Statewide Archives - Page 7 of 719 - SaintPetersBlog

Newspaper ad calls on Governor to appoint non-hunter to state wildlife agency

Florida animal welfare activists are calling Gov. Rick Scott to appoint a non-hunter to a vacancy on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

On Wednesday, the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida (ARFF) ran an advertisement in the Tallahassee Democrat urging Scott to appoint either a nature photographer, a bird-watcher, or an individual with a background in wildlife conservation to the FWC.

A similar ad ran in Sunday and Monday’s papers, and also run Thursday as well, the final day of an FWC meeting in the town of Havana, north of Tallahassee.

The ad is also available at www.download.arff.org/FWC-advertisement.pdf.

Featuring an image of a black bear, the ad has a headline, “Florida’s wildlife belongs to all Floridians.” At this week’s meeting, the FWC will once again discuss bear management. In 2015, the FWC approved a black bear hunt despite strong public opposition. It was the first bear hunting season in Florida in 21 years.

“It is time that the FWC has a Commissioner who represents nature photographers, birders, hikers and other ‘nonconsumptive’ users of Florida’s fish and wildlife,” said Don Anthony, ARFF’s Communications Director. “Most residents of Florida are not hunters, yet the FWC has long been dominated by individuals with a hunting background.”

Nature photography, along with bird-watching, hiking, canoeing, and kayaking are the fastest-growing outdoor activities in America.

According to the FWC’s own numbers, “wildlife viewing” has a much greater economic impact in Florida than hunting.

ARFF believes the appointment of a photographer, birder, or wildlife advocate would add an important perspective to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Daniel Sohn announces Agriculture Commissioner bid

A South Florida Democrat has announced he plans to run for Agriculture Commissioner in 2018.

Daniel Sohn announced Wednesday he was throwing his hat in the race to replaced Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in two years. In a 2 minute and 30 second video announcing his intentions, Sohn he plans to meet with Floridians, business and environmental groups about how to improve the state.

“Now there is no harm in recognizing that the success of Florida’s economy lies within the agricultural industry, for after all it is Florida’s economic engine,” he said in the video. “But Florida deserves a leader that can continue focusing on the needs of our industries, while beginning to do what Florida should have already been doing best — taking care of our people.”

Sohn is expected to kick-off a statewide tour at the Democratic Veterans Caucus of Palm Beach County meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Guatemalan Mayan Center in Lake Worth. He’s expected to attend the Broward Democratic Progressive Caucus meeting in Plantation on Thursday, before attending the South West Florida Clean Water Festival in Fort Myers Beach on Sunday.

This won’t be the first time Sohn has sought public office. While he initially expressed interest in running for Dania Beach City Commission in 2016, records show he failed to qualify for the spot on the ballot. Instead he ran for the Palm Beach Soil & Water Conservation board, losing that election to Matthew Bymaster.

According to the campaign’s Facebook page, Sohn current serves as the district aide to Palm Beach County Soil & Water Conservation District Supervisor Pat Edmonson. Edmonson, according to a news release Wednesday, is coordinating his campaign.

Sohn will be the second Democrat to jump into the race to replace Putnam, who can’t run again because of term limits. State records show Michael Damian Christine filed to run for the seat on April 11.

Republicans Denise Grimsley and Paul Paulson have already to file to run for the seat, and Matt Caldwell is widely expected to file to run later this summer.

beer glasses

Cheers: House ‘beer glass’ bill clears last committee

Florida bars and restaurants could be gifted with free branded beer glasses under a bill that’s now ready for the House floor.

The legislation (HB 853) was OK’d Wednesday morning with no debate by the Commerce Committee, its last panel of reference, on a largely party-line vote.

It would allow distributors to give to bars and restaurants up to three cases per year of glasses from brewers that are imprinted with beer names and logos. Now, glasses have to be sold.

The measure has stoked controversy, however. Smaller craft brewers have said they can’t afford to keep up with what will likely be a flood of free glasses from Anheuser-Busch InBev, which makes Budweiser and Bud Light.

Eric Criss, president of the Beer Industry of Florida, which represents MillerCoors distributors, told lawmakers he was still concerned of a linkage between beer glasses and which beers would be available.

“It’s going to hurt (smaller) brewers in favor of the largest brewer in the world,” he said, referring to Anheuser-Busch. Its lobbyist had previously referred to the bill as “brewer-agnostic.”

Mitch Rubin, head of the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association, which represents Anheuser-Busch distributors, also remained opposed.

He said the idea of “glasses for taps” is still “inextricably bound” even though the bill now says free glasses can’t be used “as an inducement to (a) retailer to purchase or use” specific brands.

The Senate version (SB 1040) has only one more committee to clear before it can be heard on the floor.

Joe Henderson: There’s only one ethical course for Senate to take. Ethics? Oh, wait …

If you’re keeping score (and I know you are), Tuesday was a bad day for the Florida Senate. That august body served up a double serving from the “This Is Why People Hate Politicians” buffet.

There was the eye-popping, ear-insulting, are-you-kidding-me story that Sen. Frank Artiles employed the vilest racial insult to describe a pair of African-American colleagues, including the n-word. He called one of them a “f—— a——,” a “b—-” and a “girl.”

He doubled down over adult beverages late at night (senators, take note of the setting and time) to complain to a couple of colleagues that Senate President Joe Negron rose to that position because “six n——-” in the Republican caucus had elected him.

Artiles says he is really sorry.

On that point, he is correct.

Artiles has requested time to formally apologize on the Senate floor, but his speech ought to consist of just four words: “I’m sorry, I quit.”

But there was more Senate buffoonery. The Associated Press reported that the Senate will not consider the sweeping ethics reforms proposed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran on how the Legislature conducts business.

That kills, for now, Corcoran’s gambit to require lawmakers wait six years after they leave office before registering as a lobbyist in Tallahassee

“The Senate has shown us they have expressed zero interest in holding elected officials accountable and draining the swamp,” Corcoran told reporters.

Negron’s comeback?

“The Senate is very committed to the highest ethical standards and we believe that the ethics rules we have in place should be enforced,” he said.

I’ll translate: blah, blah and furthermore, blah.

So, you may ask, how are ethics and racist gutter talk by a sitting senator related?

It goes to perception.

The public already thinks politicians are slimy offspring from a zombie apocalypse. Call me crazy, but I don’t what happened here is going to change that.

Get a hundred people in a room and at least 99 of them would say they don’t like politicians, don’t trust them, and that they’re all on the take.

The last part of that is not true, of course, but the Legislature has helped create its image problem by doing just what the Senate has planned for Corcoran’s bill: closing its eyes, covering its ears, and going “la la la la la la, NOT LISTENING!”

So, as a public service, I offer this bit of sage advice to members of the Florida Senate.

However sincere Artiles’ forthcoming apology might sound (I’m thinking choked-up speech and tears will be involved), don’t accept it. Make it clear that the only acceptable action is his immediate resignation. If he is still in the Senate by the close of business today, that’s too long.

It’s the only ethical choice.

Oh … wait. Ethics. My bad.

Florence Snyder: Richard Corcoran, please show some love to our real life Smokeys

The men and women who take care of Florida’s forests and parks have a serious case of hair on fire, and the Legislature would do well to listen to them.

Trained professional foresters and the people at parks ‘n rec are easily among Florida’s best ambassadors. These stewards of “Real Florida” have been instrumental in attracting tourists since before Mickey Mouse was born, and they work for a lot less cheese.

This crowd is not prone to whining, or crying wolf. It takes a body blow to the budget to make them ask that we think for a moment about the work they do in the places where the wild things try to survive the wildfires that are engulfing the state.

Here’s the map that shows what they’re dealing with. Even Gov. Rick Scott thinks it’s a crisis. Yet the House proposes cutting $10 million — roughly 25 percent — of the current state parks budget.

That’s chump change to the swells and potentates at the Capitol, but in the hands of Florida’s land management professionals, it covers a lot of weed-pulling, lawn mowing, landscaping, and protecting the public from the invasive species that generations of Florida lawmakers never had the wit to do anything about.

More importantly, they are the real-life Smokey Bear, doing whatever it takes to prevent wildfires that increasingly threaten our economy, our way of life, and in some cases, the actual lives of firefighters, park personnel, residents and tourists.

The Senate budget preserves the status quo, but the better-by-far proposal comes from Gov. Scott. He proposes a 17 percent increase to pay for badly needed fire equipment; long overdue road repairs; and a Parks and Community Trails program to encourage families to VISIT places that aren’t in central Florida.

Scott’s budget also includes money to bring Florida’s parks into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. That’s the law President Bush 41 signed in 1990 to facilitate inclusion for our kinsmen with “unique abilities.” How is it possible that this still on the list of Florida’s unfinished business?

Florida’s foresters and park personnel are not asking anything for themselves. They simply want the essential tools of their trades, and they should not have to be begging for the basics.

Lauren Book unveils display on resilience, triumph over sexual abuse in Capitol rotunda

Book

Child advocate and state Sen. Lauren Book‘s inspirational story will be featured in Sheryl Sandberg‘s newly launched initiative on themes of resilience through tragedy.

On April 19, Book — a survivor of childhood sexual abuse who became an internationally renowned activist — will exhibit an installation decorating the Capitol rotunda, made up of more than 750 shoes worn and submitted by sexual assault survivors of all ages throughout Florida. The display will be up through April 21.

Book also plays a role in  Option B, Sandberg’s imitative on resilience that arose from the unexpected death of her husband. Sandberg, the Facebook chief operating officer turned author, had spent several months examining resilience as a way for her two sons to cope with tragedy, adversity and loss. She is now using those lessons learned to serve others thrive through challenging times. As part of the Option B community, Sandberg features inspiring voices of resilience and triumph, including that of Book — an advocate, author, state Senator and new mother. Book’s story of surviving child sexual abuse is also on the Option B website, under “Expert Talks and Advice.”

Book’s Capitol display also coincides with National Sexual Assault Awareness Month and National Child Abuse Prevention month. Book’s organization Lauren’s Kids and the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence (FCASV) are hosting the display, which asks viewers to “walk in the shoes” of survivors.

Both Book, of Plantation, and State Rep. Kristin Jacobs of Coconut Creek are supporting the event, which is intended to raise awareness and end stigma surrounding sexual violence, giving victims, families and those affected by the issue a larger voice in Tallahassee.

The display’s presentation will be at a news conference Wednesday, April 19, at 12:30 p.m. in the Capitol rotunda. Fifteen child victims — now survivors — will “unveil” the display in the Capitol rotunda and speak with legislators. In addition, members of Bikers Against Child Abuse Florida (BACA) will attend after biking across Florida in solidarity.

Communications technologies, consumer choices, could end-run taxation

Taxes that Florida and many local governments collect on phone, cable and other communication services are in steady decline for the same reasons as land-line telephones: people are finding different, better, and cheaper ways to consumer communications.

An explosion in popularity of Internet video services such as Netflix and Hulu, combined with other technology and consumer choice advances, and the consequential falling telecommunication prices, are antiquating Florida’s communication services tax structure.

And so the Florida House Ways and Means Committee, briefed on the phenomenon and concerns about the future of communication services tax revenue during a workshop Tuesday, concluded there might not be much that can (or should) be done about it.

For now.

“Consumers control this market,” said Charles Dudley, a lobbyist for the Florida Cable Telecommunications Association.

In the fiscal year ending in 2009, the state and local governments collected a combined $2.5 billion from communication services taxes.

Last year that was down to about $1.7 billion. No one’s quite sure what’s on the horizon, because no one in government economics has much of an idea what technological advances and consumer choices are next, cautioned Ways and Means Staff Director Don Langston.

“The forecast, the official forecast, has no growth in it even though we’re a growing state,” Langston said. “I think that’s a reflection of the unusual technological environment that this tax derives from.”

And, he added: “It could be more declines.”

Taxing technology is becoming unusually complicated, given the migration of consumers from predictable communication forms of land-line telephones and cable TV, to cell phone services and satellite TV, to prepaid phone services and Internet streaming.

Democratic state Rep. Joseph Geller of Adventura raised serious concerns about what the declining revenue is doing for cities.

“That’s a real steep, overall, continuous, steady decline overall for local governments that rely on this,” Geller said.

Yet Republican state Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park cautioned that Florida and local governments shouldn’t be following the consumers and look at ways to tax the next generation of communications. His House Bill 1377, stalled since mid-March, would prohibit public bodies from imposing a tax on Internet video service.

Miller cautioned the issues around internet taxes — generally banned by federal law and against policy by state law — are getting complicated by the same march or technology, which now allows consumers to consumer internet video through a wide variety of contractual and free means. They should be off-limits, he suggested.

“I appreciate ranking member Geller’s conversation about revenue for cities. Of course, we’ve got to look at revenue for cities. But why should I pay the city of Winter Park to watch MLB.com because I love the Washington Nationals? Why would I be paying a communication services tax to my town to watch the Nationals?” Miller inquired.

“I don’t follow that logic,” he added. “So if we’re going to find other ways for revenue to operate cities, I’m all for that — in another discussion. But I do think, in this case, we should not be taxing Netflix. We should not be taxing Sling or Hulu or YouTube or Amazon Prime.”

Eyeball Wars rage as dozens of medical groups oppose optometrists, claiming ‘serious threat’ to care

A growing number of medical professionals have joined forces in a wave of disapproval of optometrists in Florida’s “Eyeball Wars,” which is now making way through Tallahassee.

HB 1037, which seeks to allow optometrists to perform surgery and prescribe opiates, among other things, now sits on the agenda of the House Health & Human Services Committee.

This week, Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at University of Miami School of Medicine became the latest medical group to publicly oppose the bill, adding its name to a list that now stands at two dozen.

Each of these highly regarded medical professionals — which include the American Medical Association, the Florida Society of Ophthalmology, and the American College of Surgeons (ACS) — strongly argue that the passage of HB 1037 would pose a serious threat to the health and safety of millions of Floridians.

The bill seeks to expand optometry further into the practice of medicine and laser surgery, a move fiercely opposed by ophthalmologists, who raise concern over the comparative lack of instruction for optometrists. HB 1037 would expand the scope of optometry compared to ophthalmologists — who have the required training and education — to include the practice of medicine and surgery, as defined by both the ACS and Florida Statute.

In the letter released Tuesday, Bascom Palmer Ophthalmology Chair Dr. Eduardo Alfonso, joined by Vice Chair Dr. Steven Gedde and Medical Director Dr. Stephen Schwartz, warn:

“There are no shortcuts to learning to safely perform eye surgery. Ophthalmologists complete four years of undergraduate education, four years of medical education, one year of internship, and then three years of ophthalmology residency training, such as that provided at Bascom Palmer.”

“In summary, we believe that HB 1037 and [Senate companion] SB 1168 represent a serious threat to patient safety, public welfare, and quality of care … The citizens of Florida deserve far better than the superficial and inadequate ‘training’ that is provided for in these bills.”

Ophthalmologists — licensed to practice medicine and surgery — contend that HB 1037 (as Dr. David Hoyt, executive director of the American College of Surgeons, wrote recently) works against the “interest of patient safety and maintaining the highest standards of surgical care.”

Professional medical groups so far opposed to HB 1037 include:

Florida Society of Ophthalmology

American Academy of Ophthalmology

Bascom Palmer Eye Institute

Florida Medical Association

American Medical Association

American College of Surgeons

Florida Chapter of the American College of Surgeons

Florida Society of Anesthesiologists

Florida Osteopathic Medical Association

Florida Chapter of the American College of Physicians

Florida Society of Plastic Surgeons

Florida Radiological Society

Florida Society of Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgeons

Florida Society of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgeons

Florida Orthopaedic Society

Florida Society of Nephrology

Florida College of Emergency Physicians

Florida Orthopedic Society

Florida Society of Rheumatology

Florida Society of the American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians

Florida Chapter American Academy of Pediatrics

Florida Academy of Family Physicians

Florida Society of Interventional Pain Physicians (FSIPP)

Florida Psychiatric Society

American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

Florida Society of Pathologists

 

House PR machine turns to its version of state budget

The House of Representatives has released a new “explainer” video to explain its proposed 2017-18 state budget.

And—fun!—it’s a cartoon.

“Don’t have time to read hundreds of pages?” it starts. “That’s OK, because we’ve got the Florida House budget in under a few minutes.”

The nearly three-minute video explains that the House, led by Speaker Richard Corcoran, proposes no new taxes and adds another $25,000 on top of the state’s homestead exemption for property tax.

The House also “cuts pork barrel spending,” it says.

The House and Senate, having passed their respective spending plans, soon will go into conference to work out a compromise budget for 2017-18.

There are even suggested messages for members to tweet and create Facebook posts to promote the video.

“While cutting waste, the Florida House budget funds: kid care, schools of hope, Everglades cleanup and more,” reads one sample tweet.

And a suggested Facebook post says, “The Florida House budget slashes earmarks and member projects by hundreds of millions of dollars; all while spending LESS than we did last year. I believe cutting government waste and abuse is essential, and I’m proud to have voted for it. Learn more about how we’re eliminating waste and funding Florida’s priorities by watching this quick video.”

The House also will release a series of graphics that feature “nearly every aspect of the budget,” according to an email.

“The graphics are intended for you to use on social media to highlight whatever aspect of the budget is most important to your constituents.”

—–

House workers’ compensation bill survives Democratic floor amendments

The House defeated a series of Democratic amendments to its version of a workers’ compensation fix Tuesday, with sponsor Danny Burgess promising the bill would “enhance the fairness and the balance of the workers’ compensation system in Florida.”

Burgess, whose Insurance & Banking Subcommittee drafted the legislation, also predicted a decline in premiums, following the 14.5 percent rate increase that began taking effect in December.

“We are told it could be up to a 5 percent reduction,” he said.

Still, Democrats complained the bill was written more to please employers and insurance companies than working people.

“When are we going to put the workers first?” Tampa Democrat Sean Shaw wondered.

The House cleared the bill, drafted to comply with Florida Supreme Court rulings widely blamed for that rate increase, for a final vote.

“There is no access-to-courts problem with this bill. I believe there is going to be increased access to the courts,” Burgess said.

Still, the bill recognizes that claims get more expensive when attorneys get involved.

“Without eliminating access to the courts, we’re trying to tamper down on necessary attorney involvement,” he said.

For example, the House bill could leave workers on the hook for their own attorney fees, rather than have insurers pay, if they pursue baseless claims — so they’d have “skin in the game,” Burgess said.

Attorneys would be required to notify clients in writing of that possibility.

An amendment by Katie Edwards to strip that language failed on a 40-73 vote.

The House defeated an Evan Jenne amendment that would allow attorneys to earn “reasonable” attorney fees — as opposed to language providing for as much as $150 per hour if a judge considers that justified. The Senate bill sets the maximum at $250 .

Burgess said that rate would provide parity with what defense counsel earn in claims appeals.

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith introduced, but withdrew, an amendment to allow workers’ compensation claims by first-responders for psychological injuries including PTSD even if they can’t demonstrate a physical injury.

“Our first responders are 10 times more likely to attempt suicide than the average person,” the Orlando Democrat said, referencing the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub.

But Smith said he trusted Burgess’ promises to work with him on the issue.

Democrat Jared Moskowitz offered an amendment to allow claimants to pick a doctor to deliver a second opinion, with notice to the insurer.

“It is the friendliest of friendly amendments,” he said. “It’s super-friendly.”

Burgess warned of “unintended consequences,” warning that the move might prove expensive.

“It’s just a component within the workers’ comp system that we decided not to tackle” this year, Burgess said.

The amendment failed, 41-71.

The House adopted a Burgess amendment to extend governors’ time to fill seats on the Three-Member Panel, which sets medical reimbursement rates for the workers’ compensation system, to 120 days.

Gov. Rick Scott has left a slot on that panel representing workers vacant for five years.

A Shaw amendment to boost permanent impairment benefits for high-wage workers failed on a voice vote after Burgess said it could cost $50 million and “blow up” the system.

“We could quite possibly double the cost of our workers’ compensation system,” he said.

The measure, HB 7085 differs in other important ways from its Senate counterpart. 

The Senate bill would require insurers to file their own rates, instead of jointly through the National Council on Compensation Insurance, or NCCI, as happens now.

Furthermore, carriers couldn’t include their defense costs when calculating rates under the Senate bill. The House would retain the NCCI joint ratings system, but allow deviations of no more than 5 percent up or down.

Separate legislation is pending in the House and Senate to shield information about claimants — to prevent trial attorneys from scouring the records to identify possible clients, Burgess said.

The House bill pegs payments to medical providers to Medicaid rates, rather than the existing per-charge system.

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