Influence Archives - Page 7 of 263 - Florida Politics

Bill blocking public release of death recordings a slippery slope for transparency, truth

I will give state Rep. Chris Latvala, a Clearwater Republican, the benefit of the doubt that he believes he is doing the right thing by filing HB 661 – a measure that prohibits the public release of video and audio recordings of someone’s death.

Latvala originally filed the measure last October to cover only the release of recordings and video of police officers who died in the line of duty. He expanded that bill Monday to include anyone who was killed, and made it retroactive to cover events that happened in the past.

His reasoning: such video inspires terrorists, as spelled out in the bill’s text:

“The Legislature is gravely concerned and saddened by the horrific mass killings perpetrated at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando and at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

“In addition to the emotional and mental injury that these photographs and recordings may cause family members, the Legislature is also concerned that dissemination of photographs and video and audio recordings that depict or record the killing of a person is harmful to the public.”

You know what else is harmful to the public? When governments aren’t accountable to the people they allegedly serve. That is particularly true, as we have seen in recent years, with officer-involved shootings.

Cops put their lives on the line daily, and in most cases their use of deadly force appears to be justified. There are cases, though, where we’re just not sure. We saw that in the case of the South Carolina police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black man named Walter Davis in April 2015.

The private video shot by a bystander with a cellphone appeared to contradict officer Michael T. Slager’s story that he felt his life was in danger when he shot Davis, who was 17 feet away at the time and running in the opposite direction.

That video, widely distributed on social media, was used as evidence in Slager’s first trial; it ended in a hung jury. What is unclear in Latvala’s proposed bill is what would happen to such video if it was subpoenaed by the prosecution (which likely would happen if a similar case happened here).

Would the person who took the video be liable for felony prosecution, which would be the penalty under this proposal, if they posted the video they shot on social media?

Without contradicting video, we might just have to take the officer’s word for it that he or she felt their life was in danger. It’s an important check and balance.

Barbara Petersen of the First Amendment Foundation told the Orlando Sentinel about the case of 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson, 14, who died in 2006 at a juvenile detention center in Bay County.

An autopsy pinned Anderson’s death on a sickle-cell trait disorder. It was only after video surfaced of guards kicking Anderson and making him inhale ammonia that a follow-up autopsy concluded he died of suffocation.

As far as the video inspiring terrorists, I think Latvala is using fear as a rationale to pull the covers a little tighter over transparency.

While it reasonable to argue that terrorism feeds on itself, it’s a stretch to think that such footage would inspire any more carnage than regular coverage of the acts at the Pulse nightclub and the Hollywood airport.

What would Latvala propose: a total news blackout? Just pretend these things didn’t happen? That’s absurd, of course, but once politicians start down that slippery hill of deciding what is none of the public’s business, the absurd has a better chance of becoming reality.

Lawyers for the state tell Senate committee they need pay raises, too

State attorneys and public defenders face off in court, but they agreed on one thing during a meeting Wednesday of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice: Their staff attorneys need pay raises.

Trouble is, committee chairman Aaron Bean isn’t convinced there’ll be enough money to pay for that, as much as he sympathizes.

“The secret is that there’s just not going to be enough money to cover everybody’s requests,” Bean said following the hearing. “That’s why we triage.”

Representatives of an array of state agencies that field attorneys begged the panel for pay raises. Other than state attorneys and public defenders, the commitee heard from regional conflict counsel, the statewide guardian ad litem office, and capital collateral representative offices.

Additional public-safety agencies also requested increases, including higher salaries. This document outlines their presentations to the committee.

Gov. Rick Scott‘s proposed $83.5 million state budget would add resources for public-safety agencies — particularly the Department of Corrections. They include $38.7 million to pay corrections and probation officers more; $4.9 million for hiring bonuses in high-vacancy institutions; and a $2.5 million base-pay bump for corrections officers in mental health units.

Scott envisions no pay raises for other state workers, however, other than a potential to earn bonuses of up to $1,500.

Stacy Scott, public defender for the 8th Circuit in Gainesville, and who argued that public defenders are underpaid compared to prosecutors, insisted it makes sense to invest in trial attorneys.

“Public defenders handle cases at much less expense than if you have to pay a private lawyer to represent indigent people who have a right to a lawyer,” Scott said.

Bill Cervone, Scott’s counterpart in the Gainesville state attorney office, held out hope for pay raises.

“We keep hearing that (Senate budget chief Jack) Latvala‘s pushing it and (Senate President Joe) Negron‘s on board with Latvala,” Cervone said.

Bean said that, notwithstanding disagreements between the House and Senate in other areas, the two chambers agree on the need to bolster public-safety agencies.

“There’s plenty of conflicts elsewhere, but in this area we cant to honor our public servants in these critical areas,” Bean said.

“We want to keep the bad guys locked up. We want to keep our record (low) crime rate on that decline. How do we get there is just fine-tune details. I’ve already met with my (House) counterpart, and I feel good.”

Smith Gaetz

Don Gaetz, Chris Smith among Joe Negron’s constitutional review panel picks

Former Florida Senate President Don Gaetz and former Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith are among those tapped by current Senate President Joe Negron to sit on the state’s Constitution Revision Commission.

Negron, a Stuart Republican, announced his list Wednesday in a press release.

Gaetz, a Niceville Republican in the Senate 2006-16, and Smith, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat who served 2008-16, were selected along with seven others. Under the constitution, Negron gets nine picks as the president of the state Senate.

“Florida is fortunate to have so many private citizens willing to take time away from their families and careers to serve the public in this important capacity,” Negron said in a statement.

“My goal in selecting the nine Senate appointees was to choose individuals who represent a diverse cross-section of our state in terms of their personal, professional, and political life experiences,” he added. “The most serious and important issue for me, and a common thread among our Senate appointees, is a fervent commitment to individual liberty and personal freedom guaranteed by our state and federal constitutions.

“The Senate appointees are all women and men of good judgment.” Besides Gaetz and Smith, they are:

Anna Marie Hernandez Gamez, a Miami lawyer who practices real estate and commercial litigation, and a past president of the Cuban American Bar Association.

 Patricia Levesque, CEO of the Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd), the school choice organization founded by former Gov. Jeb Bush.

 Sherry Plymale, a past chair of the State Board of Community Colleges, chief of staff to state Education Commissioner Frank Brogan, a trustee of Florida Atlantic University and St. Leo University.

 William “Bill” Schifino Jr., the 2016-17 president of The Florida Bar.

— Bob Solari, an Indian River County Commissioner, former Vero Beach City Council member and retired businessman.

— Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, a former teacher “with years of classroom experience instructing middle and high school students” who also was mayor of Sewall’s Point.

— Carolyn Timmann, the Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller for Martin County. She also has been a legislative assistant to former state Rep. Tom Warner, worked in the Governor’s Office, and was a judicial assistant.

They now join former Florida Bar president Hank Coxe of Jacksonville; former state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, a Tampa Democrat; and former federal prosecutor Roberto Martinez of Miami, who are Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga‘s three picks to the commission.

The commission is supposed to hold its first meeting in the 30-day period before the start of the 2017 Legislative Session on March 7.

Representatives for Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran have not yet announced their decisions.

As governor, Scott will choose 15 of the 37 commissioners, and he also selects its chairperson. Corcoran also gets nine picks. Republican Pam Bondi is automatically a member as the state’s Attorney General.

The commission has met twice before, in 1977-78 and 1997-98, but this will be the first to be selected by a majority of Republicans, virtually ensuring it will propose more conservative changes to the state’s governing document than previous panels.

Any changes the commission proposes would be in the form of constitutional amendments, which would have to be approved by 60 percent of voters on a statewide ballot.


Hurdles to school choice remain despite Florida’s open enrollment law

Florida’s new open enrollment policies are still leaving students behind.

Florida has one of the most robust school choice programs nationwide, with 45 percent of pre-K-12 students in the state having exercised some type of choice option in the 2015-16 school year.

A new law seems poised to amplify that even more. HB 7029, signed by Gov. Rick Scott in 2016, will be effective for the 2017-18 school year. Under HB 7029, public schools are required to allow students to transfer in from anywhere else in the state, as long as they have the capacity to take them.

Still, parents in counties across the state are finding out that getting children into a school that suits them is more complicated than one would expect of an open enrollment policy.

In Seminole County, 1,000 elementary school students are being rezoned in August due to growing enrollment.

Don Fox, a parent of two children attending Keeth Elementary in Winter Springs, is facing the prospect that his children will now be shuffled a far distance across town. He says parents who want to use the new statewide open enrollment policies to keep their children in their current schools are being denied that option.

Fox and other parents in Seminole County have been told that district schools are at capacity next year and that no intra-district transfers will be allowed, except for diversity reasons. Next year the capacity at Keeth could shrink by 100 spots, leaving little availability to parents who want to stay put.

Fox said he thinks district leaders are taking advantage of the discretion HB 7029 affords individual school districts.

“They’re using this opportunity to help try to balance the school grades, and trying to move students from schools with higher grades (and) higher participation rates to these other schools,” Fox said.

Like many parents, the Foxes bought their home so their children could attend a specific school — originally Lawton Elementary. But they found themselves rezoned to nearby Keeth Elementary, which Fox said made sense.

Now the school zone boundaries have been redrawn yet again, and Fox’s two sons are being sent to Layer Elementary across town. His two boys will even pass Keeth Elementary on their way to Layer. Fox simply wants to keep his kids at Keeth where they have developed a sense of community.

“What upsets me so much is, that earlier this year when we heard ‘school choice,’ I thought that was a great thing,” Fox told Watchdog. “I had no idea that I would be needing that, and that I would be denied that.”

Up to the districts

Michael Lawrence, communications officer for Seminole County Public Schools, told Watchdog that Seminole County is still in the process of figuring out how it will adapt to the new open enrollment policies. Administrators are currently working on their definitions of capacity for the schools in the district.

According to the Florida Department of Education, individual districts formulate policies for how they enact open enrollment and determine capacity caps.

Curtis Jenkins, a consultant with the FLDOE, said that “schools have an obligation under this law to implement the law in the school district and make decisions about which schools are at capacity.”

“Rezoning and schools changing and getting ready for this open enrollment is not an easy task,” Jenkins said.

Other school districts besides Seminole County are finding the adaptation to open enrollment tricky. In the Tampa Bay area, officials from the Hillsborough and Pinellas districts have experience accommodating transfers across county lines. Now, however, they will be slower to give away seats to out-of-district students. High population growth and the need to reconsider school capacities complicate the issue further.

“Districts that have a little bit higher growth are worried about when they give a seat away to a non-zoned student and that student is now going to remain there,” Bill Lawrence, associate superintendent for Pinellas, told the Tampa Bay Times. “They know there are going to be new homes and they’re getting new kids. So I think they’re being a little more conservative.”

In St. Johns County, Superintendent Joseph Joyner told the Florida Times-Union that the open enrollment policies would make it harder for the district to plan for its own students, especially since St. Johns is a high-performing school district and likely to be attractive to out-of-district students.

“Any seat we give up is ultimately going to be hurtful,” Joyner said. “We will build schools purposely because we know the houses are coming in that zone. Part of this bill makes it difficult to plan.”

Hold the pickles

“I don’t think it’s fair to assume the worst about how administrators are going to go about doing their work, because I am confident that there are many who will be very accommodating for parents and students who want some form of public school choice, and I’ve seen evidence of that in school districts,” Bill Mattox, director of the Center for Education Options at the James Madison Institute, told Watchdog.

Mattox added that, best intentions aside, normal economic factors invariably come into play, meaning that there are times when parents and students in one situation get better treatment than those in another. Moreover, there is a “gravitational pull towards status quo” that makes school administrators slow to adapt.

Mattox compared it to ordering at a restaurant. It’s a lot easier for a school system — or a restaurant — to establish uniform, systematic practices. But, he argues, education is first and foremost about children, not schools.

“If you’re running an institution, a restaurant, you’d rather have every single person come in and say, ‘I’ll just have the burger the way you prepared it’ instead of saying, ‘Hold the cheese on this one and I’ll take the pickle on this one.’”

The tricky part for the school system is that a lot of kids don’t like pickles.

“When it comes to education, kids ought to come first instead of asking the student to accommodate to the institution,” Mattox said.

Unanimous jury bill unanimously OK’d in House

A bill requiring a unanimous jury recommendation for a death sentence was unanimously cleared by a House panel Wednesday.

The Criminal Justice Subcommittee OK’d the bill (HB 527) by Rep. Chris Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican.

But the approval was after several public comments that the legislation didn’t go far enough to truly overhaul the state’s capital punishment system.

In 2016, the Legislature passed and Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill requiring at least 10 of the 12 members of a jury to recommend the death penalty.

But the Florida Supreme Court in October ruled 5-2 that jury recommendations must be unanimous for capital punishment to be imposed. Significantly, the court said the law can’t be applied to pending prosecutions.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in the Hurst v. Florida case, had previously ruled that the Constitution “requires a jury, not a judge, to find each fact necessary to impose a sentence of death,” according to a legislative staff analysis.

In December, however, the state Supreme Court issued two decisions that opened the possibility for more than 200 Florida death row inmates to be resentenced.

When asked about other constitutional issues, Sprowls – a former deputy prosecutor for the 6th Judicial Circuit in Pasco and Pinellas counties – said lawmakers are simply fixing the immediate problem.

“The court had an opportunity to review the death penalty statute,” Sprowls later told reporters. “They could have addressed other issues. They did not. They specifically zoned in on this one issue. That is the issue we are fixing.”

As of Jan. 15, “state attorneys reported a total of 313 pending death penalty cases of which 66 were ready for trial,” a staff analysis said.

“Because there is currently no constitutional sentencing procedure in place due to the lack of jury unanimity in a final recommendation for death, cases in which the state is seeking the death penalty have essentially ground to a halt.”

Rex Dimmig, the Public Defender for the 10th Judicial Circuit of Hardee, Highlands and Polk counties, told lawmakers they were addressing only the “constitutional crisis du jour.”

When it comes to the death penalty, “Florida has been an outlier, and will continue to be an outlier,” he said.

A Senate companion (SB 280) also was cleared unanimously last week by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. It’s sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Randolph Bracy of Ocoee, the panel’s chair.

The 2017 Legislative Session begins March 7.

Florida Chamber hosting ‘International Days’ today

Today is the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s yearly International Days event, in which “policy experts and business leaders from here in Florida and around the world” talk about all things business.

The issues range from “economic diversification and foreign investment to overseas business expansion,” according to a Chamber press release.

Speakers include legendary businessman Chuck Cobb, who was U.S. Ambassador to Iceland under President George H. W. Bush; U.S. Chamber of Commerce Director of International Policy Christopher Wenk; Secretary of Commerce and Enterprise Florida President and CEO Chris Hart IV, Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Cissy Proctor and state Sen. Bill Galvano, who is in line to become Senate President.

Some highlights: Hart and Proctor headline a 9 a.m. roundtable on “The Importance of International Trade to Florida’s Economy.”

At 10 a.m., Galvano – an attorney with Grimes Goebel Grimes Hawkins Gladfelter & Galvano – sits on a panel on “Expanding International Business Opportunities.”

At noon, a panel convenes on the “Future of U.S. Trade Policy” and its impact on Florida, leading off with a video message from Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Syd Kitson, Chairman & CEO of Kitson & Partners and the Chairman of the Florida Chamber of Commerce will moderate, with Cobb and Eric Silagy, President & CEO of Florida Power & Light Company, as panelists.

“Trade has been at the forefront of not just the U.S. Presidential election but all around the world,” the program says. “This panel will explore what a Donald Trump presidency means for the future of trade.”

The full schedule is here. The event will be held at Florida State University’s Turnbull Center, 555 W. Pensacola St. in Tallahassee.

House panel to discuss changing how nursing homes that accept Medicaid are paid

Nursing homes that accept Medicaid could see changes in how they are paid in the coming fiscal year, but exactly what those changes will look like remain to be seen.

The House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee is expected to begin discussions about new payment plans Wednesday, when Agency for Health Care Administration officials give members a presentation detailing the Navigant recommendations for a new payment method.

The Navigant proposal would move the state away from its current cost-based model and into a prospective payment system. While some industry officials appear supportive of a move to a prospective payment system, there are varying degree of concern about whether the Navigant proposal is right for Florida.

“We think the Navigant proposal is a good starting point,” said Tom Parker, the director of reimbursement for the Florida Health Care Association, which represents 82 percent of the state’s nursing centers. “It gets us 90 percent of the way we’d like to see it.”

Parker said a prospective payment system is “good for the industry and good for the state” since facilities have a good understanding of what the rates will be year-over-year. Still, Parker said his organization has several changes it would like to see made before a plan is adopted.

One such change would be to tweak the “Fair Rental Value System” outlined in the Navigant proposal so that providers are incentivized to do renovations or make replacements. That could be done by bumping up the minimum square footage per bed used in the FRVS parameters to 350 square feet, up from the 100 square feet per bed current recommended in the report.

Parker also said the FHCA would like to see changes as it relates to the Quality Incentive Payment Program. According to a Dec. 29 report, Navigant came up with an incentive program after “significant discussion with the Agency and considerable stakeholder input.”

That incentive program, according to the Dec. 29 report, would calculate scores based on several process and outcome measure, and each facility would be able to receive a maximum of 40 points.

The Navigant proposal recommends awarding quality incentive payments to facilities “scoring above the 30th percentile in total quality points,” but Parker said FCHA would like to see that changed to the 20th percentile. That change, he said, would allow “as many providers as possible” to take part in the quality incentive payment plan.

While the Florida Health Care Association sees the Navigant plan as a good starting point, LeadingAge Florida would would like lawmakers to scrap the model and consider an alternative. The association represents a wide variety of communities serving the state’s seniors, including nursing homes and retirement communities.

According to prepared comments posted on ACHA’s website, LeadingAge officials on Dec. 8 said “despite improvements made in an effort to adequately recognize and reward high quality care care and redistribute available funds equitably, we are convinced that the basic structure of the proposed models is fatally flawed and stated objectives for the new payment plan … cannot be obtained without a complete model redesign.”

Among other things, LeadingAge asked that the Navigant proposal include Palm Beach County in the South Region. Under the Navigant proposal, the South region is defined as Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.

In December, the organization also asked that the 30th percentile threshold “exclude points awarded for year-to-year improvements,” and asked that the American Health Care Association Quality Silver and Gold Awards be removed from the Quality Matrix.

Steve Bahmer, the president and CEO of LeadingAge Florida, said in an interview last week, the Navigant proposal “shifts $109 million in Medicaid funding from the highest quality nursing homes to the lowest quality nursing homes.”

LeadingAge officials contend the shift in funding threatens the quality of care delivered by the state’s nursing home and would “devastate many of the state’s 5-star and Gold Seal providers.” According to the organization, 143 nursing homes with a 4- or 5-star rating would lose funding; while 86 facilities with a 1- or 2-star rating would gain funding.

“We don’t oppose a prospective payment plan,” said Bahmer. “We just oppose the model.”

LeadingAge is supportive of legislation by Sen. Aaron Bean. Filed last week, Bahmer said the proposal (SB 712) “creates a better way to pay for care without devastating the highest quality” facilities.

The House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee will discuss the recommendations during its meeting at 1 p.m. in 404 House Office Building.

House panel approves changes to state employee health insurance program

A House panel OK’d a proposed committee bill Tuesday aimed at tweaking the state-employee health insurance program.

The House Health & Human Services Committee approved the bill (PCB HHS 17-01), which, among other things, would lead to the state plan offering four different levels by 2020. The idea, said Rep. Jason Brodeur, is similar to one that has been heard at some point over the seven different legislative sessions.

“It’s a way to return some consumerism to health care, which I believe will help everyone have access and return to costs,” he said.

Under the proposal, the Department of Management Services would be required to contract with at least one company that provides online health care price and quality information, including the average price paid for health care services and providers.

Beginning in 2020, the bill would allow state employees to pick a health insurance plan from one of four benefit levels. Under the proposal, if the state’s contribution for a premium is more than the cost of the plan selected by an employee, employees can use the remainder to fund a flexible spending arrangement or health savings plan; purchase additional benefits; or increase salary.

That provision left some members concerned that employees would opt for the lower plans, so they could get more money, but then not have enough coverage in case of an emergency.

Some Democrats also expressed concern that now might not be the time to make changes to health plans, especially since federal health care law is in flux under the new administration.

“I don’t think given the landscape that we’re facing with significant changes with the Affordable Care Act now is when we should be doing this bill,” said Rep. Lori Berman.

Supporters of the proposal called it innovative, and Rep. David Santiago said it allows “people to be in the driver’s seat when it comes to health care like they haven’t been before.”

Rick Scott’s budget would raid affordable housing trust funds

Gov. Rick Scott’s proposed budget would shift nearly 77 percent of the $293.4 million earmarked for low-income housing next year to other state priorities.

That works out to $224 million from state and local housing trust funds that won’t go for their intended purpose.

State law reserves a portion of the take from documentary stamp tax on real estate transactions for low-income housing.

The trust fund total is an estimate reached by state economists in December, and could vary depending on the housing market.

“The governor has not been supportive of local and state trust funds in any of his budgets,” said Jaimie Ross, president and CEO of the Florida Housing Coalition and facilitator for the Sadowski Coalition, comprising an array of housing advocacy organizations.

“We would like all the money to be used for housing,” she said.

Last year, Scott wanted to sweep $237.5 million from the trust funds, of the nearly $276.6 million then available. The Legislature pared back his request, providing around $200 million for housing.

It’s not unusual for state leaders to sweep money from trust funds if they think the money could be better spent elsewhere.

Still, the practice galls some legislators. During a meeting last week of the House Transportation & Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee, members complained about raids on housing and other trust funds.

The local housing trust fund provides down payments for first-time homebuyers; pays for repairs for low-income homeowners; repairs damage following natural disasters; and builds rental housing, according to housing advocate Mark Hendrickson.

The state program finances construction or rehabilitation of rental housing.

New educational coalition seeks to make Florida global ‘innovation capital’

Launch Florida, a new and inclusive statewide innovation coalition, officially launched Tuesday with a mission to foster collaboration between entrepreneurs, policymakers, business leaders, venture capitalists, philanthropists, and other stakeholders to make Florida the worldwide capital for innovation in the 21st century.

Launch Florida represents 51 different organizations from coding schools to universities, technology associations to startup accelerators. The coalition approach has built a network benefiting the state by increasing grassroots mobilization and knowledge sharing.

“Launch Florida represents the 21st-century economy,” said Joe Russo, Executive Director of the Palm Beach Tech Association and Launch Florida co-chair. “We will be the go-to resource for elected officials to help guide policy efforts supporting an innovation economy.”

“Florida is the 3rd largest state in the union but ranks 34th in innovation,” said Lucas Lindsey, Executive Director of Tallahassee’s Domi Station and Launch Florida co-chair. “As the 19th largest economy in the world, we must support our next generation of industry.”

“Launch Florida’s structure allows anyone representing high-tech, high-wage organizations and initiatives to meet on a recurring basis, having an equal opportunity to share best practices and ideas about growing and diversifying our state’s economy,” said Ed Schons, president of the Florida High Tech Corridor Council.

“Launch Florida is all about working smarter, not harder,” said Dr. Thomas O’Neal, associate vice president at the University of Central Florida. “To the extent that we can share best practices and resources, we can collectively move faster to accelerate the growth of Florida’s innovation economy — something we all support.”

The organization will gather during the Launch Florida Summit on May 18 and 19 in Orlando, coinciding with the Florida Venture Forum’s Early Stage Capital Conference.

Learn more at

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