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Staff Reports

Coalition enlists consumer testimony in support of AOB reform

A business group pushing the House version of assignment of benefits reform is releasing video testimonials by consumers who feel they were harmed by AOB abuse.

“I basically signed my life away,” said Darleen Masturzo of Davenport, one of the consumers.

“For anyone who doesn’t believe AOB abuse is causing hardship and stress for consumers, these videos should change their mind,” said Edie Ousley, vice president for public affairs for the Florida Chamber of Commerce and lead member of the Consumer Protection Coalition.

“Senators often say they want to hear from real consumers on these issues — here they are. These videos show first-hand that AOB abuse is turning people’s lives upside down and should not be allowed to continue. Consumers who sign an AOB should not sign their life away but, unfortunately, that is today’s reality.”

The coalition is pushing HB 7015 by Panama City Republican Jay Trumbull, which includes modifications to one-way attorney fees to consumers, and contractors, suing carriers. Legislation in the Senate would allow contractors holding AOBs to continue to bill their costs in claims litigation to carriers. Trumbull’s bill would end that entitlement and make it easier to rescind such agreements.

The coalition has produced videos featuring Masturzo and Charles and Wendy Snellgrove of Clearwater complaining about their experience with contractors. Both suffered water leaks and signed AOBs to get repairs made.

Masturzo said her contractor claimed $28,000 against her $35,000 policy and that she had to leave her home for six months while the repairs were being made.

“I gave them the right to just do whatever they wanted, and I had no idea what I had done,” she says. “It’s a racket.”

The Snellgroves tried to rescind their AOB, but their contractor countersued for breach of contract. This happened after the company reported a severe mold problem. Workers removed their kitchen cabinets but in the end found no serious mold, they said. The company billed the insurer for $26,000 on a job the carrier valued at $11,000.

“It just angers me that nothing’s being done to prevent contractors from abusing this assignment of benefits,” Charles Snellgrove said.

“Floridians need to understand the risk they face with the continuation of Assignment of Benefits abuse,” said Liz Reynolds, Southeast regional vice president for the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies.

“Our hope is that these videos not only get their attention but drive home the seriousness of the situation. This has been going on for too long, and it is time the Legislature does something about it.”

Here are the videos:


Marco Rubio, Bill Nelson back FDLE request for $1 million for Parkland reimbursement

Days after the Florida Department of Law Enforcement requested $1 million in emergency funding from the U.S. Justice Department to reimburse law enforcement agencies that responded to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting, Florida’s U.S. Senators, Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, wrote in support of the request, urging quick reimbursement, along with U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch.

The money, via Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Precipitous Increase in Crime emergency funds, would mitigate a “strain on state and local law enforcement resources” created by “the additional costs resulting from this traumatic event.”

If more than $1 million is requested, the letter asks for quick approval.

And it is entirely possible that more is needed in the end.

The exact amount that is needed could change in the future, Petrina Tuttle Herring, the bureau chief of FDLE’s Office of Criminal Justice Grants, said last week in a letter.

Material from Ana Ceballos was used in this post.

Jimmy Patronis: League of Cities’ opposition to benefits for first responders is ‘disgraceful’

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, also the state’s fire marshal, called the Florida League of Cities “disgraceful” for “attempting to derail” legislation that would allow first responders with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) access to mental health benefits.

Patronis issued a news release Monday.

“Florida League of Cities lobbyists have, at every step of the legislative committee process, vehemently opposed a measure that would allow Florida’s first responders to seek treatment for PTSD,” he said in a statement.

“Their opposition comes despite the fact that this measure has passed every House and Senate committee unanimously,” he added.

The League has raised concerns over the cost expanded workers’ comp would have on local government, a position that Rep. Katie Edwards-Walpole, a Plantation Democrat, slammed during a recent debate in the measure.

“If … you are seeing what is happening and you are not appalled, I find it distasteful and shameful for you to say that this bill is not necessary,” Edwards-Walpole said.

Added Patronis: “Florida League of Cities lobbyists have now gone further to commission a report, wrought with flawed and erroneous data, to support why they don’t care about the first responders who make up the communities they represent.

“Our analysis revealed that not only does the report reflect a minimal impact, but there are outrageous and absurd assumptions made to skew opinion on this important issue. Knowingly peddling a deceptive report to defeat a measure that would allow first responders suffering from PTSD to get help is nothing short of disgraceful.

“Firefighters, for example, have a suicide attempt rate five times the general adult population. Suicide is not a solution.

“As we discuss increasing mental health resources in response to the Parkland tragedy, it would be shameful if an inaccurate report prevented our first responders, who struggle to deal with the immense psychological and emotional toll of their job, from getting the help they deserve.

“To combat the attempt by the Florida League of Cities lobbyists to derail this life or death issue, at my direction the Division of Workers’ Compensation analyzed their report and uncovered shocking flaws.”

That analysis follows:

To: Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee and House Government Accountability Committee
From: Florida’s Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis
Date:Monday, February 26, 2018
Subject: Analysis of Florida League of Cities’ Study on House Bill 227

Currently, Florida’s workers’ compensation system does not cover mental injuries for first responders unless accompanied by a physical injury.

House Bill 227 and Senate Bill 376 aim to make post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) a covered treatment for first responders under workers’ compensation without requiring a physical injury.

Below please find CFO Patronis’ Division of Workers’ Compensation (“Division”) analysis of a report commissioned by the Florida League of Cities. The analysis was conducted on February 23, 2018 after a request for the report had been made.

Invented Worst-Case Scenarios. The Florida League of Cities’ report overestimates the amount of time a first responder could be out of work by nearly six times the Florida standard. The Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) Florida CompScope report indicates the average duration for a typical Florida lost-time claim to be 11 to 13 weeks, while the Florida League of Cities’ report estimates 6 to 18 months.

The Florida League of Cities report uses each and every “worst case scenario” possible to estimate the cost of lost wages (indemnity), and assumes first responders will always receive the highest disability amount available. The Florida League of Cities also ignores the effect of return-to-work programs on mitigating indemnity costs. First responders may return to work in another role while remaining at the same pay or are able to work in a different capacity at a reduced salary. In this situation, the first responder will receive temporary partial benefits, which will offset some of the differential in pre-and post-injury salary amounts.

Absurd Assumptions about Eligibility. The report assumes that 100 percent of first responders eligible to receive benefits will seek treatment and immediately begin “out of work” status. Testimony and first responder behavior demonstrate that this assumption is grossly overstated. By using this assumption, local governments would also have to expect to replace every single one of their first responder employees, which is absurd.

Assumes Costs are Immediate. The Florida League of Cities’ report seems to present that costs will all be immediately realized. The cost estimates presented in the report represent the total costs paid out over the life of the claim, which can take several years and often vary year to year.

Uncertainty. The Florida League of Cities’ report is unable to actually predict with certainty the fiscal impact of the bill because of the vast variations in the data for the possible total cost to local governments. By the Division’s calculations, there is a 587 percent difference between the central cost estimates and the lowest cost estimate, and a 195 percent difference between the central cost estimates and highest cost estimate.

Report Reflects Minimal Impact. Even if one were to believe the exaggerated assumptions and data choices, the impact to local governments still only represents .08 percent (low severity) to 1.58 percent (high severity) of the current budgets of the largest users of the Florida Municipal Insurance Trust.

Tallahassee house used by Jack Latvala on sale for $1M

The Tallahassee residence used by former state Sen. Jack Latvala is on the market.

The four-bedroom, five-bathroom, 4,554-square-foot abode was recently listed for $1 million by Armor Realty of Tallahassee, according to Zillow. The owner of record is listed as his wife, Connie Prince, who bought it in 2004. She married Latvala in 2015.


Latvala, a 66-year-old Clearwater Republican, resigned from the Senate in December after two damning reports on his alleged serial sexual harassment. He first served in the Senate 1994-2002, then returned in 2010.

Built in 1985, the house has “a dramatic foyer and beautiful hardwood floors, and “beautifully-crafted cabinetry” in the kitchen, which has “a DCS gas range, Sub-Zero refrigeration system, a wine cooler, granite countertops, a generous pantry (plus a 6′ x 8′ butler’s pantry), double ovens, and more.”

Outside, there’s a “beautiful pool, outdoor kitchen, outdoor fireplace, gazebo, and paver-lined pathways. The entire property is fenced and gated at the entry and exit ways of the driveway.”

The master bedroom “has a separate 15′ x 15′ sitting room complete with a private fireplace, a 6′ x 7′ dressing area, and a generous amount of closet space and storage.”

Latvala, who is technically still running for Governor, was term-limited in the Senate next year. His other home-away-from-home in Boothbay, Maine, does not appear to be on the market.

Rick Scott calls for FDLE Parkland investigation, resists removing Broward Sheriff

Gov. Rick Scott is asking for an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement into the law enforcement response — namely the Broward County Sheriff’s office — into the last week’s Parkland school shooting.

Calls for an FDLE inquiry is in response to a push from state lawmakers for Scott to remove Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel.

The Governor is seeking further understanding of what happened when 17 people were killed Feb. 14 in a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The shooter, Nikolas Cruz — a 19-year-old former MSD student — is accused in the deaths.

Speaking to CNN this week, Israel said his department was looking into three deputies reported to be on the scene but failed to enter the school during the shooting. Israel said the investigation so far pointed to only one deputy — school resource officer Scot Peterson — being on campus while the killer was present.

While Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, joined by 73 members of his chamber, had sent a letter to Scott asking to suspend Israel over his agency’s response to the massacre, the Governor is insisting on conducting an independent FDLE investigation first.

Israel also responded to a letter from Republican state Rep. Bill Hager — chair of the House Appropriations Committee — which said the sheriff  “should have been aware of the thread Cruz presented to his community and chose to ignore it.”

Israel said reports that the deputies waited outside even though children were inside the building needing urgent medical treatment were “absolutely untrue.”

“It is patently obvious that Hager has zero comprehension of law enforcement,” Israel wrote.

In a statement, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office responded to Scott’s request.

“BSO will fully cooperate with FDLE, as we believe in full transparency and accountability,” Israel said in a Twitter post. “This independent, outside review will ensure public confidence in the findings.”

The Sheriff’s Office is also facing accusations it mishandled some of the 18 tips called in about the suspected shooter. Those tips, and other alleged signs, demonstrate missed warnings about Cruz, who had a history of disturbing behavior, posed a considerable threat.

Tampa Bay Rowdies defeat Philadelphia Union in Suncoast Invitational finale

The Tampa Bay Rowdies picked up their first win of the preseason, topping the Philadelphia Union 2-1 in the final match of the 2018 Rowdies Suncoast Invitational on Saturday night at Al Lang Stadium.

The Rowdies benefitted from first-half goals scored by Jochen Graf and Michael Nanchoff in a thoroughly convincing win over Major League Soccer opposition.

Haris Medunjanin pulled a goal back for Philadelphia with a free kick in the 84th minute and the Union had another chance or two before the final whistle, but it didn’t take the shine off the Rowdies’ overall performance.

“I think the team put in a really good performance tonight,” Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell said. “Preseason isn’t necessarily about wins and losses, but winning tonight against a very good team is a nice bonus. The performance is really what I’m proud about though.”

The Rowdies opened the match on the front foot and had to wait only 19 minutes to score the first goal of the match.

Tampa Bay midfielder Jack Blake served a ball forward for Graf that tempted Union goalkeeper Andre Blake to come off his line. With Blake caught in no-man’s land, Graf delicately chipped the ball over the goalkeeper and into the far netting for his second goal in as many matches.

In the 35th minute, Nanchoff doubled the Rowdies’ lead with a tidy left-footed finish on an assist from David Najem to give Tampa Bay a 2-0 lead before halftime.

Campbell made only one change at halftime as the Rowdies continued to progress toward the start of the USL regular season on March 17. Other than Junior Flemmings, who was replaced at the break by Georgi Hristov, all of the Rowdies’ starters stayed in the match and played at least an hour.

“In the first couple of games, we’ve made a lot of changes at halftime, but we spoke about wanting to get most of the guys at least 60 minutes tonight,” Campbell said. “It can be hard in preseason to go back out for the second half after sitting for 15 minutes, so we wanted to push as many guys as possible.”

The Rowdies made eight total substitutions, including the entrance of Lance Rozeboom in the 76th minute to make his first appearance since joining the Rowdies this offseason. Cody Mizell, Ivan Magalhães and Sebastian Guenzatti all played 90 minutes.

Philadelphia cut into the Rowdies’ lead in the 84th minute with a spectacular Haris Medunjanin free kick that gave Cody Mizell no chance to make the save, but Tampa Bay would hold on for the final few minutes to clinch the victory.

Starting Lineups
Tampa Bay: GK Cody Mizell; D David Najem (Kyle Curinga 90′), Neill Collins (Hunter Gorskie 71′), Ivan Magalhães, Zac Portillos (Max Lachowecki 89′); M Jack Blake (Lance Rozeboom 76′), Michael Nanchoff (Alex Morrell 80′); M Junior Flemmings (Georgi Hristov 46′), Joe Cole (Martin Vingaard 62′), Sebastian Guenzatti; F Jochen Graf (Leo Fernandes 68′)

Philadelphia: GK Andre Blake; D Ray Gaddis, Josh Yaro, Richie Marquez, Matt Real; M Derrick Jones, Warren Creavalle, Adam Najem, Fabian Herbers, Marcus Epps; F Jay Simpson.

Flags ordered at half-staff for former Rep. Rob Wallace

Gov. Rick Scott on Friday ordered flags at half-staff for former state Rep. Rob Wallace.

Wallace, a Republican, represented House District 47, comprising northwest Hillsborough and northern Pinellas counties, from 1994 to 2002. He lived in Tampa, and owned and operated a civil and environmental engineering company.

The 65-year-old died earlier this week after jumping from a Dale Mabry Highway overpass in Hillsborough County, according to law enforcement.

Scott directed the U.S. and state flags to be flown at half-staff at the Hillsborough County Courthouse in Tampa, Tampa City Hall, and the State Capitol in Tallahassee, from sunrise to sunset on Monday.

“He was a true family man who loved and cared deeply for his community,” said Wallace’s daughter, Amber Loper.

In addition to his daughter, Wallace is survived by his sons, Robert, Scott, and Connor Wallace, and his wife, Ann. He had three grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at St. Timothy Catholic Church in Lutz on Monday at 1 p.m.

‘Game changer’: Lawmakers roll out post-Parkland response

House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron on Friday released what they called a “sweeping new school safety reform package.”

“I was moved by my conversations with some truly brave and remarkable students this week,” Corcoran, a Land o’ Lakes Republican, said in a statement. “Their commitment to ensuring no school ever endures another tragedy is inspirational.

“The school safety reform package we introduce today is a game changer. We bring consistency to firearms law, invest heavily in early detection and mental heath, bring common sense protections to our schools, and learn lessons from past mistakes to fix going forward.

“I want to thank the young people of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as well as many of our Democratic colleagues for their courage and good faith in this vital work.”

Added Negron, a Stuart Republican: “It has been one week since I visited Stoneman Douglas High School, but the scene of horror that we viewed was so troubling, it feels like we were there earlier today. I cannot imagine how those who survived the attack must feel as they face the vivid memories of that day.

“Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to celebrate the life of Peter Wang and to learn about his hopes and dreams to one day serve our country as a member of the United States Army,” he added. “Those dreams, and the hopes and dreams of each person senselessly murdered last week will never be realized because of the criminal acts of one person.

“Nothing we will do in the Legislature will fill the void created in the families of the victims, their school, or their community, but we can honor their memory by taking the appropriate steps at the federal, state and local levels to help reduce the chance that a tragedy like this could ever happen again.”

Here are highlights of the legislative response to the Parkland shooting:

School Safety

— Improve school security capabilities through additional school resource and security officers, school hardening, programs.

— Establish safe school and security standards, review school safety and security plans, implement a school safety specialist training program, and update risk assessment procedures.

— Require training for school safety specialists as well as students and faculty.

— Require emergency drills for active shooter and hostage situations involving students, school personnel, and law enforcement experts.

— A “marshal” program to enhance safety and security in schools through the use of law enforcement trained and screened school personnel who function as part of school security teams.

Firearm Safety

— Establish new restrictions on purchase and ownership of firearms (all types).

— Increase the minimum age for purchasing a firearm to 21 years except for persons in law enforcement and active military personnel.

— Establish a 3-day waiting period for purchase of firearms except for concealed weapons permit holders or persons who complete a 16-hour hunter safety course approved by the Fish and Wildlife Commission. Provides time for criminal history checks.

— Ban bump stocks.

— Enhance restrictions for persons subject to involuntary examination and commitment (Baker Act).

— Provide law enforcement and the court with the tools to enhance public safety by temporarily restricting firearm possession by person who is undergoing a mental health crisis and when there is evidence of a threat of violence.

— Prohibit a person adjudicated mentally defective or committed to a mental institution from owning or purchasing a firearm or obtaining concealed weapon license. (Current law prohibits purchase, but does not limit possession.)

Mental Health

— Improve responses to students presenting a danger to themselves or others.

— Codify and enhance the activities of the multiagency network for students with emotional and behavioral disabilities (SEDNET).

— Require each school district to designate a school safety specialist and each school to establish a threat assessment team to provide a coordinated approach to evaluating and responding to students who pose a threat of violence.

— Remove barriers preventing school district and law enforcement authorities from referring students appropriately to mental health services or law enforcement.

Delegation for 2.23.18 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

Gun control advocates dominating the national agenda

Wednesday was unlike any other day in recent memory. With Congress out of session, the aftermath of the deadly shootings in Parkland continues with a focus on gun control.

On that day, three significant news events took place with two of them in Florida. The movement to force action on gun control came to Tallahassee with a march on the Capitol, which included students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, site of the tragedy.

Students hold ‘Never Again’ march in Tallahassee, drawing massive crowds at Florida’s Capitol.

While that was going on, President Donald Trump was hosting a group of parents and students from Douglas High School, including Andrew Pollack, whose daughter, Meadow, was one of the victims.

While the theme of the marchers was gun control, the White House group sought more restrictions on buying guns, but also demanded greater school security. Among the ideas discussed was training and arming school officials.

“How many schools, how many children have to get shot?” Pollack said in a raised voice in the State Dining Room of the White House. “It stops here with this administration and me.”

As he does so often, Trump promised to fix the problem.

That same evening, the push for gun control was the topic of a CNN town hall in South Florida near the site of the shootings. The mood among the audience members ranged from continuing grief to boiling anger over the lack of gun control laws.

Verbally pummeling the National Rifle Association, who was represented by spokeswoman Dana Loesch, was high on the list. Politicians taking campaign contributions from the NRA also drew their ire.

Perhaps Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who the NRA has supported, knew what he was getting into by attending the town hall. But his call for limited action on gun rights met with boos from the crowd which at one point prompted moderator Jake Tapper to let Rubio continue with his right to speak.

“The problems we are facing here today cannot be solved by gun laws alone,” he told Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter was among the 17 victims. “My belief remains that rather than continue to try to chase every loophole that’s created, we instead should make sure that dangerous criminals, people who are deranged, cannot by any gun of any kind.”

Loesch focused on school safety and mental illness and missing warning signs, where she roundly criticized Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel. On Thursday, Loesch said she could hear some attendees saying they would like “to burn” her and without a security detail, she would not have been able to safely exit the venue.

The media coverage focused almost exclusively on Rubio and Loesch, but Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch, who represents Parkland, was there along with Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

Nelson called for more gun laws, but also praised Rubio “for having the guts” to take part in the forum. Nelson took a jab at his likely Senate opponent, Gov. Rick Scott, for skipping the event.

Deutch confronted the notion that it is too soon after the tragedy to talk about gun control.

“It’s not too soon, it’s too late for the 17 lives that were lost,” Deutch said during his remarks.”

Other issues, including immigration and finding a solution for the DREAMers, still await Congress when they return next week. The Trump-imposed March 5 deadline is rapidly approaching.

But gun control appears to be the main topic for the immediate future.

Nelson, Orlando delegation briefed on airport’s beef with TSA

The Greater Orlando Aviation Authority Board of Directors is not happy with the federal Transportation Security Agency (TSA). They are upset enough to consider replacing TSA with a private security company.

On Wednesday the board essentially told TSA to replace local leadership with someone who will better communicate with the airport authority. If not, the board would look to take steps toward making Orlando the third domestic airport to replace TSA screeners with a private company.

Bill Nelson, joined by the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority Board of Directors, has a beef with the federal Transportation Security Agency (TSA).

Before Wednesday’s meeting, the board briefed Sen. Nelson and Democratic Representatives Val Demings and Darren Soto. The Orlando delegation, with Demings taking the lead, has sought increased funding for security for the airport.

The board basically gave TSA 60 days to improve. More than 1,000 TSA employees at Orlando International Airport could find their jobs at risk if Orlando switches to a private company.

Supreme Court allows gun restrictions to stand

This week the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to a lower court decision concerning gun rights. By their refusal to take the case, restrictions imposed by a state were allowed to stand.

The traditionalist-leaning Court decided not to hear a challenge to California’s 10-day waiting period before purchasing a firearm. Legal observers postulated this was a sign the Court did not wish to weigh into the ongoing national debate on gun control.

Clarence Thomas decried the Supreme Court punting on gun rights case.

Traditionalist Justice Clarence Thomas decried the decision, saying gun rights were not given equal billing to that of other constitutional rights.

“If a lower court treated another right so cavalierly, I have little doubt this court would intervene,” Thomas wrote. “But as evidenced by our continued inaction in this area, the Second Amendment is a disfavored right in this court.”

RNC continues record-breaking fundraising

Despite polls showing Republicans trailing in the generic Congressional ballot and President Trump hovering around 40 percent, the Republican National Committee (RNC) is having little difficulty raising money.  In January, the RNC revealed it raised $12.4 million in January, leaving $40.7 million cash on hand.

These figures represent four times as much cash on hand as they had in 2014, when the GOP regained a majority in the Senate. The party has zero debt and has raised $144.9 million or the 2018 cycle.

“We are working hand-in-hand with Republicans in Congress and President Trump to enact a pro-growth agenda on behalf of the American people,” said RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said.

Some credit the RNC with making the difference in getting Trump elected in 2016. The party funded a massive voter turnout program in several states, including Florida, that helped him win a narrow victory.

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) has yet to release their January numbers, but they ended 2017 with $6.5 million in the bank and a debt of $6.1 million. However, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) had raised $9.5 million through December, more than twice the total of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC).

Despite protests, Gaetz stands with NRA

The Republican from Fort Walton Beach was the target of protesters in front of his Pensacola district office on Tuesday. A group of about 30, organized by the Escambia County Women’s Club, gathered to protest Gaetz’ opposition to gun control.

Among the messages carried by the protesters were “Vote Matt Gaetz out” and “Vote Republicans Out.” Others said “Save our kids” and “Ban assault rifles.”

“It does not have to be this way, Congressman Gaetz,” said Meghan Moorhouse, a Virginia school counselor who happened to be in town. “You have the power to change this and it starts with us; it starts with you.”

Unsurprisingly to some, Matt Gaetz is toeing the NRA line.

Gaetz was mockingly dismissive of the effort, belittling the size of the crowd.

“It appears tens were gathered,” he told the Pensacola News-Journal. He also spoke of the enormity of the tragedy that took place in Parkland last week.

“I think many of us are still processing the carnage at Parkland,” he said. “I know I am.”

But the first-term representative made it clear via a tweet that he takes the side of the National Rifle Association (NRA).

“The @NRA is an organization that takes 100% of the blame for the conduct of 0% of its members,” he said. “BTW — nobody reads about violence that is stopped by RESPONSIBLE gun ownership. I’m as proud of my NRA A+ as I am of bipartisan legislation I’ve passed to keep crazy ppl away from guns.”

Lawson facing attacks on guns and the NRA

While Republicans are normally attacked for their position on guns and fundraising from the gun lobby, freshman Democrat Al Lawson of Tallahassee is taking heat. Former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown is blasting Lawson for a recent statement about “decrying the stranglehold of the gun lobby”, while allegedly taking $2,500 from the National Rifle Association (NRA) last year.

Lawson denies taking contributions from the NRA.

Former Jacksonville Alvin Brown is attacking Al Lawson over the NRA.

Over the coming months until the August primary, Brown is certain to remind Democratic voters of past positions Lawson held on the issue of gun control. For example, in 1993 Lawson essentially proposed that every household should have a firearm and told the Orlando Sentinel that it would “absolutely work.”

Brown aims to make Lawson’s old positions part of the campaign rhetoric. If gun control is still a prominent issue in the coming months, Lawson will frequently be playing defense.

Castor wants to get the truth on diplomat injuries in Cuba

The Tampa Democrat has returned from a trip to Cuba along with 5 other Democratic colleagues. She left Havana without joining the other lawmakers for a meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro.

Part of the trip was designed to learn more about the mysterious illnesses experienced by two dozen American diplomats stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Havana. The Cuban government has denied any role or knowledge of the matter.

Kathy Castor is calling for more investigation as to what actually happened to U.S. diplomats in Cuba.

The symptoms were first reported in late 2016 but not disclosed by the State Department until August of 2017. In response, Washington expelled 17 Cuban diplomats from Washington, and ordered most of its own diplomatic personnel from Havana back to U.S. soil and limited travel there to emergency personnel.

If the Cubans were not involved, Castor had little idea who might have been behind the cyberattacks.

“Some rogue element? Some other country? There simply isn’t any evidence to point in any one direction or another,” she said, adding that she hopes U.S. intelligence agencies can ultimately learn the truth.

Castor wanted to meet with Miguel Diaz-Canel, the first vice-president of the Council of the State, to discuss economic issues that could be of benefit to West Central Florida. Diaz-Canel is expected to succeed Castro in April.

“I’m focused on the future and I think the Tampa area community is as well,” she said.

Immigration activists target South Florida Republicans

An immigration advocacy group on Tuesday launched a series of digital ads targeting Republicans Brian Mast of Palm City and Carlos Curbelo of Kendall, as well as their GOP colleagues, for their role in failing to protect “Dreamers.”

iAmerica Action announced it will spend $250,000 in 27 House districts on the ads, many of which have large Latino populations.

The two most endangered congressional Republicans in Florida.

Democrats are targeting both seats in their quest to regain the majority in the House. Curbelo’s race is considered a tossup while Mast is in a district that “leans Republican” according to election guru Larry Sabato.

The ads encourage voters to call House Speaker Paul Ryan. One reads, “It’s not fair for Dreamers to lose the only home they’ve ever known.” Another says, “The party of family values should not separate families.”

The ad comes as moderate Republicans like Curbelo have previously said that they support a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, but instead voted in favor of a large budget bill two weeks ago that did not include any immigration provisions.

“While the fight is about protecting young Americans who live here, work here, go to school here, and pay taxes, at its core it’s about something far greater, “says iAmerica Action President Rocio Sáenz.  “Will we become an isolated nation that fears outsiders? Or continue with a rich tradition of welcoming immigrants who help make our country innovative and more competitive,” he added.

iAmerica Action ran ads targeting GOP Senators last month after Trump reportedly referred to some countries as “sh*thole” countries during an immigration discussion.

Poll: Mental illness biggest factor in mass shootings

A recent poll suggests Trump and Congress are not doing enough to prevent mass shootings. According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll, 62 percent believe Trump is not doing enough, while 77 percent believe Congress is negligent.

Perhaps the most surprising result of the survey is respondents’ opinions on the main cause of mass shootings. The failure to recognize and treat mental illness was the choice of 57 percent, while a lack of gun control was cited by 28 percent.

Many Americans believe mental health issues are the primary cause of mass shootings, like the one at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

To support their opinions, a whopping 77 percent believe the tragedy could have been prevented by more effective mental health screening. A total of 58 percent of respondents believe stricter gun laws could have prevented the shootings.

Conservative back the idea of arming some teachers and administrators with guns to help stop school attacks. Among poll respondents, 42 percent believe arming school employees could have stopped the shooter, while 51 percent believe that would not have prevented the shootings.

 The poll surveyed 808 adults from February 16-18. Among respondents, 31 percent are Democrats, 24 percent Republicans, 40 percent independents, and five percent “other” or no opinion.

Veterans groups still show support of Shulkin despite errors

Three key veterans’ organizations are urging Trump to keep Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin in place despite accusations of misuse of the taxpayer’s dollars during a European vacation last year. The VA’s inspector general found his wife had improperly accepted tickets to accompany Shulkin during a 10-day European trip last year.

The groups ticked off a list of accomplishments such as modernization of the appeals process, improved patient satisfaction, decreased wait times, and increased access to mental healthcare are just some of the reasons these organizations wish to keep Shulkin in his current position.

Many veterans are voicing support for VA Secretary David Shulkin.

“We have been encouraged by the great progress Secretary Shulkin has made and believe that he remains the best person to lead this important federal public institution on the behalf of the American people,” Denise Rohan, the American Legion’s national commander, said in a statement Monday.

Shulkin at first said the findings were unfair and inaccurate but then expressed regret for the errors made by he and his staff and reimbursed the government. In light of the mini-scandal, The VA’s chief of staff, Vivieca Wright Simpson, announced her retirement after 32 years at the agency.

Investigators had determined Simpson misled ethics officials by doctoring an email to get proper clearance for Shulkin’s wife to travel with him at the taxpayer’s expense.

Other groups are taking the wait and see approach. For example, Garry Augustine, executive director of Disabled American Veterans, said he is generally supportive of Shulkin but is waiting to learn more about what has transpired.

Happening tonight

Chris Hunter, a Democrat running for Florida’s 12th Congressional District against incumbent Republican Gus Bilirakis, is hosting a fundraiser at the Tampa Club. Former Florida CFO and gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink is the special guest.

Hunter is a former FBI agent and Department of Justice prosecutor who recently left DOJ to run for CD 12.  According to his campaign, he is a friend of State Attorney Andrew Warren and brings policy expertise and political savvy.

Event begins 5:30 p.m.; Tampa Club is at 101 E. Kennedy Boulevard in Tampa.

On this date in the headlines

February 23, 2000 — Arizona Sen. John McCain wins the GOP Michigan and Arizona primaries, throwing the race for president into uncertain territory. McCain handily took his home state and edged Texas Gov. George W. Bush by six points in Michigan.

John McCain was considerably more pleased on this day in 2000.

In recent polls, Bush led Vice-President Al Gore by 5 points in a head-to-head matchup, while McCain would beat Gore by 24 points.

February 23, 2013 — The U.S. Department of Justice has joined a lawsuit against disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong. The 7-time Tour de France winner champion concealed his use of performance-enhancing drugs. He was also accused of defrauding his sponsor, the U.S. Postal Service.

Colin Hackley

Rick Scott calls for $500M in response to school shooting

Gov. Rick Scott on Friday announced a “major action plan to keep Florida students safe following (the) tragic Parkland shooting,” according to a statement from his office.

That includes $500 million for school safety and mental health initiatives.

Here are his remarks as prepared for delivery:

Alyssa Alhadeff, Scott Beigel, Martin Duque Anguiano, Nicholas Dworet, Aaron Feis, Jamie Guttenberg, Chris Hixon, Luke Hoyer, Cara Loughran, Gina Montalto, Joaquin Oliver, Alaina Petty, Meadow Pollack, Helena Ramsay, Alexander Schachter, Carmen Schentrup, Peter Wang.

Unfortunately, none of the plans I’m announcing today will bring any of them back, but it’s important to remember them. The seventeen lives that were cut short and all the hopes and dreams that were ruined have changed our state forever. Florida will never be the same.

Today, I am announcing a major action plan. I will be working with the legislature aggressively over the next two weeks to get it done.

This week we asked law enforcement leaders, education leaders, and health leaders from all over the state to drop what they were doing, clear their schedules, and immediately get up to Tallahassee for urgent conversations about what we can – and must do – to make our schools and communities safer. We must take care of our kids.

I can tell you that everyone said yes, and they came, and they got to work.

I have also spent a lot of time in Parkland meeting with families and students. I’ve been there nearly every day since the shooting. I have listened to their ideas to make sure this never happens again.

I also met with students who courageously came to Tallahassee to have their voices heard. What we saw in this building on Wednesday is what our democracy is about and why we live in the greatest nation on earth.

My message to them has been very simple – you are not alone. Change is coming… and it will come fast.

This is a time when I believe we must all come together, and even cross party lines. Of course, we won’t all agree on every issue, but I do believe this is a moment when our state can come together around a common sense set of actions.

I also want to encourage people to listen to each other and keep listening to each other. I’ve done a lot more listening than talking this week. Sometimes leading involves more listening than talking.

I’ve listened to things that I agree with, and to things I don’t agree with. It’s important to consider all viewpoints.

I’ve broken my action plan down into three sections. Gun laws, school safety, and mental health. We must get this done in the next two weeks.

First, on guns:

I want to make it virtually impossible for anyone who has mental issues to use a gun. I want to make it virtually impossible for anyone who is a danger to themselves or others to use a gun.

I want to create a new program in Florida – I call it the Violent Threat Restraining Order. This concept is very simple, and very common sense in my view.

This will allow a court to prohibit a violent or mentally ill person from purchasing or possessing a firearm or any other weapon when either a family member, community welfare expert or law enforcement officer files a sworn request, and presents evidence to the court of a threat of violence involving firearms or other weapons. There would be speedy due process for the accused and any fraudulent or false statements would face criminal penalties.

Let’s take a moment to look at the case of this killer. This person was not stopped from legally purchasing a weapon, was not arrested, was not detained, and was never forced to turn in his weapons.

Let’s review the warning signs here… he had 39 visits from police, his mother called him in, DCF investigated, he was kicked out of school, he was known to students as a danger to shoot people, and he was reported to the FBI last month as a possible school shooter.

And yet, he was never put on the list to be denied the ability to buy a gun, and his guns were never removed from him.

We will also strengthen gun purchase and possession restrictions for mentally ill individuals under the Baker Act. If a court involuntarily commits someone because they are a risk to themselves or others, they would be required to surrender all firearms and not regain their right to purchase or possess a firearm until a court hearing. We are also proposing a minimum 60-day period before individuals can ask a court to restore access to firearms.

Also, we will require all individuals purchasing firearms to be 21 or older. Let me repeat – we will require all individuals purchasing firearms to be 21 or older.

There will be exceptions for active duty and reserve military and spouses, National Guard members, and law enforcement.

Next, we will prohibit a person from possessing or purchasing a firearm if they are subject to an injunction for protection against stalking, cyberstalking, dating violence, repeat violence, sexual violence, or domestic violence.

We will establish enhanced criminal penalties for threats to schools, like social media threats of shootings or bombings. We will also enhance penalties if any person possesses or purchases a gun after they have been deemed by state law to not have access to a gun.

And, we will completely ban the purchase or sale of bump stocks.

The second part of my action plan provides $450 million to keep students safe.

Today, I am calling for a mandatory law enforcement officer in every public school. These law enforcement officers must either be sworn sheriff’s deputies or police officers and be present during all hours students are on campus.

The size of the campus should be a factor in determining staffing levels by the county sheriff’s office, and I am proposing at least one law enforcement officer for every 1,000 students. This must be implemented by the start of the 2018 school year.

We will also provide sheriff’s departments the authority to train additional school personnel or reserve law enforcement officers to protect students if requested by the local school board.

And, we will require mandatory active shooter training as outlined by the Department of Homeland Security. All training and code red drills must be completed during the first week of each semester in all public schools. Both faculty and students must participate in active shooter drills and local sheriff’s offices must approve and be involved in training.

We are also increasing funding in the Safe Schools Allocation to address specific school safety needs within each school district. This includes school hardening measures like metal detectors, bullet-proof glass, steel doors, and upgraded locks. The Florida Department of Education, with FDLE, will also provide minimum school safety and security standards by July 1 to all school districts.

All school safety plans must be submitted to their county sheriff’s office by July 1 each year for approval. Once all plans and requests for school hardening have been approved by the county sheriff’s office, in consultation with local police, plans will be forwarded to the Department of Education by the school district to receive any state funds.

School districts must also take all capital outlay funds received from taxpayers and use it for school hardening before it can be spent on any other capital outlay. All safe school allocations must be spent in accordance with the sheriff approved plans.

We will also require each school district that receives a Safe Schools Allocation to enter into an agreement with the local sheriff’s office, the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Law Enforcement and any community behavioral health provider for the purpose of sharing information. That will allow us to better coordinate services in order to provide prevention or intervention strategies.

We will also establish a new, anonymous K-12 “See Something, Say Something” statewide, dedicated hotline, website and mobile app.

Next, we will establish funding to require access to dedicated mental health counselors to provide direct counseling services to students at every school. These counselors cannot serve dual roles, like teaching or academic advising. Every student must have the opportunity to meet one-on-one with a mental health professional, and receive ongoing counseling as needed.

Each school will be required to have a threat assessment team including a teacher, a local law enforcement officer, a human resource officer, a DCF employee, a DJJ employee, and the principal to meet monthly to review any potential threats to students and staff at the school.

Finally, we will require crisis intervention training for all school personnel. This training must be completed before the start of the 2018 school year.

The final part of my action plan includes $50 million in additional funding for mental health initiatives.

We must expand mental health service teams statewide to serve youth and young adults with early or serious mental illness by providing counseling, crisis management and other critical mental health services.

We are also requiring every sheriffs’ office to have a DCF case manager embedded in their department to solely work as a crisis welfare worker for repeat cases in the community. This will require 67 additional employees to be hired at DCF by July 15.

Finally, we will provide law enforcement and mental health coordination matching grants to allow sheriffs to establish special law enforcement teams to coordinate with DCF case managers.

Before I take your questions, I want to close with this.

The goal of this plan of action is to make massive changes in protecting our schools, provide significantly more resources for mental health, and do everything we can to keep guns out of the hands of those dealing with mental problems or threatening harm to themselves or others.

I know there are some who are advocating a mass takeaway of Second Amendment rights for all Americans. That is not the answer.

Keeping guns away from dangerous people and people with mental issues is what we need to do.

I do know that some are going to accuse me of unfairly stigmatizing those who struggle with mental illness. I reject that. I am not asking them to wear a scarlet letter, nor am I unsympathetic to their plight. I have a family member who has dealt with these issues. It is hard on them and it is hard on the family.

But, what I am saying is no one with mental issues should have access to guns.

It’s common sense, and it is in their own best interest, not to mention the interests of our communities.

And much of what I’m proposing involves giving law enforcement the ability to stop people from harming themselves and others, while giving them the tools to keep our schools safe.

We know for certain that we cannot simply rely on the current federal background check system.

This killer should not have been able to purchase or even possess a weapon.

And we know that the federal government can’t even be counted on to investigate or act on serious and credible threats as we saw with the FBI’s complete failure.

It’s obvious we can’t trust the federal process which is why we have to make these changes here in Florida.

I’m an NRA member, a supporter of the Second Amendment, and the First Amendment, and the entire bill of rights for that matter. I’m also a father, and a grandfather, and a Governor.

We all have a difficult task in front of us… balancing our individual rights with our obvious need for public safety.

But of course, some will say it’s too much, and some will say it is not enough. I respect everyone’s opinion, and I don’t ridicule those who disagree with me. An open dialogue is crucial.

But, I will not accept the old, tired political notion that we don’t have enough time to get anything done. Government does not have to be slow or lethargic. And when it comes to protecting our schools and our kids, we need to be swift and decisive.

I also understand that I am proposing half a billion dollars for school safety and mental health initiatives.

But let me be clear – there is nothing more important than the safety of our children. Our kids deserve nothing less. Fortunately, our economy is booming, and we have the resources to protect our schools and our students.

And, if providing this funding means we won’t be able to cut taxes this year – so be it.

And, if we have to give up some of the projects we all hold near and dear – so be it.

We are all elected to come to Tallahassee to represent the best interests of Floridians. And, today, there is nothing more important than to do all we can to make sure a horrific and evil act like the Parkland shooting never happens again.

To read Scott’s full action plan, click here.

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