Welcome to

Capitol News Service

Florida's Best Political Television Coverage

 


 


 


Recent Posts

RSS Quote of the Day

  • Virgil
    "Time passes irrevocably."
  • Edmund Burke
    "You can never plan the future by the past."
  • Lewis Carroll
    "Everything's got a moral, if only you can find it."
  • Horace Walpole
    "The whole secret of life is to be interested in one thing profoundly and in a thousand things well."

Jeff Vasilinda becomes the Vasilinda Family’s first published author!

Gail’s Law Would Allow Rap Victims to Better Track their Cases

February 15th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

When a victim reports a sexual assault, DNA and other evidence are collected and stored in what is commonly referred to as a ‘rape kit’, which is then tested in hopes of identifying the offender.

Florida once had a backlog of more than 13,000 kits, but legislation in 2016 helped clear the backlog.

Now lawmakers are looking to go even further to ensure kits are tested in a timely manner.

The Legislation is named Gail’s Law after Central Florida woman whose rape kit sat untested on a shelf for more than three decades.

“We’re talking about women that spent years and years and years losing sleep literally. Not being able to sleep at night for the fear that their offender would come back,” said Camille Cooper with RAINN.

When it was finally tested DNA evidence identified her offender as a serial rapist who was already in prison.

The bill would ensure victims like Gail could track the status of their rape kits in real time.

“No victims of sexual assault should have to watch their attacker escape justice because evidence was, similar to Gail’s case, just mishandled or not processed timely. Nobody should have their sexual assault kit sitting on a shelf for so many years. This will ensure that victims are not re-victimized,” said bill sponsor Rep. Emily Slosberg.

30 other states have already implemented rape kit tracking programs similar to the one now being proposed in Florida.

The legislation would task the Florida Department of Law Enforcement with establishing the uniform rape kit tracking system for the state.

Victims’ identities would remain protected.

This wouldn’t be the first reform to Florida’s rape kit system.

A backlog of over 13,000 kits was exposed in 2015, prompting legislation and a three year multi-million dollar effort to clear the backlog.

“What I’m concerned about is them staying caught up,” said Senate sponsor Linda Stewart.

Slosberg said Gail’s Law would help identify any kinks remaining in the system.

“If for whatever reason they’re not performing the rape kits in certain communities it will be exposed,” said Slosberg.

The state’s tight budget this year may make for a difficult path ahead.

Bill sponsors are still trying to work out the cost of implementing Gail’s Law.

Any additional cost to the state will be highly scrutinized.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Florida Governor and House Speaker Look to Protect Online Privacy

February 15th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

The Governor and House Speaker unveiled legislation today aimed at cracking down on big tech companies use of user data.

The legislation would require companies to explicitly tell users what data they plan to use and what they will use it for.

It would also require Florida residents be offered the option of opting-out of data sharing practices without facing consequences or being prohibited from using platforms.

Governor Ron DeSantis said if the bill becomes law, it will impact every Floridian who uses technology.

“So the heads they win, tails Floridians lose relationship with big tech needs to end. We’re going to shift the balance of power back to consumers and away from big tech because Floridians are no longer going to be dictated to by those big tech companies,” said DeSantis.

The bill is the second piece of legislation in an effort to crack down on big tech.

Like the deplatforming bill announced earlier this year, the Attorney General and users would be allowed to sue big tech companies that fail to comply with the proposed privacy requirements.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Liquor to Go Could Stick Around After COVID

February 15th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

Floridians have enjoyed the ability to order for delivery or take alcohol to go from restraints for nearly a year, thanks to executive action by the Governor signed in an effort to help restaurants navigate the pandemic.

Now legislation filed in the State Capitol would make the change permanent.

Carol Dover with the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association said the extra sales kept many restaurants afloat in 2020 and the legislation would be another tool in the toolbox for businesses as they look to recover.

“Our industry has now gone almost a year with allowing to have alcohol to go. It’s worked. It’s helped people stay alive. It has helped people have a job. Don’t take it away. No sense in going backwards,” said Dover.

The bill would also allow restaurants to send customers home with opened bottles of wine if they don’t finish the whole thing while dining in.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Florida Hospitality Industry Decries Potential Federal Travel Ban

February 12th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

The federal government is reportedly considering imposing travel restrictions on states seeing high rates of COVID-19 variants, including Florida.

The rumors have faced staunch condemnation from the Governor and other elected officials in Florida and the state’s hospitality industry fears limiting inter-state travel would devastate the economic gains made over the past six months.

The Miami Herald first quoted White House officials Wednesday suggesting the possibility of imposing interstate-travel restrictions on states like Florida to slow the spread of the more contagious UK COVID variant.

Governor Ron DeSantis was quick to denounce the idea.

“It would not be based in science. It would purely be a political attack against the people of Florida,” said DeSantis Thursday morning.

Following DeSantis’ remarks White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki downplayed the suggestion that travel restrictions were under consideration.

“No decisions have been made around additional public health measures that would delay, or would change I should say, domestic travel considerations,” said Psaki.

But her statement hasn’t done much to douse the fears of Florida’s hospitality industry, which likens inter-state travel restrictions to a second lockdown of the state’s economy.

“The last thing we need now is another shut down,” said Carol Dover, President of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.

The tourism industry was undoubtedly the sector hit hardest by the pandemic.

Rumors of a travel ban put a damper on last month’s optimism for a quicker than expected recovery.

Dover said some hotels are reporting out of state travelers make up 60 percent of their current business.

“60 percent. I mean we’re talking about an industry that is on life support right now. So the last thing we need to do is do anything that would cause their numbers to go backwards. We’re trying to build this industry back,” said Dover.

Both the Governor and The Restaurant and Lodging Association have called into question the constitutionality of a federally mandated inter-state travel ban.

If enacted, a lengthy legal battle would likely ensue, with Florida leading the charge.

The suggestion of Florida travel restrictions has also been condemned by both of Florida’s Republican US Senators.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Hurricane Damaged Children’s Advocacy Center Receives New Facility

February 12th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

Survivors of childhood sexual abuse in the panhandle have new hope Friday with the completion of a newly rebuilt therapy house at the Gulf Coast Children’s Advocacy Center.

The AshBritt Foundation & Lauren’s Kids Trauma Therapy House was destroyed during Hurricane Michael in 2018.

Therapists and the survivors they serve were displaced, but continued their work by meeting in public parks and parking lots.

Executive Director of the Center Lori Allen said the ribbon cutting ceremony marks a return to some sense of normalcy.

“Children and adults who have experienced trauma from victimization, they deserve the best of the best of the best. There shouldn’t be any lights out, there shouldn’t be carpet that’s mismatched here and there. They are so worthy. They are worthy of the very best and they’re getting the very best now,” said Allen.

Advocates told us often families don’t know about the free services provided a children advocacy centers until they are faced with a situation where they have to know.

To locate an advocacy center near you, visit the Florida Network of Children’s Advocacy Center’s website at FNCAC.org.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Provisional Data Suggests Suicide Deaths Fell in 2020

February 11th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

Provisional data from the Florida Department of Heath shows suicides were unexpectedly down in 2020 compared to previous years.

But mental health experts warn while the data paints an optimistic picture, addressing pandemic related mental health issues remains a major concern.

Since early on in the pandemic Florida officials have expressed concern about how lockdowns, record high unemployment and isolation would impact Floridians’ mental health.

“I really worry about suicide, drug abuse, alcohol abuse,” said Governor Ron DeSantis during a press conference in March of 2020.

But provisional numbers from the Department of Health paint a surprising picture.

Suicide deaths appear to have dropped in 2020.

2,989 suicides have been recorded.

It’s 437 fewer than the previous year.

“It is a little surprising to see the numbers,” said Melanie Brown-Woofter with the Florida Behavioral Health Association.

The early numbers represent a 13 percent decline in suicides compared to 2019.

She told us it’s too early to know exactly what to glean from the data.

“The numbers are not final. We won’t have those results at least until mid-year 2021, but we are seeing a rise in deaths from opioids and other substances. So we’re just looking to make a final confirmation on how the data is related,” said Brown-Woofter.

While the provisional data suggests suicides were down last year, people are reporting more mental health issues overall.

“Recent polls have shown there’s an increase in anxiety, increase in depression. And certainly the community provider is seeing an increase in individuals presenting for services, increase to crisis call lines,” said Brown-Woofter.

And experts caution the apparent decline in suicide deaths likely won’t make a large impact to the overall suicide rate.

We also don’t have data on the number of suicide attempts in 2020.

The finalized report won’t be completed until May.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

COVID Protections for Health Care Advance

February 10th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

Testimony during a Senate committee Wednesday revealed there are at least 112 COVID-related lawsuits in the pipeline against nursing and assisted living facilities in Florida.

But Legislation approved by the committee gets health care providers one step closer to being protected from COVID suits, as long as they followed the rules.

Health care workers doing their best on the front line of the COVID fight could soon be immune from lawsuits.

“We’ve had 1.8 million Floridians affected,” said Senator Jeff Brandes.

Brandes is sponsoring the bill that would provide liability protections for health care workers.

He said suits could only go forward when providers were grossly negligent or committed intentional misconduct.

“And we are asking in this piece of legislation that we protect our health care industry that has gone over and above the call of duty,” said Brandes.

Democrats on the committee offered four amendments to weaken the legislation.

All four failed.

As written, the legislation would protect health care facilities and all of their workers all the way back to the beginning of the pandemic in March.
Consumers told the committee the protections were too one sided.

“The only people that this bill will protect are the owners, the corporate owners, of nursing homes,” said Barbara Devane with the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans.

Trial lawyers argued the protections are already in law.

“I think it effectively bars virtually every claim. Every claim related to COVID,” said Steven Cain with the Florida Justice Association.

But nursing homes testified they were powerless to stop infections.

“Nursing homes were powerless to stop COVID carriers at the front door because over 50 percent of COVID spreaders are asymptomatic. Test kits? We didn’t get those from the Federal Government until August. Too late and too little,” said Kristen Ulman with the Florida Health Care Association.

The legislation is on the fast track with the full support of legislative leadership, which likely means few changes in the last two committees.

The legislation was approved on a six to four party line vote with Democrats voting no.

If it becomes law, any lawsuit would have to be filed within one year.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Lawmakers Looking into Pregnancy Mortality Disparities

February 10th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

A woman dies every nine days in Florida from a pregnancy related complication and Black Floridians are dying at higher rates than white or Hispanic women.

Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls raised the issue in his speech during the organizational session in November.

“Recently I’ve been looking at the data of the disparities that black women face in maternal health care,” said Sprowls.

In response, a House committee heard from experts on the issue Wednesday.

Lawmakers were told on average, 40 Floridians die each year from pregnancy-related medical issues.

Almost 70 percent are considered preventable.

“Even more tragic is the number of children who are left behind,” said Deborah Burch with the Florida Department of Health.

The state has made some progress at closing racial disparities in death rates between black and white mothers.

Previously a black mother was three times as likely to die from pregnancy.

Over the past five years the disparity has been cut by a third, which is good news to Committee Chair William Robinson.

“I wanted at least, the members to understand the data to make sure moving forward we continue to see that decrease over time,” said Robinson.

But Representative Anna Eskamani believes the state can do better.

“The rates for women of color are disproportionately high compared to white women, and so, that is not something to celebrate,” said Eskamani.

Democrats on the committee said they want to see the state implement racial bias training in hospitals and expand Medicaid to improve maternal mortality rates.

“There’s been efforts to expand that access, to better understand the racial implicit bias within the medical field and none of those bills have ever gotten a hearing,” said Eskamani.

But Robinson was non-committal on legislative action.

“Will there be some policy initiatives based upon that data? We’ll have to wait and see,” said Robinson.

Overall, the state has seen about a 30 percent decrease in its pregnancy-related mortality rate since 2009.

Of the pregnancy related deaths hemorrhage was the leading cause.

Experts told lawmakers c-sections increase the risk of hemorrhaging.

Florida’s c-section rate is 30.4 percent, compared to the national target of 23.6 percent.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Bill Requiring Union Membership Reauthorization Clears Second Committee

February 10th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

Union members will have to tell their employers they want to continue having union dues deducted from their paychecks every three years or every time a contract is renewed under legislation moving forward at the state Capitol.

Unions argue it is an attempt to undermine membership, but sponsors push back, describing it as a way to protect public employees paychecks.

State Senator Tina Polsky called the idea a waste of time.

“You know, we’re here to fix problems that exist. We’re on a very limited time frame. Many bills are not being heard because of time constraints that would help people. This bill doesn’t help anyone. It will make it harder for public employers: School districts. Police Departments. Fire Departments. And those public employers have not asked for this,” said Polsky.

The legislation was approved on a 6-4 vote.

It has one more committee stop before a vote on the Senate floor.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Democrats on Tap for 2022

February 9th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

The 2020 election has only been in the rear view mirror for three months, but the political focus is already turning to who’s running for Governor in 2022.

An inner party survey is already asking Democrats who they favor to take on the Governor.

The survey was sent to Florida Democrats via email last week.

It highlights ten potential challengers to Governor Ron DeSantis.

Most are fresh, little know faces.

Charlie Crist, who was a Republican Governor and then ran again as a Democrat in 2014 is also on the list.

“Well, I’ve been urged for running for Governor and I am considering it,” said Crist.

“Sure, Crist is well known, but things have changed,” said retired political scientist Susan MacManus.

MacManus says the party is different now.

“It’s much more dominated by women than ever, particularly women of color,” said MacManus.

Daniel Uhlfelder may have launched the first digital effort of the 2022 campaign.

Uhlfelder, aka the Grim Reaper, has been pushing back against the Governor’s covid policies since March.

The Governor starts from a strong position.

He’s got $9 million in his political action committee and more coming in every day.

GOP Executive Director Helen Ferre said the Governor is ready.

“Florida continues to lead the nation in COVID response policies,” said Ferre.

Despite Donald Trump winning handily with the Governor’s help, MacManus argues Florida is still a swing state.

“It’s just that Democrats did not run a very good campaign in the Presidential contest,” said MacManus.

So far, none of the ten democrats on the list or any other credible Democrat has filed paperwork to get into the race.

Money raising has to start soon for anyone who is serious.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Bumpy Road Ahead for Transportation Projects

February 9th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

The Florida Department of Transportation is expecting major budget losses in the coming years as a result of the pandemic.

When asked what areas might be facing cuts to make up for pandemic revenue losses, Senate Budget Chair Kelli Stargel was blunt.

“The roads are not going to deteriorate overnight. We’re going to maintain some of this process, but I don’t know that we’re going to be able to fund it to the level we had in the past,” said Senator Stargel.

The Department of Transportation is expecting $2.9 billion less revenue over the next five years.

This year alone it deferred 23 projects and canceled 54 others.

“This was truly unprecedented,” said Stacy Miller with the Department during a presentation to state Senators Tuesday.

Lawmakers are already expecting to delay funding for the Sun Coast Parkway extension, a top priority for Legislative leadership just one year ago.

“Right now we can’t afford it, but I don’t want to kill the policy,” said Senator Ed Hooper.

Lawmakers are also looking ahead to future transportation woes.

The rise of electric vehicles will mean less revenue from taxes on gasoline, the primary source of revenue for the department.

“We have to come up with a fair, equitable way to maintain our infrastructure,” said Hooper.

Even though electric vehicles aren’t projected to significantly impact gas tax revenues until 2028, Hooper argues a plan to make up the losses needs to be in place now.

“2027-28 is just around the corner for even more diminishment of that revenue stream. And we can’t wait til that happens to start addressing the need,” said Hooper.

Lawmakers have until April 30th to craft a budget with $2.1 billion less than they thought they’d have last year.

Whether it’s transportation or another sector that’s on the chopping block, there are tough decisions ahead.

The Department said despite the loss of revenue, it will prioritize safety and preservation related projects.

It also plans to continue funding projects that are already active.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Democrats File Medicaid Expansion Legislation

February 9th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

Florida Senate Democrats have filed legislation to expand Medicaid to Florida’s working poor.

The idea has been around since 2012, but GOP lawmakers refuse to consider the expansion because it requires the state to put up a ten percent match.

This year, that would be about $80 million.

Senator Perry Thurston said that leaves Florida in the minority of states.

“Fourteen states that have failed to accept the benefits of the Federal government that’s been handed to them, handed to them on a platter. You know, here, go ahead and take care of the neediest people in your community. That’s why we’re here today. We’re here today because nine hundred thousand Floridians are being denied affordable health care,” said Thurston.

The legislation is unlikely to be considered as Florida already faces cuts to core programs to continue education and environmental funding proposed by the Governor.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Democrats Unveil Police Reform Package

February 9th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

The Florida Legislative Black Caucus is putting forth a package of 16 bills aimed at reforming policing in the state.

Some of the proposals include limiting the use of no-knock warrants, mandating body and dash cameras, setting higher minimum agency standards, chipping away at qualified immunity and creating a registry for use of force incidents and complainants against officers.

Representative Evan Jenne said the efforts are not aimed at defunding the police.

“If you really look at these policies they’re not antagonistic towards law enforcement officers. They’re not antagonistic towards anyone. They’re going to protect people. They’re going to protect people in communities of color and one thing that I don’t think folks are understanding is they’re also going to protect our law enforcement officers. It’s going to give them more skills, more ability to engage with the community on a human level,” said Jenne.

While Democrats said they’re hopeful some of their legislative efforts will succeed, Republican legislative leaders and the Governor have thrown their weight behind legislation that aims to increase penalties on rioters.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Parkland Anniversary Sparks Renewed Calls For Assault Weapon Ban

February 8th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

Sunday will mark the three year anniversary of the Parkland High School mass shooting that left 17 dead.

Survivors and family members of those killed joined with lawmakers to highlight their efforts to push tighter gun control in the 2021 legislative session Monday morning, but early indications suggest the Legislature is more inclined to do just the opposite.

Manuel Oliver’s son Joaquin was one of the 17 killed in the Valentines Day mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

“I lost my son and best friend,” said Oliver.

Three years later, Oliver is still waiting for action.

“We didn’t do it after Orlando. We didn’t do it after Vegas. We didn’t do it after Parkland,” said Oliver.

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith began his legislative push to ban assault-style weapons five years ago, when 49 were murdered in the mass shooting at Pulse Night Club.

“To make sure that military-grade weapons don’t fall into the hands of civilians,” said Smith.

In the five years it’s been filed, the bill has never gotten a single hearing.

It’s unlikely this year will be any different.

Instead, legislators appear more inclined to loosen some gun laws.

State Senator Dennis Baxley is cosponsoring a bill that would allow for Floridians to carry concealed firearms in places of worship.

It’s already cleared one committee.

“It’s foundational that you could protect yourself and your family and others from harm,” said Baxley.

But Smith isn’t giving up hope.

“We shouldn’t wait for another act of violence for there to be action taken,” said Smith.

A citizen initiative that would have put the question of banning assault weapons before voters was struck down by the State Supreme Court last year because the court called it misleading.

Organizers have yet to file a more clear alternative amendment.

In the wake of the Parkland shooting the Florida Legislature did increase the age to purchase firearms from 18 to 21.

That same legislation also allowed for trained school staff to posses a firearm on school grounds.

The following year classroom teachers were added to the list of those who could be armed.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Florida Abortions Under Fire

February 8th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

Doctors who abort a fetus after more than 20 weeks of gestation could be charged with a felony under legislation filed in the State Capitol.

The legislation is based on studies that show the fetus can experience pain at 20 weeks, but opponents call it one more veiled attempt at making all abortions illegal.

The legislation would end almost all abortions at 20 weeks.

Senate Sponsor Dennis Baxley said that’s when a fetus feels pain.

“That’s what the evidence has shown in the pain sensitiveness of unborn children. And it’s perfectly clear that they’re under attack and resisting the attack of the abortionist,” said Baxley.

Under the legislation, doctors who violate the law could face a felony and five years in prison.

The mother could not be charged under the bill.

The only exception to the 20 week ban is the physical health of the mother.

That doesn’t include her mental health, or fears of suicide.

”Politicians are not medical experts,” said Dian Alarcon with the Latina Institute.

In a Planned Parenthood video conference, mothers who have had abortions called the legislation wrong.

“I had an abortion. This is what it looked like for me. It’s not always right or wrong, black or white,” said Dana Pierce.

Activist Charo Valero said mothers already face big problems getting abortions.

“Including not knowing about it. Not having access to services, not being able to travel,” said Valero.

The mothers said after a year of COVID, lawmakers should have better things to do.

Baxley disagrees.

“I think its always time to go back and look at your core values, and do you believe you vale children? Do you value life?” said Baxley.

Of the 72,000 abortions reported by the state last year, only about 6,500 were in the second trimester.

Opponents believe the legislation violates the second trimester, or 24 weeks, allowed under Roe v. Wade.

Supporters hope to test the law before the US Supreme Court.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

« Previous Entries Next Entries »

copyright © 2016 by Capitol News Service | Powered by Wordpress | Hosted by LyonsHost.com