Influence – Page 6 – Florida Politics

Superintendents want Rick Scott to veto school marshal funding

Some superintendents aren’t keen on arming school personnel, and they’ve offered a suggestion to Gov. Rick Scott to prevent the concept’s fruition.

On Friday, the Florida Association of District School Superintendents President Robert Runcie penned a letter to Scott urging him to veto Section 40 of the “Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act,” or SB 7026. The section provides $67 million in state funds to launch a school marshal program that would arm certain faculty members.

Runcie is calling on the Governor to let those funds instead be used at the discretion of each school district to fund more school resource officers when the marshal program is not favored by the district. He argues that the current appropriation to the marshal program inhibits funding for law enforcement at schools — especially if some districts do not implement the program.

“The funding mechanism is flawed when dollars are restricted to certain types of law enforcement officers,” explained Runcie.

He adds: “There will not be enough funding provided in SB 7026, or the state budget, to actually fund a law enforcement officer at every school.”

The marshal program arguably is the most contentious portion of the sweeping public safety package, and Runcie did not abstain from reiterating that to Scott.

“If SB 7026 is approved as it was enacted, Florida superintendents will be faced with the untenable decision to implement the Marshal Program even if the superintendent, school board, local sheriff and teachers oppose it,” writes Runcie.

Republican Sen. Bill Galvano, who championed SB 7026 through the Legislature, has said he expects Scott to sign the bill into law later Friday. Scott is meeting with parents of students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Friday afternoon.

generic casino photo

Senate raises gambling offer to six slots licenses

The maneuvering toward comprehensive gambling legislation continues, with the Senate seeing the House offer to create three new slot machine licenses, and raising them three more.

The Conference Committee on Gaming met again Friday morning.

Out of the mix so far is expressly allowing fantasy sports play in the state, and allowing continued play of designated player games, a hybrid of poker and blackjack that’s proved lucrative to pari-mutuel cardrooms.

The Senate further restricted their offer of six new slots licenses to Brevard, Duval, Gadsden, Lee, Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties. Those counties previously passed local referendums to add slots at pari-mutuels.

Hamilton and Washington, two other “referendum counties,” were left out.

To strive toward the House goal of a net contraction of gambling in the state, the Senate included a requirement for pari-mutuels there to give up an active greyhound permit that generated $20 million in total handle, or two active greyhound or jai alai permits.

“Handle” refers to the total amounts of bets taken.

The Senate didn’t accept the House’s geographical restriction that any new slots facility be at least 100 miles away from the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa, and at least 25 miles away from any other Seminole casino, including the one in Hollywood.

And the chamber would increase the House’s cap on machines per casino to 750 from 500.

Other highlights are below. A full story on the House’s opening offer is here.

Lawmakers pass ban on minors marrying — but exclude 17-year-olds

A much-debated bill that would ban all marriages under the age of 17 passed the Legislature Friday; it now heads to Gov. Rick Scott. 

A spokesman for Scott said the governor “intends to sign” the bill (SB 140).

The vote in the House on the Senate bill was 109-1, with the only ‘no’ vote cast by Republican state Rep. George Moraitis of Fort Lauderdale.

He was one of the toughest critics of the measure and argued minors should be allowed to wed when a teen is pregnant.

The Senate was initially looking for an outright ban on all minor marriages, but the House wanted more flexibility with 16- and 17-years olds to tie the knot.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, for example, was in favor of allowing some minors to wed because he argued it would allow “high school sweethearts” to marry.

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto and state Rep. Jeanette Nunez championed the bills in their chambers.

Advocates for a strict minor marriage ban said the change would close loopholes in state law that have allowed children as young as 13 to marry older men.

The legislation emerged — and became high profile — because of the story of 58-year-old Sherry Johnson, who said she was forced to marry her adult rapist at age 11 after giving birth to a child. Johnson lobbied for an outright ban on marriage licenses for people under 18, with Benacquisto, a Fort Myers Republican, proposing a ban.

After Friday’s vote, Johnson said she was pleased with the outcome.

“I’m happy with the compromise,” she said. “Eighteen was my top goal, but I will settle for the 17 with all of the restrictions that come with it. I think that it is very gratifying to me.”

The House last month approved a proposal that would have allowed people who are age 16 or 17 to get married under certain circumstances that included pregnancy. The proposal would have allowed minors to only marry people who are no more than two years older. Also, the proposal would have required couples to verify pregnancies and for minors to get written consent from their parents or guardians.

After the House approved its proposal, Benacquisto and Nunez worked on the compromise that passed Friday.

Material from the News Service of Florida is included in this article.

House makes modest offer toward gambling compromise

The House’s first stab on comprehensive gambling legislation this year includes a spartan offer to the Senate of only three new slot machine licenses for pari-mutuels in counties that OK’d slots in local referendums.

The Conference Committee on Gaming met for the first time Thursday evening; Rep. Mike La Rosa was elected chair.

The proposal on the table would also require the selected counties to conduct a second referendum to confirm the first, to be held after July 1, the offer says.

Owners would have to surrender a gambling permit at one of their locations and agree to “permanent termination of all gaming activities at that permitted location.”

Slots referendums have passed in eight counties, including Palm Beach and Gadsden. There, the Alabama-based Poarch Band of Creek Indians operates the track in Gretna, and a greyhound track in Pensacola. For instance, they’d have to agree to shut down greyhound operations to get slots in Gretna.

The offer, however, also requires the permit (or permits) given up to have “generated at least $40 million in total handle during” fiscal year 2015-16. (Handle refers to the total amount of bets taken.)

At first, only Palm Beach County appears to qualify under the initial offer. But an owner in any of the other “referendum counties” could combine or buy up permits to reach the magic number, the language suggests.

Palm Beach Kennel Club reported more than $42 million in total handle that fiscal year, according to state records. In fact, that’s the only one that clears the threshold by itself. Pensacola Greyhound Track reported total handle of $986,835 that same year.

Moreover, any new slots facility would have to be at least 100 miles away from the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa, and at least 25 miles away from any other Seminole casino, including the one in Hollywood.

Each new casino can have no more than 500 machines, and renewal would be contingent on that facility ponying up at least $40 million in taxes and fees after a year.

The maximum number of slot machines in casinos where they’re now offered at pari-mutuels in South Florida would have to go down to 1,500 from 2,000.

Committee vice-chair Travis Hutson took the offer for the Senate but did not comment on it. By shortly after 7 p.m., the committee announced it would hold no further meetings Thursday evening.

Colin Hackley

Rick Scott to meet with Parkland parents as decision looms

Gov. Rick Scott will meet Friday with the families of victims of last month’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, raising expectations that he will sign into law a sweeping school-safety measure that sparked veto requests from critics on both ends of the gun-control spectrum.

The proposal (SB 7026) would raise the minimum age from 18 to 21 and require a three-day waiting period for people purchasing rifles and other long guns, requirements that already apply to buying handguns. The measure also would ban the sale of “bump stocks,” which allow semi-automatic rifles to mimic fully automatic weapons.

The new gun restrictions have infuriated the powerful National Rifle Association, in a state the gun-rights organization has used for years as a testing ground for model legislation.

Meanwhile, teachers, parents, black lawmakers and other critics are blasting the bill for a controversial provision that would allow specially trained school personnel, including teachers, to bring guns to schools. Teachers who “exclusively” perform classroom instruction would be excluded from the program, meaning teachers who have other duties, such as drama coaches, would be eligible to participate.

The Florida Education Association on Thursday asked Scott to veto the measure, saying more than 200,000 school employees could qualify to carry firearms, which would “do more harm than good.”

“Our teachers and other school employees are ready to fiercely defend our students but none of them should ever have to choose between shepherding students to safety or confronting an armed assailant where they are sure to draw fire towards the very students they are trying to protect,” Joanne McCall, president of the teachers’ union, wrote in a letter to the governor.

NRA Florida lobbyist Marion Hammer on Thursday also sent out an “emergency alert” to supporters, urging them to contact Scott and demand a veto.

Hammer, a former national president of the gun-rights group, accused House leaders of forcing Republicans to support the measure, which the House passed Wednesday in a 67-50 vote. Just 19 of the chamber’s 77 Republican members opposed the bill, following what Hammer called “one of the most despicable displays of bullying and coercion.”

The proposal “violates Second Amendment rights and punishes law-(abiding) citizens for the actions of a mentally ill teenager who murdered 17 people after Florida officials repeatedly refused to get him the help he needed,” Hammer wrote, referring to 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, who is charged with murdering 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

The $400 million school-safety package includes money for early mental-health screening and services, school resource officers, school-hardening grants, and $25 million to raze and rebuild the freshman building where the shooting spree occurred. The bill also includes a commission that will investigate the events leading up to and response to the attack by Cruz, who had a lengthy history of mental-health problems. The commission will also make recommendations.

Scott has repeatedly said that he objects to the three-day waiting period in the legislation and opposes “arming teachers,” but would not say whether he intends to sign the bill into law.

But the governor telegraphed what action he might take on the measure, which the 17 families said they support and asked him to sign.

“I’m going to review the bill line-by-line, and the group that I’m going to be talking to, the group that I care the most about right now, because it impacted them so much, is the families,” Scott told reporters Wednesday.

Immediately following the nation’s second-worst school shooting, students, parents and teachers from the Parkland school flooded the Capitol, pleading with the Scott and the Legislature to act. Many Douglas High student survivors demanded a ban on assault-style weapons, along with a hike in the age to purchase rifles.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been inundated by emails and phone calls from opponents and supporters of the measure, which does not include an assault-weapons ban.

Two fathers whose daughters were among the 14 students slain on Valentine’s Day watched from the House gallery as the chamber debated the measure Wednesday.

The Parkland parents and students were instrumental in the passage of Florida’s first gun restrictions in nearly two decades, said Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Coral Springs Democrat who graduated from Douglas High and served on the Parkland city commission.

“These parents, unfortunately, should not have had to do this. It should have been obvious that we needed to do something after Parkland. We should not have needed an additional push from these parents. These parents should be grieving, not lobbying for us to do the right things. There’s no question that they were the difference makers,” Moskowitz said.

In contrast to previous school shootings, such as the massacre at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, when the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature was unwilling to irk the NRA, state lawmakers quickly passed this year’s measure for two reasons, according to Moskowitz.

“Because we were in Session, and being in Session in an election year, those two forces combined and something had to happen,” he said. “Parkland was the worst place for this to happen, and the best place for this to happen. It showed everybody in America that this can come to your neighborhood. If the safest city in the state, if this can happen there, it can come anywhere.”

Lauren Book revives human trafficking legislation

Sen. Lauren Book made headlines last week when she unexpectedly tabled a bill that would give victims of human trafficking the right to sue hotels that are complicit in the illicit activity.

Only a few days later, the same provision is back — this time as an amendment Book sponsored and successfully tacked onto a House-backed bill that expands control and monitoring of sex offenders and predators in the state. 

The amended bill, HB 1301, was primed for a Senate floor vote on Thursday and could be voted on by the chamber as soon as Friday’s floor session. If approved, it would be sent back to the House for another vote.

Though some in the chamber could have unspoken reservations for the otherwise popular measure.

When Book pulled her human trafficking bill (SB 1044), she told the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald that there were opposing forces “working against” the effort, but that’d she’d continue to push the legislation in the remaining days of the 2018 Legislative Session.

SB 1044 had stalled in a committee chaired by Republican Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, who also objected to Book’s attempt to bring the amendment onto HB 1301. Because Book’s amendment language already is provided in other legislation, Benacquisto argued the amendment was out of order.

At Sen. Tom Lee’s recommendation, Book motioned for two-thirds approval of the chamber to overrule Benacquisto’s objection. Book met that threshold, and the amendment was adopted.

When asked, Book denied to Florida Politics the implication that Benacquisto belonged or represented those opposing forces she cited earlier.

“I don’t think that she is against it,” Book said. “I think she was making a procedural ruling.”

Book said she expects the legislation to pass the Senate and House. She believes the state has a “terribly bad” human trafficking problem and that most members want to pass laws combatting it. 

“I believe that the members of this body and the Legislature are going to stand up for victims of human trafficking,” Book said. 

FHCA lauds lawmakers for nursing home budget increase

Lawmakers got praise from the Florida Health Care Association Thursday for upping funds to nursing homes in the 2018-19 state budget.

“FHCA applauds the Legislature for making the quality care of our frailest elders a priority. We want to especially thank Senate President Joe Negron, who has long been a champion for nursing home residents. Under his leadership, this year’s budget includes almost $130 million in increased Medicaid funding for nursing homes,” said FHCA Executive Director Emmett Reed.

“With those added dollars, facilities will have more resources to retain and recruit higher-quality staff to be directly involved in the care of residents. The funding increase will also support facilities as they continue making measurable improvements to residents’ health and well-being.”

Reed also approved of lawmakers adding in $10 million to help support nursing centers as they transition to the Prospective Payment System in October, and cheered an increase in nursing home residents’ allowances.

“The additional $25 per month this increase provides will allow greater choices for residents who rely on Medicaid as their long term care safety net, helping them to pay for personal items that improve their quality of life – things like beauty services, clothing, and other personal items,” Reed said.

In addition to Negron, the FHCA chief lauded Senate budget chief Rob Bradley and House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

Reed said lawmakers who backed the increased funding “will be remembered for their effective, meaningful, and thoughtful actions for the state’s long-term care residents.”

Earlier this week FHCA praised lawmakers for approving the nursing home generator rule, which was a priority of Gov. Rick Scott, after a prolonged power outage after Hurricane Irma led to a dozen heat-related deaths at The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills.

House, Senate reach budget deal with $90m in last-minute spending

Legislative leaders closed out the largest proposed budget in state history Thursday that included nearly $90 million in last-minute spending for projects that largely have to do with education.

As the House and Senate finalized differences on the roughly $88 billion 2018-19 budget, the supplemental funding — informally known as the “sprinkle fund” — was unveiled in a 10 a.m. budget meeting.

The 21 last-minute spending list includes $30 million for charter school maintenance projects, $20 million for performance-based incentive in the state university system and $3.3 million for the University of South Florida.

From that list, a dozen items are hurricane-related costs and contingent on reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Another budget item negotiators agreed to pay in the end is a member project championed by state Rep. Mike La Rosa, a Republican whose district includes Polk County.

La Rosa wanted to get $1.3 million in funding to repair major damage caused to a Polk County charter school by Hurricane Irma last year. Lawmakers decided to give $1.2 million to the school to help with building repair costs and costs associated with school supplies and relocating students to an off campus location. From those funds, $700,000 are subject to federal reimbursement.

Throughout budget negotiations budget writers said members projects were cut and priorities were reshuffled to fund the $400 million “Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Act,” which included $67 million for a controversial program to arm school personnel and more funding for mental health services in schools across the state.

Lawmakers have yet to vote on the budget, which is the largest proposed budget in state history. They will have to wait until at least Sunday afternoon to give it final approval.

Early start approved for 2020 Session

Continuing a trend, the Florida Senate on Thursday gave final approval to a bill that would start the 2020 Legislative Session in January.

Under the state Constitution, Legislative Sessions typically start in March. But the Legislature can decide to start Sessions at other times during even-numbered years.

The Legislature voted to start the 2016 and 2018 Sessions in January.

The bill (HB 7045) approved Thursday in a 34-3 vote would start the 2020 Session on Jan. 14. The House has also approved the bill, which means it is now ready to go to Gov. Rick Scott.

Three South Florida Democrats — Minority Leader Oscar Braynon, a Miami Gardens Democrat, Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Miami Democrat, and Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat — opposed the bill Thursday.

“It’s too cold in Tallahassee during the winter so I cannot support this bill,” Braynon said.

That drew a reply from Senate bill sponsor Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican.

“It’s, frankly, too hot later, so I would ask you to support it,” Galvano said

slot machines

Lawmakers going to conference on gaming

Updated 12:10 p.m. — On a voice vote, the House approved going to conference on the gaming bill, with Mike La Rosa named chair of the House contingent. He chairs the Tourism & Gaming Control Subcommittee.

As of 2 p.m., a conference had not been noticed.

Updated 6:45 p.m. — The conference committee picked La Rosa as chair, and Hutson as vice chair. La Rosa presented House Offer #1, the details of which were not immediately available, and which was taken under advisement. The committee then adjourned till further notice.


House members received a memo Thursday morning announcing a plan to conference on this year’s gambling bill.

“Today we will take up a returning message list that consists of the gaming bill (HB 7067),” the memo said.

“Rep. (Mike) LaRosa will move to refuse to concur in the Senate amendment and accede to the Senate’s request to appoint a conference committee … Please stay nearby and ready as we will likely recess and reconvene a few times today to await returning messages.”

On Wednesday, Senate bill sponsor Travis Hutson offered an amendment to the House version that already passed off the floor. The chamber OK’d it 22-10, sending it back.

“voter control of gambling” constitutional amendment will be on November’s ballot. If it passes by the required 60 percent, the initiative would give voters power to approve or kill future expansions of gambling in Florida. That could shut out lawmakers from having a say over gambling indefinitely.

The latest language adds, among other things, what Hutson called a “partial decoupling” for thoroughbred horse racing, referring to the term for removing provisions in state law requiring dog and horse tracks to run live races if they wish to offer other gambling, such as cardrooms.

It also adds a ban on steroid use in racing greyhounds, but removes a ban on video games known as “pre-reveal” that look and play like slot machines, and that critics say are illegal gambling. Pre-reveal game makers say they’re only for entertainment, though they do pay out winning plays.

Other significant differences exists between the chambers: The Senate is OK with designated player games, a hybrid of poker and blackjack played at pari-mutuel cardrooms; the House would ban them. The House also would ban pre-reveal games.

Both chambers would extend a gambling exclusivity agreement with the Seminoles in exchange for $3 billion in revenue share over seven years. But the Senate is at 22 years; the House is at 20 years.

There’s more time for lawmakers to address gambling because the chambers failed to finalize a state budget on time this week to finish the 2018 Legislative Session on Friday.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons