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Deborah Franklin: Protect Florida elders by keeping nursing home certificate-of-need process

Deborah Franklin

Throughout my professional career, I have been dedicated to the continued growth and enhancement of quality long-term care in Florida. A key element of quality care is maintaining a sense of independence among the elders we serve, a priority that is fostered by Florida’s long-standing commitment to helping them remain in the least restrictive setting possible.

However, I believe a proposal now before the Constitution Revision Commission would undermine that goal and threaten the continued independence of countless older Floridians.

The proposed amendment to our State Constitution would eliminate the Certificate of Need (CON) process for nursing homes, among others, and change that would disrupt the mission of continuing quality care in skilled nursing care centers. The CON process requires Florida’s Health Planning Councils to identify areas which have a need for additional beds.

Facilities must document how they will meet those needs, either through new development or adding on to an existing center. Beds are awarded based on several factors, including a center’s quality outcomes and financial stability.

The intent is to prevent an oversaturation of care facilities, so the taxpayers don’t end up subsidizing unused beds.

Florida has the nation’s highest share of seniors, and elimination of the nursing home CON requirement would fly in the face of the state’s ongoing support of home and community-based care — a policy that allows elders to remain in their own homes as long as possible.

If additional nursing center beds are allowed without the careful scrutiny of the CON process, the new facilities will need residents to fill their beds — and the first place they will look is the ranks of those currently enjoying the benefits of home and community-based care.

It’s no secret that Florida is experiencing a nursing shortage, with more than 12,000 vacant nursing positions around our state. The problem is particularly challenging for skilled nursing centers.

Elimination of CON would lead to additional facilities competing for the same limited pool of Registered Nurses and Certified Nursing Assistants, thus spreading already limited resources even thinner.

If the CON repeal is enacted, it seems unavoidable that more seniors will be moved from home settings and into skilled nursing centers — a setting that is necessary for our most frail elders, but certainly not for everyone currently living in the less restrictive environment offered by home and community-based care. If it was your mother or grandmother, would you want her living in even the best nursing home before it was really necessary?

The Legislature has seen the value in allowing the nursing home CON process to remain in place, so why does the Constitution Revision Commission want to circumvent their authority by using our State Constitution to repeal CON?  Because of today’s CON laws, nursing care centers are able to continue to provide quality care at a level that is among the best in the nation.

Existing centers are able to focus on recruiting dedicated more health care professionals to the field, to serve residents who truly need the care they offer.

Every Florida resident should take a significant interest in this issue, for the sake of their elderly relatives — and, someday, for themselves.

I hope every member of the Constitution Revision Commission recognizes the need to protect our senior citizens by leaving the nursing home CON process in place.

___

Deborah Franklin is Senior Director of Quality Affairs for Florida Health Care Association. She has more than 20 years’ experience working as a nursing home administrator, most recently overseeing renovations and expansions for the not-for-profit Florida Living Options, which operates the Hawthorne Village continuing care retirement communities in Florida. She can be reached at dfranklin@fhca.org.

The coming nuclear war in the Florida Senate

If you want to blame someone, blame Charlie Justice.

Or, for that matter, you can blame the late C.W. “Bill” Young.

Because when the Florida Senate is reduced to proverbial ashes in early 2018, those still standing will be left to wonder where everything went wrong.

And that’s why you should start blaming Justice. Or maybe his then-political consultant, Mitch Kates.

Going into the 2010 election cycle, it was more than a rumor that Young, first elected in 1970, might not seek re-election. It was thought that all he wanted was to set the tone for a graceful exit.

Like several other Pinellas Democrats, Justice could read the handwriting on the wall, even if it didn’t tell the whole story about Congressman Young. A former legislative aide turned lawmaker, Justice was an affable first-term state Senator whose term would end in 2010.

Justice could have easily won re-election. He was damn near a unicorn: a scandal-free, white male Democrat with deep connections to the education community and the kind of legislative record that did not raise the ire of the business community.

But Justice was weary of the tone emanating from Tallahassee. He could see which direction state politics was turning and he was less and less interested in being part of it. He’d rather be in D.C., where Barack Obama was president, than Tallahassee, which has been dominated by Republicans for two decades. So, in April of 2009, Justice decided to challenge Young for the congressional seat the Republican held for nearly forty years.

Political observers speculated at the time that Justice wasn’t really interested in challenging Young as much as building up his name recognition for the inevitable day when Young really did retire, which Justice and local Democrats hoped would be in 2010. But somewhere along the way – probably in between the time Justice criticized his opponent for using campaign funds to purchase a car or produced an online video which attempted to link the veteran lawmaker with jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff – Young decided he would not be muscled out of his congressional seat. He would end up handily defeating Justice.

Unfortunately for Justice, he burnt his Senate seat at the shore of his congressional run. By announcing so early in the election cycle that he would not run for re-election, he essentially created an opening in the heart of Pinellas County. However, this battleground seat, which had flipped from Charlie Crist and Jim Sebesta to Justice, would not really be contested. Almost from the moment Justice announced he would not run again for the Legislature, it was clear who would succeed him in the seat.

Jack Latvala.

Latvala had been termed out of the Senate in 2008 after a forceful career that saw him serve as a chief lieutenant to Senate President Toni Jennings and as a powerbroker who ended a bitter stalemate for the Senate presidency. He used his influence to dominate Pinellas politics in a manner not seen since the days when Charles Rainey held sway. His political consulting and mailhouse was a national powerhouse, aiding presidential candidate and dozens of state parties. Other than Young himself, no other Pinellas politician was as powerful.

Latvala dispatched his Democratic opponent in 2010 with ease and quickly pivoted to rebuilding his power base in Tallahassee. Although many former allies and seasoned lobbyists and staffers were content with Latvala back in the capital, there were more than a handful of insiders who had worked with Latvala during his first stint in the Senate who were not exactly excited to see him return. However, Don Gaetz, the incoming Senate President who would grow to become one of Latvala’s many enemies, made it clear that Latvala would be welcomed back by the Republican caucus.

‘He’s changed,’ hopeful staffers would say to one another.

But like the Pearl Jam song says, Latvala changed by not changing.

In an era of hyper partisanship, the Republican hailing from the county which gave birth to Florida’s modern GOP prided himself on being a moderate. He championed legislation benefiting police and firefighter unions; he torpedoed bills designed to privatize the state’s education and prison systems.

Yet, he was still a good Republican. He wholeheartedly backed Gov. Rick Scott‘s re-election in 2014, while donating to dozens of GOP candidates throughout the state.

Part of that donating was linked to Latvala’s effort to realize his dream of becoming Pinellas County’s first Senate President in more than a century.

It was a dream that would never come to fruition.

Latvala’s never-ending ambition to be Senate President has dominated the politics of the upper chamber for this past decade. It’s really part of what has led that body to where it is today.

Initially, it was Andy Gardiner who Latvala was competing against to be Senate President. But after a failed coup by John Thrasher – stymied in part by Latvala and his allies – Gardiner would win that race, while Latvala would live to fight another day against Joe Negron. That bitter intraparty scrum took years — and millions of dollars — to decide, with Negron eventually prevailing because, well, Latvala was his own worst enemy.

He backed a series of candidates running in Republican primaries and general elections who were defeated by, in most cases, younger, more tech-savvy candidates. Jeff Brandes defeated Jim Frishe. Aaron Bean defeated Mike Weinstein. Etc.

Make no mistake: Latvala had a band of colleagues who wanted to see him become Senate President, but, collectively, they were neither as numerous or as determined as the forces opposed to him leading the Chamber.

And so Latvala became the Dark Star of the Florida Senate, occasionally plunging it into a parliamentarian abyss, as he did when he helped obliterate the top priorities of President Mike Haridopolos and his conservative allies.

Yet, it cannot go unsaid that these past seven years have been one of the worst periods in the history of the Florida Senate. With the exception of one year of Don Gaetz’ tenure and the final days of Gardiner’s term, the Senate has been a dark, dark place. From the losses it suffered during the redistricting process and trial to the resignations of Frank Artiles and Jeff Clemens, it has been one catastrophe after another in the so-called upper chamber. Meanwhile, a line of House Speakers – Dean Cannon, Will Weatherford, Steve Crisafulli and Richard Corcoran – have essentially had their way with their colleagues across the hall, who end up sounding like they play for the Chicago Cubs: “Wait until next year!”

There have been very few constants during the Senate’s decline, but one of them has been the presence of the senior Senator from Pinellas County.

Jack Latvala.

For all of his legislative successes … for all of the projects he’s secured funding for … for all of what’s he’s done for Tampa Bay … the situation for Latvala is almost a reverse “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Instead of George Bailey having never been born, what if Latvala had not served a second stint in the Florida Senate?

What if Justice had just run for re-election?

Instead, the Senate faces a nuclear scenario. On one side is the increasing level of forces arrayed against Latvala because of a singular public accusation of sexual harassment. On the other side is Latvala himself, the Kim Jong-un of the Florida Senate. The opponents of Latvala are powerful enough that they could easily destroy him if that’s what they wanted. Scott and Senate President Negron could release a joint statement calling on Latvala to resign and that would pretty much be game over. Enough of Latvala’s Republican colleagues could sign on to a petition seeking his resignation and that would tell Latvala it’s time to go.

And the United States could easily destroy North Korea in any exchange of weapons, conventional or nuclear.

The supreme danger in that scenario is the collateral damage. What missiles can North Korea fire off, preemptively or retaliatory, if it is about to be attacked or is attacked?

What missiles can Latvala fire off, preemptively or retaliatory, if he is attacked?

If the special master in the sexual harassment case finds probable cause (and how can he not as that threshold is so easy to reach) and L’Affaire Latvala heads to a “trial” on the Senate floor, what kind of damage will be done to an institution already reeling from a decade of losses?

Because Latvala has said, both publicly and more forcefully in private, that his colleagues will have to vote him off the Senate floor if he is to be expelled from the body. He won’t make a deal. He won’t resign.

Instead, he and his lawyers will conduct a full-throated defense that will involve the public questioning not only of his accuser but many members of the Senate. No one has more institutional knowledge about the Florida Senate than Latvala. No one knows where more bodies are buried.

God only knows what will come from that spectacle.

On Tuesday, Sen. Travis Hutson said that the Senate “is being burnt to the ground and I feel Senator Latvala is running around with the Napalm and the matches.” He’s now calling on Latvala to resign “so that we do not have to deal with this problem anymore.”

Hutson is wrong. Not about Latvala needing or not needing to resign, but of the incendiaries he thinks Latvala has at his disposal.

A nuclear war is coming and I don’t know if anyone knows how to stop it.

Airbnb takes to Tallahassee TV to promote vacation rentals

Airbnb is launching a television commercial this week in Tallahassee to convince Florida Legislators of the back-home support for vacation rentals, which again are facing the prospect of legislation over whether and how local governments can regulate them.

The new commercial running this week in the Tallahassee market, “Airbnb citizen,” features Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward talking about how vacation rental homes give visitors the “authentic experience” of tourism in Florida.

The ad is also being heavily promoted on social media throughout Florida.

As video shows some of the more quaint of Pensacola neighborhoods, screen text notes the average Airbnb host makes $6,700 a year in rentals, and that Airbnb vacation rental homes hosted 2.5 million visitors this year. “Our visitors have stayed in these neighborhoods and it makes the experience far more unique,” Hayward says.

Below the surface the legislative debate playing out in committee meetings may be between the vacation rental industry and its marketing giants including Airbnb and HomeAway, versus traditional hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts. But it’s also a debate between state government and county and local governments, with the county and local governments preparing again to defend counties’ and cities’ abilities to regulate vacation rental homes.

Where are the Groveland Four pardons? Their story continues in silence

There is no pardon for the Groveland Four.

At least not yet, and possibly not in the foreseeable future, despite much celebration last spring that they deserved and should receive posthumous pardons.

The Groveland Four are the young, black men who were falsely accused of raping a white woman in rural Lake County in 1949. It was an infamous case that unraveled into a pile of racial hatred, apparent lies and reportedly manufactured evidence, all coming to light largely through the efforts of legendary NAACP attorney and future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. But the truth began to emerge too late to save any of them from the fates suffered by so many black men in the Jim Crow era. Two were killed in custody, and the other two were wrongly [the record now shows] convicted and imprisoned.

Their story, largely unknown or forgotten even in Florida, was spread internationally by Gilbert King’s best-selling book, Devil in the Grove, which won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction and awakened Florida’s conscience about the matter.

Last spring, in a passionate flurry that rivaled any call anywhere for belated justice, the Florida Legislature approved a resolution apologizing to the families of Walter Irvin, Charles Greenlee, Sam Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas and urging full pardons for Irvin and Greenlee, the only two who lived long enough to be convicted and imprisoned.

The resolution declared the quartet, “were the victims of gross injustices and that their abhorrent treatment by the criminal justice system is a shameful chapter in this state’s history.”

“This is Florida’s version of the Scotsboro Boys. This is our To Kill a Mockingbird,” state Sen. Gary Farmer declared after the resolution’s adoption. “We cannot change the hands of time. We cannot go back to this terrible event and undo it. But we can acknowledge our wrongs. And we can bring peace, and healing, and closure to the families who have suffered so long.”

Yet seven months after the Florida Legislature passed CS/HCR 631 by votes of 117-0 in the Florida House of Representatives and 36-0 in the Florida Senate, the request it contained for pardons has vanished into bureaucracy.

And no one wants to talk about it.

Several communications by Florida Politics to the office of Gov. Rick Scott last week resulted in no response, except a referral to the Florida Commission on Offender Review, which declined to comment on Greenlee or Irvin. Neither Farmer nor state Rep. Bobby DuBose, the Broward County Democrats who sponsored the resolutions in the Senate and House respectively, responded to requests to talk about the pardons either.

“I’m not aware of anything going on,” said former state Sen. Geraldine Thompson, the Orlando Democrat who first brought the Groveland Four to the Legislature’s attention in 2016, in a resolution that failed that Session, shortly before she left the Senate herself.

Also not aware of anything going on is Josh Venkataraman, the young activist who carried the matter back to the Florida Legislature this year, and who, as it turned out, wound up being the one who actually filed the request for pardons.

“They [Farmer, DuBose and others including House Speaker Richard Corcoran] did an incredible job of making this happen, and really bringing the passion to it. I just don’t know that they knew how to get this next step,” said Venkataraman, who now lives and works in New York City. “I think the passion is still there. I just don’t know if they have the answers. And, frankly, nobody does. As of this moment, the only thing I’ve been told is it’s a waiting process.”

Technically, it turned out, the Legislature demanding pardons was not the same thing as someone formally requesting pardons. That may have gone unrealized until weeks later. When he discovered there were no pardon requests on file from anyone, Venkataraman took it upon himself to write and file one in June.

At the suggestion of the office of Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who as a member of the Florida Cabinet will have a final vote on the pardons, Venkataraman also wrote what is called a “Request for Review” application and submitted it to Scott’s office. That’s the legal document that could get the case expedited, if Scott pursues the request. Venkataraman also submitted that in June.

And that, apparently, was the last anyone on the outside has heard of the pardons requested for Greenlee and Irvin.

Kelly Corder, director of communications for the Florida Commission on Offender Review, said law mandates that any specific pardon request remain confidential. She could not discuss it.

“Investigations are processed in the order in which they are received by the Office of Executive Clemency, and maintained in chronological order based upon the original application date,” Corder explained.

Think of the last scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, when the crate is wheeled into a stadium-sized warehouse and shoved into its appointed spot.

“As of November 1, 2017, there were 22,376 pending clemency cases,” Corder added.

The Florida Legislature didn’t just call for their full pardons last spring. In CS/HCR 631, lawmakers unanimously urged the “Governor and Cabinet to expedite review of the cases” toward those pardons.

Corder noted that “The [Florida] Commission [of Offender Review] cannot consider an application out of order without direction from a member of the Clemency Board,” which is the cabinet: Scott, Putnam, Attorney General Pam Bondi, and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.

Venkataraman filed his request for review with Scott, and said he has not heard back. Scott’s office did not respond to Florida Politics inquiry on whether he had accepted the request, or was considering it, or had any statement at all on the Groveland Four.

Irvin and Greenlee were released from prison in the 1960s. Irvin returned to Lake County in 1969 to attend a relative’s funeral, but never showed up. Eventually he was found dead in his car. Greenlee died in 2012.

Joe Henderson: Teachers deserve raise, but where is the money?

The dirty secret for public school teachers in Hillsborough County, or basically anywhere in Florida, is that the amount they are paid doesn’t cover all the work they do.

Many teachers just shrug at that reality and spend part of their “free time” grading papers, preparing lesson plans, or volunteering at school events because they think it’s the right thing to do for their students.

Well, it looks like that will stop. No more freebie time. We’re about to find out what happens now that Hillsborough teachers say they will do only the work specified in their contract. That means grades could be late, lesson plans could be disjointed, and they’ll be out the door and gone as soon as the final bell rings. See you in the morning.

This is happening because the county school board said it doesn’t have the money to pay a $4,000 raise it promised years ago to about one-third of the estimated 14,000 teachers employed by the nation’s eighth-largest district.

About 600 angry, fed-up teachers showed up at a school board meeting Tuesday to deliver that message. They call it “working the contract” and if they follow through, it could cause chaos in the system.

Teachers are given planning time during the day, but it’s frequently inadequate to accomplish all the requirements of the job. That means taking work home, and hundreds of teachers have shared stories about finishing their job tasks at the expense of family time.

Their reward for this has been a kick in the teeth from the Legislature, which has been focused on expanding private charter schools. Lawmakers allow charters to use tax money for their buildings and they can take federal dollars targeted to help low-income students. That cuts into public school budgets.

That doesn’t account for all the fiscal problems, though.

Student population is expanding as Florida grows. Hillsborough has more than 300 public schools, and the maintenance problems at many of them have been well documented. The district also accumulated about $1 billion in debt for new-school construction between 1994 and 2014.

Add to that the expectation that voters will approve a $25,000 increase in the homestead exemption in 2018, and that will cut into school budgets even more.

And, yes, decisions like the one years ago to partner with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation proved to be a financial disaster. That’s on the school board.

Guess who got caught in the middle?

Those teachers wore blue shirts in solidarity and chanted slogans at the contentious board meeting Tuesday, but that was never going to get them the money they deserve. They see “working the contract” as the only viable way to get the attention of the people in charge.

As much as I hate to see it come to this, this is only leverage they have. The Legislature’s answer to all the school problems has been for officials to manage their money better, but what’s happening in Hillsborough is way beyond that simplistic solution.

The teachers deserve the raise they were promised, and for that to happen Hillsborough needs to find about $17 million somewhere, somehow. Good luck with that.

This problem is about to get real.

Civil rights, law enforcement groups urge lawmaker to hear hate crimes bill

A coalition of law enforcement and civil rights groups are determined to have the Florida Legislature approve (or at least consider) a bill next year to expand and strengthen Florida’s current hate-crime laws.

Calling themselves the Florida Hate Crime Coalition, the group penned a letter and launched an online petition drive to compel Ocoee Democratic state Sen. Randolph Bracy, the Chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee, to add to the agenda a bill (SB 55), sponsored by Palm Beach Democratic state Sen. Kevin Radar.

In urging the chair to give the bill a hearing, the letter explains:

“ … [i]n our State, a hate crime cannot be charged if a victim is targeted for their physical disability, gender or gender identity. Furthermore, the hate crime law does not cover “mixed-motive” hate crimes …. SB 588 would fix these critical gaps in the hate crime law by:

“(1) expanding its definition of disability to cover physical disabilities;

“(2) adding the categories of gender and gender identity; and

“(3) covering mixed-motive hate crimes.”

Bracy’s office did not return a call for comment.

In addition to the Criminal Justice Committee, the bill has also been referred to the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice, Appropriations, and Rules committees.

The Florida Hate Crime Coalition includes Jewish and LGBT rights organizations, headed by the Anti-Defamation League, and includes the police departments of Miami-Dade and St. Petersburg.

The complete list of groups in the FHCC:

Anti-Defamation League
Alpert Jewish Family & Children’s Service
American Jewish Committee
Dave Aronberg, Palm Beach County State Attorney
Autistic Self Advocacy Network
Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office
Chief John Brooks, Sunrise Police Department
Broward County Chiefs of Police Association (BCCPA)
COSMOS (Coalition of South Florida Muslim Organizations)
Disability Independence Group, Inc.
Disability Solutions for Independent Living
EMGage USA
Equality Florida
Katherine Fernandez-Rundle, Miami-Dade County State Attorney
Florida Armenians
Florida Association for the Deaf
Florida Atlantic University — Center for Holocaust and Human Rights Education
Florida Council for the Blind
Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of FL
Interfaith Council of Central Florida (ICCF)
Sheriff Scott Israel, Broward County Sheriff’s Office
Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County
Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County
Jewish Community Relations Council of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation
Jewish Family Services of Orlando
Jewish Women’s Foundation of the Greater Palm Beaches (JWF)
JFCS of Southwest Florida
MCCJ
Miami-Dade Police Department (MDPD)
John W. Mina, Chief of Police, Orlando Police Department
National Council of Jewish Women Florida
Palm Beach County Board of Rabbis
PFLAG Gainesville
The Pride Center at Equality Park
Rabbinical Association of Greater Miami
Chief Vincent C. Robinson, Jennings Police Department, Jennings, Florida
Ruth & Norman Rales Jewish Family Services, Inc.
SALDEF — Sikh American Legal Defense Fund
Satellite Beach Police Department
Sikh Society of Central Florida
St. Petersburg Police Department
United Sikhs
Unity Coalition|Coalición Unida
Women’s Foundation of Palm Beach County

Pixabay (free download)

In child marriage debate, some want flexibility with older teens

As lawmakers in both the House and the Senate push for a strict ban on minors getting married, some legislators in the House said Wednesday they would like to keep judicial discretion when older teenagers want to legally wed.

“I do not support the part where someone who is pregnant can’t get married just because they are under 18,” said Rep. George Moraitis, a Fort Lauderdale Republican.

Republican Reps. Jeanette Nuñez and Frank White filed HB 335 hoping to outlaw marriages for anyone under the age 18 to protect children who are forced into marrying their perpetrators. The bill cleared the House Civil Justice & Claims Subcommittee on Wednesday.

“Just to simply say no one under 18 can get married – there’s a lot of things you can do when you’re under 18, such as drive – so I just don’t agree with that,” Moraitis said.

Moraitis, however, does support banning marriages between minors who are 16 and 17 if the only thing a judge is going by is parental consent.

Republican Rep. Erin Grall agreed with Moraitis, saying she would not want to eliminate judicial discretion in certain cases.

“Especially under certain circumstances, maybe where you have two 17-year-olds who may want to get married,” Grall said. “I would hope there would be some conversations about the older teenagers as the bill moves forward.”

Rep. John Cortes, a Kissimmee Democrat, said he was voting in favor of the ban to “hopefully put a stop to human trafficking” and pedophilia.

Nuñez said the case of a 10-year-old girl who was raped, became pregnant and then the following year was forced to marry her rapist, inspired her to fight for this effort.

She said that in Florida, there have been 1,800 marriage licenses issued in the last five years in which at least one individuals was a minor.

“Florida is estimated to be No. 2 for child marriages in the country,” Nuñez said. “That is unacceptable.”

Under current state law, judges can issue a marriage license to minors of any age if they have a child or are expecting a child. The law also allows a judge to allow a minor female to marry an adult man if she is pregnant.

The law now also allows minors ages 16 and 17 to get married with their parents’ approval.

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, a Fort Myers Republican, has filed a bill banning minor marriages in the Senate.

Bill mandating financial-literacy class for students advances

A years-long battle in the Legislature to pass a bill requiring high school students take a course teaching them how to manage money is back again.

Sen. Dorothy Hukill‘s bill, though, had a small victory on Wednesday. SB 88 advanced the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on pre-K-12 Education, leaving one more committee stop before it can head to the Senate floor for consideration.

Hukill, a Port Orange Republican, has introduced the proposal since 2013, but it keeps dying.

“This is the most popular bill — I get stopped in the supermarket for this bill, and I don’t get stopped for many bills,” Hukill said. “So why doesn’t it pass? People think it is going to take away their musical, or take away their art (electives).”

Under the bill, the class would teach students how to manage debt, understand credit scores, apply for loans, compute interest rates and analyze simple contracts. They would need to take the course before they can graduate high school.

Although the bill would reduce the number of elective credits from eight to seven and a half, Hukill said that still leaves students enough time to take elective courses. The one-half credit would be set aside for the financial literacy course.

If the bill becomes law, the state would become the sixth in the nation to require the stand-alone course in personal finance literacy.

According to staff analysis, school districts may incur costs ranging from $131,000 to $8.8 million in the first year of implementing the requirements. Those costs calculates teacher training and new textbook requirements.

Joe Henderson: Got whiplash? Absurdity rules in Tally

Stay with me. This one gets a little weird. While you were distracted by the latest the latest episode of “Florida’s Got Dirt,” your First Amendment rights were put in the crosshairs again.

Confused? It’s just another day in the state’s center of power.

On the front page of Wednesday’s Tampa Bay Times was a headline that read “Spying part of life in Capitol.” It was a follow-up to news first reported by Politico Florida, and didn’t we all just have to read a story with that kind of tease?

It told about a spy camera planted by a private eye to capture legislators in compromising acts (or in something that could be made to look that way).

The mentioned “grainy photos” taken of gubernatorial candidate Jack Latvala kissing a female lobbyist on the cheek, then on the mouth. Imagine what an opposing consultant could do with that.

But in a plot twist that’s, well, twisted, this story broke at the same time we learned your state Constitutional Revision Commission might place an amendment proposal on the 2018 ballot that would greatly expand what the government doesn’t have to tell you.

The proposal – I can’t believe I’m writing this, given the context of events – is being considered to expand the “privacy of information and the disclosure thereof.”

Take a minute if you need to grab some aspirin for that strange pain you may be feeling in your neck just now. It’s probably just another a case of Tallahassee-induced whiplash.

Parading under the banner of privacy in one corner while the other corner is doing everything possible to invade it is a bar-raising level of phoniness. You can say the two aren’t connected, but everything is connected in Tallahassee. Thus, we note the bizarre timing of these two developments.

It’s unclear who came up with the spy camera idea, but apparently it’s perfectly legal – not to mention its great potential for political blackmail.

The camera belongs to investigator Derek Uman, whose company, Clear Capture Investigations, offers services that include “infidelity surveillance.”

Latvala, a tough ol’ cuss who would spit into the mouth of an active volcano, shot back that any suggestion he was acting inappropriately is “an outright lie.”

In a statement he also noted, “are we working against the Democrats? No, we are doing it against each other! Why? Because of personal ambition, a greed for power that overwhelms any consideration for fellow human beings.”

“Consideration” is rarely a serious part of any Tallahassee conversation, but Latvala has a point about the start of human hunting season up there. Just last week, now-former state Sen. Jeff Clemens, who was to be the incoming Democratic leader, abruptly resigned after it came out that he was having an affair.

Even while all the covert spy-versus-thy is going on though, the Constitutional Review Commission wants to make sure you, the public, have less access to information about what your leaders are doing – although they won’t phrase it that way. Nope. It’s about privacy.

Committee vice chairman John Stemberger, in a commentary for Florida Politics, noted the measure would “… protect the people from the government’s collection and more importantly, disclosure, of personal and private information.”

Well, we’ve heard that tired argument before – the government must protect us from knowing too much stuff. It starts off sounding benign and then gets twisted into something that somehow chokes off the flow of other information that should be public.

First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Petersen noted as much when she wrote to the committee, saying she was “most alarmed by the dramatic impact this proposal would have on the constitutional right of access to public records.”

Stemberger said he was “somewhat bewildered” by Petersen’s concerns.

I’m bewildered why any politician would want to chip away at the public’s right to know. We all should be, and this is exactly the kind of stuff that gets lost while we focus on things like spy cameras.

Actually, if you overlook the fact lawmakers in Tallahassee have control over much of your life, not to mention an $83 billion state budget, that place can be darned entertaining in a swamp-thing sort of way. Stay tuned for the next episode straight from the Theater of the Absurd.

Brightline February train car derailment comes to light; critics call it ‘disturbing’

A Brightline train derailed in February and opponents of the planned, east-coast, high-speed passenger rail service expressed frustration Monday that they only recently learned about the accident and criticized the company for not mentioning it during Florida Legislature testimony about rail safety.

Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida and the counties of Indian River and Martin said Monday that it took them months to confirm the Feb. 11 accident, and only after they hired a Washington, D.C. law firm to pursue it. They criticized All Aboard Florida (AAF) for not disclosing the incident to the Florida Legislature while company officials offered opposition to bills that had sought to set state safety regulations on the railroad.

“Soon after this incident, officials attended not one but two state legislative hearings about rail safety and never once disclosed facts about the derailment, while they sought to table the safety legislation under consideration,” Brent Hanlon, chairman of CARE FL, stated in a news release issued Monday by that group and the two counties.

The critics said records show the accident caused $408,000 in damage.

“The disconnect between the derailment and AAF’s failure to make it public is disturbing,” Indian River County Attorney Dylan Reingold stated in the release. “The safety and well- being of our communities require greater transparency.”

A letter from the Federal Railroad Administration indicated that one car derailed, at low speed, at an All Aboard Florida rail yard.

A Brightline spokesperson called the incident minor, on private property, and fully and properly reported, and then dismissed the critics’ concern raised Monday as a “baseless fear tactic.”

“As confirmed by the Federal Railroad Administration, Brightline followed all applicable rules by providing prompt notification about the minor incident that occurred on its private property. This is another baseless fear tactic by Treasure Coast consultants,” the statement read.

Brightline is planning to open a private passenger train service from West Palm Beach to Miami later this year. Eventually the company intends to extend the line through Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River, and Brevard counties, and then into Orange County to connect the Orlando International Airport by high-speed train to West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

Some residents and public officials of those ride-through counties have arisen in opposition, arguing safety, environmental, and other concerns regarding a train that would be traveling through their communities at up to 110 mph. Last February the two sides battled in Florida House and Senate committee meetings over House Bill 269 and Senate Bill 386. Those bills, which failed, would have imposed additional, state-mandated safety requirements. Company officials insisted the train already would be governed by the highest-possible federal standards, meeting all the strict requirements for high-speed rail service.

All Aboard Florida also has had a couple major victories in court against opponents who contended more environmental requirements were needed. One as recently as Sept. 29, from a Florida administrative law judge denied a challenge brought by Martin and St. Lucie counties and the Town of St. Lucie Village on the South Florida Water Management District’s decision to issue an environmental resource permit. That court victory for All Aboard Florida essentially cleared away all pending litigation, allowing the company to go forward.

According to the Federal Railroad Administration, on Feb. 11, “a Brightline locomotive derailed its trailing truck while negotiating a switch at four miles per hour within the Brightline yard facility.

“The derailed Brightline locomotive was the second locomotive in a consist led by an FEC [Florida East Coast Railroad] locomotive into the Brightline yard and maintenance facility,” reads an Aug. 21 Federal Railroad Administration letter to a law firm hired by CARE FL and Martin County. “Brightline and FEC promptly notified FRA of the incident.”

That letter came after the law firm of McDermott, Will & Emery had inquired to the FRA, on May 30, about unconfirmed reports of the incident.

“It is unfortunate that Martin County is forced to spend taxpayer money to make sure our safety concerns are addressed at the state and federal levels. A simple confirmation of a derailment took three months to get from DOT, but six months after the derailment itself. We would have never known about this significant public safety issue had we not demanded to know the facts,” Ruth Holmes, senior assistant Martin County attorney, stated in the news release.

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