Florida Senate Archives - Page 5 of 37 - Florida Politics

Public-records exemption for murder witnesses heading to the governor

The Senate met the two-thirds requirement Thursday to send Gov. Rick Scott a bill creating a public-records exemption for information that could identify murder witnesses.

The vote was 34-3 to accept CS/CS/HB 111, the House version of legislation sponsored in the Senate by Ocoee Democrat Randolph Bracy.

Exemptions to Florida’s stringent public-records laws require two-thirds votes in both Houses. The House overwhelmingly approved the measure on March 30.

Voting “No” in the Senate were Rob Bradley, Jeff Brandes, and Jeff Clemens.

Bracy opened by introducing about a dozen family members of murder victims who’d traveled to Tallahassee to lobby for the legislation.

“This is a group who have endured a terrible tragedy, in their kids being murdered,” he said. “They have been here through every hearing in the Senate and the House.”

The idea is to shield witnesses from intimidation or retaliation.

“It’s long overdue,” Hialeah Republican Rene Garcia said.

“Back in our community, the biggest problem we have is that people don’t want to speak up when they see a crime. This bill is going to go a long way to ensure that people’s voices are heard and their identities are kept private,” Garcia said.

“I talk a lot about senseless violence and things that happen in my community. This is one of those bills that will help the law enforcement find the perpetrators of these senseless acts,” Democratic leader Oscar Braynon said.North Miami Beach Democrat Daphne Campbell pointed out a constituent in the visitor’s gallery.

“She has only one son — only one son. And she got a phone call, and her son is gone,” Campbell said. “This bill really is just a little token of what this parent is going through.”

“I just want again to thank the parents of murdered kids for your advocacy,” Bracy concluded. “Our hearts and prayers are still with you.”

Senate votes to clear up ‘mistakes’ in self-defense law for homeowners

A bill clarifying that homeowners need not wait to be attacked inside their dwellings before resorting to defensive force passed the Senate Thursday.

CS/CS/SB 1052 would reconcile conflicting statutes involving self-defense, correcting drafting errors muddying the legal situation made in 2014 legislation, bill sponsor David Simmons said.

“Senators, this protects all of us in our own home. It’s rational. It’s reasonable. It brings us back to the way it was prior to the mistakes that were made in 2014, drafting errors,” Simpson said.

The Senate defeated efforts by Democrat Jose Javier Rodriguez to clarify that force would have to be used against an aggressor.

He cited the 2012 Trayvon Martin case, in which George Zimmerman shot the teenager after following him through a neighborhood.

“You do have a duty to retreat if you provoke and you do not stand down,” Rodriquez said.

A provision in existing law says one must wait to be attacked before using force. But other provisions hold that the right of self-defense begins when one “reasonably” believes it is necessary, according to a staff analysis of the bill.

“They must actually believe — not only reasonably, but subjectively believe — that their lives are in danger, and they must reasonably act,” Simmons said at one point in the debate. “How much more do you want to impose upon a homeowner?”

Democrat Audrey Gibson said she agreed with the bill in principle but couldn’t vote for it on the floor — even though she had in committee.

“So much negative has gone on in various communities, particularly as it related to people of color,” Gibson said. “And if I stand here today and support what I do believe is right within your bill, there will be newspaper articles in district and across the state that say, ‘Gibson supports stand your ground’ — and that could not be further from the truth.”

Florida Senate passes budget with limited cut to Aramis Ayala’s office

A Florida Legislature Conference Committee showdown appears likely over how much money will be cut from Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala‘s office now that the Florida Senate passed a budget package Wednesday that includes a much smaller cut than is being proposed in the Florida House.

Engineered by state Sen. Randolph Bracy, an Oakland Democrat, and Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Jack Latvala, a compromise was inserted into the budget package that would cut $622,000 from the Office of the State Attorney for Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit, but restore another $569,000 that the Senate initially proposed cutting.

The House of Representatives is still looking at a full $1.3 million cut to Ayala’s office. Under an arrangement put together by Republican state Rep. Scott Plakon, all the money would go to the Judicial Administration Commission, to be redistributed to other state attorneys who get 9th JC cases.

Ayala is under fire from many Tallahassee politicians, mostly Republicans, for her stance to not prosecute death penalty sentences in CD 9. As a result, Gov. Rick Scott has reassigned 23 first-degree murder cases to the neighboring 5th Judicial Circuit. On Tuesday Ayala challenged those reassignments in the Florida Supreme Court and in U.S. District Court.

The $622,000 cut from her office in the Senate budget package would go to 5th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Brad King, to whom Scott reassigned the 23 cases.

Bracy said the money had been allocated last year for human trafficking and domestic violence prosecution programs, and the human trafficking problem is rapidly increasing in the CJ 9 and a top concern for the House Judiciary Committee. Those also were top priorities for Ayala during her election campaign last year.
“I felt for that reason alone she needed the money,” Bracy said.

Bracy is one of the few lawmakers to openly back Ayala. After both the cuts appeared in committees, he pushed to get money restored for her office. Earlier this week he worked out the 45 percent/55 percent split of the original $1.3 million cut with Latvala, the Republican from Clearwater.

Last week Bracy authored an op-ed column in the New York Times in which he conceded he does not necessarily agree with Ayala’s stance on the death penalty, but strongly supports her right to take that stance.

“Although Ms. Ayala’s critics have denounced her actions as dereliction of duty, they cannot point to a single law or statute that she has violated. That’s because she hasn’t,” Bracy wrote in the column. “There are no federal or state laws that say prosecutors must seek death sentences. And the United States Supreme Court has banned all state laws that make executions mandatory for murders.”

On Tuesday Plakon, a strong critic of Ayala’s stance on the death penalty, defended the $1.3 million figure, saying that capital punishment cases are very expensive so the money should follow the cases, that it’s approximately how much extra money the JC 9 office got last year, and that Ayala still has not filled many vacancies in her office, so she’s not spending what she has.

Trump administration comes to the rescue as Senate approves its budget

The Trump administration’s pledge of $1.5 million to pay hospitals for charity care came as the Senate — which was counting on the money — debated its budget plan for 2017-18.

Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala announced the development Wednesday on the Senate floor, saying Gov. Rick Scott had delivered the news during a telephone call.

“Thank you very much for that news from the governor,” Senate President Joe Negron said. “It will be taken into consideration as we continue to work on our budget.”

Scott confirmed the news via a press release.

“I appreciate their quick turnaround and commitment to working with Florida to provide additional flexibility for how these funds can be used more efficiently, including allowing money to follow each patient,” Scott said.

“This will provide better healthcare for the individuals intended to be served with this funding.”

The Senate budget includes $607 million in the Low Income Pool for charity patients — money the feds now have agreed to supply.

“I’m really hopeful and optimistic that Plan A will work out,” HHS subcommittee chair Anitere Flores said earlier in the debate.

The House wasn’t counting on the money.

The Senate proceeded to approve SB 2500, its $82.3 billion Appropriations Act, on a vote of 39-0.

The measure advances Negron priorities including the environment, education, and pay raises for state workers, especially corrections officers.

“If you look around the country, if you see vibrant, sustainable economic development and high paying jobs, you almost always see a higher education presence,” Negron said in a prepared statement following the vote.

“The Senate budget reflects our commitment to elevate that environment here in Florida, while at the same time setting aside a more than $3 billion rainy day fund,” he said.

“A dedicated and qualified state workforce is critical to our economy,” Latvia said.

“For far too long, our state employees have gone without an increase in their pay. Our budget provides an across the board pay increase for state employees, with meaningful pay increases in areas where we have had trouble with employee retention.”

The Senate accepted amendments funding member projects and technical revisions, but a series of amendments failed on voice votes.

Senators accepted a compromise that would return nearly $570,000 of the $1.3 million the bill would have stripped from Orlando State Attorney Aramis Ayala’s budget over her refusal to seek the death penalty in any case.

Latvala had worked out the deal with Randolph Bracy because of concerns the original figure would hobble a new anti-human trafficking program.

Democratic leader Oscar Braynon offered an amendment to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which survived GOP efforts in Washington to kill it off. He said 800,000 Floridians would benefit. “These people still are suffering and don’t have health insurance,” he said.

The Senate tried to expand the program last year but the House and Gov. Rick Scott refused.

Flores said the political climate isn’t right.

“We have really litigated this issue,” she said. “But at this point, and in this time … I would have to recommend that we vote against this amendment.”

An amendment by Kevin Rader would have steered $100 million to substance abuse rehabilitation programs, contingent on passage of additional cigarette taxes. He cited an opioid addiction epidemic that killed 529 people in Palm Beach County alone last year.

“We have to put money into the actual treatment,” detox beds, and short-term recovery, Rader said.

Latvala said he sympathized but that Rader’s amendment violated Senate rules by threatening to through the budget out of balance.

“Every now and then, you just don’t have enough (money) to go around,” Latvala said.

At Latvala’s urging, Rader withdrew his amendment.

Amendments providing $1 million each for a port and airport project included in Negron’s Lake Okeechobee plan sailed to approval.

 

LeadingAge calls proposed amendment to Senate nursing home payment plan a ‘step in the right direction’

LeadingAge Florida CEO Steve Bahmer is thanking Senate Democratic Minority Leader Oscar Braynon for a proposed amendment that would tweak the Senate’s proposed prospective payment system for nursing homes, which is currently included in the Senate’s budget.

The amendment, filed earlier this week, specifies that “funds received by a facility beyond current levels be used for patient care or quality improvements for nursing home residents.”

In a statement Wednesday, Bahmer said Braynon organized a meeting to discuss the Medicaid payment plan included in the Senate’s budget proposal. Bahmer said meeting “demonstrated that there are still major holes in the plan that must be addressed.”

Under a prospective payment plan, the state pays 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, expressed concerns about the initial proposal, saying it could 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 plan laid out in a Navigant study, but did request a few changes.

Much like as outlined in the Senate’s budget, the amendment calls for the state to set aside money to provide for a three-year transition period to implement the prospective payment system, “guaranteeing all providers the greater of their 2016 cost rate or the PPS rate calculated in accordance with the new methodology.” It caps gains at 4.075 percent so potential for losses can be prevented.

However, the amendment specifies that any “additional funds beyond current levels that a facility receives must be spent on patient care or quality improvement for Florida Medicaid nursing home residents.” The amendment also calls on facilities that received additional funding to “sign and submit to the agency an attestation that details how the additional funds were spent.”

While Bahmer said the amendment “won’t entirely fix the proposal,” he did call it a “step in the right direction.”

“We look forward to continuing to work with members of the Florida Senate and House, as well as fellow stakeholders, on a PPS plan that meets our collective goals of ensuring accountability of taxpayer dollars and providing the highest standard of care for our state’s seniors,” he said.

The amendment will likely be discussed later today as part of the Senate’s budget discussions.

Randolph Bracy, Jack Latvala reach compromise on Senate cut to Aramis Ayala’s office

Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala‘s office would take a much smaller budget hit this year under a compromise worked out by state Sen. Randolph Bracy and Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala Tuesday.

Both the Florida Senate and the Florida House of Representatives have been pursuing budget proposals that would have cut at least $1.3 million from the budget of Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s office, though for different stated reasons.

Ayala is the embattled state attorney there, whose decision in March to not pursue death penalty prosecutions has led to a political firestorm. That has included some retaliatory responses, including from Gov. Rick Scott and several Central Florida House members, and proposed cuts in funding to her office.

Scott stripped 23 first-degree murder cases from her office and reassigned them to the 5th Judicial Circuit. State Rep. Scott Plakon of Altamonte Springs engineered the House cut of about $1.3 million, to transfer that money to the the 5th Judicial Circuit, which is set to get the cases Scott reassigned from Ayala.

Bracy, of Oakland, is one of the few Democrats who have actively come to Ayala’s aid

Under the arrangement agreed to by Bracy and Latvala, $569,000 of the proposed Senate cut would be restored, while $622,000 would be transferred to the office of the 5th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Brad King.

“It’s what Latvala and I agreed to,” Bracy stated in a text to FloridaPolitics.com. “It’s 45 percent of the $1.3 million that was cut will go to the 9th Circuit. 55 percent will go to the 5th.”

In another text, Latvala, the Republican from Clearwater, confirmed the deal and that he would support it on the floor.

Expect no such deal on the House side, so the matter is likely to head to conference committee.

“My team recommended the $1.3 million because we thought that was the right number,” Plakon said. “Anything different from that will have to be worked out in conference.”

And he said he stood by the validity of the $1.3 million cut for several reasons. First, it’s approximately what the office got as extra money in a special appropriation awarded last year, so Plakon said it would make sense to roll that back. He also argued that the $1.3 million is being identified as money needed to prosecute death penalty cases, which are typically extremely expensive, and which Ayala has announced she would not do. So the House proposal would authorize the Judicial Administration Commission to decide which state attorneys most need the money. And third, Ayala’s office still has a number of open positions – Plakon cited references to 60, while Ayala’s office said last week the number was 33 and dropping.

Plakon said he believes the 60 to be accurate, but noted that either number is greater than the 21 positions in the proposed cut, “So she wouldn’t need those funds.”

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.

 

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