying patients.

“You have all these financial kinds of pressure to keep the services in place, and so that was the perfect storm, I guess,” Hogan said.

State Rep. Jason Brodeur, the House Health Care Appropriations chairman, told reporters on Wednesday that rural hospitals face trouble when other issues hit the business, such as a drop in paying patients.

“One of the challenges that rural hospitals have now is the fact that they are rural,” he said. “So if you see a decline in the number of people going there that is going to put any business in trouble.”

DeSoto Memorial, for example, relies on patients who are covered by government plans, which contribute to 70 percent of the hospital’s business, Hogan said. About half of the patients that seek services at the hospital are covered under the Medicaid program, which cares for low-income pregnant women, children and elderly people.

Hospitals sustained $521 million in Medicaid cuts last Session — $11.4 million affecting rural community hospitals.

“Last Session was the highest total amount of cuts to Florida’s Medicaid program in memory,” said Bruce Rueben, the president at the Florida Hospital Association.

Hogan said his administration keeps costs “pretty darn low” at DeSoto Memorial. “But even with that,” he adds, “ you can’t seem to catch a break because people don’t always have a plan or it is often out of pocket for them.”

Many rural hospitals have a mix of patients, including some who are covered under the Medicaid program and some who are uninsured patients — often times undocumented immigrants — who have no coverage and may not be able to pay for the care they are receiving. Hogan said about 10 percent of his services go unpaid.

Sen. Anitere Flores, the Senate’s top health care budget-writer, could not exactly say on Tuesday what the biggest funding difference between the House and Senate will be for rural hospitals, but said the chamber is mindful of past cuts.

“My understanding is that the Senate’s desire in our budget is to try and keep rural hospitals whole as much as we can,” Flores said.

Pre-arrest diversion program proposals head to House, Senate floors

With three minutes left in the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday, a bill mandating each judicial district in the state to implement pre-arrest diversion programs headed to the Senate floor.

There was no debate on the bill (SB 1392) that would set up diversion programs with the intent of giving local law enforcement agencies a tool that can serve between a warning and an arrest for low-level offenders. The goal: to spare primarily first-time offenders who commit minor crimes from the consequences of entering the criminal justice system.

The bill does not set up a blanket set of rules for jurisdictions and provides language that gives them latitude on the fees each can charge to program participants. The program is voluntary for qualifying offenders and the bill would not get rid of diversion programs that are already operating in Florida.

While proposals in the Senate and the House (HB 1197) have moved ahead in the Legislature, they have come under fire by some in the bail bond industry who say diversion programs are “flawed” without uniformity statewide.

“There is no uniformity in the program,” said Matthew Jones, the president of  A Way Out Bail Bonds II Inc. “You could possibly end up with 67 different qualification programs around the state.”

Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes said he is aware of the bail bond industry’s criticism of his bill, but added he is “not in the business of making bail bondsman money.”

Budget conference begins tonight, state allocations unveiled

With two weeks left in Session, the Florida Legislature on Tuesday agreed to the outline of the 2018-19 state budget that will use roughly $32 billion in state funds.

At 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Conference Chairs Sen. Rob Bradley and state Rep. Carlos Trujillo will hold an organization meeting in 212 Knott Building.

Conference subcommittees have until Friday to complete negotiations on their policy-specific areas and anything left unresolved will go to Chairs Bradley and Trujillo. Any controversies still unresolved by 10:30 a.m. on Sunday will go to the presiding officers.

“I am grateful to Speaker Corcoran, Chairs Bradley and Trujillo, and the many senators, representatives and members of our professional staff, who have dedicated significant time to the budget process so far,” Senate President Joe Negron said.

The House-Senate budget conference will iron out details on how to spend $32.2 billion. The biggest pot is for PreK-12 education, at $12.1 billion; higher education, at $4.4 billion; health care, at $9.8 billion; and civil and criminal justice; at $4.2 billion.

Other issues like agriculture, the environment and natural resources are at $434 million and general government operations, at $317 million.

The total 2018-19 budget, including state and federal trust funds, is likely to top 87 billion for the next fiscal year.

Here are the appointees to the Conference Committee Assignments: 2018 Regular Session CONFERENCE Committees

Florida cops could soon have more power to investigate social media threats

As the Florida Legislature on Tuesday turned its focus to proposals crafted in the wake of the state’s deadliest school mass shooting in Parkland, a measure that would give law enforcement officers more power to investigate deadly threats made on social media cleared the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Steube, who on Monday announced he will be running for Congress, said his bill would make it a third-degree felony for a person to make a threat to kill or do great bodily injury to another person on any social media platform. This would include school shooting threats, but the threat would have to be specific, Steube said.

Amy Mercer, the head of the Florida Police Chiefs Association, which represents police chiefs in airports, university campuses and police departments, said the bill is a top priority for the organization. She said the legislation would help law enforcement keep up with the fast-paced growth in technology.

“It would give law enforcement the chance to assess the situation,” Mercer said. “It may be a situation when law enforcement can go assist and give an individual help and prevent a tragedy like the one we saw in Parkland.”

In order for someone who threatens to kill or injure someone to be criminally investigated, the threat needs to be directly sent in a “letter, inscribed communication, or electronic communication,” whether signed or anonymous, to the person who is being targeted. Steube wants to broaden the scope to include social media threats and “great bodily injury.”

“The change to include social media threats to kill or do great bodily injury is to ensure we are only picking up those serious threats,” Mercer said.

On Tuesday, the bill was amended to clear internet and service providers from any liability if a threat is made and it results in tragedy.

The Senate measure (SB 310) now heads to its last committee stop in Senate Rules and an identical House companion bill is ready for the floor in the lower chamber.

If the Legislature passes the proposal, changes would take effect Oct. 1 and could result in the state prison population increasing, according to staff analysis.

Workers’ comp bill aiding injured immigrant workers likely dead, sponsor says

A bill intended to stop companies from dodging worker’s compensation benefit payouts to undocumented workers who are injured on the job is likely dead, state Sen. Gary Farmer, the bill sponsor, said Tuesday.

“I hate to wave the white flag, but it looks like I will,” the Fort Lauderdale Democrat said.

The effort was born in the wake of two news investigations last year that showed how a 2003 change to workers’ comp law in the state enabled some companies to deny benefits to undocumented workers after they were hired and injured at work. The injured workers would be reported to state law enforcement for using fake IDs or Social Security numbers.

Under current state law, workers who are injured on the job and use a fake ID face felony workers’ comp fraud charges. Farmer’s bill (SB 1568) would have changed that. But on Tuesday,  he said the effort may have to wait until next year.

State workers’ comp law has also led the state’s Division of Investigative and Forensic Services to refer five cases to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for further investigation after it received a complaint. Once referred to ICE, the individuals were deported. The division does not have the authority to serve in any immigration-related capacity, but it handles a variety of workers comp-related cases that have involved undocumented immigrants because of the way the law is written.

The proposal does not have a companion bill in the House, and Farmer said he is “not a fan” of the chamber’s workers’ comp bill to which he could potentially add his language.

Once stalled in the Senate, Farmer’s bill cleared its first committee stop earlier this month and was placed for first reading on the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee, chaired by Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat.

Montford told both Florida Politics and Farmer that his committee is likely done meeting for the 2018 Legislative Session, which has a little over a week more to go.

Senate pushes gun, school safety proposals without assault weapon ban

Following a chaotic and emotional two-hour debate at the Senate Rules Committee on Monday, dozens of gun control advocates left the meeting angry and disappointed when senators voted down a ban on assault weapons.

“Vote them out! Vote them out!” protesters chanted after Senate Rules Chair Lizbeth Benacquisto announced the failure of on an amendment filed by Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez that would have barred the sale and transfer of all assault weapons in the state.

Sen. Anitere Flores was the only Republican who voted with Democrats in support of the ban. Republicans on the panel did not debate their reasons for voting against the ban of weapons such as the AR-15 rifle, which 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz used to gun down 16 of his classmates and two of his teachers at a Parkland high school.

NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer and Eric Friday, the president of Florida Carry, did go before the panel to express their opposition though, arguing that it would punish “law-abiding citizens” for the actions of “one criminal.”

“They don’t like how a criminal used the weapon,” Friday said in reference to the protesters, “but that’s not how they are widely used.”

“It is time for the Legislature to realize this is an attempt to punish law-abiding citizens for the actions of one citizen,” he said.

The assault weapon ban amendment was one of several amendments filed by Democrats that were batted out of a Senate package that would have a wide range of impact on school safety, gun regulations and mental health services in the state.

The Senate package is similar to the one proposed in the House, and would allow for local government to choose whether to arm their teachers with weapons and train them to respond in case of an active shooting on campus.

The package passed the Senate Rules Committee on a 9-4 vote, with Democratic Sens. Lauren Book and Bill Montford voting with Republicans.

Parkland Mayor Christine Hunschofsky told senators that it was not a “perfect bill,” but that at least it was action by the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature, which has for years been against passing gun control measures. This package includes provisions to raise the legal age to purchase an assault weapon to 21 years old and a three-day waiting period for gun purchases.

Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon said he could not vote for the package because the “marshal program” that would give guns to trained teachers was a “step too far.”

“I cannot support a bill that puts guns in the hands of the people that are supposed to be educating,” Braynon said.

The package now heads to the Appropriations Committee for its final stop before it can hit the Senate floor.

Senate President-designate Bill Galvano said an appropriations amendment will be ready Tuesday that will explain how the proposal, with a $400 million price tag, will be paid.

Protest erupts in Senate Rules Committee as gun proposals are considered

A sit-in protest over gun-control legislation erupted inside and outside the Senate Rules Committee on Monday as senators considered three contentious proposals rolled out in the wake of the deadly Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.

Clad in bright orange shirts, gun control advocates wielded signs slamming the National Rifle Association. They yelled, “this is what democracy looks like” as the Rules Committee convened.

Chaos and emotion soon ensued in the jam-packed committee room and nearby hallways.

Rules Chair Lizbeth Benacquisto struggled to keep protesters in order as they booed NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer and Florida Carry President Eric Friday when each testified against amendments filed by Democrats to ban assault weapons in Florida.

“They don’t like how a criminal used the weapon,” Friday said, “but that’s not how they are widely used. It is time for the Legislature to realize this is an attempt to punish law-abiding citizens for the actions of one citizen.”

The amendments were filed on a package that merged three proposals that would arm teachers with weapons and train them to react in active shooter situations, raise the legal age to buy all firearms to 21 and increase funding for mental health in schools.

With two weeks left in the 2018 Legislative Session, this package hijacked the three-hour meeting. There were 25 other bills on the agenda, mostly on their final committee stop, but Benacquisto said the committee would likely not get to hear them as the focus would be on the recently filed proposals.

Bail bond industry, Jeff Brandes spar over sweeping justice reform bill

The Florida Legislature is considering sweeping criminal justice reform measures that have come under fire by the bail bond industry, but the sponsor of one of the bills said Sunday that he is “not in the business of making bail bondsmen money.”

“They are in the business of writing bonds, and their business will go down if more people get diverted to civil citations,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Pinellas County Republican who is sponsoring SB 1392 and SB 1218, the duo of bills at the heart of the fight.

One of the bills (SB 1218) would require the state to invest in a computer program that uses algorithms to determine the risk of each offender for flight risk and their overall danger level. The bail bonds industry opposes it, arguing it is safer to rely on their expertise than on a computer.

The other bill (SB 1392) would require each judicial district in the state to create diversion programs for adults and juveniles, with the intent of giving local law enforcement agencies a tool that can serve between a warning and an arrest for low-level offenders.

But some in the bail bond industry say there will be no “uniformity” in the state and that some programs pushed by jurisdictions, like the one in Pinellas County, are “flawed.”

“There is no uniformity in the program,” said Matthew Jones, the president of A Way Out Bail Bonds II Inc. “You could possible end up with 67 different qualification programs around the state.”

Jones said he is also concerned about public safety and slammed the program in Pinellas County for allowing those arrested for certain battery misdemeanor charges to participate.

According to data provided by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, the top five offenses for those who participated in its program included, possession of marijuana, retail theft, battery, petit theft and possession of marijuana paraphernalia.

If the legislation passes, each judicial district would have the flexibility to implement its own rules and criteria for qualifying offenders, as well as their own fees. Brandes’ bill does not set a blanket fee for the program.

In Florida’ 18th Judicial Court, for example, participants are normally supervised between six months to a year and are required to pay between $370 and $720, plus a $50 prosecution fee.

“Pretrial diversion is a voluntary program,” the website announced in all caps, “therefore, fees are not eligible for reduction or waiver.”

Programs that are currently in place would go not away under the proposal.

To complete a program, participants may have to go through drug treatment, community service, counseling or a combination of all those, at their expense. Those who do not fulfill the program’s requirements could be rearrested.

Advocates say the program has proven to reduce recidivism and in the long run allows adults and juveniles to tumble down employment barriers that would otherwise be there as a result of having a criminal record.

The implementation of these programs statewide would also likely save local governments money since booking and arrest-processing costs are expected to be down, Senate staff wrote in an analysis of the bill. As a result, this could cost the bail bond industry money.

Brandes’ proposal will go before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday. It is its last committee stop before it can hit the Senate floor.

The House is also considering a similar diversion program bill, HB 1197 by Pinellas County Republican Rep. Larry Ahern, that is now in its last committee stop.

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