Florida Senate Archives - Page 4 of 29 - Florida Politics

Doug Holder registers to lobby Legislature

Doug Holder has entered the government affairs sector.

Holder recently registered as a lobbyist, representing the Martin County Sheriff’s Office and Sarasota Memorial Healthcare System on behalf of The Legis Group. Holder founded the firm with former Rep. Robert Schenck.

A former state representative, Holder served in the Florida House from 2006 until 2014. During his time in office, the 50-year-old Venice Republican served as chairman of the House economic development subcommittee.

He was forced to leave office in 2014 because of term limits, but had hoped to make a political comeback earlier this year when he ran for the Florida Senate in District 23. Holder was one of several Republicans vying to fill the vacant state Senate seat and was backed by the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Holder came in second behind Greg Steube, who later went on to win the general election in November.

Schenck, a 41-year-old Spring Hill Republican, served in the Florida House from 2006 to 2014. Schneck served as chairman of the House health and human services committee during the 2010-12 term. During the 2012-14 term, he served as the chairman of both the House rules and calendar committee and the select committee on gaming.

That healthcare experience will go a long way in his new role as a lobbyist. Schenck recently registered as a lobbyist representing MCNA Dental Plans and Ultimate Health Plans. He’ll also represent the Martin County Sheriff’s Office.

Legislation would allow lawmakers to override judges’ rulings

Lawmakers could override court decisions they don’t like under bills filed Tuesday.

State Rep. Julio Gonzalez, a Venice Republican, filed two pieces of legislation, one aimed at state judges and another at federal judges who interpret state laws.

The first measure (HJR 121) would allow the Legislature to review judicial rulings that declare legislative acts void. If approved in the 2017 Legislative Session, it would allow lawmakers to put the issue on the ballot and amend the state Constitution.

That means that if “the Supreme Court, (any) district court of appeal, circuit court, or county court” overturns a law, the Legislature could salvage it with a two-thirds vote within five years of the ruling.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran has made judicial reform a top priority during the next two years.

He has called for the state to impose a term limit for judges; in a November speech on the House floor, Corcoran said the state needs “judges who respect the Constitution and separation of powers; who will reject the temptation to turn themselves into some unelected, super-legislature.”

Gonzalez, an orthopedic surgeon by trade, also is taking aim at the feds, filing what’s known as a House memorial (HM 125).

“It is my concerted view that such provisions, if enacted by the people would curtail the tendency of activist judges to manipulate the law to suit their political views and agendas,” said Gonzalez in a statement on his website explaining his decision to file the measures. “Equally as importantly, this would force the people to engage the legislature in enacting rectifications to current laws that they see as objectionable or flawed, restoring the natural relationship between the people and their legislative bodies. This would also force the electorate to more carefully look at their candidates and their actions during times of reelection.”

It urges Congress to propose a constitutional amendment to “deem a law that has been declared void by certain federal courts active and operational.” Such measures, if passed, are non-binding.

It says the judicial branch has taken “an increasingly activist role aimed at molding legislation according to the political beliefs of its members.”

The U.S. Supreme Court “currently possesses ultimate and unchecked authority on matters of the constitutionality of the United States’ laws such that its opinion on such matters has the same effect as amending the United States Constitution,” the measure says.

“Thomas Jefferson foresaw the dangers of ‘allowing judges to be the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions,’ calling this ‘a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of oligarchy,’ ” it continues.

“And … the presence of such unchecked and plenary authority on determining the constitutionality validity of a law of the United States must be dismantled for the sake of our republic and for the continued empowerment of its people.”

__Tallahassee-based reporter Jim Rosica contributed to this report.

 

Anitere Flores files bill aimed at decriminalizing youth

Sen. Anitere Flores has filed a bill to decriminalize youthful transgressions, a top priority for Senate President Joe Negron.

Flores, a Miami Republican and the Senate President Pro Tempore, filed Senate Bill 196 on Tuesday. The measure allows law enforcement officers to issue juveniles who admit to committing a first-time misdemeanor a civil citation or require the child to participate in a diversion program.

Under the proposal, law enforcement officers could issue civil citations or require a juvenile to participate in a diversion program for several misdemeanor offenses, including possession of alcohol, criminal mischief, and disorderly conduct.

According to a draft of the bill, juveniles who participate in civil citation or similar diversion programs would have to spend a “minimum of 5 hours per week completing” a community service assignment.

Flores’ proposal doesn’t apply to juveniles currently charged with a crime or those who have entered a plea or have been found guilty of an offense that would be a felony if committed by an adult.

The push to decriminalize adolescence is a top priority for Negron. The Stuart Republican mentioned the issue during his designation speech last year and again in November when he formally took over as Senate President.

During his designation speech, Negron said he and his brothers threw water balloons at cars passing by. He celebrated when a balloon hit one of the cars, but said the moment of fun turned somber when his target stopped in the middle of the road.

The man, he told his colleagues, looked him in the eye, flipped down his badge and told him he “hit the wrong car.”

“He marched us up to my father, told him what happened and suffice it to say, that never happened again,” he said during his designation speech.

“Now, take that same factual circumstance in fact pattern and transport it to today. It’s a virtual certainty that we would have been arrested and charged with throwing a deadly missile of conveyance, which I’m sure the Legislature’s turned into a second-degree felony with enhanced penalties,” he continued, only partially joking. “We would have been thrown into the juvenile justice system, our family would have been declared dysfunctional. … I would still be explaining this on my Florida Bar application, trying to get a license to practice law from the Board of Bar Examiners.”

Negron said there is “a delicate balance” and the state will not tolerate serious wrongdoing by young people. But, he said the state should not criminalize adolescence.

Flores’ bill also calls on counties to establish diversion programs, with the concurrence of the chief judge of the circuit court, the state attorney, public defender, and the head of each local law enforcement agency.

A House companion has not yet been filed.

Helmets would be required for motorcyclists under proposed bill

A Villages Republican has filed legislation that would require motorcyclists to wear helmets.

Rep. Don Hahnfeldt filed a bill (HB 6009) Monday to require all riders to wear helmets when operating a motorcycle. The bill strikes the section of the law that current allows riders to operate a motorcycle without a helmet.

Under current law, a “person over 21 … may operate or ride upon a motorcycle without wearing protective headgear” as long as the person is covered by an insurance policy that provides at least $10,000 in medical benefits for “injuries incurred as result of a crash while operating or riding a motorcycle.”

Florida Today reported in May that 450 motorcycle drivers or passengers died in accidents. The newspaper reported that 210 of those were confirmed to not be wearing a helmet.

According to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, 19 states and the District of Columbia have laws on the books requiring motorcyclists to wear a helmet. Twenty-eight states have laws that require some motorcyclists to wear a helmet, while three states — Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire — have no laws mandating helmet use.

States were required to put helmet use laws in place in the 1960s in order to qualify for some federal safety programs and highway construction funds. According to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, the requirement worked and by the early 1970s nearly all of the states had universal helmet laws. In 1976, states lobbied Congress to stop the transportation department from assessing fines on states without helmet laws.

Under Hahnfeldt’s proposal, riding without a helmet would be a “noncriminal traffic infraction, punishable as a nonmoving violation.”

A Senate companion has not yet been filed.

 

Julie Jones says prisons need higher pay to stop ‘churn in the hiring’

Turnover of staff at Florida’s prisons is so high that a substantial majority of guards in some prisons have less than two years experience, Corrections Secretary Julie Jones said Wednesday before the Senate Criminal Justice Appropriations Subcommittee.

Jones was at the subcommittee’s introductory meeting to push hers’ and Gov. Rick Scott administration’s priorities. They start with pay increases to attempt to boost recruitment and retention in prisons where guards can make less than $30,000 a year right now.

Jones outlined her top priority as a safety and security issue, arguing the inexperienced staff can lack the savvy needed to keep the system stable.

“So that experience working with inmates, knowing how to talk to an inmate, and… there’s smarts [that] corrections officers and police officers have to de-escalate; they don’t have enough experience on the job to be able to do that,” Jones said. “So contraband is up. Inmate violence is up. Inmate violence on inmates and officers is up. And it’s a churn in the hiring that has to stop in order to stabilize the system.”

The churn, she said, is 29.3 percent annually, about 3,000 prison guard jobs a year in the Florida Department of Corrections System. That doesn’t include another 1,000 floating job openings she maintains. “I’ve got facilities now that are 60, 70 percent [staff who have] less than two years.”

Though several members of the subcommittee had already stated that their highest priorities this year would be to address recidivism among parolees, Jones found support for her argument, particularly from Chairman Aaron Bean, a Jacksonville Republican.

“I looked at the numbers. A starting correction officer’s salary is $29,000 and change. They become certified, they go to $30,000,” Bean said. “But yet they can still go down the street to work at a distribution center where they start at $39-40,000, and not have anybody want to beat them up at the warehouse.”

“Mr. Chairman you’re absolutely correct. I’m losing … good, solid, five- to ten-year tenured higher pay,” Jones said.

Her presentation followed a discussion in which subcommittee members talked in earnest about making the prisons more efficient and reducing other costs by reducing their populations, releasing non-violent offenders.

Bean and the subcommittee’s legislative analyst Marti Harkness discussed the prospects of certain drug offenders being released. Vice Chair Randolph Bracy, the Democratic senator from Oakland, suggested non-violent elderly prisoners might be released. Sen. Jeff Clemens, the Democrat from Lake Worth, suggested Texas and Georgia be looked at, after those states released large numbers of non-violent offenders.

“No one is talking about letting out bad men and women. They will be remaining behind bars,” Bean clarified. “But they cost money. And we want them working. We want them working. So if there is something we can explore, I think our committee has the jurisdiction to explore.”

Senate bill would strengthen fentanyl trafficking penalties

With the opioid epidemic unceasing in the Sunshine State, a bill in the Florida Senate would tighten penalties against trafficking in fentanyl and synthetic drugs.

Senate Bill 150, introduced by GOP Sen. Greg Steube from Sarasota, would also impose penalties related to selling, manufacturing, or delivering fentanyl and synthetic drugs “performed within a dwelling.”

This would be a felony charge, with a mandatory minimum of three years in prison.

Those who possess and deal fentanyl and similar synthetic drugs that lead to death in a user will be guilty of a felony in the third degree.

Fentanyl “trafficking” is broadly defined in this legislation, ranging from amounts from four grams to 30 kilograms.

While all infractions would be classified as felonies in the first degree,  there is a sliding scale of infraction.

Someone trafficking in 4 to 14 grams would incur a $50,000 fine and a mandatory minimum term of three years in prison.

Those with anywhere from 28 grams to 30 kilograms of fentanyl would incur a $500,000 fine and a mandatory minimum prison term of 15 years.

Those who have brought over 30 kilograms of fentanyl will be subject to life in prison.

Synthetic drugs receive a similar graduated structure of penalties, with those traffickers with between 250 and 500 grams getting the mandatory minimum of three years and a $25,000 fine, and those with 30 or more kilograms getting 25 years and a $750,000 fine.

Trial lawyers must be very happy with Florida Senate committee assignments

It will come as no surprise that trial lawyers are looking to shoot the moon this Legislative Session.

They already made a power play during the 2016 election cycle. The Florida Justice Association, through its political committee Florida Justice PAC, spent $4.5 million since the beginning of 2015, much of which went to candidates or affiliated committees.

The group was also involved in two dozen state House and Senate primary races this year; and all but one of those candidates — Dwight Bullard, who lost his Senate District 40 race to Frank Artiles — were sworn into office last month.

But if you need more evidence of the clout plaintiffs’ attorneys are angling for, look no further than the make-up of the 2016-18 Senate committees.

While conventional wisdom tells us trial attorneys won’t get jilted under Senate President Joe Negron (an attorney) and House Speaker Richard Corcoran (ditto), the appointments to several key Senate committees appears to have already given trial attorneys — and their interests — a leg up.

Need an example? Take a look at the Banking and Insurance committee.

Chaired by Sen. Anitere Flores, the nine-person committee has four members for whom the Florida Justice PAC played Daddy Warbucks during the primaries. One of those members? Gary Farmer, the former president of the Florida Justice Association, which prides itself on “upholding the civil justice system and fighting for consumer rights,” which sounds like a tossed-off Morgan and Morgan slogan.

Farmer wears those trial lawyer credentials like a badge of honor. On the “About Gary” section of his campaign site, Farmer says he “spent almost his entire career fighting for the rights of consumers, fair and just compensation, and the protection of the civil justice system and full access to courts.” And as he points out, he’s made a career of representing patients and consumers that were “wronged by various corporations, hospitals and insurance companies’ deceptive trade practices.”

So, what the heck? Let’s put the guy who has made his bones suing insurance companies on the committee that is tasked with, in part, vetting legislation aimed at regulating the insurance industry. (Sounds like Negron is taking a page from the Donald Trump playbook.)

Also on the committee — Greg Steube, Randolph Bracy and Debbie Mayfield. All of which had the backing of the trial attorneys in their recent elections.

In a year where insurance issues rule the roost — assignment of benefits, workers’ compensation and PIP reform are just a few of the issues that could be on the table — you have to wonder, what message does having a Banking and Insurance committee that has four trial lawyer-friendly members really send to the business industry? (Hint: The courthouse is open for business.)

Steube — an attorney at Becker & Poliakoff, where he focuses on business litigation, public private partnerships, and government law & lobbying — also found himself at the helm of another powerful committee that could give trial attorneys a leg up.

Negron tapped the Senate freshman to head the Judiciary Committee. And while much has been said about what that means for gun legislation, the impact it could have on trial attorneys (and maybe their wallets) could be, as they say nowadays, “yuge.”

Case in point? On Dec. 5, Steube filed Senate Bill 100, which would repeal an entire section of law dealing with tobacco settlement agreements. Not amend a few lines here or there; no, we’re talking removing all of Section 569.23 from Florida Statutes.

So what exactly does that section of state law do? Well, among other things it drastically capped the bond amount tobacco companies have to pay to appeal court ruling. When the law was OK’d in 2009, industry officials said it was for the good of the state. If companies were bankrupted by endless Florida lawsuits, officials argued at the time, they couldn’t make the payments to the state as part of a 1999 tobacco settlement.

The Florida Justice Association threw a fit when it was OK’d, and repealing the law, even if it is eight years later, would most definitely be considered a win.

But to repeal it, supporters would need to have some friendly faces on key committees to even have a chance. And as luck – or a healthy campaign contribution plan — would have it, they do.

The nine-member Senate Judiciary Committee, where the bill would surely find itself if it were to get a hearing has at least four Florida Justice PAC backed members on it (Steube, Bracy, Mayfield and Bobby Powell).

Bracy and Jeff Clemens, another FJA backed candidate, are both members of the five-person Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee, where a bill like that might land if there is a fiscal impact.

With committee assignments like these, you have to wonder: Whatever happened to the business friendly Republican Senate?

Randolph Bracy intends to be aggressive toward reform as Senate Criminal Justice Committee chair

With his potentially-groundbreaking appointment to chair the Florida Senate Criminal Justice Committee, state Sen. Randolph Bracy is pledging to take an aggressive approach to criminal justice reform in Florida.

The Orlando-area Democrat’s chairmanship, announced last week by Republican Senate President Joe Negron, is highly unusual for three reasons: because Bracy is a Democrat, a freshman senator, and an African-American. The appointment signaled Negron’s desire to reach across the aisle, and to take concerns about criminal justice seriously, finding a black lawmaker with deep interest and experience in the subject.

The appointment came after Negron and Bracy had several conversations about how the Democrat might fit into the president’s senate.

“I don’t think it’s every happened, especially on the Criminal Justice Committee,” Bracy said of his chairmanship. “It’s a really big deal, not only as an African-American but as a Democrat. I’m honored and humbled.”

Senate Democrats say Bracy is just the second African-American chairman of a full committee. The first was Jim Hargrett of Tampa who chaired the Transportation Committee and the Tourism, Trade and Economic Development Committee in the 1990s. Hargrett also chaired a select committee on juvenile justice reform.

Race had nothing to do with the appointment, Negron said. He said he followed Bracy’s work in the house and had high regard for him based on his reputation, and their interactions, and spoke several times with Bracy this fall about how he could fit into the senate. Bracy expressed strong interest in criminal justice. While the Criminal Justice Committee leadership was a highly sought-after post, Negron found he had confidence in Bracy.

“I thought Sen. Bracy made a strong case based on his interest in that policy area. And as you can see from his committee assignments [which also include appropriations, banking and insurance, judiciary and regulated industries] he has a wide range of committee assignments which reflect my confidence in capabilities,” Negron said.

Bracy’s Senate District 11 includes some of the biggest and most-challenged African-American communities in Central Florida, on Orlando’s west side and in west Orange County. He had served on the House Criminal Justice Sub-committee all four years he spent in that chamber prior to being elected to the senate in November. He was ranking member last year.

He’s not the only Democrat to get appointed to chair a committee; he’s one of four this year, and the last couple of senate presidents also have included Democrats among committee appointments. But criminal justice creates a unique opportunity, in a time when the issue has sparked almost universal high interest and controversy.

“I’d like to be very aggressive in tackling criminal justice reform,” Bracy said. “I know I have to work under the senate president’s direction, but my hope is we can tackle some issues aggressively that are wrong in the criminal justice system. I hope I’m up to the challenge.”

Negron also has vowed a high priority for criminal justice reform, particularly relating to juvenile justice. He said he and Bracy share the commitment.

“That’s one of the areas that we talked about in person. We both share a commitment to not criminalize adolescents,” Negron said. “Obviously we can and should and will punish serious wrongdoing by young people. But at the same time let’s not criminalize adolescence. And we talked about policies going forward that give young people the opportunity to recover from mistakes in judgment.

Rob Bradley revives bill shifting Stand Your Ground burden to prosecutors

Sen. Rob Bradley reintroduced legislation Thursday clarifying that prosecutors have the burden of proving that shootings are unjustified under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.

The Republican from Fleming Island said the measure would overturn the Florida Supreme Court ruling in Bretherick v. Florida. In that 2015 opinion, a 5-2 court said people charged in shootings must prove during pretrial proceedings that they are entitled to immunity from prosecution.

“The government has the burden of proof in a criminal case from the beginning of a case until the end,” Bradley said in a written statement. “This fundamental premise is guaranteed in our Constitution and understood intuitively by all Floridians.”

Bradley’s proposed SB 218 provides:

“In a criminal prosecution, once a prima facie claim of self-defense immunity from criminal prosecution has been raised by the defendant at a pretrial immunity hearing, the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt is on the party seeking to overcome the immunity from criminal prosecution.”

Bradley introduced similar legislation last year, and it passed the Senate but died at the House committee level.

“We have an obligation to zealously guard the protections granted us all in the Constitution,” Bradley. “It was uplifting last session to have the support of fellow conservatives around the state on this important issue.”

Jeff Brandes files computer coding as foreign language bill

Florida lawmakers could once again consider whether computer coding classes should be counted as a foreign language credit.

Sen. Jeff Brandes filed legislation Monday to allow Florida high schools to offer computer coding classes that “along with the earning of a related industry certification satisfies two credits of sequential foreign language instruction.”

Senate Bill 104 also requires the state college and university system to recognize the credits as foreign language credits.

“Software development and coding is one of the largest skill gaps we have in Florida, said Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican. “We believe there is now, and will continue to be, an incredible demand for coders. My goal is to ensure that Florida students have the skills employers value.

When it comes to computer coding, Brandes is picking up where former Sen. Jeremy Ring left off. Ring, a Margate Democrat and former Yahoo executive, filed a bill during the 2016 legislative session that would have allowed computer coding courses to satisfy two credits in sequential foreign language instruction beginning in 2018-19 school year.

Brandes was listed as a co-introducer on the 2016 bill.

The Senate overwhelmingly supported the bill, voting 35-5 to approve it. But the bill died when the Florida House decided not to take up the issue.

According to the Miami Herald, critics said they were worried the bill would place additional burdens on schools that are already struggling with sufficient technology resources. Sen. Anitere Flores, the current Senate President pro tempore, and Sen. Jeff Clemens were among the lawmakers who voted against the bill.

Under Brandes’ measure, the schools may begin offering the courses beginning in the 2019-20 school year. According to the bill, “high schools may, but will not be required to,” provide students the opportunity to take the course.

The 2017 measure also requires students and parents to sign a statement acknowledging and accepting that “a computer coding course taken as a foreign language may not meet out-of-state college and university foreign language requirements.”

It also allows the Florida Virtual School to offer computer coding courses, and says districts that don’t offer courses “may provide students with access to the courses through the Florida virtual school or through other means.”

As of Monday afternoon, no House companion to Brandes’ 2017 measure had been filed.

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