Dana Young – Page 7 – Florida Politics

Franchisee bill squeaks by first Senate panel

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee narrowly voted in favor of a bill Tuesday that aims to put franchisees on a level playing field with their franchisor.

SB 1076, known as the “Small Business Parity Act,” would shield business owners from restrictions on selling their franchises or passing them on to an heir, and would give franchisees the right to fight legal disputes against the corporate brand in Florida court and under Florida law.

The bill would also block brands from yanking away a franchise without “good cause,” which the bill says includes the owner being convicted of a felony or the bulk of the franchise’s assets being signed over to a creditor.

Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Steube is sponsoring the bill, which was originally carried by Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala, who resigned his Senate seat before the 2018 Legislative Session.

Members were split on the bill after hearing from many business groups who said the proposal was an overreach seeking to put the state in the middle of private contracts.

The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, Americans for Prosperity, the Florida Retail Federation, and individual brands from McDonalds to Pinch A Penny came out against the bill on the grounds that franchisees and franchisors are already capable of hammering out their own agreements.

“Nobody forces anyone to sign a contract … it’s contract 101, you learn that in the first year of law school,” said lobbyist Ron Book, who represents franchise brand 7-Eleven.

Business groups also contended the bill would create an uneven business climate among franchisees by putting new franchise agreements into a different class from old ones – the bill states only new or renewed agreements would operate under the rules.

Matt Holmes, who owns four Firehouse Subs franchises in Tallahassee, said if franchise agreements seem tough, that’s because the franchisor is looking out for all stakeholders, including other franchisees who thrive on a brand maintaining a good reputation.

“What’s made us successful over the years is that we’ve had a franchisor whose held us to a high standard and held other franchisees to a high standard,” he said.

If Firehouse didn’t do that, he said people wouldn’t stop at his shops when they pass through Tallahassee.

Still, proponents say the bill isn’t aimed at smacking companies that develop good and mutually beneficial franchisor-franchisee relationships, but some others that have proven to be bad actors.

Miami attorney Leon Hirzel said he’s been on a few cases where franchisors have pulled the rug out from under a franchisee, either to make a quick buck pulling in another franchise fee or, more nefariously, because after the owner has built up the name and stature of their franchise, corporate doesn’t think they need to keep them around anymore.

When that happens, Hirzel said “the franchisor gets to take back all the good will of the business, and the franchisee gets little to nothing” due to equipment or other large capital outlays being depreciated to, on paper, worthlessness over a handful of year.

“Franchisors who want to treat their franchisees fairly have nothing to worry about under this bill,” he said. “This bill does, however, require franchisors to respect the investments franchisees make.”

That sentiment was shared by Henry Patel, a member of the City of Miami’s code enforcement and tourism development boards and past chair of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association.

“This bill addresses bad apples, not good ones,” he said, adding that he would gladly “buy a Marriott or Hilton,” but stressing that not all franchisors are as fair to owner-operators as premier brands.

Dady & Gardner attorney Jeff Haff said franchisors also keep a couple gotchas up their sleeves, such as requiring franchisees agree to comply with “operations manuals” that can run from 80 to 1,000 pages and be amended at any time. The kicker: Many brands won’t hand over the tome before the prospective franchisee signs on the dotted line.

In the end, the bill passed 5-4, with a couple of the yea votes coming from Senators whose support was tenuous at best.

Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young said she was “torn” on the issue, because she wants to “look out for the little guy,” but the breadth of the bill would make it unpalatable if it came to the floor in its current form.

Democratic Sen. Perry Thurston also dreaded the implications it could have for contracts already in place, but said something needs to be done about how franchisees are treated when they break up with their brand.

“We’re not talking about the marriage with this bill, we’re talking about the divorce,” he said before voting in the affirmative.

Jacksonville Democratic Sen. Audrey Gibson, however, said the bill wasn’t ready for primetime. She said even one bad experience with a franchise, from inconsistency in staff friendliness to the comfort of a mattress, has led her to write off a chain for good, and franchisors should have the latitude they desire to keep the customer experience at a high standard.

Despite questions on the bill’s future, Coalition of Franchisee Associations Vice Chair Terry Hutchinson its passage in a statement released Tuesday night, calling the bill “a major step in the right direction for Florida’s small businesses.”

“We applaud Senator Steube for his leadership in sponsoring this good bill and for the members of the Senate that voted for the bill today. As a Florida franchise owner and Vice Chairman of the Coalition of Franchisee Associations and on behalf of the 40,000 small franchise operations in our state, I am proud of our legislators for taking action to level the playing field and protect Florida small businesses and jobs.“

SB 1076 now moves on to the Judiciary Committee and, if successful, the Rules Committee.

The House version of the bill, HB 1219 by Fort Myers Republican Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, has not yet been heard in committee.

Accountability measure advances in Senate

Legislation that would provide transparency and accountability provisions for publicly-funded economic development agencies and tourism promotion agencies advanced in a Florida Senate committee Monday afternoon, thanks to an amendment added to the bill (SB 1714) by the sponsor, Gainesville Republican Keith Perry.

The transparency bill would would require local tourism agencies that receive more than $30 million in locally collected tourism development taxes to undergo an audit every other year. Those that receive less than $30 million in local tax revenue will be subject to random audits every two years.

The bill was introduced in the House months ago by Speaker Richard Corcoran, who filed a lawsuit last year to reveal the once-secret $1 million deal VISIT FLORIDA made with Miami rapper Pitbull. 

The secrecy of that deal deal prompted Gov. Rick Scott to ask then-VISIT FLORIDA President and CEO Will Seccombe to resign. The governor also suggested new transparency standards that required the agency to post all 1,400 of its vendor contracts.

Representatives from various tourist boards through the state had earlier registered their opposition, such as Visit Tampa Bay CEO Santiago Corrada, who contacted members of the Tampa Downtown Partnership in recent days and urged them to oppose the legislation. Corrada says the passage of the bill would “drastically impair our ability to bring visitors to each of our areas.”

But Perry produced a late amendment that appeared to address many of the concerns of the local tourism industry.

Tampa Republican Dana Young said that there was a “significant” reliance on Visit Tampa Bay to bring tourism to the region, so it was extremely important that the legislation be crafted properly, so while it provides full transparency, it does not “handcuff” the local agencies to where they are no longer competitive with other states.

“Who are not going to stop doing what they’re doing because we change our rules,” Young added, “so we have to make sure that we don’t (make) a very dire mistake.”

Naples Republican Kathleen Passidomo said it was unfortunate that the “good” tourist agencies and economic development agencies in the state had to be negatively affected by the bad actors, and specifically said she had a concern with “micromanaging” such agencies.

Laura Youmans, a representative of the Florida Association of Counties, said the changes made to the bill Monday resolved all of their concerns regarding tourism development. They continue to have some issues with the economic development part of the legislation.

Perry repeatedly said that the bill was still a work in progress, and—with several more stops before it hits the Senate floor—he assured committee members that he would continue to refine the economic development portion of the legislation as he had with the tourist development part.

trauma centers

Trauma center legislation begins its annual trek

A House bill that would do away with the limit on the number of trauma centers in Florida unanimously cleared its first committee Monday.

Trumbull

The bill (HB 1165), sponsored by Republican state Rep. Jay Trumbull of Panama City, was OK’d on a 15-0 vote in the Health Quality Subcommittee.

The statewide total of trauma centers is now capped at 44; there are currently 34 in operation, Trumbull said.

Trumbull’s bill, which passed the House and died in the Senate last year, in part aims to stem the flow of litigation against the state’s Department of Health, charged with reviewing the need for new centers and approving them.

Almost every time a new application is filed, the department is hit with some kind of litigation, usually from neighboring hospitals that already operate a trauma center.

Those in favor of the measure, including hospitals that want to open new centers, say the growing number of Florida’s residents and visitors justifies the need for more centers.

Opponents, generally those already operating trauma centers, said opening more centers would put a strain on the availability of trauma surgeons and would dilute the pool of patients.

This year’s bill also “creates a statutory minimum need for trauma centers” based on population, a staff analysis explains.

“Current law contemplates that each of the 19 TSAs (trauma service areas) have at least one trauma center,” it says. “Under the provisions of the bill, a TSA with a population of at least 1.25 million is deemed to need at least two trauma centers. A TSA with a population of more than 2.5 million is deemed to need at least four trauma centers.”

The Health Department “retains the authority to allocate the number of trauma centers needed in each TSA, and the bill specifically authorizes (the department) to allocate additional trauma centers above the minimum need established in the bill.”

A Senate companion (SB 1876) carried by Sen. Dana Young cleared the first of its four committees last week. It would cap trauma centers statewide at 35.

Despite Seminole concerns, fantasy sports bill ready in Senate

A Senate bill to exempt fantasy sports play from state gambling regulation cleared its last committee this week, making it available for the floor.

But there are still big ‘if’s that could blow up the gambling exclusivity deal, known as the Seminole Compact, between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

Here’s the staff analysis: “If fantasy contests permitted under the bill constitute gaming, are considered Class III (i.e., Vegas-style) gaming under federal law, and constitute, under the Compact, new Class III gaming in Florida, (then) the payments due to the State under the Compact could end when fantasy contests begin to be offered for public or private use.”

It’s not spare change: More than $382 million to the state from Seminole casino gambling is predicted for next fiscal year. Around 3 million Floridians play some sort of fantasy sports, advocates say.

Sen. Tom Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican, brought up those worries at the bill’s (SB 374) Rules Committee hearing Thursday, mentioning gaming concerns’ continual efforts to find loopholes in state gambling law.

“It gets you focused in on what you’re doing is written tightly enough that someone can’t drive a truck through it,” he told bill sponsor Dana Young of Tampa. “Because this industry owns a lot of trucks.”

Young had an easy answer: Fantasy sports play isn’t the kind of game—like slots and table games—that violates the Compact’s exclusivity provision.

She’s previously provided a legal memo contending fantasy play doesn’t “constitute an online bet or gamble.” Fantasy players pick teams of real-life athletes and vie for cash and other prizes based on how those athletes do in actual games.

The Tribe, however, sent a letter warning lawmakers that fantasy sports bills filed for the 2018 Legislative Session, if approved, would violate the Seminole Compact. An identical House measure (HB 223) by Sanford Republican Jason Brodeur has cleared one of its three committees so far.

A 2006 federal law banned online gambling but specifically exempted fantasy sports, paving the way for the creation of the niche industry that’s exploded in popularity. DraftKings and FanDuel are the two biggest in the field.

Opponents have pointed to a 27-year-old opinion by then-Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth. It says “operation of a fantasy sports league” violates state gambling law. Such opinions don’t have the force of law, but can be used to persuade judges.

“You feel comfortable we’re on safe ground here?” Lee asked. “Yes,” Young said.

She added that the state’s fantasy sports players “are in a gray area where they potentially could be engaging in a criminal enterprise … I don’t see any risk to” the legislation.

Lee, along with Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, eventually voted against the bill.

Fantasy sports bill moves along in House

The House panel charged with handling gambling issues unanimously OK’d a bill to exempt fantasy sports play from state gambling regulation.

The House Tourism and Gaming Control Subcommittee cleared the measure (HB 223) with little debate on Tuesday.

One representative, Republican Randy Fine of Brevard County, voted for the bill despite his belief that fantasy sports play was “gambling.”

Brodeur

Not so, said bill sponsor Jason Brodeur, a Sanford Republican. Playing fantasy sports is no different than a “fishing tournament” or a “dog show,” suggesting one needs talent to win. Around 3 million Floridians say they play some sort of fantasy sports.

In the online games, players pick teams of real-life athletes and vie for cash and other prizes based on how those athletes do in actual games.

Lawmakers have struggled with fantasy sports in recent legislative sessions, ultimately letting measures die. Brodeur filed a similar bill last Session.

Also, a 1991 opinion by then-Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth says “operation of a fantasy sports league” violates state gambling law. Such opinions don’t have the force of law, but can be used to persuade judges.

A 2006 federal law banned online gambling but specifically exempted fantasy sports, paving the way for the creation of the niche industry that has since exploded in popularity. Several states continue to grapple with whether the games are mere entertainment or a form of illegal sports betting.

More recently, the Seminole Tribe of Florida told lawmakers that fantasy sports bills filed for the 2018 Legislative Session, if passed, would violate the Seminole Compact.

That’s the gambling agreement struck by the state and the Seminoles that, among other things, promises them exclusive rights to certain games. In return, the Tribe pays the state over $200 million a year. If the deal is broken, the breach enables the Tribe to cease payments.

Brodeur’s bill now moves to the Ways & Means Committee. 

Sen. Dana Young, a Tampa Republican, filed her own fantasy sports bill (SB 374) for the 2018 Legislative Session. It must clear the Rules Committee before being available on the floor.

Pirates got me thinking: The Gasparilla parade and Florida politics

There’s one event for which this proud St. Petersburg native will always cross the bridge.

It’s Robert and Nancy Watkins‘ party, held in conjunction with the Children’s Gasparilla Extravaganza, an alcohol-free event celebrating the pirates’ return to Tampa Bay.

Gasparilla is an annual celebration that began in 1904. Held each year in late January or early February, it celebrates the legend of José Gaspar (Gasparilla), a mythical Spanish pirate who supposedly operated in Southwest Florida. There is the main parade one weekend and a night parade held the following week. But to kick it all off, there is the family-friendly children’s parade.

To those who may not know them — and very few people operating in Florida politics DON’T know them — Robert and Nancy may be two of the most essential players in the state’s political universe.

Through their South Tampa accounting firm moves tens (if not hundreds) of millions in political contributions and expenditures. Additionally, Nancy serves as treasurer for dozens of candidates and committees. Among her too-many-to-name Florida clients are several A-list members of Congress and the Florida Legislature.

As we have the past five years, my wife, daughter, and I gladly accepted an invitation to view the parade from the Watkins’ beautiful home. And while my daughter was there for the beads and the floats, I attended for the politics, as the party draws many of Tampa Bay’s leading politicos.

With Bloody Mary in hand most of the day, my conversations with those participating were not for attribution. Nevertheless, I was able to glean several insights into state and local politics.

But first, a quick note about two of the children at the parade.

The first is about Lizzy Brandes, the amazing seven-year-old recently adopted by Natalie and Jeff Brandes. I say “amazing” because that’s precisely what she is. She is so much more acclimated to American life than what you could believe can happen in such a short period.

And think about, Lizzy knows nothing about our traditions, like a parade idolizing a mythical pirate. Think about how that must look through her eyes. Yet there she was, catching beads with the best of them.

The second note is about Maverick Griffin, the surprise addition to Melanie and Mike Griffin‘s lives. He’s just as cool in person as his name would suggest and it’s just incredible to see Melanie and Mike, perhaps the city’s best known young professional couple, embrace parenthood with as much enthusiasm as they have the other aspects of their lives.

Now, on to politics.

First and foremost, the attitude of the decidedly Republican crowd was less celebratory than it was in 2017. Last year, the party took place at about the same time as Donald Trump‘s inauguration and so there were plenty of folks sporting red “Make American Great Again” hats. This year, however, with the parade taking place just hours after the federal government officially shut down, there were very few, if any, outspoken supporters of the president.

Speaking of which, it’s astonishing to think of the transition one guest has made since I last blogged about the Watkins’ Gasparilla party.

I’m referring, of course, to former U.S. Rep. David Jolly.

Two years ago, Jolly held a sizable lead over his rivals for the Republican nomination for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat. Today, he is among the most prominent critics of Trump. In fact, he may be THE most prominent Florida-based Trump critic.

It remains to be seen what Jolly will do in 2018 and beyond. I doubt he runs for office. And I know Jolly would like to book a full-time gig with a cable network. But can he make that happen?

Jolly also had an impressive set of comments about the #NeverTrump movement. He spoke about what will happen AFTER the fever breaks. And about how those Republicans who did not stand up to Trump may be judged. I agree with the former congressman that reckoning will come for the Paul Ryans of the world who not only did not stand up to Trump, but enabled him.

He’s not exactly a #NeverTrump’er, but he’s close enough: Will Weatherford was missing from the Watkins’ party, although his lovely wife, Courtney, stopped by.

I guess Will’s just too busy making money in the private sector to stop what he’s doing for a parade.

State Sens. Jeff Brandes and Dana Young both made appearances Saturday.

While Brandes has yet to draw a Democratic opponent, Young learned last week that Bob Buesing would run against her again in 2018.

In a way, Brandes and Young’s fates are intertwined. It’s like that Florida Democrats do not have the resources to fund a candidate against both Brandes and Young, so now that Buesing is in against Young, Brandes may be closer to being off-the-hook.

Yet the upside for Young is higher than it is for Brandes: if she can get past Buesing, she has a better-than-even-money chance to be the first female Senate president in decades. There’s no doubt Young faces a stiff challenge from Buesing, but I think the book on him is still the same as it was in 2016, no matter how much the political environment has changed. He’s a smart man and, by all accounts, a solid lawyer and valuable member of the community.

But is he a good politician?

Young, meanwhile, has beat back everything opponents have ever thrown at her. And if she could beat the late Stacey Frank in 2010, I wager she’ll be able to get by Buesing this year.

Hard at work on the campaign trail is political consultant Anthony Pedicini, who is always one of the first to arrive at the Watkins party. He also brings much of his extended, parade-loving family to the event. And they’re great.

Of course, Pedicini spent much of the day on the phone, working on the special election in House District 72. Pedicini and his partner, Tom Piccolo, are on a tear, winning one special election after another in 2017-2018. But there’s something afoot in HD 72, despite advantages Republicans hold in that seat.

For several reasons, Democrats are excited about Margaret Good‘s chances in this seat. They’re raising serious money, although Republican James Buchanan is too. For some time, the fur has been flying in this race (no doubt part of what Pedicini was working Saturday), so keep this contest on your radar.

Finally, if there is one takeaway I want to impart about Saturday, it’s about how, um, interested Bob Buckhorn might be … could be … in the running for, um, Florida Governor … in 2018.

Hizzoner always comes to the Watkins party after working the parade route and, even more so than in years past; he was a man in full. Buckhorn knows what kind of job he’s done in Tampa and really, really would like to do the same for Florida.

I joked with him about how great it would be if he could give a speech years from now and say “Florida has its swagger back” just the way he was able to say the same thing about Tampa.

Lobbyist Ana Cruz and I spent thirty minutes practically begging Buckhorn to reconsider not running in 2018, primarily since John Morgan — who would’ve clogged the same lane Buckhorn would run in — has taken himself out of the running.

Buckhorn’s problem is that while he would almost certainly do well in a general election, he would struggle to escape the identity-based politics of the Democratic nomination. It probably won’t be the year for another middle-aged white guy — no matter how great his story — and Buckhorn’s story in Tampa is great. That is a damn shame. Because, in Buckhorn, you can literally see the same appeal Joe Biden has at the national level.

There is at least one upshot to Buckhorn not running in 2018. We’ll be able to see him swagger down Bayshore Boulevard one last time in 2019.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn greets a boy along the parade route of the 2018 Children’s Gasparilla Experience.

Democrat Bob Buesing wants rematch against Dana Young for state Senate seat

Tampa attorney Bob Buesing will again challenge Republican Dana Young in Senate District 18

The 64-year-old Buesing lost to the 53-year-old Young by seven points in 2016, but that was not a one-on-one matchup.

Adult club entrepreneur and progressive activist Joe Redner ran an aggressive campaign (mostly against Young) as well, and finished a distant third with nearly ten percent of the vote.

Although Buesing and other Hillsborough Democrats denied that Redner’s presence would be a drag on his candidacy, Buesing admitted in a brief interview with Florida Politics last week that in fact he had been.

Redner has already announced his support for Buesing in 2018.

Whether Buesing can beat Young in a straight-up matchup remains to be seen, but Buesing says he is confident that with a surge of intensity amongst Democrats, he can be successful.

Young has a substantial head start in fundraising. She now has $160,418 in her campaign for Senate account, and an additional $690,595 in her political committee, Friends of Dana Young.

Between her own campaign contributions and her political committee, Young raised more than $2 million in 2016, while Buesing took in more than $500,000 on his own. His PAC, Floridians for Early Education, raised another $133,000.

The race between the three candidates was intense in 2016, and Buesing seems ready for that same level of intensity  this year. Although he was unavailable for comment on Wednesday, he told Florida Politics last summer that “it is interesting that she only got 48 percent of the vote after spending millions and millions of dollars on a false attack smear campaign.” B

District 18 covers much of Tampa and western unincorporated Hillsborough County.

 

Greyhound steroids ban moves in Senate

A bill to ban all uses of steroids in racing dogs has cleared a key Senate panel.

The Regulated Industries Committee, which generally gets first crack at gambling-related bills, OK’d the measure (SB 674) 7-2 on Wednesday.

State regulations now allow use only of a “low-dose, non-performance enhancing” form of testosterone in greyhounds, and only as birth control, according to Florida Greyhound Association (FGA) lawyer-lobbyist Jeff Kottkamp, a former Florida lieutenant governor.

Bill sponsor Dana Young, a Tampa Republican, took a jab at the association in her closing remarks. In Florida, live dog racing is still conducted at 12 tracks. Young calls steroid use in dogs “doping.”

“I find it interesting that the (association) seems to think that they have any credibility on drug issues when they had an incident in Jacksonville where 12 racing greyhounds were … found with cocaine in their bloodstream,” she said, after no senator opted to debate the measure.

That incident resulted in a challenge in which an administrative law judge struck down the state’s greyhound drug testing program, leading to regulators having to enact an temporary rule to continue testing.

Jack Cory, spokesman and lobbyist for the association, countered after the meeting that the Association of Racing Commissioners International, or ARCI, as recently as last month approved of orally-taken anabolic steroids for birth control. (Owners usually don’t neuter racing dogs so they can continue breeding them.)

Moreover, Kottkamp has said the association—which advocates for the state’s race-dog owners and breeders—has “a zero tolerance policy for anyone that would give a racing greyhound any illegal substance.”

But Rep. Carlos G. Smith, an Orlando Democrat carrying the House version of the bill (HB 463), soon tweeted that “FGA has ZERO credibility. Their new motto should be, ‘LET THEM HAVE COCAINE’!”

The Senate bill next heads to the Agriculture Committee.

Senate President aspirants Travis Hutson, Dana Young continue to raise money at rapid clip

The frontrunners for the 2022 Florida Senate Presidency have spent the last few months adding funds to their political committees and, more importantly, using that money to help out a handful of potential backers when it comes time to vote in a couple years.

Sens. Travis Hutson and Dana Young are still the top contenders for the job and each has been successful on the fundraising trail since October.

Young has raised nearly $200,000 to Friends of Dana Young since October, including $68,500 in December, which put her with $690,585 cash on hand at the start of the year. The Tampa Republican also spent about $63,000 in committee cash during that span.

Much of that money went toward various consulting contracts and fundraising expenses – she is up for re-election this year, after all – though she still extended a helping hand to a pair of possible supporters.

Back in October she chipped in $10,000 to a committee supporting Clearwater Republican Ed Hooper’s campaign to replace former Sen. Jack Latvala in Senate District 16. She followed that up in December with a $1,000 check to Stuart Republican Sen. Gayle Harrell’s re-election campaign for Senate District 25, which isn’t up until 2020.

During the same stretch Hutson pulled in $114,000 for his Sunshine State Conservatives committee, though he capped off the year with $0 in contributions last month. He also spent about $25,000, leaving him with nearly $160,000 to play with as of New Year’s Day.

The St. Augustine lawmaker hit Gainesville Republican Sen. Keith Perry and Rockledge Republican Sen. Debbie Mayfield with $1,000 checks in December.

A handful of sources told Florida Politics in October that Perry had already thrown his support behind Hutson in the Senate President race, joining Mayfield as one of his key supporters.

While nothing’s been made public in the interim, Perry’s district has a Democratic lean and his chief opponent is close to the $150,000 mark in fundraising, so getting some support from Hutson’s committee puts a little weight behind the rumors he’s in Hutson’s column.

Hutson had already given Perry $1,000 in August, and last cycle he stepped in with a pair of $1,000 checks during Perry’s bruising 2016 race against former Democratic Sen. Rod Smith.

Other current or aspiring senators getting support from Hutson earlier in 2017 include Aaron Bean, Dorothy Hukill and Hooper.

Since Election Day 2016, Young has helped out the campaign account of Sen. George Gainer, as well as Rep. Ben Albritton, who is running for SD 26 this year, and Reps. Jason Brodeur and Jeanette Nuñez, who are running for senate seats in the 2020 cycle.

With emotion, legislators and relatives of late firefighters push PTSD bill

“Recovering a toddler’s body from the river, pulling bodies from a car that ended up in a canal and carrying a decapitated teen’s body across the sand who was the victim of a shark attack would certainly take a toll on anyone,” Leslie Dangerfield said behind teary eyes.

She was describing the atrocities her husband, Indian River Battalion Chief David Dangerfield, had witnessed before he ultimately took his life. Leading up to her husband’s suicide, Leslie Dangerfield said his behavior had changed. He had succumbed to the “beast of PTSD,” or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Leslie Dangerfield told her story during a press conference Wednesday aiming to alert the public on bills in the Legislature this year that would provide workers’ compensation for first responders suffering from PTSD.

Currently, workers’ compensation laws do not provide for benefits in cases of first responders suffering from mental health-related injuries, unless they are accompanied by physical injury.

The issue has permeated the judiciary branch. 

Compensation Judge Neal Pitts denied workers’ compensation for former Orlando Police officer Gerry Realin last week. Realin responded to the Pulse nightclub shooting, which left 49 massacred and 58 others injured in June 2016.

Realin is one of the many who would benefit from a series of workers’ compensation reform bills this Session.

SB 376, filed by Sen. Lauren Book, and HB 227, filed by Reps. Rene Plasencia and Matt Willhite — who also is a firefighter — would include in the Worker’s Compensation Law benefits for first responders who sustain mental or nervous injuries.

Book said the issue was brought to her attention when her neighbor confided in her the horrors she experiences through PTSD, a mental health issue that Book also copes with.

“She had gone out on a series of very, very bad calls, dealing with several child deaths,” recalled Book. “This is what our first responder families see every day.”

“The numbers don’t lie,” Jimmy Patronis, Florida’s chief financial officer and state marshal said. He cited research from 2015 that showed 15 percent of firefighters had made at least one attempt at suicide during their career, while 46 percent of firefighters had thought about taking their lives.

“In this Session, we are fighting to change those numbers,” added Patronis.

Sen. Dana Young, a Tampa Republican, explained the issue was personal for her. One of Young’s constituents, Megan Vila, lost her brother, Tampa firefighter/paramedic Stevie LaDue, to suicide.

Vila visited Young and told her about the lack of workers’ compensation for firefighters suffering from PTSD, she then shared her brother’s story. Young said she was heartbroken, but then turned angry at how the system had failed LaDue. Young co-introduced Book’s SB 376.

The initiative appears to enjoy healthy support, both between parties and branches of government. Democrats and Republicans are supporting a bulk of the legislation, including Sen. Victor TorresSB 126, which lowers the burden of proof for mental injuries. The accompanying legislation for SB 126, Reps. Amy Mercado‘s and Robert Ascencio’s HB 629, is the only first-responder workers’ compensation bill without bipartisan sponsorship. In the executive branch, Cabinet member Patronis has promised to throw the “full weight” of his office behind the measures.

Book’s bill will be heard by the Senate Committee on Commerce and Tourism Tuesday afternoon.

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