Headlines – Page 3 – Florida Politics

Gwen Graham vows to end prison visitor strip searches

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham on Wednesday urged Gov. Rick Scott to put an end to visitor strip searches at state prisons.

“Let’s call this what it is: Sexual harassment,” Graham said in an email. “It needs to end now. We can make prisons safer without humiliating women who are just trying to visit their family members. Even former corrections officials say this is a bad idea.

“I’m calling on Governor Rick Scott to immediately order the Department of Corrections to stop this assault and apply evidence-based policies to reduce crime in Florida’s prisons.

“If Scott doesn’t put an end to this now, I will stop it on my first day as governor.”

The practice was detailed in a recent article published in The Florida Times-Union. Ben Conarck’s article found women visiting inmates at prisons in northeast Florida were routinely being subjected to strip searches to get into the facility if they set off metal detectors, often due to underwire bras or other clothing.

The Florida Department of Corrections has called the strip searches “enhanced search procedures,” and said it was instituted to curb the influx of contraband such as drugs or cell phones in state prisons.

Women who decline the searches have their visitation privileges revoked.

The report found the practice was common among all facilities in Northeast Florida.

Before the policy was put in place last summer, corrections officers would use a wand to figure out what triggered metal detectors.

Rick Scott condemns Israel boycotts as anti-Semitism

Gov. Rick Scott condemned the boycott-Israel movement as anti-Semitism as he signed House Bill 545 in Orlando Wednesday, outlawing Florida governments from doing business with any entities boycotting Israel.

Scott’s bill-signing ceremony Wednesday at the Orlando Torah Academy, a Jewish day school, also served to allow him to tout the $2 million that was included in the state budget to such institutions harden security against terrorist and other potential attacks.

“The state of Florida stands firm with our ally Israel. In 2016 I was proud to sign legislation that prohibited the state, or administration, from investing in companies that boycott Israel. Today I’m proud to sign HB 545, an important piece of legislation that builds on our efforts by prohibiting any state agency and local governments from contracting with companies that boycott Israel,” Scott said.

“This bill sends a message to companies across the world that anti-Semitism has no place in our state or in our country,” Scott said. “By signing this bill we are assuring that Florida will not support those that participate in this intolerant movement. We’re also celebrating our continuing relationship with our great friend and partner, Israel.”

Scott was joined by state Rep. Randy Fine, the Palm Bay Republican who sponsored the bill with Coral Springs Democrat Jared Moskowitz. Also on hand were Republican state Reps. Bobby Olszewski of Winter Garden and Mike Miller of Winter Park.

“I just wish every state would emulate how great you all have responded,” Mimi Jankovitz, director of Teach Florida, an advocacy group for Jewish schools, told Scott and the trio of lawmakers.

The $2 million included this year to improve security and safety at Jewish schools came after $1 million provided last year, an effort that followed a series of bomb threats made against various schools.

“We need to stand with Israel. That’s step one. Step two is we should not be doing business who are boycotting Israel. That’s wrong. And step three is, we’ve got to keep these schools safe,” Scott said.

Adam Putnam: ‘Opioids are eroding our state from within’

In a campaign capacity in Jacksonville Wednesday afternoon, Agriculture Commissioner and Republican gubernatorial hopeful Adam Putnam helmed an opioid roundtable.

Putnam heard about Jacksonville’s own efforts on this front, as the city deals with an overdose crisis that has led to action on the local level.

But even with that action, the problem is crippling the city, impacting law enforcement and medical professionals, even as the main killer — fentanyl, a synthetic opioid — is becoming more readily available to more demographics.

The city has an opioid treatment program; the goal of the six-month, $1.5 million pilot is a simple “reduction” in overdoses, recidivism, and death.

Fentanyl — and diluted acetyl fentanyl — is the major issue locally, with the diluted analogue potentially lowering the user’s tolerance and possibly creating another overdose death crisis down the road.

Another complicating factor that could rear its head in the coming months: the current use of fentanyl to cut cocaine.

Local Medical Examiner Valerie Rao told Putnam that the morgue was being expanded; this is something that is happening in Palm Beach also, Putnam said.

Putnam noted that the opioid crisis is an issue statewide, with law enforcement especially concerned about budget impacts, treatment, and the tools needed for prosecutors to build cases.

“It’s a multi-headed monster and it’s eroding our state and our communities from within,” Putnam said, noting the Jacksonville program is well-regarded, a tool that could “rescue a generation from opioids.”

Crack and meth have been issues in the past, Putnam noted, though opioids have overtaken meth on the “interstate corridor.”

“This is different,” Putnam said, than previous drug waves, and requires different solutions.

Jacksonville’s program director, Dr. Raymond Pomm, noted that many patients would rather die than get off their drugs.

One woman called her Narcotics Anonymous sponsor right before taking “her last bag,” Pomm said, with a request: “Don’t let my son see my body.”

Pomm noted the risk of OD has gone down in recent months, but the problem is “messy,” and diluted acetyl fentanyl is adding to the problem. Acetyl fentanyl is still more potent than heroin.

“It only expands the problem, and the potential problem is even worse,” Pomm said, noting that cocaine is laced with fentanyl now.

“We’re starting to see people OD on fentanyl through cocaine. We’re starting to see it on methamphetamine, marijuana. It’s being put in everything,” Pomm said.

Pills led people to heroin and the fentanyl issue, Pomm said. With cocaine and marijuana, Big Pharma is not to blame.

But because fentanyl can be used to cut everything, it’s an equal opportunity killer, targeting all demographics.

Mac Heavener of the state attorney’s office noted a paradox: dealers cut the contraband historically to maximize profits, but when cut with fentanyl, potency increases along with profit.

A mother of an overdose victim named Derek Patrick described his downward spiral from pain pills in his college football locker room to “shooting up … rehab … jail.” He cleaned up, got back into college football, then relapsed and overdosed. And he was found dead in his dorm room.

“He was never prescribed pain pills. They were shared easily. They were everywhere,” she said.

A representative of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office noted that the drugs come in via mail from outside local jurisdictions. Some can be intercepted, but putting charges on someone for receipt of contraband is a different matter.

One participant from the law enforcement world noted that unlike cocaine dealers, who change their numbers frequently, heroin dealers don’t change their numbers. And many of the users “like fentanyl … like teetering on the edge of death.”

“If they get pure heroin, they aren’t happy,” he said, hoping there would be grant money for better software to break phone encryption.

“These patients know they’re going to die and still take the risk,” a participant from the medical community said.

Putnam’s trip to Jacksonville comes at a time when his campaign is besieged on all sides.

Even this visit to Jacksonville got pushback from the Florida Democratic Party.

“Adam Putnam has been in office for twenty years and consistently opposed solutions that would help Floridians suffering from substance abuse get the care they need,” said FDP spokesperson Kevin Donohoe.

“From opposing Medicaid Expansion to supporting Trumpcare,” Donohoe continued, “Putnam has spent much of his political career fighting policies that would help Floridians get the care they need. Only a career politician like Adam Putnam would have the nerve to host a roundtable about the opioid crisis while opposing policies that would actually address this epidemic.”

Richard Corcoran: ‘Grave concern’ about gun-related CRC measure

House Speaker Richard Corcoran is telling the Constitution Revision Commission that a pending gun proposal is “inappropriate for inclusion in the state Constitution.”

The speaker sent a one-page letter to commissioners Wednesday.

He pointed to “an ‘assault’ weapons ban, a ban on specific magazines, and an extended waiting period,” saying he had “grave concern.”

An amendment, filed by CRC member Chris Smith, to Proposal 3 (P3) would prohibit “sale or transfer of assault weapons,” among other things. Smith, a former Senate Democratic Leader, is an appointee of Republican Senate President Joe Negron.

The underlying proposal, by Commissioner and former South Florida U.S. Attorney Roberto Martinez, would “remove a provision authorizing laws that regulate or prohibit the ownership, inheritance, disposition, and possession of real property by aliens ineligible for citizenship.”

“As you know, the Legislature recently made changes to aspects of firearm policy, including the age to purchase firearms, and the regulation of a device known as a “bump stock,’ ” wrote Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican and likely candidate for governor.

The Legislature recently passed and Gov. Rick Scott signed a school safety, mental health and guns measure after the February shooting at Broward County’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Gun-related policies “are matters that are best left to the purview of an elected legislature in a constitutional republic,” Corcoran said.

“The Constitution protects the right to keep and bear arms. All firearm policies flow from that fundamental right and should remain policy matters for the Legislature,” he added. “I would respectfully request that the CRC reject calls to codify firearm policy in the state Constitution.”

Smith and CRC chairman Carlos Beruff were unavailable for comment as the commission was meeting Wednesday morning.

The letter, in trying to exercise influence over a proposal, is an unusual move for an elected leader who has appointees on the panel.

Negron, a Stuart Republican, has said he favors proposals that would raise the retirement age for judges and help with K-12 education “flexibility.”

But though he added he had “general conversations” with his appointees on his “guiding principles,” Negron said he trusts their “good judgment.”

Corcoran’s letter follows a recent call to action by the National Rifle Association with an email from former NRA President Marion Hammer asking supporters to contact Commissioners and “tell them to OPPOSE gun control amendments!”

Updated at noon — State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando Democrat, responded to the letter in a statement, saying Florida NRA lobbyist “Marion Hammer has Richard Corcoran running scared.”

“Speaker Corcoran just opened the door for future legislatures to fully reverse even the weakest gun safety provisions signed into law after Parkland. His ‘grave concern’ over making any gun control permanent, exposes what we already knew. Florida Republicans are not committed to addressing gun violence over the long term and are eager to continue implementing the NRA’s extreme agenda once the attention has shifted elsewhere. Just like Adam Putnam, Richard Corcoran is nothing more than an NRA sellout.”


Greyhound racing ban inches closer to ballot

A proposed constitutional amendment to end greyhound racing in the state is one step closer to securing a place on the November ballot.

The Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) approved the amendment (Proposal 67) in an 18-14 vote late Tuesday night, sending it to the influential Style and Drafting Committee for ballot preparation. It will still have to win the approval of 22 members of the 36-person panel charged with drafting amendments to revise the state’s governing document before being sent to the 2018 ballot.

Commissioner Tom Lee, a Republican state Senator from Thonotosassa, sponsored the proposal, which was amended on Tuesday night to extend language to also ban the “racing of” greyhounds. When the proposal was filed, it only banned betting on the dog races.

Lee said greyhound racing in the state is a “humanity” issue, rather than an economic one. He said that since 2013, 438 greyhound racing dogs have died.

“These animals are kept in cages, they are bred exclusively for the purposes of being used for profit in wagering,” Lee added. 

If the proposal makes it to the ballot and is approved by 60 percent of voters, greyhound racing would be phased out by June 30, 2020.

Commissioner Chris Smith spoke in opposition to the proposal before the vote, saying it should be up to the Legislature to regulate gaming and related issues.

When asked why he chose to push for a ban through the CRC, Lee cited three areas of the constitution that permit greyhound racing as his rationale for pushing a ban via a constitutional amendment.

“Since there is so much nexus to this issue in the constitution, I thought it was appropriate to do it here,” Lee told commissioners. 

Smith, a former state Representative and Senator, also asked whether the state would be obliged under the “Bert J. Harris Jr. Private Property Rights Protection Act” to compensate the racing facilities for the value of the racing dogs if the amendment is written into the constitution.

Critics of the ban say provisions under the act could result in the state doling out up to $500 million to greyhound racetracks.

Lee cited a legal analysis released last week that ruled the potential ban legally sound. He explained to commissioners that the dogs would not be considered lost property. He added: “Essentially the Bert Harris claims are for real property.”

“Clearly there are going to be some winners and losers,” Lee said of those who could be harmed economically. Though he added that phase-out period, which holds the ban until 2020, is intended to give those in the greyhound industry “time to make ends meet.”

Last week — before the proposal was amended to include banning the racing of greyhounds — a poll from Clearview Research showed 45 percent of voters approved of the idea, while 44 percent opposed it. Clearview attributed the lack of support for Proposal 67 to its language, which at the time provided a ban on the “wagering on” races and did not outlaw the actual tracks.

‘Marsy’s Law’ wins initial OK as state constitutional amendment

A proposed constitutional amendment to give equal rights to crime victims won preliminary approval from the full Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) on Monday.

Commissioners voted 30-3 to send the measure (P96) to the panel’s Style and Drafting Committee for preparation as a ballot question.

Hank Coxe, Arthenia Joyner and Bob Solari voted against it. The proposal still faces a final vote by the full commission.

It would approve a Marsy’s Law for Florida, named after Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas. The California woman was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. Only one week after her death, the accused murderer confronted Marsy’s mother and brother, Henry T. Nicholas, at a grocery store. The family was not informed that the accused was released on bail.

It’s supported by state Sen. Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat, who was sexually abused for six years by her nanny. She has since formed Lauren’s Kids, an organization to prevent childhood sexual abuse and help survivors.

The amendment, if OK’d for the 2018 statewide ballot and passed by no less than 60 percent of voters, creates rights for victims or their surviving family members to be heard during certain court proceedings and to “full and timely restitution,” among others.

“I’m extremely proud that support (for the measure) is broad-based and bipartisan,” said Commissioner Tim Cerio, a Gov. Rick Scott appointee who sponsors the measure.

A staff analysis has noted that “many of the constitutional rights established by the proposal currently exist under Florida law,” a point echoed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which has called the measure “overly broad and unworkable in practice.”

Cerio acknowledged the criticism Tuesday, saying many provisions are on the books, “but are not followed.” Others are optional, he added, and not constitutionally required.

Commissioner and former federal prosecutor Roberto Martínez suggested the proposal could be an unfunded mandate, particularly when it comes to certain notice requirements.

“Clearly, there has to be some funding … but the impact may not be significant,” Cerio said.

Coxe, a Jacksonville attorney, was the most severe critic, calling Marsy’s Law “an insult” to every state attorney and sheriff in Florida.

CRC member Chris Nocco, Pasco County’s sheriff, soon countered: “I’m not insulted that he brought forward this idea.” Nocco has supported the plan.

“We are fixing a problem,” Cerio said after debate. “This is not a criticism of the system … It needs to be a beginning.”

Ultimately, the full CRC has to approve the proposal by at least 22 votes out of its 37 members. It then would have to be voted on at the November ballot.

CRC rejects added duty for Lieutenant Governor

Florida’s lieutenant governor won’t have to worry about being required by voters to run a state agency.

Members of the state Constitution Revision Commission on Tuesday rejected, in a 20-12 vote, a proposed constitutional amendment (Proposal 66) that would have required the Lieutenant Governor to oversee a department within the executive branch.

“We spend about $1 million a year on support services and salary for the lieutenant governor,” said Sen. Tom Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican and member of the commission who sponsored the proposal. “It was just an idea to get not only a bigger bang for our buck, but at the same time also create some added value and some self-actualization for the individual.”

In the past, Lee called the money spent on the office “wasteful.” On Tuesday, he said the position is one of the weakest in the nation and simply designed to “help elect a governor at election time.”

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez Cantera is paid $124,851 a year.

But several members of the commission noted the governor already can appoint the lieutenant governor to run an agency and that some agency-head positions have required qualifications. As an example, the Department of Health is headed by the state Surgeon General.

“In dealing with many of these agencies over the past seven years, I know the Department of Corrections is highly qualified in law enforcement,” Attorney General Pam Bondi said. “I think that’s another problem, that many of these require very specialized skills.”

Bondi is part of the 37-member commission, which meets every 20 years to craft constitutional amendments that will go before voters in November.

Commissioner Emery Gainey, a member of the Attorney General’s management team, asked what would happen if the Governor wasn’t satisfied with the performance of the Lieutenant Governor and no other agency-head position was open.

Lee initially proposed that the Lieutenant Governor act as a tie-breaking vote in the Florida Senate and replace the secretary of state, one of the positions now appointed by the Governor. But the proposal was scaled back to requiring that the Lieutenant Governor serve as an agency head.

Other examples of agencies under the Governor include the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Elder Affairs, the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Department of Lottery and the Department of Management Services.

Commissioner Don Gaetz, a former state Senate president, was among those backing the proposal.

“I think we’ve had some great lieutenant governors who actually had jobs,” said Gaetz, a Niceville Republican. “And then we’ve had some lieutenant governors who could have wandered the halls with their hands in their pockets, a waste of human resources. It’s just the way it was.”

The office has been around in Florida since 1968 and provides an immediate replacement if there is a gubernatorial vacancy — as happened in 1998, when Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay briefly became governor after the death of Gov. Lawton Chiles.

Under Gov. Rick Scott the position has been widely viewed as ceremonial.

Scott let the office sit idle for nearly a year between the resignation of Jennifer Carroll in March 2013 and his appointment of Lopez-Cantera in February 2014.

Despite Irma, Florida sets another tourism record

Gov. Rick Scott vowed to ensure tourism stayed vibrant even after Hurricane Irma wreaked its havoc, and the numbers released Tuesday in Naples show that he pulled it off.

The 116.5 million visitors, per VISIT FLORIDA, mark a 3.6 percent increase over the 112.4 million visitors in 2016. This was despite a loss of 1.8 million visitors because of Hurricane Irma.

Governor Scott said, “Today, I am proud to announce that Florida has continued our record-breaking success by welcoming more than 116 million visitors in 2017. Because of VISIT FLORIDA’s aggressive marketing efforts to make sure families across the world knew that Florida was open to visitors following Hurricane Irma, we are able to celebrate another record-breaking year for tourism. This is especially great news for the 1.4 million jobs that rely on our growing tourism industry. We will continue to market our state as the number one global destination for tourism.”

Overall, the state recorded 102.3 million domestic travelers last year, up from 97.9 million in 2016 and 91.3 million 2015. Meanwhile, overseas travel dropped for the second consecutive year, from 11.4 million in 2015 to 11.1 million in 2016 and 10.7 million last year.

Canadian tourists, who have been a target of Visit Florida President and CEO Ken Lawson, grew from 3.3 million in 2016 to 3.5 million last year.

Airport visitors and hotel room stays were both up over 4 percent — despite huge September drops throughout most of the state in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. Hotel stays saw a pronounced drop in the Keys, which reported a 44 percent year-over-year decrease in room demand in September.

Lawson credited “the cutting-edge marketing programs at VISIT FLORIDA, particularly following Hurricane Irma” for the increases.

A report for Visit Florida by Tourism Economics, an Oxford Economics company, found that Irma cost the state 1.8 million visitors, based on tourism trends before the September storm swept through the state. Irma made landfall in the Florida Keys and Collier County before barreling north.

“The majority of these lost visits occurred during September,” the report stated. “By December, the number of actual out-of-state visitors was nearly equal to the number of expected visitors to the state.”

Outside of the Keys, the storm is credited with helping to boost hotel room demand in October — up 10 percent from a year earlier — and November — 7 percent — due to displaced residents and workers responding to the disaster.

As 2017 got underway, Scott had sought to push the annual tourism figure to 120 million.


The News Service of Florida contributed to this post. 

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri to lead Douglas High commission with Lauren Book, three fathers

Three fathers of murdered students, three sheriffs, and state Sen. Lauren Book are among the appointees to the newly created Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission established to investigate the Feb. 14 massacre and identify and address what could have been done differently.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri will chair the commission established through Senate Bill 7026, the Florida Legislature’s comprehensive response to the massacre in Parkland. The commission will include two fathers of slain students appointed by Gov. Rick Scott, and one appointed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

The 16-member commission also includes one lawmaker who helped craft SB 7026, Book, appointed by Senate President Joe Negron.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen will serve as a member, and four other state officials will serve as ex-oficio members: Florida Department of Education Commissioner Pam Stewart; Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary Mike Carroll; Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Christina Daly; and Florida Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Justin Senior.

Scott’s appointments are: Okaloosa County Sheriff Larry Ashley; Brevard County Schools Superintendent Desmond Blackburn; Miami Shores Police Chief Kevin LystadRyan Petty of Parkland, father of Aliana Petty, who was murdered at Stoneman Douglas: and Andrew Pollack of Parkland, father of Meadow Pollack, who also was killed in the school shooting.

Negron’s appointments are: Book, who has a master’s degree in education and is an internationally renowned child advocate; Citrus County School Board Member Douglas Dodd; Indian River County Undersheriff James Harpring, who serves as general counsel to the department; Melissa Larkin-Skinner, a licensed mental health counselor who is chief executive officer at Centerstone Florida; and Martin County School Board Member Marsha Powers.

Corcoran’s appointments are: Gualtieri; Max Schachter, father of Alex Schacter, who was killed at Stoneman Douglas; Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd; Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett; and Auburndale Police Chief Chris Nelson.

“I’m proud to appoint five dedicated Floridians to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission including fathers of two of the victims who were critical in helping a bill get passed quickly,” Scott stated in a news release. “Since the shooting in Parkland, our number one focus has been to make our schools safer while doing everything possible to ensure a tragedy like this never happens again. I’m confident that these appointees will continue the work that has already started in our state to keep our students safe.”

“The Senate appointees include a former classroom teacher and nationally-recognized child advocate, a school board member, a law enforcement officer, a retired school resource officer, and a renowned mental health treatment clinician,” Negron stated. “This diverse cross-section of professional experience and subject matter expertise, will serve the state well as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission embarks on the critically important task before it. We can never replace the 17 lives lost, and we can never erase the traumatic experience that lives on in the memories of those who survived this horrific attack. However, this Commission will help ensure we do everything we can to reduce the possibility of a tragedy like this ever happening again.”

“I’m honored to appoint five members to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission. The work and recommendations of this commission will, I believe, serve as a model for the nation in addressing school safety and protecting individual liberty,” Corcoran stated. “The appointees to the commission bring decades of experience in law enforcement, prosecution, and training civilians to handle firearms and protect a school. Most importantly, an appointee, Max Schachter, brings the tragic experience of being a father who lost his son in that day’s awful events and who is driven to ensure it never happens to another family ever again. I thank those willing to participate, I commend the courage of the family members who will take on this task, and pray that all the efforts of this commission will meet with success.”


Flags at half staff for FIU bridge collapse victims

Gov. Rick Scott has ordered flags at half staff “in honor and remembrance of the victims of the Florida International University pedestrian bridge collapse” in Miami.

His office made the announcement Tuesday.

The U.S. and state flags will be flown at half-staff sunrise to sunset Thursday at the Capitol in Tallahassee, “and at all local and state buildings, installations, and grounds throughout Miami-Dade County,” the announcement said.

“I have ordered the lowering of the flags this Thursday in remembrance of the victims of the bridge collapse at FIU,” Scott said in a statement. “Our state continues to mourn and we offer our sincerest condolences to their families.”

The collapse of the 950-ton pedestrian bridge, which left at least six people dead and at least as many injured, happened last Thursday.

Scott quickly joined local and federal officials on the scene, promising a full investigation and pointing the finger at the university for the disaster.


Background provided by The News Service of Florida. 

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