Florida Legislature Archives - Page 7 of 54 - Florida Politics

Post-Parkland Senate bill primed for floor vote

The Florida Senate took the better part of eight hours during a rare Saturday session to work through 128 amendments — only one of which passed the floor — on a single bill.

And even with the amendment’s approval, partisan spirits haven’t changed on the proposal designed to address issues unearthed in the wake of the recent school shooting in Broward County.

Dubbed the “Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act,” or SB 7026, the sweeping proposal provides for stricter gun control laws, including a three-day waiting period to buy any firearm, and a new age limit — 21 (up from 18) —  for firearms purchases, along with an all-out ban on bump stocks.

It also creates a commission to make recommendations on school safety and invests millions in mental-health and school safety initiatives, which include a program that would train and arm teachers on a voluntary basis.

Of course, not everyone is happy.

Democrats, along with Parkland survivors and victims’ families have criticized the proposal for its lack of an assault-weapons ban. The charged Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter, Nikolas Cruz, was equipped with an assault rifle when he killed 17 people at the school on Feb. 14. Gov. Rick Scott also has come out strongly against the idea of arming teachers.

These points of criticism set the stage for the Senate’s eight-hour floor session on Saturday. Members of both parties filed hundreds of amendments, withdrawing some and heavily debating others. Arguments over an outright ban on assault weapons took an entire hour in the chamber. Other Democratic-backed amendments lent to lengthy discussions, but the Senate refrained from adopting anything that would fundamentally change the legislation. 

At one point, Democrats experienced something particularly Sisyphean. Senate President Joe Negron had approved through a voice vote the adoption of an amendment providing a two-year moratorium on assault weapons sales. After a few minutes, a motion to reconsider brought the language to a failing board vote.

Pro-gun Republicans filed their fair share of amendments, too.

Sen. David Simmons of Altamonte Springs argued for an amendment that would’ve changed the firearms age requirement to only apply to assault weapons sales. In other words, the age limit for purchasing rifles would remain at its current level, 18. 

“It’s a rational solution to a significant problem,” Simmons said. He said he feared that raising the age limit on gun purchases could bring constitutional challenges in court.

Galvano, who sponsored the strike-all amendment approved by the chamber on Saturday, often had to explain to members that law enforcement would iron out the details of the plan to arm teachers. At one point it was asked whether teachers would be able to carry assault rifles and display them in classrooms, to which Galvano said would be up to the sheriff’s design of the plan.

“The sheriffs will describe the protocols,” Galvano said. Referencing the possibility of teachers having assault rifles, he added: “That’s, in my opinion, a far-fetched hypothetical.” He said someone from the Office of School Safety likely would not approve such a policy, as they can exert judgment on program designs.

The Senate will vote on SB 7026 on Monday. 

Final budget items start getting ‘bumped’

Budget conference chairs are now ironing out funding differences between the House and Senate dealing with a wide-range of policy issues.

Chairs Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Carlos Trujillo are figuring out funding for beach restoration, land acquisition and water projects. Currently, the state Legislature is split over nearly $172 million on appropriations for programs funded through Florida Forever.

In the higher education arena, most of the issues sent to budget chairs relate to member projects and implementing bill issues that amount to about $70 million. There are also other money differences revolving around PreK-12 bills that are tied to the budget.

In criminal justice, some issues that have yet to sail through deal with private prison operations and whether a reentry program at the Broward County Sheriff’s Office should get $200,000 in funding.

Bradley and Trujillo have until 10:30 a.m. Sunday to resolve the ‘bumped’ issues before they head to Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

Bill Hager’s battle with Broward Sheriff spills over into Florida budget talks

After leading the charge to oust Broward Sheriff Scott Israel in the wake of Florida’s worst school shooting, Republican state Rep. Bill Hager tried to gut funding from a program run by the Sheriff’s Office.

Hager oversees the House’s criminal justice budget, which gives him large sway over funding for law enforcement-related projects and issues. This year, that included an inmate re-entry program at the Broward Sheriff’s Office with an initial $521,000 price tag.

The Palm Beach County Republican was the first lawmaker to call for Israel’s suspension, citing the Sheriff’s “neglect of duty and incompetence” when responding to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in which a 19-year-old gunman shot down 17 people. Soon after, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and 73 other Republican House members followed suit and sent a letter to Gov. Rick Scott asking to remove Israel from office.

Democrats quickly defended Israel, who is the top cop in a predominantly Democratic county. The clash set a partisan tone around the mass shooting involving a former troubled student armed with an AR-15 rifle, an assault-style weapon that Hager voted to ban along with Democrats in the House.

The Broward Sheriff’s Office program that was zeroed out by the House would fund salaries of those who help offenders with counseling, mental health and substance abuse treatment, as well as assistance when trying to find a job or housing upon finishing their sentences.

“I don’t know if it is political or not, but if it is political I am not here to punish addicts for the actions of the sheriff in that county,” said Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, who was tasked with negotiating the criminal justice budget with Hager.

The sheriff’s office last November requested a one-time $521,000 payment for the program, but on Wednesday when criminal justice budget talks started both the House and the Senate agreed on giving the department $200,000.

A day later things changed: the Senate kept its offer and the House removed all funding, bumping the item to the budget chairs.

Hager through his aide declined requests for comment on his reasons for cutting the program, but House Budget Chair Carlos Trujillo said that while he is not familiar with the issue, slashing a project is sometimes part of the budget process.

“Once we start trading priorities, 50 or 60 percent of the projects fall out,” Trujillo said.

Some Democrats, however, see it as a clear sign that GOP lawmakers are trying to attack a high-profile Democrat after staggering rounds of bad national headlines.

“If that’s the case, they should be ashamed of harming a county in their quest to publicly ruin one person,” state Rep. Evan Jenne.

Governor would have sole discretion over FDOT head appointment under proposal

A quiet change proposed Thursday under a wide-ranging commercial motor vehicle bill would strip the power of a transportation panel and give the governor sole discretion over the appointment of the state’s top transportation official.

State law tasks the Florida Transportation Commission to recommend three names to the governor when it comes to choosing the next Secretary of Transportation. The governor then decides from that short-list.

But a “strike-all” amendment filed under SB 1104 by the bill sponsor, Sen. Jeff Brandes, would delete the role of the FTC, whose members are appointed by the governor. Whether that change is approved is up to the Senate Appropriations Committee, where the bill is now sitting.

If the languages moves on to become law, the governor’s choice would still be subject to confirmation by the Senate.

Aside from that change, the sweeping transportation bill would rewrite statute that governs the Department of Transportation in several ways. That includes creating a first-degree grand theft crime for an offender who commits cargo theft and authorized the Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise to fund, construct and operate test facilities to advance autonomous vehicle technology.

Senate, House at odds over $4m to pay for private prison operations

Private-prison giant GEO Group wants $4 million in taxpayer money to pay for correctional officers’ salaries at seven of its state-contracted facilities — but the House won’t budge.

The House’s top criminal justice budget-writer, state Rep. Bill Hager, said his chamber has taken the stance to zero out the private prison’s request because the Florida-based company decided to enter into contracts and therefore, it should have that money in place.

For the Senate, however, it is a “fairness issue.”

“The issue here is that a couple of years ago we raised salaries for correctional officers in our public facilities, but we never extended that pay increase to correctional officers in private facilities,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, who is the Senate’s criminal justice budget chair.

The one-time payment request by the private prison falls under HB 3745, sponsored by state Rep. Ben Albritton, a Wauchula Republican. Because the allocation is non-recurring, the prison company would have to lobby for the money again next year.

According to the appropriations project request, The Geo Group will be seeking $10 million over the next three years for the project.

In 2016, the private prison group gave nearly $2 million in political contributions, most notably $40,000 to Senate President Joe Negron and $100,000 to the Florida Republican Senatorial Committee. The company also gave $43,000 to the failed congressional bid of his wife, Rebecca.

As the Legislature began final budget negotiations this week, the House and Senate are only $238,422 apart in the criminal justice arena as of Thursday, a big improvement from a day before when they were more than $20 million apart.

In impromptu Capitol visit, Rick Scott reiterates: don’t arm teachers

In a rare political move, Gov. Rick Scott and the father of a 14-year-old Parkland shooting victim jointly addressed the House and Senate floors on Thursday and asked legislators to set aside differences and ensure schools are safe sans armed teachers.

“I want to make sure there is law enforcement in our schools,” Scott told reporters upon exiting the chambers. “I don’t believe in arming teachers.”

While talking to each chamber, Ryan Petty, the father of Alaina Petty, who was gunned down on Valentine’s Day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, told legislators he is in support of the governor’s proposal, which does not include training and arming teachers with guns.

“I’m here to speak in favor of what the governor is proposing,” Petty said. “My ask of you is: let’s set aside our differences and make sure our schools are safe. With your help, Florida can lead.”

The governor has been clear on his stance: he is not in support of arming teachers, a proposal the Legislature is pushing for in spite of opposition from Parkland students and parents.

Even with home rule as an option, Scott said does not believe in training teachers and arming them with guns to protect student in case of an active shooting situation.

When asking if he would like to see an assault weapon ban in Scott’s proposal, Petty said his goal is to get something done in the Republican-controlled Legislature in honor of his daughter.

“If this evolves into a gun control debate we are going to miss our opportunity to get something done,” Petty said. “What is different of the governor’s plan is we are focusing on securing our schools and that is what we need to do.”

The House and Senate costly initiative that would include more funding for mental health services in school and school “hardening” are ready for the full floors for a final vote.

“Our message is simple, this time must be different we have an opportunity to get our schools secure,” Petty said. “We want to make sure other families don’t go through what our family has gone through.”

“We owe it to our students.”

Ron DeSantis calls Parkland massacre a failure of FBI, sheriff; denounces state gun proposals

Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis on Thursday denounced Florida Legislature efforts to tighten gun restrictions and said the mass shooting two weeks ago at the Parkland high school should be seen as “a catastrophic failure” by the Broward County sheriff and the FBI.

DeSantis, a congressman from Ponte Vedra Beach, has made similar comments in television appearances on Fox News in the past two weeks, but otherwise has been largely silent within Florida about his response to the massacre, drawing heat from other gubernatorial candidates, particularly Democrats. On Thursday he broke that, taking a hard line against any gun measures, and condemning those being considered now in the Florida Legislature.

He also called for the resignation of Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel for not having responded to numerous reports, prior to the Feb. 14 mass shooting, that suggested Nikolas Cruz was dangerous; and for the firing of anyone in the FBI who might have failed to pick up in advance on the shooter’s intentions.

And while DeSantis called on the Florida Legislature to back off proposed gun restrictions, presumably such as one to raise the minimum age for firearms purchases to 21, he was not specific in his statement.

DeSantis said he supported much in Gov. Rick Scott‘s proposed school safety package to “harden schools” and also supports one idea Scott rejected: arming teachers. He also said the state should enlist the help of veterans and law enforcement officers to help protect schools.

DeSantis faces Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam of Bartow in the contest for the Aug. 28 Florida primary nomination to run for Governor. The leading Democrats are former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, Winter Park developer Chris King, and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre, DeSantis contended, was the result of law enforcement failures and mental illness, and should be addressed as such.

“Given that the issues of bureaucratic incompetence, school safety and mental health demand immediate attention, I’m disappointed that the Florida Legislature is rushing to restrict the rights of law-abiding citizens,” DeSantis said in his statement.

“When dealing with a right that is specifically enumerated in the Constitution, blanket restrictions that diminish individual rights are suspect. Better to focus on denying firearms to dangerous individuals, which avoids infringing on constitutional rights and is also more likely to be effective. The goal should be to keep our students safe, bring accountability to the officials and institutions that failed, and protect the rights of Floridians,” DeSantis continued.

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.”

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