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In op-ed, Rick Scott still swinging against GOP opposition to incentives

Gov. Rick Scott has released an opinion column on the “Florida House playing politics with Florida jobs” one day before a House panel discusses killing Enterprise Florida, VISIT FLORIDA and many business incentive programs.

Scott’s office emailed the op-ed to news media Monday afternoon. The House Appropriations Committee meets Tuesday to consider  a bill that would eliminate the agencies.

The email calls out by name Republican House members “who just last year supported Gov. Scott’s efforts to increase funding at Enterprise Florida,” including Jason Brodeur, Travis Cummings, Bill Hager, Larry Metz, Holly Raschein, and Charlie Stone.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran has called such use of public money “corporate welfare.”

The op-ed as released is below:


The Florida House of Representatives has decided to push legislation to undo economic development funding in Florida and defund our state’s tourism agency.  A House panel voted for this job killing legislation two weeks ago and the House Appropriations Committee will be voting on it tomorrow.

That’s correct, many of your elected members of the Florida House have decided their top priority this year is to eliminate funding for Florida’s economy.  They want to eliminate Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida.

They say that they don’t want government intrusion in the free market. Of course, there is government financing in the areas of healthcare, transportation, education, housing, and social services. But, they have decided to try to totally eliminate funding for the one area where we can easily show a major return on the investment of your tax dollars – jobs are being created by more companies moving to our state and our tourism industry has recruited a record-breaking number of visitors over the last few years.

Even more absurd, the politicians in the Florida House who already voted for this bill say they don’t necessarily want to abolish these programs but instead want to advance a “conversation” …meaning they voted for something they don’t support. This is hypocrisy at its best and these are the kind of games I came to Tallahassee to change.

I ran for Governor to fight this sort of politics and bring common sense from the business world to our government.  The plan has worked, as Florida has added more than 1.26 million new jobs.

Many politicians spend a lifetime in government and they simply don’t have any understanding of how business actually works. These are the facts that confirm the negligence of eliminating our jobs and tourism agencies generating jobs:

  • Before I came into office, state incentives were often awarded before goals, like job creation, were met.
  • But, today Florida companies only receive economic incentives after an independent third-party audit proves stringent requirements are met, including proven job growth and wage requirements to ensure a great return on investment for Florida families.
  • This means NO MONEY is given as “corporate welfare” because no money can be awarded until contract requirements like jobs are created.
  • Because of our economic development programs, several companies like Hertz, Northrup Grumman, and Blue Origin – to name a few – have located or expanded in our state to create thousands of jobs.

The Florida House likes to rely on inaccurate information to push their narrative of “corporate welfare,” by highlighting the failed deal of Digital Domain.

Let’s look at the facts: EFI recommended that the state not fund Digital Domain.  Ironically, politicians in the Florida Legislature chose to ignore EFI’s recommendation and circumvented EFI’s strict process in 2009 by funding the failed project FROM THE LEGISLATURE.

Both Visit Florida and EFI have made mistakes over the years.  In both cases, we have made changes to ensure transparency of taxpayer dollars and brought in new leadership.  That is what you do in business; you make changes and get it right.   But what you do not do is close up shop.

If the House were to succeed with ending economic development and tourism programs in Florida, the small and rural communities in our state would be hurt the most. Cancelling our statewide program would hurt those areas in Florida that would truly be revitalized by a new job creator in their community.

Just last week I travelled the state and met with business owners who are devastated that there is even talk of abolishing these programs.  Many job creators rely on EFI and Visit Florida and said they would not be able to keep their doors open if it weren’t for their help.  No job is expendable to the families they employ.

Coming into this job after a lifetime in business, I knew I would have to learn to tolerate some aspects of politics, and I would have to endure lectures from people who do not know the first thing about creating jobs. But, I cannot allow thousands of Floridians to be denied jobs and opportunities in our state just so a few in elected office can get headlines for their campaign for higher office.

Our economy is booming. Our economic development and tourism programs are some of the best in the nation when it comes to getting a positive return on investment. I will continue to set the record straight on the politics the Florida House is playing and fight for the Florida families who expect their government officials to bring them more opportunity, not less.

This is no time to stand still.  In business you are either moving forward or you are moving backward.  The Florida House is currently planning to take our state backward.  I will fight to stop them, and so should you.

Nursing homes fighting plan to eliminate certificate of need program

The top legislative priority for Florida’s nursing homes this year is to kill a proposal, backed by Gov. Rick Scott, to repeal a requirement that they demonstrate a demand for new beds before they can expand or build new facilities.

SB 676, by Rob Bradley, and CS/HB 7 by Alex Miller, and would eliminate the certificate of need program at the Agency for Health Care Administration for all health care facilities.

Eliminating the requirement for nursing homes “would be extremely disruptive,” Florida Health Care Association chief lobbyist Bob Asztalos told reporters during a briefing Monday.

The association, which represents 82 percent of the skilled nursing facilities in Florida, fears competition from newer, shinier “Taj Mahal” facilities would drive down occupancy rates.

That’s what happened in Texas, where the occupancy rate hit 70 percent after the state scrapped its certificate of occupancy requirement, Asztalos said.

In Indiana, eliminating the requirement led to the construction of “so many buildings that they were looking at taxpayer money to buy buildings to take them off line,” he said.

“We don’t want to see Florida make the same mistakes,” Asztalos said.

Staffing levels would be “watered down,” said Rob Greene, CEO of Palm Garden Healthcare, which operates a network of facilities.

The association would like to see expansion limited to about 3,750 beds through July 2017, targeted to areas where they’re needed.

Free-market advocates, including Scott, argue an open marketplace would lower costs and increase quality.

“The government sets our rates. If there were a true free market, we would set our rates that the state would pay us for our care. But how do you have a free market where they set our rates?” Asztalos said.

The existing system is in the best interests of nursing homes, he conceded, but it also serves the state’s policy of placing patients in home- or community-based care.

“It’s not like nursing home A is going to steal beds from nursing home B. You’re going to look for people with high acuity who are in assisted living facilities, who are eligible for nursing home care or in home- or community-based care.”

“It’s really a bad idea,” said Emmett Reed, executive director of the association.

“I understand the free-market concept. But this is a public-private partnership. This is not a true free-market business we’re in.

He added: “I think that, philosophically, the governor wants to get it all on the table, to have the discussion. At the end of day, I think, he may have a reasonable ear for nursing homes when we discuss it with him.”

In other priorities, the association supports a proposed prospective payment reimbursement system — paying facilities on a per diem basis tied to factors including patient care and quality.

But it would like a three-year phase-in and more incentives to increase room size and build other improvements.

Additionally, representatives of the organization said, the state could save $68.2 million by exempting long-stay nursing home residents from Florida’s managed care system when it is demonstrated they can’t be moved to less intensive care settings.

Moms Demand Action promise to be a presence during Session

Late last week, a federal appeal court struck down an NRA-backed law that restricted doctors in Florida from talking to patients about gun safety.

The legislation, often referred to as “Docs vs. Glocks,” passed during the 2011 Legislative session. It said doctors could be censored, fined, and have licenses revoked if asked or talked to patients about their firearms.

The court ruling stands out as a rare loss for the National Rifle Association in Florida, but only because they haven’t faced strong enough opposition, contends Michelle Gajda, the Florida chapter leader for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

“The truth is, the gun lobby has run roughshod over the state for decades and they’re finally being countered by a coalition of concerned Floridians, moms, gun owners, educators, gun violence survivors and gun owners themselves,” she says of her organization, created in the aftermath of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012.

Bills in the 2016 legislative session on open carry and allowing guns on college campuses passed through the House but were thwarted in the Senate after Criminal Justice Committee Chairman Miguel Diaz de la Portilla refused to hold hearings on those two bills. However, the Miami Republican was defeated in November for re-election, and the pre-session hype is that those bills have a better chance in the 2017 Session.

Acknowledging that Diaz de la Portilla’s departure is “deeply felt,” Gajda says she remains confident that her organization’s advocacy can make a difference on those and other NRA-sponsored bills that will be winding their way through the Legislature when the regular session begins next month.

To assert their presence, more than 100 volunteers from Moms Demand Action intend to visit legislators in the Capitol Tuesday, where they will be joined by activists with the Michael Bloomberg founded gun control group Everytown, as well as gun violence survivors.

“The gun lobby has never encountered opposition in Florida like they’re encountering now and they don’t know how to react to it,” Gajda boldly declares. “They don’t know how to react to real citizens standing up and demanding that they operate in the sunlight. They’re used to operating in rooms in with closed doors in secret meetings and in committee hearings that nobody attends, and what Moms have been able to do is force their agenda into the daylight, and we will be at every single committee hearing, telling them that this is not what Floridians want.”

At least eight bills dealing with guns are currently pending in the Legislature this year.

Meanwhile, Moms Demand Action are sponsoring the screening of a documentary, “The Armor of Light” Wednesday night on the USF campus.

The film centers around the relationship between Lucy McBath, the mother of unarmed 17-year Jordan Davis, who was shot and killed by in 2012 in circumstances that highlighted the state’s Stand Your Ground law, and Evangelical minister Rob Schenck, who is searching to find the courage to preach about the growing toll of gun violence in the U.S.

Tampa Congresswoman Kathy Castor is scheduled to speak before the screening, and there will be a panel discussion after the film featuring former Tampa assistant Police Chief Mary O’Connor, Hillsborough Safe & Sound Executive Director Freddy Barton, Assistant State Attorney Chinwe Fossett and Hyde Park United Methodist Director/Pastor Reverend Justin LaRosa.

That screening will take place Wednesday, Feb. 22 at 6:30 p.m. at the University Lecture Hall on the USF campus. Parking will be available at the USF Sun Dome. (You can RSVP here).

Speaking of Stand Your Ground, on Wednesday, the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee will take up HB 245, filed by Palatka Republican Bobby Payne and Jacksonville Republican Jason Fischer. HB 245 would shift the burden of proof in “stand your ground” self-defense cases to prosecutors during evidentiary hearings. Last year, a similar bill was sponsored by Fleming Island Republican Rob Bradley in the Senate and passed through before dying in a House committee.

“I want to make it super clear that there’s absolutely no constituency crying out for this bill,” says Gajda, “Not a single private citizen demanded this legislation. The gun lobby just wants to override Florida courts to advance its own agenda. There’s no demonstrated need to expand Stand Your Ground.”

“What I hope is the outcome of this is something that I hope we all agree on, that people who should not be arrested are not arrested, and people who should not go to trial do not go to trial,” Bradley said after his bill passed in a Senate committee last month. “If I believed that an individual who was otherwise guilty would go free because this bill passed, then I wouldn’t have filed the bill.”

Busy week for fundraising ahead of 2017 Legislative Session

There’s one committee week left until the start of the 2017 Legislative Session, and you can bet lawmakers will be doing more than just debating the merits of their bills during their time in the capital city this week.

House Majority, the campaign arm of the Florida GOP, will host fundraisers for several House Republicans, all of which are running for re-election, this week.

On Feb. 21, there is a fundraiser for Reps. Chuck Clemons and Bobby Payne at noon at The Governor’s Inn, 209 S. Adams Street in Tallahassee.

That same day, there is a fundraiser for Reps. Danny BurgessBob Rommel, and Erin Grall at 5 p.m. at The Edison, 470 Suwannee Street in Tallahassee. Across town, there will be a fundraiser for Rep. MaryLynn Magar at 5:30 p.m. at The Florida Realtors, 200 S. Monroe Street.

On Feb. 22, there is a fundraising reception for Reps. Alex MillerGrallCyndi StevensonAmber Mariano, and Jackie Toledo. The event is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. at the Governors Club, 202 S. Adams Street in Tallahassee.

Miller and Toledo will be back at the Governors Club for a 5 p.m. fundraiser on Feb. 22. A few blocks away, there is a fundraiser for Rep. Jay Fant at The Florida Realtors starting at 5:30 p.m. It is also scheduled to host an event for Rep. Jay Trumbull at The Governor’s Inn at the same time.

House Majority is scheduled to hold a fundraiser for Burgess and Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen at 11:30 a.m. on Feb. 23 at Clyde’s and Costello’s, 210 South Adams St. in Tallahassee.

All of the events are hosted by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Rep. Jose Oliva, and Rep. Chris Sprowls.

Democrats are also getting in on the fundraising action, Sen. Vic Torres and Reps Richard Stark, Joe Geller and Amy Mercado hosting a fundraiser at 5:30 p.m. at the Florida Realtors Association on Feb. 22.

House members aren’t the only ones raising cash before the 2017 Legislative Session kicks off next month. Sen. Greg Steube will hold a fundraiser, hosted by Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, at 6 p.m. on Feb. 21 at the Governor’s Inn Boardroom. Sen. Debbie Mayfield is scheduled to hold a fundraiser for her Senate District 17 re-election campaign at 5 p.m. on Feb. 23 at the Governors Club Boardroom, 202 ½ S. Adams Street in Tallahassee.

And Rep. Manny Diaz will hold a fundraiser for his upcoming state Senate campaign at 6 p.m. at the Governor’s Inn Boardroom on Feb. 22. The fundraiser is hosted by Simpson, and Sens. Bill Galvano, Dennis Baxley, Anitere Flores, Doug Broxson, and Rene Garcia.

 

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Legislation introduced in Senate would tighten protections against AOBs

Legislation sought by regulators, insurance, and business interests to reform assignment of benefits agreements finally dropped Friday — and the first thing it would do is bar attorney fee awards to contractors who use those contracts to sue insurers.

“Nothwithstanding any other law, as to suits based on claims arising under property insurance policies, attorney fees may not be awarded … in favor of any person or entity seeking relief against the insurer pursuant to an assignment agreement,” the bill says.

The provision in SB 1038, by Dorothy Hukill and Kathleen Passidomo, would deliver a top priority for Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier and the insurance and business lobbies.

They blame litigation arising from AOB agreements for rising property insurance premiums, alleging abuse by unscrupulous contractors.

The measure also contains provisions shielding policyholders from abuse. For example, they could rescind any such agreement within seven days and would be shielded from liens by contractors seeking the difference between what the insurer pays and the cost of repairs.

Officials at the insurance office did not reply to a request for comment.

“OIR is leading the effort on the AOB legislation,” said Michael Peltier, spokesman for Citizens Property Insurance Corp. “We have been working closely with OIR and other stakeholders to put together a proposal we believe will meaningfully benefit consumers.”

Contractors have argued that they need AOBs to ensure they are paid.

And Jee Jacobson, vice chairman of the Florida Justice Association Property Insurance Committee, said in a written statement that the bill would burden policyholders.

“This irresponsible legislation picks insurance companies as winners and makes homeowners losers. It is the insurance industry’s wish list,” he said.

“Under this legislation, homeowners in desperate need of emergency repairs would have to either provide large amounts of cash up front, or face having liens placed on their property,” he said. “That is because contractors making emergency home repairs will no longer agree to deal directly with the homeowners’ insurance company for payment.”

The bill would require that policyholders be given a copy of any AOB agreement. It gives contractors three days to deliver copies to the insurance companies, and requires them to submit written, itemized cost estimates.

Contractors would be barred from charging cancellation fees or other administration fees.

Before a contractor could sue, he or she would have to submit to a deposition under oath about the work done, the costs, and the details of the AOB agreement. They could be forced into arbitration.

“Notwithstanding any other law, the acceptance by a person of any assignment agreement constitutes a waiver by the assignee or transferee … of any and all claims against all named insureds for payment arising from the specified loss,” the bill says.

“Except that all named insureds remain responsible for the payment of any deductible amount provided for by the terms of the insurance policy and for the cost of any betterment ordered by all named insureds.”

The provisions would not apply when a policyholder assigns insurance rights to someone who buys the property — or to management companies, family members, or guardians empowered to act on the policyholder’s behalf.

Trial attorneys support “efforts to curb problems with water mediation and other issues with first-party insurance,” but “taking away people’s property rights is not the answer to this problem,” Jacobson said.

“The solution is simple: Good contractors should be able to require Insurance companies to keep their word to their customers and stop denying and underpaying legitimate claims – and if they don’t, the homeowner shouldn’t have to be burdened with liens and lawsuits.”

Personnel note: AT&T names Dan Pollock Regional Director of External Affairs

Dan Pollock joins AT&T as regional director of External Affairs for Central Florida.

In his new role, Pollock will work closely with leaders in Orange, Brevard, Seminole, Lake, Sumter and Marion counties on AT&T legislative and community efforts. He will be based in Orlando.

“Dan’s addition to our team is a big win for AT&T,” said Joe York, AT&T Florida president. “His proven track record in public affairs will help AT&T promote a business-friendly environment in Florida.”

Before joining AT&T, Pollock was president of Pollock & Associates, a Florida public affairs firm. His previous experience includes: Co-founder of TargetVote.com, executive director of the Florida Greyhound Tracks Association and chief Senate aide to former Sen. Tom Rossin.

Pollock is a graduate of Florida Atlantic University, receiving a bachelor’s in political science. He is a volunteer at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Florida. Pollock has also donated time to the Chillum Adelphi Volunteer Fire Department and the Orlando Citizens Police Review Board.

Marion Hammer sees paths around 11th Circuit’s ‘Docs v. Glocks’ ruling

Gun-rights lobbyist Marion Hammer has denounced the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ “Docs v. Glocks” ruling as “activist,” and complained the court “treats gun owners as second-class citizens.”

“This activist decision attempts to use the First Amendment as a sword to terrorize the Second Amendment and completely disregards the rights and the will of the elected representatives of the people of Florida,” Hammer said.

“This is not necessarily the final word on these important issues, as the state of Florida has both legislative and appellate options to reinstate these important protections.”

Hammer released her reaction in an emailed statement Friday.

On the plus side, the federal appeals court on Thursday upheld a provision “prohibiting doctors from discriminating against gun owners,” Hammer said.

“Further, the court left intact the provision making it clear that patients have an absolute right to refuse to answer doctors’ questions about gun ownership. I’m sure anti-gun doctors are not happy about that.”

She described the law as “sensible and appropriate regulation of the medical profession that sought to protect gun owners from political harassment, and the medically irrelevant questioning and record-keeping about patients who are gun owners.”

She insisted: “The Legislature has every right to regulate any profession to protect the public from discrimination and abuse. Doctors are businessmen, not gods.”

The law, enacted in 2011, sought to prevent doctors from asking patients whether they own guns, on pain of professional discipline including possible loss of their licenses to practice.

House gambling bill teed up for next week

The Florida House of Representatives quietly released its gambling overhaul for 2017 Thursday afternoon, setting it for a hearing next Thursday.

As expected, the 81-page bill (PCB TGC 17-01) includes a renewed blackjack deal, or “compact,” between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida, as first struck by Gov. Rick Scott.

No Casinos, the anti-gambling expansion group, soon tweeted: “Still analyzing bill, but at first blush @MyFLHouse seems to have found a way to renew compact without turning FL into Vegas/Atlantic City.”

But the House already is at odds with the Senate’s 112-page measure (SB 8), which is set for its second and last committee hearing next week before the Appropriations panel.

In one significant example, the House bill outlaws designated-player card games, but the Senate would let “all cardroom operators … offer designated player games.”

In banked card games, players bet against the “house,” or the casino, and not each other. In traditional poker, people play against each other for a pot of money. Designated-player games are a hybrid, where the bank is supposed to revolve among the players.

Moreover, the House would prohibit the expansion of slot machines, retroactively to Jan. 1 of this year, by barring state regulators from issuing any new slots licenses.

The Senate generally expands the availability of slot machines, including allowing “any licensed pari-mutuel facility” to get slots.

Last month, House Speaker Richard Corcoran suggested his chamber’s approach to gambling would be different.

“I’ve seen the (Senate) bill, and look, it’s not where we’re at,” Corcoran told reporters. “The three things we’ve said are, it has to be a contraction (of gambling) … we want a constitutional amendment that bans the expansion of gaming; the Senate’s said they have no interest … and we have courts that keep encroaching upon our ability to make those decisions.”

The House Tourism & Gaming Control Subcommittee will hear the bill next Thursday at 9:30 a.m. in a meeting scheduled for two and a half hours. Its chair, St. Cloud Republican Mike La Rosa, could not be immediately reached.

And the Senate Appropriations Committee will hear its chamber’s bill that same day at 9 a.m.

Lobbyist’s blog post gets tongues flapping among Tallahassee’s lobbyist set

Who is Mary Beth Wilson?

That question buzzed around the lobbying shops on or near Tallahassee’s Adams Street after a blog post by a widely respected lobbyist accused a lobbyist for Demotech Inc. of posing as that “concerned citizen” to praise the ratings agency during a conference call.

The post said “most industry professionals” believe the caller was Lisa Miller, of Lisa Miller & Associates, who flatly denied it.

“No,” Miller said when asked whether she had done it. “I did not make that call.”

“Let me assure you that if this occurred, no one at Demotech coordinated it or scripted it,” Demotech president Joe Petrelli said by email.

Did Demotech organize any such thing?

“No,” Petrelli said. “We held a teleconference to explain our press release and take questions because we are transparent.”

Jeff Grady, president and CEO of the Florida Association of Insurance Agents, posted the blog (password protected) on Wednesday.

In it, he described Demotech as “practically the only ratings agency that matters to many insurers and banks that fuel residential real estate lending in our state.”

But he added that problems attending a recent conference call to discuss the prospect that the agency would downgrade some Florida insurers demonstrated that “Demotech isn’t quite ready for the big leagues.”

One reason was a comment by that concerned citizen, who identified herself as “Mary Beth Wilson” on the call, and praised Demotech and Petrelli.

“Although no official record of the call is available, it is practically undeniable that Mary Beth Wilson is not who she said she was,” Grady wrote.

“Most industry professionals believe her to be the paid, outside lobbyist for Demotech. You just can’t make this stuff up!”

He didn’t name Miller, but included a link to her lobbyist registration page, which identifies her as representing Demotech, among other clients.

“It’s important to note that Demotech does play a critical role in Florida’s residential property market; we would hardly have one if it did not exist,” Grady wrote.

“But if Demotech ever wants its company name to be uttered in the same breath as A.M. Best, it needs to conduct its business in a more professional and predictable manner. It shouldn’t need to hire someone to tell others how good the company is; its work product should say it all.”

Reached for comment, Grady said he’s known Miller for 15 years. “I know what she sounds like over the phone. There’s no mistaking who that was,” he said.

He conferred with “four or five” others who were on the call.

“Before I could ask about it, they were laughing — they knew who Mary Beth Wilson was. It was funny, but not so funny,” Grady said.

Demotech is “a pretty critical component of our real estate lending market,” he said. “To have someone who’s a paid representative kind of feign some comments on the call — why not just identify yourself?”

Grady knew the post would stir the pot. “I figured it might, but it couldn’t go without saying.”

Lobbyists — many of whom have bumped elbows with Miller in the past — were astonished at the alleged subterfuge, coming while the Legislature considers assignment of benefits reforms targeting fraud.

“It completely undermines the AOB piece,” one lobbyist said. “It finally starts gaining traction and here you’ve undermined it by doing something like that.”

House and Senate leaders reached for comment haven’t responded yet.

Demotech hadn’t posted a recording of the conference call as of Thursday afternoon.

“We are assessing the quality of the recordings and may post them to our site at a later date,” Petrelli said. “If we do so, we will issue a release indicating audio is available.”

Do you plan to take any action in response to the assertion?

“At this time, we do not plan to take action in response to the unverified assertion,” he said.

Bill to fix vote-by-mail rules clears first committee

A bill that would allow Florida voters to fix signatures on vote-by-mail ballots cleared its first House committee Thursday.

HB 105, sponsored by Tampa Democrat Janet Cruz, would change the process for when signatures on ballots don’t match up to the signature on file with local supervisors of elections.

Current law gives voters the opportunity to correct their ballot if they forget to sign it, but the same courtesy isn’t extended to mismatched signatures.

Bill cosponsor and Dania Beach Democrat Evan Jenne said ailments such as Parkinson’s disease or vision loss can cause signatures to change rapidly, and HB 109 would protect the rights of increasing number of voters who mail in ballots.

The bill would give supervisors of elections leeway to decide how they want to contact voters, whether it be through mail or email, door knocking or phone calls.

HB 105 cleared the House Oversight, Transparency & Administration Subcommittee with a unanimous vote and now heads to the House Government Accountability Committee. A similar bill in the Senate, SB 544 by Democratic Sen. Oscar Braynon, has yet to be heard in committee.

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