Statewide Archives - Page 3 of 719 - SaintPetersBlog

Emily Slosberg’s personal, uphill battle for tougher texting laws

Twenty-one years after a car crash that took her twin sister’s life, Emily Slosberg is continuing the fight to make Florida roads safer.

Slosberg, the state representative and daughter of longtime Democratic state lawmaker Irv Slosberg, has picked up her father’s crusade on driver’s safety by championing stronger texting while driving laws statewide.

As reported by WTSP 10Investigates, the issue is deeply personal for both Emily and Irv Slosberg,

On Feb. 23, 1996, seven teenagers between the ages of 13 and 15 — including Emily and Dori Slosberg — had been riding in the back seat of a 1995 Honda Civic. In the front seat were a 19-year-old and 17-year-old.

After the car had swerved to miss an oncoming car, the Honda hit a pole and slammed into another vehicle. Five of the teens were killed, others suffered severe spinal injuries. Emily Slosberg spent 10 days in the hospital and missed her sister’s funeral.

Irv Slosberg, who first came to the Florida House in 2000, passed a mandatory seat belt bill in 2009 — the Dori Slosberg and Katie Marchetti Safety Belt Law — signed by then-Gov. Charlie Crist. Slosberg was also one of first to advocate stronger texting laws in Florida, first enacted in 2013.

Emily Slosberg, CEO of the Dori Slosberg Foundation, is now a Democrat representing District 91, the seat her father held since 2012 and had given up in 2016 for an unsuccessful Senate run.

Emily seeks to continue what her father started.

“We have an epidemic on the roads,” she told WTSP. “I believe that texting and driving, distracted driving, is a major cause of driving fatalities.”

Slosberg said that she is not looking to replace Florida’s existing texting while driving law but to strengthen it.

Current Florida law puts texting while driving as a secondary offense — law enforcement cannot pull a driver over for texting only, and can only do so when they are committing another traffic violation. Even then, a texting ticket is only $20.

Initially, Slosberg sought to use a creative tactic to change the law, by attempting to introduce a bill making texting and driving a primary offense in her Palm Beach County district (known as a “municipality bill”), effectively sidestepping the state law restrictions that consider it a secondary offense.

Slosberg, however, faced stiff opposition from influential members of the Legislature — including some from her own delegation.

“She said on the night she planned to present her bill to her colleagues,” write Donovan Myrie and Noah Pransky of WTSP. “State Sen. Bobby Powell, the chair of the local Palm County delegation, blocked her from speaking to her colleagues. Slosberg was forced to make her presentation during public testimony, and in her words, leadership attempted to ‘add insult to injury’ by adjourning before she had a chance to speak.”

Slosberg also faced a legal challenge for her municipality bill, when Dawn Wynn, the senior assistant attorney for Palm Beach County, issued an opinion (at Powell’s request) confirming that “traffic laws shall be uniform throughout the state” and reinforcing that texting and driving is a secondary offense.

Republicans, many with a Libertarian lean, were also resistant to the idea.

What’s more, Powell suggested making texting while driving a primary offense could have racial overtones — saying that additional laws give law enforcement another opportunity to profile African-Americans and Hispanics.

Despite that, Slosberg stays undeterred, and progress could be coming, although not soon enough for many.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran — typically opposed to greater government intervention — told 10Investigates he will consider a workshop of the issue which could include a national study by Florida’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA). That would result in legislative recommendations in late 2017, and the issue of distracted driving would return for the 2018 Session. If passed, tougher laws in Florida could come as soon as summer 2018.

Joe Negron says no to House’s proposed ‘continuation budget’ as talks stall

Senate President Joe Negron has rejected a House proposal to settle some $4 billion in state budget disagreements with a “continuation budget.”

Negron said in a memo to senators Monday that House negotiators made the proposal over the weekend.

“Despite serving as the Appropriations chair in both the House and Senate, I had never encountered this term in state government until it began to appear in these negotiations,” Negron wrote.

“I understand the concept of a ‘continuation budget’ to be a Washington creation where Congress is habitually unable to pass a budget and then simply carries forward the current budget for years at a time, with additional spending.

“I have no interest in adopting this ineffectual practice.  Our constituents deserve and expect more.”

This year’s state budget amounts to $82.3 billion.

The move left budget negotiations stalled, at least for the time being, as the Legislative Session entered its final two weeks. House and Senate leaders indicated last week that conference committee members would have to know by early this week how much money they’d get to spend.

By law, any compromise would have to be available for scrutiny for three days before any final vote.

A continuation budget would be just fine with Broward Democrat Evan Jenne.

“Last year’s budget was widely respected by both chambers and both parties. Grand total, there was 149 yeas and one nay, when you combine the two chambers,” Jenne said.

“Granted, a lot of that means that individual member projects would go by the wayside. But we’re not here for individual member projects. We’re here to get the budget done.”

However, that would not provide for Senate priorities, an aide on that end of the rotunda said.

“I think it points to the fact that we’re not going to get done on time,” said Jenne, who’s been following progress through member-to-member contact with Republicans knowledgeable about the talks.

“I hope we do, but I don’t have warm feelings about that happening, just given the lack of communication and lack of time at this point. I mean, we’re down to it now.”

Florida TaxWatch president and CEO Dominick Calabro was gloomy, too. The House and Senate aren’t quibbling over dollars, he said, but over fundamental policy disputes.

“It’s highly unlikely they’ll get done on time,” Calabro said.

The House has passed an $81.2 proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1. It sets aside $200 million to create a “schools of hope” program that would shift students from failing schools to charter schools; includes $22.8 million for pay increases for corrections officers; includes $25 million for Visit Florida; and funds 46 new counter-terrorism positions.

The House proposal, however, doesn’t fund Enterprise Florida or a host of economic incentive programs associated with the public-private economic development agency, and does not include across the board pay raises for state employees. The Senate’s $85 billion proposal includes both, plus first-year funding for Negron’s $1.5 billion Lake Okeechobee plan.

House and Senate negotiators last week “exchanged meaningful and productive offers on proposed budget allocations and significant policy issues,” Negron wrote in his memo.

“I value the extraordinary amount of creative energy members of the Florida House and Senate have contributed to build their respective budgets over the last six months. I do not wish to set aside that work product and instead settle for last year’s base budget,” he continued.

“I will insist on a budget work product that reflects public testimony from our fellow citizens, input from the constituents we represent and the thousands of informed decisions – big and small – elected legislators have made since November 2016.

“Accordingly, I stand ready, willing, and able to respond to a budget and policy counteroffer from the House, with both the House and Senate negotiating in a principled way to agree on allocations and policy for the upcoming fiscal year.  Before the appearance of the “continuation budget” from the House, many budget and policy issues had been amicably resolved.

Gambling deal may come down to slots question

Seeing it as the “lesser of various evils” to pass a gambling bill this year, the House may give in to the Senate’s position to legislatively approve new slot machines in counties that passed referendums allowing them, according to those familiar with the negotiations.

As of early Monday, the Conference Committee on Gaming was set to meet later in the day at 1:30 p.m., though an official notice had not yet gone out.

The House and Senate are far apart on their respective gambling bills this session, with the House holding the line on gambling expansion, and the Senate pushing for new games. Both sides also want to see some new agreement with the Seminole Tribe on continued exclusivity to offer blackjack in exchange for $3 billion over seven years.

What’s becoming clearer as the 2017 Legislative Session’s May 5th end looms is House leadership’s distress at recent court decisions, the practical effect of which is opening up more gambling opportunities without legislative say.

Sources had said conference chair and state Sen. Bill Galvano had gotten “spooked” by a Supreme Court decision last Thursday that cleared for the 2018 ballot a “Voter Control of Gambling” amendment, giving voters the power to OK or veto future casino gambling in the state.

Vice-chair and state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz confirmed that Galvano, who didn’t respond to a request for comment, wanted to make sure the amendment “wouldn’t affect the Senate’s offer.”

But one representative of gambling interests throughout the state, who asked not to be named, said the House “was very careful in not taking the referendum counties issue off the table.”

A second person said that “(a)ll things considered, that was way down on the list of things that gave them heartburn.”

More concerning was a 1st District Court of Appeal opinion earlier this month against the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which regulated gambling, ordering the reinstatement of a South Florida casino’s application for a new “summer jai alai” permit.

Taken to one logical extension, the ruling could lead to “mini-casinos” in hotels, they say. Miami-Dade lawmakers in particular have been concerned about Miami Beach’s Fontainebleau Hotel pursuing slot machines in the last few years. At a minimum, such permits allow a pari-mutuel facility to open a cardroom and offer simulcast betting.

Another circuit court ruling last month against the department said entertainment devices that look and play like slot machines, called “pre-reveal” games, were “not an illegal slot machine or gambling device.” Judge John Cooper reasoned that was because players “press a ‘preview’ button before a play button can be activated.”

That ruling’s applicability was, at first, unclear: Because Cooper is a circuit judge, some state officials said his order only applied in north Florida’s 2nd Judicial Circuit of Franklin, Gadsden, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty and Wakulla counties.

Later, attorneys in the industry argued Cooper’s decision applied all over Florida, because it was against the department that regulates gambling statewide. That had House leaders “freaked out” that pre-reveal games would start appearing in bars, restaurants, and even in family fun centers.

Meantime, Galvano and others in the Senate fixated on the dissent in the gambling amendment case, and its implication on what’s known as the “Gretna case.”

Justices Ricky Polston and R. Fred Lewis said the amendment’s “ballot title and summary do not clearly inform the public that the proposed amendment may substantially affect slot machines approved by county-wide (referendums).”

With Lewis signing on to the dissent, “that made us think there was another vote in favor of Gretna that we didn’t think was there,” said yet another person in the gambling industry.

The court has not yet ruled in a case, pending since oral argument was given last June, on Gretna Racing. That’s the Gadsden County track seeking to add slot machines; pari-mutuel interests have said Gretna and other facilities in counties where voters approved slots should be allowed to offer them.

If the court rules in favor, that could result in the single biggest gambling expansion in the state.

“I think the House is fed up with it,” said the first industry consultant, referring to gambling-related court decisions. “The only way they can get a handle on (gambling expansion) is to get a bill done, and if that means throwing in the towel on slots in referendum counties, that’s the lesser of the various evils.”

Joe Henderson: House just made life a lot more difficult for public school boards, teachers

It’s a good thing the Florida House of Representatives wasn’t in session when Columbus wanted to sail the ocean blue.

Lawmakers would have passed a bill prohibiting the trip because science hadn’t yet proven that the earth was round. Oh, there were those crackpots who said it was, but the representatives of the day would have known better than to let those poor sailors float right off the edge of the flat planet into oblivion.

Alas, the House is in session now and voted 94-25 Thursday in favor of a bill that has been called a science denier’s dream. HB 989 has been pitched as a way for parents to challenge those terrible things in their children’s textbooks, like, you know – reality.

The language of the bill requires that textbooks “be research-based and proven to be effective” along with being “accurate and factual.” It allows residents – not just parents of school kids – to challenge what is being taught in public classrooms.

What’s wrong with that?

That depends whether you embrace fact-based facts or, as someone once said, alternative facts. And that’s the landmine in this bill.

Supporters of the bill, introduced by Rep. Byron Donalds, a Naples Republican, say this will make it easier for parents to weed out objectionable material. They say local school boards will still have the final say over what textbooks are used.

However, you can expect those boards to spend time dealing with issues like the one reported by the Orlando Sentinel. It told of an affidavit filed by Lynda Daniel of Martin County, who was peeved about a textbook used in an Advanced Placement course.

She wrote that she was opposed to: Presentation of evolution as fact … The vast majority of Americans believe that the world and the beings living on it were created by God as revealed in the Bible.”

Actually, a 2014 poll by Pew Research said that 65 percent of Americans believe in evolution, although 24 percent of that number believe it was guided by a supreme being. But what’s a fact among friends, right?

There are already plenty of alternatives for parents who don’t like what they see in public schools. They can home school. The number of charter schools is expanding.

My goodness, if they live in Southwest Florida their children could attend the Mason Classical Academy – the charter school which Byron Donalds helped found.

But no.

Since this bill would widen the pool of potential objectors to what is being taught, how long until someone shows up demanding that the Civil War be henceforth called The War of Northern Aggression?

How long until they try to force teachers to say it wasn’t about slavery, when all anyone has to do is look at the various articles of secession by southern states to prove that it was?

Literature could become an endangered species. I mean, Romeo and Juliet promoted teen suicide and defiance of parents, didn’t it?

And forget about presenting Muslims as human beings entitled to the freedom of religion guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

Supporters of this bill will tell you none of that will happen. They say this is legitimate oversight. All I know is, life is about to get more difficult for public school teachers, administrators and board members. That’s a fact.

Is this ‘whiskey & Wheaties’ last hurrah for 2017?

A troubled measure to undo the requirement that retailers sell distilled spirits separately from other goods is back on the House calendar for this week.

But a number of amendments were filed Friday night that could continue to muddle the legislation’s path to passage.

The House on Tuesday will again consider the “whiskey & Wheaties” bill (SB 106/HB 81), after postponing it twice in recent weeks. The Senate’s version passed last month. 

The most recent snag came after lawyers for Publix, the Florida supermarket chain that opposes the measure, said their reading of state law suggested teenage employees would no longer be allowed to work in stores if hard booze was sold there. Publix’s opposition has been rooted in its investment in separate stores.

Indeed, one amendment filed by Rep. Scott Plakon, a Longwood Republican, would clearly make it “unlawful for any vendor licensed (to sell hard liquor for consumption off premises) to employ any person under 21 years of age.”

Sen. Jack Latvala, the Clearwater Republican who chairs the Appropriations Committee, raised concerns as early as February that the bill would allow retail employees under 18 to be around liquor.

Moreover, “I just don’t see the fervor,” he added, during a Senate Rules Committee meeting. “This is not a problem I have heard anyone urge me to fix.”

Another Friday amendment from Al Jacquet, a Lantana Democrat, says no business can sell booze if it “received, or continues to receive, state subsidies such as tax credits, tax incentives, sales tax refunds, or grants … , has at least 10,000 square feet of retail space …  and is located in a slum or blighted area.”

That would include locations of Wal-Mart, one of the corporations pushing the repeal.

A version of the bill—which started as a one-line repealer—has been filed for four years running.

It aims to do away with the Prohibition-era state law requiring businesses, such as grocery chains and big-box retailers, to have separate stores to sell liquor. Beer and wine already are sold in grocery aisles in Florida.

Pure-play alcoholic beverage retailers, such as ABC Fine Wines & Spirits and independent operators, have complained the bill is being pushed by big retailers looking to expand their market reach.

But Wal-Mart, Target and others say tearing down the wall of separation between liquor and other goods is simply a “pro-consumer” move toward added convenience.

As Hialeah Republican Bryan Avila, the House sponsor, said recently: “Trust me: I can tell you with certainty I have experienced every thing imaginable that could possibly happen in the legislative process with this bill.”

Business rent tax cuts still in play this Session

Florida’s business rent tax is one of the outstanding issues at play as lawmakers crawl toward sine die of the 2017 Legislative Session, set for May 5.

As the only state-sanctioned sales tax on commercial leases in the entire nation, a pair of bills now making way through the Florida Capitol that attempt to lighten the load on commercial businesses, which pay more than $1.7 billion in rent taxes every year.

Included in the House’s tax package is HB 7109, a reduction of the business rent tax — lowering it from 6 percent to 4.5 percent for two years. If approved, the tax cut would begin January 1, 2018, and then supporting a permanent tax rate reduction from 6 percent to 5.5 percent beginning January 1, 2020.

HB 7109 is on the House’s Special Order Calendar for Tuesday.

While the Senate has not yet put together a package, there are two bills in the upper chamber that seek to give businesses a break.

Sponsored by Hialeah Republican Sen. Rene Garcia, SB 704 seeks to provide tenants with relief from the Florida’s “double taxation” — a “tax on tax” that occurs when tenants pay property taxes for property owners.

The bill is a proposed alternate business rent tax cut, targeted to commercial tenants who have leases that separately state they pay their landlord’s property taxes as part of their lease payments.

Another bill (SB 484), put forth by Port Orange Republican Dorothy Hukill, would reduce the state sales tax rate charged on commercial leases from 6 percent to 5 percent.

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.

Disgraced Sen. Frank Artiles paid Hooters, Playboy models as ‘consultants’

Artiles hired Heather Thomas (left) and Brittney Singletary (right) as campaign consultants

A newspaper is reporting that a Florida state senator who resigned this week after using a racial slur hired a former Hooters “calendar girl” and a Playboy model with no political experience to be consultants for his political action committee last year.

The Miami Herald reports Saturday that state records show that Frank Artiles‘ PAC, Veterans for Conservative Principals, had paid former Hooters model Heather Thomas $2,000 and former Playboy model Brittney Singletary $1,500. They were listed as consultants.

Artiles’ political consultant David Custin refused to answer the paper’s questions. Singletary said she did fundraising for the PAC. Thomas declined to comment.

Artiles, a Republican, resigned Friday after he used vulgarities and a variation of the N-word in a barroom conversation with two black colleagues earlier in the week.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Gov. Scott delays trip to Argentina due to wildfires

Gov. Rick Scott is delaying his planned trade mission to Argentina due to wildfires that are burning in several parts of the state.

Scott was scheduled to leave late Saturday for a five-day trip to Buenos Aires. A final decision has not yet been made on whether to cancel the trip completely.

The governor has been monitoring the wildfires and visited one site in southwest Florida.

The Argentina trip is supposed to be Scott’s 13th trip abroad since he became governor in January 2011.

Scott has defended the trips as a way to open doors for Florida-based companies seeking business abroad.

He has taken previous economic development trips to the South American countries of Brazil, Colombia and Chile, as well as Japan, Israel, England, France, Spain, Canada and Panama.

Marco Rubio: With ‘higher standard’ for lawmakers, Frank Artiles was right to resign

Marco Rubio has ‘no doubt’ state Sen. Frank Artiles‘ did the right thing by resigning from the Florida Legislature Friday in the wake of a racist and sexist outburst against two lawmakers.

Elected officials are rightfully “held to a different standard,” Rubio said.

“You hold a public trust, you are a representative of those districts, and you are going to be held to a different standard, and people should know that coming in,” the U.S. Senator from Miami told host Jim DeFede on “Facing South Florida.”

First reported in the Miami Herald, Rubio’s interview will broadcast in full Sunday on WFOR-CBS 4.

“No one forces anyone to run for office,” Rubio, a former state representative and House Speaker, added, “And no one forces you to run in the state Senate.”

“I know Perry Thurston. I know Audrey Gibson, actually very well,” Rubio said, about the two lawmakers involved in Artiles’ comments Monday evening at the Governors Club in Tallahassee.

“She served with me in the House. We’re good friends. And I’m sorry she found herself in that position, because I know that is not what she is in Tallahassee to do. She didn’t seek this out.”

Artiles comments were obviously “unfortunate” and “inappropriate,” Rubio said.

He explained: “My understanding is that he resigned, and, in the end, what people don’t realize is the legislative bodies, the Senate and the House, they are the judge of their own members’ qualifications. They can remove members from their seats. And it sounds like that is where the Senate was headed.”

That said, there was “no doubt” Artiles made the right choice, Rubio said.

“It had gotten in the way of, I think, the Senate being able to function in Tallahassee, and, ultimately, I think, gotten in the way of his ability to continue to serve effectively,” he added.

“You know, I think it happens, and when it happens it has to be dealt with,” Rubio said. “For the most part, people need to recognize that when you are in public office, the words you use, your behavior, is held to a different standard.”

With a “collegial body” like the Florida Senate, Rubio pointed out the need “to work with 39 other people in Tallahassee” to get things done.

“How you comport yourself with your colleagues has a direct impact on your effectiveness,” he said. “Obviously, the terminology that was used is inappropriate in any setting. I think people, for the most part, know that.”

When a person makes “horrible mistakes or decisions horrible things,” Rubio said they need to understand that “they’re not — you’re not going to be treated, nor should you be, like anybody in some other job.”

Elected officials “hold a public trust,” he said. “You are a representative of those districts, and you are going to be held to a different standard, and people should know that coming in.”

Adam Putnam: Florida is a tinderbox, Florida Forest Service works around the clock

In every corner of our state, severe drought conditions have made Florida a tinderbox. Roughly 100 wildfires are currently burning about 75,000 acres, and our Florida Forest Service wildland firefighters are working side-by-side with partnering agencies to battle these fires and protect life, property and wildlife.

On Friday, Collier County had to evacuate approximately 7,000 homes due to a massive wildfire. We’ve not seen fire conditions this bad since 2011, and we have wildfires burning from the state line to Miami.

Current conditions conjure memories of one of the worst years on record—1998, when at one time I-4, I-75, and I-10 were all closed at the same time, Disney World was closed, the Pepsi 400 was postponed, and an entire county, Flagler County, was evacuated. In 2017 so far, more than 130,000 acres have burned due to wildfires. Many homes have been saved, but some have been lost.

My grandfather used to say, “extremes beget extremes.” Some of the wettest El Nino cycles that we have are followed by the driest conditions that are ripe for wildfire. These tough drought conditions are worsened by the abundance of undergrowth—brush and weeds—that grows and thrives due to the heavy rainfall the prior year. With dry conditions, all of it turns into kindling that fuels large and swiftly moving wildfires, whether caused by people or nature.

Recently, I asked Governor Rick Scott to issue an executive order to enable us to use all available resources to combat these wildfires. National Guard UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters are assisting our other aircrafts fighting these wildfires. One of the most concerning aspects of these conditions is the last time an emergency order was issued in 2011, it was mid-June. June is typically the peak of wildfire season, so it’s a very serious situation that it’s even earlier in the year that we’re seeing such extreme conditions.

Unfortunately, the two most common causes of wildfire are people. The leading cause of wildfire is human carelessness, such as allowing a debris pile to grow out of control or a spark from an intentional fire to land on dry land and start a wildfire. The second leading cause is arson. We’ve seen a 70 percent increase in arson cases this year compared to last year with 240 cases so far.

Education and awareness are important components of preventing wildfires. Residents should obey county burn bans, which can be found on FreshFromFlorida.com. They can also track current fire conditions on the website and learn how to create defensible spaces around their homes. Most importantly, if evacuation orders are given, residents and visitors should heed those warnings and keep themselves and their loved ones safe.

Combatting wildfires is truly a partnership. When we recently had a fire on St. George Island, our Florida Forest Service firefighters were out there cutting fire lines, bringing down the intensity of the flames, while the local structural firefighters were up against the houses, making sure they were the last line of defense to protect those homes. As a result, no homes were lost in that fire.

We recently had a firefighter overtaken by flames in his dozer in Okeechobee, and Okeechobee County Fire and Rescue were already on the scene and assisted in getting him out safely. Thanks to their swift rescue efforts, our firefighter is safe and in good health. The comradery of the firefighting service is an extraordinary one, and we should all be proud of them.

The Florida Forest Service will continue to work around the clock to protect residents and visitors, property and wildlife from fire. And I encourage every Floridian to do their part to help prevent wildfires and report any suspected cases of arson by calling local authorities. May God bless our firefighters.

Adam Putnam is Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture.

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