Florida Legislature Archives - Page 3 of 52 - Florida Politics

Joe Henderson: Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn gives Tallahassee an earful

Whoever succeeds Bob Buckhorn next year as Tampa’s mayor will have a tough time matching his ability to deliver a speech.

His pace and timing are excellent, his voice rising and rising when he wants to engage the listener fully and hammer home a point.

Then again, Buckhorn’s message Friday in his “State of the City” address would have come through loud and clear even if Tom Fumbletongue had been speaking.

Buckhorn went beyond the usual cheerleading and optimism that has characterized most of his speeches. He blasted — and I mean BLASTED — the Republican-led Legislature for passing laws that have hamstrung the ability of big-city mayor, most of whom are Democrats, to raise money and provide services for a rapidly growing population.

Buckhorn called it “an outright attack on local governments by leadership in the Florida Legislature.”

He was just getting started.

“I’ve been around city government for 30 years, and I’ve never seen such a blatant attack to undermine local government and to strip away the powers of self-governance. It’s wrong, and it needs to stop. It’s not all of them, but it’s a lot of the leadership. And you can vote against those who vote against you.

“During campaign season they run around talking about their conservative principles, how less government is better, how smaller government is more efficient, how government closest to the people is the best government. Well, guess who the hell that is? That’s us, that’s us,” he thundered.

His voice kept rising, reaching a crescendo when he said, “ … or, God forbid, (when) we want to pass common-sense gun legislation, they say, ‘Oh no! We know better! We know what’s good for you! We’re going to decide for you.’ Tallahassee knows better? Are you kidding me? Not now, not ever. Let us do our jobs.”

He wasn’t finished.

“This is the same Legislature that pays a lot of attention to the NRA and very little attention to the PTAs.”

That sounded an awful lot like a campaign speech and not so much about the state of the city.

Maybe it was.

While Buckhorn decided against running for governor, he hasn’t ruled out taking the No. 2 spot on a Democratic ticket if he is asked. That idea has been floated.

I talked to him about that recently. The most telling thing Buckhorn said was that he would only agree to seek the lieutenant governor’s job if he felt he had a chance to really contribute to policy.

I’ve known him a long time. He doesn’t have the kind of personality that would handle four years of ribbon-cuttings and Kiwanis Club speeches.

In two terms as mayor, he was often on the business end of edicts from Tallahassee on issues that included attempts at gun control, so-called sanctuary cities, limits on the ability of cities to raise taxes, and even an attempt in the last Session for the state to pre-empt all local tree-trimming laws.

As a No. 2, Buckhorn might flourish as an enforcer and be the advocate for local cities that mayors across the state say is needed.

Would he do that?

My guess is he would, if the right person asked, said the right things, and then let Buckhorn be Buckhorn.

If that happens, one thing is certain. Tallahassee would get an earful.


Corrections agency cuts programs to fill budget hole

Blaming the Legislature for not fully funding the state prison system, Florida corrections officials are slashing substance-abuse services, transitional housing and re-entry programs – services and programs launched to keep inmates from returning to life behind bars – in an attempt to fill a $28 million budget hole.

The Department of Corrections announced the cost-cutting measures late Tuesday. The cuts are focused largely on doing away with or dramatically reducing substance-abuse, mental-health and re-entry programs to plug a $28 million health care services deficit.

With an annual budget in excess of $2.4 billion and about 100,000 inmates, the corrections agency makes up one of the state’s largest spending areas. But the agency is running an overall deficit of about $79 million, after budget reductions imposed by lawmakers over the past two years and escalating health care and pharmaceutical costs.

The corrections agency has been struggling to keep up with the cost of health care for the majority of the state’s inmates, after one private vendor quit years before its contract was up and the state fired another.

Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones, in a statement announcing the cuts, said she hoped the reductions are temporary.

“In order to secure a health services contractor, fund the increased pharmaceutical budget, and adjust for reductions, we’ve unfortunately had to make some very difficult decisions. At the start of the next fiscal year, we will be reducing some of our current contracts with community providers. Additionally, we are reducing operating costs to include maintenance, repair, utilities, and working to find every possible internal solution to reduce costs in order to maximize services for inmates and offenders,” Jones said in the statement issued Tuesday.

The budget cuts came a month after corrections officials asked vendors for a “voluntary rate reduction and/or cost-saving measure” in their current contracts.

Lawmakers this spring included money in the state budget to address a number of legal challenges centered on health care in the prison system, including the treatment of inmates with hepatitis and inmates with disabilities and mental-health issues.

But according to documents distributed by the department Tuesday evening, the $437 million earmarked for inmate health care – which includes pharmaceuticals – still came up about $55 million short.

Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Chairman Jeff Brandes, the St. Petersburg Republican, told The News Service of Florida Tuesday evening that he has repeatedly warned his colleagues they were shortchanging the prison system.

Brandes said the funding crisis has “been festering for years” and called the cuts announced Tuesday unacceptable.

“In the short term, we’re going to have to fund the shortfalls in unconventional ways. But they must be funded. Period. These are not options. You must fund them,” he said.

Especially disturbing are the cuts to substance-abuse treatment, which are coming at the peak of the state’s opioid epidemic, and re-entry programs. Both have been shown to reduce recidivism and to aid prisoners as they transition to the community, said Brandes, who has been at the forefront of a criminal-justice reform movement in Florida.

“These are the very programs that have been proven to work. You can’t have an opioid crisis and cut opioid funding. You can’t just let people out of prison without some type of transition back into society. These are the types of programs that the research shows provide the best outcomes,” he said.

Jones announced the cuts as she prepares to sign a new contract with a private vendor to provide health services to about 87,000 inmates in state-run prisons.

The privatization of prison health care has been plagued with problems for the past several years.

Jones severed ties with Pittsburgh-based Wexford Health Sources a year ago, after Corizon Health in late 2015 notified the state that it was walking away from a five-year, $1.2 billion deal three years early. The Tennessee-based company said it was losing money on its contract with the state.

Jones came under fire for signing a no-bid, $268 million contract with Centurion of Florida LLC in January 2016 to take over for Corizon. Wexford’s contract with the state was unaffected by the deal with Centurion, which eventually took over health care for the entire state-run prison system.

Jones decided to redo the health care services contracts in 2015 and issued an invitation to negotiate for select companies to submit proposals.

But, after re-issuing the invitation to negotiate, Centurion – whose contract expires in June – was the only respondent for what is expected to be a $2 billion, five-year contract with the state. According to corrections officials, the agency is finalizing negotiations with Centurion.

“First and foremost, it’s our responsibility to ensure the security of individuals in our custody and to make certain their human and constitutional rights are upheld while incarcerated. Health care is one of these constitutional responsibilities, and in my tenure, I’ve held vendors accountable for ensuring these services are provided at an adequate and appropriate level, that is in line with required standards. Like every state agency, we must make fiscally sound decisions to operate within our legislatively appropriated budget,” Jones said in the statement.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Lantana Democrat Lori Berman

Lori Berman’s special election victory certified

Lantana Democrat Lori Berman’s special election victory for a Palm Beach County Senate district, which moved her up from the Florida House, was quickly certified Tuesday.

The Elections Canvassing Commission — comprised of Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis — certified the April 10 election results in which Berman defeated Lake Worth Republican Tami Donnally. Secretary of State Ken Detzner oversaw the brief telephonic meeting in which all three members of the commission participated.

Berman captured 75 percent of the vote for the Democratic-leaning Senate District 31 seat that was vacated in October by Jeff Clemens, a Lake Worth Democrat who stepped down after admitting to an extramarital affair with a lobbyist.

Berman’s Senate term will expire after the 2020 Legislative Session.

Less than 10 percent of the 312,967 registered voters in the district participated in the special general election, according to the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections website.

Berman’s District 90 Palm Beach County House seat will be filled in the November general election.

Berman’s election to the 40-member Senate leaves the upper chamber with one empty chair. The lone vacancy, District 16 in Pinellas and Pasco counties, will be filled in November. Former Sen. Jack Latvala, a Republican from Clearwater, resigned from the seat in December, following a sexual-harassment investigation.

NRA gunning for GOP school bill backers

The National Rifle Association and its Florida lobbyist, Marion Hammer, are taking aim at Republican lawmakers who supported a school-safety bill that included gun-control measures.

In a letter to members of the NRA and the Unified Sportsmen of Florida, posted online Wednesday by Ammoland, Hammer focused her wrath on GOP lawmakers — particularly Sen. Doug Broxson of the Panhandle town of Gulf Breeze — who supported the sweeping measure (SB 7026), which was rushed into law shortly after the Feb. 14 deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

“We supported the school safety measures in the bill: 1.) Hardening the schools, 2.) Armed security in our schools, and 3.) Keeping guns out of the hands of the dangerous mentally ill,” Hammer wrote. “We did NOT support the gratuitous gun control provisions added to the bill by REPUBLICANS. Those gun control measures are: 1.) A ban on the purchase of rifles and shotguns by adults under age 21, 2.) A 3-day waiting period on rifles and shotguns, 3.) A ban on the sale, transfer & possession of bump stocks & accessories that increase the rate of fire of a semiautomatic firearm.”

The letter contends Republicans who voted for the bill — signed into law by GOP Gov. Rick Scott — “lacked the courage to uphold their oath of office” and that Broxson, the “linchpin” as the bill was approved in a 20-18 vote, “caved to threats and promises from Senate leadership and switched his vote and sold you out.”

Hammer noted that “A” or “A+” grades of most of the Republicans in the Senate and House who voted for the bill are being re-evaluated.

“When they ask for your support, when they ask you to volunteer in their campaigns, when they ask for your donations, when they ask for your votes, think long and hard about what they had done. …,” Hammer wrote.

Honor roll: State legislators receive high marks from Florida Chamber

The grades are in, and from the perspective of those pushing for a more fertile business climate in the Sunshine State, the Legislature is getting better — but there’s still work to be done.

Each year the Florida Chamber grades state legislators after tabulating votes on measures backed by the pro-business group. The 2018 Legislative Report Card, released Thursday, showed significant improvement from the 2017 Session.

Forty-seven percent of legislators earned an A — that’s up from a mere 9 percent in 2017. The average GPA for both chambers came in at 78 percent, up from last year’s 73 percent.

The House performed better than the Senate; 64 representatives earned an A and the chamber’s GPA came to 79 percent, compared to eight A-earning senators and an average GPA of 74 percent for the upper chamber. House Speaker Richard Corcoran earned an A. Senate President Joe Negron earned a C.

A news release from the Chamber attributed the higher overall scores to “cutting red tape, chipping away at Florida-only taxes, funding for economic development, tourism marketing and infrastructure investments, and targeted education reforms.”

Unresolved matters, the Chamber contends, include reforming assignment of benefits and lawsuit abuses, stabilizing workers’ compensation and increasing investments in Florida’s workforce colleges.

“While there is always room for improvement and more work to be done, this legislative session’s grades showed many legislators took steps in the right direction on several policy fronts and voted to prevent harmful ideas from becoming law. We look forward to a session when every legislator earns an ‘A’ and Florida’s competitiveness outranks every other state,” said David Hart, executive vice president of the Chamber. 

The grades shouldn’t come as a surprise to lawmakers. The Chamber released its legislative priorities ahead of the 2018 Session and hand-delivered its agenda to every legislator. The group alerted lawmakers prior to each time it intended to factor a vote into its report card. In total, the Chamber scored 2,900 votes.

Along with the report card, the chamber announced its Distinguished Advocate award winners. The recognition is reserved for a handful of legislators who fought tirelessly for the passage of pro-business legislation – no matter how difficult – and furthered the Florida Chamber’s goals of securing Florida’s future through job creation and economic development,” according to the Chamber. 

Fifteen lawmakers received the distinction this year. Most were recognized for their pro-business efforts. St. Petersburg Rep. Ben Diamond, the lone Democrat on the list, was honored for championing a lawsuit-limiting amendment. Incoming chamber leaders, Republicans Rep. Jose Oliva and Sen. Bill Galvanowere recognized for their roles in championing school safety measures in the wake of the Parkland tragedy.

“We’re pleased to recognize members of the Florida Legislature with Distinguished Advocate awards who had the courage to put free enterprise principles for job creation above special interest,” said Chamber President and CEO Mark Wilson.

Other honorees include:

– Rep. Manny Diaz

– Rep. Joe Gruters

– Rep. Clay Ingram

– Rep. Mike La Rosa

– Rep. Scott Plakon

– Rep. Holly Raschein

– Rep. Paul Renner

– Rep. Jay Trumbull

– Sen. Dennis Baxley

– Sen. David Simmons

– Sen. Wilton Simpson

– Sen. Kelli Stargel

The fight for LGBT civil rights will return next legislative session

Those backing a move to include LGBT protections under the 1992 Florida Civil Rights Act have a message for legislative leadership: We’ll be back.

Just nine days into the 2018 Legislative Session, 40 percent of the Legislature had publicly supported bills that would have codified in statutes nondiscrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.

The bipartisan momentum grew through the 60-day lawmaking process; support for the bills this year peaked at 69 Republicans and Democrats, or 45 percent of the Legislature.

But HB 347 and SB 66, known as the Competitive Workforce Act, or CWA, didn’t receive a single committee hearing before Session wrapped.

That means, under current state law, it’s still legal to discriminate against LGBT individuals in employment, housing and public accommodations. Statewide civil rights protections only prevent discrimination based upon race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, national origin, age, handicap, or marital status.

Meanwhile, at the local level, 12 municipalities have updated human rights ordinances to include LGBT civil rights protections. In total, it’s estimated that 60 percent of Florida’s population is protected by such provisions, meaning a majority of Floridians might not be conscious of the lack of a state law protecting the LGBT community.

In early January, St. Petersburg Democratic Rep. Ben Diamond, who sponsored the House version of the CWA this year, said he suspects most of the population is unaware. 

“When I talk to folks in my district on this bill, they’re surprised to learn that Florida law does not already protect LGBT individuals in these important areas,” Diamond said during a Capitol news conference.

Outside of the Legislature, there’s a movement to provide universal LGBT protections. Arguably the loudest voice is Florida Competes, a coalition of more than 450 local businesses that claims passing the Act would foster a better business climate in the Sunshine State. Fortune 500 companies AT&T, CSX, Darden Restaurants, Marriott, NextEra Energy, Office Depot, Raymond James, Tech Data, Uber, Walt Disney World Resort and Wells Fargo also are involved in the coalition.

In the halls of the Capitol, Florida Competes has brought in a lobbying force to articulate what benefits LGBT protections could bring to the state.

In an interview with Florida Politics, Gray Robinson lobbyist Joseph R. Salzverg described his role in advocating for the CWA. He’s worked on the issue for the past two years. 

“With any legislation that could be perceived as controversial, it often takes several sessions to thoroughly brief the Legislature and advocate for the need for the policy,” Salzverg told Florida Politics, explaining the CWA’s stagnation this year.

He said those against the CWA claim such protections could lead to an uptick in lawsuits, effectively harming businesses. He said there’s also rhetoric floating around that employers do not want to be restricted by LGBT protections.

“Both those arguments aren’t valid,” Salzverg said. He pointed to the sheer amount of businesses backing the CWA as evidence of widespread support in the private sector. He said the legislation also would safeguard against abusing legal remedies.

“The Florida Commission on Human Relations will first investigate the claim of discrimination and make a probable cause determination, which in turn weeds out meritless claims,” Salzverg said, explaining pockets of the language in the CWA. He added that state law would also limit excessive damages, should a discrimination case be won.

In arguing the benefits of the CWA, one of the strongest talking points Salzverg and Florida Competes has is that the law would make Florida’s business environment more attractive to larger companies like Amazon, which is seeking a new headquarters and has whittled its possible locations down to 20 — only one of which, Miami, is in Florida.

Rep. Diamond and other legislators, along with Florida Competes warned the Legislature this year that companies like Amazon consider each area’s legal framework when seeking new locations. They claim the lack of comprehensive statewide discrimination protections might scare off global business.

Salzverg said companies are attracted to such protections because it increases the opportunity to “recruit and retain a talented workforce.”

“This is especially true with certain industries like those in the technology space, which offer high paying jobs which will greatly benefit Florida,” added Salzverg. 

The next Legislative Session begins March 2019. In the time between, Salzverg and Florida Competes will continue their efforts to develop and familiarize lawmakers with the benefits associated with the CWA. Sixty-percent of the co-sponsors this year were freshman legislators — a sign that not only will the CWA return, but that support for the issue will remain.

It’s just a matter of getting the bills into committee.

“We are very hopeful that the Competitive Workforce Act will be heard in committees next year given the vast amount of support we have with almost 70 members of the Legislature,” Salzverg said.

State colleges take stock after ‘challenging’ Session

While state universities and public schools have seen significant funding increases in the last two years, Florida’s state college system has had less success in securing money in the annual budget process.

Last year, lawmakers cut $30 million from the system’s overall budget of more than $2 billion. In the newly approved budget for the 2018-2019 academic year, the Legislature restored $6.7 million of the cut.

But most of the other major budget requests from the system, which includes 28 state and community colleges, did not win support from the Legislature.

That included a $75 million initiative to produce more “workforce” degrees and certificates to meet regional economic needs, a $50 million plan to recruit and retain faculty and a $67 million initiative for counseling and other services to help students complete their degrees in a timely manner.

The Legislature rejected the state colleges’ request for $40 million in state performance funding, which would have been a $10 million increase.

In contrast, the new state budget increases performance funding in the university system by $20 million and provides $91 million, a $20 million increase, to help the schools recruit “world-class” faculty and researchers. The overall $5 billion university budget will increase by $139 million in 2018-2019.

Ava Parker, president of Palm Beach State College and head of the policy and advocacy group for the 28 college presidents, said she supports increased funding for the universities but questions the funding strategy for colleges.

Parker, who served more than a decade on the Board of Governors, which oversees the 12 state universities, noted the role that state colleges play in providing students for the universities.

Some two-thirds of Florida high school graduates who went into the higher-education system in the 2014-2015 academic year enrolled in state colleges, which serve about 800,000 full- and part-time students each year, according to the state Department of Education. The data also show a majority of the juniors and seniors in the university system are former state college students.

Parker, who is scheduled to become chairwoman of the state colleges’ Council of Presidents in June, said not adequately funding the college system could have repercussions for universities.

“It would appear that you are actually crippling the universities in some way in that you’re not supporting the foundation for those students who will very soon be your students,” Parker said in an interview with The News Service of Florida.

“While I applaud the Legislature for their emphasis on higher education, and particularly the universities, I think they’re short-sighted when they do not provide the resources to prepare such a large percentage of our (future university students),” she said.

A factor in the Legislature’s reluctance to back many of the state-college budget initiatives was a two-year struggle between the college system and Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican who pushed several major policy changes, including a cap on baccalaureate degrees, that the colleges opposed.

Lawmakers passed those policy changes in legislation that Gov. Rick Scott vetoed in 2017. Scott argued the changes would undermine the college system.

A Senate bill (SB 540) with the policy changes, which also included a statewide oversight board for the college system, stalled in the 2018 Session. The consequences were that Senate leaders were not likely to look favorably on many of the college initiatives.

A minor but telling example of that was that the House passed a bill (HB 619) that would have let Florida Keys Community College and North Florida Community College drop the “community” label, which has been done by the majority of state colleges over time. But the bill never received a hearing in the Senate.

Parker said it was important for the colleges to oppose proposed policy changes that the presidents believed could hurt the system but that it has made the last two years in the legislative process “challenging.”

“I think it has been challenging for us because there have really been two sides to the coin. There is the budget and there is policy,” she said.

On a positive note, Parker said college presidents are supporting a measure (Proposal 83) now before the Florida Constitution Revision Commission that would provide constitutional authority to the state college system.

Parker and other presidents have said embedding the state college system in the Constitution would put the colleges on equal footing with universities and public schools, which are already authorized in the document.

Gwen Graham says she’d support local governments defying 2011 gun laws preemption

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham announced Tuesday that if she’s elected Governor she would support local governments such as Weston and Coral Gables that seek to defy the state’s 2011 law forbidding local gun ordinances.

Such a position could put Graham at odds with the Florida Legislature and also potentially with the Attorney General over who takes which sides, should legal battles begin over local gun ordinances. In 2011, Florida passed a law, signed by Gov. Rick Scott, that preempts all local gun laws to the state, and sets stiff penalties, including personal fines, legal liability and threats of removals from office for local officials who seek, retain or vote for local gun laws.

Graham on Tuesday pledged legal resources as Governor to support local governments challenging the state’s firearm preemption law.

“Following the tragedy at Stoneman Douglas, cities and counties across the state want to act where the Legislature and Rick Scott have failed — but Tallahassee politicians have trampled on home rule in an outrageous attempt to block local governments from banning weapons of war from our streets and protecting their citizens from gun violence,” Graham said in a news release. “As Governor, I will work with cities and counties to restore local control and their ability to protect their communities by directing my Office of General Counsel to assist local governments challenging the state’s preemption law.”

It was unclear how that would manifest itself, and whether it would put her in legal battles with the Attorney General. Certainly, the Governor would be in position to refuse to remove local politicians from office, as the law would demand.

Graham, the former congresswoman from Tallahassee, faces Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Winter Park businessman Chris King in seeking the Aug. 28 Democratic gubernatorial nomination. Leading Republican candidates Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis are both staunch opponents of gun restrictions at local or state levels.

To date, the statute has been upheld by Florida courts, preventing municipalities from enforcing gun regulations. But Gillum has stood up with Tallahassee to keep its law on the books, a point he has used to argue that he is the one Democratic gubernatorial candidate who has actually fought for tighter gun control and won. However, the Tallahassee law is not being enforced.

Gillum’s campaign responded to her declaration Tuesday by accusing her of having an election year conversion on guns while Gillum has consistently fought for gun laws for many years.

“I’m glad the Congresswoman’s election year conversion on guns includes backing Mayor Gillum’s fight with the gun lobby. It would have been nice for her to support his fight when she was a sitting Member of Congress. Democrats can’t trust her on this issue, while the Mayor’s consistently fought for gun safety,” Geoff Burgan, Gillum’s communications director, said in a statement issued Tuesday.

Following the mass shootings at Pulse in 2016 and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland in February, some city officials are talking about defying the state, seeking to re-establish local gun ordinances.

Coral Gables Mayor Raúl Valdés-Fauli proposed a city-wide ban on assault weapons last month, and Weston Mayor Daniel Stermer is urging cities and counties across Florida to join a coordinated effort challenging the state’s preemption law.

“The NRA spent $300,000 to try to defeat me a few years ago – they lost,” Graham stated in the news release, referring to her 2014 election over incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland in Florida’s 2nd Congressional District. “They’ve also spent untold millions buying off Tallahassee politicians and trying to destroy local control. When I’m governor, they will lose again. If Tallahassee politicians fail to pass common sense gun safety, I’ll make sure local governments can step in and do the job the NRA sellouts in Tallahassee refuse to.”

In addition to defending home rule, Graham has also released a full gun safety plan that includes banning the sale of military-style assault weapons, implementing universal background checks, and investing more in mental health to prevent future tragedies.

Rick Scott signs 2018-19 state budget, releases veto list

Gov. Rick Scott signed his final state budget Friday, two days after the Legislature sent it to him to review.

The $88.7 billion fiscal plan – the largest in state history – landed on Scott’s desk Wednesday, but the governor did not approve it all.

He vetoed $64 million worth of line items, the smallest being a $25,000 trust fund appropriation to the Florida Housing Finance Corp. for “affordable housing programs.”

One area targeted by Scott in his vetoes was more than $29 million in local road projects, which Scott said were funded outside the Department of Transportation’s normal evaluation process. The largest veto was $7 million for a road project in Lake County.

The budget (HB 5001) approved by lawmakers included the $400 million school safety plan crafted after the Parkland mass shooting with $67 million for the controversial program that would arm school staff and train them for active shooter situations and $25 million that would go toward a memorial and the demolishing of the building where the massacre occurred.

No funding in that plan was chopped from the 2018-19 blueprint for state spending.

“Following the tragedy in Parkland where 17 died, we came together as a state and I was proud to sign the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, which invests nearly $375 million to keep our students and communities safe so this never happens again,” Scott wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Ken Detzner.

The 452-page budget passed by the Legislature also included $100.8 million for the Florida Forever land preservation program, $130 million in Medicaid funding for nursing homes, and nearly $90 million in last-minute spending that included hurricane-related projects to repair infrastructure at universities and charter schools.

Scott’s $64 million in vetoes was lower than the $69 million he eliminated in 2014, when he was running for re-election. Scott, a Naples Republican, is term limited this year. He’s widely expected to challenge incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

“Typical politicians think about their next job. I’m focused on this job,” Scott told reporters Sunday after the Legislature’s ‘sine die’ ceremony. “I’m glad we had a very successful Session. I’ll think about my future in the next few weeks.”

The News Service of Florida contributed to this post.

Annie Jae Filkowski: Fake women’s health centers deceive women

In March 2014, I was 16 years old and scared because there was a chance I was experiencing an unexpected pregnancy.

Due to a lack of sex education throughout my years in public school and fear of asking my mom about the birds and the bees, I was ignorant about sexual health and forms of contraception. I was anxious, confused and didn’t know where to go.

Every day on my way to school I would pass a Community Pregnancy Center, sometimes called a CPC. I did not know much about this facility, except it advertised on the side of its building: “FREE PREGNANCY TESTING.” I thought maybe this was a legitimate health facility that could help me.

So, after a few days of mustering up the courage, I entered the center with a friend.

I learned quickly this was not a legitimate health care provider — even though the Florida Legislature wants you to think it is. These fake women’s health centers advertise free pregnancy testing and pregnancy-options education, but they oppose abortion and contraception and therefore will not provide comprehensive counseling or referrals.

The Florida Legislature passed House Bill 41, legislation that would permanently send millions in tax dollars to these fake women’s health centers that oppose abortion and judge, shame and intentionally try to trick women.

Their advertising and outward appearances are frequently calculated to deceive women into believing they will be able to access a full range of reproductive health care services, which is exactly why I walked in. I assumed at first the women at the front desk were nurses.

They asked why I was there and responded in an almost sympathetic manner when I shared my story. They then took me to a room that looked more like a therapist’s office than an exam room and included two couches, a tissue box and a Bible.

A woman came in and asked me questions such as: “If you are pregnant, do you know who the father is?” “What’s his full name?” “What’s the extent of your relationship?”

She added, “You aren’t supposed to have sex until marriage, but if you do, you should be in love and in a committed relationship.”

These questions were shaming, and I struggled to understand how a legitimate health care provider could operate like this.

Then, before she would give me back my pregnancy-test results she asked me another question: “What is your religious affiliation?” I was shocked, answered the question, reminded her why I was there and asked her for the result of my pregnancy test.

It was negative.

After, she began a lesson on abstinence and shared how I still can be “saved” despite the “mistakes” I have made. She gave me brochures about abstinence, Christianity, adoption and medically inaccurate information about abortion.

At the end of it all, she reminded me that she had all of my private information and would be notifying my family of my visit. So much for patient confidentiality.

I oppose HB 41 because I care deeply about women and feel no person should be lied to or feel judged or shamed when accessing health care. When faced with the possibility of an unintended pregnancy, women deserve unbiased, medically accurate information about all of their options.

We should not be judged, shamed and threatened. Our elected officials should not be legitimizing these fake clinics, nor should they be sending them millions in tax dollars, a scheme HB 41 makes permanent in law.

The best way to prevent unintended pregnancies is with contraception and medically accurate information around sexual health. However, this legislation denies women the full range of reproductive health care, is politically motivated and hurtful to women and families.

If Gov. Rick Scott cares about being a good steward of our tax dollars and supports deception-free, comprehensive, medically accurate women’s health care, he will veto HB 41.


Annie Jae Filkowski is a student at the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg, where she majors in political science and law studies.

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