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Coronavirus Funding Expected to Get Big Boost

March 10th, 2020 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida lawmakers are upping the ante when it comes to funding to fight the Coronavirus.

They have already agreed to spend a total of $75 million in state and local funding, but they want to add $200 million more just in case.

The Florida House was back to business as usual on Tuesday.

It was a far cry from Monday afternoon when the chamber was evacuated and disinfected as a precaution.

Five members were at an event 10 days prior, where one person later tested positive for Covid-19.

Representative Dr. Cary Pigman led the effort.

“We were trying to prepare for the worst, and we got the cleaning started. But once we sat down and got to talking to Dr. Rivkees, and also talked to the members in greater detail, they fell in this very low risk category,” said Pigman.

Representative Byron Donalds was one of five briefly quarantined.

“For a moment, you’re oh my gosh, seriously you are. But then you sit down and take stock of your personal health and where you are. The other members that I was with in self imposed quarantine, for a lack of better words, we kind of realized were were fine and going to be fine,” said Donalds.

Lawmakers usually deal in the abstract with problems that are far away or remote, but Monday’s scare brought the virus front and center.

Hours after the scare, legislative leaders decided to tuck another $200 million into the state’s reserve account just in case.

“We have to do that work of where do we find these dollars, but we want to put together a good pot of money,” said House Speaker Jose Oliva.

That money can be used as needed to fight the emergency under the executive order issued by the Governor Monday.

The state Department of Agriculture issued guidance for restaurants and other licensed establishments, urging them to train employees, provide wipes and tissues, and encouraging them to wipe down counter tops and even grocery cart handles frequently.

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Protestors Line Up Against Public Records Exemption for University President Applicants

March 10th, 2020 by Jake Stofan

Applicants hoping to take over as President of Florida’s 12 state universities would be exempt from public records under a bill expected to be taken up by the full Senate this week.

Protestors lined the entry to the Senate chamber Tuesday morning hoping to convince members to vote against the measure.

Rich Templin with the Florida AFL-CIO said blocking potential candidates from the public eye could threaten the high national rankings of the state’s universities.

“If this process is hid from the public then political appointees will control the process. It will lead to cronyism, it will lead to corruption and it will really, really harm our higher education system,” said Templin.

The bill would only allow applicants information to become public 21 days before an interview would be conducted, or a final hiring decision is to be made.

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Judge Rules Sanders Can Stay of the Florida Ballot

March 10th, 2020 by Mike Vasilinda

A judge in the State Capital has ruled votes cast for Senator Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Party can be counted.

“Because the Party has a first amendment right to determine who is a Democrat. Sanders, therefore, in substance and in name, a Democrat,” said Sanders’ attorney Malcolm Seymour.

Two registered Democrats filed a lawsuit, alleging that since Sanders is an Independent in his home state of Vermont, he should not be allowed to run in the Florida Democratic Primary

“There is no reason that he could not, and should not have switched his Independent if he is really a Democrat. If he’s not, then I guess he has a problem. And the votes should not be counted as we suggested,” said Karen Geivers, who filed the lawsuit.

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Senate Approves College Athlete Compensation Bill

March 9th, 2020 by Jake Stofan

College athletes would be allowed to profit off their name, image and likeness of a bill approved by the Florida Senate Monday becomes law.

Some lawmakers are concerned the bill goes too far, while others don’t believe it goes far enough.

The move by the Florida Senate comes after California the Florida approved a similar law last December.

“That’s the first and third largest state. I think we send a very clear message to the NCAA, the SEC, the Big Ten, all these organizations that we’re serious about doing the right thing when it comes to our student athletes,” said Senator Rob Bradley.

But Senator Randolph Bracy, a former college basketball player and one of the first lawmakers to get behind the student athlete pay movement isn’t completely satisfied with the end product.

“The very best athletes will be able to take advantage of it and the rest of them will just kind of be left behind. But they contribute just as equally to a team’s success as any other person does,” said Bracy. “So I think it needs to be revisited, but I felt like it’s a good first start.”

There were two no votes in the Senate.

Senator Keith Perry expressed concerns that endorsements could be used as recruiting tools.

“It’s not going to be about academics, it’s not going to be able the school culture . It’s not going to be about those things, It’s going to be how much am I going to get offered,” said Perry.

But Senator Bracy believes the good in the bill outweighs recruitment concerns.

“Florida being now the second state to approve this kind of measure, I think it gives us an advantage, but I mean I think we should do it so I have no problem with what we did today,” said Bracy.

The bill now heads to the House, which is likely to send it to the Governor later this week.

The legislation won’t go into effect until July of 2021 in order to give the NCAA time to develop its own rules surrounding student athlete compensation.

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Lawmakers Plan to Spend Big to Combat Corona Virus

March 9th, 2020 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida lawmakers have reached agreement for additional funding to the Department of Health to fight the Coronavirus.

It comes as the state is ramping up its emergency operations center.

A good part of the Governor’s day was spent meeting about the Coronavirus.

Four floors up the Senate began its day with a prayer that included fighting the virus.

“We invoke your mercy on all the citizens of our great state to be saved from calamities that come to the world,” said Rabbi Schneur Oirechman.

Lawmakers originally offered between ten and twenty million last week to fight the Coronavirus.

The Governor asked for $25 million.

He’s getting it with no strings attached.

“To use as he sees fit. Now this may involve mitigation strategies. It may involve containment. It may involve other things, because as this epidemic continues to evolve, the way we continue to respond to it evolves as well,” said Rep. Cary Pigman.

And the door is open for more money if needed.

“The Governor has the ability to declare an emergency, and he’s able to access a lot more money,” said Senator Aaron Bean.

The Governor has activated the emergency operations center to a level two.

That’s the same level he would activate it to if there were a hurricane about a week away.

And lawmakers are working on a contingency plan to come back if the virus slows tourism, which is a $6 billion tax source for state government.

“Given what’s going on with travel, and the cruise industry, it would not take much for us to get a general revenue hit that would force us back into a special session to adjust the budget,” said Senator Tom Lee.

The state is now asking anyone who has traveled overseas to self isolate for 14 days.

Florida universities issued the same 14-day self isolate edict for students and faculty last week.

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Corona Virus Scare at the Capitol

March 9th, 2020 by Jake Stofan

The Florida House suspended its session and five members are being tested for COVID-19 after an attendee of two Washington DC conferences tested positive for the virus.

The House chamber was emptied Monday afternoon and desks of the members were disinfected.

House communications Director Fred Piccolo says the risk of them testing positive is low.

“Members have chosen to self-isolate out of an abundance of caution. They are feeling fine, they have no symptoms. They haven’t exhibited symptoms for ten days and we feel like they’re just doing this out of an abundance of caution. They should be just fine,” said Piccolo.

Representative and Doctor Cary Pigman attended to the potentially infected members, but risk was determined to be very low and the members were allowed to return to the chamber within an hour.

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Senate Approves African American Cemeteries Task Force

March 9th, 2020 by Mike Vasilinda

On a unanimous vote, the Florida Senate voted to establish a task force to identify and preserve African American Cemeteries across Florida Monday.

“Not far from here in Tampa are the graves of African Americans who were lost to time and indifference. Across the State of Florida such cemeteries called ‘lost’ are being found. What we have learned as a society is that we cannot continue to run away from our collective history and we can no longer allow others to rewrite that history, or at its worst, force the history off the pages of time,” said Senator Darryl Rouson.

Sen. Janet Cruz of Tampa is the Sponsor.

“It’s my hope that Floridians who were not provided dignity, respect and equal protection in their life nor in their death will be honored and memorialized appropriately,” said Cruz.

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House Approves Private School Voucher Expansion

March 9th, 2020 by Jake Stofan

Florida’s Family Empowerment Scholarship would be available to more 46,000 students beginning next school year under a bill approved by the Florida House Monday.

The legislation seeks to clear a backlog of 35,000 students waiting to get the scholarship to attend private schools, but Democratic lawmakers largely opposed the move.

They point to 83 religious private schools with anti-LGBTQ policies that are currently accepting the vouchers.

“So if we’re talking about universal education, if we’re talking about these advancements for all of our children everyone in this chamber is onboard for that. But when you are talking about entities that still have the ability to pick and choose the children they accept this is not universal acceptance,” said Rep. Tracie Davis.

The bill passed on an 81 to 39 vote, mostly down party lines.

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Senate Approves E-Verify Bill

March 9th, 2020 by Mike Vasilinda

By a 22-18 vote, the Florida Senate approved its version of E-Verify Monday, setting up negotiations with the House over what sort of verification and audits the state can conduct.

Sponsor Tom Lee said he is hopeful the two can workout how employers feet are held to the fire if they don’t follow the law.

“The Department of Economic Opportunities authority under this bill to conduct random audits is limited only to companies that do not register for E-Verify. Doesn’t require they use E-Verify, but if they register, they are immunized from those random audits. The House bill includes law enforcement and they may well be a better enforcement mechanism,” said Lee.

Lee expects a compromise.

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House Approves Independent Practice for Advanced Nurses

March 6th, 2020 by Jake Stofan

The House passed its number one priority off the floor Friday.

The bill allows advanced registered nurse practitioners to practice independently.

Representative Doctor Cary Pigman has been pushing the legislation for seven years straight.

He believes allowing the nurses to practice within the scope of their training without having to pay a doctor thousands each year will expand access to basic medical care.

“I think in the long term we’ll see a savings in healthcare cost because prevention and treating basic problems is an economic way to move forward,” said Pigman.

It hasn’t been an easy road.

Concerned quality of care could be affected, the Senate has never had an appetite for the legislation.

Before the House voted to pass the legislation even some Representatives echoed those concerns.

“I wonder what message we are sending and what standards we are legislating when we begin de- emphasizing training, de-emphasizing education,” said Rep. Margaret Good.

But Rep. Pigman said data from other states shows quality of care has not suffered.

“I direct you to all of the studies that have been done and has shown that there is no difference in outcome of care in primary care between nurse practitioners and physicians. There is no evidence of harm. There is only displays of safety and efficacy,” said Pigman.

Negotiations are still ongoing between the two chambers, but for the first time the House Sponsor is optimistic.

“For the first time in the time I’ve been here we have a Senate offer,” said Pigman. “I know what I’d like to get, the Senate has concerns, we’ll find some place to land.”

Rep. Pigman wouldn’t talk details about what trade could possibly be on the table.

“I make the arrows, how the Speaker chooses to use them is up to him,” said Pigman.

But criminal justice reform, tourism marketing funding and land conservation are all candidates likely in the mix.

In a show of support for ARNP’s, the Florida House has been recognizing an advanced registered nurse of the day throughout session. Traditionally both chambers recognize a doctor of the day each chamber meeting.

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Legislature Impatient Over Carr Subpoena

March 6th, 2020 by Mike Vasilinda

Summons were served Friday on the former CEO and board members of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence in two lawsuits filed by the state.

The House has failed twice serving former Domestic Violence Coalition CEO Tiffany Carr with a subpoena compelling her to testify.

“I believe she is evading service. At present, we believe she is at her home in North Carolina, behind a locked gate,” said Rep. Tom Leek, who chairs the committee investigating the coalition.

So it voted to allow her to be served by any means necessary.

In this case, via Twitter.

The state constitution gives the House the power to send Carr to jail or fine her for contempt.

“So sooner or later that subpoena will transcend into something greater where law enforcement can go get her, but we are not there yet,” said Leek.

Issuing legislative subpoenas like this one is extremely rare.

As far as we can tell, the House has never voted to send someone to jail for contempt.

Since the beginning of the week, the Department of Children and Families has had staff on the ground at the coalition headquarters.

“We have to take control of evidence and things of that nature, so that work is going on as well,” said DCF Secretary Chad Poppel.

After filing suit the Governor is hopeful the state will get back some if not all of the $7.5 million Carr was paid.

“That money is being used to line people’s pockets,” said Governor Ron DeSantis.

Refuge House CEO Meg Baldwin said that money came directly from cash that would have gone to services for victims.

“We calculated that we would be able to provide 18,597 people with services for six million dollars,” said Baldwin.

An emergency motion filed by the state seeking to dissolve the Domestic Violence Coalition is expected to get a hearing next week.

Carr’s attorney did not return our calls.

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Legal Holiday Fireworks Ready for Final Votes

March 6th, 2020 by Jake Stofan

Senators are pushing forward with legalizing holiday fireworks.

The bill is now ready for a floor vote in the chamber.

Senator Travis Hutson said the bill will allow Floridians to celebrate the 4th of July, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day with out fear of perjuring themselves.

“Current law allows individuals to use fireworks if they’re scaring birds and or fish and they can check a box under penalty of perjury to do so. This bill will allow individuals to use fireworks on specific holidays without checking that box and I believe Floridians should be able to enjoy their holidays and not be confused or discouraged by Florida law,” said Hutson.

The bill is also ready for a vote in the House.

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College Athlete Compensation Ready for Final Votes

March 6th, 2020 by Jake Stofan

Both the Florida House and Senate are prepared to take a final vote on a bill that would permit college athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness.

The policy change wouldn’t take effect until 2021.

Senate Sponsor Debbie Mayfield said that’s to give the NCAA time to adopt its own rules around the issue.

“My goal is that we’re very similar and I’ve been working with Senator Rubio’s office as well to ensure that we’re similar in the nature of what we’re trying to do, which is really just allowing them to market themselves,” said Mayfield.

Governor Ron DeSantis supports the bill and is expected to sign it into law when it makes it to his desk.

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Panic Alarms in Public Schools Approved By the Florida Senate

March 6th, 2020 by Jake Stofan

14-year-old Alyssa Alhadeff was one of the first killed during the Parkland shooting, but legislation carrying her name passed by the Senate Friday hopes to make schools safer going forward.

The bill would require schools to have panic alarms, allowing them to quickly contact police in the event of a dangerous situation.

Alyssa’s mother, Lori Alhadeff said she believes the proposed panic alarms could have saved lives during the Parkland shooting.

“If a threat is in the cafeteria and someone is on the football field the teacher will know to take their class away from the school. So Alyssa’s Law will save lives and if we had Alyssa’s Law on February 14th I do believe that kids, especially on the 3rd floor, could have possibly survived because they would have known how to respond more effectively,” said Alhadeff.

The bill still needs to clear the House, which is expected next week.

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Florida Covid-19 Infections Continue to Grow

March 5th, 2020 by Mike Vasilinda

There is one new presumed Covid-19 case in the Florida Panhandle.

The state has already monitored 948 people for Covid-19.

248 remain under observation.

“So these are people who may have been in some other part of China, but they come. Fourteen days. Temperature checks. Seeing if they develop symptoms,” said Governor Ron DeSantis.

The newest presumed case is a man in his 70’s in Santa Rosa County.

“He had been doing international travel. He’s not in shape to fully answer all the questions, so there is an investigation ongoing,” said DeSantis.

Five others who traveled from China are under quarantine in Washington state.

“They tested positive. Now they’re not going to be released from quarantine until they test negative, so we don’t anticipate that having any impact on the people living in Florida,” said DeSantis.

With Spring Break gearing up over the next month, the Governor was quick to point out the risk in Florida remains low.

As of mid-day Thursday, the Department of Health said 31 coronavirus tests have come back negative in Florida Another 69 remained outstanding.

About 135,000 N-95 masks have been stockpiled by the Department of Health, and the Governor is urging residents not to go online to buy the masks because they may be needed for professions.

“For just the average person going to Amazon, buying a mask. That is not what you need to be doing,” said DeSantis.

State labs in Tampa Miami and Jacksonville are now able to test for Covid19.

The Governor said at least 10,000 test kits have been promised, but not yet delivered.

He also praised federal officials for quickly imposing travel restrictions from impacted countries, saying it has helped keep the spread here low.

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