Joe Negron Archives - Florida Politics

Takeaways from Tallahassee — A puzzling vote

As House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s priority education bill is pushed through the Senate committee process, some watching this week were perplexed by the vote of one sometimes perplexing Republican lawmaker.

Sen. Tom Lee, who has helped carry Corcoran’s policy in a sometimes-hostile Senate, voted with Democrats to gut language from the omnibus bill that would decertify teachers’ unions if their membership does not stay above 50 percent of total eligible employees.

Versions of the language, deemed “union busting” by opponents, have been the subject of partisan slugfests all session.

Lee told Florida Politics he voted for Sen. Perry Thurston’s amendment out of an “abundance of caution.” But insiders said there may be another reason: former Gov. Jeb Bush endorsing Jimmy Patronis for chief financial officer, a role Lee says he is mulling a run for.

The connection is this: An education reform foundation founded by Bush has been a big supporter of the House measure, and by him voting down on that provision, it would be a jab at them.

Lee says he is not always in lockstep with the foundation, as many Republicans are, but his vote was based on needing more information on the impact of the issue, which critics say is a “spiteful way of taking rights away from workers.”

“I tend to be an ally of the Speaker and expect to continue to be so, but at the end of the day, you take your orders from the people who elected you,” Lee said, “and not the former governor or the House Speaker.”

Lee said he gives Senate President Joe Negron “a lot of credit” for sending HB 7055 through the Senate committee process. The bill will be heard next week the Appropriations Committee, according to Senate Budget Chairman Rob Bradley.

Whether the proposal will be a hiccup in budget talks remains to be seen.

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

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

Arming teachers — A week after the worst school shooting in the state’s history, the Republican-controlled Legislature unveiled their proposals, which include training school employees to become armed “marshals.” It’s something President Donald Trump agrees with, but Gov. Rick Scott does not. House Speaker Corcoran said teachers who have the requisite hours to act as trained law enforcement officers would be allowed to carry guns in schools, adding that it is a “first of its kind proposal” in the nation. With two weeks left in the 2018 legislative session, state lawmakers and the governor are also pushing for more school resource officers and boosting funding for mental health services.

In response to last week’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Gov. Rick Scott outlines his plan to keep students safe while at school during a news conference Friday at the Capitol in Tallahassee. Photo credit: Colin Hackley

Unprecedented gun law proposals — After thousands of students, parents and teachers came to Tallahassee to speak to legislative leaders seeking more restrictions on the purchase of “war weapons,” both chambers and the governor all agreed to raise the minimum age of owning and possessing “all firearms” to 21 and banning the sale of bump stocks. Gov. Scott said a ban on assault weapons would “not fix the problem” and would hurt “law-abiding citizens.” The House and Senate plans also include a three-day waiting period for all gun purchases.

Scott on mental health services — Gov. Scott wants to expand mental health services teams statewide to serve youth and young adults with early or serious mental illness by providing counseling, crisis management and other critical mental health services. He also wants every Sheriff’s Office to have a crisis welfare worker embedded in their departments to work on repeat cases in the community. This would mean adding 67 more employees at the Department of Children and Families by July 15.

Budget slap fight — With less than three weeks to go in a legislative session, the direction of which has now been overcome by the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, budget negotiations between the House and the Senate aren’t just stalled, they’re not happening. The first indication that the annual back-and-forth between the two chambers is not on track surfaced Tuesday afternoon. The Associated Press’ Gary Fineout reported that House budget chairman Carlos Trujillo said there has been “no progress” on allocations and, instead, that legislators are focused on responding to the tragedy in Parkland.

Criminal justice reforms move ahead — A sweeping criminal justice bill that would upend how the state collects data on offenders in an attempt to better determine who is incarcerated and for how long is moving in the Senate. The measure would require the Department of Corrections to use risk-assessment instruments that can identify the appropriate intervention and program for offenders in an effort to reduce recidivism. Sen. Jeff Brandes said his bill (SB 1218) could be used as the foundation for “meaningful” criminal justice reform in the future. Another measure that would ease mandatory minimums in certain drug trafficking cases also headed to the Senate floor this week.

Instagram of the week

Scott to sign bill replacing Confederate statue with McLeod Bethune

Gov. Scott will soon sign a bill that will make Florida the first state to commemorate an African-American historical figure in the U.S. Capitol.

The state House and Senate have approved legislation that will honor civil-rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune at National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol. Her statue will replace that of Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith. The Legislature agreed to remove Smith’s statue in 2016.

Mary McLeod Bethune.

Daytona Beach Democratic Rep. Patrick Henry sponsored the initiative in the House, which cleared the measure Tuesday. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, sponsored the Senate version.

“Bethune’s life and values illustrate the best of Florida,” Thurston said. “Choosing her likeness for the Hall sends a powerful signal to the world that Floridians recognize our state’s rich history and its present-day diversity.”

Bethune served as president of the National Association of Colored Women. She was an appointee of President Herbert Hoover to the White House Conference on Child Health and was an adviser to President Franklin Roosevelt. Bethune also founded what is now Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach. The school has offered to cover the cost of Bethune’s statue.

Each state is allowed two representatives in Statuary Hall. The Sunshine State’s other statue commemorates John Gorrie, widely considered the father of air conditioning.

The week in appointments

Greater Orlando Aviation Authority — Scott appointed Maggie Montalvo to fill a vacant seat in the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority.

Montalvo, 53, is the executive vice president and the chief operations officer of First Colony Bank of Florida. She received a degree in banking from the American Banking and Accounting Institute.

Her term ends April 16, 2020, and her appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.

St. Johns River Watch Management District — Scott appointed Allan Roberts, the owner and operator of First Coast Cattle, to the Governing Board of the St. Johns River Water Management District.

Roberts, 70, is currently a member of the Florida Cattleman’s Association and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

He will fill a vacant seat and is appointed for a term ending March 1, 2020. His appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.

Floridians flocked to CRC hearings in Melbourne, Jacksonville

The Constitution Revision Commission held two meetings in its “Road to the Ballot” public hearing tour this week, and much like the first stop in Ft. Lauderdale, turnout was healthy.

An estimated 600 people went to the Feb. 19 meeting at Eastern Florida State College in Melbourne. Among them were 240 individuals who filled out a speaker card.

The Constitution Revision Commission came to Jacksonville Tuesday for a marathon public hearing on the 37 proposals that are still live.

The Jacksonville stop, held on the University of North Florida campus Feb. 20, more than 500 showed up, with 210 requesting a chance to speak before the commission.

Video of both hearings is available online through The Florida Channel.

The next tour stop is a Feb. 27 hearing at the University of West Florida in Pensacola, followed by a March 5 hearing at The Westin in Cape Coral and a March 13 stop at University of South Florida — St. Petersburg.

House Democrats still working on AR-15 ban

Among the state House’s most visible actions while Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting survivors were in Tallahassee was a no vote on advancing an assault weapons ban bill to the chamber floor for debate.

The 71-36 party-line defeat in the HB 219 vote was met with astonishment and tears by students in the gallery, but Miami Democratic Rep. Kionne McGhee isn’t giving up on getting a bill to ban semi-automatic rifles to the House floor before the end of the 2018 Legislative Session.

Senate President Joe Negron announces a comprehensive package of legislation to improve the safety and security of Florida students and schools. Those bills will be heard in the committee on Monday.

McGee said semi-automatic assault rifles, particularly the AR-15 model used in the Parkland shooting, are a “common denominator” in mass shootings and lawmakers need to discuss the issue before they can “move on.”

McGee didn’t reveal his strategy for getting such a ban through the GOP-controlled House, but Senate Democrats this week said they would attempt to attach gun legislation, including an AR-15 ban, to bills moving through the Legislature.

FDP chair calls out Republicans for AR-15 vote

The Florida Democratic Party chair said state House Republicans turned their backs on the survivors of the Parkland shooting this week when the chamber voted not to hear a bill banning semi-automatic assault weapons.

FDP chair Terrie Rizzo blasts lawmakers for ‘turning their backs’ on Parkland survivors.

“[Tuesday’s] vote is just one more reminder that Gov. Scott, Corcoran and the GOP-led legislature continue to fail to provide the leadership needed to put an end to senseless mass shootings,” said FDP Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo.

“If tragedy strikes again and innocent children and citizens are gunned down in a classroom, a dance club or an airport, we can look to yesterday as another example of elected officials that care more about special interest money than keeping our kids safe from harm.”

The House voted 71-36 against hearing the bill, HB 219. No Republican voted in favor of the measure.

Car dealer bill stalls in House committee

A bill aimed at making changes to car dealership regulations stalled out in its second House committee this week over objections it was tailored to hand a single industry association a monopoly on dealer training.

The bill (HB 595) by Naples Republican Rep. Bob Rommel would make changes to various legal definitions relating to car dealers.

Rep. Bob Rommel’s auto dealership bill is running out of gas.

But a strike-all amendment also by Rommel would have required new car dealers to take a four-hour course each year to keep their license. That would put them in line with requirements set for used car dealers.

That training could only be offered by “a Florida-based, nonprofit, dealer-owned, statewide industry association of franchised motor vehicle dealers.”

Only one group in the state (probably not coincidentally) qualifies under that definition: the Florida Automobile Dealers Association.

FADA representative John Forehand testified that the cap isn’t necessarily indicative of the charge the group would levy but was there as a protection since the language would make it the sole source for the training.

“Why not $200? $300?” asked St. Petersburg Democrat Wengay Newton. No matter: The bill later was temporarily postponed.

FCUA names Jones ‘Lawmaker of the Year’

The Florida Credit Union Association this week named West Park Democratic Rep. Shevrin Jones as their “2017 State Lawmaker of the Year.”

FCUA recognized Jones as a longtime friend of credit unions, and for sponsoring a bill in the 2017 Legislative Session to exempt credit unions from regulation and lawsuits under the Florida Deceptive & Unfair Trades Practices Act.

Shevrin Jones has been named Legislator of the Year by the Florida Credit Union Association.

“Representative Jones has served credit unions in Florida as a true champion,” said Patrick La Pine, who heads FCUA’s parent organization, the League of Southeastern Credit Unions & Affiliates.

“He has sponsored legislation to include credit unions in an exemption under the Florida Deceptive & Unfair Trade Practices Act and understands the critical role that credit unions play in Florida’s economy and in serving Floridians throughout the state.”

FCUA honored Jones in Tallahassee last month during the Florida Advocacy Conference, where the lawmaker addressed credit union leaders gathered to help promote the industry at the state capitol.

Senate fracking ban bill on life support

A fracking ban sponsored by Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young didn’t make the agenda for the Feb. 27 Senate Appropriations Committee, and anti-fracking groups are laying the blame on Appropriations Chair Bradley.

Floridians Against Fracking, a statewide coalition of anti-fracking groups and businesses, put out a statement this week blasting Bradley not allowing the bill to be heard.

Some blame the failure of an anti-fracking bill on Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Rob Bradley.

“The fracking ban has broad, bipartisan support in both chambers because the people of Florida have been demanding it to protect our water, our tourism economy and our natural resources. If a fracking ban does not end up on the Governor’s desk to sign this session, it will be seen by the people of Florida as a failure of leadership,” said Brian Lee, the group’s legislative director.

Floridians Against Fracking suggested in the same release that Senate President Negron bring the ban bill up for a vote directly on the Senate floor, or in a future, unscheduled Appropriations Committee.

The fracking ban was a major campaign pledge of Young’s in the 2016 cycle. The House companion has not yet been heard in any committee, though the House has said it would take up the Senate version of the bill should it pass.

Business rent tax debate flares up on Twitter

The National Federation of Independent Business/Florida and the Florida AFL/CIO’s Rich Templin had a little back and forth on Twitter this week about the business rent tax cut when the tax package was up in House Appropriations.

It’s the only state-sanctioned sales tax on commercial leases in the entire nation. Gov. Scott and trade groups have long called to lighten the load on commercial businesses, which pay more than $1.7 billion in rent taxes every year.

Avid Twitter user Rich Templin of the Florida AFL-CIO.

Shot by NFIB: “The small and independently owned businesses NFIB represents overwhelmingly support the biz rent tax cut; #smallbiz drives the economy, and saving them money creates jobs, improves benefits and keeps the dollars in our backyards.”

Chaser by Templin: “This bumper sticker sloganeering doesn’t equate to sound fiscal policy. The overwhelming bulk of this tax cut will go to larger retailers based out of state. The taxpayers shoulder the burden & services workers & small businesses need are hindered.”

Background: Supporters of tax cuts say Florida’s business rent tax puts the state at a distinct competitive disadvantage, one that is unique in the country. Commercial rent taxes makes Florida’s competitors more attractive to business since companies are naturally more resistant to move to the state if they can get similar benefits elsewhere without paying a tax on rents.

AOB reform ad hitting Florida airwaves

Radio stations across the state this week started playing an ad warning Floridians of the dangers of “Assignment of Benefits,” which allows insurance policy rights to be signed over to third-party contractors.

The Consumer Protection Coalition, one of the chief organizations pushing AOB reform is led in part by the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, a member of the coalition, is footing the bill for the ad.

Listen to the new ad here:

“On the heels of the Florida Justice Reform Institute releasing a new report showcasing the need for AOB reform, the Consumer Protection Coalition felt it was important to alert Florida home and auto owners on how the AOB scheme works and why it is important for them to engage in asking Florida lawmakers to support meaningful AOB reform,” said Florida Chamber VP Edie Ousley.

The ad goes over how AOB works — or at least how it can be abused by unscrupulous lawyers and vendors. The radio ad is available on CPC’s website.

FSU prof to help on Hamer doc

A Florida State University professor is teaming up with Tougaloo College in Mississippi and the Kellogg Foundation to produce a new documentary on civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer.

FSU’s Davis Houck, the current holder of an endowed chair named after Hamer, will serve in an advisory capacity on the film, “Fannie Lou Hamer’s America,” and the corresponding civil rights K-12 curriculum, “Find Your Voice.”

Civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer will be the subject of a new FSU doc.

“Having Fannie Lou Hamer’s name attached to my work and Florida State University is inspiring and daunting,” said Houck, a professor at FSU’s School of Communication.

“The project is inspiring because of the life she led in pursuit of justice, and it is daunting because her fearlessness — often in the face of grinding and lethal adversity — sets an enormously high bar for anyone seeking to walk in her footsteps.”

Hamer was a leader in the civil rights movement known for her powerful speeches, songs and activism. The K-12 component focuses on youth empowerment and community engagement in the Mississippi Delta, and it intends to connect students and teachers to the region’s history during the civil rights movement.

Tallahassee a ‘Great Small Town for Big Vacations’

The Travel Channel listed Tallahassee as one of “10 Great Small Towns for Big Vacations” this week, much to the delight of the capital city’s officials and its tourism marketing arm.

“The uniqueness of our area continues to gain the attention of national media that recognize Leon County’s rich cultural heritage and natural beauty,” said Leon County Commission Chairman Nick Maddox. “We know that we live in an exceptional part of Florida and we think it’s time the rest of the nation, and the world, knows it, too.”

A great small town for big vacations.

The slideshow article says what Tallahassee “lacks in beaches it more than makes up for in Florida culture and adventure.” Recommendations included Ernestine Fryson’s famous fried catfish at the Bradfordville Blues Club, and the abundant nature tourism in the area.

Article author Steve Larese’s visit resulted from an invitation by Leon County to give the area a look. He was one of many of travel writers who visited the Leon County area while researching stories for various publications.

“To be counted among the country’s small towns for big adventure demonstrates the hard work of Leon County Division of Tourism in elevating and promoting what our community has to offer both visitors and residents,” said Leon County Administrator Vincent S. Long.

Now for this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:

‘Game changer’: Lawmakers roll out post-Parkland response

House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron on Friday released what they called a “sweeping new school safety reform package.”

“I was moved by my conversations with some truly brave and remarkable students this week,” Corcoran, a Land o’ Lakes Republican, said in a statement. “Their commitment to ensuring no school ever endures another tragedy is inspirational.

“The school safety reform package we introduce today is a game changer. We bring consistency to firearms law, invest heavily in early detection and mental heath, bring common sense protections to our schools, and learn lessons from past mistakes to fix going forward.

“I want to thank the young people of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as well as many of our Democratic colleagues for their courage and good faith in this vital work.”

Added Negron, a Stuart Republican: “It has been one week since I visited Stoneman Douglas High School, but the scene of horror that we viewed was so troubling, it feels like we were there earlier today. I cannot imagine how those who survived the attack must feel as they face the vivid memories of that day.

“Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to celebrate the life of Peter Wang and to learn about his hopes and dreams to one day serve our country as a member of the United States Army,” he added. “Those dreams, and the hopes and dreams of each person senselessly murdered last week will never be realized because of the criminal acts of one person.

“Nothing we will do in the Legislature will fill the void created in the families of the victims, their school, or their community, but we can honor their memory by taking the appropriate steps at the federal, state and local levels to help reduce the chance that a tragedy like this could ever happen again.”

Here are highlights of the legislative response to the Parkland shooting:

School Safety

— Improve school security capabilities through additional school resource and security officers, school hardening, programs.

— Establish safe school and security standards, review school safety and security plans, implement a school safety specialist training program, and update risk assessment procedures.

— Require training for school safety specialists as well as students and faculty.

— Require emergency drills for active shooter and hostage situations involving students, school personnel, and law enforcement experts.

— A “marshal” program to enhance safety and security in schools through the use of law enforcement trained and screened school personnel who function as part of school security teams.

Firearm Safety

— Establish new restrictions on purchase and ownership of firearms (all types).

— Increase the minimum age for purchasing a firearm to 21 years except for persons in law enforcement and active military personnel.

— Establish a 3-day waiting period for purchase of firearms except for concealed weapons permit holders or persons who complete a 16-hour hunter safety course approved by the Fish and Wildlife Commission. Provides time for criminal history checks.

— Ban bump stocks.

— Enhance restrictions for persons subject to involuntary examination and commitment (Baker Act).

— Provide law enforcement and the court with the tools to enhance public safety by temporarily restricting firearm possession by person who is undergoing a mental health crisis and when there is evidence of a threat of violence.

— Prohibit a person adjudicated mentally defective or committed to a mental institution from owning or purchasing a firearm or obtaining concealed weapon license. (Current law prohibits purchase, but does not limit possession.)

Mental Health

— Improve responses to students presenting a danger to themselves or others.

— Codify and enhance the activities of the multiagency network for students with emotional and behavioral disabilities (SEDNET).

— Require each school district to designate a school safety specialist and each school to establish a threat assessment team to provide a coordinated approach to evaluating and responding to students who pose a threat of violence.

— Remove barriers preventing school district and law enforcement authorities from referring students appropriately to mental health services or law enforcement.

Money could go to trauma centers after mass shootings

Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon wants to create a $10 million program that would reimburse trauma centers for care provided to victims of mass shootings, and Senate President Joe Negron said he will support the effort.

Braynon wants to create a fund in the Attorney General’s Office, with money coming from a portion of fees collected from new or renewed concealed-weapons licenses. The program would reimburse trauma centers that treat victims of mass shootings, such as the Feb. 14 attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that left 17 people dead.

Braynon, a Miami Gardens Democrat, initially wanted to attach the proposal to a bill (SB 1876) that is a carefully constructed deal that could end years of litigation between hospital systems about approval of trauma centers. But Braynon withdrew a proposed amendment to the bill Thursday, saying the proposal could be included in gun policies the Senate will consider in the coming weeks and that he didn’t want to affect what he called the “tenuous” trauma bill.

Negron, a Stuart Republican, said earlier in the day he supported Braynon’s efforts but didn’t want to include a funding request in a bill that focused on trauma center regulation.

The Legislature has wrangled for years over whether to continue with current trauma-system regulations or to allow a more competitive environment that would increase the number of trauma facilities.

The legislation moving ahead is a compromise between long-standing trauma providers and the for-profit HCA Healthcare, which has sought in recent years to open trauma centers at many of its hospitals. The House is advancing similar legislation.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, an Orange Park Republican, thanked Braynon for understanding that the trauma compromise “deals with so many issues that all of us, Republicans and Democrats agree” should occur.

The Appropriations Committee voted 17-3 to approve the bill, with opposition from Braynon, Sen. Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat, and Sen. Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican.

Negron told reporters earlier in the day he met with two Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students who sustained grievous injuries but had survived because of the quality of the care they received following the shooting.

“I am very impressed and gratified by the incredible quality of our trauma units, our surgeons, what they’ve been able to do to save lives, which they’ve done,” Negron said when asked whether he supports Braynon’s request.

“Those kinds of heroic efforts should certainly be rewarded because they are extremely expensive but worthwhile,” Negron said.

The school attack was the fourth mass shooting in Florida in the past 20 months where trauma centers were activated.

Following the June 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, for example, Orlando Regional Medical Center treated 35 patients at its trauma center.

Lee Memorial Hospital activated its mass-casualty trauma team in response to a shooting at Fort Myers’ Club Blu in July 2016, and Broward Medical Center activated its mass-casualty team in response to the January 2017 mass shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami is also home to South Florida’s only freestanding pediatric trauma center.

But bill sponsor Dana Young, a Tampa Republican, said the bill provides “much-needed certainty that we need to make sure that excellent level of care is available as we move forward as a state as we grow.”

Lawmakers seek more money for opioid epidemic

Two Democratic senators are pushing to increase by $25 million the amount of funding the Senate has committed to addressing the state’s opioid problems in the upcoming year.

Sen. Kevin Rader praised Senate leaders for proposing to spend $100 million on mental-health services and school-safety programs in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting last week that left 17 people dead. But he said they also need to put more money into a plan to curb the opioid epidemic.

“It looks like we are finding a lot of mental health funding, and that’s great. And I absolutely, completely support it and it’s much needed,” said Rader, a Delray Beach Democrat whose district includes Parkland, where Marjory Stoneman Douglas High is located. “I hope in the next two weeks …. we can really put the money into the opioid funding to take an enormous bite out of this apple and really help Floridians who need it.”

Rader’s remarks came as the Legislature enters the last two weeks of the annual Legislative Session and prepares to go into budget negotiations. The Senate is earmarking about $53 million for a variety of programs for opioid treatment, outpatient care and case management, medically assisted treatment, and naloxone for emergency responders.

Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican, said Thursday he has spent “a long time talking” with Rader and Sen. Darryl Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat, about the opioid epidemic, and he thinks the Legislature ultimately will increase funding from the current levels.

Rader is working closely with Rouson, who has drafted a plan that directs funding to a number of different areas. They include spending $2 million on an additional seven “bridge programs” between hospital emergency departments and community-based opioid programs, spending $2.9 million for evidence-based prevention and launching a statewide media campaign, similar to the state’s effective anti-smoking campaign.

The four-page draft obtained by The News Service of Florida contains handwritten notes with numbers by each of the ideas. The proposal marked No 1 is a request to increase funding to managing entities, which have contracts with the state to coordinate care regionally, by $3.1 million to provide housing options for people who suffer from both mental health and addiction issues and are frequently jailed or require emergency room services.

The proposal does not include additional funding beyond what already is targeted for medication-assisted treatment programs. Negron though, indicated that he would direct additional dollars toward medication-assisted treatment.

“I want to make sure the prevention is directly related to tangible items that we can measure rather than just diffuse dissemination of information, which I don’t think is effective,” Negron said.

Gov. Rick Scott in May 2017 declared a state of emergency due to the opioid crisis, fueled by an increasing number of deaths associated with the drugs. A state report shows that in 2016, Florida had 952 heroin deaths, 1,390 fentanyl-related deaths, 723 oxycodone-caused deaths and 245 hydrocodone-related deaths.

To try to address the issues, the House and Senate are considering bills (HB 21 and SB 8) that would limit physicians’ abilities to prescribe opioids. Also, the state Medicaid program announced last week that it is limiting prescriptions for narcotics to a maximum seven-day supply, unless a physician determines it is medically necessary to increase the prescription.

During a discussion in a Senate committee, Rader reminded Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Chairwoman Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican, that she acknowledged earlier the Senate hasn’t gone far enough in its recommendations for the upcoming year.

“You said, and I didn’t put words in your mouth, that this is ‘woefully underfunded and needed hundreds of millions of dollars of help as well,’ “ Rader said to Flores during a Wednesday meeting. “We just can’t keep the eye off the ball.”

Galvano

Lawmakers, Rick Scott weigh options after mass shooting

A second gun-related bill has been postponed in the Florida Senate in the wake of last week’s mass shooting at a Parkland high school, as legislative leaders craft a multi-pronged response to the massacre and Gov. Rick Scott plans a series of workshops about school safety and ways to keep guns away from people struggling with mental illnesses.

The scramble by lawmakers to react to the deaths of 17 people Wednesday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School comes with less than three weeks remaining in the annual Legislative Session and as students from Parkland, along with their counterparts from Leon County, are expected to flood the Capitol this week demanding gun control.

Incoming Senate President Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, expressed confidence Monday that measures under consideration — including raising the age to 21 for the purchase of “assault” rifles by people not in law enforcement or the military, establishing a waiting period for the purchase of such weapons and reviewing background screening requirements — can be completed before the 60-day Session ends March 9.

“I actually am confident because there seems to be a real commitment to address the issues we’ve discussed, and the level of importance attributed to them is very high,” said Galvano, who is slated to become Senate president in November.

The Senate has already proposed a $13 million spending increase, to $78.1 million, for school safety and another $100 million as part of a new category of K-12 school funding specifically to assess and treat mental health (SB 1434).

Asked if the House was working on similar measures, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, issued a statement Monday that said he looks forward to “working with the governor and Senate to find solutions that fulfill the most fundamental mission of government — to keep our citizens — our children — safe.”

Other measures under consideration by Galvano include seeking to improve school safety by identifying gaps in security and potentially expanding a program under Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd that enables authorized and trained employees at the private Southeastern University in Lakeland to carry concealed firearms to respond to assailants on campus.

The program comes as Sen. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican, said lawmakers weren’t ready for “that conversation” on his proposal (SB 1236) that was slated to go to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. The proposal, which would allow designated people with concealed-weapons licenses to carry guns at schools, was removed from the committee agenda.

“All these prevention things that we can do could be wonderful, but at the end of the day, we still have to deal with that first five minutes (of an actual incident),” Baxley said. “You can restrict the instrument of violence, and they’ll choose other instruments.”

Baxley added that he could see the proposal being considered as part of a larger package that Galvano and Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, a Trilby Republican, roll out.

Judiciary Chairman Sen. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican, advised Republican senators late Friday that he was taking the bill off the agenda.

A day earlier, a proposal (SB 740) that would allow some concealed-weapons license applications to be approved when background checks have not been completed was postponed by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The proposal is part of a wide-ranging bill for the Department of Agriculture that has been rescheduled for Thursday. Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican sponsoring the bill, filed an amendment on Monday that would remove the language regarding the concealed-weapons applications.

Meanwhile, a separate bill (SB 1048) by Baxley that would allow people with concealed-weapons licenses to carry guns on the grounds of churches and other religious institutions that share property with schools is set to appear Wednesday before the full Senate.

“I think we reached a pretty good place on that,” Baxley said.

The proposal isn’t as far-reaching as a House version (HB 1419). Under current law, people with concealed-weapons licenses can carry guns at churches and other religious institutions, but they are barred from doing so if schools are on the property.

Crafted with an eye on a church massacre in Texas last November, Baxley’s version includes restrictions, such as a prohibition on carrying guns during school hours or when school extracurricular activities take place.

The restrictions were needed to get Baxley’s bill through the Judiciary Committee, where Sen. Rene Garcia, a Hialeah Republican, and Sen. Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican, have joined with Democrats to block bills backed by Second Amendment advocates the past two years.

After the Parkland shooting, Garcia and Flores requested Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican, establish a task force to look into issues such as mental-health treatment, hardening soft targets such as schools and the possibility of hiring former military members and police officers to patrol school grounds.

For his part, Scott has organized workshops Tuesday in Tallahassee that will include education officials, child welfare advocates and law-enforcement officials. The workshops will not be open to the public but will be streamed live on The Florida Channel. Scott will hold a roundtable discussion at the end of the day.

“While there are only three weeks left of the legislative session, we must make changes to keep students safe,” Scott said in a prepared statement. “A tragedy like what occurred in Broward County must never happen again, and swift action is needed now.”

Democrats have used the shooting to renew efforts to seek a hearing on a proposal (SB 530 and HB 231) intended to prevent people at high risk of harming themselves or others from accessing firearms.

“This legislation will not solve all of the problems in our state, but it is a step in the right direction and will help save lives,” said Rep. Richard Stark, a Weston Democrat.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — A tragic dialogue

With only three weeks left in the 2018 Legislative Session, the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is dominating the conversation in Tallahassee.

Democrats have started making noise about Republicans obstructing their long-stalled gun control bills, while GOP-leaders have focused on the need for changes to mental health laws, and needed funding boosts.

Students are released from a lockdown outside of Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Gov. Rick Scott, Senate President Joe Negron and Senate budget chief Rob Bradley all spoke about the shooting through that lens. The Senate is also considering school “hardening” and providing funding to destroy the building where the massacre occurred, the Miami Herald reports.

But the clock is ticking for the Republican-controlled Legislature to make meaningful change in response to 17 people being gunned down at the suburban Broward County school. So far, a push for mental health funding is gaining the most momentum, but concrete proposals have yet to emerge.

With that said, here are the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Ana CeballosJim RosicaDanny McAuliffeAndrew Wilson and Peter Schorsch.

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

Parkland’s legislative aftermath — The mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Broward County shook the entire country and the state Capitol this week, reviving the political debate on what can be done to put an end to gun violence. Senate leadership says the focus will be on boosting funding for mental health services and more security on campuses across Florida — not gun control. House members have sent a letter to House Speaker Richard Corcoran — who has mostly been mum since the shooting — asking him to match the Senate’s funding proposal for mental health services. Broward County legislators flew back home upon hearing the news of the shooting to attend Thursday’s vigil and be with the community.

Putnam pulls gun proposal — A proposal tucked into an agriculture-related bill that would have allowed applicants to get concealed weapon permits if Florida officials don’t complete their complete background checks in time was pulled from consideration due to “timing” and “sensitivity.” The hearing was set a day after the shooting. Senate President Negron said it would be up to the bill sponsor to see if the proposal would get another hearing this session, but Senate Budget Chairman Bradley said it will not be coming back this session and that mental health will be a priority.

Underage marriages still in play — A clash between the House and the Senate is putting legislation that aims to end forced child marriages in a tough spot. While the bill is very much alive, legislators that led the effort in their chambers are working together to see what the next step will be. The Florida House voted this week to allow a court to issue a marriage license to 16- and 17-year-olds in cases when there is a pregnancy. Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto and the entire Senate want a ban on all underage marriages. Benacquisto said she is “concerned” that the House proposal may not close all loopholes that could lead to forced child marriages in the state. She said she will continue to work with Rep. Jeanette Nunez to weigh all options for the bill.

Fixing voter-restoration process — After a federal judge said the state’s current voter-restoration system is unconstitutional, the state fought back and said Gov. Scott and the Cabinet should be tasked with fixing its flaws —  not the courts. But a national voting rights advocacy group that convinced the judge to strike down the current process said the court should restore voting rights to all felons who complete any “waiting period” set by the state. Currently, the state has a five-year waiting period before a former felon can apply to have their voting rights restored.

A hyped-up immigration debate — After days of tweeting back and forth, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum and House Speaker Corcoran met face-to-face to debate the sanctuary city issue that has taken over the governor’s race. The 45-minute debate centered on Corcoran’s $1.4 million television ad that portraying immigrants who entered the country illegally as a danger to Floridians and HB 9, a proposal that threatens local officials who do not fully comply with federal immigration authorities with removal from office and fines. Corcoran and Gillum advocated for polar opposite sides on the issue — as expected. But both fed their base supporters, which would make it a win for both try to boost their name recognition statewide.

Scott gives update on response to Parkland school shooting

The day after 17 died in a mass shooting at Marjory Douglas High School, Gov. Scott listed off what state agencies are doing to help the survivors.

The Florida Department of Education and the Florida Department of Children and Families through its local managing entity, Broward Behavioral Health Coalition, are providing grief counseling in the area. DOE has also put the Florida Association of School Psychologists on standby if more counselors are needed.

Rick Scott speaks to the media outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Attorney General Pam Bondi is also on the scene with her director of victim services and approximately a dozen victim advocates. The office is also offering counseling services and funeral, burial and medical expenses for victims and their families.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Florida Highway Patrol are assisting the Broward County Sheriff’s Office with the investigation.

The state Department of Health is also on call to help the Broward County medical examiner, while OneBlood is working to meet the blood donation needs of the victims. The agency said O negative blood is needed to replenish the area’s supply.

Senators ask Negron to convene school safety task force

Sens. Rene Garcia and Anitere Flores sent a letter Friday to Senate President Negron asking him to “immediately convene” a task force that would find comprehensive solutions to “protect our students and teacher from violence.”

“The task force should consider reviewing the following issues, mental health, access to care, funding and treatment options,” they write.

Lawmakers call on Senate President Joe Negron to convene a school safety task force.

Both Miami Republicans want a task force to explore review issues of mental health treatment options as well as options for hiring former military and police officers to secure schools.

The findings collected by the task force would provide a “framework for action” by the governor and the Legislature.

“We should not allow the inaction of our Federal partners to be the cause of our inaction in addressing the issues of violence in our schools and our community,” the letter states. “The time for action is now.”

Senators visit Floridians affected by school shooting

Senate President Negron, Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon and Sens. Lauren Book and Gary Farmer went to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Wednesday to meet with those affected by the tragedy.

The senators visited Broward Health where they met with medical personnel responsible for treating shooting victims. They also met with Broward County School Superintendent Robert Runcie and the Broward County Sheriff’s Office.

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel with Broward County Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie and Gov. Rick Scott.

The pictures and video I viewed previously did not prepare us for the horrendous sight we viewed today at Stoneman Douglas,” Negron said. That horrific scene of one person’s destruction was a stark contrast to the heroism and hope we encountered during our meeting with the doctors and other medical personnel.”

Negron said he is committed to pushing legislation that will give $100 million in funding for mental health services, improve the safety and security of state schools and ensure that a person suffering from a mental health issue does not have the ability to purchase a firearm.

“I look forward to visiting Parkland again to share with the community the progress we have made toward preventing a tragedy like this from ever happening again,” Negron said.

Gibson, Berman want gun bills heard in 2018 Legislative Session

In the wake of the Parkland school shooting Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to Senate President Negron and House Speaker Corcoran imploring them to consider a proposal that would allow guns to be temporarily confiscated from owners who pose a threat to themselves or others.

HB 231 and SB 530, sponsored by Lantana Rep. Lori Berman and Jacksonville Sen. Audrey Gibson, would allow family, friends, teachers or law enforcement officers to get a court order to temporarily remove a firearm if there is evidence that a person poses a significant danger to themselves or others because of a mental health crisis or violent behavior.

“Now more than ever, these bills must be heard. The most recent shooting is unacceptable and too tragic to comprehend. It is time we step up and come together to act on meaningful gun safety reform,” Berman said. “As a mother, my heart breaks for these families. There are no words to describe the horror of a child not returning home from school. Florida needs to set an example for the rest of the nation by not just demanding action but taking action.”

The bills are based off a Washington state law. Similar measures have passed in California, Oregon, Indiana, and Connecticut.

Instagram of the week

Florida picks up another $10 million in Israeli bonds

CFO Jimmy Patronis presents a $10 million check to Israel Bonds representatives.

CFO Jimmy Patronis announced this week that Florida is increasing its stake in Israeli bonds by $10 million this year, bringing the Sunshine State’s total investment to $50 million.

“During a time when our nation is criticized and attacked for moving our embassy to Jerusalem, it’s incredibly important to signal to the world that we stand firmly with the State of Israel,” Patronis said.

“Israel’s economy has seen significant growth over the years including expanded development in the high-tech industry. Increasing our investment in Israel by $10 million this year not only provides a good return on investment but strengthens our relationship. The interests of Israel will always be the interests of the United States, and this unprecedented investment further cements us as friends, allies and economic partners.”

Patronis decided to increase Florida’s investment after discussions with Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and other representatives, including Israel Bonds President Israel Maimon. The move gives Florida the third largest stake in the State of Israel among U.S. states.

Conservative activist seeks constitutional fix to abortion issue

John Stemberger is telling supporters their “voice is needed at one of the four upcoming historic hearings of the 2017-2018 Florida Constitution Revision Commission (CRC).”

The commission, in the process of rewriting parts of the state constitution, announced the second round of public hearings on their work, in Melbourne on Feb. 19, Jacksonville on Feb. 20, Pensacola on Feb. 27, and St. Petersburg on March 13.

CRC member John Stemberger wants to amend the constitution close a loophole allowing some abortions.

The panel now has 37 proposals under review for possible addition to the state’s governing document. That doesn’t include one favored by Stemberger, an Orlando attorney who sits on the commission and leads the conservative Florida Family Policy Council. Proposal 22 was voted down by other commissioners.

It’s “designed to fix our state constitution’s privacy clause and require the Florida Supreme Court to interpret it in accordance with the original intent of the Legislature (which placed it on the ballot) and the people who adopted it,” he told supporters in an email this week. “Florida’s privacy clause was intended for informational privacy and not for abortion.”

Stemberger and others have urged the commission to amend the constitution to undo a 1989 Florida Supreme Court decision striking down as unconstitutional a state law that required parental consent before a minor can get an abortion. Opponents complain that the constitutional provision at issue, the right to privacy, was misconstrued to apply to abortion rights instead of a right to “informational privacy” against the government.

“If 15 CRC members vote to revive the proposal, the matter can still be heard and voted on by the entire commission,” Stemberger said.

“The first public hearing in this second round of CRC hearings occurred this past week in Fort Lauderdale, one of the most liberal cities in the state,” he added. “The forum was packed with what appeared to be 500-600 people who were very hostile to life, parental rights and school choice.

“During the hearing, opponents were very rude, disruptive and did not respect the Chairman’s repeated requests to be civil and not cheer, clap, or otherwise disrupt the forum or another speaker’s time. Citizens who support life, parental rights, life and school choice need to attend these upcoming hearings and present better, respectful, more persuasive (not to mention truthful) arguments to this historic commission.”

The 37-member panel convenes every 20 years. Any changes it ultimately approves still must go on the 2018 statewide ballot and gain 60 percent approval to be added to the constitution.

DOH wants Floridians to show their heart some love

The Florida Department of Health said this week that Floridians should treat Valentine’s Day as a reminder to live a heart-healthy life.

DOH and the American Heart Association recognize February as a time to help Americans focus on making changes to their lifestyle in order to combat heart disease, the leading cause of death in Florida and the country.

“This month, take some time to show your heart extra love — if you take care of your heart, your heart will take care of you,” DOH Secretary Celeste Philip said. “Heart disease remains a threat to too many Floridians, and almost half of adults in America have high blood pressure. But there are many ways to reduce your risk for high blood pressure and heart disease, such as making smart food choices, staying active and getting 7-9 hours of sleep a night.”

DOH’s recommendations for keeping hearts fit are 150 minutes of exercise a week, regular visits to the doctor for preventive screenings, and a healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Smokers can also greatly decrease their risk of heart disease by quitting, and Tobacco Free Florida is willing to lend a helping hand for those ready to make the change.

Child Safety Alarm Act clears first committee

A bill by Orlando Democratic Sen. Linda Stewart that aims to crack down on children being left in hot daycare vehicles cleared its first committee this week with a unanimous vote.

“This is a bipartisan effort to keep our children safe,” Stewart said. “We need to be doing everything we can to try to prevent our most precious cargo from being left in hot vans and I look forward to the same vote outcome at the Transportation Committee.”

Three-year-old Myles Hill.

Stewart filed the bill after the 2017 death of 3-year-old Myles Hill, who was left unattended in a daycare van for 12 hours in the scorching summer heat.

SB 486 would require vehicles used by day care facilities to be outfitted with an alarm system that reminds drivers to check the car for children before leaving the vehicle. The bill is expected to be taken up next for a vote in the Senate Transportation Committee, followed by the Rules Committee before it’s ready for the Senate floor.

A similar bill in the House, HB 305, has been filed by Orlando Democratic Rep. Bruce Antone but has not yet been heard in committee.

Plakon gives the ultimate Valentine’s Day present

Some give flowers, others give chocolates. But state Rep. Scott Plakon gets tattoos for Valentine’s Day.

“I just got a tattoo. Really. I’m not kidding. A real one,” Plakon wrote in a Facebook post.

 

Plakon got a tattoo with the purple Alzheimer’s Awareness ribbon and a daisy in honor of his wife Susie, whose favorite flower is the daisy and was diagnosed with Alzheimer.

“As I’ve shared before,” he said, “my new life’s mission is to help bring more awareness to the reality of Alzheimer’s disease. What better way to make it permanent than to get a tattoo?”

The Seminole County Republican said he went to the tattoo parlor on his way home from Tallahassee. He stopped at Infamous Tattoos in Leesburg.

“Sort of an unusual gift but Happy Valentine’s Day, Susie Plakon!” he wrote.

Scott Plakon and tattoo artist SP.
Scott Plakon’s new ink.

COA group praises Senate for ‘Condo Cleanup Bill’ vote

A bill by Sen. Kathleen Passidomo that would patch up a number of cracks in 2017 legislation aimed at reforming condominium owners association rules cleared its second Senate panel this week, much to the delight of association group Chief Executive Officers of Management Companies.

“Last year, the Florida Legislature passed a number of needed reforms that instructed Associations what to do but not how to implement those reforms,” said CEOMC Executive Director and Lobbyist Mark Anderson.

“SB 1274 is essentially the instruction manual of how to properly implement those important reforms while protecting our Associations and homeowners from unintended higher costs. We are pleased to see this legislation moving quickly and appreciate the leadership of Senator Passidomo.”

The “Condo Cleanup Bill,” makes clear how long COAs must keep official records, such as vote tallies or contract bids, on hand for unit owners. It also requires larger complexes to post certain records online and clarifies financial reporting requirements for complexes based on their annual revenues.

The bill now moves on to the Rules Committee, its final stop before it’s ready for the chamber floor.

Rhodes Roberts named 2017 Woman of the Year in Agriculture

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam announced this week that has been picked as the “Woman of the Year in Agriculture” for 2017.

At the Food Foresight panel during the Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit in Orlando, from left: Elliott Grant, Martha Rhodes Roberts, Teresa Siles and Kerry Tucker.

“Florida’s robust agriculture industry would not be as bright as it is today without the dedication and service of individuals such as Dr. Roberts,” Putnam said. “I’m honored to present Dr. Roberts with the 2017 Woman of the Year in Agriculture award.”

Roberts spent 35 years working for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, beginning in 1968, where she championed policy changes for the advancement of Florida’s agriculture industry, trade and production practices.

In 1984, Roberts became the first woman in the United States to serve as an Assistant Commissioner of Agriculture.

After leaving DACS, Roberts spent 13 years as Director of Industry Relations and then as Special Assistant for Government Affairs for the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

FSU dedicates memorial honoring Navy hero

Florida State University dedicated a memorial this week to Lt. Cmdr. Scott Speicher, a Navy pilot and FSU alumnus who was killed during the Persian Gulf War.

FSU President John Thrasher and a member of the Speicher family spoke at the dedication, which was part of Military Appreciation Weekend at the university.

Years after his death, Scott Speicher is memorialized at FSU.

The memorial features a bronze helmet similar to what Speicher would have worn and included a black granite pedestal, bronze plaque and his name. The memorial is part of an exterior face-lift to the Scott Speicher Tennis Center, located at the intersection of Chieftain Way and Spirit Way.

The center, completed in 2003, was named after Speicher due to his love of the sport.

FSU women’s tennis coach Jennifer Hyde said she and members of the team were excited and proud to be a part of the dedication.

“I think it’s very important for our student-athletes to pause and appreciate the namesake behind this facility,” Hyde said. “This new memorial honoring Scott Speicher and his family recognizes that we would not be able to live the lives we have without the commitment of our military members, who protect our freedoms and way of life.”

Speicher was shot down over Iraq in 1991 on the first night of Operation Desert Storm. He was listed as missing for nearly two decades until United States Marines discovered the crash site and his remains in 2009. He was the first American combat casualty in the Persian Gulf War.

New cruise line to build headquarters in Florida

The Sunshine State is once again proving to be an ideal location for businesses.

Virgin Voyages, a new cruise company by the global Virgin brands, announced this week that it will house its headquarters in Plantation. The move is expected to bring 300 new jobs to Broward County and an investment of $15.9 million into the local economy.

Virgin Voyages will soon be headquartered in Plantation.

The state played an integral role in securing Virgin Voyages’ headquarters, coordinating with local ordinances and articulating the strength of Broward County’s diverse, educated and multicultural workforce, infrastructure, quality of life, proximity to major seaports and a competitive tax and business environment — all of which were cited by the new cruise line as reasons for placing its headquarters in Plantation.

“As a top tourism destination, the gateway to Latin America and one of the most business-friendly states, Florida is the best place for Virgin Voyages’ new headquarters,” said Gov. Scott, who has made it a priority to bring jobs to the state during his tenure.

The news capped a great week for Florida’s economy. On the same day of the Virgin Voyages announcement, aerospace powerhouse Lockheed Martin told Floridians it would be expanding in the Orlando area, creating 500 new jobs.

Now for this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:

Day after school shooting, Senate panel sets hearing for gun bill

A day after 17 people were gunned down at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Republican Sen. Greg Steube scheduled a hearing for a gun bill he is co-sponsoring that would allow school officials to designate certain people to carry concealed weapons on campus.

School principals and school district superintendents would be able to choose one or more people to bring concealed weapons to campus for security measures if they go through a criminal background check and training.

Under the bill (SB 1236)  filed by Sen. Dennis Baxley, the designee is not required to undergo a mental health evaluation, an issue that took center stage in the Senate in the wake of the mass shooting.

Senate President Joe Negron on Thursday said his focus is on boosting funding for mental health services and counseling at schools as well as campus security.

“In general, President Negron supports increased funding and resources for local school boards to enhance security in our schools,” said Katie Betta, a Senate spokeswoman. “This includes a local option to utilizing specially-trained school personnel to enhance security and keep our students safe.”

Betta, though, said that did not mean Negron was backing the bill. Negron’s top two lieutenants, Sens. Bill Galvano and Wilton Simpson, however, are opposed to the bill moving forward, according to POLITICO Florida.

The bill is up for consideration next Tuesday in Senate Judiciary, which has blocked gun legislation in the past because of two deciding Republican votes: Rene Garcia and Anitere Flores. Most recently the two Miami Republicans were wary of another gun bill sponsored by Baxley, which would in certain cases allow guns in religious institution with schools attached to them.

A companion bill in the House, sponsored by Republican state Rep. Bob Rommel, is in its second of three committee stops before it can hit the full floor.

Philip Levine wants ‘immediate policy changes’ on gun laws

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine wrote Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron on Thursday, urging a commitment to gun control measures in the wake of the Parkland massacre Wednesday.

“We need more than thoughts and prayers — we need immediate policy changes that can have an immediate deterrence of these tragic incidents,” Levine wrote.

Levine, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for Governor, saw a primary opponent (Gwen Graham) issue her own calls for gun control measures.

Levine goes farther in terms of policy recommendations than Graham does.

He calls for a reversal of state laws pre-empting local gun bans, a ban on semi-automatic and assault rifles, fast background checks, and a review of mental health funding.

Levine’s letter references a 2016 resolution passed by Miami Beach that calls for a statewide assault weapons ban, while also calling for the end of pre-emption of local gun bans.

The “Legislature’s endless obsession with pre-empting local mayors and city commissioners from enacting sensible policies in their local communities has tied the hands of those who are closest to the people,” Levine writes.

Levine also references “legislation making its way through our legislative session that would weaken background checks, allow guns on college campuses and efforts to weaponize our schools. These policies are simply disgusting and only serve to undermine our public safety.”

“I urge you to immediately suspend the above-referenced legislation from moving forward in Tallahassee and redirect efforts to swiftly enact sensible and responsible gun reforms this year,” Levine writes.

Adam Putnam asks for delay on gun license-background check bill

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam on Thursday said he was asking lawmakers to postpone a measure including language that would allow his department to issue concealed weapon licenses without complete criminal background information.

But Putnam, also a Republican candidate for governor, did not say whether he asked for the provision to be withdrawn from the bills.

The announcement came the same day a 19-year-old man was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder after he opened fire at his former high school in Broward County, according to law enforcement. Fourteen others were wounded Wednesday afternoon at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

“I mourn, along with the rest of the country, for those who lost their lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High and their loved ones, and out of respect for their families and those suffering as a result of this tragedy, I’m working with bill sponsors to postpone consideration of the legislative proposal related to the licensing process,” Putnam said in a statement.

The language (HB 553, SB 740) was tucked into the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ annual legislative package. Putnam’s department grants permission for concealed carry in the state.

The Senate bill, sponsored by Lakeland Republican Kelli Stargel, was scheduled to be heard in the Appropriations Committee Thursday; the House version, carried by Lithia Republican Jake Raburn, is cleared for the floor.

Under current law, if the Department’s Division of Licensing has to “issue or deny” a concealed-carry permit within 90 days of application, according to a bill analysis. If it does not have an applicant’s complete criminal background check, it can “suspend” the time limitation until it gets a full report.

The new language would “require” the division to issue a concealed weapon license within 90 days, even with incomplete background information, “in the absence of disqualifying information,” the analysis says. “However, such license must be immediately suspended and revoked upon receipt of disqualifying information.”

Putnam added that the “shooter would not have even been eligible for a concealed weapon license and clearly had a troubled past that indicated serious mental health issues.”

“The focus now should be on mental health and how we protect our children,” he said. “All of us have an obligation to notify authorities when we see the behavior that this killer exhibited online and in school.”

Senate President Joe Negron, in a Thursday press conference, said he was not sure whether the background check provision will be removed from the Senate bill.

“That will be a decision that will be made” by the sponsors, he told reporters.

In wake of Parkland shooting, Senate focuses on mental health funding

As the country grapples with the aftermath of a high school mass shooting in Broward County, Senate President Joe Negron said Thursday the upper chamber will be focused on boosting funding for mental health and campus security — not gun control.

“I think that the key for me — and what I am focusing on — is making sure that people who have mental instabilities or mental health issues don’t have access to firearms,” Negron told reporters.

When asked about measures that have stalled in the Legislature that would limit access to semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines, Negron said that is not the Senate’s focus. The suspected gunman, Nikolas Cruz, was armed with an AR-15 rifle that was legally purchased in the state.

“My focus is on making sure that lawful citizens who are obeying the law and are entitled to their constitutional rights have appropriate access to firearms,” he said.

Offering their “thoughts and prayers” for the victims, incoming Senate President Bill Galvano and Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson echoed Negron’s priorities and said he is asking senators to support an $100 million in funding for mental health screening, counseling and training, and the “hardening” of Florida schools.

“It’s imperative that a portion of this allocation goes toward ensuring that we have the necessary number of armed resource officers at our schools across Florida,” Galvano said. “We must identity where the gaps exist and immediately work to fill them.”

“Sen. Galvano and I have had some preliminary discussions about that,” Senate Appropriations Committee chair Rob Bradley said Thursday. “Right now, the Senate is at $40 million … reorienting monies to make that higher is something we need to take seriously. Our school facilities should be appropriately hardened.”

When asked about state gun control legislation, he added: “The federal government has restrictions on a lot of these specific types of weapons … It’s a 50-state problem. But there should not be any sacred cows. OK?

“I’m a strong Second Amendment supporter. I always have been. I believe it is a fundamental right under the Constitution. But I also think the Constitution does not guarantee a mentally ill person the right to have a weapon.”

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said there was an armed officer on duty at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School at the time of the deadly shooting, but the officer never encountered the suspect.

“We are working today to immediately identify and direct funding to hardening our schools and provide for armed resource officers on every campus for safety and prevention,” Simpson said.

Meanwhile, legislation that would have loosened the application process for concealed weapon permits has snarled in the Senate due to the “timing” and “sensitivity” of the recent tragedy, Negron said.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam   who has called himself a “proud NRA sellout”  worked to tuck language into an agriculture-related bill that would allow permits to be processed even when there is an incomplete background check on a person.

The proposal was scheduled for a hearing Thursday, but was postponed due to the shooting. Whether it will be heard again, Negron said, is up to the bill sponsor, Sen. Kelli Stargel.

As Senate leadership pushes for these issues, a bipartisan group of House members has sent a letter to House Speaker Richard Corcoran asking to match the funding proposed by the chamber that would go to school safety and mental health services.

“Currently, the Senate has proposed that the Safe Schools allocation be increased by about $14 million while in the House no increase is being proposed within the current budget,” the letter states. “In addition, the Senate has proposed $40 million toward mental health for schools, while the House has proposed no specific appropriations for mental health care in schools.”

Capital correspondent Jim Rosica contributed to this post.

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