Florida Legislature Archives - Page 3 of 44 - Florida Politics

Carlos Guillermo Smith, Amy Mercado say special session needed to end cannabis legal limbo

Saying that the current limbo of law is bad for doctors and patients, Democratic state Reps. Carlos Guillermo Smith and Amy Mercado pleaded with Gov. Rick Scott and Florida Legislature leaders to call a special session to deal with medical marijuana.

“We are here because 71 percent of Florida voters approved the constitutional right to medical cannabis. But we also are here because unfortunately once again Tallahassee politicians have thwarted the will of the people and they have refused to implement Amendment 2, medical cannabis,” said Smith, of Orlando. “They should be ashamed.

“While the out-of-touch, old-fashioned conservative majority in Tallahassee continues its hand-wringing over whether or not cannabis is actual medicine… or whether they can actually get over themselves and listen to the voters, qualified patients are dying, qualified patients are waiting,” he continued. “And there is no question that the governor, the Senate president of the senate and the speaker of the House need to be leaders and officially call for a special session and demand that the Legislature implement the will of the voters immediately.”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran has called for a special session to pass implementing legislation to fill out the laws for the Amendment 2 medical marijuana initiative approved by 71 percent of the voters in November. Senate President Joe Negron and Gov. Rick Scott have not. The Florida Legislature failed to pass the implementing bill on the last day of Session earlier this month.

Cannabis activist and author Gary Stein argued that the lack of implementing laws means that the qualifying patients – and the doctors who assist them – are caught in legal “fog” between what should be authorized under Amendment 2 and what little cannabis law and regulation exists based on the 2014 “Charlotte’s Web” bill the Florida Legislature approve.

Mercado, also of Orlando, talked about how her grandmother went through chemical and radiation therapy for stage 4 cancer, and she and the family wanted to try everything and anything. “Had medical cannabis been available, I’m pretty sure we’d have tried that too,” she said. “So we need to make sure, and ensure, that no one gets the way of patient access to medication that makes them feel better.”

Smith and Mercado also called on the Florida Department of Health to lift rules that would not be allowed under Amendment 2, but which slow down or prevent people from using medicines derived from cannabis.

Among them, they called for Florida to:

– Waive the 90-day waiting period for patients to access the medicines after they have been certified as qualified patients.

– “Stay out of the sacred patient-doctor relationship.”

– Stop rules that prevent qualified patients from getting access.

– Protect employees who can be legally fired from their jobs for using medicines derived from cannabis in their homes.

– Expand qualified conditions to include non-malignant chronic pain.

– Open the market to allow more competition, including to minority-owned businesses.

– Allow for smokable cannabis.

Joe Henderson: Betsy DeVos pleaded for students to listen, but shouldn’t she do the same?

As students at Bethune-Cookman University turned their backs and lustily booed commencement speaker Betsy DeVos, the rattled education secretary pleaded, “Let’s choose to hear each other out.”

It’s ironic that DeVos chose those words to find middle ground, considering Republicans across the land, and particularly in the Washington establishment she now represents, have demonstrated no interest in hearing anything but the echo of their own voices.

The best leaders spend a long time listening before they speak. Perhaps DeVos should choose to hear the voices of those who believe we are seeing what may later be viewed as a historic assault on public education.

Republicans — including those in the Florida Legislature — are showing barely restrained glee at that prospect. As the highest-ranking agency leader in that charge, DeVos and many in her party have shown almost willful ignorance of the havoc this is causing.

A story in Thursday’s Tampa Bay Times quoted Hillsborough Schools Superintendent Jeff Eakins warning the district, which services more than 200,000 students, may see a deepening financial crisis.

The budget passed this week by the Legislature cuts per-student funding by $27 at a time when Florida’s population is booming. Eakins said there may have to be a teacher hiring freeze. He also has to find a way to pay for about $3 billion total in new school construction, repairs for existing schools, and debt on previous construction.

It’s also odd that Republicans complain about the treatment DeVos received, many calling it rude and so forth. Yet, how many of them chanted “lock her up … lock her up” at the mention of Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign, or even as late as March as President Donald Trump spoke at a rally in Nashville?

By that standard, I thought students at Bethune-Cookman were kind to the representative of a government that increasingly is turning its back on them.

DeVos at one point declared, “We can choose to listen, be respectful and continue to learn from each other’s experience.”

This is the same person who earlier declared that so-called historically black colleges represented the original school choice plan.

Choice, huh? The University of Florida didn’t admit its first black student until 1958 — the year DeVos was born, the daughter of billionaire Amway co-founder Richard DeVos. Florida State didn’t begin admitting black students until 1962.

The memory of that kind of school “choice” is still fresh for many of the parents or grandparents of black students today. Education was their path to a better life. They see a government trying to change that.

They see DeVos as someone who doesn’t understand them and doesn’t seem too interested in learning. Maybe what happened at Bethune-Cookman will change that, but I doubt it.

There was widespread anger across the campus when DeVos was originally announced as the commencement speaker. There was a petition drive to have the offer rescinded.

I would give her credit for showing up anyway, except I think she probably thought she could turn this into a photo op with smiling, applauding students endorsing what she has planned.

She got that photo op all right, just not the one she wanted.

The question is, was she listening to what all those booing students were really saying? Is anyone?

Kevin McCarthy says he sees a ‘great opportunity to get the money’ for Everglades restoration projects

A three-hour helicopter tour of the Everglades could prove to be key in helping secure money for restoration projects going forward.

Rep. Francis Rooney took House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy on a tour of the Everglades and the Lake Okeechobee Watershed on Tuesday. The tour — similar to one the Naples Republican took Rep. Ken Calvert, the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Interior and the Environment on back in March — was meant to highlight the importance of funding projects that have already been approved, and in some cases designed, within the watershed.

“He’s been telling me about this since before he was elected and he invited me before even getting sworn in,” said McCarthy, a California Republican. “This is a natural treasure.”

Rooney has been pushing for President Donald Trump and members of Congress to support Everglades restoration projects since taking office. In February, he sent a letter, signed by the entire Florida delegation, calling on the president to include restoration projects, particularly ones within the Central Everglades Restoration Program, in his fiscal 2018 budget.

McCarthy said the need for improvements were clear during the tour, which flew over the the C-43 storage reservoir, the culvert replacements at the Herbert Hoover Dike, and several other state projects.

“I see what we’re going in Congress right now, when we go to tax reform and when we go to infrastructure, I see the funding already coming now,” said McCarthy. “But I see opportunities that we can speed it up to save the taxpayers money, finish some of these projects earlier. And I see a great opportunity to get the money.”

McCarthy commended the state for its efforts over the year, and said that could bode well for Florida in the future.

“When we look to make investments, we look to those places that have a priority, have an investment from the state,” he said. “So I think the state has done their work. The federal government, I know under Francis’ direction, is already making those commitments.”

State lawmakers this year approved a massive bill (SB 10) that aims to reduce discharges from Lake Okeechobee. A top priority for Senate President Joe Negron, the bill, among other things, requires the South Florida Water Management District to develop a plan to build 240,000-acre-feet of storage. The total cost of the project is estimated to be about $1.5 billion, half of which could be paid for by the federal government.

Gov. Rick Scott has said he would sign the bill. However, lawmakers declined to include $200 million in the budget to help fix the Herbert Hoover Dike, a request Scott made late in the Session.

Rooney, a friend of Scott’s, said he was “a little surprised” the governor got involved in the dike issue.

“I was a little surprised the governor got into the dike issue, but I’m glad he tried,” he said when asked if the Legislature’s decision not to include funding could impact a proposal to complete repairs by 2022. “It would’ve been nice to give them a could hundred million to add to the pot to get these projects done faster. But it’s the Corps of Engineers project, and they are going to try to … seek more money to get it completed by 2022 as well.”

Andrew Gillum

Andrew Gillum calls for ‘strengthening’ Obamacare in Florida

A day after the end of the 2017 Legislative Session, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum on Monday called on state lawmakers to pass a bill “strengthening insurance protections for those with pre-existing conditions.”

Gillum, the sitting mayor of Tallahassee, appeared at the Florida Press Center with two local women who told of their family members’ troubles getting coverage and treatment: One has a son with a chromosomal disorder and the other’s sister lives with Crohn’s disease, an incurable digestive malady.

Gillum’s proposal, a priority if he’s elected in 2018, has three goals: Prohibit insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions; charge them the same premiums as those without such conditions; and “end the discriminatory practice of charging women higher premiums than men.”

The first two already are part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as “Obamacare,” which President Donald Trump and GOP members of Congress have so far unsuccessfully tried to repeal. The federal law is the signature act of former President Barack Obama

Gillum’s proposal, light on specifics, may be more pipe dream than policy—at least for now—with a GOP-controlled Legislature and an insurance industry averse to change.

He said he had had “some behind-the-scenes conversations” with members of the industry, though he declined to say who, and couldn’t provide a financial impact of his proposal.

A request for comment was sent to Audrey S. Brown, the president and CEO of the Florida Association of Health Plans, which represents managed-care companies.

Gillum also dodged a question about whether he supported an “individual mandate,” insurance parlance for a legal requirement to buy health insurance. That’s also part of the ACA.

“We believe, and I certainly believe, that health care is a right,” he said. “We also know that it has a tremendous impact on this state’s economy. We unfortunately have a governor that did not allow the full benefits of the ACA to be felt. We would work toward a strengthening of the ACA.”

GOP Gov. Rick Scott, a former for-profit hospital chain executive who’s term-limited next year, has declined to expand Medicaid under the ACA to provide health coverage to more poor and working-poor Floridians. That decision was supported the Republican-controlled House.

Denise Wilson, a banking trainer, told of her young son’s struggle with Potocki-Shaffer syndrome, which affects bones and tissues. He’s needed surgery just to maintain his ability to move, she said.

She told of having “to go through hoops” to get him treatment: “And when you have a child with special needs, your life is hoops.”

And Avril Wood, a “state worker,” said her younger sister’s need for Crohn’s treatment has caused her family constant worries over paying for insurance and medications.

Crohn’s “causes inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract, which can lead to abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss and malnutrition,” according to the Mayo Clinic.

“My sister is loving and kind,” Wood said, verging on tears. “This has ravaged our family … My parents are wondering if they’re going to run out of money in their retirement. Given the choice between bankruptcy and keeping my sister alive, they will choose bankruptcy. And that thought is cruel.”

The 37-year-old Gillum was first elected to public office in 2003, when he became Tallahassee’s youngest city council member ever at 23. He was elected mayor in 2014.

He still faces an Leon County Sheriff’s Office investigation into whether he broke state ethics law by using a city-owned email program to send campaign-related and other political messages.

Other declared Democratic candidates for governor include former Tallahassee-area congresswoman Gwen Graham and Winter Park businessman Chris King. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is likely to be the the first Republican to declare; his announcement is expected Wednesday in Bartow.

Rick Scott says he will make veto decision ‘based on what’s best’ for Florida families

Gov. Rick Scott took a swing at state lawmakers, saying the Legislature turned its back on economic incentive deals that have helped Florida “out compete … top competitors for important jobs.”

The Naples Republican released a scathing statement Tuesday, scolding legislative leaders for passing a budget that “was done largely behind closed doors.” Scott said he has begun the process of reviewing the budget, and said he will make a decision about whether he vetoes the entire budget “based on what’s best for our families.”

“I ran for Governor to fight career politicians and it’s backroom deals like this that make families think politics is nothing more than a game,” said Scott in a statement. “I am beginning to review the budget and I have the option of vetoing the entire budget or vetoing the items that circumvented the transparent process and do not have an acceptable return on investment for hardworking taxpayers. Just like I do every year, I will make my decisions based on what’s best for our families because my job is to wake up every day and fight for Floridians.”

The Legislature approved the nearly $83 billion budget Monday night, three days after the 2017 Session was scheduled to end. The budget does not fund several of Scott’s top priorities, including a request for $85 million for economic incentives for Enterprise Florida.

Scott blasted lawmakers for not funding economic incentives, saying the “Florida Legislature has turned their back on Florida’s ability to fund economic incentive deals that help our state outcompete our top competitors for important jobs.”

“This is very concerning to me and is an action that each member will have to defend as their local communities lose out on new manufacturing facilities, headquarter relocations and thousands of high wage jobs for families,” he said.

The budget includes $25 million for Visit Florida, less than Scott requested. It also doesn’t include $200 million to put toward the Herbert Hoover Dike, a move Scott called irresponsible.

“I am also shocked that despite their commitment to protecting the environment, the Florida Legislature failed to jump start the process of fixing the Herbert Hoover Dike at Lake Okeechobee,” he said. “For years, I urged President Obama to fix the dike, and now when President Trump has committed funding for this project, the Legislature irresponsibly ignored it.”

Once lawmakers send Scott the 2017-18 budget, he has 15 days to sign, exercise his line-item veto power, or veto the entire budget.

If he decides to veto the entire budget, the Legislature has the opportunity to head back to the capital city to override the veto. To do that, they’ll need two-thirds of the members present and voting for a veto-override.


Florida bolsters response to opioid-addiction crisis

Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency Wednesday to combat opioid abuse in the state, where he said the number of overdose deaths has reached epidemic proportions.

Scott’s executive order will free up nearly $30 million in federal funds for prevention, treatment and recovery services. And it comes as a series of workshops focused on addressing the opioid abuse crisis launch in the state’s hardest-hit areas.

“I know firsthand how heartbreaking substance abuse can be to a family because it impacted my own family growing up,” Scott said in a statement. “Families across our nation are fighting the opioid epidemic and Florida is going to do everything possible to help our families.”

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2015 nearly 3,900 people died across the state as a result of opioid abuse.

Scott’s declaration has bolstered the Florida Legislature’s effort this year to address the opioid abuse crisis in several proposals.

“The governor deserves credit for recognizing the immensity of the problem,” State Sen. Jeff Clemens, a Democrat from Lake Worth, said. “People are dying, and now we can all come together to work on solutions and save lives.”

Among the measures state legislators are considering is one that rewrites the state’ drug trafficking statute and puts fentanyl — a synthetic drug that can be 100 times more potent than morphine — at the same level as heroin. The measure would create tougher penalties for dealers and users, specifically those caught with fentanyl. This drug is associated with more than 700 deaths in the state last year.

The state Senate unanimously approved the bill Wednesday. If passed, drug dealers could face murder charges in cases where a buyer overdoses and died.

Opponents of some provisions in the measure say it will increase the state’ inmate population and will criminalize drug addicts who should be getting treatment instead.

Lawmakers are also trying to crack down on sober-living homes that make false marketing statements in order to draw in more patients. The fate of that bill remains uncertain after its passage in the House a week ago. With two days left in Session, the Senate has yet to put it on its schedule for consideration.

A bill that places new restrictions on how doctors prescribe painkillers has also moved along in the Legislature. Under this bill, pharmacies would have to report the dispensing of a controlled substance to a state database after the end of each business day, rather than on a weekly basis.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.


Rick Scott plans whirlwind tour to press support for VISIT Florida, Enterprise Florida, Hoover Dike

Three days from the prospect of losing funding for his two favorite economic development organizations and his big environmental project, Gov. Rick Scott plans to spend those three days touring Florida to get people to pressure for their salvation.

Scott announced Tuesday his “Fighting for Florida’s Future” campaign, taking him on a whirlwind tour of home cities of lawmakers who might feel pressure to support full funding for Enterprise Florida and VISIT Florida.

And now, with the Legislature hammering out the final details of a budget that dismisses some of Scott’s priorities, the governor is adding a third priority to his tour’s message: $200 million to help fix the Herbert Hoover Dike at Lake Okeechobee.

“There are still a few days left of the Regular Session which means that there is still time for the politicians to do the right thing and fund priorities to protect our environment and keep our economy growing,” Scott stated in a news release issued by his office.

On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, Scott plans stops in Tampa, Orlando, Palm Beach, Miami, Pensacola, Panama City, Naples, Sarasota, Jacksonville, and the Space Coast.

Exact times, dates and locations have not yet been announced.

In purpose the new tour is not unlike the Florida tour the governor has taken over the past two months as he’s tried to counter the Legislature’s efforts to eliminate Enterprise Florida and significantly cut back VISIT Florida, which key leaders such as Speaker Richard Corcoran have targeted as bloated, out of control and not effective enough after years of limited oversight.

Except for this time, it’s a last-ditch dash. And Scott added Herbert Hoover Dam repair funding.

“The 60 day legislative session is wrapping up this week, and I have been fighting the politicians in Tallahassee for three things to help Florida families — funding for tourism marketing so we can continue to bring record visitors to Florida; funding for proven economic development programs so we can continue to diversify our economy and bring more jobs to Florida; and $200 million to help fix the Dike at Lake Okeechobee so we can protect our environment for future generations,” Scott stated in the release.

“All three of these issues are tied to jobs, but unfortunately the politicians in Tallahassee still haven’t committed to funding these important priorities.”

Pat Neal: Florida must commit to the future and invest in high-tech jobs

Pat Neal

The world around us is constantly changing as technology evolves. Investing in high-tech jobs can set Florida up to succeed far into the future while providing people with high-wage jobs that will keep the American dream alive and well in our great state.

Other states have already committed to investments in the future, with millions of dollars being poured into high-tech centers that boost the economy and create hundreds of jobs.

Luckily, our state leadership is committed to this goal, with Gov. Rick Scott recognizing the growing need for high-tech jobs in the state. He has consistently touted STEM programs in Florida’s education system, including his $10,000 STEM Degree Challenge to steer students into high-tech STEM jobs. He approved $15 million in funding last year for the Florida Advanced Manufacturing Research Center, now BRIDG, which partners with universities and companies to develop high-tech sensors.

Studies have shown that regions and states comprising of high-tech research and industrial centers achieve economic boons.

The Bluffs, an advanced manufacturing park in Pensacola, is a prime example: A Florida TaxWatch report found that about 6,000 new positions in Pensacola’s manufacturing sector would be created if The Bluffs reached its maximum potential. It goes on to state that new wages in the region as a result of increased job creation could grow by as much as $400 million and that Florida’s Gross State Product could rise by as much as $1.1 billion.

Research centers like BRIDG and The Bluffs are critical pieces to Florida’s high-tech puzzle and need both private and public support to attract companies to invest in them. We will need every available resource in the toolkit to do so, including Enterprise Florida (EFI), which has played a large role in the development of BRIDG and The Bluffs.

Unfortunately, EFI is at risk of being eliminated completely by the Florida Legislature, which would cut our investments on opportunities in high-tech fields. This would be an unwise move, especially as other states bolster their efforts to build up their high-tech industries and put Florida at a disadvantage to other states, halting the progress the state has made in high-tech principles. Instead, lawmakers in Tallahassee should consider the benefits of using EFI and other state resources to boost our high-tech footprint.

In this global economy, we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. Making an investment to ensure that Florida becomes a high-tech hub that attracts the top individuals and companies to the state is essential to the success.


Pat Neal is a former state senator and the former chair of the Christian Coalition of Florida; he currently serves as chairman-elect for the board of directors of Florida TaxWatch, the state’s independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research institute and government watchdog; and is the president of Neal Communities.

Ethics commission bucks legislative leaders’ assertion of authority

The Florida Commission on Ethics voted unanimously Friday to resist efforts by House and Senate leaders to exert control over its hiring, firing, travel, and other business, citing fears for its independence.

The panel agreed to back Chairman Matthew Carlucci in rejecting a “delegation of authority” issued on March 21 by House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron.

Carlucci was sure the leaders’ intentions were “noble,” and that “these are good people,” he said.

Still, “as long as the Legislature stays involved with any kind of delegation or perception of a delegation that they can deliver to us, there will always, in my opinion, be a conflict of interest inherently. And particularly on our investigators and their support teams,” Carlucci said.

“Because when we have to occasionally investigate members of the House or the Senate, and there’s a perception that they have some control, that is a conflict of interest.”

Some commissioners appeared more eager for a fight than others, and the final language reflects that caution.

The resolution recognizes “that it is the honorable intention of the Legislature to maintain accountability for all agencies of government,” and says the commission shares that commitment.

But it also notes that the Florida Constitution established the commission as an independent entity, and that the leaders’ move threatens perceptions of that independence.

It concludes:

“The Commission on Ethics respectfully suggests that, although it is unable to accept the delegations of authority, the commission remains committed to operating strictly within the bounds of the law as set forth by the Legislature, and the financial parameters appropriated by the Legislature, and will continue to honor the Legislature’s authority as clearly articulated in Florida Statutes and in the Florida Constitution.”

Carlucci said he would have favored stronger language, but that the document “conveys the message that we are unable to accept it (the delegation). That’s the key that get me over the line.”

“I don’t think we need to have a dog fight over language that would be considered as inflammatory,” Commissioner David Berger said. “Just by having this long hearing, the message is getting out there about how we fell about our independence.”

The commission has tussled with the Legislature before. In 1987, it sued to assert its independence. The Legislature settled after a circuit judge refused to throw out the commission’s case, according to former commission chairman Mark Herron.

“The power to hire and fire, the power to pay, is the power to control,” Herron told the commission.

Legislative leaders began issuing the delegations in 1998. The March document asserts authority to approve hiring, firing, increases pay or bonuses to commission staff; out-of-state travel; expenses or more than $1,000; leases or changes in office space; spending money left over from a previous year; or any personal leave of more than one week.

“I do not believe the speaker and president have standing to issue these delegations in the first place, because of the commission’s independence, as spelled out in the Constitution,” Carlucci said.

“This has been going on since 1998, and it shouldn’t have been,” Commissioner Kimberly Rezanka said.

The directives don’t appear onerous, but could prevent staff travel necessary to investigate cases, she said.

“To me this is a notice issue, that we should not be subjected to delegation of authority whatsoever as an independent commission,” she said. “I don’t believe these should be issued to us at all.”

“This is not the commission throwing their thumb in the Legislature’s face. We’re not doing that. What we’re doing is only expressing what the Constitution requires, independence,” Commissioner Stanley Weston said.

“By no means is it meant as disrespect. By all means, it is respect for the people of Florida and respect for the Constitution.”

Aramis Ayala’s staff build up raises questions about whether she has enough

State budget cuts the Florida Legislature is aiming at Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala‘s office  could slice up to $1.3 million and 21 staff members yet there is dispute over how much she’ll need that money and staff to prosecute criminal cases in Orange and Osceola counties.

Her office currently has 55 open jobs out of 385 authorized staff positions, including 22 openings for assistant state attorneys.

Ayala’s 9th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office contends that is because it is taking time for the new, reform-pushing state attorney to recruit, hire and bring on board the staff she wants.

But critics in the Florida Legislature, notably state Rep. Scott Plakon, contend the openings show her office is functioning with far less staff than his proposed budget cut would provide.

Ayala, of course, is in hot water, particularly with state Republicans, for her announcement last month that she has concluded Florida’s death penalty laws are unjust for all, and she won’t use it in first-degree murder cases. Plakon is one of many critics who therefore accuse her of refusing to do her job.

Yet while Plakon and others are unabashed in their vitriol toward her, they are defending the proposed budget cuts with some of the same language that Ayala used in opposing the death penalty: death penalty cases are expensive. Ayala contended she’d rather not spend so much money on so few cases, and instead use it for everything else, from domestic violence and human trafficking prosecutions to seeking life in prison without parole for murderers.

Plakon, meanwhile, suggests the money needs to go to other state attorneys who are taking on the financial burdens of death penalty cases. That most likely starts with 5th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Brad King, to whom Gov. Rick Scott has reassigned 23 of Ayala’s murder cases.

If the house budget cut goes through, or if a smaller, $622,000 budget cut in the Senate budget plan carries the day, Ayala may never get the chance to show what her office might be able to do with money it did not spend on death penalty prosecutions.

She didn’t expect to get her office fully staffed until about six months into her four-year term, said her Communications Director Eryka Washington. By then her 2016-17 budget year will have ended, and she’ll be running the office on whatever the Florida Legislature provides in the next couple of weeks for the 2017-18 fiscal year.

Washington said two weeks ago that the office had just 33 open positions and the number was dropping. But on Monday she clarified that saying the number she used reflected all the  job offers that have been made, many of which are pending such things as background checks and bar scores. That includes seven job offers of assistant state attorney jobs to individuals awaiting their Bar  Exam scores, and to another three to people who are awaiting either a background check, or who haven’t yet accepted.

“Our goal was to be fully staffed within six months,” Washington said, noting Ayala took office in January. “When she came into office, she wanted to restructure, and when she came in it was understaffed. This does take some time.”

According to staffing data provided to FloridaPolitics.com last week, the office had 330 people on its payroll through April 12, and the state had authorized 385.5.

The differences include 22 openings among 160 authorized assistant state attorney positions, 13 for legal secretaries, four for investigators, four for paralegal specialists, and three for victim and witness counselors. There also were a sprinkling of openings an administrator, clerks, an information systems director, a multi-media specialist and other jobs.

Plakon expressed skepticism that anyone in Ayala’s office thought the number was 33 job openings two weeks ago, at a time when state records showed 60 openings. He accused the office of attempting to mislead the public during the legislative budget debates.

And he continued that theme late last week, arguing that the office will not feel a budget crunch if $1.3 million – equal to 21 staff positions – is siphoned off to follow the death penalty cases to other prosecutors willing to take on those difficult and expensive assignments.

Last year the office received an extra $1.4 million, also authorizing 21 positions, specifically targeting new programs for domestic violence and human trafficking prosecutions. Plakon expressed confidence those programs – which Ayala had pushed as priorities during her campaign last year – should be unaffected, given all the current understaffing.

“She had, according to transparency.gov, 60 vacant positions. So she has all the resources she needs to effectively do her job,”  Plakon said. “That’s especially true in light of her refusal to do part of her job, so we’ve systematically taken $1.3 million and moved it to the Justice Administration Commission.”

The Florida Legislature Conference Committee will have the final word on the budget cut for Ayala’s office.


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