Florida Senate Archives - Page 2 of 31 - Florida Politics

Report: Senate could consider changing way nursing homes are paid

A change how the state’s nursing homes that accept Medicaid are paid is still being mulled in the Senate.

According to POLITICO Florida, Senate President Joe Negron said his chamber is still changing the system from a cost-based system to a prospective payment plan. Negron said the issue is still being discussed by senators, and he expects it’s “going to be considered in the Senate.”

The House Health Care Appropriations Committee Chairman Jason Brodeur said last month he wouldn’t move forward with recommendations in a report, saying they wouldn’t pursue it this session.

Under the plan, the state would pay nursing homes using a per diem rate calculated based on four components, of which patient care would account for the largest portion, 80 percent, of total reimbursement.

LeadingAge Florida, which represents about 400 senior communities throughout the state, is opposed the recommendations in the report, saying it will shift money from high-quality nursing homes to lower-quality nursing home, threatening the quality of the care offered in facilities across the state.

The Florida Health Care Association, which represents about 82 percent of all facilities, was generally supportive of the the Navigant study, but did request a few changes.

Senate votes to raise bar for death penalty, ‘stand your ground’ prosecutions

The Senate voted Thursday to require unanimous jury verdicts to sentence someone to death, and to advance a measure that would require prosecutors to prove “stand your ground” immunity shouldn’t apply in criminal cases.

The death penalty bill, SB 280, which the Senate passed unanimously, was a response to a Florida Supreme Court ruling requiring that all jurors agree to impose capital punishment.

Several senators said they would vote for the bill despite misgivings about the death penalty. Sponsor Randolph Bracy, an Ocoee Democrat, was among them.

“I strongly believe that if we’re going to give someone the ultimate penalty,” he said, “we need to require a unanimous jury.”

But he added that he hopes for progress on other areas of the death penalty, including eliminating geographical and racial disparities in its application.

The Senate agreed to schedule a final vote on the stand-your-ground bill, CS/SB 128, by Sen. Rob Bradley.

It also followed a Supreme Court ruling, this one placing the onus for establishing immunity on the defendant. Florida’s 2005 stand-your-ground law, subsequently emulated in other states, eliminated the obligation to retreat from danger if possible before using deadly force.

“This bill corrects what I consider the error” of that “judge-made law” by the Supreme Court, Bradley said.

He said a basic premise of the criminal justice system is that the government bears the burden of proof in criminal cases.

The bill would hold prosecutors to the highest standard of evidence in making their case during preliminary immunity hearings — beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Senate rejected an amendment that would have held the state to a lower, “preponderance of evidence,” standard. That’s defined as 50 percent plus one, amendment sponsor Perry Thurston Jr., a Democrat from Fort Lauderdale, said.

“Fifty-one percent is a civil burden,” Bradley responded. “Money is at stake, not someone’s liberty.”

The Senate next rejected Thurston’s suggestion of a “clear and convincing” evidentiary standard.

The senators approved a third amendment, by Longwood Republican David Simmons, to allow evidence introduced in the preliminary hearings to be used in any subsequent trial.

“One of the principles of our judicial system is accountability,” Simmons said. “If a defendant is going to put on evidence, make representations to the court, then the defendant had better be accountable for those.”

In other action, the Senate approved a bill that would spend $161 million to boost Florida’s colleges and universities.

The vote was 35-1. Lake Worth Democrat Jeff Clemons was the holdout.

The money for the bill (SB 2), by Bradenton Republican Bill Galvano, will have to survive the budgetary process.

The legislation, among other things, increases certain scholarship benefits, overhauls how colleges and universities measure progress and attract top professors, and mandates block tuition—a flat rate per semester—rather than by credit hour.

It has the potential to help students graduate debt-free from Florida schools, Democrat Kevin Rader said — although they may have to work while they study.

“We will pay your tuition if you do your side of the contract and do well,” Rader said.

The measure was a high priority for Senate President Joe Negron, who issued a written statement observing the occasion.

“This comprehensive legislation will boost the strength and competitiveness of our state’s higher education system as our primary economic engine to drive vibrant, sustainable economic development and growth in high-paying jobs,” Negron said.

Darryl Rouson, Lori Berman urge Florida to become a ‘Tobacco 21’ state

Two Florida lawmakers want to raise the legal age to purchase tobacco in the Sunshine State.

Sen. Darrly Rouson and Rep. Lori Berman held a press conference Thursday to tout legislation they filed to raise the age to purchase tobacco to 21. The proposals (SB 1138 and HB 1093), lawmakers said, would help lower the number of young adults who become addicted to tobacco and cut down on the state’s leading cause of preventable death.

“I’ve seen many struggles with addiction and its consequences,” said Rouson. “I believe we should firmly protect the youth and teens of this state from the dangerous addictive properties … in tobacco. Protecting them, their welfare, and their health is essential.”

The American Cancer Society estimates there will be an estimated 19,000 new lung and bronchus cancer cases in Florida in 2017. The organization estimates 11,790 people will die from lung and bronchus cancer in Florida in 2017.

“The benefits of this bill are not only for the individual who can have a longer lifespan, but also for our state, because we can decrease our health costs,” said Berman. “This is a nationwide movement that we are proud to be a part of, with two states already on board. It’s time for Florida to lead and this Legislature to make Florida a tobacco 21 state.”

Berman said California and Hawaii have already passed laws increasing the age to buy tobacco products.

Neither bill have received its first committee hearing yet.

Mandatory recess bill sails through second Senate committee

Call it another small victory for recess.

The Senate PreK-12 Education Appropriations Subcommittee unanimously approved a bill (SB 78) requiring school districts to provide at least 100 minutes of supervised, unstructured free play each week — or 20 minutes of free play each week — to students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

While the bill received strong support from the committee, some members expressed concern they were issuing a mandate to local school districts.

“Who can be against recess? I loved it. It was one of my favorite portions of the day, and I was pretty good (at it),” said Sen. Doug Broxson. “However, this is a mandate and we are telling our 67 school districts that they must do this. I would’ve preferred to make a strong suggestion and see if they could work it out themselves, but it appears we’re not going to do that.”

Sen. Anitere Flores, the bill’s sponsor, said she would have preferred not to have had legislative mandate recess ether, but said “maybe the school districts need a little more guidance with this.”

According to a recent report by the Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability, 11 school districts across the state had a school board approved recess policy in 2015-16.

Eight districts, including Miami-Dade and Lee counties, required recess for students in kindergarten through fifth grade; while while three district encouraged recess but did not require it. But the report found found district policies regarding time and number of days varied from district to district.

“We know recess is essential for the health and well-being (of students),” said Marie-Claire Leman, a Leon County mother who supports the bill. “We know without your leadership, many kids across the state will continue to go without daily recess.”

The 2017 measure has bi-partisan support in the House and Senate, and is similar to one that moved through the Legislature during the 2016 session. That bill received overwhelming support in the Florida House, but failed to gain traction in the Senate, despite calls from parents and lawmakers to support the proposal.

While the 2016 bill sailed through the House, the 2017 proposal doesn’t seem to be getting much traction. The proposal (HB 67) has not yet received its first committee hearing.

fracking

Senate committee unanimously approves bill to ban fracking

The Senate Environmental Preservation & Conservation Committee unanimously approved a bill to ban fracking Tuesday, marking a reversal from previous legislative actions on the issue.

“Florida has such a unique geological make up and one-of-a-kind environment that we should not be putting it at risk by allowing fracking in the State of Florida,” said Sen. Dana Young, the bill’s sponsor. “This is the same sentiment that I’ve heard echoed from concerned Floridians from the panhandle all the way to the Florida Keys – we should not be jeopardizing our drinking water supply or our beautiful natural environment.”

The bill (SB 442) passed with little public comment, with most of the public speakers waiving in support or opposition of the bill. Four of the seven members of the committee are co-sponsoring the legislation, including Sen. Lauren Book, the committee’s chairwoman, and Sen. Jack Latvala, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

“As the old and wise voice of the Senate here, as was announced earlier all four people sitting here are co-sponsors of this bill,” said Latvala at the beginning of the public comment period, before encouraging speakers to waive their time. “I feel pretty confident of the success of this bill. You’ve got the votes here.”

Industry officials did not waive their time, using their time to speak out against the measure. And on Tuesday, an attorney for one landowner said the proposal indicated the proposal could lead to litigation.

Jake Cremer, an attorney with Stearns Weaver Miller, said his firm represents Collier Resources, which manages and develops more than 800,000 mineral acres in Collier, Lee and Hendry counties.

“No matter whether good policy or bad policy, this bill will be a lightning rod for litigation in the state,” he said.

But Sen. Gary Farmer, a trial attorney who spent years representing consumers, pointed out more than 30 cities and counties have already passed bans. Farmer asked Cremer how many of those bans have resulted in successful litigation; Cremer said he didn’t know of any.

Young seemed unfazed by the threat of litigation, saying the bill doesn’t prohibit traditional oil and gas drilling.

Dorothy Hukill, recovering from cancer, watching from home as Senate convenes

Sen. Dorthy Hukill wasn’t in Tallahassee for opening day of the 2017 Legislature, but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t on the job.

Hukill, chairwoman of the Education Committee, is recovering from surgery for cervical cancer, and her doctors wouldn’t let her travel to the state capital.

Nevertheless, the Port Orange Republican has remained active in the legislative process during committee weeks, Senate President Joe Negron told the Senate.

He’d spoken to her shortly before the Senate convened, Negron said.

“I want to report to all of us who care about her and who are her friends and extended family that she is doing an amazing job overcoming this medical challenge that’s been presented to her,” Negron said.

“She has been completely active during the entire time of her recovery on behalf for her constituents. She is in charge of determining what bills get heard in the Education Committee. She’s responsible for developing policy. She’s in regular contact with us.”

Hukill is eager to return to the Capitol as soon as her doctors clear her for travel, Negron said.

“In all the conversations I’ve had with her, she talks about us, what’s happening here. And she feels badly about the effects on her constitutents and on the process rather than on herself,” he said.

“She doesn’t talk about her medical condition, or the challenges or the incredible progress she’s made in overcoming this. That says a lot about her,” he said.

“I know she’s watching this morning, and we look forward to having her back.”

Florida Senate convenes in Tallahassee, adopts compromise budget rules

The Florida Senate is in session.

Senators convened at 9:30 with a prayer and the traditional singing of the national anthem.

“They need wisdom, direction, and understanding,” Pam Olsen, president of the Florida Prayer Network said during the invocation.

“Keep their marriages strong” while the members are “here doing the people’s business,” she prayed.

“I know I’m asking for a miracle, but make this session end on time.”

There for the occasion were Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, plus members of the Florida Supreme Court.

“We understand you have a busy morning,” Senate President Joe Negron told Scott, who was due to deliver his State of the State address later than morning.

One of the first orders of business was approval of rules changes designed to prevent a meltdown over the House’s strict new rules for member projects in the state budget while respecting the Senate’s prerogatives.

In reaching the agreement with the House Friday, “potentially we dodged a bullet that could have stopped our appropriations process in about the fifth week,” budget chairman Jack Latvala said.

Negron discussed his hopes for education funding during the session, including building the state’s universities to “national elite” standard, comparable to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Virginia, and the University of Michigan.

Also, that every student in Florida, regardless of financial and family background, be able to attend the state university of his or her choice. They might have to work their way through college, he said, but he hopes “there will never be a financial impediment to a student attending a university and graduating on time.”

He touted his plan to prevent discharges of toxic algae from Lake Okeechobee — which, he said, draws unflattering national attention to the state. He wants to buy land to store overflow water south of the lake.

“In the end, we’re going to have to have a place for the water to go” to avoid damaging discharges to communities to the east and west of the lake, he said.

Negron also highlighted his proposal to create alternatives to the criminal justice system for youthful misdemeanors. “Let’s have some room for young people to make mistakes” that doesn’t jeopardize their job prospects later, he said.

Negron endorsed proposed legislation to require unanimous jury verdicts to impose the death penalty, shift the burden of proof to prosecutors in “stand your ground” cases, and protect students’ right to pray in schools without compulsion.

He praised the governor’s, House Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s, and his own appointees to the Constitutional Revision Commission, saying he hopes the panel will protect individual rights.

“I really think there’s a special part of opening day — this is really when a lot of our constituents are going to get engaged” in the legislative process.

“I’m asking all of us to share in that renewed energy and commitment,” he said, “and look at today as Day One going forward.”

 

Victor Torres seeks to save call-center jobs

State Sen. Victor Torres has introduced a bill to force call center operators to give extended notices if they intend to shut down or move call-center jobs out of state or overseas.

The Orlando Democrat filed Senate Bill 1632 to require call centers that reduce their staffs by more than 30 days relocate outside of Florida to give notice to the Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation 120 days in advance.

It also requires the department to establish an inventory list of call centers and numbers of employees, and create financial penalties for companies not in compliance with notification requirements. The bill also would bar non-compliant companies from obtaining certain state grants, loans, or tax benefits for five years.

Torres’ bill is a companion to House Bill 815, which state Rep. Robert Asencio, a Miami Democrat, filed last month. They have dubbed the bills the ‘Save Florida Call Center Jobs Act of 2017.’

Both Miami and Orlando have numerous call centers, and a press release issued by Senate Democrats said nearly 350,000 Floridians are currently employed in customer service and support call center jobs today in the Sunshine State. The release also states that those jobs are draining away, as companies outsource to states or countries with cheaper labor.

“Off shoring and out-sourcing of jobs may be good for the corporate bottom line but it has tragic consequences for the working men and women of Florida,” Torres stated in the release.

Under federal law, large employers already are required to submit 60-day “Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification” notices to the state Department of Economic Opportunity for large layoffs or closings.

Asencio said there is a cyber security issue involved in job center relocations.

“Call center workers often handle sensitive financial, health care and personal information that Floridians have a right to know is secure and protected,” he stated in the release. “When that interaction involves state business, it is only proper that their tax dollars are being used to support a secure and professional call center here in Florida. Not only is this about the good jobs that call centers support in communities across the state, it is about ensuring that we are at the forefront of data security.”

This bill will require existing call centers planning to relocate outside of Florida, or reducing their staff by more than 30 percent, to notify the Department of Business & Professional Regulation 120 days in advance of any relocation or downsizing. It also authorizes DBPR to establish an inventory list of call centers and number of employees and create a financial penalty for companies not in compliance with the notification requirements. Once on the non-compliance list, the bill would also bar these companies from certain state grants, loans and tax benefits for five years.

The AFL-CIO has expressed support.

“We thank the sponsors of the new legislation for their leadership and for recognizing that taxpayer money should go to strengthen Florida’s economy. It shouldn’t be used to ship jobs overseas,” Don Abicht, President of CWA Local 3122, which represents Florida’s communication workers said. “The ‘Save Florida Call Center Jobs Act of 2017’ is an important bill that would help American workers, protect American communities, and benefit American consumers’ safety.”

Parenting plan bill that skip courts, lifts court overload gets unilateral support in Senate committee

A bill heard by a Florida Senate committee Monday seeks to streamline the process of setting up a parenting plan for unmarried parents, according to its sponsor.

The proposal in the Senate’s Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee – SB 590 – was introduced by its lead author, Sen. Jeff Brandes, with members voting in the end to forward the bill.

After that, the bill still must go through several more committees, then heard on the floor of the Statehouse before it becomes law.

The bill looks to authorize the Florida Department of Revenue to establish parenting time plans agreed to by both parents under Title IV-D child support actions of the Social Security Act, as permitted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (Title Iv-D is a federal public welfare program that took effect in 1975. It is a conduit for states to enforce child support programs on parent’s delinquent in such responsibilities, etc.)

“The bottom line is that this bill is not just about money, it’s about spending quality time with kids,” Brandes told the committee.

He was asked what costs the bill would incur to the state, responding there would be a one-time, non-recurring cost of $419,000, with annual recurring costs of $20,000.

“It’s a very economical way for kids to see their dads,” Brandes said.

Brandes’ bill also looks to encourage frequent contact between a child and a parent, or parents, for the positive development of children.

The committee peppered the senator with questions, with one came from Sen. Victor Torres, vice-chair of the committee, who wondered whether it affected parents who lived in other states or under nontraditional conditions. He also mentioned he thought it might need a little tweaking before a vote on the floor of the Florida Senate.

Brandes said if a child is under 3-years old, or if one of the parents has committed a crime – like not paying child support or having been convicted of domestic violence – then the custodial parent wouldn’t have to agree to a parenting plan.

In the event the parents can’t agree on a parenting time plan, they would be referred to a circuit court in their district for the establishment of a program. In these instances, parents wouldn’t pay a fee to file a petition to determine a parenting time plan.

The bill would go into effect Jan. 1, 2018.

It has long been agreed upon by child development experts and those in the psychiatric communities that closer parent-child relationships can often lead to emotional and behavioral stability in adulthood, and overall better mental health, according to the online journal Psychology Today.

The article also noted when parents and children fall out of timing with each other, either of the parties may become mentally distressed.

However, there was a voice of dissent.

Beth Luna, a Jacksonville-based attorney who spoke to the committee about her opposition to the measure, said it SB 590 needs improvements.

“It’s a long-standing policy of this state to do what’s best for a child,” Luna said. “You just can’t implement a plan that’s a one size fits all approach. … Not every child is the same. A child at 16 or 17 is going to be different than a child who is 3 or 4 – the same goes for a special needs child.”

All parenting plans are approved in Family Court in the state of Florida.

Her concerns elicited a host of questions by the committee members, who considered her viewpoint.

But in the end, there was unanimous support for Brandes’ bill.

2017 Legislative Session preview: Alimony rears its head

Get ready for a rumble: Lawmakers will again tackle the sticky issue of alimony in the 2017 Legislative Session.

Companion bills filed in the House and Senate aim to overhaul state alimony law to toughen the standards by which alimony is granted and changed. That’s despite unsuccessful tries in the last few years.

Neither bill had a hearing in the committee weeks leading up to this year’s session, which begins Tuesday.

Given its history, the effort promises to be one of the most contentious the Legislature will deal with this year, and both sides are primed for the fight. Last year, a hollering battle sparked outside Gov. Rick Scott’s office as reform advocates shouted down opponents of the bill.

In a nutshell: Former spouses who wrote the checks have said permanent alimony in particular, or “forever alimony,” wasn’t fair to them. Their exes have shot back that they shouldn’t be penalized, for example, after staying home to raise the children and then having trouble re-entering the workplace.

The First Wives Advocacy Group calls this year’s legislation “one-sided, inequitable, and harmful to Florida families, especially women and children.” Proponents say the measures won’t be retroactive; these ex-spouse advocates disagree.

“As written, the legislation will retroactively tamper with thousands of prior divorces, giving payors a virtual do-over at the expense of the recipient,” the group said in a statement. “During their divorces, many women sacrificed equitable distribution for the security of permanent alimony.  

“This legislation would result in (those paying alimony) filing for modification upon retirement, regardless of prior agreement, need, and ability to pay,” the group adds. “This is clearly not equitable.”

But Alan Frisher, chair of the National Parents Organization of Florida, called “the concept of permanent alimony … outdated in today’s society.”

“Alimony recipients must take some responsibility to earn a living after divorce in this day and age,” he said.

The 2017 bills “would provide predictability and consistency for all, plus, divorcing spouses could settle their financial differences out of court versus spending countless dollars on wasteful litigation,” Frisher added.

This year’s measures (HB 283, SB 412) don’t address the child custody provisions that garnered Scott‘s disfavor in 2016.

He nixed that legislation because it had the potential to put the “wants of a parent before the child’s best interest by creating a premise of equal time-sharing,” his veto letter said.

Family-law related bills have had trouble getting Scott’s signature even as lawmakers have tried for years to change the way Florida’s courts award alimony.

In 2013, Scott vetoed a previous attempt to modify alimony law because, he said, “it applies retroactively and thus tampers with the settled economic expectations of many Floridians who have experienced divorce.” He added that the “retroactive adjustment of alimony could result in unfair, unanticipated results.”

Among other things, the current legislation contains a guideline that says judges should consider an ex-spouse’s “services rendered in homemaking, child care, education, and career building of the other party” when calculating an award.

A judge can go outside the suggested alimony amount under the bill “only if the court considers all of the factors … and makes specific written findings concerning the relevant factors that justify” the deviation.

Rep. Colleen Burton, a Lakeland Republican, is carrying the House bill and Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, a Naples Republican, is sponsoring its Senate counterpart.

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