Florida Senate Archives - Page 7 of 37 - Florida Politics

Redistricting-related bill OK’d by Senate

The Florida Senate Tuesday passed a bill aimed at streamlining the handling of political redistricting court cases.

The legislation (SB 352) was approved without debate 24-14, sending it to the House. 

Bill sponsor Travis Hutson, an Elkton Republican, has said the plan “locks the maps in place on qualification day,” giving clarity to candidates.

It also “encourages” courts “to follow certain procedures to maintain public oversight when drafting a remedial redistricting plan,” according to a bill analysis.

The bill is a response to court challenges over the state’s redrawn districts after the 2010 Census.

Hutson, an Elkton Republican, was concerned that previous redistricting cases were decided “behind closed doors, outside of the public eye” by judges.

Opponents, including Integrity Florida, a Tallahassee-based ethics watchdog, had called the bill a “solution in search of a problem.”


Tom Feeney calls Senate plan “largest Florida tax hike in many years”

The head of Associated Industries of Florida came out in opposition Tuesday to the Senate’s plan to repeal a tax break to the insurance industry.

“AIF supports reducing the business rent tax,” AIF president & CEO Tom Feeney said. “However, we cannot support this tax break on the back of creating what would be the largest Florida tax hike in many years if the insurance premium tax salary credit is repealed.”

The bill (SB 378) aims to use the money from the insurance companies’ tax break and use it to instead reduce the tax that businesses pay on their commercial rents, a cut that Gov. Rick Scott has long called for.

“Florida is one of only a few states that have two separate taxes for insurers – a corporate income tax paid by all businesses and a second, punitive tax on the insurance premiums paid by Floridians,” Feeney explained. “The removal of the working tax credit would make premium tax collections from insurers in Florida increase by $297.3 million.”

The state “simply cannot risk the future creation of new high-paying insurance jobs or the loss of such existing jobs,” he added. “We need a predictable, business-friendly environment that includes reasonable incentives for corporations large and small to do business in Florida.  That is what keeps Floridians working and Florida-based companies giving.”

Pennsylvania joins Florida in considering ‘whiskey & Wheaties’

In addition to the Sunshine State, Pennsylvania lawmakers have now filed legislation to break down the wall of separation between liquor and other goods.

On Saturday, the Philadelphia-based Billy Penn news site reported that bills in that state’s “House and Senate would create a new category of license that would allow grocery and convenience stores to add hard liquor to their shelves.”

For decades, Pennsylvanians had to purchase distilled spirits at “state stores,” government-run retail outlets, and wine and beer to go at licensed package stores.

But recently there’s been a booze glasnost in the Keystone State, resulting in new laws allowing “beer sales at gas stations, six-pack sales at beer distributors, shipments of wine direct to consumer addresses and … wine sales at grocery stores,” the story said.

“The primary focus is to provide to my constituents a one-stop shop experience,” Pennsylvania state Rep. Mike Reese, sponsor of the House bill, told the website.

That echoes the pro-consumer argument advanced by proponents of this year’s legislation in Florida; the Senate bill (SB 106) is on the special order calendar for Tuesday, and the House bill (HB 81) is up next before the Commerce Committee.

That hearing has not yet been scheduled; the House version struggled to escape its first two committees of reference, clearing them by one-vote margins.

Another similarity between the two states: Pennsylvania is facing a “budget shortfall,” the Billy Penn story said, and Florida is facing a tight budget for 2017-18 and likely deficits for following years.

A version of the bill has been filed in Florida for four years running, aiming to repeal the Prohibition-era state law requiring businesses, such as grocery chains and big-box retailers, to have separate stores to sell liquor.

The Senate’s bill would allow a phase-in period over several years, starting in 2018. Beer and wine already are sold in grocery aisles in Florida.

Lawmakers have been caught in the middle between big-box stores like Wal-Mart, who want the “whiskey & Wheaties” wall repealed, and independently-owned liquor store operators who say they will suffer.

Updated 4:30 p.m. — The Florida House bill will be heard by the Commerce Committee this Wednesday at 9:15 a.m. in 212 Knott.

House gambling bill set for Ways & Means this week

The House of Representatives’ omnibus gambling bill will again be heard this week, records show.

The bill (HB 7037) is on the agenda for the Ways & Means Committee, chaired by Bradenton Republican Jim Boyd, on Tuesday.

Though it includes a renewed blackjack agreement between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the legislation overall “freezes” the current ambit of gambling in the state, as Rep. Mike La Rosa has said. He chairs the Tourism and Gaming Control Subcommittee, which already OK’d the measure 10-5.

That contrasts with the Senate’s gambling bill (SB 8), which cleared all its committees and awaits a hearing on the chamber floor.

The House would outlaw designated-player card games, but the Senate would let “all cardroom operators … offer designated player games.” The House also would prohibit the expansion of slot machines, while the Senate generally expands the availability of slot machines.

Moreover, La Rosa’s legislation would divert the state’s cut of the Seminole gambling money – $3 billion over seven years – to go to education, split three ways among “K-12 teacher recruitment and retention bonuses,” “schools that serve students from persistently failing schools,” and “higher education institutions to recruit and retain distinguished faculty.”


Senate’s ‘whiskey & Wheaties’ bill teed up for floor

The Florida Senate’s bill to remove the “wall of separation” between hard liquor and other retail goods is scheduled for the floor next week.

The “whiskey and Wheaties” legislation (SB 106) is on the special order calendar for next Tuesday, according to the chamber’s website on Friday.

Meantime, the House companion (HB 81) has been struggling, escaping its committees by one-vote margins twice.

A version of the bill has been filed for four years running, aiming to repeal the Prohibition-era state law requiring businesses, such as grocery chains and big-box retailers, to have separate stores to sell liquor.

The Senate’s bill would allow a phase-in period over several years, starting in 2018. Beer and wine already are sold in grocery aisles in Florida.

Lawmakers have been caught in the middle between big-box stores like Wal-Mart, who want the repeal, and independently-owned liquor store operators who say they will suffer.


Senate passes fix to ‘stand your ground’ law

The Florida Senate has passed a change to the state’s “stand your ground” law that would make it easier for criminal defendants to claim self-defense.

It was approved on a 23-15 vote during Wednesday’s floor session. Specifically, the bill would require prosecutors to prove “that a defendant is not immune from prosecution.”

The bill (SB 128), sponsored by Fleming Island Republican Rob Bradley, is in reaction to a state Supreme Court decision that put the onus on the defendant to show self-defense under the law, passed in 2005.

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

Democrats, including Jacksonville’s Audrey Gibson, said in often emotional debate that the bill would encourage wrongful claims of self-defense.

“This tips the scales against fairness and justice … this is a how-to-get-away-with-murder bill,” she said.

Bradley later responded: “If I thought for one second this would encourage criminal behavior because it created some sort of loophole, I would have had no part of it.”

Sen. Dennis Baxley, the Ocala Republican who sponsored the original law in the House of Representatives in 2005, said the change would help prevent violent acts.

He also said the legislation wasn’t “about guns”: In protecting oneself or others, “I don’t care if you use a chair leg.”

Bradley’s bill now goes to the House for consideration.


Rick Scott signs death penalty fix into law

Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation Monday requiring a unanimous jury recommendation before the death penalty can be imposed.

Lawmakers passed the bill out of the House and Senate last week, rushing the measure through the process in hopes of fixing the state’s death penalty law. The House voted 112-3 to approve the measure Friday, one day after the Senate voted unanimously to approve it.

The U.S. Supreme Court in January 2016 declared the state’s death penalty was unconstitutional because it gave too much power to judges to make the ultimate decision. The ruling was based on a case where a judge issued a death sentence after a 7-5 jury recommendation.

In 2016, the Legislature overhauled the state law to let the death penalty be imposed by a 10-2 jury vote. But in October, the state Supreme Court voted 5-2 to strike down the new law and require unanimous jury decisions.

The change goes into effect immediately.

_The Associated Press contributed to this report, reprinted with permission.

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.

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