Florida Legislature – Page 7 – Florida Politics

Richard Corcoran puts more money behind new immigration tv ad

House Speaker Richard Corcoran is doubling down on his tough-on-immigration talk with a new television ad that calls for more deportations.

The television ad is less incendiary than his first one, which was hcriticized by Democrats for portraying immigrants who came into the country illegally as a danger to Floridians.

Records show the new media buy will run at least on the CBS affiliate in Orlando — not Fox News, which was the focus of his first buy.

“President Trump is right, we need to end chain migration, ban sanctuary cities and deport criminal illegals,” Corcoran says in the ad.

Between 2016 and 2017, federal immigration agents deported 7,082 undocumented immigrants in the Miami responsibility area, which includes Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Of those deported, 51 percent were “noncriminal” deportations, meaning the subject did not have previous criminal convictions.

It remains unclear exactly how much money Corcoran spent to run the new ad. Taylor Budowich, a spokesman with Corcoran’s Watchdog Pac, declined to comment on it. But according his political committees’ expenditure reports, nearly $97,000 were dropped on a media placement buy on Feb. 14.

The move to air the ad in the wake of the Parkland high school mass shooting has already drawn some criticism from the Florida Democratic Party.

“While Floridians are demanding action to prevent gun violence, Richard Corcoran is still demonizing immigrants with divisive, fact-free TV ads,” FDP spokesman Kevin Donohoe said. “If Corcoran is serious about making Florida safer, he should start working to pass common sense gun control bills.”

Corcoran has yet to officially announce his run for Governor, but these ads continue to erase doubt that he will run once the 2018 Legislative Session ends. It also appears that immigration will be a core issue in his campaign.

Day after school shooting, Senate panel sets hearing for gun bill

A day after 17 people were gunned down at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Republican Sen. Greg Steube scheduled a hearing for a gun bill he is co-sponsoring that would allow school officials to designate certain people to carry concealed weapons on campus.

School principals and school district superintendents would be able to choose one or more people to bring concealed weapons to campus for security measures if they go through a criminal background check and training.

Under the bill (SB 1236)  filed by Sen. Dennis Baxley, the designee is not required to undergo a mental health evaluation, an issue that took center stage in the Senate in the wake of the mass shooting.

Senate President Joe Negron on Thursday said his focus is on boosting funding for mental health services and counseling at schools as well as campus security.

“In general, President Negron supports increased funding and resources for local school boards to enhance security in our schools,” said Katie Betta, a Senate spokeswoman. “This includes a local option to utilizing specially-trained school personnel to enhance security and keep our students safe.”

Betta, though, said that did not mean Negron was backing the bill. Negron’s top two lieutenants, Sens. Bill Galvano and Wilton Simpson, however, are opposed to the bill moving forward, according to POLITICO Florida.

The bill is up for consideration next Tuesday in Senate Judiciary, which has blocked gun legislation in the past because of two deciding Republican votes: Rene Garcia and Anitere Flores. Most recently the two Miami Republicans were wary of another gun bill sponsored by Baxley, which would in certain cases allow guns in religious institution with schools attached to them.

A companion bill in the House, sponsored by Republican state Rep. Bob Rommel, is in its second of three committee stops before it can hit the full floor.

Philip Levine

Philip Levine wants ‘immediate policy changes’ on gun laws

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine wrote Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron on Thursday, urging a commitment to gun control measures in the wake of the Parkland massacre Wednesday.

“We need more than thoughts and prayers — we need immediate policy changes that can have an immediate deterrence of these tragic incidents,” Levine wrote.

Levine, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for Governor, saw a primary opponent (Gwen Graham) issue her own calls for gun control measures.

Levine goes farther in terms of policy recommendations than Graham does.

He calls for a reversal of state laws pre-empting local gun bans, a ban on semi-automatic and assault rifles, fast background checks, and a review of mental health funding.

Levine’s letter references a 2016 resolution passed by Miami Beach that calls for a statewide assault weapons ban, while also calling for the end of pre-emption of local gun bans.

The “Legislature’s endless obsession with pre-empting local mayors and city commissioners from enacting sensible policies in their local communities has tied the hands of those who are closest to the people,” Levine writes.

Levine also references “legislation making its way through our legislative session that would weaken background checks, allow guns on college campuses and efforts to weaponize our schools. These policies are simply disgusting and only serve to undermine our public safety.”

“I urge you to immediately suspend the above-referenced legislation from moving forward in Tallahassee and redirect efforts to swiftly enact sensible and responsible gun reforms this year,” Levine writes.

In wake of Parkland shooting, Senate focuses on mental health funding

As the country grapples with the aftermath of a high school mass shooting in Broward County, Senate President Joe Negron said Thursday the upper chamber will be focused on boosting funding for mental health and campus security — not gun control.

“I think that the key for me — and what I am focusing on — is making sure that people who have mental instabilities or mental health issues don’t have access to firearms,” Negron told reporters.

When asked about measures that have stalled in the Legislature that would limit access to semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines, Negron said that is not the Senate’s focus. The suspected gunman, Nikolas Cruz, was armed with an AR-15 rifle that was legally purchased in the state.

“My focus is on making sure that lawful citizens who are obeying the law and are entitled to their constitutional rights have appropriate access to firearms,” he said.

Offering their “thoughts and prayers” for the victims, incoming Senate President Bill Galvano and Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson echoed Negron’s priorities and said he is asking senators to support an $100 million in funding for mental health screening, counseling and training, and the “hardening” of Florida schools.

“It’s imperative that a portion of this allocation goes toward ensuring that we have the necessary number of armed resource officers at our schools across Florida,” Galvano said. “We must identity where the gaps exist and immediately work to fill them.”

“Sen. Galvano and I have had some preliminary discussions about that,” Senate Appropriations Committee chair Rob Bradley said Thursday. “Right now, the Senate is at $40 million … reorienting monies to make that higher is something we need to take seriously. Our school facilities should be appropriately hardened.”

When asked about state gun control legislation, he added: “The federal government has restrictions on a lot of these specific types of weapons … It’s a 50-state problem. But there should not be any sacred cows. OK?

“I’m a strong Second Amendment supporter. I always have been. I believe it is a fundamental right under the Constitution. But I also think the Constitution does not guarantee a mentally ill person the right to have a weapon.”

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said there was an armed officer on duty at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School at the time of the deadly shooting, but the officer never encountered the suspect.

“We are working today to immediately identify and direct funding to hardening our schools and provide for armed resource officers on every campus for safety and prevention,” Simpson said.

Meanwhile, legislation that would have loosened the application process for concealed weapon permits has snarled in the Senate due to the “timing” and “sensitivity” of the recent tragedy, Negron said.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam   who has called himself a “proud NRA sellout”  worked to tuck language into an agriculture-related bill that would allow permits to be processed even when there is an incomplete background check on a person.

The proposal was scheduled for a hearing Thursday, but was postponed due to the shooting. Whether it will be heard again, Negron said, is up to the bill sponsor, Sen. Kelli Stargel.

As Senate leadership pushes for these issues, a bipartisan group of House members has sent a letter to House Speaker Richard Corcoran asking to match the funding proposed by the chamber that would go to school safety and mental health services.

“Currently, the Senate has proposed that the Safe Schools allocation be increased by about $14 million while in the House no increase is being proposed within the current budget,” the letter states. “In addition, the Senate has proposed $40 million toward mental health for schools, while the House has proposed no specific appropriations for mental health care in schools.”

Capital correspondent Jim Rosica contributed to this post.

House passes bill that would allow certain minors to wed

Moving away from an outright ban on all underage marriages, the Florida House on Wednesday sent the Senate a proposal that would allow certain minors to wed in cases when there is a pregnancy.

“I believe this bill will put Florida in the forefront of putting [a] safeguard in place and protecting children,” said state Rep. Jeanette Nunez, who led the effort in the House. “This absolutely ends the horrors of child marriage.”

With overwhelming support, the House voted to change current state law to make it illegal for marriage licenses to be issued to all minors under the age of 16. But members still voted to permit 16- and 17-year-olds to wed in cases where there is pregnancy and the partner is no more than two years older than the minor.

The Senate was looking to ban all underage marriages.

Under the House proposal, minors get pregnant and are at least 16 years old can get married with parental consent — unless parents of both minors have died or if the minors were previously married. Nunez said marriage licenses issued to minors outside of Florida would be honored.

The House also got rid of language that would have required a paternity test before a marriage license could be issued to a minor. Critics said this could potentially trap minors into marrying their rapists.

Only two Republican state representatives voted against the measure, George Moraitis and Julio Gonzalez. They thought it went too far and that older teens should have the option to marry in cases when there is no pregnancy involved, adding that it a decision that should be “put in the hands of a family.”

“What is true love? I don’t mean that romantically … I mean finding a partner that is going to carry you for the rest of your life,” Gonzalez said, “is it true that you can find it in a 17-year-old that is not pregnant?”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran has said he is in support of permitting some minors to wed because it would give “high school sweethearts” the option to tie the knot if they want.

House panel advances bill adding protections to cellphone searches

A House proposal that would change the way law enforcement officers get their hands on data from a person’s cellphone was pushed on Tuesday to its last committee assignment.

Republican state Rep. Jamie Grant said his bill (HB 1249) would require police to “reflect constitutional due process” when they search a person’s phone-location records as well as data from microphone-enabled household devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home.

“At the founding of our country the Fourth Amendment is the most important protection and technology has made it more challenging,” said Republican state Rep. Cord Byrd, who chairs the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee where the bill was last heard.

With no questions or debate, and the Public Defenders Association and Florida Smart Justice Alliance waiving in support, the measure passed unanimously. Now it heads to the Judiciary Committee, where Grant said there will be an opportunity to further discuss tweaks in policy to the bill.

Under the House bill, law enforcement officers would need probable cause and a court-issued warrant to search a person’s cellular device. Officers would need to install a mobile-tracking device within 10 days of obtaining the warrant and would only have access to the location data for 45 days, unless the court grants an extension for the search.

The measure also would widen the scope of activity in which a person can be charged for accessing another person’s phone without permission. Under the bill, reading emails or emails on another person’s phone or laptop without permission would be a crime.

If someone accesses a phone’s data without permission for the purpose of destroying the data or commercial gain, it could be punishable by up to a year in county jail.

House staff analysis said the state prison population would “insignificantly” increase.

The companion bill (SB 1256) in the Senate, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, has also been moving along in the upper chamber. Both measures differ in that Brandes’ bill would offer protections to businesses that access information from an electronic device if the data “prevents identification of the user of the device.”

Brandes’ bill is up for consideration Wednesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Florida’s biggest spending plan ever ready for final negotiations

The Florida House and Senate on Thursday passed their spending plans differing by only about $100 million — a tenth of a percent of the roughly $87 billion proposed by each chamber.

The starting point for final budget negotiations on what is the largest proposed budget in state history is more than a week ahead of schedule, Senate President Joe Negron said. And though he says money differences are not that big, clashes over the environment, health and education remain.

A plan by House GOP leadership to “link” the education sub-section to a “conforming” bill laden with new policy has roiled the chamber’s budget. That includes a proposal to create a new scholarship for students who are bullied in public schools to go to private school.

The two are so intertwined that Hialeah Republican Manny Diaz, chair of the PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee, admitted that if that bill (HB 7055) failed, legislators would have to start from scratch to craft a new lower education sub-budget.

Negron told reporters on Thursday that he would prefer the House move its education bill — a priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran — “through the traditional process” and not through the budget as a conforming bill.

“It would be preferable to refer it to the appropriate committees,” Negron said, “but the larger picture is that many proposals in the bill enjoy the support of the Senate … the majority of the Senate is promoting school choice.”

House Democrats have complained that the education bill would violate the state constitution’s “single subject” rule, which requires that “every law shall embrace but one subject and matter properly connected therewith, and the subject shall be briefly expressed in the title.”

For example, Democratic Leader-designate Kionne McGhee and others rapped the bill for having a 12-page title.

He actually spent about 10 minutes just listing off all the headings of the provisions in the bill. “We’re laying down a record for the (state) Supreme Court to review this bill,” said McGhee, an attorney.

Miami Beach Democratic Rep. David Richardson, a forensic auditor known for his detailed budget analysis, tried to amend the budget to cut the link to HB 7055, calling it “a bad precedent.”

No surprise: That move was eventually shot down on a party-line vote. But the bill passed on a 66-43 vote.

Over in the Senate, the budget debate sailed through the chamber with a 33-1 vote.

The proposal sets aside $3.4 billion in total reserves and appropriates $21.1 billion for the state’s K-12 and higher education systems.

Next week, the process to schedule budget conference meetings will begin to reach a final agreement on the 2018-19 budget.

“We are close in amount, so that makes life a lot easier,” Negron said.

Republicans advance bill banning certain abortions, welcome court challenges

A House bill that would do away with the “most commonly performed” method of abortion in Florida was advanced on Wednesday, with some Republicans welcoming challenges in court if it is deemed unconstitutional upon passage.

The chances of the bill passing this Session, however, are unlikely. The companion bill in the Senate has yet to hold a hearing.

But the controversial proposal, HB 1429, is still moving ahead in the House and cleared its second of three committee assignments on Wednesday, where it drew criticism from Democrats and an American Civil Liberties Union representative.

“This tramples on women’s rights to access the safest and most commonly used method of abortion during the second trimester,” said Kara Gross with the ACLU.

Under the bill, introduced by Republican Rep. Erin Grall, physicians would face a third-degree felony if they use tools, such as clamps and thongs, during the dilation and evacuation abortion procedure unless a woman’s life is in danger.

The proposal opened up a heated debate that ranged from Republican Rep. George Moraitis calling the procedure a baby “execution” to Democratic state Rep. Cynthia Stafford saying terminating a pregnancy is a decision between a “woman and her god, not a woman and her government.”

“This is not going to result in changing existing practices because we have an independent judiciary and rule of law that protects the rights of people — yes, even women  in our society,” Democratic Rep. Joseph Geller said.

Republican Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen supported the measure, but urged lawmakers to push harder to give women greater access to reproductive education and birth control so they “don’t find themselves in these situations.”

Several other states have passed legislation similar to the one proposed by Grall this year. These laws have opened the states up to challenges in court. That worried some Republicans who helped advance the measure.

That included Rep. Scott Plakon who was disturbed that a “big move to protect lobsters” would get more support than a bill that would “protect a sentient being from feeling pain during a procedure performed by monsters.”

“God help us that this is going on,” Plakon said, “let’s vote yes and find out what the courts will say on this. I would consider it money well spent to go through the courts.”

Gross said taxpayers would end up footing the bill in litigation costs for the “Legislature’s insistence on passing unconstitutional legislation.”

Survey finds Floridians want right to rent out their homes to vacationers

Most Floridians want the right to rent out a bedroom, or their whole home, or their rental property, as short-term lodging for vacationers.

A new survey conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy and released Tuesday finds that 73 percent of Floridians believe they and their neighbors should have the right to rent out their primary homes to vacationers for short periods of time, and only 15 percent think it’s a bad idea. The same portion of the Florida population thinks it also should be OK to rent out a secondary or investment residential property for short-term vacationers.

The matter of vacation rentals has sizzled through Tallahassee for several Legislative Sessions running and is doing so again this winter, as the interests behind vacation rental houses, a patchwork industry held together by marketing giants like Airbnb and HomeAway, go against those concerned that mini-illegal hotels can destroy residential communities, a position supported by both municipal and county organizations and the traditional hotel and motel industry at risk of giving up market share.

This year the battle, to regulate or deregulate vacation rental homes, is being fought over what is now the Committee Substitute to Senate Bills 1400 and 1640 in the Florida Senate, and House Bill 773 in the Florida House. It’s playing out as a battle of property rights of the home owners versus property rights of their neighbors, or the elimination of patchwork, local regulations versus preservation of the city and county home rule, while the vacation home marketing companies and the hotel organizations seek the background.

The question of what Floridians think was reinforced by the Mason-Dixon survey, which found only small numbers of Floridians – less than 20 percent across the questions and across even nearly all of the demographic breakouts – who have no opinion on the matters. The pollster reached 625 Florida registered voters, on both land lines and cell phones, from Jan. 3 through Feb. 1 last week. Mason-Dixon said the margin of error was no more than 4 percentage points.

Among the findings:

– 73 percent believe Floridians should have the right to rent out their primary homes on short-term bases, while 15 percent believe they should not.

The positive responses never fall below two-thirds or rise above four-fifths of respondents under demographic breakdowns by region, gender, age, race, or party affiliation.

– 73 percent believe Floridians should have the right to rent out a secondary home or investment property as a vacation rental, and only 16 percent disagree.

Again, there was very little change in any of the support across regions, genders, ages, races or party registrations.

– 61 percent of respondents believe regulations of vacation rental homes should be consistent throughout the state, while 22 percent believe it should not.

Once again, there was consistency in the opinions across demographics, with people in Southwest Florida (68 percent yes to 17 percent no) showing the most support for consistent regulations, and those in Tampa Bay (55 to 26) and Central Florida (56 to 27) showing the least support for that idea.

Bill criminalizing unpermitted access to electronic devices moves forward

Law enforcement officers in Florida could soon need probable cause and warrants to access a suspect’s mobile location tracking device.

Those potential new restrictions are provided in a Senate bill (SB 1256) that cleared its first committee stop on Tuesday. The proposal, sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, would also make it a crime to read a text message, email or other communication on a person’s cell phone without their permission, or without a warrant.

“We need to make sure Florida laws keep pace with changes in technology,” Brandes said. “With more and more families utilizing microphone-enabled communications tools to aid in daily household activities, this legislation makes sure our laws are clear with regard to when and how these devices can be subject to search,” Brandes said.

The measure cleared the Senate Criminal Justice Committee without debate. It also drew the backing of social media giant Facebook.

Under Brandes’ bill, an individual would not face criminal punishment in cases where an electronic device was accessed for business purposes and the information accessed is not “personally identifiable” or is collected in a way that “prevents identification of the user of the device.”

Following its passage, Senate President Joe Negron praised the proposal. He said it would address “current ambiguities” and protect Floridians from unconstitutional property searches.

Under Brandes’ bill, a law enforcement officer who wants to get the exact location of a suspect through their cell phone location tracker would be required to get a court-issued warrant.

Once a warrant is issued, the period of time that the data may be accessed may not exceed 45 days unless the court grants an extension to the warrant.

A House companion (HB 1249) sponsored by Tampa Republican Rep. Jamie Grant is moving ahead in the chamber and has two more committees before it hits the full floor.

Grant’s bill does not offer protections to businesses that gather information that is not personally identifiable.

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