FSU Law versus trafficking
With an increased focus on human trafficking, including by Attorney General Ashley Moody, students from Florida State University’s law school are getting involved in the fight.
This semester, students participating in the FSU Human Trafficking Exploitation Law Project (HELP) advocated for a proposed Department of Education (DOE) rule that requires all school districts in Florida to teach human trafficking prevention from elementary school through high school.
Law students researched the state laws of California, Virginia and North Carolina about implementing preventive measures in schools. They drafted comments to the DOE rule “to make it a robust, meaningful requirement for Florida school districts,” according to a statement from FSU Law.
This September, the students presented in person at the State Board of Education meeting in Jacksonville, where the board adopted their comments verbatim and passed the rule.
The new rule went into effect this Wednesday. By Dec. 1 of each year, school districts must post their implementation plans. By July 1, each school district must submit an annual report verifying compliance.
The FSU Human Trafficking Exploitation Law Project has two objectives: To represent individual children who are victims of human trafficking, and advocate for law reform. The ultimate goal of the project is to prevent vulnerable children from being trafficked.
“This is a major accomplishment in the prevention of trafficking of children in Florida,” said Paolo Annino, director of the FSU Public Interest Law Center.
“We are hoping that the new rule will teach K-12 students how to protect themselves from traffickers and will make children who are victims of trafficking feel safe to seek help from school personnel.”
Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Peter Schorsch, Drew Wilson and the staff of Florida Politics.
But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:
NRA, Moody blast BAWN — The NRA, Attorney General Moody and the National Shooting Sports Foundation argued separately in the briefs that a proposed constitutional amendment that aims to do away with assault weapons in Florida should be blocked. The NRA focused, in part, on the term “assault weapons” and called the bill a “classic example of impermissible political rhetoric” designed to inflame voters’ emotions. Moody filed an initial document with the Supreme Court in July, indicating she would seek to block the amendment.
Saving the sunscreen — A House panel cleared legislation poised to end local bans on sunscreen sales. The House Health Quality Subcommittee moved HB 113, which would protect consumer rights to buy suntan lotion and related products. The 8-5 vote fell mostly on partisan lines. Rep. Spencer Roach, a North Fort Myers Republican carrying the House version, said this would “expressly preempt” local bans. The bill is a response to Key West banning sunscreen sales earlier this year, due to the effects of component ingredients oxybenzone and octinoxate on the largest coral reef on the continent.
Donating drugs — The House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee advanced a bipartisan bill seeking to reduce health care costs for low-income Floridians and reduce wasted prescription drugs. HB 177, filed by Rep. Clay Yarborough, a Jacksonville Republican, and Rep. Nicholas Duran, a Democrat from Miami, would create a prescription drug donation repository program in which people and donate their unopened prescriptions to health care facilities, nursing homes, drug manufacturers and other medical providers to be dispensed to low-income, uninsured or underinsured patients.
Let the rockets red glare — A House panel on Wednesday approved legislation that would make it expressly legal for Floridians to buy fireworks, moving it one step closer to a floor vote. The bill (HB 65), filed by Rep. Ana Maria Rodriguez, would allow free and clear legalization solely and exclusively on Independence Day, Memorial Day, New Year’s Eve and Day. The House Business and Professions Subcommittee on Wednesday afternoon OK’d the legislation, moving it forward in the process. However, even some Republicans voted against the measure. Currently, an “agricultural waiver” is required to buy fireworks.
Tobacco 21 returns — Sen. David Simmons is once again seeking to raise the minimum smoking age in the state to 21. He has filed a new version of his “Tobacco 21 Act,” or T21. Simmons attempted to shepherd the bill through the Legislature last Session. The Senate approved Simmons’ measure; the House ultimately killed the bill. The 2020 version of the bill once again looks to raise the purchasing age for e-cigarettes, vape pens, and any other “electronic smoking device” to 21 as well. Cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, and snuff would also be among the traditional tobacco products covered by the act.
Loan fund stocked
The Rural Community Development Revolving Loan Fund Program has $3 million ready to loan out for projects that bolster efforts to create and keep jobs in rural communities.
Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the funding availability this week and encouraged rural communities to apply for a slice.
“Opportunities for investment and economic development are critical to the health of local economies in all Florida communities across the state, but especially rural communities,” he said. “Florida’s rural communities can utilize these resources to attract business growth and create new local jobs for their residents.”
Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Ken Lawson joined DeSantis in the announcement, adding, “Gov. DeSantis is committed to strengthening Florida’s rural communities by making them more resilient to disasters and preparing them for the industry and workforce needs of tomorrow.
“The Rural Revolving Loan Fund gives rural communities an opportunity to compete and to invest in economic development for their futures.”
All local governments in rural counties, or economic development organizations substantially underwritten by a unit of local government within a rural county, are eligible to apply for loan funds.
Eligible projects include any public purpose project that may be acquired, constructed or improved with the assistance of the program.
More information on the Rural Community Development Revolving Loan Fund is available through FloridaJobs.org/RLF.
Baseball dinner on deck
DeSantis congratulated the Washington Nationals for their World Series win this week and reminded Floridians that they won’t have to wait too long before baseball starts back up.
As the spring home to half the MLB, Floridians will get to see plenty of stars — including the Nats — when the Florida Grapefruit League’s 2020 season gets underway on Feb. 21.
This year, Opening Day features three games: the Northeastern Huskies versus the Boston Red Sox at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers; the Southeastern Fire versus the Detroit Tigers at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland; and the Minnesota Golden Gophers versus the Minnesota Twins at CenturyLink Sports Complex in Fort Myers.
Before the first pitch is thrown, DeSantis plans to continue the tradition of kicking off the spring league season with the Governor’s Baseball Dinner, an annual event celebrating the spring ball’s century-long roots in the Sunshine State.
This season, the event will be held Feb. 16 at Cooltoday Park in North Port from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Those looking to attend can send along an RSVP through PlayinFlorida.com starting Nov. 19.
Settlement cash available
Attorney General Moody said victims of several tech support scams could get a slice of a $7.2 million settlement with payment processing company Banc of America Merchant Services. Still, they have to let her office know.
The funds are available to consumers who paid for computer tech support services over the telephone, using a credit card, between March 1, 2015, and July 1, 2017.
The companies the settlement applies to: Complete Fix, Compusafe, JSA Sales, GoReadyCalls Marketing, My Direct Customer Care, My Direct Tech, PC Tech Pros, Project Net 123, Protectnet Solutions, Safenet Solutions, Secure IT Digital Solutions, Telcom Experts, US Software Experts, US Software Pros, Webguard 123 and Wizard Tech Solutions.
Moody said up to 70,000 people nationwide were scammed. Florida victims can get instructions on the claims process via FloridaAGReimbursement.com. Moody said the sooner victims apply, the better.
“Tech support scams are designed to make consumers think they are experiencing a computer problem. Many victims may not even know they are being scammed until months later,” Moody said.
“My Consumer Protection Division is aggressively pursuing tech support scammers, and victims need to know that restitution is available in many cases.”
Since 2014, the Florida Attorney General’s Office has taken action on more than a dozen sham tech support operations. The most recent case was filed against American PC Corporation in March.
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The week in appointments
Southwest Florida Water Management District Governing Board — Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Jack Bispham and Seth Weightman to the board. Bispham, of Myakka City, is the owner and operator of Red Bluff Plantation. He has served as a Soil and Water Conservation Service Supervisor, a member of the Manasota Basin board and as a member of the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program Policy board. Weightman, of Dade City, is a municipal services manager with Republic Services Inc. He is a member of the Pasco-Hernando State College Foundation’s board, a trustee on the Bayfront Health Dade City board and a current member of the CareerSource Pasco Hernando Executive board. Both are appointed to four-year terms, and both are subject to confirmation by the state Senate.
South Florida Water Management District Governing Board — DeSantis filled the final vacancy on this nine-member board with the appointment of Benjamin Butler. Butler, of Lorinda, is the manager of Butler Oaks Farm, a family-owned dairy farm. He has been the director of the Okeechobee Farm Bureau since 2007 and the president and past director of the Okeechobee Youth Livestock Show since 2008. Butler is appointed to a four-term, subject to confirmation by the state Senate.
Florida Public Service Commission — The panel selected Commissioner Gary F. Clark as its new chair to serve a two-year term beginning Jan. 2. Clark, recently reappointed to the PSC for a term ending in 2023, was first appointed to the Commission in 2017. Before his appointment to the PSC, Clark was Deputy Secretary of Land and Recreation for the Department of Environmental Protection.
Florida State University Board of Trustees — The Florida Board of Governors appointed business executives John Thiel and Bob Sasser to five-year terms on the FSU University Board of Trustees. Thiel, who was recently inducted into the FSU College of Business Alumni Hall of Fame, is the former vice chairman of Global Wealth and Investment Management at Merrill Lynch. Thiel will replace Mark Hillis, whose term ends in January. Sasser, who first joined the FSU Board of Trustees in 2015, was reappointed to a second term. Sasser, also an FSU alumnus, is the executive chairman of Dollar Tree.
Early childhood courts
Democratic Sen. Lauren Book and Republican Rep. Amber Mariano want to make Florida kids safer by adding a new type of court.
The bipartisan duo filed bills, SB 236 and HB 449, to set up an Early Childhood Court, or ECC, program in the Sunshine State.
ECCs focus on cases involving children under the age of three, intending to improve child safety and well-being, healing trauma, and stopping intergenerational cycles of abuse, neglect and violence. Florida has 22 such courts already, but they are created and funded at the local level.
Book said the legislation stems from her visits to the Miami ECC, where she saw sensitivities and services outside the scope of a traditional courtroom.
“Every child deserves the best possible start in life, but some families need some extra help to provide safe and loving care and break the cycle of abuse,” “The data shows that Early Childhood Courts provide the best possible outcomes for vulnerable children and reduce the likelihood of future court involvement.”
That data, which shows ECCs shorten out-of-home care times and reduce recurrences of maltreatment by 40%, sold Mariano on the idea.
“The Early Childhood Court approach represents a new hope for the most vulnerable among us in breaking the multigenerational cycle of abuse and neglect,” she said. “It is our goal to begin to provide a pathway for many of our struggling families to achieve stable, nurturing relationships.”
Hurricane shutter sales tax exemption
Democratic Sen. Annette Taddeo and Republican Rep. Vance Aloupis have filed a pair of companion bills looking to exempt purchases of hurricane shutters and impact-resistant windows from the state’s 6% sales tax.
Florida has seen a series of hurricane scares over the last several years. Hurricane Irma hammered South Florida in 2017. In 2018, the Panhandle was struck by Hurricane Michael. Both areas are still recovering from that devastation. In 2019, Hurricane Dorian also threatened Florida before eventually turning north and skirting the east coast.
To qualify for an exemption from the state’s sales tax, the measures from Taddeo and Aloupis would require shutters or impact-resistant windows to be installed by a qualified contractor. They must also meet minimum testing and safety standards.
The measure would take effect on July 1, 2021, which will likely be near the beginning of that year’s hurricane season.
Taddeo introduced a similar bill during the 2019 Session but never found a sponsor for a companion bill in the House. Her measure last Session died in committee.
Florida already offers a limited sales tax exemption for multiple types of hurricane supplies such as batteries, portable generators and radios. That sales tax holiday runs for a week each year, but shutters and impact-resistant windows are not included.
Shelter life of pets
Floridians afraid to weather a hurricane in their own home want to leave Fido leashed in the backyard. Sen. Aaron Bean wants to make sure in the event of a storm that both his human and animal constituents have a place to go.
The Fernandina Beach Republican filed legislation (SB 752) to require all counties to designate at least one pet-friendly shelter during natural disasters. The text of the bill lays out requirements on securing animals.
“The pets must be contained in secure enclosures in an area of the facility separate from the sheltering public,” the bill reads. “The shelter must be in compliance with safety procedures regarding the sheltering of pets established in the shelter component of the state comprehensive emergency management plan.”
The Division of Emergency Management notes it’s on owners to make plans for their pets in the event of a storm. Those evacuating the state should take their animals with them. State officials remind most shelters don’t accept pets, though service animals are permitted.
“If there are no pet-friendly shelters in your area, or if you think you will be unable to travel to the nearest one, you will need to identify shelter alternatives that suit your needs, as well as those of your pets,” reads the DEM website.
Fighting the heat
Sen. Vic Torres, a Kissimmee Democrat, and Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, a Winter Park Democrat, filed legislation (HB 513) to protect outdoor workers from heat stress.
A number of workers came to the Capitol this week to advocate for the bill, which among other things would require “free access to drinking water for employees working in temps at or above 90 degrees,” and “access to shade for employees working in temps at or above 80 degrees.”
For instance, Jose Delgado spent the last 30 years working under the Florida sun in farm work and construction. A year ago, after a day of work on a farm, he had a heat-related health crisis that sent him to the hospital.
“The heat has broken me down physically,” Delgado said. “It’s gotten too hot. Those of us doing manual labor in the sun need protections.”
“As the Sunshine State, Florida should be leading the nation in protecting outdoor workers who are at high risk for heat illness,” Smith added. “All employers should adopt common-sense procedures to ensure their workers have access to cool water, shade, and short breaks during periods of intense heat.
“That includes worker and supervisor training on how to identify symptoms of heat stress and how to administer first aid to affected workers on the job.”
Keep our graduates working
A bill that would block the state from suspending professional licenses for workers that default on their student loans got the green light from the House Business & Professions Subcommittee this week.
HB 115, sponsored by Miami Democratic Rep. Duran, would make suspending any professional license, certificate, registration, or permit held by Floridians who graduate from an accredited college or university off-limits.
The bill is common sense, Duran said.
“Passing the ‘Keep Our Graduates Working Act’ is an important reform to ensure that our college graduates are able to continue in their important careers without the fear of losing their job due to student loan debt. This is a reform that will positively impact the lives of thousands of hardworking Floridians across the state.”
The committee agreed, passing the bill with a unanimous vote.
HB 115 will need the approval of the Health Quality Subcommittee and Commerce Committee before it’s ready for a vote by the full House.
The Senate version of the bill, SB 356 by St. Augustine Sen. Travis Hutson, will get its first hearing in the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday.
‘Surviving Lunch’ screened
Democratic Reps. Margaret Good and Loranne Ausley want colleagues to see Surviving Lunch. The movie, produced by Sarasota-based Source Productions, was shot after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.
“This movie acts as a catalyst for discussion of the hard issues facing many of our students today,” said Good, who represents the Sarasota area.
“Bullying, peer pressure, mental and emotional health problems, as well as access to guns, contribute to the school violence epidemic, and are issues our students navigate every day. My hope is that this film will provide my colleagues and I an opportunity to discuss solutions to the critical issues contributing to violence in our schools.”
To view the trailer, click on the image below:
The film, directed by K.T. Curran, premiered at the Sarasota Film Festival in April. Curran said she believed the message of the film is important to deliver to policymakers.
“We are so honored to share in the dialogue of how to keep our schools more safe,” Curran wrote on Facebook.
It follows the character Gabriella, a New York teenager who moves to Florida after her father dies in a school shooting. She befriends a boy at her new school who is getting relentlessly bullied.
A teaser for the film explicitly references the Parkland shooting while showing scenes of bullying, emotional abuse, and desires for violent retaliation in modern schools.
The film will be screened on Tuesday, Nov. 12, at the Challenger Learning Center on South Duval Street. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. Producers of the film will appear on a panel alongside mental health professionals.
Interested individuals can register to attend online.
Polo heads to El Salvador
State Rep. Cindy Polo won’t be in Tallahassee next week. The Miramar Democrat won’t be in her district, either.
Instead, the freshman lawmaker will spend four days in El Salvador learning about the effects of the Central American country’s ban on abortion by talking to women who have been jailed for seeking abortion as well as lawmakers and advocates who are working to change the law.
The trip comes as the Florida Legislature is set to consider a bill in the 2020 Legislative Session that would ban abortions six weeks into pregnancies — before many women even know they are pregnant. Abortion rights advocates equate the proposed law to an all-out ban on abortion.
Polo’s inclusion on the trip is part of her membership on the State Innovation Exchange, or SiX, a national resource and strategy center that helps state legislators to improve people’s lives through transformative public policy.
Members of SiX’s Reproductive Freedom Leadership Council aim to “protect and expand abortion rights and access and amplify the need for sound and strong state policies that support reproductive health including access to abortion care,” the organization said.
Joining Polo on the trip to El Salvador are Alabama Rep. Merika Coleman, Ohio Rep. Stephanie Howse, Arizona Rep. Raquel Teran and Georgia Sen. Nikema Williams
Fresh push for RFA
Legislation supporting a “Regulation Freedom Amendment” once again has been filed, this time by Rep. Anthony Sabatini.
A House Memorial (HM 501) would urge Congress to propose an amendment to the Constitution “require federal regulation be adopted by a majority vote of both houses of Congress if opposed by a specified percentage of the membership of either house.”
“Elected lawmakers should be the final authority and the accountable body for the regulations that affect us most,” said Sabatini, a Lake County Republican. “The RFA makes that happen.”
It’s an effort spurred on by The Madison Coalition, a conservative group focused on reigning in federal power over the states. The organization suggests explicitly on its website that whenever a quarter of U.S. Senators and Representatives transmit written opposition to the White House in regards to the new regulation, it will kick that regulation to Congress for approval by both chambers.
Such a requirement, the group suggests, will end “fear of capricious Federal regulators” acting without statutory backing.
Of course, an amendment to the U.S. Constitution takes some lift. It will take two-thirds of states passing resolutions like the one filed by Sabatini to force Congress to propose an amendment without calling a Constitutional Convention.
But the effort already boasts support from President Donald Trump, most Congressional Republicans, and the Republican National Committee.
Raising the Prisons
Stories of abuse in Florida’s prisons have plagues the Department of Corrections. Now, Rep. Dianne Hart wants legislation that guarantees fair treatment of inmates.
The Tampa Democrat filed a new bill (HB 531) she said modernizes regulations on Florida’s correctional facilities. The bill requires proper ventilation on inmate housing, put in place new requirements on disciplinary confinement, and delineates specific conditions for permanently incapacitated prisoners to qualify for medical release.
“It is clear that major changes in correctional methods are required,” Hart said.
The move comes after Hart conducted several high-profile visitations to prisons in the state that had reports of abuse. After visiting the Lowell Correctional Institution, Hart posted a Facebook video decrying excessive heat, hasty eating times, and inadequate hygiene for women. The visit came days after a guard was accused of physically manhandling an inmate, according to the Miami Herald.
Such mistreatment shouldn’t be what criminal justice stands for in Florida, she said.
“It is essential to reduce the use of large institutions and build upon our use of community-based corrections and provide alternatives to institutionalization. Additionally, I want to thank the Florida Justice League for working with me to ensure that inmates under our care have access to basic rights, and wardens are held accountable for their officers.”
Hart’s bill also specifies some basic human rights inmates must not be denied.
She also wants the Department of Corrections to conduct a study to determine cost-effective solutions for preparing inmates upon release to immediately obtain employment.
Pace girls recognized
Last week, the Department of Juvenile Justice named Amy Jacob of the Pace Lee Center its teacher of the year.
“It is an incredible honor for one of our Pace teachers to be recognized by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice for her exceptional work with girls,” Pace Center for Girls President Mary Marx said.
“Pace helps find the great in every girl, and Amy supports that work having developed curriculum to support our girls as they transition into college and the workforce to ensure they are successful after they leave Pace.
“We are deeply appreciative of her dedication to girls and the Florida DJJ for honoring her work.”
But Jacob’s award wasn’t the only one celebrated by the Pace Center for Girls, an organization that helps vulnerable girls and young women work through past trauma and succeed in school.
DJJ also recognized three Pace girls — Tybresha, Emily and De’Noya — with “Heartbeat of the Community” awards during the DJJ Conference Awards ceremony in Orlando.
The awards were granted as recognition for overcoming adversity, becoming contributors to society, and speaking up to inspire other youth.
Tybresha brought home a second honor when DJJ recognized her and several others as “Outstanding Youths” during the statewide conference.
C-SPAN visits FAMU Law
As one of the top electoral prizes in the country, news outlets descend upon Florida every presidential election.
C-SPAN is getting in early.
The public affairs network known for airing unfiltered congressional proceedings will park its award-winning news bus outside of the Florida A&M University Law School in Orlando on Thursday.
The event, made possible by Spectrum, is part of the network’s “Battleground States Tour,” which includes some of the states that will play a pivotal role in the 2020 election. Prior stops include Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
“These states will be among the key battlegrounds in the 2020 presidential race,” said Steve Scully, Political Editor for C-SPAN. “By visiting these communities, C-SPAN will provide another component to our extensive Campaign 2020 coverage and give our viewers an in-depth, unfiltered look at politics, from the early days on the campaign trail right up to Inauguration Day.”
Adam Falk, Charter Communication’s SVP for State Government Affairs, added, “Spectrum is excited to bring the interactive C-SPAN Bus to Florida and continue our long-standing partnership with C-SPAN. We are proud to serve Orlando by providing residents and local leaders the C-SPAN Networks and to share their robust educational and political resources with the community.”
Those who show up to the event, which runs from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., will be treated to an interactive educational experience — the bus is not only a self-contained TV production studio, it’s also outfitted with 11 large-screen tablets featuring C-SPAN programming and myriad political and educational resources.
For some added fun, attendees can strike a pose at a D.C.-themed selfie station and share their bus experiences on social media.