Today's Top Story

Push for resort casinos stalls in Florida Legislature posted on 3/27/15

by GARY FINEOUT | AP

slot machinesThe push to bring Las Vegas-resort-style casinos to South Florida is stalling again this year as the Florida Legislature remains divided over what type of gambling to allow in the state.

A major gambling bill (HB 1233) sponsored by a top House Republican that includes the casino proposal has yet to be voted on — and it may not get its first vote until sometime in April. The 60-day session ends May 1.

A House panel held a...

Breaking News

  • House Uber bill preempting Orlando's fees heads to floor posted on 3/27/15

    by Gray Rohrer | Orlando Sentinel

    TALLAHASSEE – Vehicle fees and minimum fare rates imposed in Orlando recently on cell phone app companies like Uber and Lyft that connect riders with drivers could be eliminated in a bill gaining momentum in the Legislature.

    The House version of the bill cleared its final committee Thursday and is headed for a floor vote. Florida League of Cities lobbyist Megan Samples said local governments were better situated to set regulations on the new companies.

    “We feel permitting and licensing is best handled at the local level as this is how we know who’s operating in our area,” Samples said.

    Different Senate bills include insurance and background check requirements but don’t eliminate local regulations. But supporters of the House bill said a statewide structure makes sense.

    “I think there’s just way too many logistical issues to not have preemption in here,” said Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, and chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.

    Orlando’s minimum $2.40 fare per ride and $250 vehicle permit fee took effect Feb. 1. Fare rates can fluctuate for Uber during peak or low volume demand.

    Taxicab company representatives derided the bill, which sets $1 million insurance requirements for contract drivers and imposes vehicle inspection and background checks for the app companies, as unfair and unworkable.

    » Read more

  • New DJJ Secretary Christy Daly Breezes Through Senate Confirmation Hearing posted on 3/27/15

    by Sascha Cordner | WFSU

    The newly appointed head of Florida’s juvenile justice system breezed through her recent initial confirmation hearing in the Senate.

    At her three minute confirmation hearing in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Christy Daly started off by thanking the panel members.

    “I appreciate the opportunity today to be considered today for my appointment, and I do thank each one of you for taking the time over the last few weeks to meet with me individually. I would also like to thank Governor Rick Scott for entrusting me with the role to serve as the Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary.”

    » Read more

  • Gov. Scott's Let's Get to Work PAC raises $700,000 in March posted on 3/27/15

    by News Service of Florida

    TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Rick Scott's "Let's Get to Work" political committee has raised more than $700,000 this month as it has sought to highlight the governor's record, according to a list of contributions on the committee's website.

    The contributions, totaling $710,000, included $250,000 from the Florida Chamber of Commerce PAC and the chamber's Florida Jobs PAC.

    Also, the Scott committee received $100,000 from the Voice of Florida Business Political Action Committee and Floridians for A Stronger Democracy, which are linked to Associated Industries of Florida. Other contributions included $25,000 from the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association PAC and $20,000 from The Villages development in Central Florida, according to the website.

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  • About That 3rd Grade Reading Requirement posted on 3/27/15

    by JOHN O'CONNOR | State Impact

    Yesterday, a Senate committee appeared to suspend for one year Florida’s requirement that the lowest-performing 3rd graders be held back while the state validates results from its new test.

    But Senate Education committee chairman John Legg says it’s not that simple.

    What the committee actually did, Legg says, is put the responsibility on school districts whether students stay in 3rd grade or move to 4th grade. So some students with the lowest scores on the state language arts exam could still be retained this year.

    “They asked us to trust them,” Legg says of the request from school district leaders.

    Florida law requires 3rd grade students earning the lowest score on the state reading test spend another year in 3rd grade to improve their reading. Students can get an exemption from the requirement by submitting a portfolio of their work, through alternative test scores or other methods.

    But this year Florida is switching from the FCAT to the new Florida Standards Assessments. Part of switching to a new exam is proving the results accurately measure what they intend to measure — a process know as validation.

    Legg says the Florida Department of Education doesn’t expect to finish its full analysis of this year’s results until October — after the beginning of the next school year. Lawmakers were concerned students might be held back based on invalid test results.

    School districts say they know which students need to be held back and which don’t. So senators struck a compromise.

  • Teacher liability insurance advances, but union says it’s a waste posted on 3/27/15

    by Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster | Scripps-Tribune Capitol Bureau

    TALLAHASSEE — A proposal (HB 587) to require the state to provide liability insurance to protect public school teachers has received strong support, despite opposition from the state’s largest teachers union.

    The measure cleared its first two committee stops with unanimous consent. The proposal would require the state Department of Education to administer a liability insurance program, which would protect educators from liability on claims stemming from on-the-job incidents and would provide $2 million in coverage to full-time instructional personnel, such as teachers. Language tucked into the House education budget also calls on the state’s education department to administer a liability insurance program.

    “All we said as a state is in the event that a teacher has such exposure to liability, and lacks liability insurance, we’re going to make sure they have it,” said Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, chairman of the House education appropriations subcommittee.

    Rep. Ross Spano, R-Dover, the bill sponsor, said the insurance program would protect teachers if a claim is filed against them, but a spokesman for the Florida Education Association said such a program “just isn’t necessary.”

    “The last time the state offered this liability insurance, it cost taxpayers $4 million and paid out one claim,” said Mark Pudlow, a spokesman for the Florida Education Association. “This is wasteful spending. There are many other places in public schools that could better use whatever dollars are spent on this.”

    » Read more

  • NASA To Study A Twin In Space And His Brother On Earth posted on 3/27/15

    by NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE | NPR

    Later today, a Russian rocket is scheduled to carry a Russian cosmonaut and an American astronaut to the International Space Station, where they will live for a full year, twice as long as people usually stay.

    No American has remained in space longer than 215 days. Only a few people have ever gone on space trips lasting a year or more — the longest was 437 days — and they're all Russian cosmonauts. The last year-plus stay in space occurred nearly two decades ago.

    What's more, NASA's upcoming mission offers scientists a unique opportunity to study the effect of spaceflight on the human body. That's because the astronaut making the trip, Scott Kelly, has an identical twin brother, Mark Kelly, who's a retired NASA astronaut.

    Initially, NASA did not plan to compare the earthbound twin with the one on the long-duration space mission. But after Scott Kelly got this assignment, he went to a briefing to get ready for a press conference.

    "And I asked the question, 'Hey if someone just asks ... will there be any comparative studies between you and your brother, how should I answer that?' " Scott Kelly recalls in a NASA video.

    A few weeks later, he explained, a program scientist came back to him and said, "It actually looks like this might be something that the science community is interested in."

    Over the next year, researchers will scrutinize the Kelly brothers in what NASA is calling the Twins Study. Ten separate investigations will look at space travel's effect on everything from gut bacteria to eyesight.

    » Read more

  • Have lawmakers flushed the transgender bathroom bill? posted on 3/26/15

    by Michael Auslen | Tampa Bay Times

    There just wasn’t time Monday to hear the Senate counterpart to a bill by Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, that would ban transgender people from using restrooms for the sex they identify as, unless it’s on their driver’s license.

    But other bills that weren’t heard in this week’s Criminal Justice Committee meeting are scheduled for hearings next Monday by the panel, chaired by Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker. Among them: a plan to penalize sexting, which was inadvertently decriminalized.

    Without a first committee hearing before the sixth of nine weeks in the legislative session, the Senate bathroom bill (SB 1464) by Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, could be dead. Without a Senate version moving forward, so could Artiles’.

    It’s worth noting that Dean’s bill doesn’t address gender, the main source of controversy surrounding the House proposal, which critics say would require transgender men and women to use the restroom they don’t identify with, possibly putting them at risk.

    » Read more

  • State Lawmakers Look to Deter Online Harassment, Sexting posted on 3/26/15

    by D.A. Robin | Health News Florida

    State lawmakers are considering bills to criminalize online sexual harassment and crack down on sexting.

    Florida State University student Carly Helstrom says a brief fling several years ago led to months of embarrassment when nude photos of her ended up online. She says her former partner was intentionally trying to hurt her when he posted sexually explicit photos of her.

    “You have no idea the extent that I went for three months, ‘There’s nothing we can do. I’m sorry. Do you need therapy?’ No, I need a hug, and I need the law to change, you know, I need you to back me with this,” Helstrom says. “This is not just happening to me.”

    Florida law doesn’t penalize people for posting explicit photos of others online. HB151 would change that. Posting so-called “revenge porn” would start as a misdemeanor. Subsequent offenses would become felonies. HB151 would also allow victims to sue. Helstrom says the bill could better serve victims by making this act a felony the first time.

    “For the past year, it was the first thing you see when you Google my name. I think it’s absolute b.s. that that would be a misdemeanor,” Helstrom says. “It is not a misdemeanor. It is a felony. It needs to be. We just need protection.”

    » Read more

  • Lawmakers Eye Major Changes In Mental Health Services posted on 3/26/15

    by News Service of Florida

    TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) — The House and the Senate are proposing major overhauls in mental health services.

    All this as Florida lawmakers study the impact of mental illness on the state’s troubled criminal-justice and child-protection systems.

    The Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday passed one such proposal (SB 7068), which would change the way mental-health and substance-abuse services are administered, coordinate them with primary health care and seek to increase Medicaid funding for them.

    “The bill will lead to more continuity and less fragmentation of services,” Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Chairman Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, said in a prepared statement. “People suffering from mental illness and substance abuse will receive more effective treatment, and the service delivery system will be more accountable to the taxpayers who fund these important efforts.”

    Two House panels, meanwhile, have launched related proposals. On Tuesday, the House Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee approved a measure (PCB CFSS 15-01) similar to the Senate plan. The panel’s chairwoman, Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, said it was part of a coordinated effort with the House Judiciary Committee to boost the roles of mental health and drug courts in judicial proceedings.

    Harrell’s subcommittee also approved a study intended to better serve people with mental illness or substance-abuse disorders.

    Mostly, the mental-health proposals drew praise — from those who use the services, their loved ones and professionals in the field.

    » Read more

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