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Legislative Maps Approved

March 3rd, 2022 by Mike Vasilinda

For the first time in 50 years, no one challenged the validity of newly draw House and Senate legislative districts, so today, the Supreme Court of Florida gave the maps a thumbs up, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, lawmakers are still in a battle to redraw the Staes 28 Congressional districts.

The opinion from the Flordia Supreme Court says the fact no one filed a challenge against the newly draw House and Senate district maps put it in an unusual posture. The court also said its the first time in 50 years that no one filed a challenge. The House was in session when the opinion was released.

“It is my pleasure to announce to you the Florida Supreme Court has just issued their opinion upholding the constitutionality of our legislative maps” said Speaker Chris Sprowls minutes after the decision was released. “They are now the law in the state of Florida.”

Michelle Salzman was on the committee that drew the maps.

“”I super excited” she told us. “I was actually doing a little happy dance on the floor and just applauding. I’m so excited. You know we put a lot of work and effort into those maps and took very seriously the process., trying to make sure it was fair and equitable.”

A statement from House Democrat Leader Evan Jenne says the victory lap may be premature. He expects future challenges. For now, Cecile Scoon, the President the League of Women Voters Florida is still deciding.

 

“We’re going to make up our minds when we get to the very end of the precess” Scoon told us via Zoom from her home in Panama City.

Today’s ruling came when the Florida House of Representatives was discussing newly 

Drawn congressional maps. Expect a challenge there for certain.

“This primary map does not comport with the standards. It’s unconstitutional” said Rep. Joe Geller (D-Miami) during debate.

A Jacksonville to Tallahassee Congressional map was threatened with a veto from the Governor

”And that is going to be the position we stick to, so, just take it to the bank” said Ron DeSantis on February 18th.

The House is actually passing two maps. The first to please the Governor. The second is a backup incase the first map falls.”

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Abortion Vote Delayed until late Thursday

March 3rd, 2022 by Mike Vasilinda

The bill banning abortions was second on one of two calendars in the Florida Senate this morning. But leadership choose instead to work from a second calendar, which had 45 bills on it before taking up the 15 week ban. Lawmakers are likely to go long into the evening debating the bill for the final time. But despite the more than four hours spent on the bill yesterday. Senator Annette Taddeo doesn’t expect and republicans to change their mind.”

“Unfortunately, no different results. We know of certain members who were very much touched by our questions, our amendments, our testimony. But unfortunately no matter what the debate is, or what we say, this is coming from the top and many of them are having to be soldiers. And we shouldn’t be legislating this way. It is very unfortunate.

Taddeo also called the situation “demoralizing”. Is she is right and the bill is approved tonight, it will go to the Governors desk.”

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Abortion Bill Ready for Final Vote

March 2nd, 2022 by Mike Vasilinda
The Florida Senate today moved the state closer to a ban on abortions after fifteen weeks. It considered more than a dozen amendments offered by Democrats, but all were defeated. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, that tees the bill up for final approval on Friday, sending the bill to the Governor.
Adopting a 15 week ban on abortions is a legislative gamble. Sponsor Kelli Stargel is counting on the US Supreme Court upholding a similar Mississippi statute.
“It’s a very different day, we know much more about what is going on with that baby in the womb” Stargel told us in an exclusive interview. “And I think the court will take that into consideration, especially when they are looking at viability, and what this does to a mother.”
But Democrats say the bill unconstitutional today. Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando) is a former Planned Parenthood executive.
“We’re going to see Senators do their best to highlight how this is unconstitutional to have a record in place for what we assume will be potential litigation” she told us.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried continued to reinforce the message.
“There is a right to privacy and that is where the courts  will come into play”.
And one by one the Senate said no to the Democrats proposed amendments.
including one that would have added rape and incest as an exception.
Democratic leader Laure Book pushed back against the tide of almost certain approval by GOP lawmakers.
“I think we need to be doing everything we can to give women the right to choose, and we’re not going to stop” said Book.
On Thursday, after a lengthy debate, the Senate is expected to send this bill to Ron DeSantis. He has already said he will sign it.”
And once the bill is signed, lawsuits are likely to be filed.
But the Spector of going to court doesn’t surprise Stargel.
“These abortions are preformed in late term electively” said Stargel. You’re killing a baby at that point. That baby is formed. It has eyelashes, fingernails.”
The bill doesn’t become effective until July first, and a ruling in the Mississippi case is expected before then.
The US Supreme Court decision in the Mississippi case lawmakers are counting on is expected in May or June.

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Net Metering Clears House

March 2nd, 2022 by Mike Vasilinda
The Florida House has passed a bill that will lower utility payments to solar users, but critics say it will kill the industry. Co-sponsor Alex Andrade (R-Pensacola) likened the current arrangement between solar customers and utilities to a gardener and a grocery store.
“And this not like being charged more for vegetables if you have your own garden back home. This is like requiring the grocery store to buy my vegetables at four times the actual value, and the grocery store being forced by law to pay for that” Andrade told colleagues.
But Democrat Ben Diamond says that of the one hundred thousand roof top solar owners in Flordia, eighty percent are still paying for them.
“And the homeowners are relying on the financial incentives to pay for the energy they are producing. These are the folks selling the energy back to the grid.They’re not  trying to get rich” says Diamond. “They just want to help combat climate change, reduce air pollution, generate clean energy for their family and share with their community.
Under the bill payment to solar owners from utilities will be reduced over a six year period. The measure does not impact municipal utility providers.

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Rotary Internation Honored, Ready to Help Ukrainians

March 2nd, 2022 by Mike Vasilinda
The President of the Rotary Foundation was honored by lawmakers today for distributing more than 40 million dollars last year to needy organizations and countries. President Barry Rassin says the foundation will be looking to help people in Ukraine once they know the need.
“We believe world understanding and peace is our vision, and when you have a conflict like this,  we have to be prepared to come in. We have Rotary clubs in the Ukraine, in Russia.  We’re ready now to assist them now with whatever they tell us they need. So we don’t want to jump in and just send things. We want to find out what they need, and then we will respond to those needs.”
Rassin is also President of Rotary International.

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Data Privacy Ready for Floor Vote

March 1st, 2022 by Mike Vasilinda

New legislation to protect consumers data is on the move this week in the state Capitol. It gives consumers the right to know what data a company has and it allows you to make them stop selling the information. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, State and nation business interests have launched a full court press against the legislation.

House Bill Nine doesn’t stop companies from selling your data, but it gives give you rights says sponsor Rep. Fiona McFarland (R-Sarasota).

“One, it gives the consumer the right to know what information a company collects about them. Two, it gives the consumer the right to delete or correct that information. And three it gives the consumer the right to opt out of their data being sold or shared” says the sponsor.

As the legislation was being debated, the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste released an ad arguing businesses could face billions in compliance costs.

“Some politicians want those wasteful policies in Flordia, costing taxpayers here tens of billions.”

Democrat Andrew Learned offered six business backed amendments to narrow who was covered under the bill.

“There is a reason there are three hundred registered lobbyists on this bill” says Learned. “Businesses across the state of Florida are all crying foul.”

The no vote was overwhelming on all six amendments offered.

So far, the companies have one win. The bill originally required them to remove your data upon your request within 48 hours. Now it’s four days.

The measure also requires the companies to destroy the data after having it for three years, which McFarland says is more than enough time. 

“So at three years, is certainly sufficient time for a company to hold your data and still service the purpose you gave it to them. If you have another interaction with the company, you buy another product or you sign up for another email, the clock starts again. But three years is really a long time for a company to hold on to your private information.” 

The measure is a top   priority of the House Speaker and Governor. The House will take a final vote on the data privacy legislation Wednesday.

In the case of a consumer under 18, the bill requires companies have to permission to sell the data, rather than requiring an opt out that is required for adults.

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Net Metering Bill Ready for House Vote

March 1st, 2022 by Mike Vasilinda

A utility backed bill could soon make solar less affordable in Florida. Lawmakers want to change what the companies pay customers who generate excess solar. Right now, they pay what they charge per kilowatt hour, but the legislation would allow payments equal to the cost avoidance of creating a new unit of power. Sponsor Lawrence McClure contends no solar customers are subsidizing those with panels. He says it will stop.

“Let’s be very clear. We are going to be at zero subsidy in the state” says McClure. “We don’t want to wake up five, seven, ten years down the road and find hundreds of millions or billions of cost shift that would result in depending on how high it got, four, five, ten fifteen dollars per month per rate payer. So we’re absolutely going to avoid that.”

The utilities contend that customers who have solar are not paying the full cost of the transmission lines and other fixed charges. Solar installers say the measure will gut the industry.

 

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Don’t Say Gay Ready for Senate Floor Vote

February 28th, 2022 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida lawmakers spent nearly three and a half hours today debating and listening to the public on legislation that has been knick named the don’t say gay bill. It gives parents more rights to be included in discussions about their child’s sexuality and gender identity. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the bill is now one step from the governors’s desk.

The legislation bans teacher led discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity. GOP State Senator Jeff Brandes offered an amendment to cover all inappropriate ”

“If the intent is not to marginalize anyone, lets make sure we aren’t” Brandes told committee members.

It failed. Two parents  then spoke about secret discussions at school with their children about their sexuality.

Opponents argued they knew they were gay at an early age. 

“Since before kindergarten” said one speaker.

Teacher Tamara Parker of Port Orange called the bill vague.

“I have worked to form relationships with my parents in my classroom, and this is not it” she told the committee.

The Christian Family Coalition Florida was asked if they thought the discussion could

“make someone gay?” Asked Sen. Jason Pizzo (D-Miami).

Anthony Verdugo, founder of the Christian Family Coalition Florida responded “Kindergartners should have to hear there are forty seven different sexual preferences, or a hundred different sexual identities.”

Unlike previous hearings, the public got almost an hour and a half to speak today, and that still wasn’t enough time for everyone.

In debate, Sen. Jason Pizzo asked pointedly “why are we picking on people?”

Sponsor Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) responded.

“And I believe its imperative, if we love children, that we put parents in charge.”

Outside Equality Florida supporters regrouped.

The legislation now goes to the full Senate.

 

 

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“Don’t Say Gay” Bill Clears State House

February 24th, 2022 by Mike Vasilinda

By a 69-47 vote, the Florida House has passed over the objection of democrats and some Republicans the so called Don’t Say gay bill that limits the teaching of sexual and gender identity in K through third grade. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the debate was among the most passionate of the session.

For the openly gay members of the house, including Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith (D-Orlando) and Rep. Michelle Rayner,  the debate was personal. 

“And for those LBGTQ youth in Florida, and around the country, and around the world who are watching,” said Guillermo Smith, “I want to make sure they know this: You are loved. You are supported.”

“I don’t matter” proclaimed Rayner. “I walk into a building everyday where I am told I don’t matter. If you vote up on this bill, you are homophobic and transphobic.”

But Rep. Michael Grieco (D-Miami Beach) began by proclaiming “I am a straight white male.” He said the bill will hurt people.

“This is an anti gay bill.”

But Republicans argued the bill is actually living up to its real title, Parental Rights in Education.”

“The bill, plain as day, states that you can not have instruction, instruction, meaning a curriculum lead by teachers teaching children ages five through nine, about sexual orientation and gender identity” said Rep. Kaylee Tuck (R-Sebring). “Think about that” she concluded.

Rep. Juan Fernandez-Barquin (R-Miami) was blunt. “This bill does not out kids. This bill does not prohibit the word gay.”

The final vote was “69 yeas, 47 nays.”

Notable during the debate was the absence of pages and messengers… A devision was made that the debate wasn’t appropriate for the sixth through twelfth graders 

After today’s vote, the bill is halfway through the legislative process. It has a Senate Committee and Full Senate vote before it can go to the Governor.

The House Speaker’s office said in an email the pages were eating lunch during the debate and that it is customary for the House to honor parents’ right to protect their child from what could become sensitive or age inappropriate debate on the Floor.

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Ban on Teaching Critical race Theory Passes House.

February 24th, 2022 by Mike Vasilinda

Representatives in the State Capitol today voted to prohibit the teaching or critical race theory in schools. During the emotional hour and a half debate, state Representative Randy Fine explained what can’t be taught if the bill becomes law.

“The first thing we say is we don’t want taught in school one race, color, sex, or national origin is morally superior to another. Who wants this taught in school?” Said Fine.

Democrats countered that the GOP is trying to prevent history from being taught. Representative Ramon Alexander says influencing what is taught in the classroom is a problem.

“When you use Sytems and structures to determine what is and what’s not, that’s structural racism. Who gets to determine what is a fact and what is not a fact” says Alexander.

The legislation also allows employees who have been made to feel uncomfortable during certain training to sue their employers for trying to impose an ideology,

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Nursing Homes Seek Staffing Change

February 23rd, 2022 by Mike Vasilinda

Nursing homes here in Florida are closing wings and refusing patients because they don’t have enough staff to provide the required number of direct patient care required by state law. Now, as Mike Vasilinda tells us, the homes are asking lawmakers to let them count the hours of care provided by specialists who are already seeing patients in the homes.

Nursing home patients are required by state law to receive three point six hours of direct care each day. Two and a half of those hours are to be from certified nursing assistant, another hour by a registered nurse.

”We are in the midst of a staffing crisis” says Steve Bahmer, the CEO of Leading Age Fl nursing homes.

But most are having trouble meeting the staffing requirement because they can’t hire enough people.

“We have members who have taken two hundred of their seven hundred beds offline because they simply can’t staff them today” Bahmer told lawmakers.

The homes want to reduce a nursing assistants time by a half hour each day while counting hours already being spent on a patient by specialists but not now counted.

SEIU 1199, the union that represents CNA’s was out in force against the bill. Christina Chiger is a Tampa based Certified Nursing Assistant

“You want to cut our hours once again. You want to add more patients. How can I take care of twenty patients properly in an eight hour time?”

The legislation was approved by the House Health and Human Services Committee 

”15 yeas, 5 nays.”

A Senate committee was also scheduled to vote on the legislation today, but it was postponed, suggesting that trouble could lie ahead.” 

Kristen Knapp of the FL Heath Care Assn. tells us that they are offering bonuses and higher pay, but with no luck.

“This bill does not change the total direct care hours that a resident will receive each day” says Knapp.

But Roxy Nelson from SEIU says the answer is lower profits and paying more.

 

“If they really want to attract workers, the worst thing they can do is make working conditions worse” says Nelson.

The House bill is now ready for a vote by the full House. The Senate version will be back up next week, unless whatever kinks exist, aren’t worked out.

The legislation calls the change a modernization of what is considered direct care staffing. The industry says the modernization will allow homes to treat each resident as an individual with attention to their special needs.

 

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Tallahassee Culture Wars in Full Bloom

February 22nd, 2022 by Mike Vasilinda

Democrats are accusing Governor Ron DeSantis of pushing a 15 week abortion ban, Don’t say gay, and anti woke legislation to rally his base But as Mike Vasilinda tells us Democratic Gubernatorial hopefuls are trying to use the same bills to win favor in their August primary

 

From abortion protestors, to standing up for the LGBTQ community, to marching crime victims, a thousand or more people came to the Capitol today. For Democratic Gubernatorial hopefuls Nikki Fried and Charlie Crist, it was as target rich environment.

“So if you are a white male racist bigot, you’re doing just fine this session” claims Agriculture Commissioner Nikki fried.

“They’re not representing Florida. You deserve to have candidates for Governor, that understand what you care about” is how Charlie Crist framed the culture wars to a group of mostly women here protesting the 15 week ban on abortions. 

The target of both candidates wrath is the Governor and his agenda, which they say is driven by an expected run for the White House. 

“He doesn’t talk about Florida anymore” Fried told us in an exclusive interview. “He talks about Washington, DC. He talks about everything else except the issues that are actually impacting the state of Florida”

Charlie Crist also spoke with us, saying “The people of Florida want women to have the right to choose. The people of Florida don’t want gays to be condemned in school, and they are doing that right here.”

And protests or not, the House moved forward discussing its anti woke legislation.

Sponsor Brian Avila (R-Miami) told House members “No individual is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive. Whether consciously or unconsciously, solely be virtue of his or her race or sex.”

Also on the agenda, moving the Don’t say gay bill down the court.

And while the house is pushing forward with this controversial legislation, so far its going virtually nowhere in the session, but there are two and a half weeks left in the session.

And no matter the final fate of these bills, they will remain fodder from now through the August 23rd primary, and likely through the November 8th election.

We reached out to the Governor’s office. Spokesperson Christina Pushaw told us claims Ron deSantis is running for President is nothing more than a narrative Democrats have made up.

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Survivors of Crime Seek Paid Time Off

February 22nd, 2022 by Mike Vasilinda

More than a hundred people who had family members die in a crime related case marched and protested in the Capitol today.  They want to require employers to provide at least three days paid leave when someone in their family has died as a result of a homicide. Darlene Farrah lost her daughter, who was a clerk in a Jacksonville cell phone store to a murder robbery and says she knows first hand how hard the after math can be.

“People need time off from work to handle funeral arrangements and all that” says Farrah. “After losing a loved one, you shouldn’t have to worry about losing your job. When a tragedy hits your home, unexpectedly like that, you don’t know which way to turn.”

The legislation applies to companies with fifty or more employees, and the employee must have been on the job at least three months before the homicide took a relative. So far, neither the House or Senate bills have gotten a hearing.

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Abortion Bill Clears Final Legislative Committee

February 21st, 2022 by Mike Vasilinda

The Florida Senate Rules Committee today teed up a new fifteen week abortion ban for a vote by the full Senate, where the measure is almost certainly going be approved and sent to the Governor. But as Mike Vasilinda tells us, the bill has already faced a bumpy path that is likely to continue.

On January 28th, Public speakers at the House Health Care Appropriations Committee were given just 30 seconds to speak. Tensions boiled. One speaker refused to leave the podium, so she was escorted away by the Sargent at Arms.

”I’m here to say we will not stand for the passing….”

The room was eventually cleared and the 15 week ban was approved.

And  After hours and hours  of debate, as the full House was prepared to vote, sponsor Erin Grall was interrupted. 

“Life remains a life whether…”

Chants broke out in the gallery.

We’ll never be defeated.” 

25 were cited for trespassing and banned from the House for a year, but not the Senate, So security at the final committee stop was heavy.

“Good afternoon members of the committee” welcomed Senate Appropriations Chair Kelli Stargel. 

Amendments were offered. One would have made an exception to the 15 weeks for rape or incest.

Kate Thompson, a rape victim from St. Petersburg was raped repeatedly over an eight year period 

“At the age of five, which was when I was just learning to tie my shoes, I was raped for the first time” Thompson told the Committee. She supported the amendment for rape or incest.

 

 

Bill Snyder of Monticello, asked the committee to vote no on the exception. 

“Execute the rapist and not the innocent unborn child” he said.

An amendment to provide more conception was defeated as well and the bill remained intact.

Roe v wade currently allows abortions through twenty-four weeks.”

But lawmakers are counting on the US Supreme Court to rule favorably on a Mississippi law that bans abortions after fifteen weeks.

Despite the tensions with Roe, Sponsor Kelli Stargel contends the bill is constitutional.

“Just because one court deemed something awhile back, doesn’t mean it can’t be revisited, and that’s what your are seeing” she told us.

A US Supreme Court ruling in the Mississippi case is expected in May or June. 

After passage today, the legislation heads for the Senate Floor and could be voted on as early as this week. It then goes to the Governor, who has indicated he will sign the 15 week ban.

 

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NAACP, ACLU Fight New Mail Ballot Legislation

February 17th, 2022 by Mike Vasilinda

More than a hundred people came to the state Capitol today to protest proposed new mail ballot requirements. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the new restrictions being proposed come as uncertainty looms over last years changes, which are now tied up in Federal court.

Senate Bill 524 would require more identifying information, such as a partial social security number or drivers license number on mail in ballots. It also creates an office of Election Crimes and Security under the Governor. 

“We want to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat” says Senate Ethics and Elections Chair Dennis Baxley. He tells us lawmakers are only trying to make the good better.

“We just owe it to the voters,” says Baxley “To make sure we maintain the integrity of that system, because we have close elections.”

But more than a hundred people showed up at the Capitol to say don’t mess with my ballot.

Darryl Jones is the chair of the Leon County School Board and works with the NAACP. He told the crowd: “And far too many people sacrificed for us to have the vote, for us to allow anyone to suppress our vote.”

Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls Annette Taddeo and Nikki Fried also came to say no.

“Its goes so far as to limit who can turn in a vote by mail ballot” said Taddeo. “Could it be because Democrats are outvoting Republicans in vote by mail” she asked.

Fried had this warning for the Govenor

“Gov, this ain’t your job. Turn on your blinker and get back int your lane. Let the legislature do this.”

Many of the groups here behind today’s rally filed a lawsuit against last years Senate Bill 90. That trial is in its third week.

The bills have one more committee hearing in each chamber, and we are told there are talks behind the scenes to hammer out some of the differences in the legislation.

Changes being proposed this year to require more identification on mail ballots, if passed, would not kick in until the 2024 election cycle, but other things such as an elections investigations office could be in place by November.

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