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Anti-abortion measure likely off the table this session

Monday, March 5th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Senate Republican leaders are predicting an anti-abortion measure will not get a floor vote after a bipartisan coalition blocked its withdrawal from a committee Monday afternoon.

The Florida House had already signed off on the measure (HB 277) and added controversial “fetal pain” language requiring abortion providers to inform patients that fetuses can feel pain after 20 weeks, something critics call “junk science” because it is under dispute.

With four days left until the session ends, Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher called the bill dead after the 23-16 vote to remove it from the Senate Budget committee, which required a two-thirds majority, or 26 votes, to pass. It is unlikely the procedure will be invoked again, Thrasher said.

“I don’t think so. That’s was a pretty definitive vote,” Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, said.

Lawmakers last year approved five anti-abortion measures, and moderates are not prepared to go to the board again, Rich said. The proposal would impose tough regulations on abortion clinics, impose a 24-hour waiting period before a woman can get the procedure in a state that abortion providers say already has the most restrictive laws on the books.

“We’re tired of focusing on right-wing social issues like abortion. We did more than enough last year to curtail women’s reproductive rights,” Rich, D-Weston, said.

The bill’s sponsor Anitere Flores, R-Miami, said she was disappointed that the chamber won’t debate the issue on the floor.

But Rich said it might be better for Republicans to avoid drawing attention to abortion, tied up in a national firestorm over Planned Parenthood, contraception and government funding.

“If the Republicans thought about it, they would realize that not having this raw debate on the floor actually will help them,” Rich said. “Because any time we’re going to have this type of discussion now, in light of what’s happening with contraceptives and Rush Limbaugh and all that’s going on in this country, the polls are beginning to show that’s hurting the people who are trying to reduce women’s reproductive rights.”

Anti-abortion measure passes Senate committee, moving in House tomorrow

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012 by Dara Kam

Republican legislators are pushing an omnibus anti-abortion measure that revives some of the most controversial portions of proposals left out of a package of anti-abortion bills passed last year and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott.

The Senate Health Regulation Committee approved the proposal (SB 290) by a 5-2 vote, with a single Republican, Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, joining the lone Democrat on the committee, Sen. Eleanor Sobel of Hollywood, in opposition.

The proposal would impose a 24-hour wait period before women can receive abortions, require that clinics be wholly owned and operated by doctors whose residency was in abortion procedures, bar clinics from advertising that they perform abortions, and make it even more difficult for women to get already-banned and extremely rare third-trimester abortions.

Abortion providers say the changes are aimed at making it harder for women to get abortions.

“That is the real reason for this legislation – to make it even more difficult or impossible for women in Florida to access a full range of reproductive service,” Staci Fox, president of Planned Parenthood of North Florida, which operates five clinics, told the committee.

Jones asked the bill’s sponsor Sen. Anitere Flores whether her proposal would impose burdensome regulations on Florida businesses, something GOP leaders say they want to reduce.

“You’re right. This bill is increasing regulation of abortions,” Flores, R-Miami, said, “because what we’re talking about is a major medical procedure…I do think the state has a very strong purpose in increasing this regulation.”

The bill would also require abortion doctors to take three hours of ethics courses each year, drawing the objection of ACLU of Florida lobbyist Pamela Burch Fort.

The bill is about “shaming women who obtain abortions and shaming physicians who perform those procedures,” Fort said.

An identical bill (HB 277) is up in a House committee Thursday morning. Proponents expect both chambers to sign off on the measures, and Gov. Rick Scott will likely sign them into law if they do.

Sobel offered a series of amendments which she withdrew before they could be rejected, including one which would require a 24-hour wait period before a man could get a vasectomy or a prescription for Viagra.

Wage theft bill in trouble in Senate

Monday, February 20th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Lawmakers trying to keep counties like Palm Beach from handling “wage theft” claims outside of the courts suffered a setback Monday but a measure barring ordinances similar to one the county is considering is still in play.

The Senate Judiciary Committee spent about five minutes on the proposal, sponsored by Sen. David Simmons, before chairwoman Anitere Flores announced time had run out and adjourned the meeting before a vote was taken.

Flores, a Miami Republican, tried to amend the bill (SB 862) to create an exemption for Miami-Dade County, the only county in the state that has already adopted a wage theft procedure critics, including the Florida Retail Federation and Florida Chamber of Commerce, say is unconstitutional. The Miami-Dade measure is now being challenged in court.

Simmons balked at Flores’ hand-written amendment, which was not adopted. But Flores said later she would work with Simmons to come up with plan satisfying businesses that “don’t want 67 different ways” of handling the wage-theft claims and “employees that might genuinely be cheated out of their wages.

Simmons said his measure would allow counties like Miami-Dade to assist aggrieved workers but keep the process in the courts and creates a statewide “uniform solution” to the wage-theft issue. Counties could provide legal assistance and even help pay workers attorneys fees, Simmons, a lawyer, said.

“We have an independent judiciary to resolve issues…All the assistance Miami-Dade is doing right now for those aggrieved employees still stays in place. They can walk the individual down and they can pay the filing fee fore the individual if they want to. But there cannot be and should not be a system where Dade County is the prosecutor as well as the judge. And that’s what they effectively have done by hiring a hearing officer to hear these cases,” Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, said.

Labor unions and immigrant oppose the legislative measure are trying to get Palm Beach County officials to pass an ordinance mirroring Miami-Dade’s. They say undocumented workers are more vulnerable to unscrupulous employers because they are afraid to report when they are cheated. The local ordinances by-pass the courts and make it too easy for workers to go after employers, critics say.

To help Simmons – and because time is running short – Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher said he will take the bill out of Flores’ committee and sent it to Government Operations Committee, another panel on which Flores sits and which meets next week. That gives the two GOP senators time to work out a deal, Thrasher said.

“It’s anything but a slam-dunk,” Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, said.

Senate immigration leader has serious reservations about reforms

Friday, April 29th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Senate budget chief JD Alexander, a citrus farmer who’s now shepherding a developing immigration reform package, expressed his reservations about the push to deport illegal immigrants, many of whom have lived in the state for decades picking fruit and vegetables for his colleagues.

Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said he’s concerned about the fallout from the federal E-Verify program to check on potential employees, something Gov. Rick Scott has already initiated for state government workers and a component tea party activists are pushing lawmakers to pass.

“My personal struggle with E-Verify is that many of these folks have been here for decades for good or for bad,” he said.

In “a perfect world” the federal government would control the borders but instead has given tacit permission for illegal workers to remain in the country, Alexander said.

“It seems challenging to suddenly ask them to not be able to be here. I personally believe we need a federal guest program to allow for some sort of normalization of these folks status where they can be protected by our laws without fear of deportation,” he said. “Because some of these things have been going on for so long, I’m personally troubled by the broad net that could be cast.”

Alexander said he’s having a hard time balancing his duties as budget chief and agricultural baron as he tries to get his blueberry crop harvested.

“I’m probably short about 100 people to get my blueberries picked,” he said, adding that he and other blueberry farmers can find less than half the workers they need to get their crops in.

“For all the unemployment there just aren’t folks who want to pick blueberries,” he said.

The Senate is slated to take up its immigration package on Monday. Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, had pledged that each bill would pass through at least three committees before being sent to the floor for a vote. But he reversed himself on the contentious immigration measure (SB 2040), which was heard in a single committee. Haridopolos also took the bill away from its sponsor, Sen. Anitere Flores, and gave it to Alexander this week. Flores, a Cuban-American Republican from Miami, refused to go along with the Arizona-style bill proposed by the House, sponsored by William Snyder, R-Stuart.

Hundreds of immigrants, including undocumented workers, and children whose parents have been deported have swarmed the Capitol over the past several weeks demanding that lawmakers abandon the immigration package.

No Senate session Saturday, immigration still hanging

Friday, April 29th, 2011 by Dara Kam

The Florida Senate scrubbed a rare Saturday meeting scheduled to take up a Medicaid overhaul and possibly immigration reform.

Before breaking for lunch after the morning floor session, Senate President Mike Haridopolos said told his members that he is “going to give you a little bit of a break before you come back to work on Monday.”

That puts off until at least Monday the Senate’s discussion of immigration reform as Senate budget chief JD Alexander grapples with crafting a proposal he can sell to a chamber divided on the issue, let alone to the Florida House that wants an Arizona-style package. Yesterday, Haridpolos, R-Merritt Island, assured reporters that the Senate would vote on the issue before the session ends on May 6.

Sen. Anitere Flores, the Cuban-American Republican from Miami initially shepherding the Senate’s immigration plan until Haridopolos gave it to Alexander this week, summed up the difficulty.

“This is a severely complicated, complex issue where there are hundreds of different people that have hundreds of different opinions,” she said. “There are employment provisions. There are law enforcement provisions. There are business owner provisions. And there are just individual human emotions. There are political considerations. All those considerations are all there. To try and make that into a bill that you can get a majority of votes on in the House and the Senate is a problem.”

Immigrants, many of them undocumented, children of parents who have been deported, students in the country illegally and their advocates have thronged the Capitol pleading with lawmakers to abandon immigration reform as the clock winds down on the legislative session.

Senate holds civilized immigration reform meeting, stresses ‘decorum’

Monday, January 10th, 2011 by Dara Kam

The Florida Senate held a low-key information-gathering session on immigration reform late this afternoon, the first in a series of meetings coinciding with immigration legislation currently in the works.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos put Sen. Anitere Flores, a Cuban-American from Miami and chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, in charge of three meetings on the controversial topic that legislatures throughout the nation are grappling with.

Today’s meeting included presentations from federal immigration authorities and an update from state education, prison and highway safety officials as well as a law professor from Florida International University.

Flores said she hoped the cerebral kick-off would set the stage for future discussions to be held in “dispassionate and well-informed manner.”

But some lawmakers were clearly frustrated by what they heard.

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