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Scott ‘Stand Your Ground’ task force releases final recommendations

Friday, February 22nd, 2013 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott’s task force examining the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law officially released its final recommendations today, essentially saying the law giving citizens the right to defend themselves with deadly force without the duty to retreat when they feel threatened should remain intact.

Scott appointed the task force after a national outcry sparked by last year’s Feb. 26 death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed, black, 17-year-old shot and killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. Zimmerman claimed he shot Martin in self-defense, shining a spotlight on the state’s first-in-the-nation Stand Your Ground law that allows individuals to use deadly force when they feel threatened and provides immunity from prosecution. A judge has not yet decided whether the Stand Your Ground applies in the case against Zimmerman, who was arrested charged with murder after Scott appointed a special prosecutor.

Scott’s “Citizen Safety and Protection” task force held meetings around the state and approved the draft recommendations in November.

The group is asking the Legislature to consider:
_ Defining the portion in the law that allows individuals to use Stand Your Ground as long as they are not engaged in “unlawful activity.”
_ Give law enforcement agencies more specific instructions about what neighborhood crime prevention programs and their volunteers can do.
_ Whether immunity from prosecution in criminal and civil actions applies to innocent bystanders.

Altamonte Springs Republican state Sen. David Simmons, a co-sponsor of the 2005 law who served on the panel, has filed a bill (SB 930) that includes two of those suggestions but does not address innocent bystanders.

House and Senate Democrats, including Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith, have filed a slew of bills that would amend the law or repeal it altogether but GOP legislative leaders say they want the law to remain as is.

And task force is recommending that

Senate sends measure giving governor control over JNCs back to the House

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012 by Dara Kam

The Senate grudgingly approved a measure giving future governors the ability to wipe out a majority of members on panels who help select judges, including Supreme Court judges, and sent it to the House for approval.

The proposal (HB 971) is a compromise with Gov. Rick Scott, who wanted to be able to wipe clean the entire judicial nominating commissions, nine-member panels made up of five gubernatorial appointees and four selected by the Florida Bar.

The House version of the measure would allow Scott to remove effectively fire JNC members picked by his successor Charlie Crist. But the Senate rejected that plan, allowing only members appointed after Scott took office to be affected.

Two Republicans joined Democrats in voting against the bill, which passed 24-14.

Democratic lawyers complained that the measure would politicize the panels, urging their colleagues excogitate the issue before voting.

“This bill gives too much power to a governor who said he wanted people who thought like him to sit on the judiciary of the state of Florida. And that is exactly what we should not allow,” said Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, a former JNC member.

Giving one governor the ability to control a majority of the panels could erode diversity on the bench, Joyner, who is black, warned.

But bill sponsor Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, called the bill a “middle-of-the-road” solution that keeps both the JNCs from “gaming the system” by sending the governor unqualified applicants. And it prevents the governor from doing the same, Simmons said, by giving him control of only five of the nine members.

“They would only have to have one other person, one of those five, to go along with them in their decision-making,” Simmons, a lawyer, said.

The bill would give judges the ability to work as part-time judges immediately after retiring without losing their retirement benefits.

Compromise gives governors ability to fire majority of JNCs but saves Crist picks

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Governors could fire most of the panelists who help pick judges — a watered-down version of a Gov. Rick Scott priority — under a bill up for a vote as early as Wednesday in the Florida Senate.

The new language is a compromise between Scott and Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, the bill’s sponsor, who said the system is fine as it is but agreed to make a concession to Scott.

Scott wanted to be able to fire all nine members of the state’s Judicial Nominating Commissions, but lawmakers balked, calling it a power grab by the governor that could tip the courts and overly-politicize judicial selection.

The panels send the governor a list of three candidates to replace retiring or resigning judges. Governors appoint five of the nine members of the JNCs; the Florida Bar appoints the other four.

Under the original version of the measure (SB 1570), Scott would have been able to fire all of Gov. Charlie Crist’s appointees to the panels. Current law only allows the JNC members to be removed from their staggered, four-year terms if they have done something wrong.

The compromise would only apply to JNC members appointed after Jan. 4, 2011, the day Scott took office, meaning Crist’s picks are safe until their terms run out.

But the new proposal gives Scott the ability to keep the panels from essentially forcing him to go with their selection by including two unqualified candidates on the list, Simmons, a lawyer, said.

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.

No free school lunches for you, Ag commish Putnam

Thursday, March 17th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam can’t take over administration of free and reduced lunches in public schools won’t happen, at least for a while.

Under federal law, the state Department of Education must continue to handle the free lunches and other meals unless they get a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture giving Putnam permission to take it over.

Fifty-six percent of Florida school children qualify for the federal lunch program – a 6% increase over hte past two years. To be eligible, a family of four must have an annual income of $28,665 or less.

Putnam proposed taking over the program so he could hook up Florida farmers and schools and get more home-grown fruits and vegetables into kiddies’ diets.

Putnam got a frosty reception from the state Board of Education when he pitched his plan to them earlier this week. The education department would have to request the waiver.

Education department staff say they’re waiting to see if lawmakers approve Putnam’s proposal before they ask the feds for permission to hand the program over to Putnam.

Preliminary Senate education budget: 2.3 percent cut

Thursday, March 17th, 2011 by Dara Kam

The Senate’s preliminary allocation for education spending is a 2.3 percent drop from last year’s, far less than Gov. Rick Scott’s proposed 10 percent and the House’s initial 7.7 percent cuts.

Senate Pre-K-12 Education Budget Committee Chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, cautioned the committee that today’s figures – a $155.67 drop from last year’s $6,813.14 per-pupil spending – are just a starting point.

“It is subject to change. It is the kind of thing we’re going to have to hope that we can maintain but understand, and I cannot emphasize enough, that these are preliminary numbers,” Simmons said.

Under the Senate plan, public schools could fare even better, Simmons said, by adding back the $554 million in federal funds districts were supposed to have stashed and savings from changes in the state’s pension plan by requiring school district employees to contribute to their retirement.

“Roughly level funding for the Senate proposal – that is under these economic circumstances a significant statement as to the belief int he importance in the investment in education by Senate President Haridopolos and Sen. Alexander,” the senate budget chief, Simmons said.

(more…)

Look out, public broadcasting

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Florida lawmakers have $1.6 billion less to spend on education this year than last, according to a preliminary glimpse of the Senate’s education spending plan.

The shortfall comes from the disappearance of one-time $880 million federal stimulus funds used last year plus a reduction in property tax collections due to a decline in assessed values.

Senate K-12 education budget committee chairman David Simmons handed out spreadsheets to his committee and told them to be ready to do some serious cutting when they meet again on Thursday.

“For anybody who sees this do not have a heart attack yet,” cautioned Simmons, R-Maitland, who pointed out that lawmakers still have $554 million in federal “Education Jobs” grants leftover that school districts were supposed to have held onto from last year.

And the $1.6 billion hold “does not reflect any kind of “beg allocation,” Simmons said. “That’s where we’re going to beg for an additional allocation for education.”

Simmons drew attention to a single item on the $22 billion public education spending spreadsheet: public broadcasting.
(more…)

Scott says pension contribution phase-in a no-go

Monday, February 14th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott rejected some GOP lawmakers proposal to phase-in a revamp of the state’s pension system.

Scott’s proposed having state workers kick in 5 percent of their salaries to their pension plans, splitting the 10 percent the state now pays for. That would amount to a 5 percent salary cut for the state’s public school employees, who make up nearly half of the Florida Retirement System.

Senate Education Appropriations Committee Chairman David Simmons said he wants to see the pension reform eased in over more than one year so that beginning teachers won’t get a pay cut while the state’s still struggling to come out of a recession.

Scott says nope.

“It’s only fair. The private sector, they fund their retirement benefits so the public sector ought to be doing the same thing,” Scott said. Asked if he was willing to negotiate on the phase-in, Scott’s response was terse: “No.”

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