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22 posts from April 30, 2013

April 30, 2013

Legislature passes bill to save infants born in failed abortions

For the first time in two years, an abortion-related bill has passed both legislative houses and it is headed to the governor, who has already indicated his praise of a bill that focuses on infants born alive after a failed abortion.
The Senate passed the House version (HB 1129), by a vote of 38-0 on Tuesday without any debate. The House bill, sponsored by Rep. Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park, passed that chamber by a vote of 119-0 on April 17. The Senate companion was sponsored by Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami.
The bill has had rare bipartisan support. Even Planned Parenthood withdrew its opposition early on after a provision severing parental rights was removed.The measure requires health providers to give any infant born alive emergency medical care or face criminal penalties. The bill requires that cases of live births following an abortion attempt be reported.

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Bill to sever parental rights of rapists ready for governor

A bill that will sever the parental rights of  a rapist if a child is conceived as a result of the attack, passed the House on Tuesday by a vote of 115-0. The bill (SB 964), sponsored by Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Wellington, is now headed to Gov. Rick Scott.
Current law allows for the court to terminate a parent's right if the termination is in the best interest of the child but does not include rape as grounds for termination of parental rights.
  Rep. Dave Kerner, D-Lake Worth, sponsor of the House companion bill, said that "it's important to bring our laws into conformity with the 21st century." But "the fact that we would allow a father, a rapist, to petition the court for parental rights, and that court would not have the authority to not grant the petition under our current statuatory law is deplorable quite frankly."
  Kerner, an attorney, former Lake Worth police officer and special prosecutor, said he believes the bill can do more than modernize the law.

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No new access road for FIU's Biscayne Bay Campus

Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Miami, was on a mission Tuesday.

The former Senate president pushed to amend a broad transportation bill so that Florida International University would be able to build a second access road into its Biscayne Bay campus.

FIU says the road is necessary to safely evacuate the campus and two nearby public schools: David Lawrence Jr. K-8 and Alonzo and Tracy Mourning High. But the City of North Miami had blocked the move, saying it would damage the adjacent nature preserve.

"This is a safety issue," Margolis said when making the pitch to Senate Democrats at a Tuesday morning meeting. "They need a second entrance."

The full Senate failed to see it her way. They defeated the amendment in a voice vote.

Mixed feelings on the parent trigger vote

Quite a few press releases went out after the Florida Senate killed the parent trigger bill on Tuesday. Here's a sampling.

Bob McClure, president and CEO of the James Madison Institute: "Many Florida parents whose children are assigned to a chronically failing school have been seeking better options. Unfortunately, the state Senate’s failure to pass parent empowerment legislation has denied these parents a remedy that is already available in several other states. As a result, too many of Florida’s children will be left behind in situations that stifle their academic growth and limit their future opportunities. Clearly the state has missed an opportunity to do what is in the best interest of these children. We hope that the Florida legislature will reconsider and choose to empower parents with the additional options necessary to provide their kids a fighting chance for a better future."

StudentsFirst Florida Director Nikki Lowrey: “Failing to pass the Parental Empowerment Bill means another year that hundreds of children in Florida will be trapped in schools that are failing them. Absolutely no parent should be forced to send their child every day into a failing school without a choice for finding a better education. Kids from low-income and minority families need a legislative solution to deliver equal access to the education they deserve, and this bill would have been that remedy. Despite this grim outcome, I would like to thank the legislators who stood boldly on their convictions for children, and supported this measure. StudentsFirst would also like to thank the thousands of parents, educators, and concerned citizens who made their voices heard in the face of hostile opposition. We pledge to stand tall beside them and demand equal access to a quality education for all of Florida’s kids.”

Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami: “As a teacher and advocate for our Florida students, I’m thrilled that Democrats and Republicans came together to bring this bill to a close.”

Florida Education Association President Andy Ford: “The parent trigger measure is a political device created by venture capitalists looking to rapidly expand for-profit charter school chains. Major parent groups in Florida opposed this bill. This bill depends on professional lobbyists and outside forces to use marketing forces to persuade parents in a challenged school to transfer a valuable public asset from the jurisdiction of an elected school board into the hands of a corporation.”

Patricia Levesque, executive director of the Foundation for Florida's Future: “The choice today was simple, do you believe parents deserve a seat at the table or not. Senator Thrasher said it best, Parent Empowerment is about trusting parents. We are grateful for the 20 Senators and 68 House members who trust parents and voted to include them in the decision-making process on how to improve failing schools.”

Bill to replace 'mental retardation' with 'intellectual disabilities' sent to Governor

Brittany Norman, a 25-year-old Tallahassee woman with down syndrome, had a message for Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday: "Sign the bill." She was referring to SB 142, which replaces the words mental retardation with intellectual disability in state law. Norman was in the House gallery when the bill passed by a vote of 119-0 -- it already clinched a unanimous vote in the Senate so it's headed to the governor.

Norman said she hopes changing the word in state law will help change the names people call her. She wiped away tears as she recalled being called "retard" and "ugly." 

"It makes me sad," she said.

Norman was one of several people with disabilities who spoke in legislative committees to support the bill. Seeing such support made her feel "happy," Norman said.

Michele Poole, president of The Arc of Florida said federal health, education and labor policy statutes were changed in 2010 when Congress passed and President Obama signed Rosa’s Law. Thirty-nine other states have made similar changes to their state laws.

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Thurston explains the Dems' stalling tactic: drastic attention needed to health insurance

House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston issued the following statement about deliberations in the Florida House of Representatives:

“With the support of the 44-member House Democratic Caucus, today I have begun the extraordinary procedural step of requesting that every bill that comes before the Florida House of Representatives be read in full. 

“By purposefully slowing deliberations at this critical juncture, I and other House Democratic Caucus members seek to bring greater public attention to our desire for legislative passage of the health coverage expansion plan that the Florida Senate approved earlier today. Specifically, I have applauded the Senate’s bipartisan approval of House Bill 7169 as revised to include a Senate plan authored by state Sen. Joe Negron (R-Stuart) that would accept federal funds for health coverage expansion.

 “It’s unfortunate that we have had to take such unusual action today, but my Democratic colleagues and I believe that a drastic situation requires drastic tactics. The 1.2 million people who can be provided medical coverage under proposed legislation may not be aware of what’s transpiring in Tallahassee. Today, I want them to know that the 44-member House Democratic Caucus stands in support of them.

 “In addition to the procedural moves that we are taking in the Florida House to draw public attention to the plight of Floridians needing health coverage, I have also urged Governor Rick Scott to be prepared to call a special session for passage of a health coverage expansion plan and to consider vetoing the state budget.

House rejects attempts to repeal nuke fees

The Florida House rejected attempts to repeal a controversial state law that allows the state’s utility companies to charge customers for nuclear power plant development in advance of construction and passed a plan to limit how much they could collect.

The Republican led House modified a Senate plan, SB 1472, to add new hurdles to the unpopular nuclear cost recovery act but voted down  amendments that would have required the companies to disclose how much of the monthly bill was going into the planning costs among other amendments. They also rejected an amendment to put the so-called "nuclear cost recovery act" to a voter referendu, an amendment that would ban any development on a nuclear plant until there is a permanent disposal site for nuclear waste, and an amendment to repeal the proposal.

The final bill is not expected to make any sweeping change that will effect the average customer bills in the short run. Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy currently charge customers monthly to pay for their planning and development costs for two projected nuclear power plants.

Since the act took effect in 2006, FPL customers have paid $500 million to pay for improvements on the company's existing nuclear plants and plans to build a new reaction at Turkey Point. Progress Energy, which has since been acquired by Duke Energy, has charged customers more than $1 billion. Both companies were able to keep 10.5 percent of the money recovered under the statute in profits. 

A final vote on the bill is expected later this week. 

Senate kills Weatherford top priority of pension overhaul

After months of calling pension reform a top priority in his inaugural year as Florida House speaker, Will Weatherford could do nothing Tuesday as his plan went down to defeat in the Senate.
A third of Senate Republicans joined Democrats in voting 22-18 against an amendment that would have banned new state workers, teachers and county workers from joining the state’s $132 billion pension system, and steer them instead toward private, 401(k)-style investment plans, shifting the risk from taxpayers to workers.
“One of the reasons they work for government is not for the salary,” said Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. “They haven’t had raises in six or seven years. It’s for the pension and if we want to continue to have the quality of employees that we have, we need to continue to offer that pension.”
The setback came at the exact moment Weatherford, 33, faced a filibuster on the House floor among Democrats who wanted to draw attention to the House’s refusal to tap federal dollars to give health care coverage to 1 million uninsured Floridians.
“You always know you’re never going to get everything you asked for,” Weatherford said late Tuesday. “It came up a little bit short, but it was a great debate and I’m grateful to the Senate for giving it an opportunity to be heard.”
Weatherford has made much of his concern that the Florida pension system, which is about 86.9 percent funded, poses a dangerous risk to state finances. It’s a concern he shares with the Florida Chamber of Commerce the James Madison Institute, a Tallahassee libertarian think tank. Weatherford’s father-in-law, former House Speaker Allan Bense, sits on the boards for both.
But Weatherford couldn’t convince members of his own party in the Senate that the pension system should be closed down to new employees. Instead, he got a forceful and emotional pushback from Latvala, a frequent sparring partner, who argued the pension serves as a reliable pillar for lowly paid workers.
During a memorable floor debate, Latvala welled up as he told the story of two firefighters near Lake City, Brett Felton and Josh Burch, who perished in 2011 fighting a blaze. They made about $26,000, he said.
“That’s barely the federal poverty level,” Latvala said. “They worked for their pension. One firefighter’s family was able to collect the survivor’s benefit, and he was in his 20s, and his family collects $1,200 a month. That’s what’s left of their dad. That’s what’s left of their husband.
“I do not understand why we want to experiment around and why we want to take these people who are protecting us every single day and put them in a system just because it works in private business,” Latvala said, pointing out that those in the private sector aren’t risking their lives for the public good.
Republicans joining Latvala’s insurrection were Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, a former sheriff; Nancy Detert, R-Venice; Miguel Diaz de La Portilla, R-Miami; Greg Evers, R-Baker; Anitere Flores, R-Miami; Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring; and John Legg, R-Trinity.
Latvala openly acknowledged what other Republican leaders in the Senate would not: Weatherford had demanded the vote.
“We all know this is the speaker’s priority for the year,” Latvala said during debate, addressing his comments to Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville. “We all know the speaker asked for an up-and-down vote on this, and that’s what we’re doing. I appreciate very much your commitment, Mr. President, that once we do this up-and-down vote, once it’s down, it goes away and we get on with other business that we have.”
Minutes after the vote, Latvala explained that Gaetz promised him that once Weatherford got a Senate vote, the issue wouldn’t come up again this year.
“Sometimes you’re the dog, sometimes you’re the hydrant,” he said. “I’ve been telling Will for two or three months that he didn’t have the votes over here, Now he sees it, black and white.”
Gaetz would not confirm that he had made such a promise.
“Well, I guess if Sen. Latvala said it, it must be true,” Gaetz told reporters.
After the failed amendment vote, Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, decided the overall bill, SB 1392. Unlike Weatherford’s preference to require new employees to enroll in private investment plans, Simpson’s bill only encouraged them to do so while still allowing them to enroll in the pension system. But after the vote against Weatherford’s measure, Simpson gave up.
“There’s no support for it in the House,” Simpson said.
“It’s dead.”

Scott: 'Ridiculous' for Legislature to drag feet on tax cut

Gov. Rick Scott fired back at legislative leaders Tuesday for not embracing his call to eliminate the sales tax on manufacturing
equipment, one of his two priorities in the 2013 session.

With frustration evident in his voice, Scott said he believed he had agreement with legislative leaders to repeal the tax for a three-year period. Neither the Senate president nor the House speaker would confirm that Monday night.

"I don't know what they're saying now. They'll have to explain that," Scott said. "It would be ridiculous not to cut taxes in a year when we have a budget surplus."

Scott went on to say: "They have to explain what they meant. I know that we had an agreement, a three-year agreement."

An analysis says repeal of the tax would result in a loss of about $140 million in sales tax revenue to the state, cities and counties. The budget before lawmakers is $74.5 billion, and is about $4 billion higher than current spending.

Scott didn't stop there: He directly criticized the Legislature for writing a budget that includes a 3 percent tuition increase on in-state students. To Scott, raising tuition is the same as raising taxes, which he also called "ridiculous."

Senate President Don Gaetz's spokeswoman, Katie Betta, said Gaetz was reluctant to say the deal on the tax cut was final because nothing was yet in writing.

The Republican governor has until midnight Wednesday to act on three major bills involving alimony, ethics and
campaign finances. All three are legislative priorities.

"I'm reviewing the bills. I'm going to make the right decision for 19.2 million Floridians," Scott said. "I don't look at this as politics. I look at this as, how do you take care of people in our state?"

-- Steve Bousquet

Crist: Governor should force Legislature to keep working on Medicaid expansion

Add former and potential future Gov. Charlie Crist among the people behind the Senate's Medicaid expansion alternative. He posted a rant on his Facebook page today criticizing House Republicans for failing to embrace Sen. Joe Negron's proposal, which would qualify for $51 billion federal dollars to insure 1 million Floridians.

If he were governor, Crist writes, he would force the Legislature to keep working until they got it done. Ball's in your court, Gov. Rick Scott.

From Crist's Facebook page:

It is really disappointing to watch the Legislature, particularly the Florida House of Representatives put ideology over the health care needs of working uninsured Floridians. The plan the Florida Senate has designed will build on one of the best public private health care partnerships in America, KidCare, and would provide more than 1 million working uninsured Floridians access to real private health insurance.

I know one thing, if this debate had happened during my term as Governor, the Legislature and I would have spent all summer in Tallahassee until we had done the right thing by the people that we all serve.