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Takeaways from Tallahassee — A reminder of the past remains at FSU

As lawmakers crawl across the finish line, we take one last look before the hanky drops.

For now, “B.K. Roberts Hall” is here to stay.

Despite attempts by Florida State University, the Legislature failed to repeal a law that named the university’s main law school building after former Florida Supreme Court Justice B.K. Roberts.

He wrote a pro-segregation opinion during his time on the court that the university has, in hindsight, found problematic.

Like it or not, B.K. Roberts Hall is here to stay.

The university had pushed a bill (SB 7076) that met little resistance before passing the Senate floor almost unanimously last week.

Despite House Speaker José Oliva telling reporters that he had “no objection” to the change, the bill failed to surface on the floor in his chamber and Oliva did not take up the Senate bill before the lawmaking process ended.

University president John Thrasher requested the change because he believes that Roberts, who had also been a state Chief Justice, ruled against the grain of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Roberts in the 1950s wrote the opinion to deny Virgil Hawkins, a black student, admission to the University of Florida’s law school.

Following the racially charged and violent riots in Charlottesville, Virginia, Thrasher in 2017 created a panel to review building names and statues at the university.

Among other things, the panel recommended that Thrasher seek to change the name of the law school. He agreed.

In accepting the panel’s recommendation, Thrasher wrote that Roberts “defied the highest court of the land,” referring to the landmark U.S. Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education decision that desegregated public schools before Roberts’ opinion.

“To keep the name of B.K. Roberts on the law school building would continue to honor someone whose decisions and actions do not reflect Florida State University’s values or the rule of law,” Thrasher wrote.

Before leading the university, Thrasher had served as a Republican state lawmaker. He served eight years in the House during the 1990s, capping off his tenure there as House Speaker in 1998-2000.

He returned to the Legislature as a state senator in 2009, serving until he became FSU president in 2014.

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Danny McAuliffe, Drew Wilson, Jim Rosica and Peter Schorsch.

But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:

Take 5

Legislature to Sine Die — Lawmakers in the House and Senate will Saturday cast a vote on the 201920 spending plan, bringing the 2019 Legislative Session to a close. Next year’s budget will total $91.1 billion. Lawmakers are boasting increases in environmental and education spending this year, along with an emphasis on Hurricane Michael recovery. In K-12 schools, per-pupil spending increased by almost $243. The environmental portion of the budget this year prioritizes water quality and the Everglades. More than $1.8 billion will be used toward the storm-battered Panhandle. The Legislature had originally planned to adjourn for the last time — or Sine Die — Friday. But an untimely budget that went public Wednesday pushed that adjournment to Saturday because lawmakers are required to undergo a 72-hour “cooling off” period once the two chambers reach a spending deal.

Lawmakers implement Amendment 4 — Toward the final hours of the Legislative Session, lawmakers sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis a controversial bill to implement a ballot initiative that restored voting rights to certain felons who’ve completed their sentences. Amendment 4, passed by voters last year, automatically restored voting rights to former inmates. The language regarding the ballot initiative had been tacked onto a broader elections reform package. It defines what it takes for felons to meet the Amendment 4 standard of completing their felony sentences. And those standards would include all financial obligations ordered as part of sentencing. The bill also clarifies the two exceptions that would still prohibit voting rights: convictions of murder or felony sexual offenses.

So-called ‘sanctuary city’ ban succeeds — Republican lawmakers jockeyed but ultimately agreed on a bill that seeks to prevent local government officials from skirting federal immigration authorities. The bill, supported by Gov. DeSantis, is expected to be signed into law. State agencies and local law enforcement under the new law will be required to honor federal requests for an “immigration detainer.” Republicans pitched the proposal as something that aligns state entities with the rule of law. Democrats, business groups and activists decried the plan as an unnecessary immigration crackdown. The push for the legislation began as an attempt to curb so-called “sanctuary cities,” coined for local governments that do not cooperate with federal immigration authorities. But no such cities exist in Florida.

Potential law permits arming teachers — Gov. DeSantis is expected to sign legislation that would allow trained and willing educators to participate in the armed “guardian” program. These teachers would also be volunteer guardians and would receive 144 hours of training, including precision pistol instruction and active shooter training. The bill implemented the findings of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, a fact-finding panel created by the Legislature in 2018 to examine flaws in school security following the Parkland shooting. School districts have control over whether they implement the school “guardian” expansion. The bill was staunchly opposed by Democrats and groups like the Florida Education Association.

‘First Step’ fizzles — The Legislature agreed this week on a criminal justice reform package. But it stands in contrast to the original “Florida First Step Act” that had been pitched by Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, earlier this year. That original plan, modeled after the federal “First Step Act” had sought bold reforms, including offering judges discretion in sentencing some nonviolent drug criminals. But that did not make the cut. Also left out is a provision that would’ve made some nonviolent offenders eligible to get out of prison earlier. Currently, the state requires prisoners to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences. Brandes had initially sought to reduce that to 65 percent for a select group of inmates who decrease their sentences by achieving “gain time” through things like merit-based and educational programs.

Ron, Casey DeSantis highlight foster care

A proclamation issued by Gov. DeSantis this week declares May Foster Care Month.

The First Lady Casey DeSantis and the Department of Children and Families (DCF) joined the state’s chief executive in recognizing the 24,000 children currently in foster care in the Sunshine State.

As part of Foster Care Month, First Lady Casey DeSantis is taking an active role in recognizing the 24,000 Florida kids in foster care.

“As a mother, I understand what it takes to care for a child and the love that you pour into your children,” Casey DeSantis said. “I’m so grateful to every individual and family in Florida who has opened their home to foster a child for giving that same love to a child in need.”

DCF Secretary Chad Poppell, appointed earlier this year, said he’s already met with foster parents and children across the state.

“They provide the best gift anyone can give to a child through their time and compassion,” Poppell said. “If you know a foster parent, I urge you to thank them for not only shaping the life of a child today, but also for shaping the leaders of Florida’s future.”

Room For More Healthy Kids?

While not as ballyhooed as other health care reforms this year, budget approval for the Florida Healthy Kids Corporation could get a lot more Florida kids covered in 2020.

“Children’s health insurance is now more affordable in Florida, thanks to actions taken by chief financial officer Jimmy Patronis and the Florida Legislature,” said Dr. Stephanie Haridopolos, board chair of the organization.

Jimmy Patronis believes Florida KidCare is the best head to toe coverage for kids in Florida.

The approval paves the way for complete elimination of annual deductibles, a significant obstacle to the 325,000 children living without health care in Florida.

This proposal eliminates $3,000 medical and $1,500 pharmacy annual deductibles, along with a 25-percent coinsurance requirement, for the nearly 15,000 children ages 5-18 who are already enrolled in the full-pay program. Officials figure about 146,000 qualify for the Healthy Kids “full-pay” program when changes go into effect Jan. 1.

Haridopolos explains that in the age of the Affordable Care Act, there has been a bifurcated break between families who qualify for federally funded programs like the Children’s Health Insurance Program and those who make too much for that but couldn’t afford Healthy Kids. CHIP can be used by those families making less than 200 percent of the federal poverty line, or about $51,500 for a family of four.

“Every child in our state deserve access to vital health services and adding Florida Healthy Kids to this year’s budget is a big win for Florida families,” Patronis said. “As many as 20,000 more kids will be able to access health care, and I thank Senate President [Bill] Galvano and Speaker Oliva for including this in the budget.”

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Competitive Workforce dead. Long live Competitive Workforce.

Mounds of dead bills include such heralded measures as Tobacco 21, a new gambling compact and vacation rentals. But perhaps none suffered such ignoble disposition as the Florida Competitive Workforce Act. The proposal, which sought civil rights protections for LGBTQ Floridians, attracted broad support and extensive attention. But it never enjoyed so much as subcommittee vote up or down.

Nor did the alternative Florida Inclusive Workforce Act, which focused on employee job protections. The more narrow approach hoped to find a way into the process in a way its more expansive predecessor never had. That never happened. So what’s the future look like?

If at first …: Despite being the most co-sponsored bill of 2019, the Competitive Workforce Act once again couldn’t make it through another Session.

Sen. Joe Gruters, who unrolled Inclusive with the backing of SAVE Florida, took tremendous heat filing the bill. Prominent social conservative John Stemberger called for his resignation as Republican Party of Florida chair. Meanwhile, pro-LGBTQ activists took umbrage at the measured approach undercutting their fight for a whole loaf. Right now, the Sarasota Republican doesn’t sound anxious to take up the bill again.

“But the good news is the U.S. Supreme Court is taking up the bill,” he said. The high court announced it would consider whether Title IX protections prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. If the answer is yes, that settles the workforce issue.

But what of housing and business discrimination? The high court recently punted on making a broad ruling in an infamous cake baker case.

The Competitive Workforce bill saw 74 co-sponsors between the two chambers, or 47 percent of all state lawmakers, according to Florida Competes. “To have nearly half of Florida’s legislators signed onto the Florida Competitive Workforce Act, yet not warrant a single committee stop, is simply outrageous,” said Christina Johnson, Florida Competes spokesperson. “Plain and simple, this common-sense legislation updates our state’s existing laws to protect LGBT Floridians from discrimination in their daily lives.”

The group promises legislation will return next year. In the meantime, localities continue to pass human rights ordinances, and corporate sponsors continue to voice support for protections.

Bill banning childlike sex dolls soars through Legislature

A measure from Sen. Lauren Book which would ban the sale and possession of “obscene” childlike sex dolls has earned unanimous approval from both the House and Senate.

Groups such as the Protasia Foundation, which identifies itself as a child sexual abuse prevention group, has said those dolls can be used by pedophiles to curb their urges as an alternative to acting out on a real child.

Lauren Book’s push to ban childlike sex dolls meets unanimous approval.

But Book and Rep. Michael Gottlieb, who sponsored the House version of the bill, argue the dolls have the opposite effect.

“These are anatomically correct, lifelike silicone dolls that are eerily similar to real human children made for the sole purpose of sexual gratification,” Book said.

“Just as viewing child pornography lowers the inhibitions of child predators, so do these childlike sex dolls that have no place in the state of Florida.”

 “This legislation is an effort to stop the exploitation of children,” Gottlieb added. “I thank Sen. Book for her help and leadership in passing this important bill.”

Book, who is a survivor of child sexual abuse, has been active on the issue both as a lawmaker as well as through her foundation, Lauren’s Kids.

Bill sets up planning committee for women’s suffrage centennial

Ahead of next year’s 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, a bill by Sen. Book will set up a committee to help plan programs and activities to commemorate the centennial.

“The essential right to vote gives Americans a voice and a choice in the way our government is run and the way we live our lives,” Book said.

Lauren Book is helping set up a celebration of the centennial anniversary of women winning the right to vote.

“I am proud of the Florida legislature for recognizing this watershed moment in the civil rights movement and the ongoing fight for women’s equality.”

Indeed, Book’s legislation was approved unanimously in both chambers. The committee will also work with the Department of Education and Department of State to develop materials educating the public on the importance of women receiving the right to vote.

“This bill is so important, especially for the young women of today, to know and appreciate the great strides and opportunities provided by the dedication of earlier generations,” said Rep. Amber Mariano, who sponsored the House version of the legislation.

“I am so proud to be a part of this celebration of such a monumental moment in our nation’s history.”

Aloupis praises passage of ‘Live Like Bella’ legislation

Both houses unanimously approved legislation to help ease donations to the “Live Like Bella” Foundation, an effort pushed forward by Rep. Aloupis and Sen. Anitere Flores.

That foundation was created in honor of Bella Rodriguez-Torres. Young Bella was given months to live after being diagnosed with an aggressive form of pediatric cancer at the age of four but went on to fight for six more years before passing away in 2013.

‘Live Like Bella’ was formed to honor Bella Rodriguez-Torres, who live for six years after a cancer diagnosis.

“My sister and I had serious health issues, so we grew up in and out of hospitals,” Aloupis said, noting the issue personally resonated with him.

The new bill adds the foundation to a list of charitable organizations individuals may give money to when registering their vehicle. “It’s another opportunity for people to be a part of this movement,” Aloupis said.

The organization helps raise money both for pediatric cancer research and to help pay for funerals and other expenses for families who lose children to the disease.

“When you look at an issue like this, and you realize that with your vote you can continue the legacy of a little girl who only spent 10 years on this planet — and whose legacy will probably outlive most of us — that’s a remarkable opportunity.”

Pair of mental health measures earn unanimous approval

Florida’s mental health services were on the top of mind this Session for a pair of West Palm Beach legislators. Now, two bills backed by the duo have been unanimously approved by both legislative chambers.

Sen. Bobby Powell, Jr. and Rep. David Silvers were behind both measures, shepherding them through their respective houses.

West Palm Beach’s Bobby Powell Jr. was one of the lawmakers behind a mental health measure which earned unanimous approval. Image via Phil Sears.

The first bill (SB 838) adds an exemption to public records requirements for voluntary or involuntary admission petitions for mental health treatment. Powell described such treatments as “private matters” in speaking on the bill before passage.

The legislation’s goal is to ensure individuals aren’t discouraged from seeking treatment due to a fear the information would become public.

The second measure (SB 1418) aims to protect those who may be a danger to themselves or others. In the event of a specific threat of harm, mental health providers must now report that information to law enforcement. The Department of Education is also tasked with developing materials to help schools identify suicide risks.

The provisions of that bill were influenced in part by recommendations from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission.

Legislature backs studying blockchain viability

The House and Senate passed a low-profile bill (SB 1024) that would spawn a working group to explore the technology that facilitates cryptocurrency transactions.

If the bill becomes law, a Florida Blockchain Task Force will be established to study blockchain’s potential use in state government.

An accountant by trade, Joe Gruters was behind an under-the-radar bill that would set up a study of blockchain viability for government use.

“A blockchain is a digital ledger that allows parties to conduct transactions without the use of a third party acting as a central authority to validate those transactions,” according to a staff analysis. Notably, the technology makes possible transactions of cryptocurrency, like Bitcoin.

Sen. Gruters sponsored the measure, which had been ushered in the House by Rep. David Santiago.

The task force would be created sometime this year. It would send a report to state leaders within 180 days of its first meeting.

C-51 Reservoir bill moves forward

The Legislature approved follow-up legislation on the C-51 Reservoir project. That reservoir aims to allow for storage of water to be used by utilities in addition to reducing harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee.

The C-51 reservoir, which has been fully designed and permitted, is located in western Palm Beach County.

The Legislature gave the OK to Kristin Jacobs’ bill establishing a reservoir to help reduce Lake Okeechobee discharges.

The project was featured in 2017 legislation (SB 10) which provided a state loan to help complete its construction.

Sen. Book and Rep. Kristin Jacobs worked on this year’s measure (HB 95). Lawmakers say the reservoir will be able to capture 35 million gallons per day that are currently going to tide.

The bill allows the South Florida Water Management District to negotiate for any portion of the reservoir not already committed for use by utilities.

 ‘Andrew’s Law’ aims to crack down on hazing

A bill designed to cut down on dangerous acts of hazing is headed to Gov. DeSantis for his signature after both the House and Senate unanimously approved it.

The measure was named after Florida State University (FSU) student Andrew Coffey, who died in 2017 after binge drinking a bottle of whiskey as a hazing ritual.

After the death of FSU student Andrew Coffey, lawmakers passed ‘Andrew’s Law,’ designed for more ‘accountability and education’ as well as cutting back on hazing’s more dangerous practices.

Sen. Book and Rep. Chip LaMarca pushed for the legislation, which was backed by FSU President Thrasher.

The measure applies third-degree felony penalties not only those who participate in the hazing, but also anyone who “solicits a person to commit, or is actively involved in the planning of any act of hazing.”

However, it exempts those who call for help or render aid directly to the hazing victim.

“Hazing is unacceptable, but no one should ever be afraid to call for help in a dangerous situation,” Book said.

“The Florida State University family is grateful for the passage of this important bill to strengthen penalties against hazing, and to provide an incentive to call for medical help,” Thrasher added.

“We know Andrew’s Law will save lives.”

Legislators target scam sober homes

Seeking to protect addicts who seek treatment at sober homes across the state, lawmakers have approved a bill seeking to regulate those facilities better.

Several of those homes have endangered patients, even resulting in deaths. Other operators have participated in health care fraud, stealing millions from health care companies.

The new legislation (HB 369), sponsored by Sen. Gayle Harrell and Rep. Mike Caruso, expands the types of facilities regulated by the state. It also increases background screening for personnel at those facilities and aims to strengthen oversight on deceptive marketing practices.

“Having seen the ravages of addiction and the direct impacts it can have on Florida families, this bill is personally important to me, and I am proud to have been a part of its passage,” said Sen. Kevin Rader, who co-sponsored the Senate version of the measure.

“We strengthened the law to ensure safer, more secure and more effective sober homes.”

Weighing in

In what’s become another friendly Capitol tradition, folks in The Process again competed in the annual weight-loss competition.

Sen. Aaron Bean, a Fernandina Beach Republican, announced Friday the winners of the 2019 Biggest Loser Competition.

“Session is a stressful time for everyone at the Capitol, and it is easy to put on a few pounds if you’re not careful,” Bean said. “The Annual Biggest Loser Competition is a fun way to promote healthy lifestyles while raising money for a great cause.”

Proceeds from the contest went to the Florida Guardian ad Litem Foundation, which received $2,165 from this year’s competition.

Taking home first place in the women’s category is Teri Cariota, an aide to Democratic Sen. Jason Pizzo of North Miami Beach. Cariota lost a whopping 20.5 lbs. throughout the eight-week competition. House administrator Tami Register lost 14 lbs., taking second place. House policy chief Heather Bishop took third, boasting more than 7 lbs. lost.

Finishing first place in the men’s category is Gary Austin of the Sergeant’s Office. Austin lost a healthy 21.5 lbs. over the period. House attorney Douglas McAlarney finished second, shedding 15.25 lbs. Taking a close third is House intern William Engelbrecht, who lost a little more than 14 lbs.

The “Steady Eddy” award, for those who maintain the same weight, went to Rep. Alex Andrade, a Pensacola Republican and Democratic Sen. Bobby Powell of West Palm Beach.

Electric prep is pre-hurricane season priority

The month leading up to the June 1 start of the Atlantic hurricane season should serve as a reminder to take electrical safety precautions during storms.

That’s according to the Florida Municipal Electric Association (FMEA). The group reached out to the public this week to give electric tips for before, during and after storms.

“Florida has experienced three very active hurricane seasons in a row, and forecasters are predicting a near to slightly above normal hurricane season for 2019,” said Amy Zubaly, FMEA Executive Director. “Now is the time to start preparing and checking for any potential electrical hazards around your home and business.”

Ahead of a big storm, FMEA recommends fueling all chargeable devices and turning off circuit breakers before the weather turns sour. Afterward, it’s advisable to recruit an electrician to assess damages.

“Electrical Safety During Natural Disasters” is this year’s theme for an annual outreach campaign presented by Electrical Safety Foundation International.

The cost of hate: Broken bones, missing teeth

Hate crimes committed by groups are especially likely to result in injuries such as broken bones and missing teeth, according to a new study from Florida State University.

Brendan Lantz, an assistant professor in the FSU College of Criminology and Criminal Justice, found that co-offending, or committing a crime with others, was significantly related to increased chances of serious injury regardless of the motivation behind the crime.

Brendan Lantz, an assistant professor in the FSU College of Criminology and Criminal Justice, found hate crimes committed by groups are the most harmful. Image via FSU.

The findings, published in the journal Criminal Justice and Behavior, also indicated, however, that the likelihood of serious victim injury was highest in incidents that were both motivated by bias and committed by a group. “A lot of hate crimes involve groups of people, especially groups of young people,” Lantz said. “Research has suggested that being in the presence of other people may change someone’s behavior. Because they feel more anonymous in a group setting, they behave more extremely.”

Lantz also said future research could explore why sexual orientation hate crimes are more likely to be more seriously violent than other crimes, bias-motivated or otherwise. Meantime, researchers suggest there are some important policy implications to consider.

“A little more than half of the states in the United States have sexual orientation as a protected class in hate crimes laws,” Lantz said. “Even fewer states include gender identity. Accounting for co-offending explains some of the violence for other hate crimes, but not for crimes motivated by sexual orientation. That means that the lack of oversight or a law in many states is especially problematic.”

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