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Bill allowing women to sue doctors who perform abortions advances in Florida House

Women could sue doctors who performed an abortion on them without “informed consent” under a bill advanced by a House subcommittee Wednesday.

Sponsored by Vero Beach Republican Erin Grall, HB 19 would allow women to seek damages from doctors who failed to adequately inform of the physical and psychological harms of abortion for up to 10 years.

Currently, the primary recourse women have on an injury during an abortion procedure is to file a medical malpractice claim.

Grall told the House Quality Subcommittee that it was “time-consuming process” that placed an “unnecessary obstacle” to a judicial remedy.

West Park Democrat Shevrin Jones, the ranking member of the committee, asked Grall about the evidence of women suffering from psychological problems because of an abortion.

Although she didn’t provide statistics to back it up, Grall said that there had been “many women and many organizations” who came to her saying they had emotional distress after such a procedure.

“There is no hard research or data that I’m able to bring to you today,” she acknowledged, adding that she believed that, in any case, it was underreported.

Doctors and insurance companies strongly oppose the bill.

Mark Delegal, with the Doctors Company, a medical malpractice insurance business, said passage of HB 19 could knock out all medical malpractice reforms passed by the Florida Legislature in 2003.

“There’s nothing to suggest that current law is insufficient to address the harm suffered by women who have had abortions — certainly nothing that justifies vastly expanding physician liability and treating those injured by abortions differently from all other medical malpractice claimants,” said William Large, president of the Florida Justice Reform Institute.

Abortion rights advocates crowded the hearing room, and while most “waived in opposition” to the bill, several people did speak out against the bill.

Psychologist Rachel Roberts cited a 2008 study by the American Psychological Association Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion that concluded that among adult women who have an unplanned pregnancy the relative risk of mental health problems is “no greater if they have a single elective first-trimester abortion than if they deliver that pregnancy.”

“Most of you in this room would not have an audacity if she regretted having a baby, so I don’t know why you deem it acceptable to ask the one in three women like myself why we regret our abortions, “said Erin Foster, a Planned Parenthood volunteer from Tampa.

Douglas Murphy, with the Florida Medical Association, is a practicing OBGYN in Ocala. While he does not personally perform abortions, Murphy said if he did, and were just coming out of training, he would not want to practice in Florida if HB were to become the law of the land.

With the same committee hearing testimony last week about a doctor shortage in Florida, Democrats picked up on that cue in questioning Grall.

“This is just bad policy,” said Jones, “and if we’re trying to bring doctors into the state, we’re moving in the wrong direction.”

“I do believe what this is an attempt to eliminate abortions,” added St. Petersburg Democrat Wengay Newton.

Fort Myers Republican Ray Wesley Rodrigues pointed out that the only doctors liable under the bill would be those who failed to give informed consent, which is part of current law.

“I don’t see anything wrong with it,” he said. “This is a good bill.”

Grall said she was speaking for the women not in the room who choose not to talk about the emotional pain suffered from an abortion, comparing it to legislation regarding children, who also rarely have a voice in the halls of the Legislature.

“So, there are plenty of times that we will be asked to speak on behalf of people who have no voice, ” she said. “And that is who this bill addresses.”

The bill has one more committee stop before reaching the floor of the entire House. There is no companion bill filed yet in the Senate.

If it were to pass in the Legislature, HB 19 would become the first such law in the country, though similar legislation is moving through the Iowa Legislature.


‘Refugees Welcome’ banner unfurled at Statue of Liberty

The National Park Service is trying to figure out who unfurled a giant banner at the Statue of Liberty saying “Refugees Welcome.”

Park Service spokesman Jerry Willis says the 3-by-20-foot banner was hung from the public observation deck at the top of the statue’s pedestal Tuesday afternoon. The banner was taken down more than an hour later.

Willis says regulations prohibit anything fixed to the statue.

The stunt happened the day the Department of Homeland Security announced expanded immigration enforcement policies.

Pam Bondi still a rock star with Florida’s GOP voters, new AIF poll shows

Florida’s top lawmakers and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam are struggling with low name identification among likely Republican voters, but that isn’t the case for Attorney General Pam Bondi according to a new poll from statewide business advocate Associated Industries of Florida.

The AIF poll of likely Republican voters obtained by FloridaPolitics.com found that 54 percent approve of the job the second-term Attorney General is doing, while just 12 percent have an unfavorable view and 17 percent said they had no opinion.

Among Florida’s top elected Republicans, Bondi’s ratings only trailed Gov. Rick Scott, who had a net 67 percent approval rating, and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who netted 57 percent approval.

Putnam, who is considered an early front-runner to take over for Scott, scored 38 percent approval from the same crowd, with 3 percent voicing disapproval and 20 percent saying they had no opinion.

Putnam did come out on top in the mock ballot test for the Republican primary for Florida governor with 22 percent support, though 71 percent said they were undecided. The next highest vote-getter was House Speaker Richard Corcoran with 4 percent support.

AIF also tested the waters for the cabinet positions opening up in 2018, though each scenario featured “undecided” winning over 80 percent of the vote.

In other words, “there’s no news here,” notes Ryan Tyson, Vice President of Political Operations for AIF.

The low level of support for Corcoran likely stems from the fact only 44 percent 0f those polled knew who he was. Of those, 16 percent said approved of the job he was doing, while 4 percent disapproved and 24 percent had no opinion.

Senate President Joe Negron and Senate Appropriations Chair Jack Latvala had even lower name ID than the House Speaker, with just 41 percent and 25 percent recognizing their names, respectively.

Still, both enjoyed relative approval from the Republican base: Negron had a plus-11 approval rating and Latvala came in with plus-8.

AIF surveyed 800 likely Republican voters who had voted in at least one of the last three Republican Primaries, but not the presidential preference in 2016. The group said 81 percent of those polled were over 50 years old and 90 percent were white.

GOP leaders get high marks from their Republican base, new Associated Industries of Florida poll shows

Republicans are getting a good report card from Florida voters according to a new poll conducted by Associated Industries of Florida and obtained by FloridaPolitics.com.

AIF found that 71 percent of likely Republican voters think the state is headed in the right direction, and an astounding 81 percent approve of the job President Donald Trump is doing through his first month in the White House.

The Trump numbers are a far cry from the most recent Gallup national poll on his popularity, which showed him with a 40 percent approval rating on Feb. 17.

Naysayers measured in at 20 percent for the direction of the state and 14 percent for Trump’s job approval, leading to a net 51 percent approval and 67 percent approval, respectively.

Survey participants also had no qualms with Gov. Rick Scott, who garnered 81 percent support compared to 14 percent who said he his performance wasn’t up to snuff.

While Scott and Trump are enjoying glowing reviews from likely Republican voters, second-term U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio isn’t faring as well.

Though 69 percent of those polled said they thought he was doing a good job, the bulk of those supporters stated that they only “somewhat approved” of the Miami Republican, leaving him with a softer approval rating than Scott or Trump.

AIF surveyed 800 likely Republican voters who had voted in at least one of the last three Republican primaries, but not the presidential preference in 2016. The group said 81 percent of those polled were over 50 years old and 90 percent were white.

Child welfare investigator, mother arrested for cocaine, heroin in home

A recently-fired employee of the Florida Department of Children and Families, who had worked as a child protection investigator since 2015, was taken into custody by sheriff’s deputies on drug trafficking charges after a warrant was issued for her arrest, a spokesperson with the agency said Tuesday.

According to the Lakeland Ledger, Laymeshia Hicks, 25, turned herself into the Polk County Sheriff’s Office late Monday afternoon. She and her boyfriend, Xzaiveous Scott, 31, are each facing charges of trafficking in heroin, trafficking in cocaine, possession of a structure to traffic drugs and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Deputies found the drugs in the master bedroom when they responded to an armed home-invasion call last Friday at the couple’s home, the Orlando Sentinel reported. Scott’s nephews, ages 16 and 18, were there when two intruders forced their way inside and ransacked the house Feb. 17, she said.

Investigators found 68 grams of heroin and 288 grams of cocaine with an estimated street value of about $35,000, authorities said.

“The alleged actions of this individual are completely reprehensible and do not in any way reflect the values of the department” DCF spokeswoman Jessica Sims told FloridaPolitics.com late Tuesday. “We are charged with protecting the state’s most vulnerable individuals and we have extremely high standards for those tasked with carrying out this mission.

“Ms. Hicks was employed by the department in late 2015 as a child protective investigator after passing a level two background screening, and immediately upon learning of these charges, we began taking steps to terminate her employment. We will continue to assist law enforcement in any way possible,” Sims concluded.

According to the Bradenton Herald, Sheriff Grady Judd said Hicks’ 3-year-old child was living in the house.

“Are you kidding me?” Judd said. “Come on, girl, what is wrong with you?”

Judd said he thought the couple was victims of a home invasion, but he said Scott ran because he knew law enforcement would find drugs.

Scott came to the house during the investigation but later left. Detectives contacted both Scott and Hicks by phone, but they refused to meet or talk, the release said.

The Lakeland Ledger went on to give descriptions of the armed robbery suspects:

— A 5-foot, 11-inch to 6-foot, 1-inch-tall black man with a light complexion and skinny build. He was last seen wearing a camouflage-style sweatshirt and pants, black mask with a skull face, black shoes and gloves.

— A 5-foot, 10-inch-tall black man with a light complexion and husky build. He was last seen wearing a red/orange hooded sweatshirt, gray pants, black shoes, black bandanna, gray skull cap and black gloves.

Law enforcement asked that anyone with information about Scott’s whereabouts or with information regarding the robbery call the Polk County Sheriff’s Office at 863-298-6200, the Ledger reported.

Anyone who wishes to remain anonymous may call Heartland Crime Stoppers at 1-800-226-8477 or visit www.heartlandcrimestoppers.com, where they may be eligible for a cash reward.

Marilyn Meyer can be reached at marilyn.meyer@theledger.com. Follow her on Twitter @marilyn_ledger.

Daniel Webster jeered for declining to answer questions at Inverness meet and greet

Florida Republican U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster concluded a meet and greet event at the Inverness Government Center this afternoon.

You can watch the video below, where many of those in attendance appeared upset that they didn’t get to ask questions of the Congressman, now representing Florida’s 11th Congressional District, which encompasses all of Citrus, Hernando and Sumter counties, as well as part of Marion County and Lake County.

The event was not a town hall, as FloridaPolitics originally reported.

GOP House lawmakers were warned last week to maintain “enhanced security awareness” as they return to their home districts following several raucous town hall meetings in which angry Democrats dominated the proceedings, upset over plans to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

Later Tuesday, CD 15 Congressman Dennis Ross is scheduled to hold a town hall event at the Clermont City Center in Clermont. On Wednesday, Pasco/Pinellas GOP Representative Gus Bilirakis is scheduled to host his third town-hall meeting in the past month, this one scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Wesley Chapel High School Performing Arts Center, 30651 Wells Road in Wesley Chapel.

Watch Webster addressing the crowd at the end of today’s event in Inverness, courtesy of American Bridge 21st Century, a progressive organization.

Senate committee OK’s 3 bills: job protection, veteran IDs, emergency management

Three bills were passed unanimously Tuesday by members of the Senate Military and Veteran’s Affairs, Space and Domestic Security Committee as legislators shuffled back into the state capital following a long holiday weekend.

Gulf Breeze Republican Doug Broxson, the committee’s vice-chair, led the 45-minute meeting.

SB 370, introduced by Lakeland Republican Kelli Stargel, requires certain public and private employers to provide up to 15 days “of unpaid leave to an employee engaged in a Civil Air Patrol mission, or training,” prohibiting the firing of members of the Florida Wing of the Civil Air Patrol because of his or her absence in the duty.

SB 440, introduced by Jacksonville Democrat Audrey Gibson, who chairs the committee, expands “the list of forms of identification which a notary public may rely on in notarizing a signature on a document to include a veteran health information card,” in the event a veteran doesn’t have a state-issued ID card or driver’s license.

SB 464, introduced by Lake Worth Democrat Jeff Clemens, creates an interagency workgroup to share information, coordinate ongoing efforts and collaborate on initiatives relating to natural hazards, and designates each relevant county director of the division of emergency management, or his or her subordinate, as the liaison to, and coordinator of, the workgroup.”

Later, Veterans Florida gave a presentation.

Bill to make Miami-Dade County Sheriff an elected position advances in Florida Senate

A bill sponsored by Miami Republican Frank Artilles that would bring back the position of an elected mayor position in Miami-Dade County advanced in a Florida Senate Committee on Tuesday.

The Florida Constitution requires each county to elect a county sheriff, property appraiser, supervisor of elections, tax collector, and clerk of circuit courts. However, the constitution also allowed individual counties to change the way those positions (or equivalent positions) are filled either by special vote or in the county charter. Miami-Dade is the only county out of the 67 in the state that does not elect their sheriff. In their current system of governance, Miami-Dade has an appointed chief law-enforcement officer whose title is Director of the Miami-Dade Police Department.

Officially, the county government wants to keep things just the way they are.

“We’re opposed most significantly to the state deciding for Miami-Dade County, because even if Dade had voted against an elected sheriff, the rest of the state could impose that elected sheriff on Miami Dade County,” said Jess McCarty, a lobbyist for the Miami-Dade County government. “And I would ask each of you to think of your own communities, whether that’s what you would like – the state voting on local affairs?”

Fellow Miami resident Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Democrat, also opposes the proposal. “I don’t think that a very, very blunt instrument going statewide is the way to resolve this.”

Others disagreed.

“We need autonomy. We need some separation of power. Otherwise you have absolute power and absolute corruption,” said John Rivera the president of both the statewide and Miami-Dade County chapter of the Florida Police Benevolent Association. He said that Carlos Gimenez, the current Miami-Dade County Mayor, prefers the status quo.

“The Mayor has too much power,” complained North Miami Beach Senate Democrat Daphne Campbell. “This is why Miami did have so much corruption going on,” she said. “Once you’re elected, you have eyes watching you. When you’re selected, you have nobody watching you.”

She also accused Gimenez of intimidating his opponents.

Gimenez has been thrust into the national spotlight in recent weeks, after he became one of the first mayors in the country to renounce his jurisdiction’s status as a sanctuary county, after President Trump threatened to yank federal funding from those cities and counties around the nation.

“It just does not compute to me that the sheriff is not elected,” said Fernandina Beach Republican Aaron Bean. “Let’s give Miami-Dade a chance to have elected officials that are directly accountable to the people.”

And that’s exactly what the Senate Community Affairs Committee did on Tuesday, with only Campbell and Javier Rodriguez dissenting.

Artiles’ proposal needs approval by three-fifths of the Senate and three-fifths of the House, as well as support from 60 percent of voters in the 2018 election. It would apply statewide.


Donald Trump denounces ‘horrible’ threats against Jewish centers

President Donald Trump on Tuesday denounced recent threats against Jewish community centers as “horrible” and “painful.” He said they are a “very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil.”

Trump made the remarks after touring the newly opened National Museum of African American History and Culture.

“This tour was a meaningful reminder of why we have to fight bigotry, intolerance and hatred in all of its very ugly forms,” Trump said.

His comments about recent threats at Jewish community centers across the country marked the first time he had directly addressed a wave of anti-Semitism and followed a more general White House denouncement of “hatred and hate-motivated violence.”

That statement, earlier Tuesday, did not mention the community center incidents or Jews. Trump “has made it abundantly clear that these actions are unacceptable,” that statement said.

The FBI said it is joining with the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to investigate “possible civil rights violations in connection with threats” to the centers.

On Monday, Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, wrote on Twitter, “We must protect our houses of worship & religious centers,” and used the hashtag #JCC. She converted to Judaism ahead of her 2009 marriage to Jared Kushner. She joined her father at the African American museum tour.

The White House was criticized by Jewish groups after issuing an International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement last month that did not mention Jews.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Personnel note: Matt Galka departs for Phoenix

Matt Galka, an on-air reporter for Mike Vasilinda‘s Capitol News Service, has left Tallahassee to join the FOX affiliate in Phoenix.

Galka, a member of the SaintPetersblog “30 Under 30” Class of 2015, will be a general assignment reporter at KSAZ starting Monday, Feb. 27, according to FOX spokeswoman Claudia Russo

He’s originally from Southington, Connecticut, where he lost more than 100 pounds in high school to get on the football team, eventually becoming team captain.

Galka graduated from Syracuse University, where he was a walk-on football player, and then got his master’s from Quinnipiac University in Connecticut.

In Florida, Galka won the “Best Overall” award in 2013 from Florida Associated Press Broadcasters, and followed that up with a “Best Continuing Coverage” award for his reporting on the Jameis Winston sexual assault allegations at Florida State in 2014.

“I want to be the same person on TV that you could talk to at a bar,” he said in a 2015 interview. “I’m not out there playing some character. It’s important to be honest in a world where so many aren’t.”


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