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On the Attack

March 31st, 2015 by flanews

The Florida Senate looks like it’s poised to pass a plan that would expand Medicaid in the state which could help almost one million Floridians. But as Matt Galka tells us, some conservatives are feeling heat from their own supporters.

Margarita Romo says members of Farmworkers Self Help – the group she established to provide assistance to migrant farm workers – know all too well the pains of falling into the Medicaid coverage gap.

“I don’t know why we get so wrapped up in thinking that we have to pass a budget and that it has to kill a lot of people in order for it to be right,” she said.

Romo said expansion is important not just for adults, but thousands of children who have to wait years for a doctor’s visit.

The Florida Senate is pushing an expansion plan called the Florida Health Insurance Affordability Exchange, or FHIX.  FHIX would require low-income Floridians to work or use copays instead of receiving insurance subsidies.

Skylar Zander with conservative group Americans for Prosperity are now on the attack.  The group, funded by the billionaire Koch brothers,   are sending out mailers to constituents of 25 Senators, including the Senate president, urging them to speak out about the move.

“This is a very bloated expansion and the citizens need to know that,” said Zander.

Senator Anitere Flores (R-Miami) is brushing off the criticism.

“I understand Americans for Prosperity has a job to do and I get it, but the fact is that we have a job as legislators, we have a job that we have to ensure that Floridians have access to healthcare. That it’s affordable, that it’s something they can use. We’re fulfilling our job and we’re doing it in a responsible way,” said Sen. Flores.

Some Senators say they’re fully willing to push session into overtime if the House doesn’t come around on the idea.

“My peers are already prepared to continue this session on, not Sine Die, and force the House to make a decision,” said Kissimmee Democrat Darren Soto.

The House has so far rejected the idea of any form of expansion.

Today, members of the Senate were in Washington to discuss healthcare funding, including Medicaid and other options, with federal officials.

Posted in State News | Comments Off on On the Attack

Testimony Nearly Non Existent at Abortion Hearing

March 31st, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

There were dozens of angry women in the State Capitol today who were denied a chance to speak against a controversial 24 hour waiting period for abortions. Only two speakers, one for and one against got just seconds to make their case before the committee.

The legislation requires a woman seeking an abortion to make not one, but two visits on different days to a doctor before the procedure can be performed.

Eleanor Sobel sought to allow the consultation to be by phone or electronic communication.

“She physically would not have to make those two trips. It’s a burden for many women, especially those who travel long distance” Sobel told the Senate Health Policy Committee.

“Yea. All opposed please say nay. Nay.” the amendment was voted down.

More than 30 people signed up to speak. Just two got the chance.

Julia Costas is a Tallahassee Attorney. “I had an abortion over 30 years ago and years later I came to regret that decision.”

Dr. Christopher M. Estes works with Planned Parenthood. “This will place our patients in difficult situations, having an unnecessary delay in care” says Estes.

The lack of testimony prompted an outburst from the crowd, which applauded. But the lack of testimony one way or the other din’t stop the committee from approving waiting period along party lines.

“I just find it wrong” says terri Wonder, who drove 5 hours from Bradenton not to be heard. “And it was purposely, obviously, purposely put just before lunchtime to stifle free debate” said wonder afterward.

The legislation has two more committee stops, but one of those committees is chaired by the sponsor.

After the passage, supporters dressed in 1960’s garb…when abortions were illegal, delivered petitions to both presiding officers, but got to see neither.

The House version of the legislation has its final committee hearing at 8:30 tomorrow morning.


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Expanding Medical Marijuana

March 31st, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

An expanded version of medical marijuana cleared the Senate Health Policy Committee today. The bill expands last years low THC law from five to 20 distributors and allows them to be selected by a lottery. Anneliese Clark traveled from St. Johns County on the east coast to show the committee pictures of her ten year old daughter. A year ago she was given no hope of surviving.

“We were told by her neurologist that we needed to believe in God because there were no other options for her, so we chose to turn to cannabis. This was her one year later” said Clark.

Q: Pretty remarkable?

“Its very remarkable. She made it 100 days without a seizure. She eats three meals a day. She is trying to walk again.

Opponents say the THC level allowed in the new proposal is too low to help many patients. They vow to push ahead with another constitutional amendment if lawmakers don’t increase allowable dosages.


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Smoking in Cars with Kids

March 31st, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

People who smoke in their cars with kids under 13 could be stopped by police under legislation approved five to one in a state Senate Health Policy Committee today. The fine for non moving violations ranges from $116 to $129 dollars. Sen. Arthenia Joyner of Tamp[a says the legislation is appropriate because kids in the back seat don’t have a choice.

“We should not allow them to expose children to the possibility of years of health failings.”

If approved, the legislation would take effect October first.


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Juvenile Citations

March 30th, 2015 by flanews

Lawmakers are pushing a bill that could cut down on juvenile arrests and hopefully still set kids on the right path, but as Matt Galka tells us, retailers are worried it could end up costing them.

Edward Barnes says an arrest when he was a kid sent his life barreling down the wrong path.

“By profession I used to teach middle school, and as a result of that juvenile record I lost my career,” said Barnes.

Barnes travelled from Daytona Beach to tell lawmakers to support expanding the juvenile citation program.  First-time offenders are eligible to receive citations or  be put into diversion programs.  A proposal moving in the Capitol would allow those methods to be used on the second offense or beyond.

Retailers are worried that the bill could limit consequences for shoplifters, and that could end up costing the stores.

“Organized retail crime goes beyond what people normally think of as simple shoplifting, it’s a $2 billion dollar criminal enterprise in the state of Florida,” said Samantha Padgett with the Florida Retail Federation.

Padgett says without a limit on the program, juveniles could continue shoplifting or be recruited into shoplifting crime rings.

“It says you can issue it for a second or subsequent offense and it puts no limit on that. What we would prefer is a limit of three,” she said.

The bill passed its first committee overwhelmingly with lawmakers open to giving kids a second chance.

“If the members who are on this committee held to account for everything they did as children or juveniles, I have a sneaky suspicion that many of us would not be sitting here,” said Rep. Ross Spano (R-Riverview).

The proposal has the backing of the Florida Smart Justice Alliance and faith groups like the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Even lawmakers who supported the bill said it’s important that police have the ability to know in the field if a juvenile has been in the citation program already.

Posted in State News | Comments Off on Juvenile Citations

Florida Aviation Expert says Lufthansa Dropped the Ball

March 30th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Pilot too inexperienced



Florida Aviation analyst Jay Rollins spent 25 years as a Captain flying International routes for American Airlines. He now teaches aviation at a south Florida flight school and at the University of Miami. Rollins says the co-pilot of the ill fated Germanwings flight should never have been hired with 600 hours. 1500 hours are required in the U-S. Rollins also says pilots should be required to sign waivers so their medical histories can be shared with the FAA.

“When it comes to reporting, the doctors are somehow cut off from reporting to the airline because of privacy concerns. That has to be loosened for public safety purposes. Perhaps the pilot should be required to sign waivers that allows the company, allows the  FAA to get those medical records”says Rollins

Rollins also says co-workers  who spend hours together in the cockpit should have a mechanism for sharing information about each other to the company when red flags appear.

Posted in Crime, Economy, Education, Ethics, Mental Health, State News, Transportation | Comments Off on Florida Aviation Expert says Lufthansa Dropped the Ball

Class Size Changes

March 27th, 2015 by flanews

Florida voters put class size limits into the constitution in 2002. As Matt Galka tells us, a bill passed by the Florida House would give schools a break for exceeding the class size numbers, but opponents say that’s not what voters wanted.

A little more than a decade ago, Florida voters put caps on class sizes into the constitution.  18 students from pre-K through third grade. 22 students from 4th grade to 8th grade. And 25 students in high school.  The limits have been costing schools. Schools are fined for every class that goes over the limit.

A bill that overwhelmingly passed the Florida House would ease the limits and base penalties on average class sizes.  The House speaker says lawmakers are still following the will of the voters.

“We’re trying to find what’s best for the districts, and the districts have found that this is a better way to go and we agree with that. And we’re going to continue to see if that’s something that the Senate will agree with us on,” said House Speaker Steve Crisafulli.

Only three members of the House opposed the bill, all were Democrats.

Representative Jose Rodriguez (D-Miami) district is no stranger to the class size penalties, but he said the problem could be fixed if the legislature was funding public schools.

“Anything that weakens the intent of the voters of the class size amendment is not something we can support,” he said.

The state has spent around $30 billion dollars since 2003 devoted to class size requirements. That money has gone towards building new schools and hiring teachers.

In 2010, an amendment was rejected by Florida voters that largely did the same thing that today’s House bill does: determining class size by the school’s average.

Posted in State News | Comments Off on Class Size Changes

Uniforms Coming to a School Near You?

March 26th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

The Florida House of Representatives has given tentative approval this afternoon to make it easier for school districts to adopt standard uniform policies for kindergarten through eight grade. Under state law, uniforms are already allowed, but this legislation offers an encouragement.

The legislation offers a ten dollar per student incentive for districts that adopt uniforms…or as the legislature like to call it Standard student attire.  State Representative Joe Geller initially hated the idea.  “I though, well, that’s going to destroy creativity, enhances conformity, it can’t be a good thing.”

But then he says he heard the facts.

“And it reduces bullying, and it reduces teasing and reduces kids saying, you know, you’re not in the right clothes” says Geller.

5 districts already have uniforms…Sponsor Janet Adkins asked them to testify about the experience. “They were all saying the same thing and that is when they implemented a school uniform policy in their school,s, the climate, the culture at their schools improved. Its an issue of school safety, helps with school truancy” says Adkins.

Even the supporters of the idea worry about those students who can’t afford uniforms.

Some schools in Sarasota, which Ray Pilon represents. also require uniforms. He says cost is an issue for some.

“I think all of the things about uniforms and peer pressure are good. I just want to make sure that those who have the least can also take advantage of it, and I’m sure we’ll work that out” says Pilon.

There are nearly two million students in kindergarten through eight grade. The ten million dollar appropriation attached to the bill is enough for about half the schools to share the stipend on a first come basis.

The five counties with district wide uniforms are Alaucha, Bay, Madison, Polk, and Osceola.

Posted in State News | Comments Off on Uniforms Coming to a School Near You?

Hitting a Donkey with a 2X4

March 26th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

One lawmaker likened legislation making major changes in the body that regulates high school sports in Florida to hitting a donkey on the head with a 2 x 4. The House Education committee today passed legislation requiring a complete shakeup of the governing organization, reorganizing its board and membership, allowing students to attend any school. Sponsor Manny Diaz says the message to the the Florida High School Athletic Association that student athletes are innocent until proven guilty and should be allowed to participate until then.

“We found that the date shows that most of the athletes that go through the appeal process are found eligible at the end of the process. But once they’ve gotten through the process they’ve now missed 30 to 45 days of participation.  So this really allows them, the parents and the school to make a decision if they feel they have as strong case allow them to participate. It they are found eligible at the end, they didn’t miss any time. If they are found ineligible at the en then there is a penalty to the team or the individual” says Diaz.

Opponent Reggie Fullwood of Jacksonville fears the legislation will allow athletes to be recruited or shop for schools.

“The opportunity is now there for kids to enroll in charter schools that don;t have certain sports so they can intentionally go and play for any team they want in the county. I just think there needs to be some clear zones set up so you can’t pick any school in the county” says Fullwood.

The legislation also sets the year 2017 for the Commissioner of Education to recommend whether FHSAA continues regulating sports or if it should be taken over by another entity.

Posted in State News | Comments Off on Hitting a Donkey with a 2X4

Cards on the Table

March 26th, 2015 by flanews

Destination resort casinos, the future of greyhound racing, and renewing the compact that allows blackjack in certain places around the state. All were topics of discussion for lawmakers today, and as Matt Galka tells us, the odds are against getting many of the proposals to pass.

A four hour long workshop saw legislators diving into a heated gambling debate.  They heard from dozens of stakeholders on what’s best for the future of gaming in the state.

Outsiders said putting a Las Vegas type strip wouldn’t corrupt the state.

“Make no mistake, the tribal facilities in Florida are Las Vegas style casinos. The one in Tampa does a billion dollars in revenue a year, one of the most profitable in the world, the sky did not fall when they opened up. Crime rates didn’t increase in Hillsborough County,” said Nick Iarossi with the Las Vegas Sands Corporation.

But John Sowinski with anti-gaming group “No Casinos” says expansion would ruin the family friendly Florida brand.

“To say that casinos don’t create more crime in that zip code is like saying cigarette factories don’t increase cancer rates around the cigarette factory, this is a problem people take home with them,” said Sowinski.

The workshop comes at a time when the state is trying to renew its compact deal with the Seminole Tribe – an exclusive deal that allows their tribes casinos to run blackjack and other table games.  The deal has brought $1 billion dollars to the state and expires in July.

“I encouraged them to participate in this work shop today but they determined they were not going to do that,” said House Majority Leader Dana Young (R-Tampa).

Young is pushing a comprehensive gaming bill that could pave the way for more casinos in the state and create oversight.

She said it’s too early to determine how many members supported it.

“This is a gaming bill and gaming bills never come up until the last couple days of session,” said Rep. Young.

The bill would force the Seminoles to give up their exclusive gaming rights, something they’re not on board with. The talks have reportedly been stalled since January.

There’s another dog in the gambling fight: the Florida Greyhound Association. They don’t want to see the legislature decouple – which would allow them to operate poker and slots without having to run dog races.

Posted in State News | Comments Off on Cards on the Table

Turf wars: Nurses vs. Doctors. Round one to the Nurses

March 25th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

A turf war over your health care options is heating up at the State Capitol. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, it has to do with giving Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioners more authority at the expense of doctors.

Elizabeth Markovich isn’t a doctor, but she has a Doctorate degree in nursing and more than 15 years experience.. She treats patients but can’t prescribe most medications. “I can’t prescribe that without waiting for a signature from our calibrating physician” says the nursing veteran

At the state Capitol this committee room was packed with white coats representing just about every facet of medicine…all of them but one in favor of giving nurse practitioners autonomy from doctors and allowing them prescribing authority. The one group opposed: the Flordia Medical Association and its President Dr. Alan Pillersdorf. Pres. FL Medication Association

“We don’t want to divide the care of a patient and put in compartments” Pillersdorf told the committee.  Committee members, including Rep Jose Oliva (R-Miami) a future House Speaker, had strong words for the MD’s and their opposition.

“Lets continue to let the supervision happen, but lets make it illegal to charge for that supervision and lets see how long that motivation would remain” says Oliva

The legislation passed. Afterwards, Sponsor Dr. Cary Pigman took issue with the need for supervision’ “It’s not the kind of supervision you would like to think,  where there is cooperation back and forth.”

“So the current system is kind of a sham?”

“I”m afraid it is” responded Pigman.

Jean Aertker of Tampa has been a nurse practitioner since 1984.

“and this will help clarify some of the outdated laws” she says.

Even the sponsor, who is a doctor, concedes this is going to be a multi year effort. And that means Compromise may be in the air…giving ARNP’s more prescribing authority, but keeping a doctor in the loop.

Florida is the most restricting state in its regulation of Advanced degree nurses. A typical supervising doctor may charge as many as 5 ARNPs fifty thousand dollars a year and still operate a medical practice.

Posted in State News | Comments Off on Turf wars: Nurses vs. Doctors. Round one to the Nurses

A First for Political Theatre: Bag Monster

March 25th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Take a look at this. He’s called a bag monster and he was walking around the state Capitol today to dramatize the harm done by plastic bags. According to the Surfrider Foundation, the average family uses 500 plastic bags a year that end up in land fills or in our waterways.Holly Parker says the Foundation would like to see an end to a state ban on any local anti bag ordinances.

“Florida is currently the only state that has a preemption on regulating plastic bags at all, which is really unfortunate since we have so much coast line. You would think we would be  leader on this issue. Hawaii has almost a statewide ban and other states are following in that process. Other states have communities banning bags locally.”

The ban was enacted five years ago and was led by newspapers who feared they would have no way to protect their papers from wet mornings. Other states have limited the ban to grocery and other stores. Whole Foods grocery stores offer a charity donation or  ten cent refund to people with reusable bags.

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Hillsborough County Comes to the Capitol

March 25th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

A pirate stormed through legislation offices today passing out beads and posing for pictures with lawmakers and staff as part of Hillsborough day in the State Capitol. The annual fest fed cuban sandwiches to more than a thousand people and offered stunts from the Museum of Science along with exhibits from the Lowery Park Zoo and Busch gardens. County Commissioner Victor Crist says the county has to be in the Capitol to compete with other regions.

We’re developing the downtown are of Tampa and certainly the University of South Florida’s new medical school would be a crown jewel to have there. There’s a laundry list of other issues that are going on in Hillsborough County, we’re up here fighting for out cause.”

The events were funded by local businesses.

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Taxis are Uber Mad

March 25th, 2015 by flanews

The boom of ride sharing services through smart phones has ruffled some feathers in the traditional cab company community.  As Matt Galka tell us, taxis say ride sharers are breaking the rules, and the legislature is trying to fix that.

Tom Villaverde says he used to work 80 hours a week selling cars.

“And I missed the first year and a half of my son’s life,” he said.

Villaverde made the change to catering, and started working for Uber – a smart phone based ride sharing service.  He’s not a traditional cab. He has his own car and works when he wants. But companies like Uber are causing some road rage within the taxi community.

“Their language in their thing, they don’t guarantee you a safe ride, they don’t guarantee you a safe car, they don’t guarantee you insurance, they don’t guarantee you anything,” said Louis Minardi, President of the Tampa Yellow Cab Company.

Cab and limo companies say Uber’s playing by different rules and that their insurance requirements are a grey area which puts taxis at a disadvantage riders at risk.

Rep. Matt Gaetz says the companies are worried about a competitor.

“If someone develops a better mousetrap and innovates a new technology, they oughta get benefit as a result of being able to capture more customers,” said Rep. Gaetz (R-Shalimar).

Gaetz is backing a bill that would require an insurance policy of at least $1 million dollars when a driver is transporting passengers for ride sharing to address some of the concerns.

Villaverde says he doesn’t think he’s doing anything wrong and it comes down to money for the traditional companies.

“If somebody didn’t pick me for a team, yea I’d be upset, I’d call names, but they want more people on their side, and they want less uber drivers so they can capitalize more,” he said.

Cabs say both companies can exist, but they’re pushing for 24/7 insurance coverage. Not just coverage when the app is in use. Florida law currently requires limos and cabs to maintain insurance policies with minimums of 125,000 dollars per person in case of accident or injury.

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Cut My Taxes

March 24th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Rick Scott is facing some opposition to his plan to cut 673 million dollars in taxes this year., so he kicked off what he is calling his “Cut My Taxes Week”  with a booth in the state Capitol. Even the Governor is adding to the confusion with a TV spot in which he says he wants a tax cut of 500 million dollars.

Rick Scott said it in his inauguration.  “We’ll cut another one billion dollars in taxes.”

Then again in his State of the State, “Let’s keep cutting taxes”

Three weeks ago he said it in TV Spots His Let’s Get to Work Committee is spending more than a million to air across the State. Now working with your legislators, we plan to cut taxes by half a billion dollars.”

The actual tax cut the Governor wants is 673 million. And The fact a sitting governor, just reelected is running TV spots to push his agenda has some in the legislature scratching their heads.

“Ultimately, we have to draft a budget that balances and we have to make sure we are comfortable with what we do here.” and so the Governor is totally within his right to do what he wants” said Senate President Andy Gardiner.

The Senate President says its too early to put a number on a tax cut package.

So on Tuesday, Scott engaged in a little political theatre, inviting people to bring their cable and phone bills to the Capitol and see how much they would save under his plan.

Twice we asked the Governor why he was turning to TV to sell his tax package. The answer was identical both times.

Q:Governor, I’m still a little unclear why you are on TV?”

A:” Well, its because, one, we have a great state and I want to make sure we are letting people know how many great things are happening in our state, but on top of that, make sure everyone knows why its a great state. We have record funding for K-12 education and we are going to see another 673 million in tax cuts.”

Q:It isn’t about another campaign is it sir? “

To which there was no answer.

Right now the House and Senate are over 4 billion dollars apart on the state budget, and how large a tax cut may depend on how the two chambers solve their differences on health care.


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