Tweak to “stand your ground” law gets committee approval

Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, (@Jenna_Buzzacco)

A measure meant to clarify Florida’s “stand your ground” law cleared a Senate committee Monday.

The Senate’s criminal justice committee unanimously approved a proposal – Senate Bill 130 and Senate Bill 122, which were combined earlier this year – that tweaks the state’s controversial self-defense law.

The proposal – sponsored Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, and Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale – calls on local law enforcement to create reasonable guidelines for the operation of neighborhood watch programs.

Those guidelines, according to an amended version of the bill approved Monday, must include language which prohibits someone who is on patrol for their neighborhood watch from “confronting or attempting to apprehend” someone suspected of unlawful activity.

The proposal comes in the wake of the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman was a neighborhood watch volunteer at the time.

The bill also allows local law enforcement to investigate even when the ‘stand your ground’ defense is being used, clarifies immunity and who can use the defense.

“There’s things in here I really like. There’s things in here I don’t like,” said Smith. “But the art of getting something done is compromise.”

Simmons helped draft the state’s “stand your ground law” in 2005, however on Monday he said he knows “there are clarifications that can be made.”

Smith said he did not vote for the law when he was in the House.

While the Senate proposal is making some progress, there’s been little movement in the House. A comparable House bill, House Bill 33 sponsored by Rep. Bruce Antone, D-Orlando, has been referred to four committees.

In November, the House criminal justice subcommittee rejected a proposal to repeal the law altogether. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, the committee’s chairman, has said he would oppose changes to the law.

“I believe that there will be a real opportunity for the House to move forward,” said Simmons. “I have had indications from members of the House that if we can get the consensus over here that they’ll potentially take it up.”

The Senate bill now heads to the community affairs committee for a vote.

After calling Rick Scott’s budget a ‘gimmick,’ Democrats begin public push for long-shot priorities

Matt Dixon, (@Mdixon55)

Tallahassee – After hammering Scott’s proposed budget for what they called an election year “gimmick,” Democrats spent Monday holding press events to tout policies that likely have no chance of passage.

In a morning event, Senate Democrats pushed House Republicans and Gov. Rick Scott to expand Medicaid, a move that they said would inject $470 million of revenue into next year’s state budget. Legislative leaders and Scott have expressed no willingness to go along with such a plan.

Related: Expect to hear ‘$470 million’ a lot as budget talks heat up

After the day’s committee meetings adjourned, state Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, met with a group of reporters and to push a two-pronged approach to try and increase the minimum wage for at least certain segments of workers.

He has filed legislation to raise Florida’s minimum-wage to $10.10-per-hour, up from the current $7.93-per-hour.

“We are going to need more revenue, the only way to generate more revenue in a state that relies so heavily on sales taxes revenue is to create more sales,” said Bullard, whose district includes parts of Collier County.

This summer, Bullard took the “minimum wage challenge,” which required he live on that salary level for one week. He will be doing the challenge again April 7-11.

“You will never understand the impact of how dollars don’t make sense until you have to be left with the $53 to live on for a week,” he said.

Bullard is also calling on Scott to ask the Legislature to not allow companies with state contracts to allow wages below the $10.10 mark. It mirrors an executive order signed by President Barack Obama, which raised the minimum wage for federal contract employees to $10.10-per-hour.

The issue is already full of politics. Scott has opposed the idea, saying it will not help create jobs.

“When I hear a politician say that we have to raise the minimum wage so working families can make ends meet, I cringe, because I know that statement is a lie,” Scott told the Tampa Bay Times in January. “Even if we did raise the minimum wage, working families will still not be able to make ends meet on those jobs. We need good jobs that lead to good careers for our families and that’s what I am focused on.”

Florida Democrats and American Bridge, a Democratic outside political group, have seized on the word “cringe” including it in web ads and email blasts to color Scott as uncaring about those earning the minimum wage.

A January poll put out by Quinnipiac University found state residents favor increasing the minimum wage by a 73-24 margin. Self-described “conservatives” said they supported an increase by a 51-44 margin.

“It’s a pretty popular issue,” Peter Brown, assistant director of Quinnipiac’s polling institute, said after the release. “There’s no doubt about it.”

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House panel looks at overhauling medical malpractice

The News Service of Florida reports: Just days after a Florida Supreme Court decision rejecting a damage cap in medical-malpractice cases, a House committee Monday heard testimony about a proposal (HB 739) that would dramatically revamp the malpractice legal system.

Sponsor Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, told the Judiciary Committee that lawmakers need to “quit nibbling at the edges” in making changes to the malpractice system.

The proposal is backed by a group called Patients for Fair Compensation and, in part, would use medical review panels to determine whether patients were injured because of medical errors. Such a system could keep cases out of the court system.

But the proposal faced criticism Monday from an array of groups, including the Florida Medical Association, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Insurance Council, the Florida Justice Reform Institute and the Florida Justice Association.

The committee held a workshop and did not vote on the proposal, which was filed before Thursday’s Supreme Court decision. That decision found unconstitutional a 2003 law limiting damages in wrongful-death malpractice cases.

Latvala: Senate’s elections bill temporarily postponed

James L. Rosica (@jlrosicaTBO) in Tallahassee

Jack Latvala
Jack Latvala

The chair of the Senate’s Ethics and Elections committee Monday postponed a bill that would, among other things, create an online voter registration system, saying he “didn’t want to deal with it today.”

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, couldn’t predict when the measure (SB 1660) would come back to the panel – if ever.

“When you see it on the calendar again, it’ll be coming back,” he said after the meeting. “I’m just not sure what we’re doing with that yet.”

Latvala said he wanted to consult further with House leadership and with Gov. Rick Scott’s office.

Another thing the bill would do is clarify current law that absentee ballots can be dropped off only at early voting sites, supervisor of elections’ offices and at their mailboxes at U.S. Post Offices.

Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark disagreed with a directive last year from Gov. Rick Scott’s secretary of state, Ken Detzner, saying other remote drop-offs couldn’t be used, citing security concerns.

Clark uses dropboxes at tax collector offices and county library branches.

Latvala has claimed she is pursuing her own agenda of voting by mail, which he says the Legislature has authorized only “in certain restricted ways,” not in all elections.

Clark says her method has increased turnout and reduced costs.

Latvala was asked if his concerns about Clark could be addressed “administratively” rather than by changing the law.

Last week, he said Clark could authorize more early voting sites on top of the few she normally uses, instead of using dropboxes.

“If she would assure me she’s going to open more early voting locations, yeah,” Latvala said.

Florida Democrats say Rick Scott’s campaign broke fundraising law

Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The head of the Florida Democratic Party is contending that Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s campaign broke the state’s campaign finance laws by shifting money between accounts.

Election law complaints can be routine during an election year, but this one could be significant: If confirmed, it could result in a fine of as much as $82 million.

Allison Tant, who is the chairwoman of the state party, filed the complaint with the Florida Elections Commission late last week, naming both Scott and his political committee Let’s Get to Work.

The complaint maintains that the campaign broke the law when the Scott campaign transferred nearly $27.4 million from one type of campaign account to another earlier this month.

“They have violated the law and the governor is supposed to uphold the law,” Tant told The Associated Press.

John French, the chairman of Let’s Get to Work, said last week the movement of the money was legal.

Scott first set up Let’s Get to Work back in 2010 as a way to help out his

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