Florida Legislature – Page 5 – Florida Politics

Joe Henderson: Maybe Senate should have asked Adam Putnam first

Say this for Adam Putnam: he knows how to get attention.

He put out a terse news release Wednesday, ripping a state Senate proposal to use $10 million from the concealed weapons license fee to reimburse trauma centers for costs related to the Parkland murders.

It was kind of a “get off my lawn” moment for the normally affable Agriculture Commissioner, who also is running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.

“I oppose taxing law-abiding concealed weapon licensees for atrocities carried out by criminals. If anyone should be taxed for those heinous acts, it should be criminals,” the release read.

“The monster who murdered 17 people in Parkland wasn’t even eligible to have a concealed weapon license.”

Putnam’s objection about taxpayers is a bit of a reach, starting with the fact that law-abiding citizens he referred to aren’t being taxed. They voluntarily paid a fee for the right to carry a concealed weapon.

And while we all agree what happened in Parkland qualifies as an atrocity, it’s not like the reimbursement would be going to some wild-eyed anti-gun lobby. It would be going to help cover costs of treating victims of the aforementioned atrocity.

It is true, though, that the confessed shooter in Parkland isn’t old enough to have the license. In Florida, the minimum age is 21 for the permit. He was old enough to legally purchase the AR-15 assault-style rifle used in the attack, but I digress.

The point is, the horror unleashed that day – 17 dead, 14 wounded – pushed local hospitals to the limit. That’s what led Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens to propose the reimbursement fund, which would be administered by Attorney General’s office.

Senate President Joe Negron supported the idea, and SB 1876 was born. It passed an appropriations committee vote 17-3.

On the surface, using a portion of that gun fee in this way seemed reasonable. First-time Florida applicants pay $97 for the permit, which includes $55 for fingerprinting. Renewals cost $45.

It is good for seven years.

However, Jennifer Meale, communications director for the agriculture department, said in an email, “The primary purpose of the licensing fees is to mange and operate the concealed weapon license program. All application and renewal fees are dedicated to the licensing trust fund.”

Translation: That money already has a purpose.

In fairness, the right thing to do for those pushing for this bill would have been to check with Putnam before going public.

This sounds like the Agriculture Commissioner is telling the Senate to keep its mitts out of his money pot without talking to him first, no matter how well-meaning the proposal might be.

He has a point.

Parkland meets Pulse, uniting in grief, anger and frustration

Survivors, family, and community members battered but not beaten by Florida’s two great recent tragedies met in Orlando Wednesday at Pulse nightclub, uniting in their grief, anger, determination and a frustration over how things do or do not change.

A busload of Parkland community members, including families of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students, came to pay their respects at the Pulse nightclub, and to share in their experiences both of and following the mass shootings of Feb. 14, 2018, and June 12, 2016.

These are not happy groups, but they were joyful to meet one another Wednesday, in the company of Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and former state Sen. Jeremy Ring, two Democratic politicians as closely affected by the massacres as any. Dyer oversaw much of Orlando’s response, coming out of it Orlando United. Ring is a Parkland resident, running for Florida Chief Financial Officer, with his campaign temporarily suspended since the school shooting.

The group, part of the much larger contingent that spent the past week in Tallahassee seeking legislative responses to the Douglas High School shooting, was not put together for any ideological positions, but at Pulse Wednesday their anger and frustration appeared widespread: angry that their community suffered another shooting, frustrated that many believe the Florida Legislature let them down.

Kim Bankoff of Weston, mother of three children in the school district, said many of the families who went to Tallahassee were generally pleased and some even excited by the proposals that Legislature leaders laid out to them Monday. Then, she said, hours later, in the middle of the night, they learned of the amendments coming in, and much of the support many felt was replaced by jadedness.

“Pass this or not we need to recognize this does not go far enough,” she said.

Ring, who spent much of the time with the group in Tallahassee and traveled separately to Orlando Wednesday, said of most of the members of the group, ‘They’re ticked off. They’re not happy.”

Ring said Bankoff’s frustration was caused because members of the Florida House had explained their bill Monday night and then changed it, making the Parkland community members feel deceived.

“I’ve seen that countless times,” Ring said. “The other thing that frustrated them that the Florida Senate in a, I don’t know how long, seven hours? meeting, somehow ran out of time. And I’ve seen that countless times.”

He said he understands the processes and politics, but the desperate families who came to Tallahassee were caught completely off-guard, and left aghast.

The 25 or so Parkland community members who came to Pulse met with about a dozen Pulse survivors and family.  Up until a few days ago they would have been able to make an intimate visit to what had become a makeshift shrine to what, until the Las Vegas massacre last summer, had been the country’s worst mass murder in recent history. But they had to get together outside a new, eight-foot, mostly-tarped fence surrounding the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, a barrier erected only last weekend to allow for construction of an interim memorial.

 As both Parkland and Pulse community members placed single white roses into the fence, Luciel Tschumy, an LGBTQ transgender female activist from Broward County, read the names of the 49 people murdered at Pulse, punctuating her reading with anger for the lives cut short. “We’re standing here putting 49 roses. We shouldn’t have to freakin’ be here!” she exclaimed.

Margate Elementary School teacher Monique Wilson read a poem she wrote expressing deep frustration and anger. “Honestly America? What’s a parent to do, when a child is stripped from you?” she read. “So much change is needed, America, we’ve needed it for such a long time.”

Dyer sought to unite the groups, and pledged Orlando’s support. “We love you. We feel your pain. We want to do everything that we can to help you,” he said.

Rob Bradley kills his criminal justice bill to ‘fund school safety initiatives’

After a criminal justice bill sponsored by Senate budget chief Rob Bradley was zeroed out Wednesday in early  negotiations, he said he will kill it to help fund plans to harden schools and fund for mental health services.

“I have killed my own bill,” Bradley told Florida Politics.

The move to abandon the bill took Sen. Jeff Brandes, the co-sponsor of the measure and the Senate’s top criminal justice budget-writer, by surprise.

“I one-hundred percent did not know this was going to happen,” Brandes said.

The sweeping criminal justice reform (SB 484) would have cost taxpayers $10 million to fund and would have authorized counties to create supervised bond release programs and allowed qualifying inmates to be moved from prison to county jails in cases when they are terminally ill and given less than a year to live.

The bail bond industry last week lobbied hard against the measure.

“In light of the cuts that we are taking across all areas of the budget to fund school safety initiatives, I decided to address that issue next session,” Bradley added.

His measure had cleared two Senate committees and was in its last stop, Senate Appropriations, a panel chaired by Bradley. Appropriations is scheduled to meet Friday, but that bill will not be put on the notice anymore.

Brandes, the Senate’s top criminal justice budget-writer, has introduced several criminal justice reforms this year that focus on rehabilitating inmates. The measure that Bradley has killed would have helped divert more people out of the criminal justice system.

An estimate 4,200 inmates would have been eligible to be sentenced to a county jail under this bill, according to data from the Department of Corrections.

“I think that it is an idea that is still one that has value and frankly should be considered,” Brandes said. “I was surprised tonight, but there might be an opportunity to discuss it in the future.”

Mother of dead Parkland teacher questions Legislature’s transparency

When several amendments were filed on gun bills ahead of their hearings in the House and Senate budget committees on Tuesday, the mother of a teacher killed in the Parkland shooting said she felt misled by the Legislature.

Linda Beigel Schulman’s son Scott Beigel was among the 17 killed by 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz on Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Beigel was a geography teacher and cross-country coach at the school.

In the wake of her son’s death, Schulman has been active at the state Capitol and invested in the school safety, gun and mental health proposals that are moving quickly through these last few days of the 2018 Session.

Schulman said on Wednesday that she believes that she and potentially other Parkland community members were misled on the proposals because they were not briefed on the dozens of amendments filed ahead of both chambers’ budget meetings.

“Amendments were added — which I think is not forthright,” Schulman said. She said the amendments changed the makeup of the bills, altering what MSD parents had been told earlier.

“I do not think that we understood all that we were saying ‘yes’ to,” Schulman said. “We were saying yes to what we understood and we were told.”

She said when she spoke to other MSD parents at a Capitol vigil last night, “they had no idea” what had been approved by each chamber’s budget committees.

“I feel like sometimes we are being used,” Schulman said.

The Tampa Bay Times reported that Democrats on budget committees had criticized Republicans for late filing so many amendments — but Democrats also had filed stricter gun control amendments that were destined for failure.

Schulman on Wednesday refrained from calling out a specific party.

“I want you to know I’m not here as a Democrat and I’m not here as a Republican,” Schulman said. She later added, “This is not anything political – I’m not going there.”

Schulman opined a bit about her woes with the legislative process, but with momentum building behind the concept of arming teachers, Schulman’s main talking point on Wednesday was her disapproval of the measure, recently dubbed the ‘marshal program‘. And as the mother of someone who had been hired at a Florida school, Schulman shared a unique perspective on the debate over whether training and arming volunteer teachers will be effective — or disastrous.

Schulman said that when her son was hired at the Broward County school he was asked if he could coach the cross-country team and he said yes. She said he likely would’ve said yes to anything because he “wanted the job.”

“It didn’t matter what they were going to ask him if he could do, he was going to say ‘yes, of course,” Schulman said. She added that her son did not know anything about cross-country at the time.

She anticipated the new teachers will similarly be pressured into going through the necessary training to carry a concealed firearm on campus.

“That’s problematic,” Schulman said. She also expects parents will eventually only want their children in classrooms with armed teachers, further complicating the problem.

No more baby deliveries: Rural hospital affected after state’s Medicaid cuts

As the House and Senate begin final budget negotiations, one of the biggest Medicaid funding differences will be cuts to hospitals, an area that was slashed last Session and is already having a real-life impact on one rural hospital in DeSoto County.

No more baby deliveries.

“Effective February 1, 2018 at 12:01 a.m. DeSoto Memorial Hospital will no longer be delivering babies. Please communicate with your doctor and have a plan in place,” the hospital website states.

For mothers who are in labor, that plan may entail driving about 30 miles to the nearest hospital in Charlotte County, Dan Hogan, the Chief Financial Officer of DeSoto Memorial, said.

Hogan said the decision to slash obstetrician care from the hospital’s services was a result of a “perfect storm” that arose from an estimated $840,000 Medicaid reimbursement rate cuts to his hospital this year. Other factors that played a role in the decision: a drop in baby deliveries and paying patients.

“You have all these financial kinds of pressure to keep the services in place, and so that was the perfect storm, I guess,” Hogan said.

State Rep. Jason Brodeur, the House Health Care Appropriations chairman, told reporters on Wednesday that rural hospitals face trouble when other issues hit the business, such as a drop in paying patients.

“One of the challenges that rural hospitals have now is the fact that they are rural,” he said. “So if you see a decline in the number of people going there that is going to put any business in trouble.”

DeSoto Memorial, for example, relies on patients who are covered by government plans, which contribute to 70 percent of the hospital’s business, Hogan said. About half of the patients that seek services at the hospital are covered under the Medicaid program, which cares for low-income pregnant women, children and elderly people.

Hospitals sustained $521 million in Medicaid cuts last Session — $11.4 million affecting rural community hospitals.

“Last Session was the highest total amount of cuts to Florida’s Medicaid program in memory,” said Bruce Rueben, the president at the Florida Hospital Association.

Hogan said his administration keeps costs “pretty darn low” at DeSoto Memorial. “But even with that,” he adds, “ you can’t seem to catch a break because people don’t always have a plan or it is often out of pocket for them.”

Many rural hospitals have a mix of patients, including some who are covered under the Medicaid program and some who are uninsured patients — often times undocumented immigrants — who have no coverage and may not be able to pay for the care they are receiving. Hogan said about 10 percent of his services go unpaid.

Sen. Anitere Flores, the Senate’s top health care budget-writer, could not exactly say on Tuesday what the biggest funding difference between the House and Senate will be for rural hospitals, but said the chamber is mindful of past cuts.

“My understanding is that the Senate’s desire in our budget is to try and keep rural hospitals whole as much as we can,” Flores said.

Joe Henderson: Arming teachers is bad, bad, bad idea

Some good ideas about gun control came out of the Legislature this week. Arming teachers isn’t one of them, though.

The proposal in the House Appropriations Committee to spend $400 million and put resource officers in every school, beef up mental health treatment, and reinforce buildings to make them safer – all good.

As always when guns are involved though, lawmakers go a step too far.

In this case, Republicans pushed through by a party-line vote the school marshal program championed by Rep. Jose Oliva that would authorize designated teachers to have and, if necessary, use firearms.

Yes, it still has to reach the governor’s desk and even then would still be up to individual school districts to decide if they want to implement the plan.

Even so, it’s bad.

Bad. Bad. Bad.

That’s not just me saying this.

Students, parents and teachers who lived through the horror of the Parkland massacre pleaded, cried and did their best to convince the committee that the proposal was whacked and would only make a horrible situation worse.

Gov. Rick Scott says it’s a bad idea.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio opposes this.

No matter.

The Republican Rifle Association – oops, I mean Republican representatives in the Legislature – will always err on the side of more guns.

The irony, of course, is that the NRA Grand Dame herself, Marion Hammer, lobbied to defeat the bill because it also includes a measure that would push the minimum age to buy a gun to 21.

She called it an attack on the Second Amendment.

No, Marion … what happened in Parkland is an attack.

Shooting 17 people to death with a high-powered weapon is an attack on the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

A few mild restrictions on who can own a gun like that is not an attack. With that in mind, it’s not like Hammer’s legislative lapdogs voted to ban the sale of assault-style weapons or anything.

The committee vote to introduce more guns into public schools it shows the basic belief of those who voted in favor that only a good guy with a gun … blah, blah and furthermore, blah.

Let’s look a little closer at that, shall we?

In a situation like last week, an armed teacher would have been expected to be controlled and cool amid chaos – scrambling, screaming, terrified students, the echo of gunfire from the killer and fallen bodies.

Would the marshal be expected to head into the hallways and track the shooter, or just stay in the classroom and protect students there? And what if police do arrive on the scene and see a teacher moving through the corridors with a weapon?

Even if they don’t just shoot the teacher first, there would be more wasted time trying to prove that this is the good guy.

How they could vote for this idiotic proposal after hearing from those who experienced the Parkland horror beg them not to take that step is sad – but not surprising.

It does set up a potential test for Rick Scott.

If this idea of arming teachers works its way through the process and becomes law, Scott could still veto it – and boy, wouldn’t that bring an interesting twist to his assumed-candidacy for the U.S. Senate.

That’s getting ahead of things though.

Like I said up top, some good ideas came out of Tuesday’s discussion in the appropriations committee, and much of what was proposed makes sense and should become law.

But arming teachers?

Horrible idea. But when it comes to the expansion of guns into everyday life, that never seems to matter.

Budget remarks don’t bode well for Sadowski Trust

As many speculate that Florida’s affordable housing issues will be exacerbated by the influx of Puerto Ricans displaced by Hurricane Maria, the state Legislature intends to sweep millions from the Sadowski Trust, which funds the state’s affordable housing programs.

Speaking with reporters late Tuesday night following an organizational meeting of the newly announced budget conference, Senate Appropriations Chair Rob Bradley said his chamber reversed its position on the fund and will have to sweep dollars for initiatives that surfaced in light of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County.

“Because of Parkland, we swept a lot of trust funds,” Bradley said. “There just isn’t enough money there to maintain the Senate’s position of not sweeping the fund — we are going to be sweeping that fund.”

The Legislature’s post-Parkland proposal included $263 million for school safety improvements and $102 million for mental health services.

The proposed Senate budget released in late January did not include any sweeps to the Sadowski Trust, leaving an estimated $308 million to $322 million for affordable housing programs in the state. The House’s proposed budget in January included a $182 million sweep to the fund.

This year there was a bipartisan push to prevent future sweeps from the Sadowski fund. SB 874, sponsored by Naples Republican Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, and HB 191, sponsored by Tampa Democrat Sean Shaw, sought to prevent the Trust’s dollars from being swept, or repurposed, into unrelated projects or items.

Passidomo’s bill was factored into the Senate’s initial budget proposal. Shaw’s bill was never heard in committee.

House budget chief Carlos Trujillo said a final version of the budget should be released Tuesday morning. The 2018-19 budget is expected to allocate $32 billion in state funds and, with federal funds, is likely to top $87 billion.

Pre-arrest diversion program proposals head to House, Senate floors

With three minutes left in the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday, a bill mandating each judicial district in the state to implement pre-arrest diversion programs headed to the Senate floor.

There was no debate on the bill (SB 1392) that would set up diversion programs with the intent of giving local law enforcement agencies a tool that can serve between a warning and an arrest for low-level offenders. The goal: to spare primarily first-time offenders who commit minor crimes from the consequences of entering the criminal justice system.

The bill does not set up a blanket set of rules for jurisdictions and provides language that gives them latitude on the fees each can charge to program participants. The program is voluntary for qualifying offenders and the bill would not get rid of diversion programs that are already operating in Florida.

While proposals in the Senate and the House (HB 1197) have moved ahead in the Legislature, they have come under fire by some in the bail bond industry who say diversion programs are “flawed” without uniformity statewide.

“There is no uniformity in the program,” said Matthew Jones, the president of  A Way Out Bail Bonds II Inc. “You could possibly end up with 67 different qualification programs around the state.”

Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes said he is aware of the bail bond industry’s criticism of his bill, but added he is “not in the business of making bail bondsman money.”

Budget conference begins tonight, state allocations unveiled

With two weeks left in Session, the Florida Legislature on Tuesday agreed to the outline of the 2018-19 state budget that will use roughly $32 billion in state funds.

At 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Conference Chairs Sen. Rob Bradley and state Rep. Carlos Trujillo will hold an organization meeting in 212 Knott Building.

Conference subcommittees have until Friday to complete negotiations on their policy-specific areas and anything left unresolved will go to Chairs Bradley and Trujillo. Any controversies still unresolved by 10:30 a.m. on Sunday will go to the presiding officers.

“I am grateful to Speaker Corcoran, Chairs Bradley and Trujillo, and the many senators, representatives and members of our professional staff, who have dedicated significant time to the budget process so far,” Senate President Joe Negron said.

The House-Senate budget conference will iron out details on how to spend $32.2 billion. The biggest pot is for PreK-12 education, at $12.1 billion; higher education, at $4.4 billion; health care, at $9.8 billion; and civil and criminal justice; at $4.2 billion.

Other issues like agriculture, the environment and natural resources are at $434 million and general government operations, at $317 million.

The total 2018-19 budget, including state and federal trust funds, is likely to top 87 billion for the next fiscal year.

Here are the appointees to the Conference Committee Assignments: 2018 Regular Session CONFERENCE Committees

Florida cops could soon have more power to investigate social media threats

As the Florida Legislature on Tuesday turned its focus to proposals crafted in the wake of the state’s deadliest school mass shooting in Parkland, a measure that would give law enforcement officers more power to investigate deadly threats made on social media cleared the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Steube, who on Monday announced he will be running for Congress, said his bill would make it a third-degree felony for a person to make a threat to kill or do great bodily injury to another person on any social media platform. This would include school shooting threats, but the threat would have to be specific, Steube said.

Amy Mercer, the head of the Florida Police Chiefs Association, which represents police chiefs in airports, university campuses and police departments, said the bill is a top priority for the organization. She said the legislation would help law enforcement keep up with the fast-paced growth in technology.

“It would give law enforcement the chance to assess the situation,” Mercer said. “It may be a situation when law enforcement can go assist and give an individual help and prevent a tragedy like the one we saw in Parkland.”

In order for someone who threatens to kill or injure someone to be criminally investigated, the threat needs to be directly sent in a “letter, inscribed communication, or electronic communication,” whether signed or anonymous, to the person who is being targeted. Steube wants to broaden the scope to include social media threats and “great bodily injury.”

“The change to include social media threats to kill or do great bodily injury is to ensure we are only picking up those serious threats,” Mercer said.

On Tuesday, the bill was amended to clear internet and service providers from any liability if a threat is made and it results in tragedy.

The Senate measure (SB 310) now heads to its last committee stop in Senate Rules and an identical House companion bill is ready for the floor in the lower chamber.

If the Legislature passes the proposal, changes would take effect Oct. 1 and could result in the state prison population increasing, according to staff analysis.

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