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Dane Eagle announces bills to change concealed carry rules, TANF benefits

Cape Coral Republican Rep. Dane Eagle announced a pair of bills Tuesday that would relax rules on conceal carry weapons permitholders whose firearms are seen, and another to “eliminate fraud” among Temporary Assistance for Needy Families recipients.

HB 39 would make a brief sighting of a firearm held by a person with a CCW permit a noncriminal violation with a $25 fine for a first offense and a $500 fine for a second offense. A third offense would go down as a second-degree misdemeanor.

Current law sticks CCW permit holders whose weapons are seen by others with a misdemeanor on the first offense.

“I am always committed to removing burdensome and unnecessary government intrusion, and in this particular case, this legislation will prevent law abiding citizens from being prosecuted as a criminal,” Eagle said. “A firearm becoming temporarily and openly displayed to the ordinary sight of another person by a license holder is not a criminal act and therefore should not be treated as a crime.”

The bill was filed in August by former Rep. Neil Combee, but was taken over by Eagle and Pensacola Republican Rep. Frank White now that Combee is no longer in the House. HB 39 would not apply in cases where a concealed weapon was intentionally displayed in an angry or threatening manner outside of the realm of necessary self-defense.

Eagle also filed HB 751, which would make several changes to TANF, including boosting the penalties for recipients who don’t comply with work requirements and barring them from spending the benefits money in certain locations, including a medical marijuana treatment center or dispensary.

Under the bill, the first noncompliance would result in benefits being stripped from families for 30 days rather than 10 days; a second violation would see recipients stripped of benefits for three months instead of one; a third violation boosts the penalty period from 3 months to 6 months; and a fourth violation bumps it from 6 months to a year.

“This bill will help eliminate fraud and ensure that tax dollars are only being spent on the truly needy – not those trying to manipulate the system or who are able to support themselves. We need to bridge the gap to self-sufficiency instead of perpetuating government dependence,” Eagle said.

The bill would set the reinstatement date for TANF benefits to the date when the recipient began to comply with work requirements or the first day of the month after the penalty period, whichever is later.

Supreme Court rejects football workers’ comp case

A divided Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to take up a dispute about whether a former Arena Football League player should receive workers’ compensation insurance benefits because of injuries suffered while trying to regain a roster spot with the Orlando Predators.

Justices, in a 4-3 decision, turned down an appeal by Bryon Bishop, a former lineman for the Predators who was injured in July 2013 as he worked out with the team.

A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal this year overturned a judge’s ruling that had supported workers’ compensation benefits for Bishop.

The appeals court concluded that Bishop was not an employee of the Arena Football League. Bishop and a Predators coach had signed a contract, but the document had not been signed by a league official.

Unlike in the National Football League, where teams and players agree on contracts, the Arena Football League employs the players, the ruling said. The Supreme Court, as is common, did not explain its reasons Tuesday for turning down Bishop’s appeal. But justices Barbara Pariente, Charles Canady, Ricky Polston and Alan Lawson were in the majority, while Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and justices R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince wanted to consider the case.

Order in the court? ‘Courthouse carry,’ gun bills die in committee

A testy meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday saw the deaths of three pro-gun bills, including Chairman Greg Steube’s “courthouse carry” push.

SB 134, Steube’s bill providing for concealed-carry permit holders to store firearms at courthouses, was joined in failure by Lakeland Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel’s SB 274 and Steube’s other gun-related bill, SB 148.

But not without healthy and at times aggressive debate.

Stargel’s bill provided for people with concealed-weapons licenses to carry guns at private schools that are on the same property as religious institutions. She made her pro-gun stance clear before the committee.

“Some people believe that if we keep guns out of hands bad things won’t happen,” Stargel said. “I have the school of thought that believes the best way to stop a bad person with a gun is a good person with a gun.”

Following a wave of public comments, both for and against the bill, the committee debated among themselves.

With six Republicans and four Democrats, the committee should be Second Amendment friendly, but Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores has been vocal in her opposition to pro-gun legislation, locking her in as an almost definite no vote.

Sen. Rene Gacia, also a Miami Republican, announced his opposition just before the vote, leading to a 6-4 tally against Stargel’s bill.

Stargel’s provision also had been lumped into Steube’s “courthouse carry” measure, so consistent voting logic didn’t bode well for its hearing later in the committee.

But there were two other provisions included in the “courthouse carry” bill that might’ve appealed to those in favor of tighter gun control: a resolution-like Senate position asking the federal government to revisit bump stocks and a provision for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to forward failed background checks for gun purchases to local law enforcement for further investigation.

A representative from Florida Carry, a pro-gun group, lauded Steube for his efforts, but ultimately did not support the “courthouse carry” bill because of the provision about further investigation of failed background checks.

Before the vote, Garcia again voiced his dissent, but not without expressing his usual support for the Second Amendment.

“I for one have always, for the most part, supported the Second Amendment right and I do not believe that we should take the right of gun owners away,” Garcia said. He then cited the bill’s lack of addressing mental health as his reason for dissent.

With failure of his bill all but certain, Steube closed by pointing out the straw man tactics voiced by those opposing the “courthouse carry” measure, reiterating that the policy would only apply to concealed-carry permit holders. The committee had heard compelling arguments from both sides of the gun issue, with gun control supporters citing mass shootings.

“Nothing in this bill certainly allows people to purchase firearms that aren’t legally allowed purchase firearms,” the Sarasota Republican said. He also said none of the recent mass shootings involved concealed-carry permit holders. (The Violence Policy Center completed research on the number of shootings by concealed-carry permit holders.)

But Steube’s argument was to no avail, and “courthouse carry” died by a 6-4 vote.

The committee had postponed the bill’s hearing in November. Last year, it passed the measure in a 5-4 vote after Steube pledged not to expand the bill.

But it had failed, as the Miami Herald reported, when House Democrats traded its failure in a promise to kill a priority of Senate President Joe Negron.

Florida-based national coalition Campaign to Defend Local Solutions, a leading advocate for home rule, said Steube’s bill was the “latest in a series of heavy-handed preemption bills moving through the Florida Legislature in recent years.”

“This is a bipartisan victory for public safety and common-sense local solutions,” said campaign manager Michael Alfano in a statement. “Now, out-of-touch Tallahassee politicians won’t decide into which buildings guns are allowed – local communities will decide for themselves.”

The other bill heard Tuesday, Steube’s SB 148, would’ve provided for concealed-carry permit holders to not be criminalized for temporary or accidental display of their weapon, but that failed in a tie.

Lobby up: TIKD hires Ballard Partners for traffic ticket ‘food fight’

In what’s shaping up to be one of the 2018 Legislative Session’s “food fights,” an upstart Miami firm has hired Ballard PartnersBrian Ballard and Mat Forrest.

It’s not so much a traditional food fight as usually riles the Capitol halls, but a David and Goliath battle of the “status quo” versus a “market disrupter.”

The disrupter is TIKD Holdings, which will – get this – fight your speeding tickets for you in court.

“Users … pay a one-time fee that’s always less than the original ticket,” CNN explains. TIKD then “goes to court in your place.”

“… If you get points on your license, you’ll get a refund and TIKD will also pay for the original ticket,” the CNN story adds. “The company says it has saved customers more than $100,000 in fines and nearly $4 million in avoided insurance costs.”

TIKD launched this year and already has helped over 5,000 people, the company says.

Here’s the problem: “TIKD is not a law firm, but instead uses independent lawyers to resolve the tickets at a cost that is 15 to 20 percent less than the ticket fee,” a Miami Herald story says.

TIKD founder Chris Riley, a U.S. Navy commander-turned entrepreneur, told TBO.com he “got the idea for TIKD after he was caught going a few miles over the speed limit in Miami and was hit with hundreds of dollars in fines and costs.”

With success comes notoriety: The Florida Bar soon opened an “unlicensed practice of law” investigation into the company after it was featured in the Miami Herald story.

“A few months later, attorneys with The Ticket Clinic, a Miami firm that also handles traffic tickets, threatened to report two of TIKD’s lawyers to the Bar if they continued to work with the new company,” the TBO story said.

“Bar staffers issued an opinion suggesting that lawyers who worked with programs like TIKD’s could be in violation of Bar ethics rules,” it added.

TIKD has since filed suit against The Bar in federal court in South Florida. In the latest development, The Bar on Tuesday moved “to disqualify its former president Ramon Abadin” from representing TIKD, according to the Daily Business Review.

The Bar argues “that during his 2015-16 term, Abadin ‘was provided attorney-client and attorney work-product communications and advice about and involving the specific antitrust issues and allegations asserted in this action.’ ”

Stay tuned to this one.

Florida Democratic Party: Jack Latvala ‘must resign’ 

The Florida Democratic Party now says Sen. Jack Latvala “must resign” in light of “the numerous allegations of sexual harassment against” him.

Latvala

The party released a statement Tuesday through its spokeswoman, Johanna Cervone. It follows calls from fellow GOP senators also calling for him to, or suggesting that he, step down from office.

“Latvala’s behavior is unacceptable and there is no place for it in our government or our state,” Cervone said. “Using a position of power to harass, touch, demean and pressure women—or anyone else—is wrong, plain and simple.

“Now, Latvala’s smear campaign against (Senate aide) Rachel Perrin Rogers has resulted in her needing armed security. He must resign.”

Hours later, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum released his own statement calling on the powerful senator to resign.

“His intimidation of a sexual harassment victim is repulsive and disgusting, as is his alleged behavior,” Gillum said.

“I believe these women, and we need Florida’s Capitol to be a welcoming place for all people — not a place where sexual harassment victims need police protection.”

Latvala responded to those calls on social media, reasserting his innocence and saying he will “keep fighting.”

POLITICO Florida reported on Nov. 3 that six women—Perrin Rogers says one of them is her—accused Latvala of sexually harassing and groping them. The others remain anonymous.

Perrin Rogers, 35, is a top aide to state Sen. Wilton Simpson, a Trilby Republican who is expected to become Senate President for 2020-22, assuming the GOP maintains its majority.

She filed a grievance with the Senate Rules Committee in early November, and two Senate investigations now are pending into Latvala’s alleged misconduct. They include claims of sexual assault and sexual and verbal harassment.

Perrin Rogers said there were unwelcome sexual comments about her clothes, breasts and legs. She says the 66-year-old Latvala accosted her in a state Capitol elevator, brushing her breast and trying to touch her groin.

Meantime, Perrin Rogers requested a security guard while in the Capitol out of concern for her safety.

“Instead of taking steps to discourage this behavior, (Senate President) Joe Negron‘s mishandling of the complaint filed against Latvala has resulted in an environment where women continue to feel unsafe and afraid to come forward,” Cervone added.

“Anyone who is guilty of using their power to harass or compromise women should resign immediately.”

Hutson

Sen. Travis Hutson, a St. Augustine Republican who chairs the Regulated Industries Committee, also is calling for Latvala to quit the Senate “so that we do not have to deal with this problem anymore,” he told POLITICO Florida.

In that same story, Sen. Debbie Mayfield, a Rockledge Republican, said “it might be better for him, and his family and the Senate if he considered stepping down.”

And Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Miami Democrat, said Monday that “serious rules” are needed to make sure powerful senators like Latvala stop making a “mockery of serious allegations.”

“Without independent investigation or serious rules, persons in power will game the system, intimidate victims and make a mockery of serious allegations, exactly as Senator Latvala is doing,” Rodriguez said in a statement.

Public union dues-or-recertification bill passes House panel

Note: An earlier version of this story inaccurately reported the vote of state Rep. Chris Latvala.

After facing down Democrats’ harsh questioning of the bill’s intentions, a Florida House committee voted nearly along party lines Tuesday to approve a measure to require most public employees’ unions to meet a dues-paying threshold or face recertification.

The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Scott Plakon, an Altamonte Springs Republican, was passed by the House Government Accountability Committee by a 14-9 vote, and now heads to the floor of the House of Representatives. State Rep. Chris Latvala of Clearwater joined eight Democrats in opposing.

Plakon pushed House Bill 25 as he did a similar bill in the last Legislative Session, and another in 2011, as a means to assure transparency, democracy, and accountability in unions representing teachers, government laborers, and others in public sector workers.

He argued there are unions, though he would not name any, that have seen their rolls of dues-paying wither, to the point where he said he understands some have as little as 3 percent or less of the workers they represent paying dues as fully-engaged members.

But Democrats on the committee, notably state Reps. Joseph Abruzzo of Boynton Beach, Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando, Matt Willhite of Wellington, Barbara Watson of Miami Gardens, Kristin Diane Jacobs of Coconut Creek, and Newt Newton of St. Petersburg, peppered Plakon with questions  about why that would be considered a problem in a right-to-work state in which members are not required to pay dues, and where all members eventually must vote on contracts. In debate, they essentially charged Plakon with sponsoring a bill pushing for union busting.

Abruzzo, a former Florida senator, predicted the prospect that HB 25 might be stopped the same place Plakon’s last attempt was stopped, by a Florida Senate unwilling to go there.

Not including Chairman Matt Caldwell‘s occasional admonishments of Democrats’ questions as being out of order, the two-hour proceeding entirely was a forum carried by Democrats on one side, and Plakon and representatives of the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Americans For Prosperity on the other.

HB 25 would require public employees unions [exempting police and firefighters’ unions] to annually report to the Florida Public Employees Relations Commission how many workers are in each bargaining unit, and how many of them actually pay dues.

Any union that reports dues-paying members as less than 50 percent of the bargaining unit must be re-certified as a union in order to continue to exist. That would require new petitions with at least 30 percent of all workers signatures, followed by an election, or else the commission would revoke the union’s standing.

Plakon denied that the bill was anti-union, but rather about making sure the unions stayed accountable enough to its members to assure that a majority of them were satisfied enough to pay dues. He also argued that if such small percentages as 3 percent of workers are engaged in a union, then that union might not be bothering to represent the rest. He also argued that individual workers might be able to negotiate individual deals better than union contracts would provide.

“HB 25 is a simple bill, just a few pages long, which is about transparency, democracy and accountability,” Plakon said.

Yet Smith questioned whether there was any reason to assume that members who do not pay dues are unhappy with the union, or just financially strapped. Willhite, a firefighters’ union member, questioned why a right-to-work state that guarantees that union members do not have to pay dues suddenly is trying to regulate unions based on whether members are actually paying those dues. Abruzzo questioned if, as Plakon contended, the state lacks data on dues-paying, whether he would be willing to simply require reporting, not decertification. Newton, a former St. Petersburg city commissioner, questioned why the accountability isn’t recognized when unions give all its members the right to vote on union contracts.

“It’s the premise of the bill that I find so frustrating… to have the conversation that equates the ability to pay money to whether or not you support something,” Jacobs said.

Plakon held his ground, arguing that the bill would finally reveal which unions had significantly high or low percentages of dues-paying participation among its members, and that it would set a standard for them to meet, with the teeth of decertification, in order to continue to represent those workers. He contended some unions already are trying harder to appeal to workers to get them to pay dues,, and said the bill would allow all workers to have their voices heard.

“If you believe unions should not be subject to greater transparency and democratic principals like this, then, it sounds like I’ll have some no votes,” Plakon said. “But if you believe as I do that public sector unions should have to operate in a transparent fashion, by this report, and under time-honored democratic principals, where majority rules so to speak, where, the union is, yes, getting a nudge to be more responsive to its members, then you should vote yes on this bill.”

Senate advances slavery memorial, but not before committee chair defends initial opposition

Legislation calling for a memorial honoring those who suffered from slavery in Florida advanced unanimously through a Senate committee Tuesday.

But first, Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee chair Dennis Baxley explained why he was always for the bill, even though he voted against it last Session.

The bill (SB 286) will recognize the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality and inhumanity of slavery in the U.S. and its colonies, including Florida, explained St. Petersburg Democrat Darryl Rouson, the bill’s sponsor in the Legislature’s upper chamber.

“And to honor the nameless and forgotten men and women and children who have gone unrecognized for their undeniable and weighty contributions to this state and country,” Rouson told his colleagues serving on the committee.

The bill calls for the Department of Management Services to develop a specific plan for the design, placement, and cost of the memorial and submits the plan to the Governor and Legislature.

The bill has zoomed through various House committees this fall, as it did during the regular 2017 session earlier this year. But it was Baxley who stalled it in the Senate earlier this year, saying he objected to the title of the bill, “the Florida Slavery Memorial.”

The descendant of a Confederate soldier, Baxley said in April that he had objected to the bill because he didn’t want to “celebrate defeat,” a comment he retracted in a later interview with the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board.

During his tenure in the Legislature, the Ocala Republican has been a champion of the Confederacy. He fought a bill that sought to ban flying the Confederate flag on government property, opposed a memorial to fallen Union soldiers at a state park that has three monuments to Confederates, disputed the removal of a Confederate general Edmund Kirby Smith‘s statute from the U.S. Capitol and tried to keep colleagues from eliminating the offensive word “darkeys” from the chorus of the state song, “The Swanee River.”

But he took a different approach on Tuesday, saying he never opposed the monument.

“My concern last year was that I really wanted to focus on the people who endured slavery rather than the institution itself,” he told Rouson and his committee. “And I would like to honor people, rather than being about the institution. “

Baxley said he thought that Rouson had given him a good explanation about the memorial’s intent and that would be the content of the monument “to my satisfaction, and I think of others.” He thanked Rouson for working with him with a level of mutual respect, “rather than raining down fire on me.”

The bill is being sponsored in the House by Democrat Kionne McGhee.

Jay Fant bill targets governmental ‘discriminatory actions’ against businesses

Rep. Jay Fant, a Jacksonville Republican who is running for Attorney General, filed what he calls the “Free Enterprise Protection Act” on Tuesday.

HB 871 would prevent “discriminatory action” by any governmental entity in the state against businesses.

The bill, per a press release from Fant’s AG campaign, is timed to coincide with the U.S. Supreme Court hearing oral arguments on a “Colorado wedding cake baker declining to make a unique wedding cake celebrating gay marriage because it was against his religious beliefs as a Christian.

Fant asserted that case “should make small businesses in Florida and everywhere worry about just how far government is allowed to go to regulate the free speech of private industry. I filed the ‘Free Enterprise Protection Act’ today to ensure that Florida business owners are protected from government sanctions and penalties when they are exercising their first amendment rights, whether through their speech or their work as an artisan, as in the case of the wedding cake baker.”

“The government simply should not force business owners to create things they do not want to create. The more and more regulations that are handed down from government, the less and less freedom we have,” Fant added.

Fant said the bill would “guarantee government cannot act in a discriminatory way toward a business by using their force through the assessment of taxes, penalties or any other means to bankrupt or harm a business when they are exercising their First Amendment rights.”

He also said discriminatory action would include attempts by government to “alter the tax treatment” of businesses, which would include imposing penalties against them for crimes unlisted in the legislation as filed.

It would also include attempts to deny or revoke a business’s exemption from taxation, as well as withholding or denying a business’s “access or entitlement” to property, including “speech forums.”

The bill would also prohibit governments in Florida from discriminating against “internal policies” of businesses, as well as the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion.

Fant’s bill, if passed, could be used as a springboard to challenge local laws that conflict with rights enumerated in the bill, including Jacksonville’s own Human Rights Ordinance.

The HRO, as it is called locally, was expanded in 2016 to include LGBT people, protecting their rights in the workplace, in the housing market, and in public accommodations, such as restrooms and locker rooms.

Fant told Jacksonville Republicans earlier this year that Mayor Lenny Curry could have done more to stop that bill, which was approved by 2/3 of the City Council, from becoming law.

Worth noting: Curry endorsed Rep. Frank White over Fant for Attorney General.

Both White and Curry employ Tim Baker and Brian Hughes as political consultants.

Stop prosecuting kids as adults, advocates say

Miguel Rodriguez is only 24, but he already lost nearly a decade of his life to the criminal justice system.

He attended a Tuesday press conference at the Capitol to argue for changes to the way Florida prosecutes juvenile offenders, including what’s known as the direct-file process, in which some minors are charged and handled in adult court.

Rodriguez was prosecuted as an adult when he was 15, he says, for breaking into and vandalizing a vacant house in his Tampa neighborhood with a group of high school friends.

His odyssey through the system includes being sent to prison at 20 for three years for violating his curfew—because he ran late leaving his job at a restaurant.

“We didn’t think we were hurting anybody,” Rodriguez told Florida Politics of his original arrest. “And we didn’t understand the consequences.”

Legislation filed for the 2018 Legislative Session (SB 936, HB 509) aims to reform the system, in part by limiting the ability of prosecutors to put teens into the adult justice system, requiring demographic and other information on who gets charged statewide, and allowing minors to ask for a hearing before a judge “to determine whether (they) shall remain in adult court.”

“These are people who maybe have made a mistake, but we still want to give them an opportunity to contribute to society,” said state Sen. Bobby Powell, a West Palm Beach Democrat who is sponsoring his chamber’s bill. Rep. Sean Shaw, a Tampa Democrat, is behind the House version.

The measures will have an uphill slog through The Process. Powell said he and other proponents have had “many, many meetings” over the seven years some form of the legislation has been introduced. But “we haven’t gotten to the place where the prosecutors agree with everything,” Powell said.

Buddy Jacobs, longtime lobbyist for the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association, couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.

“About 98 percent of the more than 7,600 children prosecuted in Florida’s adult courts  since 2011 were transferred at the sole discretion of a prosecutor, without a hearing before a judge,” says a report by No Place for A Child, a coalition of right- and left-leaning groups in favor of overhauling the system.

Rodriguez said he’s moving on with his life, planning on getting certified as a paralegal and going to college in Maryland.

“I’m at peace with my circumstances but there’s a spirit of revenge that lives on about what happened to me,” he said. “But to fight back, I use the pen, not the sword. It’s by sharing my story, to make sure what happened to me doesn’t happen to others.”

A Periscope video of Tuesday’s press conference is below:

Next House Democrat Leader: ‘Don’t underestimate the power of the donkey’

After Florida House Democrats formally designated him as their next leader on Tuesday, state Rep. Kionne McGhee asked fellow Democrats in the Republican-controlled chamber to stay hopeful and not “underestimate the power of the donkey.”

“I am here to tell you on this day, in this defining moment, that we are the party of the donkey. We cannot underestimate the power of the donkey,” McGhee told a House floor filled with Democrats, family members and friends.

McGhee promised to end partisan “bickering,” adding that he did not come to Tallahassee to fight with the Republican Party of Florida — that’s a task that will be saved for Election Day, he said.

“Instead we came to Tallahassee to fight for that common ground that so many of us have seen and envisioned ourselves in that role to do,” he said.

McGhee, a former prosecutor from Miami whose challenges as a child included poverty, the murder of two family members, will replace Rep. Janet Cruz, a Tampa Democrat who is the current House Democratic Leader. He will lead the House Democrats during the 2018-20 legislative term.

McGhee was narrowly elected in March with a 23-17 vote, beating Fort Lauderdale Democrat Bobby Dubose.

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