Jeff Brandes Archives - Page 6 of 54 - Florida Politics

Flu spike shows need for easier access to treatment, lawmakers say

At the peak of one of the worst flu seasons in recent history, some lawmakers are trying to make it easier for sick patients to be diagnosed and treated for the virus. 

St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes and Orlando Republican Rep. Rene Plasencia are sponsoring legislation (SB 524 and HB 431) that would let some pharmacies, under the guidance of a physician, test for and treat influenza.

Brandes said on Wednesday that the proposals come at a time when the flu is especially widespread, which has led to concentrated waiting rooms at medical facilities. He said his bill would provide quicker care to patients.

“This is a very powerful tool that allows somebody to skip the extra step of going to the walk-in clinic or trying to fight for that spot at your local doctor’s office,” Brandes said.

Avon Park Republican Rep. Cary Pigman, who also is an emergency room doctor, has thrown his support behind the initiative.

Pigman said that saturated waiting rooms are common and that allowing pharmacies to handle some of the intake would be beneficial.

On weekends during Session, Pigman said he works shifts at the emergency room.

“There’s more people that need care than we have physicians and nurse practitioners to take care of them,” Pigman said. “We are busy.”

Pigman said the legislation also would help curb the spread of influenza. He said that patients in crowded medical facilities without the flu would have less exposure to patients with the virus.

“Society as a whole is benefited,” Pigman said. Pigman said the bills are balanced, and would still require a physician-trained pharmacist to diagnose and prescribe patients with Tamiflu, a common medicine used to treat the flu in its early stages.

Backing the legislation is the Florida Retail Federation, which represents pharmacists and pharmacies across the state.  

“Simply put, this is lifesaving legislation,” Scott Shalley, president and CEO of Florida Retail Federation, said.

The Senate version of the bill was temporarily postponed in Health Policy earlier this month after the bill was criticized by physicians. The House bill still awaits its first committee hearing.

Bill aiming to curb wastewater discharges advances

After Hurricane Irma swept through the state, power outages resulted in 989 wastewater spills, totaling more than 9 million gallons of unauthorized sewage release.

Legislation (HB 837) sponsored by Plantation Democratic state Rep. Katie Edwards-Walpole would attempt to reduce those discharges by helping utilities gain compliance with industry standards. It was advanced unanimously by the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee on Tuesday.

If the bill became law, the voluntary “blue star collection system assessment and maintenance program” would be created to limit the number of unauthorized releases. The program would be administered by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Blue star certified utilities would be issued a 10-year permit for the same fee and under the same conditions as a five-year permit upon approval of its application renewal by DEP if the utility demonstrates that it is in compliance and does not have any pending enforcement action against it by the EPA, the DEP or a local program.

Coconut Creek Democrat Kristin Jacobs asked Edwards-Walpole if there was any hurdle the utilities needed to overcome initially to get into the five-year certification if they previously were responsible for excessive power failures.

Edwards-Walpole admitted that there would be some “perpetual bad actors,” who don’t have any incentive to get into the program. This bill would simply allow them to be rolled from a five-year permit to a 10-year one if they performed ably enough.

The bill is sponsored in the Senate by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes, who championed a version of the same bill a year ago that failed to make it to the governor’s desk.

In the past two years, according to DEP, there were just over 1,000 spills related to a loss of power, including some significant ones in the Tampa Bay area.

Sewage spills in St. Petersburg and south Pinellas were so prevalent in 2016 that the issue became a major talking point for critics of incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman, who faced a daunting reelection campaign in 2017 that at times was dominated by his handling of the sewage situation. The city has since committed to spending more than $300 million to fix sewers by 2021.

House panel advances bill adding protections to cellphone searches

A House proposal that would change the way law enforcement officers get their hands on data from a person’s cellphone was pushed on Tuesday to its last committee assignment.

Republican state Rep. Jamie Grant said his bill (HB 1249) would require police to “reflect constitutional due process” when they search a person’s phone-location records as well as data from microphone-enabled household devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home.

“At the founding of our country the Fourth Amendment is the most important protection and technology has made it more challenging,” said Republican state Rep. Cord Byrd, who chairs the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee where the bill was last heard.

With no questions or debate, and the Public Defenders Association and Florida Smart Justice Alliance waiving in support, the measure passed unanimously. Now it heads to the Judiciary Committee, where Grant said there will be an opportunity to further discuss tweaks in policy to the bill.

Under the House bill, law enforcement officers would need probable cause and a court-issued warrant to search a person’s cellular device. Officers would need to install a mobile-tracking device within 10 days of obtaining the warrant and would only have access to the location data for 45 days, unless the court grants an extension for the search.

The measure also would widen the scope of activity in which a person can be charged for accessing another person’s phone without permission. Under the bill, reading emails or emails on another person’s phone or laptop without permission would be a crime.

If someone accesses a phone’s data without permission for the purpose of destroying the data or commercial gain, it could be punishable by up to a year in county jail.

House staff analysis said the state prison population would “insignificantly” increase.

The companion bill (SB 1256) in the Senate, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, has also been moving along in the upper chamber. Both measures differ in that Brandes’ bill would offer protections to businesses that access information from an electronic device if the data “prevents identification of the user of the device.”

Brandes’ bill is up for consideration Wednesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

USFSP students ‘apprehensive and confused’ over consolidation

“Concerned, apprehensive, and confused.”

That’s the mood on the University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus over the proposed consolidation of the USF System, USF St. Pete student government leaders say.

In a letter to GOP lawmakers who are pushing consolidation legislation, student body officials set out their concerns over the proposal to phase out the separate accreditation for the St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee campuses, which had been under the radar till last month.

“We represent a Student Body that is concerned, apprehensive, and confused as to what the accreditation consolidation of the USF System means for the future of this campus,” wrote Student Body President David D. Thompson, Senate President Emilie Morris and Chief Justice Richard Marini.

That was in a letter to state Rep. Chris Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican, and state Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican.

The initiative, which has roiled the business and political establishment in St. Petersburg in the past two weeks, will spread the benefits of the Tampa campus’ rising reputation and funding to St. Pete and Sarasota, Sprowls has said.

Further, USF System President Judy Genshaft says the consolidation could help students graduate faster and with less debt by providing a wider variety of course options and majors, including those in health care and engineering.

As the legislation moves through committees on both sides of the Legislature, the USFSP student body leaders want the Campus Board to be retained and expanded to include a student representative with voting rights; that there be student representation from USFSP in a transition task force that will make recommendations for the future of the USF System, and that leadership on the St. Pete campus “must be empowered to honor and continue to make commitments to sustainability,” among other things.

“We believe that all current parties are working in what they believe is the best interest of the students at USFSP,” Thompson, Morris and Martini write.

“Moving forward, it should be clear that if there is any suggestion or inclination that this consolidation will be used to hamper the progress of USFSP or hinder student success, we will not only vocalize our opposition but use the powers vested in us by the State of Florida to actively oppose this legislation.”

GOP lawmaker wants Lorde’s Florida concerts canceled because of involvement with BDS movement

Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Lorde is scheduled to perform in Tampa and Miami this April, but one Republican lawmaker says her shows should be canceled due to her involvement in the BDS movement.

BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against the Israel government for its treatment of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The 21-year-old’s involvement in the movement became known in December, when she cancelled a concert scheduled to take place in Israel this spring.

Palm Bay Republican Randy Fine says that under Florida law, no state or local government can conduct business exceeding $1 million with any organization engaged in a boycott of Israel.

“Florida has no tolerance for anti-Semitism and boycotts intended to destroy the State of Israel,” said Fine. “That’s why Florida passed groundbreaking anti-BDS legislation several years ago and why, along with Senator Jeff Brandes, I have proposed strengthening that legislation this year. Current statutes are clear – local governments cannot do business with companies that participate in anti-Semitic boycotts of Israel. When Lorde joined the boycott in December, she and her companies became subject to that statute.

Fine insists that, “the taxpayers of Miami and Tampa should not have to facilitate bigotry and anti-Semitism, and I look forward to the Miami Sports and Exhibition Authority and the Tampa Sports Authority complying with the law and cancelling these concerts.”

Lorde is scheduled to perform at Amalie Arena in Tampa on Wednesday, April 11 and at the American Airlines Theater in Miami on Thursday, April 12.

Calls to the Tampa Sports Authority and the Miami Sports and Exhibition Authority were not returned for comment.

The BDS movement originated on college campuses in the U.S. in the early aughts. It is extremely controversial, with pro-Israel organizations accusing the movement of being fueled by anti-Semitism.

Lorde’s decision to cancel her concert in Tel Aviv made her the latest artist to cancel an Israel concert following pressure from the BDS movement, joining Roger Waters, Elvis Costello, Thurston Moore, Lauryn Hill and more. Not all popular artists agree obviously. Both Radiohead and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds went ahead with planned shows in Israel last year, despite fierce criticism from the BDS-aligned artists.

Both Fine and Brandes were in session in the Legislature on Thursday afternoon and were also not available to comment.

With hundreds dying from the flu, lawmakers choose inaction

Facing of one of the deadliest flu epidemics in the history of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, a Senate committee temporarily postponed a measure which would give Floridians greater access to antiviral medication, critical in the treatment of the flu and strep.

SB 524, sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes, would allow a pharmacist to test for and treat influenza — in collaboration with a physician, through a rigorously written protocol approved by the doctor.

While these services are well within the education and expertise of pharmacists, the bill required additional training approved by the state Board of Medicine. In addition to the strict medical protocols, SB 524 also mandates pharmacists to carry $200,000 in professional liability insurance, to test and treat for influenza virus and streptococcal infections.

“It’s all about access,” Brandes told members of the Senate Health Policy Committee.

However, physicians oppose the bill, arguing pharmacists were not adequately trained to treat or diagnose the illness.

Among those speaking to the committee included a doctor of internal medicine, adding a level of confusion to what should have been a very straightforward proposal. This physician claimed SD 524 would allow pharmacists to diagnose and prescribe.

Unfortunately, this is untrue. There would be no diagnosis by a pharmacist under the proposal.

Used in the process are simple (and accurate) devices which detect whether the disease is present, employing a procedure that takes as little as three minutes. There would be no prescribing by a pharmacist. Strict guidelines are laid out by a physician — in meticulous detail — describing what a pharmacist is allowed to do in the case of a positive or negative test.

The doctor also told senators that flu tests are only “60 percent sensitive,” an interesting statistic, considering Food and Drug Administration requires flu tests be at least 90 percent sensitive for influenza A to even be used in the United States.

There are currently 10 FDA approved rapid diagnostic tests to screen for influenza and that the tests can give results within about 15 minutes. These devices are the same ones now used in doctor’s offices.

If such devices are not good enough for pharmacists, why would they be used in doctor’s offices and hospitals?

What’s more, the doctor acknowledged he does not even see flu patients face-to-face — admitting he only talks to them on the phone and writing a prescription based on the conversation.

In another contradiction, this doctor said the best treatment for flu is hand-washing and rest — yet still prescribes antivirals over the phone. Antivirals only decrease the longevity of the disease by about 24 hours, he said, but antivirals also decrease the severity of symptoms, which can lead to life-threatening complications like pneumonia.

In the end, the real reason all of the doctors and associations were standing in opposition to the bill: they are trying to protect their profession.

Allowing pharmacists to perform these services is eroding primary care, he said, and that pharmacists are trying to “replace” primary care physicians.

Over 30 percent of people in Florida currently do not have primary care physicians. Without such access, patients will go either without care or end up in the hospital.

Early antiviral treatment shortens the duration of fever and flu symptoms, reducing the risk of complications. Reports show, in some cases, early treatment can even prevent death.

The best clinical benefit for the flu is through early administration of antiviral treatment, especially within 48 hours of onset of symptoms. Quick access to care is imperative to saving lives and controlling the spread of disease.

Hospitals are more crowded than in the 2014-2015 flu season — the previous record of 710,000 Americans needing medical care to beat the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hospitals, urgent care centers, and doctor’s offices are all full — a situation further aggravated by the state’s doctor shortage.

In Florida, access to care is getting increasingly worse. But with 86 percent of the population living within 5 miles of a pharmacy and many 24-hour options, pharmacists are the most accessible health care professionals for a majority of Floridians.

Allowing pharmacists to test and treat influenza will save lives and decrease the spread of the disease — keeping people out of crowded hospitals and reducing the duration of the disease.

Why is the Senate refusing to act, especially when it saves lives?

Pre-arrest diversion program bill clears House panel with lingering concerns

Pinellas County lawmakers are hoping to implement a pre-arrest diversion program in their county across the state, but on Tuesday some lawmakers in the House opposed the measure because they fear violent offenders may slip through the cracks.

“If there’s an Achilles’ heel with the bill it could be the notion that violent offenders could be caught in the citation process,” Republican state Rep. Jay Fant said.

The Attorney General hopeful said a “friendly no vote” on the bill will hopefully  “underscore the fact that this is a serious” concern of his as it moves forward in the process. The measure cleared the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee in the end, with Fant and Rep. Joe Gruters voting against it.

Other lawmakers viewed the proposal by Rep. Larry Ahern of Pinellas County as a step toward improving the state’s criminal justice system.

Under the bill, two separate pre-arrest diversion programs would be created in each judicial circuit in the state. One for adults and one for juveniles. The goal would be to give some misdemeanor offenders community service before they are pushed through the criminal justice system.

“It is important that we begin the framework for helping our bills be bills that uphold parts of the law and also provide provisions that can help the criminal justice process be a better process,” state Rep. Sharon Pritchett said.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement would need to adopt rules under the bill that would expunge the non-judicial arrest record of a juvenile who completes the diversion program.

Adults and juveniles who do not successfully complete the program would be referred back to the arresting law enforcement agency which would determine if they should face prosecution for the crime committed.

State Rep. Kathleen Peters, a Republican from Pinellas County, said there are “unintended consequences” that could come with the bill if there is no consistency with the mandates.

Under the bill, local agencies can continue to operate their independent diversion program if it was operating before the bill was implemented, and if it is determined that the state attorney of that circuit will have a similar program developed to comply with state law.

“When we did this in our county, we had all different cities doing different citations and people don’t know the boundaries of the other cities,” Peters said. “Having no consistency is problematic.”

Ahern said the goal of his bill, HB 1197, is to create “uniformity” by implementing diversion programs statewide that give local law enforcement agencies “guidelines” rather than mandates on how to operate their programs. His bill now heads to its last committee stop.

A companion bill (SB 1392) in the Senate, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, has two more committees before it can hit the full floor.

Bill criminalizing unpermitted access to electronic devices moves forward

Law enforcement officers in Florida could soon need probable cause and warrants to access a suspect’s mobile location tracking device.

Those potential new restrictions are provided in a Senate bill (SB 1256) that cleared its first committee stop on Tuesday. The proposal, sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, would also make it a crime to read a text message, email or other communication on a person’s cell phone without their permission, or without a warrant.

“We need to make sure Florida laws keep pace with changes in technology,” Brandes said. “With more and more families utilizing microphone-enabled communications tools to aid in daily household activities, this legislation makes sure our laws are clear with regard to when and how these devices can be subject to search,” Brandes said.

The measure cleared the Senate Criminal Justice Committee without debate. It also drew the backing of social media giant Facebook.

Under Brandes’ bill, an individual would not face criminal punishment in cases where an electronic device was accessed for business purposes and the information accessed is not “personally identifiable” or is collected in a way that “prevents identification of the user of the device.”

Following its passage, Senate President Joe Negron praised the proposal. He said it would address “current ambiguities” and protect Floridians from unconstitutional property searches.

Under Brandes’ bill, a law enforcement officer who wants to get the exact location of a suspect through their cell phone location tracker would be required to get a court-issued warrant.

Once a warrant is issued, the period of time that the data may be accessed may not exceed 45 days unless the court grants an extension to the warrant.

A House companion (HB 1249) sponsored by Tampa Republican Rep. Jamie Grant is moving ahead in the chamber and has two more committees before it hits the full floor.

Grant’s bill does not offer protections to businesses that gather information that is not personally identifiable.

Bill to expand the number of retroactive death penalty cases advances

A proposal to expand the number of prisoners on death row who could have their sentences reviewed by a jury was approved by a Senate committee Tuesday.

The issue dates back to early 2016 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Florida’s death penalty was unconstitutional, as it allowed judges to make the final decision on sending a prison to death row. The Supreme Court had ruled similarly in an Arizona case in 2002.

That ruling compelled the Legislature to rewrite its sentencing laws, with the current law now requiring a unanimous jury verdict for the state to impose a death sentence.

The question following the high court’s decision was how many of the several hundred people on death row in Florida would be able to appeal their sentences. The Florida Supreme Court answered that question in December 2016, when it ruled 6-1 that death sentences finalized before that June 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision on the Arizona case would remain in effect.

Former Justice James Perry was the lone dissenter, writing that all death row inmates should have their sentences changed to life in prison. Justice Barbara Pariente agreed with Perry that the ruling should apply retroactively to all death row inmates, but said they should be entitled only to a rehearing, not guaranteed a lesser sentence, the Miami Herald reported.

 The proposal from Ocoee Democrat Randolph Bracy (SB 870) would do just that.

“It’s just a matter of justice,” Bracy told Fernandina Beach Republican Aaron Bean when asked why the need for a law after the Supreme Court had weighed in already.

Bracy, the chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee, added that the June 24, 2002, cutoff date for death sentence reviews was arbitrary. “I think they should have the right to get a sentence reviewed again, just as the ones after that date are able to,” he told Bean.

Adding his voice in support of the bill was St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes, who said it the right and fair thing to do.

While the bill now advances in the Senate, it has yet to get a sponsor in the House.

Expanded use of bed tax revenues gets heat from hotel industry

Hotel advocates are adamantly opposed to a legislative initiative this year that seeks to include public facilities projects in the list of expenditures that can be funded by the tourism development tax, also known as the bed tax.

Despite industry woes, the Senate Finance and Tax Appropriations Subcommittee unanimously cleared the proposal on Monday.

But the battle over the bill (SB 658) has drawn the ire of some very influential interests, such as the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association and the Central Florida Hotel and Lodging Association, and is far from over.

The bed tax is levied at different rates by different municipalities across the state. It is tacked onto the price of any short-term stay at places like a hotel, timeshare or resort.

Bed tax revenues currently can be spent on local budget items that would promote tourism, public zoos, auditoriums and other entertainment venues. Revenues can also be spent on beach improvements. 

St. Petersburg Republican and SB 658 sponsor Sen. Jeff Brandes said his bill would allow bed tax revenues to be spent on projects for public facilities that are needed to increase tourism. Ahead of the vote on Monday, Brandes explained an amendment that was presumably designed to make his bill less of an industry adversary.

“The goal here is to offer flexibility,” Brandes said regarding the amendment in an interview after the committee meeting. 

The amendment permitted spending bed tax revenues on estuary and lagoon nourishment. It also added language that would make SB 658 apply only to districts that collect more than $20 million in tourist-tax revenue. It also would require two-thirds approval from the county governing board to reallocate dollars towards public facilities projects.

Additionally, the amendment, adopted on Monday, would cap bed tax revenue spending on public facilities at 70 percent of the project’s total cost and require an independent analysis showing the reallocation will have a positive impact on tourism in the district.

But even with the amendment adopted, the industry ultimately was still opposed.

Kevin Craig, public policy director for the CFHLA, said his organization, which represents nearly 121,000 hotel rooms in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties, is opposed to the expanded use of tourist-tax revenues.

“Our association continues to assert that the tourist-development tax dollars continue to be utilized for developing tourists,” Craig said.

“While sewers, transportation, public facilities and others are important community needs, visitors to Central Florida and Florida as a whole are already supporting these general fund expenditures through sales tax revenue,” Craig said. He said tourists generate 20 percent of sales tax revenue.

Richard Turner, general counsel and vice president of government affairs for FRLA, echoed similar concerns but was appreciative of the amendment adopted by the committee.

“There are some portions of the amendment offered by the sponsor which are great steps,” Turner said. He cited the two-thirds vote and independent study provisions as examples of “safeguards.”

Still, Turner, on behalf of FRLA, fundamentally disagrees with Brandes’ bill.

“The purpose of the tourist-development tax is to promote and advertise tourism, not to build roads or sewers,” Turner said. “Our concern is whether continual, additional exceptions — regardless of how they’re intentioned — will ultimately dilute the very purpose of the tourist-development tax.”

Brandes later said there may be more changes to the bill that would ultimately bring the opposed parties on board.

“I think you’re starting to see us coalesce around a group of ideas,” Brandes said.

SB 658 will now head to Senate Appropriations. Palm Bay Republican Rep. Randy Fine is sponsoring a comparable bill (HB 585) in the House. Brandes is confident that the two bills will begin to align.

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