Jeff Brandes Archives - Page 3 of 37 - Florida Politics

Drivers license suspension bill sponsored by St. Pete’s Darryl Rouson and Jeff Brandes advances in state Senate

On Tuesday, the Senate Transportation Committee unanimously passed legislation to reduce the number of driver’s licenses suspended annually in Florida.

The bipartisan bill (SB 302), sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes and Democrat Darryl Rouson, would end the suspension of licenses for non-driving-related offenses.

If passed, it could dramatically reduce a large number of suspensions taking place statewide each year.

Right now, one can lose driving privileges in Florida over a number of nondriving offenses: truancy, writing graffiti, theft, vandalism, writing worthless checks and a minor’s possession of tobacco.

“It has a huge impact on public safety,” Rouson told his colleagues on the committee. “It’s costly and we know that three-fourths of the suspended, revoked drivers still drive. So it’s a public safety matter.”

“We don’t want to continue the self-perpetuating cycles of financial hardship that lead to revocations and other things,” he added.

The bill also modifies current law relating to debt collection for unpaid fees or fines, and clearly establishes the right of a defendant in financial hardship to use community service as an alternative method of payment. It also eliminates the felony criminal charge for a third or subsequent offense for driving on a license suspended because of a defendant’s financial hardship.

Brandes sponsored a similar bill in the Senate last year, as did Rouson in the House, along with Tampa’s Dana Young and Sarasota’s Greg Steube.

Like Rouson, Young and Steube each advanced to the Senate after last November’s election.

St. Pete Chamber releases legislative wish list for 2017 Session

As Tallahassee gears up for the annual 60-day Legislative Session, now a month away, the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce outlines its agenda for 2017.

Among the leading matters for the Chamber are transportation, the unification of PSTA-HART, tourism, and state regulation of vehicles for hire — including a bill (SB 340) from state Sen. Jeff Brandes setting rules to promote the growth of transportation network companies (TNC) such as Uber and Lyft.

However, at the top of the wish list is a call for greater diversity, with the Chamber supporting the Florida Competitive Workforce Act (HB 623 and SB 666) two measures would seek to create statewide anti-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. Business leaders say the Act will help ensure St. Petersburg and Florida attract the best, brightest and most creative workers.

Among economic development issues, St. Petersburg business leaders are asking lawmakers to approve $3 million for the Pinellas Center for Innovation for a series of improvements in addition to the creation of a state-of-the-art 40,000-square-foot enterprise incubator facility. For the growing Warehouse Arts District, the Chamber asks $500,000 in state funds go to renovate six storage buildings, which would seek to revitalize nearly 3 acres of blighted property.

The Chamber also wants to keep Enterprise Florida – as is or with some modifications — the state’s quasi-governmental business recruitment agency, as well as VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism arm. For every dollar spent through VISIT FLORIDA, the Chamber says, returns $3.20 in tax revenue for Pinellas County – tourism being one of the area’s most critical sectors.

Nevertheless, Enterprise Florida is in the crosshairs of state legislators, including House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who has recently referred to such state-run incentive programs as “de facto socialism.” Gov. Rick Scott, a staunch proponent of Enterprise Florida, sees it as a valuable tool in attracting business growth and jobs to the state.

As for education, the Chamber gives thumbs-up to several local proposals, including $10 million For the St. Petersburg College Student Success Center, and $2.5 million for “STEM academic programming” to prepare the region’s workforce for increasing demands in health care, science, and technology. Also on the list is early learning performance and voluntary prekindergarten (VPK), which the Chamber asks to be boosted by at least $50 per student.

The University of South Florida St. Petersburg gets a pair of requests, with $1.5 million for the USF College of Marine Science Coastal Ocean Initiative to purchase state-of-the-art equipment and provide three years of operations and maintenance costs. There’s also $2 million for the USF College of Marine Science Biogeochemical Laboratory Renovation, to “enhance long-term studies of the Gulf of Mexico oil spills.” Investments in these “shovel ready” projects would have an impact beyond the school campus, the Chamber says, by improving the region’s ability to compete for federal research funds to the benefit of the St. Petersburg “marine science cluster,” which provides a regional economic impact estimated at $100 million.

Trauma centers once again on the legislative radar in 2017. The Chamber is calling for legislators to reject a proposal for the Florida Department of Health to change the language to permit a “minimum” number of trauma centers a given district.

Decrying the “fragmented and underfunded” behavioral health system, chamber leaders asks Tallahassee to continue reforms passed in 2016, and uses much money is available in the state budget to expand treatment for mental health and substance abuse. They also support protecting the $450 million lawmakers have used to offset the reduction in the federal Low Income Pool, which is “vital that the existing general revenue be maintained in the Medicaid budget.”

St. Petersburg’s infrastructure woes – highlighted by last year’s city wastewater leaks into Tampa Bay – should get some attention in the 2017-18 budget.

The Chamber asks lawmakers to pass the funding request from South Pasadena Republican Kathleen Peters (HB 2005) for $3 million to smoke test the city’s sewer pipes for leaks, remodel lateral clean-outs with removable plugs, and install and seal manholes.

Flood management, another significant issue facing both St. Petersburg and Pinellas County, is the subject of two bills (SB 112 and HB 613) that will have the Division of Emergency Management set up a matching grant program to provide up to $50 million for flood risk reduction policies and projects.

Tax cuts, another big topic for Scott in 2017, is also on the chamber agenda, with support for the governor’s call to reduce taxes on commercial rent. The group is requesting additional reform of the state’s workers’ compensation system to address rising cost of attorney’s fees and rate increases without jeopardizing employee access to workers’ comp.

The chamber also opposes any efforts to prohibit a professional sports franchise from leasing public land to build stadiums or renovate stadiums already on public lands. The legislature is also looking at two bills (HB 77SB 122) which require any public land use to build a stadium be to be sold at fair market value.

Legislature to hear this week bills regulating ridesharing companies

Will 2017 finally be the year the state of Florida implements a statewide regulatory framework for ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft to operate under?

Legislators have failed to produce a bill over the past three regular sessions in Tallahassee, but hope springs eternal that all parties can come together this year.

On Wednesday, members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure will discuss a bill sponsored by Palm Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls (HB 221). St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes is sponsoring a companion bill in the Senate.

The bill has the backing of Uber and Lyft, as well as Associated Industries of Florida (AIF), the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Florida Technology Council and the Tampa Bay Partnership.

A similar bill failed last year, but because of a change in Senate leadership, Brandes is predicting it will have a better chance of passing in the upcoming session. Uber contended that former Senate President Andy Gardiner was the obstacle to the Senate passing the bill that was sponsored by former Rep. Matt Gaetz in the House.

As has been the case at the local level, the taxi industry is intensely against the bill, arguing it gives transportation network companies an advantage. County governments have long regulated taxi cabs, setting their rates, determining how many can be on the road, requiring background checks and demanding services such as the ability to accept credit cards or serve disadvantaged people and neighborhoods.

Dana Young decries the ‘shrill tone’ coming out of Tallahassee

The clash between Rick Scott and the leaders of the Florida House and Senate have dominated the front pages of several Florida newspapers this week, and Dana Young doesn’t like it one bit.

“There is this angry, shrill tone coming out of Tallahassee, and I truly don’t understand why,” the GOP District 18 state Senator told a crowd of over 50 people at the Oxford Exchange in Tampa on Friday morning.

“I kind of feel that we’re on the same team and we should be working together to get a budget passed,  but this shrill screaming is discouraging,” she continued. “So it could take awhile.”

The biggest public clash has been the different budget proposals unveiled from the governor and House Speaker Richard Corcoran. The House plan would eliminate the state’s economic development agency Enterprise Florida and the state’s tourism marketing arm Visit Florida, angering Scott.

The House would also eliminate any public subsidizes for film incentives and sports stadiums. When asked where she came down regarding the issue of giving incentives to recruit businesses to Florida, Young said she saw validity to both arguments, but said she didn’t believe it is necessary to get rid of state agencies.

“It’s an interesting argument,” she said, adding that there was no right answer about whether economic incentives are good or bad. But she did come out strongly in support of Visit Florida, saying their advertising efforts have been the fuel that has led to record tourism numbers in the state the past couple of years.”Why completely do away with an agency that by all appearances is doing a decent job of bringing people here?”

Young represented South Tampa and western Hillsborough County in the Florida House for the past six years before graduating to the Senate representing roughly the same geography last fall. That’s when she defeated Democrat Bob Buesing and independent candidates Joe Redner and Sheldon Upthegrove  in a bruising campaign that led to bitter feelings on all sides.

Third party environmental groups also ganged up on trying to bring Young down, attacking her specifically for her vote in the House on a controversial bill regarding fracking. Young denied the claims that her support for the bill in the 2016 legislative session was a vote of support for fracking, and she’s delighted many of those same groups by introducing a bill (SB 442) that would eliminate fracking in Florida with bipartisan support.

She isn’t ready to say that it will get clear sailing this year, contending that there will be ferocious opposition to the bill, and asked that her constituents have her back when the bill gets debated this spring in Tallahassee.

Young did support Amendment 2, the medical marijuana constitutional amendment that was overwhelmingly supported by the public last fall. However, she’s urging a cautious approach to implementing it, co-sponsoring a bill with Orange Park Republican Rob Bradley (SB 406) that limits the number of marijuana producers to seven, though it could expand to as many as 20 or more medical marijuana producers once the number of patients registered for that treatment reaches 500,000.  A competing bill by St. Petersburg’s Jeff Brandes (SB 614) eliminates the cap on how many marijuana producers there can be in the state and sets up four new types of licenses so companies can be licensed to grow, process, transport or dispense.

Bradley and Young’s proposed legislation would also eliminate the current requirement that doctors treat patients for at least 90 days before being allowed to order marijuana for them. It also would expand to 90 days from 45 days, the amount of marijuana supplies patients can purchase.

Young says she prefers to maintain the concept of vertical integration, which keeps the same company that grows the plant also processes it and dispenses it.

The Senator also discussed her just introduced bill that would allow small craft breweries the opportunity to self-distribute their product to other establishments, saying it demonstrated her support for “the little guy.”

A member in the audience questioned her on why she didn’t embrace that same concept when it came to medical marijuana?

“If we let this genie out of the bottle, there is no putting it back in,” Young responded, acknowledging that there was an inconsistency in her philosophy regarding the two issues.

Like several of her GOP colleagues in the Tampa Bay Area, Young has been a big supporter of ridesharing companies, and a huge critic of the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission, which the local delegation has already voted to eliminate later this year. But Young did take up for the taxicab industry on Friday, saying it is unfair that they have to pay a premium fee to be legally allowed to pick up fares at Tampa International Airport, while Uber and Lyft are doing so without paying anything.

Regarding the upcoming gun debate in the Legislature, Young declined to speak specifically about pending legislation, and instead posited the question as being simply whether more guns or less guns make the public safer. Referring to the fall of 2015 mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, she decried the fact that school was a gun-free zone.

“How would you feel if you were that chancellor and you opted not to allow students who were adults with guns, to carry guns on campus when that shooter came in, and they could have killed him,” she said. “But there was nobody there to respond.”

The event was for the “Cafe Con Tampa” lecture series. Co-organizer Del Acosta said the crowd in attendance was the largest in the group’s history.

 

Jeff Brandes, Jason Fischer team up to reform local pensions

For the second straight week, Rep. Jason Fischer and Sen. Jeff Brandes are teaming up on another ambitious pension reform bill.

Last week saw the two file bills in their respective chambers that would close the Florida Retirement System’s defined benefit plan to new cities.

That bill has gotten pushback already from Republicans in both chambers.

This week saw a bill, to be filed in both chambers Wednesday, that would reform local pensions.

Fischer’s House Bill 603 and Brandes’ Senate Bill 632 would put a check on the often optimistic rates of return on investments that create a rosier picture of solvency than actually exists in local pension plans.

Given the flux in investment markets, rates arrived at during boom times can be unachievable when markets flatten out. This can create an unfunded liability crisis, especially when compounded with a city (like Jacksonville most recently) not contributing enough to the plans to keep them solvent.

The Brandes/Fischer bills also create a new language: a “long range return rate.” The definition, used in the 2014 Society of Actuaries Report on public pension plans, is the rate of return to be met at least 50 percent of the time over three decades.

Starting in 2021, assumed rates of return that exceed that mark are prohibited, and public pension plan administrators will be compelled to lower their expected rate of return by 25 basis points a year until projections meet reality.

The gradualist approach is intended to put pension plans on a glide path toward sustainability.

“Many pension plans in Florida are dangerously underfunded, bringing into question whether they will be available to our police, firefighters, first responders, and public employees who rely on them for retirement,” stated Sen. Brandes in a news release from his office.

“This legislation will prevent pension plans from playing games with their funding formulas, and bring about fiscally prudent funding practices in these important programs,” Brandes added.

“We’ve made a promise to our teachers, first responders, and hardworking public servants that in exchange for their sacrifice we would help support them in retirement,” Rep. Fischer stated.

“For far too long faulty assumptions and pie in the sky numbers have put that promise at risk. This bill will put us on a path to fiscal responsibility by pegging the state retirement calculations to the real world,” Fischer added.

The Brandes/Fischer legislation would require those long range return rates to be calculated every five years.

medical marijuana

Jeff Brandes files medical marijuana implementing bill

Sen. Jeff Brandes wants a total overhaul of the state’s medical marijuana laws, filing legislation to repeal current law dealing with low-THC cannabis and replace it with a new regulatory system.

The St. Petersburg Republican filed the legislation (SB 614) Wednesday. A long-time critic of the current medical marijuana system, Brandes’ bill has the potential to open up the market beyond the seven dispensing organizations under law.

“The overwhelming support of Amendment 2 was a strong mandate that Floridians demand fundamental change to the way we regulate medical marijuana,” said Brandes in a statement. “The laws on the books today promote a state-sanctioned cartel system that limits competition, inhibits access, and results in higher prices for patients. This legislation outright repeals Florida’s defective law.”

Under the proposal, vertical integration of medical marijuana treatment centers is not required. Instead, the bill creates four different function licenses — cultivation, processing, transportation, and retail — that a medical marijuana treatment center can obtain. The bill allows treatment centers to get any combination of licenses. That’s a departure from current law, which requires dispensing organizations, similar to a medical marijuana treatment center, to grow, process and sell their own product.

“Florida should focus on what is best for patients,” he said. “The state today artificially limits the number of marijuana providers, promoting regional monopolies and standing in the way of the physician-patient relationship. This legislation removes those barriers, and will provide expanded access to Floridians who could benefit from the use of these products.”

The cultivation license would allow a license holder to grow and harvest marijuana; while a processing license would allow the permit holder to convert marijuana into a medical marijuana product, like oils, creams and food products, for qualifying patients.

Medical marijuana treatment centers with a transportation license would be allowed to deliver products to other treatment centers. It also allows centers to deliver the product directly to qualified patients, which the proposal states may not be restricted by local jurisdictions.

The proposal restricts retail facilities to 1 license per 25,000 residents. It allows local governments to regulate zoning and safety standards, and allows local governments to prohibit stores from opening up in their community. More than 50 cities across the state already have a zoning moratorium in place banning or restricting dispensaries.

Beyond getting rid of vertical integration, Brandes’ bill opens the door for future growth by removing current requirements, like how long a company needs to be in business or how much of the product they can grow.

“Senator Brandes’ implementing bill does an excellent job of establishing a comprehensive, tightly regulated medical marijuana system in Florida. SB 614 respects both the language of the constitution and the mandate that voters delivered on this issue,” said Ben Pollara, the campaign manager for the United for Care campaign, which backed the medical marijuana constitutional amendment. “The two most essential pieces of implementation are maintaining the primacy of the doctor-patient relationship, and expanding the marketplace to serve patient access. SB 614 does both in a well regulated, well thought out manner.”

Brandes is the second Senate Republican in recent weeks to file a bill focused on implementing Amendment 2, the state’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment.Last month, Sen. Rob Bradley filed a bill that would, among other things, allow for the growth of medical marijuana treatment centers once the number of registered patients hits a certain number.

Under his proposal, the Department of Health is required register five more medical marijuana treatment centers within six months of 250,000 qualified patients registering with the compassionate use registry. It then allows for more five more treatment centers to receive licenses after the 350,000 qualified patients, 400,000 qualified patients, 500,000 qualified patients, and after each additional 100,000 qualified patients register with the state’s compassionate use registry.

The Department of Health also initiated the process of creating rules and regulations governing Amendment 2 in January. The department has until July to put rules in place to implement Amendment 2, which passed with overwhelming support in November.

Under preliminary rules, medical marijuana treatment centers — which under new rules would be the same as a dispensing organization, must go through the same “approval and selection process” outlined in existing law. Those organizations are also “subject to the same limitations and operational requirements” currently outlined in state law.

A spokeswoman for the health department said in an email last month that agency looks forward to “receiving input from all interested stakeholders through the open and transparent rulemaking process.”

Brandes’ bill also:

— Adds paraplegia, quadriplegia, and terminal conditions to the list of debilitating medical conditions as adopted as part of Amendment 2;

— Establishes criteria for caregivers and requires the background screening of caregivers;

— Restricts patients and caregivers from cultivating their own marijuana, and requires patients obtain marijuana from registered medical marijuana treatment centers;

— Grandfathers in existing dispensing organizations; and

— Applies a sales tax to the sales of marijuana and medical marijuana products.

If Brandes’ proposal makes headway in the Senate, that sales tax issue could run into some trouble in the House. While a House bill hasn’t been filed yet, Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, who is expected to carry the bill, has said the House version won’t include a tax on medical marijuana products.

 

Rick Scott budget proposing cutting $156 million from Tri-Rail over contract

Gov. Rick Scott is proposing cutting $156 million in state funding for Tri-Rail development unless the South Florida Regional Transit Authority reverses its decision to award a controversial half-billion contract to a lone qualified bidder.

Scott’s proposed 2017 state budget now includes an item calling for “no funding” until the authority withdraws, cancels or otherwise terminates the authority’s Notice of Intent for awarding its operating contract to Herzog Transit Services.

On the line is $156 million the state had programmed for Tri-Rail’s capital outlay from the Florida Transportation Trust Fund.

A transit authority spokeswoman said Tuesday the authority was aware of the governor’s action, but said the authority is declining comment right now.

The authority’s board of directors approved the Herzog contract by a 6-2 vote last Friday against objections from the Florida Department of Transportation and state Sen. Jeff Brandes, who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Transportation.

The Herzog contract is worth $344 million for seven years and has annual extension options that could take it out to 10 years for $511 million. It was awarded after the transit authority’s staff unilaterally rejected five other proposals for the service on technical grounds. Some of the proposals asked far less money, as low as $396 million for ten years.

The other companies bidding on the contract, including the current operations contractor Transdev Services of Maryland, have challenged the staff rulings that there were technical issues with their proposals. Specifically, the staff had cited language that the staff interpreted as meaning the bid prices were conditional. The companies have since responded that is not the case.

The governor’s budget item also declares that before the SFRTA can obtain a new contract for operations and maintenance services, it will have to “obtain the department’s written approval of all items and conditions of the new procurement and contract for the services that were the subject of such request for proposal to ensure the authority has sufficient revenues to fund the contract.

“Further, no funds shall be provided to the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority by the department without the prior review and written approval by the department of the authority’s proposed expenditures.”

 

Pushback emerges against bill closing FRS defined benefit plan to new cities

Jacksonville’s big legislative accomplishment in the 2016 session was getting an unprecedented bill through Tallahassee, one which would allow the city to access the guaranteed revenue from a future sales tax extension, once it closed one of its three pension plans.

As collective bargaining continues between the city and its unions, the 2017 session also looms. And another bill with potential bearing on Jacksonville’s pension perils awaits the Florida Legislature.

That bill, filed by Jeff Brandes in the Florida Senate and Jacksonville’s own Jason Fischer in the Florida House, would close the defined benefit plan of the Florida Retirement System to new cities.

“I believe the best way to start getting a handle on the growing unfunded state pension liability is to tackle the issue at the source. Closing this loophole to enter into the defined benefit pension plan in FRS will help the state of Florida begin the process of reconciling the out of control pension debt and put our state on a path towards fiscal responsibility,” stated Rep, Fischer upon filing the bill.

A question that is emerging, however: does the Fischer/Brandes legislation subvert the intent of the 2016 legislation that set the stage to conditionally close Jacksonville’s faltering defined benefit pension plans?

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The police and fire unions believe so; their position has been to put new hires who are foreclosed from the city’s current DB plan into the FRS defined benefit plan, which was last estimated to be 85 percent funded and one of the healthiest state pension plans in the country.

Meanwhile, the sponsors of the 2016 legislation, Clay County’s Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Travis Cummings, had their own qualms with the FRS reform bills.

“The bill was clear,” Bradley said, “and I made several public statements at the time as the bill moved through the process.”

“The language of the bill was clear – that [new pension plan] is a local decision, what form the pension/retirement plan takes going forward. The only requirement of the bill is that you close existing plans and then you start anew if you want to avail yourself of those dollars,” Bradley added.

“What system is chosen by the city of Jacksonville using those dollars is a choice,” Bradley said, “to be made through collective bargaining.”

When asked if he supported the Fischer/Brandes reforms, Bradley was careful in responding.

“To the extent that those bills take options off the table, then in my mind that’s inconsistent with what we did last year,” Bradley said.

“What we did last year was say this is a local decision. They have a series of options available to them to choose. Then to go the next year, and say ‘we said that, but we don’t mean it. You have fewer options than you had last year,’ to me that would be inconsistent with what we did last year,” Bradley said.

When asked if the Fischer/Brandes bill was a “bait and switch,” Bradley laughed, saying that phrase was something he “would describe as inflammatory language.”

“But yeah, I made my statement on it,” the senator said.

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Sen. Bradley, in what was an audacious play last year, carried the Senate version of the discretionary sales surtax bill through with a 35 to 1 vote of approval.

Bradley and Brandes, already slated to square off on the issue of medical marijuana expansion, look poised to be at odds on the FRS reform bill also.

Sen. Bradley’s concerns were echoed, albeit in abbreviated form, by Rep. Travis Cummings.

Cummings hadn’t seen the Fischer/Brandes bill, but after the terms were described to him, he said the terms were a “big concern.”

“I’d have a hard time supporting it,” Cummings said.

Cummings’ comments are notable in light of what he said to us in January 2016.

“History in the Florida Legislature does prove that there are philosophical differences between the House and Senate regarding traditional pension versus 401k type retirement plans. No doubt such will be a key part of the debate with our Senate partners. The train has left the station in the private sector in that pension plans are now dinosaurs due to insurmountable liabilities,” Cummings observed last year.

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The concerns of legislators who don’t represent Jacksonville may not be such a concern … except for the fact that the Duval County Legislative Delegation didn’t carry the pension reform legislation in 2016.

The reasons for such were pragmatic: Cummings and Bradley had carried similar legislation before, and there wasn’t a sense of overwhelming enthusiasm to carry the bill from the local delegation.

While the local delegation did support the legislation, the lead was taken by the Republicans from Clay County.

As former Rep. Charles Van Zant, a House co-sponsor, said last May, “it was a good neighbor bill for us. Jacksonville turned to us to pass the bill,” and the “three of us spearheaded the initiative.”

Jeff Brandes legislation would create task force focusing on criminal justice

After years of watching other red states leap ahead of them on criminal justice reform, Pinellas County Republican Senator Jeff Brandes is filing a bill that would create a criminal justice task force in the state of Florida in 2017.

It calls for a large committee consisting of 27 members (16 will be appointed) representing the Florida House, Senate, the Governor’s offices and various state agencies, as well as from a victim’s advocacy group, the formerly incarcerated, and the faith community.

The goal would be to take “holistic” review of the state’s criminal justice system, including (but not limited to) sentencing practices, minimum mandatory requirements in statute, prison and jail facilities and criminal penalties in statute.

“I really think you need a comprehensive approach to criminal justice reform, and I’ve never seen it done well in the committee process,” Brandes said earlier this month. “What we really need is a task force to vet these things, and give the (criminal justice) committee a vetted set of bills.”

In recent years, the governors of Georgia, Kentucky and Oklahoma have all made reforms to their criminal justice system, all after receiving recommendations from task forces that they created.

After being elected governor of Kentucky in 2015, Republican Matt Bevin announced the formation of a 23-member Criminal Justice Policy Assessment Council. It was comprised prosecutors and public defenders, members of the faith-based and business communities, state lawmakers and local leaders from across the political spectrum.

In Georgia, Republican Governor Nathan Deal did the same after coming into office in 2011. A task force created that year led the Georgia General Assembly to use those recommendations to enact two rounds of reforms in 2012 and 2013 that, deal wrote last fall ,have made “Georgia’s criminal justice system smarter, fairer, more effective and less costly, while in no way sacrificing public safety.”

The proposed legislation calls for the task force to present its report to the governor and the Legislature by the first date of the 2018 regular session.

(Jeff Brandes is a client of Extensive Enterprises, LLC, the holding company of Extensive Enterprises Media, LLC, which publishes this website).

Jeff Brandes files bill to standardize visitation plans

Sen. Jeff Brandes has filed a bill aimed at providing standardized visitation plans for unmarried parents.

The St. Petersburg Republican filed legislation (SB 590) Monday, which would create a standard visitation schedule for unmarried parents. If adopted, the proposal would encourage contact between non-custodial parents and their children.

“Spending time with our children is the most valuable gift parents can give,” he said in a statement. “The state currently requires child support be paid but is silent on time. This bill seeks to offer parents an optional time sharing plan, used in many other states, that puts the focus on parents spending time with their children.”

The time plan, according to Brandes’ office, would be provided as an option when parents meet with the Department of Revenue to set up child support. It would allow the parents to bypass the court system.

Under the proposed plan, children would be with the non-custodial parents every other weekend; one evening per week; Thanksgiving break and spring break in even numbered years; winter break in odd years; and for two weeks during the summer.

Parents could accept the plan as laid out, deviate and agree upon a different plan, or go through further mediation. It provides several exceptions, including when a family member lives more than 100 miles away or when there are concerns of familial or domestic violence.

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