Florida Senate Archives - Page 5 of 36 - Florida Politics

Bill to regulate Uber, Lyft headed to Senate floor

A bill that would create a regulatory framework for transportation network companies in Florida cleared the Senate Rules Committee, teeing it up for a vote in the full Senate within the coming days.

Sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, the bill (SB 340) would require Uber and Lyft to carry $100,000 of insurance for bodily injury or death and $25,000 for property damage while a driver is logged onto their app but hasn’t secured a passenger. While a rider is in the vehicle, they are required to have $1 million worth of coverage.

The proposal also calls on companies to have third parties conduct local and national background checks on drivers.

“Today’s vote signals a major milestone in the effort to ensure every Florida resident and visitor has access to ride-sharing,” said Stephanie Smith, the senior manager for public policy at Uber Technologies, in a statement. “At Uber, we are focused on connecting people and communities, increasing mobility, and this vote brings us one step closer to achieving this.

The bill cleared the committee on a 10-1 vote. It now heads to the Senate floor.

This legislation will give Florida’s residents and visitors easy access to an affordable and reliable transportation option, ultimately providing the state with increased economic opportunity,” said Chelsea Harrison, the senior policy communications manager for Lyft, in a statement. “We look forward to passage by the full Senate.”

A similar bill (HB 221), sponsored by Reps. Chris Sprowls and Jamie Grant, unanimously passed the House Wednesday.

Committee OKs Senate budget that contains Aramis Ayala money shift, for now

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a proposed $83.2 billion state budget Wednesday after its chairman agreed to study a proposal to shift $1.3 million from Orlando State Attorney Aramis Ayala’s office.

Sen. Randolph Bracy withdrew his amendment to restore the money after Jack Latvala said he would work on a possible floor amendment.

“Let us work a little more on an approach here that’s a little bit more than all-or-nothing,” Latvia said.

“I look forward to working with you to see how we can address the 9th Circuit’s concerns,” Bracy replied.

The underlying budget would raise spending by 1 percent over existing levels, and leave $3.1 billion in reserves, Latvala said.

The House is looking at spending $81.2 billion.

The Senate committee spent the morning explaining its plans and working through more than 100 amendments, most of which members adopted without controversy. Many, Latvala said, were drafted to comply with a new House-Senate rule requiring a committee hearing for bills considered in conference committee.

Among the measures adopted were a prospective payment plan for reimbursing nursing homes for treating Medicaid patients that has divided the industry. The committee also approved a bill that would steer three-quarters of the state’s share of the BP oil spill settlement to the worst-affected counties in the Panhandle.

The draft budget would transfer money from Ayala’s 9th Circuit to the office of 5th Circuit State Attorney Brad King. Gov. Rick Scott has appointed King to handle death-penalty-eligible cases in the 9th Circuit after Ayala announced that she would never seek the death penalty.

Bracy’s amendment would have put the money back.

But the committee heard conflicting testimony about whether the governor’s move justified the budget hit to Ayala.

Bill Cervone, state attorney for the 8th Circuit, argued that King will have to bring a sizeable staff contingent to Orlando to handle Ayala’s 22 murder cases.

“It would be ethically improper for any employee of the 9th Circuit to work on these cases. A conflict exists, system-wide,” Cervone said.

Kamilah Perry, Ayala’s executive director and general counsel, disputed that, saying her boss has assigned two attorneys to work with King and is cooperating pending a decision on whether to challenge Scott in court.

The $3.1 million represents money the Legislature gave the circuit last year to launch an initiative against human trafficking and domestic violence — and, Bracy said later, to ease disproportionately low funding levels compared to other prosecutors’ offices.

“It would just dramatically impact their ability to prosecute cases,” Bracy said of the diversion.

Is Bracy confident he can work something out?

“I’m hopeful,” he said. “As testimony was given, the more we discussed it, I think he realized the impact it could have on the circuit’s ability to prosecute those cases,” and support the human trafficking and domestic violence divisions.

Democrats decry change to ‘stand your ground’ law

A critic of the state’s “stand your ground” law Wednesday said a change to the law now moving through the Legislature will “make it easier for people to murder other human beings.”

Lawmakers now are considering shifting the burden to prosecutors, making them disprove a claim of self-defense. Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, called that making “a bad law worse.”

He appeared with several fellow Democrats at a morning press conference in the Capitol.

The stand your ground law, enacted in 2005, allows people who are attacked to counter deadly force with deadly force in self-defense without any requirement that they flee.

The House on Tuesday amended a Senate measure (SB 128) to change the burden of proof to overcome self-defense to “clear and convincing evidence,” a lower threshold than the Senate’s “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

But lowering the burden won’t help the bill, Thurston told reporters, because the problem is with the burden’s shifting: Essentially forcing prosecutors to prove a negative.

Rep. Kamia Brown, an Orlando Democrat, added that the move will incentivize domestic abusers “to finish the job.”

“Why not go all the way … there won’t be anyone around to dispute” a stand your ground defense, she said.

And Rep. Bobby DuBose, another Fort Lauderdale Democrat, said it will embolden gang members “to pick on the competition” with impunity under the cover of a stand your ground defense.

Specifically, the Senate bill—sponsored by Fleming Island Republican Rob Bradley—would require prosecutors to show “that a defendant is not immune from prosecution.”

It’s in reaction to a state Supreme Court decision that put the onus on the defendant to show self-defense under the stand your ground law.

The House is scheduled to vote on the amended bill later Wednesday, sending it back to the Senate.

A Periscope video of the press conference can be viewed below:


House amends Senate’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ bill

The House on Tuesday began consideration of a Senate bill changing the state’s “stand your ground” law to make it easier to claim self-defense.

But the House soon amended the measure (SB 128) to change the burden of proof to overcome self-defense to “clear and convincing evidence,” a lower threshold than the Senate’s “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The burden would be on “the party seeking to overcome the immunity from criminal prosecution,” usually prosecutors, requiring a separate mini-trial, of sorts.

House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz asked Rep. Bobby Payne, a Palatka Republican who’s sponsoring the House version, whether he knew that prosecutors have said that would cost them an extra $8 million a year.

“I think that is a far-reaching estimate,” he said.

Other Democrats continued to be skeptical, at best.

“Would this allow (people) to get away with a crime they would otherwise be prosecuted for?” asked state Rep. Robert Asencio, a Miami-Dade Democrat.

“I don’t believe so,” Payne said. “But those who are truly protecting themselves, and their loved one, should be protected. People should be considered innocent until proven guilty.”

Rep. Jamie Grant, a Tampa Republican, later asked Payne, “Would you agree that your bill is trying to help someone who might be wrongfully arrested, while not making it any easier or having no impact on someone who committed murder and is trying to use a tool that was intended to create more due process for a defendant?”

“Yes, I would agree,” Payne said.

Specifically, the Senate bill—first passed March 15 on a 23-15 vote—would make prosecutors show “that a defendant is not immune from prosecution.” It was sponsored by Fleming Island Republican Rob Bradley, an attorney.

It’s in reaction to a state Supreme Court decision that put the onus on the defendant to show self-defense under the stand your ground law, passed in 2005.

The bill, if passed in the House later this week, would have to go back to the Senate.


Senate OKs mandatory recess bill

Recess scored a big win the Senate, but the proposal faces an uphill climb in the House.

The Senate voted 36-0 to approve a bill (SB 78) that would require school districts provide students in kindergarten through fifth grade with 20 minutes of recess each day. The vote marks a big milestone in the Senate, which just last year refused to hear to hear a similar proposal.

But the Senate proposal is significantly different than one moving through the House, and Sen. Anitere Flores, the Miami Republican sponsoring the Senate bill, said she hoped the Senate would send a message to House with its vote.

“The Senate feels strongly … if we’re going to have recess, it’s going to be recess. It should not be in competition with other things,” she said. “Recess should be able to stand on its own.”

The House proposal (HB 67) calls on school boards to include free-play recess for students in kindergarten through third grade as part of 150 minutes per week of physical education requirement. It also requires school districts to provide 20 minutes of recess on days when physical education classes aren’t held.

The House proposal originally mirrored the bill passed by the Senate, but was amended during its first committee stop. That proposal now heads to the PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee.

A toast to friends

Bottoms up: Beer, booze bills clear Senate committee

Let freedom pour: Bills aimed at changing beer and booze regulations in Florida have cleared their latest review panel.

The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee OK’d measures that would allow beer distributors to give free branded beer glasses to bars and restaurants, authorize beer companies to advertise in theme parks and let craft distillers sell more bottles directly to consumers.

Sen. Frank Artiles, the Miami-Dade Republican sponsoring the glass bill (SB 1040), told committee members the measure would benefit small businesses who deal with glass theft and breakage. It would allow brewers to provide glassware to distributors, who could then give away the glasses. Now, they must be sold.

MillerCoors and the state’s craft beer lobby continue to oppose the bill, saying deep-pocketed global beer behemoth Anheuser-Busch stands to benefit the most: Each branded glass effectively acts as a passive advertisement for a particular label.

It was approved 6-1, with Democrat José Javier Rodríguez the lone ‘no’ vote.

Another bill (SB 388) by Republican Sen. Travis Hutson of Elkton allows “co-operative advertising” by beer companies in the state’s theme parks. Universal Orlando supports the bill.

The idea behind the measure is to ease the state’s “tied house evil” law by allowing ads, which could include a beer company sponsoring a concert or festival within a park. But some beer representatives privately have complained they “fear being extorted by the theme parks.”

“We do a lot of business (with them), and we kind of see a situation where they say, ‘We do such-and-such theme night but now we’d like you to pay for it,’ by sponsoring it,” said one person, who asked not to be named. “(W)e all feel like we’ll be put over a barrel.”

The bill was cleared 7-0.

The third bill (SB 166), carried by GOP Sen. Greg Steube of Sarasota, would remove a limit on how many bottles distillers can sell directly to consumers, though it requires bottles be no bigger than 1.75 liters. Now, it’s capped at “two bottles per person per brand per year at one location,” he said.

The House version would only expand the limit to six bottles, he noted, in answer to a question from Jacksonville Democrat Audrey Gibson.

But “you can go to Wal-Mart and buy as many shotguns as you want,” he told senators. “I just think the government telling a business how many pieces of product they can sell is archaic. It’s not good public policy.”

The measure was OK’d 6-1, with Gibson the only dissenter.

medical marijuana

Senate amendment quickens pace for medical marijuana treatment center growth

A Senate panel is poised to approve legislation this week that could add five more medical marijuana treatment centers in Florida by October and lower the threshold for adding additional treatment centers in the future.

The Senate Health Policy Committee is scheduled to discuss and vote on a bill (SB 406), sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, that would implement the 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment. The Orange Park Republican has filed eight amendments to his bill, incorporating aspects of several other implementing bills filed in the Senate during the 2017 Legislative Session.

One of the most significant changes Bradley has proposed would lower the threshold for adding new medical marijuana treatment centers. Under an amendment filed Friday, the state would be required to add five additional medical marijuana treatment centers — at least one of which must be a black farmer — by Oct. 3, 2017.

The amendment then stipulates within “six months after each instance of the registration of 75,000 qualifying patients with the compassionate use registry” the state register four additional treatment centers “if a sufficient number of MMTC applicants meet the registration requirements.”

That’s a significantly lower threshold than what Bradley first proposed. Under the bill Bradley filed in January, the state health department would have been required to add more treatment centers only when an additional 250,000 qualified patients registered with the compassionate use registry. After that, five new medical marijuana treatment centers would be registered when the number of patients reach 350,000; 400,000; and 500,000.

During a workshop in March, Bradley said based on feedback he received he had come to believe his bill was “too restrictive.”

If approved, the Senate bill has the potential to open the door for far more medical marijuana treatment centers than the House proposal (HB 1397).

That proposal, sponsored by Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, calls on the state to issue licenses to five applicants denied by the Department of Health and one black farmer after 150,000 qualified patients are registered in the compassionate use registry. New applicants would then be allowed once there are 200,000 qualified patients.

Rodrigues’ bill cleared the Health Quality Subcommittee on a 14-1 vote, and will next be discussed in the House Appropriations Committee.

Bradley has also proposed an amendment that would require medical marijuana to be tested by an independent testing lab to ensure it meets the standards established by the state’s quality control programs. A bill (SB 1388) filed by Sen. Frank Artiles also called for independent third party testing.

Committee members will also be asked to vote on an amendment Monday that would establish the Coalition for Medical Marijuana Research and Education within the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute.

The purpose of the coalition would be to “conduct rigorous scientific research, provide education, disseminate research, and to guide policy for the adoption of a statewide policy on ordering and dosing practices for the medicinal use of marijuana.” The amendment appears to be substantially similar to a bill (SB 1472) filed Sen. Bill Galvano, which passed the Senate Education on a 9-0 vote on March 27.

The Senate Health Policy Committee is scheduled to meet at 4 p.m. in 412 Knott.

Poll: 45% of Florida voters would like to see increase in Medicaid funding

A new survey from the Florida Hospital Association shows strong support among Florida voters to keep — or in many increase — state funding for Medicaid programs.

The survey, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies from March 1 through March 5, found Floridians have the most favorable opinion of Medicaid that the association has recorded in six years. The poll of 600 registered voters found 56 percent said they had a favorable opinion of Medicaid, up from 47 percent in a November 2011 survey.

The results of the survey come as state lawmakers began releasing their initial budget recommendations, which included taking away as much as $621.8 million from hospitals in the coming year.

The House proposal cuts the state’s share of Medicaid by $238.6 million, or a total of $621.8 million once federal dollars are factored in. The Senate has recommended cutting $99.3 million, or a $258.6 million total cut.

But the Florida Hospital Association found that while the state is slashing budgets, many Floridians would actually like to see lawmakers keep funding as is, if not give the programs funding boost.

According to the survey, 45 percent of Floridians said they would like to see Medicaid funding increased, while 29 percent said they believe state funding should stay the same. Just 8 percent said funding for the programs should be decreased.

Six years ago, 47 percent of Floridians supported keeping the funding the same, while 39 percent wanted to see more money put into the program. Back in November 2011, 11 percent of Floridians supported decreasing funding for Medicaid programs.

When respondents were asked about a few specific areas the Legislature will be spending money on this year, 61 percent of Floridians said the state should increase funding for Medicaid, which provides health care to lower-income children, the disabled elderly, and pregnant women.

Voters also supported increasing funding for water quality problems (67%); the state’s colleges and universities (52%); tax cuts to help business to expand or relocate to Florida (31%); and tourism promotion (23%).

Yet when asked whether they would support redirecting money from Medicaid to help pay for increased funding for colleges and universities, tax cuts for businesses, and tourism promotion, 75 percent of voters said they would advise their legislator to keep the money in Medicaid programs.

There appeared to be broad support to keep money in Medicaid programs, with 68 percent of Republicans, 85 percent of Democrats, and 73 percent of independents saying they would advise their legislator to keep funding Medicaid.

That feeling was echoed throughout the state, with a solid majority of voters in each media market saying the Legislature keep money for Medicaid.

The highest support for keeping the cash for Medicaid came from the Jacksonville area, where 80 percent of respondents said they wanted legislators to keep money for Medicaid programs.

The Fort Myers media market — which includes Gov. Rick Scott’s hometown of Naples — had the highest percentage of people saying they should shift the funds, with 20 percent of respondents saying they would tell their lawmaker to use it for something else.


Florida House passes bill to allow therapy animals in courts

Children testifying in court in abuse, abandonment and neglect cases would be allowed the help of therapy animals under a bill passed by the Florida House.

The bill passed unanimously Thursday and expands a law that already allows therapy animals for victims testifying in sexual offense cases.

A legislative analysis of the bill says that research has shown animals reduce stress in children and three Florida district courts that have allowed them have reported positive results.

A similar bill in the Senate is ready for a full chamber vote.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

generic casino photo

Senate passes 2017 gambling bill

As expected, the Senate on Thursday passed its gambling overhaul for this year, including a renewal of exclusive rights to blackjack games for the Seminole Tribe.

Sen. Bill Galvano, the chamber’s shepherd of this year’s legislation, told fellow lawmakers he couldn’t promise that “we’ll reach a state of resolution” this session.

That said, he expects the House and Senate to go to conference on their respective bills, which are significantly different.

Galvano later told reporters the bill represents $340-350 million in potential revenue for the 2017-18 budget, and this year, every bit helps.

Senate President Joe Negron, in a statement, said he was “pleased” that the bill “honors the will of our fellow citizens in the eight counties that have approved referenda to expand the availability of gaming options.”

Those counties –Brevard, Duval, Gadsden, Hamilton, Lee, Palm Beach, St. Lucie and Washington – approved slot machines through a ballot question.

Below is a Periscope of Galvano answering questions from reporters after Thursday’s Senate floor session:

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