Mitch Perry, Author at Florida Politics - Page 6 of 303

Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

Bill to expand juvenile civil citations advances in Senate, law enforcement continues to resist

Legislation to create a statewide civil citation program for juveniles statewide advanced in a Florida Senate Committee Wednesday.

But members of the police and sheriffs association continue to resist the bill as currently drawn.

Miami Republican Senator Anitere Flores’ bill (SB 196) would mandate law enforcement officers to offer a civil citation for youths admitting to one of 11 separate misdemeanors: possession of alcohol beverages; battery; criminal mischief; trespassing; theft; retail and farm theft; riots; disorderly conduct; possession of cannabis or controlled substances; possession, manufacture, delivery, transportation, advertisement or retail sale of drug paraphernalia and resisting an officer without violence.

Flores amended her legislation to require that at least one diversion program must be countywide, but counties could still work together on other programs, as some smaller counties had raised objections. She also said that law enforcement officers would have discretion on whether to give the youth a citation for an offense if they have a previous felony already pending on their record.

The issue of mandating that law officers will otherwise not have discretion as to make an arrest or a civil citation continues to be an issue with law enforcement.

“We don’t want to criminalize youth,” insisted Matt Dunagan, the Florida Sheriffs Association’s assistance executive director of operations in testifying before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice. But he insisted that officers need the ability to have flexibility on what to charge a youth with, though the intent is that if they are arrested they are not saddled with that blot on their record.

“We believe the best way to move forward on that is to make sure that those records can be expunged and that when they go and apply for a job, for first-time misdemeanors, that they do not have to check that box if they’ve ever been arrested,” Dunagan said.

Shane Bennett with the Florida Police Chiefs Association concurred with his law enforcement colleague, saying specifically his group had an issue with the classification of battery as being listed in various misdemeanors specified for a civil citation in the bill.

But some members of the committee weren’t sympathetic.

“If law enforcement in this state had been a little bit better in adopting these programs and utilizing the way that they should be used, then perhaps we wouldn’t be in the situation of having to say we’re going to make you do it,” said Lake Worth Democrat Jeff Clemens.

In her summary before the committee, Flores said that misdemeanor battery is unwanted touching — not punching somebody in the face, which would be a felony. She did say she was open to creating a new definition of a misdemeanor battery to placate law enforcement.

Flores added that the reason for a statewide bill is that while some counties are more liberal about offering civil citations to wayward youth, others aren’t, and it’s just a draw of luck of your location that could affect a young person’s life.

To use an example, Flores praised the Pinellas County Sheriffs Dept., which has a 94 percent of eligible youths for civil citations receive it. However, the eligibility rate is much lower across the Howard Frankland Bridge, she notes.

“You’re in Hillsborough County, and if you’re a child in one of these situations, your chances just dropped to a third,” she said. “There’s a two-thirds chance that you’re at a wrong place at the wrong time.”

There are two bills closely tracking Flores’ legislation in the House, including legislation sponsored by Seminole Republican Larry Ahern.

Senate President Joe Negron is a big supporter of criminal justice reform. He issued a statement after the vote, saying,

“In too many cases, we have become a society where law enforcement officers are brought in to referee the day-to-day challenges of raising children. This legislation strikes an appropriate balance between public safety and decriminalizing the mistakes of adolescents.”

 

Could anti-Donald Trump quotes hurt Pat Neal’s chances of becoming CFO?

Not surprisingly, Donald Trump hasn’t been too keen on hiring those associated with the “Never Trump” movement of conservative policy who surfaced in last year’s presidential campaign.

The most glaring example of this is the case of former State Department official Elliott Abrams. A meeting between the two last month reportedly went well, according to CNN. Ultimately, though, Trump opted not to hire Abrams for the Deputy Secretary of State position once he learned that Abrams criticized him during his White House run.

With the in mind, might strong criticism of the President during the campaign turn off Rick Scott, a close ally of Trump’s, specifically when it comes to naming a new Chief Financial Officer?

While there have been a host of names floated as possible contenders (including state Senators Jack Latvala, Jeff Brandes, Tom Lee and Lizbeth Benacquisto, state Rep. Jim Boyd, former interim head of Citizens Property Insurance Tom Grady, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, former Speaker of the House Will Weatherford, and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera), Pat Neal, the Manatee County real estate developer and former state lawmaker, is being looked at by many as the top choice to succeed Jeff Atwater.

Atwater announced last month that he would step down as CFO to serve as Vice President for Strategic Initiatives and Chief Financial Officer at Florida Atlantic University at the end of the Florida Legislature’s regular session in May.

Neal announced last June that he would not be a candidate for the CFO position in 2018, telling the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that he was “dispirited with what I see every morning having to do with the Trump campaign.”

He went on to tell reporter Zac Anderson that he viewed Trump as an incredibly “vulgar” candidate  who “is leading our party off a cliff.”

Neal later told the Times’ Adam Smith: “I, Pat Neal, have never had a bankruptcy, never had a bank default. When you sign a note of bonds, or sell stock with investors the right thing to do is pay them back. Not only did he lose money for people he borrowed from, but for a period there he lost money for his investors, particularly in the casino deals. That isn’t the way you do it, and I would not say he is a credit to the real estate industry.”

When asked to comment, a spokesperson for Scott simply sent the same statement that Scott said when Atwater announced he would be leaving the CFO spot last month.  It was filled with effusive praise for the Palm Beach County Republican, with Scott adding, “The role of the CFO is incredibly important to our state, and I will begin the process to appoint someone to serve Florida families.”

It should be noted that not everyone who has had critical words for Trump has been banned from working with him in his new administration.

Take Rick Perry, Bush’s Secretary of Energy.

On the campaign trail, the former Texas Governor called Trump a “cancer on conservatism,” before ultimately endorsing Trump for president calling the the New York City real estate magnate “one of the most talented people who has ever run for the president I have ever seen.”

Legislation that would make Florida’s Secretary of State an elected position advances

Historically, the Secretary of State in Florida was elected by the public, but that changed in 1998, when constitutional changes removed that position from the elected Cabinet of the executive branch.

Now, 19 years later, Fernandina Beach Republican Sen. Aaron Bean wants to bring that position back into the Cabinet.

At the Senate Committee on Ethics and Elections meeting on Tuesday, Bean told his colleagues that the main motivation for his joint resolution (SB 882) is to add another member to the Cabinet, which currently consists of four members – the governor, attorney general, chief financial officer and agriculture commissioner.

“I always felt that it’s been odd,” Bean said. “We have some strange rules when it comes to voting with our cabinet,” referring specifically on the state rule that in two-two ties on Cabinet votes, the governor has to be on the prevailing side.

Bean said that fifth cabinet member needs to be “an independent Secretary of State who is accountable directly to the people.”

Concurring with Bean at the hearing was Sandra Mortham, who was Florida Secretary of State from 1995 to 1998, where she lost a bid for re-election in a GOP primary to Katherine Harris.

“In my view, this is an office that should be accountable to the public,” Mortham said. “Over the last 15 years, there have been multiple incidents that I’ve watched, where it’s been difficult… for the Secretary of State at the time to make decisions because they are not accountable directly to the publc, but rather they’re accountable to the person who has appointed them.”

Insisting that she wasn’t “casting aspersions” on the governors who have had the ability to handpick their own Secretary of State nominees over the years, she said it makes it “very, very difficult” sometimes for them on important issues, referring to those officers.

Mortham also said it would be better for local supervisors of elections to be dealing with a state leader who has been popularly elected and not appointed by the governor.

The measure passed easily in the committee. To make it to Governor Scott’s desk, it would have to earn at least 60 percent support in the House and Senate (the House bill is being sponsored by Martin County Republican Rep. Gayle Harrell). Then it would go on the ballot in 2018. If Floridians voted to support it, the first election for Secretary of State would take place during the 2022 election cycle.

Charlie Crist gives a thumbs down to GOP health care replacement for the ACA

In recent weeks, Charlie Crist has heard loud and clear from constituents that he should stand behind the Affordable Care Act.

On Tuesday, the St. Petersburg Republican registered his strong opposition to the Republican House replacement for the ACA that Democrats say will result in over 10 million Americans to lose their health care coverage.

“The plan Republicans have put forward falls far short of current law — driving up health care costs, stripping away important protections, and leaving millions without coverage,” Crist said. “Even more troubling, it slashes Medicaid, a program that 70 million Americans depend on, hurting those most in need of coverage — seniors and long-term care recipients.

The GOP House bill would replace federal insurance subsidies with a new form of individual tax credits and phase out most of the ACA’s taxes. It would ultimately phase out current Medicaid funding, instead distribute a per-person allotment to the states, but not until 2020.

While Democratic opposition isn’t surprising, criticism from some conservatives exposes the fissures within the Republican Party on how best to replace President Obama’s signature domestic achievement.

“In many ways, the House Republican proposal released last night not only accepts the flawed progressive premises of Obamacare but expands upon them,” said Michael Needham with Heritage Action.” Ronald Reagan once said, ‘Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.’ The AHCA does all three.”

“Keep Medicaid in place until 2020?” said Ohio Republican Jim Jordan, a co-founder of the House Freedom Caucus. “We didn’t have Medicaid expansion in the bill we sent to President Obama, but we have it in the one we send to President Trump? That makes no sense to me.”

Crist said that Congress should work in a bipartisan fashion to improve the Academic, “so it works better for all Americans.”

“This proposal would just make things worse for the middle class, cutting taxes for the rich at the expense of seniors and working families,” he said.

Autonomous vehicle bill advances in House Committee

In just the past few years, Florida has emerged as a state willing to go all-in on autonomous vehicle technology.

Legislation that removes a requirement that the person operating a vehicle in autonomous mode possess a valid driver’s license — and instead make the autonomous car itself the licensed entity — easily moved Tuesday through the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

“It clarifies when engaged, the autonomous technology installed on a vehicle, is deemed to be the operator of a vehicle, regardless of whether or not a human is physically present in the vehicle, ” said Sanford Republican Jason Brodeur when explaining the bill (HB 725) to the committee.

Brodeur said the bill was mostly technical in nature, since most of the laws on the books simply never contemplated a society with self-driving vehicles.

Orlando attorney Rich Newsome said the legislation would be an absolute “game changer,” joking that driverless cars will make the roads so much safer that trial lawyers will be put out of business. However, he said he had concerns about the fact that the legislation was moving faster than the car companies producing such technology.

“You’re essentially giving a car who doesn’t know yet how to drive a driver’s license, without passing a test, without really knowing how to drive yet, ” Newsome said. “There is no safety standards or other standards right now for autonomous vehicle technology.” He said a testing program would give the auto companies an incentive to make sure the cars are as safe as possible.

St. Petersburg Democrat Wengay Newton expressed concerns about a driverless car being “hacked,” but Brodeur didn’t seem prepared to address those issues. “If it were to get hacked … that would fall under product liability law, no different than anything you currently operate gets hacked, but there’s liability on the part of the provider there,” Brodeur responded.

“I embrace the technology, but your inability to answer my question about hacking is a little disturbing to me,” Newton added.

Coconut Creek Democrat Kristen Jacobs said one of the things that she was excited about is that driverless cars “need”only nine feet of road in 12-feet wide, which she says could more possibilities for sidewalks or bike lanes on streets.

St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes is sponsoring the Senate version of the legislation.

 

Kathy Castor calls new GOP House health care plan ‘Robin Hood in reverse’

Congresswoman Kathy Castor has always been an unflagging champion of the Affordable Care Act, so you could bet she would have a harsh reaction to the plan unveiled by House Republican leaders on Monday night.

“It’s pretty horrendous,” the Tampa Democrat told a group of reporters gathered in front of a medical building Tuesday morning on West Swann Avenue in South Tampa.

Castor said Floridians arguably have the most to lose under the GOP proposal. More than 1.7 million Floridians signed up for ACA plans on Healthcare.gov in 2016, the most of any state. They would automatically lose coverage when the exchanges are eliminated.

Although Florida Gov. Rick Scott did not allow for Medicaid expansion which could have brought on at least 750,000 more Floridians to the ACA, there are groups of Floridians — children, the disabled, people with Alzheimer’s and others — whose coverage is funded by Medicaid. The GOP House plan calls for a change Medicaid funding which would have it distributed by a per-person allotment to the states.

“If they devastate Medicaid, they will harm families across the state,” Castor warned.

Approximately 85 percent of those on the ACA receive some government subsidy to pay for their coverage. Under the House GOP plan, that subsidy would go away, to replaced by a tax credit that would start at $2,000 annually for those under 30 years of age, and max out at $4,000 for seniors.

“Instead of going to the doctor’s office, they want to ask working families across America to go to the accountant’s office for care,” Castor remarked, adding that such credits won’t be available until after a citizen gets their income tax refund, which could be a full year or longer from when they would have to pay for a medical procedure.

Higher-income Americans could pay fewer taxes and get more tax benefits with the new plan, according to an analysis from CNN/Money. The legislation would eliminate two taxes that Obamacare levied on the wealthy to help pay for the law. Nearly everyone in the top one percent who earn more than $774,000 a year, would enjoy a hefty tax cut, averaging $33,000, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. Those in the top 0.1 percent would get an average tax cut of about $197,000.

“It’s a reverse Robin Hood,” the Congresswoman quipped. “It’s a steal from the poor to give to the rich, and even (a) steal from working families,” adding, “to give huge tax cuts for the wealthiest among us and withdraw coverage to so many more of our neighbors? I don’t understand that.”

As she has done in previous news conferences focused on maintaining the ACA, Castor featured a Tampa citizen who testified on behalf of the current health care system. Joe Nammour, 36, is a small-business man who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis five years ago, where he said that he was denied access to coverage because it’s a disease that is very expensive to treat. He praised the ACA for not discriminating against people like him who have a pre-existing condition.

Republicans are touting that the most popular provisions of the ACA, including not discriminating against pre-existing conditions, are maintained in their proposal. Like Obamacare, it requires insurers cover these people and prevents carriers from charging them more because of their health.

However, the GOP plan would lift the requirement that insurers cover a certain share of the cost of getting care. This change would allow carriers to offer a wider selection of policies, including more with higher deductibles and copays. That could make it harder to find plans with low deductibles that the sick often want.

Castor is the Vice Ranking Member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, which will be voting on the new bill on Wednesday. That’s despite the fact that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has yet to score this repeal bill, which would determine what it would cost and how many people would remain uninsured. She disputed a reporter’s question that the Democrats pushed the ACA through Congress without anyone reading the bill.

“The difference is, before we went to a committee markup, we had had months and months of hearings and heard from experts and folks from all across the spectrum, and many academics and crafted that bill,” she said, calling that notion “a canard.”

Janet Cruz is ready to lead her caucus during what’s expected to be a raucous Session

Speaking to an audience in her home district of Tampa last month, House Minority Leader Janet Cruz feels Florida doesn’t have a spending or revenue problem.

Tallahassee has a “priority problem,” the House District 62 representative said.

She maintains that attitude going into the 2017 regular Legislative Session, which officially kicks off  Tuesday.

“The Republicans have continued to focus on massive handouts for the ultrawealthy and the large corporations at the expense of our public education, at the expense of our hospitals, at the expense of our environment, and at the expense of small businesses, which in my opinion is the backbone of this country,” Cruz told FloridaPolitics.com in a phone interview last week.

“All of these issues are about creating good paying jobs that provide economic security for working Floridians and essentially these people are just looking for some economic security, higher wages, better-paying jobs.”

While acknowledging that the Rick Scott versus Richard Corcoran contretemps will entertain Capitol observers this spring, she supports Corcoran’s attempts to kill Enterprise Florida, the public-private agency that entices companies to add jobs in the state.

“I have a hard time stroking million dollars checks for millionaires. I just don’t see it,” she says, referring to the median income in her district being only $39,000.

Cruz is pleased that the bills to defund Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida were decoupled in the past few weeks, because she sees the value of Visit Florida to the Sunshine State, but only if greater oversight is imposed on its management.

“Salaries as a state employee are typically lower than in corporate America, yet for some reason Visit Florida doesn’t quite subscribe to that salary range as a state employee,” she says, referring to the fact that former Visit Florida CEO Will Seccombe made an annual salary of $293,000.

Cruz is one of the leaders of the Tampa Bay area legislative delegation, where transportation remains a central problem plaguing the region. Last month, the entire delegation convened in Clearwater, with much of the discussion on creating a regional transit authority (Clearwater Senator Jack Latvala has just filed a bill in the Senate to do that).

Nevertheless, she remains optimistic about the possibility of establishing such an entity.

For the first time, Cruz agrees with her GOP colleagues in Hillsborough about eliminating the controversial Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission, and supports a bill sponsored by Tampa Bay-area Republicans Chris Sprowls and Jamie Grant that would finally enact statewide regulations on transportation network companies.

“It’s finally going to happen, and I think that there were some legislators, including myself, that were resistant,” Cruz says. “Not because I don’t love Lyft or Uber, because I love both of them. Because I didn’t feel that it was fair and the playing field wasn’t level for the taxi companies to follow so many different rules and so many regulations.”

“Then I felt like Uber kind of came in as a bully and said, ‘we’re going to do it our way, and we really care what you have to say, and we’re your local rules and regs are, we’re going to do it our way.’”

Cruz believes it’s still important that Uber drivers have an “advanced level” of background security checks. Uber and Lyft are the future, she says, “so we just have to work on regulating it so that Floridians are safe. That’s my biggest concern.”

(Under the Sprowls-Grant bill, TNC drivers will not be required to have a Level II background check. In a committee hearing last month, Sprowls downplayed the notion that a Level II check is more rigorous than what is in his bill. “The FBI database has 95 million records. These multistage databases that we specifically outline in the bill, have 500 million records,” he said).

Senate President Joe Negron was one of a handful of Florida Republicans who traveled to Washington last week to discuss potential health care changes with their congressional counterparts. He supports a plan being floated that would have the federal government giving a form of a block grant to the state for Medicaid coverage.

Like virtually every Democrat, Cruz would prefer that the Affordable Care Act stay in place, but she’ll reserve judgment if a new GOP plan ends up covering at least as many if not more of her constituents.

That remains extremely dubious, though.

While the Florida Senate overwhelmingly supported a hybrid version of Medicaid expansion a couple of years ago, Cruz’ GOP colleagues in the House overwhelmingly rejected such an idea, which rankles the Tampa Democrat.

“I hear them get so snarky sometimes in the Legislature about folks without health care coverage and it slays me, honestly, because these folks who don’t have coverage end up in the emergency room because that’s their only option, that cost is passed on to us … so it’s like really?” she says. “You’re pushing so hard not to have coverage for working families, yet, believe it or not, you’re paying for it at the end.”

There will be plenty of bills, resolutions and resolution-like memorials in the 2017 session — 39 in all.

Cruz says that the National Rifle Association’s influence on GOP legislators is preventing the Legislature from moving forward on “common sense gun safety reforms.” She’s cognizant of the vast cultural differences that representatives from more rural areas of the state feel about guns as opposed to those from urban regions like Tampa.

“I understand that people have very different perspectives, but nobody is trying to take anyone’s gun away from them,” she insists. “We just want to make sure that campuses and airports are safe.”

Cruz did offer her prediction for the coming session.

“I’m looking forward to working with Speaker Corcoran, watching the sparks fly between the Speaker and the Governor, hoping that session will end on time and we won’t waste taxpayer’s dollars. But we’ll see.”

Florida Campaign for Criminal Justice Reform formed as legislative session formally begins

There are numerous criminal justice reform bills already moving in committees in the Florida House and Senate this year, and on Monday a nonpartisan coalition called The Florida Campaign for Criminal Justice Reform announced its formation on the eve of the 2017 Legislative Session kicking off on Tuesday.

The Florida Campaign for Criminal Justice Reform includes the Southern Poverty Law Center, ACLU of Florida, Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, League of Women Voters, R Street Institute, Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Florida Public Defender Association, Florida Legal Services, Florida Immigrant Coalition, New Florida Majority, Florida Council of Churches, Farmworker Self-Help, Inc., LatinoJustice PRLDEF and Southern Legal Counsel.

“Legislators should take notice when public interest organizations representing an extraordinarily broad ideological spectrum come together to urge long-overdue reforms in our criminal justice system,” said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. “Reforms are needed in our prison system that is already nearing 100,000 inmates, the 3rd largest inmate population of any prison system in the country.  Our state’s habit of imposing mandatory minimum sentences has loaded up our prisons in a way that threatens the safety of inmates as well as correction officers.  Continuing to use incarceration in Florida prisons as a substitute for drug and mental health treatment is not financially sustainable.”

The coalition listed six separate bills that they are focused on as the session begins, starting out with legislation sponsored by St. Petersburg Republicans Jeff Brandes and Kathleen Peters  (SB 458 and HB 387) that would create a task force to review the state’s criminal justice system and recommend reforms prior to the 2018 Legislative Session. Members would represent elected officials, the judiciary, law enforcement, academia, faith groups, advocacy organizations and formerly incarcerated people.

These are the other bills the coalition will be following closely this session

Children Tried as Adults – Florida prosecutes more children as adults than any other state. CS/SB 192 would grant judges oversight of prosecutor’s “direct-file” discretion, remove certain nonviolent offenses from eligibility for adult charges and retain voting rights for children convicted as adults.

Juvenile Civil Citation – Children without arrest records have more opportunity for education, employment and civic engagement. HB 205 and CS/SB 196 would expand the use of civil citations – instead of arrests – for non-violent, common youth misbehavior.

Adult Civil Citation – Tough-on-crime policies have bloated Florida’s jail and prison populations, locking up many non-violent offenders. HB 367 and SB 448 would give law enforcement officers discretion to issue civil citations to adults committing certain low-level misdemeanors, allowing them to complete diversionary programs and avoid arrest records.

Elderly Release – Many prisoners are elderly, require costly medical care and pose no threat to public safety. HB 535 and SB 606 would lay the groundwork for expanding compassionate release programs.

Sentencing and Offense Parameters – Several proposed bills would change how certain offenses are charged and provide judges more discretion in sentencing. HB 693 and SB 1102 would revise property crime thresholds. SB 608 would alter how certain driving offenses are treated. HB 641 and CS/SB 290 would revise possession of controlled substance offenses; expand eligibility for non-prison sanctions and diversionary programs; allow judges to depart from mandatory minimum sentences for certain non-violent crimes and drug possession offenses; and create a Sentencing Commission to oversee sentencing practices.

Members of the Florida Campaign for Criminal Justice Reform say they will be in the Capitol this Thursday to lobby legislators to approve these reform measures.

Charlie Crist calls new Trump travel ban ‘deeply troubling’

While calling it a slight improvement, Charlie Crist says that President Donald Trump’s newly revised version of his executive order that will bar migrants from predominantly Muslim nations from entering the U.S. remains “deeply troubling.”

The Trump administration released its new executive order travel ban on Monday, more than a month after federal judges blocked the initial ban on residents from seven Middle Eastern and African countries that created legal challenges and spontaneous demonstrations in airports across the country. The new executive order removes citizens of Iraq from the original travel embargo and deletes a provision that explicitly protected religious minorities.

“While it’s an improvement that Iraq was taken off the list of countries under the travel ban, this executive order is still deeply troubling, and we can’t take our eye off the ball,” Crist said in a statement.

“By cutting the number of refugees able to seek freedom and safety in the U.S. by over 50 percent annually, we are condemning the lives of up to 60,000 people – a population the size of Fort Myers, Florida – who fear persecution due to their race, religion, nationality, or political views,” said the Pinellas County Representative. “It’s unconscionable, flying in the face of our American values as the beacon of hope and light to the rest of the world.”

Like some foreign policy observers, Crist says the new executive order makes America less safe, “damaging the alliances we need to stop terrorism at home and against our allies and interests abroad.”

The release of the statement shortly after it was announced is another example of how Crist appears to be more focused in his job as a Congressman. When the original travel ban was announced late in the afternoon of Friday, January 27, citizens converged the next night to airports around the country to protest the decision (though in Tampa, citizens who initially were rebuffed by Tampa International Airport officials relocated in front of Marco Rubio’s then Tampa office).

Crist did not issue a statement out that entire weekend, however, finally sending out a statement via his spokeswoman on January 30.

Not this time, however. Tampa Representative Kathy Castor, Crist’s Democratic colleague from across the Bay, has not weighed in with a statement as of yet on Monday afternoon.

Bill to allow law enforcement officers who wear body cameras to review footage advances in Florida Senate committee

Legislation that would allow law enforcement officers to review video taken from body cameras before writing a report or before providing a statement about an incident in which they were involved advanced in a Florida Senate committee on Monday.

Sarasota Republican Greg Steube‘s bill (SB 624) calls for the law enforcement agencies in Florida that currently use body cameras to produce “certain parameters” about the technology, such as the situation that the bill contemplates.

“If there is something where they have to give testimony or they have to do a report and they have to give a statement on, it allows the officer the opportunity to review that footage before he makes that statement,” Steube told the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.

“What we’re trying to get to is situations where an officer may have had multiple conversations or maybe there was multiple incidents that happened at a traffic stop,” explained Matt Puckett, executive director with the Florida Police Benevolent Association. “The officer has the ability in some cases to pull that footage up right on his or her screen in the car, to make sure to write the details in the report.”

The PBA head said the ability for officers to look back at their video of a recent exchange with a citizen would instead be for “minor issues,” and not in a criminal case where use of force is employed. He mentioned how an officer could write down the wrong color of a shirt for example. “Those little things trip up cases,” he said. “They’re technicalities, but they can really destroy a case.”

St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes asked several questions expressing concerns about how an officer could alter their statements based on the footage. Puckett insisted that a case involving a shooting would be “heavily investigated.”

Brandes also worried aloud that an officer could have the tape erased if it showed him or her to be acting illegally.

Lake Worth Democrat Jeff Clemens said he definitely had concerns as well. After Steube said he would work on tweaking the bill before it gets to its next committee, Clemens said it hasn’t been the history of the committee to move bills forward that aren’t already ready to go.

They did that this time however, passing the bill, which now moves to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Tampa Republican Shawn Harrison is sponsoring the House version of the bill.

Body cameras are not mandatory in Florida state law. Many law enforcement agencies are using them, but not all of them.

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