Les Neuhaus, Author at Florida Politics - Page 3 of 8

Les Neuhaus

Les Neuhaus is an all-platform journalist, with specialties in print reporting and writing. In addition to Florida Politics, he freelances as a general-assignment and breaking-news reporter for most of the major national daily newspapers, along with a host of digital media, and a human rights group. A former foreign correspondent across Africa and Asia, including the Middle East, Les covered a multitude of high-profile events in chronically-unstable nations. He’s a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, in which he served as a Security Policeman, and graduated from the University of Tennessee with a B.A. in political science. He is a proud father to his daughter and enjoys spending time with his family.

Some lawmakers worry children will suffer under new Florida work-for-welfare bill

A bill approved by a Florida House committee Tuesday would increase penalties for Floridians receiving food stamps and cash aid that have not met obligations to find work.

HB 23 would return those penalties to levels before the 2008 Great Recession.

Cape Coral Republican Rep. Dane Eagle, who introduced the same measure in the 2016 Legislative Session which the Senate later rejected, re-introduced HB 23 to the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee, citing instances of wanton abuse in the system.

Eagle said he saw an advertisement on Craigslist “to sell a (food stamp) $100 card for $50 to buy drugs, alcohol, you name it.”

While there have been numerous documented instances of abuse with electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards in every state, the drugs-and-alcohol citation is an oft-cited refrain used by fiscally conservative Republicans looking to justify legislation that curbs welfare programs.

In the case of HB 23, it also includes the temporary assistance for needy families (TANF) program.

According to the bill’s language, HB 23 “revises penalties for noncompliance with work requirements for temporary cash assistance; limits receipt of child-only benefits during periods of noncompliance with work requirements; provides applicability of work requirements before expiration of minimum penalty period; requires DCF to refer sanctioned participants to appropriate community services; requires DEO, in cooperation with CareerSource Florida, Inc., & DCF, to develop & implement work plan agreement for participants in temporary cash assistance program; prohibits use of EBT card at specified locations; requires DCF to impose replacement fee for EBT cards; revises eligibility guidelines for Relative Caregiver Program with respect to relative & nonrelative caregivers; provides appropriation.”

Eagle’s bill changes sanctions by increasing the length of time a recipient is slapped with a penalty for not finding employment within the required period allotted to do so, as set forth through an employment-assistance program run by the state through the Department of Children and Families.

Primarily, if an individual doesn’t find a job in time they lose both food stamps and cash assistance.

Rep. David Richardson asked Eagle what the total funds distributed through the TANF program were in 2016.

Eagle didn’t know.

Rep. Jason Brodeur chimed in: “About $130 million.”

For those individuals already on the edge and legitimately reliant on state assistance, the sudden loss of it can be a disaster, said committee member Rep. Daisy Baez, who previously worked in health care but now works as a social worker outside her role as a lawmaker.

She asked Eagle what a family of four received in cash assistance per month through the TANF program.

The bill’s creator didn’t know, he said.

Brodeur said it was about $200. (He was wrong.)

“Well, I do know that anyone that is trying to survive on $200 a month already has a multitude of problems with rent, transportation, food, putting clothes on their children,” Baez said. “I think the punitive approach is not the way we need to go.”

Eagle was quick to clarify his bill.

“We want to help people … but we want people to comply,” he said. “Again, the key word in temporary cash assistance is ‘temporary.’”

He said the abuse needed to stop so that those committing fraud within the system weren’t “stealing tax dollars” off Floridians.

The bill would require a one-month penalty before recipients would be allowed to reapply after their first failure to meet the goal of getting a job. The second missed deadline would then warrant a three-month suspension before the recipient could reapply. The third time — six months. The fourth time — one year before reapplication would be allowed.

Eagle also noted EBT cards and TANF could not be used to purchase marijuana in the soon-to-open dispensaries in Florida, presumably for edible marijuana products, or in tattoo shops.

He cited that among those recipients who failed once in their requirements to receive assistance, 40 percent went on to successfully comply with the guidelines, while 60 percent went on to at least a second sanction, he said.

The greatest concern those in attendance voiced was what affect these penalties would have on the children of parents not meeting the job-attainment mandates in time.

Luckily, Eagle’s measure would allow the dependents of parents to receive assistance after the first sanction. However, after the first sanction, the children would also be cut off from food and-or cash assistance benefits.

This was a sticking point for a few in the public gallery as well. During an opportunity for public debate, Karen Woodall, executive director of the Tallahassee-based Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy, took the podium to state her case against HB 23 to the committee.

She said of the roughly 16,000 Floridians on TANF, nearly all had incurred at least one sanction.

“Let’s dig in and take a breath, and look at this over the next year and stop punishing people that, in the end, is really just going to affect children,” Woodall, who has more than 30 years’ experience in this budgetary area, said. “TANF is different from EBT for a reason.”

She said Eagle’s bill essentially saw the two as the same and treated penalties for them as one, which would be a mistake.

“And by the way, as I understand it, a family of four on TANF gets $303,” she said, accurately citing the figure loosely tossed around per Baez’s question. “While this bill is a good effort, it doesn’t really address the needs of Florida families.”

Nevertheless, legislators passed the measure.

House bills move ahead on loss of driver’s licenses, human trafficking, Baker Act

Three bills dealing with issues of child support, sexual exploitation of minors and the controversial Baker Act were passed favorably by the House Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee Monday.

Rep. Kimberly Daniels introduced HB 313, while Rep. Jeanette Nuñez put forth her legislation on child trafficking in HB 1383 and Rep. David Silvers added his measure (HB 1183) to the meeting.

Daniels’s proposal would give Florida judges greater flexibility in considering cases where defendants challenge the revocation of their driver’s licenses due to back payments of child support. Specifically, the bill amends an existing law known as the “Florida Responsible Parent Act,” creating broader circumstances for state judges to consider before taking the license of a parent behind on child support payments.

The original law was aimed at holding so-called “deadbeat dads” financially responsible for their children but has been controversial since its start. Critics argue it cripples those coming from lower socio-economic circumstances and makes employment prospects tougher, if already unemployed at the time of the license revocation. For with jobs, the loss of a driver’s license can lead to unemployment, further complicating their situation with a judge.

Additionally, opponents have cited many of those caught driving without a license become ensnared in a web of ongoing legal problems and poverty, exponentially worsening their situation, and creating the potential for criminalizing offenders, which makes it harder to be a financially responsible parent.

Daniels said her legislation would prevent judges from automatically revoking licenses or arresting offenders of the Responsible Parent Act. Through electronic monitoring devices, a defendant could keep their license to drive back and forth to work through supervision of the court system and authorizes the state to provide businesses with tax incentives for employing defendants in such cases.

Separately, Nuñez’s bill would change the language in a measure already addressing human trafficking, but not specifically worded to be inclusive of the term “commercial” in the exploitation of minors under 18 years old.

HB 1383 changes several internal and external reporting requirements for the Dept. of Children and Families, the legislator said.

“First the department must submit to the legislature a report from information of the CBC (community-based care) lead agencies noting the prevalence of commercial sexual exploitation and the specialized services used to treat these children, and local service capacity,” Nuñez told the committee Monday. “Secondly the bill also requires the department to maintain data on verified victims of commercial sexual exploitation referred to non-safe houses in their community.”

Current law only requires them to maintain data on who are referred to safe houses, she said.

Further, DCF must conduct multidisciplinary staffing on victims of commercial child sexual abuse to determine their needs. The proposal also would require a so-called “case plan” for those victims and mandate DCF to follow up on all victims of child sexual exploitation, not just individual segments.

Finally, HB 1183 — Silver’s measure would require hospitals or other facilities accepting a child 10 years or younger to notify the clerk of courts in the appropriate county within 24 hours, a sticking point for several committee members who thought it should be inclusive of everyone 18 and under.

The vice chair of the committee, Rep. Julio Gonzalez, wanted to know why the bill was only inclusive of such a narrow — and young — segment of the child population at risk of being lassoed into the Baker Act, which is a process by which a person can be involuntarily detained for psychological purposes.

“There has been a lot of situations in which children have been acting up in school, and unfortunately school will be stopped if they’re suspended, but that’s not the case if they’re Baker Act’ed,” Silvers responded. “So I want to make sure the children that are going to facilities — mental health facilities — are there because they need the help, that they’re not just there for punishment for acting out in class.”

But after several questions by committee members addressing concerns about the bill to Silvers, Gonzalez circled back to his concerns, address one of several he had.

“I think we need to address the 950-lb gorilla in the room that we’re going to do the wrong thing — we’re authorizing the schools to use the Baker Act as a crutch,” he said. “Moving forward I’d like to work with you to solve that riddle.”

The bill also grants lawyers automatic access to that child’s records — school, medical, dental, etc. And any hearings regarding that child must be done in his or her presence, regardless of their age, and provides for penalties in cases not adhering to that stipulation, according to the proposal’s language.

Committee Chair Gayle Harrell ended the meeting by saying, “When a 6-year-old is Baker Act’ed there’s a lot going on there. We need to make sure that child is being appropriately treated as rapidly as possible.”

House bill advances to allow alternative treatments for Florida veterans suffering brain injuries, PTSD

A Florida House committee unanimously advanced a first-of-its-kind bill Monday to allow alternative treatments for veterans diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD).

Treatments to be considered include music, art, horses, dogs, acupuncture, yoga and more.

HB 55, sponsored by both Rep. Daniel Burgess and Rep. Frank White, looks to expand beyond the scope of simply prescribing drugs to vets suffering from the serious diagnoses of TBI and PTSD.

The legislation would authorize the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs to contract with certain licensed individuals and businesses offering such service options, as long as they are recognized medically, scientifically or psychologically to have the benefits they claim, and are evidenced-based in nature.

“This bill is important because the military is very good at teaching service members at putting the uniform on, but not so good at teaching us to take it off,” said Burgess, a captain in the U.S. Army Reserves who presented the bill to the House Health Innovation Subcommittee Monday. “It isn’t always easy to adjust back into society. I’ve heard stories of soldiers who had to kill someone, then a few days later go on service leave back here in the States. Now imagine that perspective.”

Burgess cited several startling statistics in justification of the bill, chiefly that an average of 25 service members per day commit suicide.

Veterans diagnosed with TBI and PTSD are often prescribed a plethora of medication, sometimes contributing — it has been argued — to depression among veterans and active servicemen and women, leading to higher suicide rates in recent years.

On hand to speak to the committee was Ryan Anderson, a U.S. Army Special Forces veteran, accompanied by his dog, “Hero.”

He told the committee about a story when his best friend was killed on one of his many deployments to Afghanistan, on Sept. 29, 2010.

“For a long time, I felt like he was always walking right next to me,” Anderson said emotionally. “But this bill is the first of its kind in the United States.”

Anderson went through hyperbolic oxygen therapy, in addition to a few other things before finding Hero, his animal companion.

He backed up Burgess’s statistic on military suicide rates with another more specific to Florida, saying 25 percent of all suicides across the state are made up of active-duty service members or veterans, although they only make up eight percent of the population.

In imploring the committee to vote for the bill and how he had discovered help, he said, “Alternative treatments are saving warriors lives.”

Legislation advanced making knowingly spreading HIV through sex without partner’s knowledge a capital crime

Roughly 34 years after the discovery of the virus that causes AIDS, Florida’s lawmakers are considering legislation whose maximum sentence would be death to knowingly spread the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, to a sexual partner without their knowledge, according to a committee that voted favorably Monday in regard to the measure.

The bill, HB 165, sponsored by Florida Rep. Kionne McGhee, would expand a current law already on the books in the Sunshine State making it a crime to consciously spread sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs).

McGhee’s legislation looks to amend the law by adding HIV to a list of STDs, which include gonorrhea, genital herpes simplex, chlamydia, human papillomavirus hepatitis and syphilis, among others. Anyone caught knowingly spreading those communicable diseases can be punished in a court of law and face jail time, but may only be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor crime if they didn’t know it.

The amendment could make it a first-degree felony, punishable by death, if a person knowingly spreads the disease more than once to multiple people.

The move was sparked by a 2011 case in Key West, Florida, that forced Florida lawmakers to redefine the definition of sex. The Florida Supreme Court issued a ruling in connection to the case just last week.

Gary Debaun, 65, allegedly risked his partner with the virus that causes AIDS and a legal definition of sexual intercourse can’t get him out of the charge, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday in a six-page decision based solely on whether intercourse is defined as only sex between a man and a woman.

“The term ‘sexual intercourse’ is commonly understood to broadly refer to several sex acts — including the sexual act at issue here,” said the court ruling. “In certain contexts, the term refers to specifically — that is, more narrowly, to penile-vaginal intercourse.”

During traffic stop, Florida woman tossed needles into backseat near toddler

It looked suspiciously like a drug deal at a gas station.

A woman got out of the passenger seat of a parked car when another pulled up next to the car she was in. A plastic baggie exchanged hands, according to a Boca Raton Police report.

When the female suspect got back into her car and left the Marathon gas station, turning onto Glades Rd. with another male suspect driving, a patrolman followed.

Noticing the car she was traveling in east of downtown Boca Raton had a taillight out — plus, she didn’t come to a full stop at a stop sign, so the patrolman pulled her over, the report stated.

That’s when Christine Nancy Maier, 31, “panicked” and flung three hypodermic needles into the backseat, next to a toddler on Tuesday. The child wasn’t in a car seat, a violation in itself. The policeman noticed movement in the car by Maier as he stopped them

The child also had a cut on its face, which the woman later said happened when the child had fallen the day before.

It’s unclear if Maier is the mother, as the portion of the report indicating the relationship was blocked out, a redaction out of privacy concerns due to the child’s age.

After inspecting the driver’s license of the man behind the steering wheel, who was not married to Maier, the patrolman explained to the pair he had observed Maier conducting what appeared to be a drug transaction back at the Marathon station. He asked to search the vehicle and the driver consented.

Upon the search, the officer found the needles next to the child. In the front passenger seat lay a sunglasses case with two more needles and a baggie containing a “crystal white” substance, likely cocaine or methamphetamine.

But Maier had another excuse, the needles were for a friend, so he could shoot “methamphetamines.” The driver, the report said, became angry, telling officer he didn’t know about the drugs or needles. He had driven her to Boca Raton from rural Okeechobee, Fla. because it had “been a while since” he’d been with a woman.

The man was not arrested, according to the report. The toddler is now in the custody of the state of Florida’s Dept. of Children and Families.

Maier was booked at 7:45 p.m. into the Palm Beach County Jail by sheriff’s deputies. She was charged with felony drug possession, child neglect without bodily harm and possession of drug paraphernalia.

She is being held on $3,000 bond and is currently still in jail. She has five previous arrests, according to the Palm Beach County Clerk of Court public records, with one prior felony conviction.

House seeks to end controversial state employee charity program

Florida lawmakers are looking to shut down a charitable program funded for decades by state employees.

A bill to end the Florida State Employees’ Charitable Campaign comes after a yearslong slump due partly to a drop in participation and controversy surrounding its management, according to a new bill proposed by a House lawmaker and unanimously favored in committee Thursday.

The bill, CS/HB 1141, is sponsored by Rep. Clay Yarborough through the House Government Accountability Committee.

The measure would end the FSECC, which offers a way for employees on Florida’s payroll to give to charities of their choice. If they choose to take part in the program, they are encouraged to authorize payroll deductions divided incrementally from their annual salary.

The FSECC is the only authorized form of workplace solicitation of state employees permitted during work hours, according to the of the Florida Department of Management Services (DMS), which administers and channels the funds collected from employees to a third party for distribution to the actual charities.

Participation in the program is voluntary.

“At its peak in 2005 the program raised $4.9 million,” Yarborough told the House Government Accountability Committee Thursday. “However, since then … the campaign has experienced an ongoing and significant decline in employee contributions — so much so that in 2016 employees pledged a historic low of $282,000, which was a decrease of more than 94 percent.”

The FSECC was enacted by the legislature in 1980 and allows workers to choose among a wide range of “eligible charitable organizations that meet human or environmental needs,” and are inclusive of domestic or international causes.

Channeling the money through the FSECC reduces the expense and effort that arise from multiple charity drives cropping up throughout a calendar year that had the potential to disrupt workplace efficiency.

“The bill basically removes government as the middleman and supports state employees giving directly to the charity of their choice, and we all know that with today’s ability to donate to charities — from computers to and hand-held devices — direct giving is easier than ever,” Rep. Yarborough said.

During its 36-year history, the FSECC raised more than $94 million, according to a house House of Representatives staff analysis of the campaign.

The FSECC was run by the United Way for years and took in roughly $4 million a year from 1999 to 2009, when donations began to dip.

However, in 2013 the fund took a nose-dive after the state outsourced the charitable drive in 2012 “to Solix, Inc., a New-Jersey-based company with close ties to Gov. Rick Scott through its well-connected lobbyists,” according to a 2015 article in The Tallahassee Democrat newspaper.

The newspaper further noted a partisan investigation by Statehouse Democrats found Solix took 47 percent of the campaign’s proceeds in 2013 and more than half last year to cover its overhead. This year — in part because donations continued to tank — Solix could walk away with a bigger chunk, nearly two-thirds of the contributions.

DMS renewed the contract with Solix last year even though there were grumblings from state employees once the Democrats’ investigation was made public and there was a dispute in the percentages taken in for overhead between numbers given by DMS and United Way, the previous steward of the campaign, and the percentages taken in by Solix for overhead.

Florida statutes dictating the rules and ethics for the FSECC do not allow the agency to do business with a third party if the overhead exceeds 25 percent, except in rare circumstances.

Turns out the New Jersey company was getting $0.71 for every dollar Florida state employees were contributing to the FSECC. Still, DMS defended their choice of Solix.

Lawmakers apparently do not agree with the FSECC. The governor’s been mum on the issue, but in a hint of the fracas behind the scenes, DMS Secretary Chad Poppell resigned Thursday.

Mentioning nothing of HB 1141, Scott said, “Chad Poppell has done an outstanding job as Secretary of DMS and I want to thank him for his hard work to improve efficiency and foster innovation in state government. Under his leadership, Florida has remained a leader in government efficiency and provided the critical support to our state agencies to ensure Florida families and businesses receive the services and support they need.”

The Thursday introduction of the bill Thursday was its second hearing. The House Oversight, Transparency and Administration Committee also voted unanimously in favor Monday.


Records released by DCF portray different picture of mother in teen’s Facebook Live suicide

The mother of a teen who committed suicide was in her car when she began receiving a trickle of text messages,

Then a barrage of texts began streaming in.

“Where’s your daughter,” one read.

“Please please please check on your daughter,” read another.

Gina Alexis, the mother of Naika Venant, the 14-year-old girl who hung herself with a scarf in January as hundreds watched, began to frantically make phone calls — first to Naika’s case worker. But no one picked up.

According to a cache of documents released on Wednesday by the Department of Children and Families (DCF) on the order of a judge in a suit brought by The Miami Herald, Alexis tried to scan the dozens of messages popping up on Naika’s Facebook page.

Her heart sank, she told The Miami Herald in an exclusive interview on Wednesday.

FloridaPolitics.com acquired the same trove of documents from DCF, which number in the hundreds of pages and give a full, detailed history from the first time the two came in contact with the agency — when Naika’s baby sitter left her home alone for more than an hour to the rapid response report recently issued following Naika’s death.

It was revealed Alexis might have been taunted Naika in a comment on the Facebook Live thread, but it wasn’t true, she said.

“Alexis said she has been wrongly cast as a villain, as someone who watched online as her daughter planned and executed a chilling suicide while live-streaming on Facebook,” the Herald reported. “Critics of her behavior have cited a post Alexis made on social media in which she referred to Naika as ‘a sad little DCF custody jit,’ and warned that the girl ‘will get buried’ if she continued down a path of abhorrent behavior.”

The post still exists online here and there, but it was never proven Alexis wrote it and several fake accounts had been set up impersonating Naika during the three hours she built up the nerve to hang herself.

“And Alexis insists she made the comments at around 1:15 a.m. the night Naika died — but when friends were telling her that news of a Facebook Live hanging were a hoax,” according to the Herald. “Indeed, Alexis said, friends of her daughter were creating fake social media accounts under Naika’s name, reporting that the spectacle was a stunt.”

Naika had endured sexual abuse from a young age and had become inappropriately hyper-sexualized at an inappropriate age, records reflect.

It no doubt played a confusing role in her mind, along with the 14 foster homes she was placed in during nine months time, according to a DCF report.

“I didn’t bring from Haiti for this result … I lost my #1 friend my baby my #1 reason to live it’s so hard without you … I love you to the moon and back princess,” Alexis wrote in kind of goodbye text.

DCF Secretary Mike Carroll said in a statement: “There has been much work done in the child welfare system throughout the state, and in Miami-Dade County in recent years, but our work will never be done. The findings outlined in the critical incident rapid response team) report present specific opportunities to make systemic improvements that will inform us and our partner agencies on how to better reach troubled kids.”

Florida prison chief: State losing corrections staff to ‘Wal-Mart,’ creating insecurity in system

More than three-quarters of Florida’s corrections officers have less than two years’ experience. In some state prisons, a single CO will be left alone to supervise 150-200 inmates in a jail block.

Contraband has become so bad, one random search of (just half) a Dade facility turned up $15,000 in street value of cocaine, seven knives, 46 cellphones and an array of other drugs and illicit materials, said Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones Thursday.

The state’s prisons chief was in front of the Senate Appropriations Committee, having to explain just how bad the situation was, even though the state’s inmate population dropped by 3,000 from the year before.

Three main problems, she said, were safety, recidivism, and operational deficiencies — all due to a lack of funding. Corrections officers are paid so little, and have such a high stress in a dangerous job, she can’t keep them on the payroll.

“I’m losing state and local officers to state and local businesses — even to Wal-Mart,” she told the committee. “We hire thousands of new corrections officers every year. We’re a hiring machine. The problem is we can’t keep them.”

She said turnover for COs has increased 95 percent since 2009.

Entry-level base pay for a corrections officer before completion of on-the-job training hovers around $29,000. It goes up, slightly, when a combination of certifications and on-the-job training are completed, but for working 12 hour shifts — sometimes doubles due to the lack of staffing, especially at correctional facilities specializing in mental health issues, Jones said — it’s no wonder why she can’t keep anyone on for more than a year or so.

That tempts some COs to earn a little extra money on the side.

Jones said, unfortunately, some of the ones securing the facility are the ones bringing in the contraband or are looking the other way in exchange for bribes. And with career field numbers so low — with a current vacancy rate of 13 percent statewide, she said — security issues become a factor. Drugs and weapons are stashed in trash cans or simply tossed over fences by friends or loved ones working in cahoots with inmates.

When a random search of a prison, or part of a prison, takes place, inmates caught with illegal materials, products or drugs face more charges, leading to high recidivism rates.

Since 2009, the introduction of contraband into the prisons system has increased more than 400 percent.

Inmate on inmate attacked have increased 68 percent during the same period, she cited.

To boot, she admitted, when questioned by Sen. Jeff Brandes, facilities are falling apart. Fencing at some prisons is so old, or dilapidated, the department doesn’t have a way to mend it without tearing it all down and rebuilding or renovating, and there simply isn’t the money to do that, she said.

Without a new and increased pay package, she said she doesn’t any change for the better coming. She’s requested more money and according to the chair of the appropriations committee, Jack Latvala, the cavalry is coming.

“I am pleased to report, in consultation with Sen. [Joe] Negron … help is on the way from the Florida Senate,” he said. “Our budget will include some substantial help on this issue. … Let’s go to work and make it happen.”

School recess, in disarray statewide, to become uniform under Senate bill

In the decades before tablets and standardized testing wormed their way into primary and secondary schools, school playgrounds were a familiar place for children and adolescents.

Up to an hour a day was spent running around, throwing balls to, or at, one another.

But with all the technology and pressure to make the academic cut, with extracurriculars lumped in, recess somehow got lost in the mix.

However, one Florida state senator is looking to change that, even if only by setting a minimum standard for schools to follow.

Sen. Anitere Flores, vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, moved her proposal, SB 78, passed its third hurdle on the path to becoming a law. She proposed all teachers at K-12 public schools across the state get their students outside every school day — no books, no pencils.

“We are facing a bit of an issue across the state in that there is not any uniformity when it comes to recess in our schools,” she said to her colleagues on the committee. “Research has shown this can have incredible academic benefits.”

The measure requires each district school board to provide students in certain grades with a minimum number of minutes of free-play recess per week and with a minimum number of consecutive minutes of free-play recess per day, in this case, she said, a minimum of 20 minutes.

None of the committee members argued the point — each having grown up in a time when recess was the norm.

According to a study by Stanford University, “a high-quality recess program can help students feel more engaged, safer and positive about the school day.”

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights recognizes the right of all children to play, regarding it as an essential part of their well-being, especially for the economically disadvantaged.

In the Convention on the Rights of a Child, “children have the right to relax and play and to join in a wide range of cultural, artistic and other recreational activities.”

And the state of California now includes school climate as one of eight priority areas for local education agencies.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has outlined a set of guidelines intended to help schools develop positive recess programs — guidelines necessary because recess today does not always meet these standards, writes Milbrey McLaughlin, the David Jacks Professor of Education and Public Policy, Emerita, and founding director of Stanford’s John W. Gardner Center, who co-authored the Stanford article.

Many schools had cut back recess programs watering down their effectiveness, or end them altogether, the Stanford study said.

But it looks like Flores’s bill is on course to get students back into the Florida sunshine.

House committee advances lobbying ban; impeachment power for attorneys, public defenders

Florida lawmakers advanced two key pieces of legislation through the House Thursday, including one to lengthen the period before elected officials could begin lobbying after their time in office.

The other bill would make state attorneys and public defenders in each judicial district eligible for impeachment under the governor’s power.

In an overwhelming vote, the House Public Integrity and Ethics Committee passed PCB PIE 17-01 and HJR 999, though there was thorough debate by both the public and committee members on each measure.

PCB PIE 17-01, which has yet to be given a bill number and was introduced by Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, vice chair of the committee, leaps forward from two years to six years before a former Florida lawmaker can be compensated for through connections and inherent benefits legislators reap while employed in such positions.

The intention, Sullivan said, was to hedge off corruption while re-establishing integrity in elected officials. By waiting six years, those supposed connections in the Statehouse may no longer be there, she said.

“I think it’s really important that we instill trust in this process again,” she told the committee in closing the measure after debate. “I think we owe that to the (constituents).”

For years, corruption scandals have plagued Florida lawmakers, bringing about wide skepticism among the voters of the Sunshine State.

Rep. Chuck Clemons, Sr., agreed with the amendment in debate, referencing the widespread practice of lawmakers becoming lobbyists on behalf of special interest groups due to the close connections they typically still have after leaving office.

“How do you stop the revolving door unless you stop the revolving door,” he said. “This is the ‘kill the certain perks’ bill. This is the ‘no longer fresh’ bill. You’re serving because you believe in the rock bottom idea that you are serving to serve, not to gain anything.”

But Rep. David Richardson, while in favor of the measure, had concerns it might be unconstitutional, citing a typical noncompete clause when leave a job is usually two years.

“A court could look at this down the road and ask what is a reasonable amount of time — two years is a reasonable amount of time, but beyond that it might be an unreasonable amount of time,” Richardson, an attorney, said. “Now, I think as public servants we should hold ourselves to a higher standard, but a court may say six years is too long of an amount of time.”

The committee voted unanimously in favor, with two committee members absent.

On HJR 999, the motivation behind the amendment was to hold state attorneys and public defenders throughout the state to the same accountability as other offices, Rep. Jackie Toledo, the measure’s sponsor, told the committee.

Toledo’s proposal seeks to amend the Florida Constitution to give the House authoritative powers to impeach state attorneys and public defenders in each of the state’s 20 judicial districts for violations that include misdemeanor offenses in while in office. It also subjects them to a trial by the Senate, if impeached and preserves the governor’s ongoing authority to suspend those holding such offices.

In the past, state attorneys and public defenders were exempt from such acts.

In the public debate forum, a knowledgeable and thought-provoking citizen took the podium — Brian Pitts, also known as ‘Justice-2-Jesus,” is well-known among legislators — challenging the legitimacy of Toledo’s measure.

He turned from the committee and directly addressed Toledo, who had taken a seat with the public.

“I was trying to figure out what this is fixing — what is this fixing?” he said. “They can’t be suspended by anyone except the governor. You’re not going to educate the public about this. You can read it on paper all you want, but to do it — to really do it? No way. You don’t just do something like this to do it. I don’t know what you all are doing here with this thing.”

Clemens chimed in later, saying, “It’s just looking ahead into the future in case something does happen.”

Fourteen committee members voted in favor, with one denying; three were absent.


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