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Crank it up! Florida Senate kills ban on loud car music

Friday, April 26th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Drivers can continue to crank up the volume as loud as they like after the Florida Senate killed an attempt to revive a ban on loud music on a tie vote.

Some lawmakers wanted to reinstate a 1990 law struck banning drivers from blasting radios, tape decks or other devices at a volume that can be heard 25 feet away or more. The Florida Supreme Court last year struck down the law, ruling that it is unconstitutional.

This year’s proposal tweaked a problem in the law that included an exemption in the noise ban for vehicles broadcasting commercial or political messages, such as ice cream trucks or campaign vehicles. The ban violates the First Amendment by restricting certain kinds of speech while not restricting others, the court found. The latest plan would have expanded the ban to all types of vehicles.

The 19-19 vote on the measure (SB 634) came after an at-times tongue-in-cheek debate on the merits of rocking out in your car.

Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, called the proposal a “crime prevention” measure because when loud music rattling car windows at times “makes you want to kill somebody.”

The measure would have made playing loud music a primary offense, which rankled Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah. Lawmakers just approved a measure that would make texting and driving a secondary offense, meaning drivers could only be penalized if they are pulled over for something else.

“That kills people. This doesn’t kill anyone,” Garcia objected.

Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, sponsored the texting and driving ban and spoke against the noise prohibition.

“It’s life. I don’t intend to pass a law that says you can’t ruin your own hearing if you want to,” she said.

And Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, said making the prohibition a primary offense could open the door for giving law enforcement an opportunity to harass youngsters.

“Twenty-five feet is such a short distance to end up pulling over one of our young people and then something else escalates,” Gibson said. “You all remember when you were growing up maybe when you got your first car and you turned that radio up a bit, turned it up a little bit more.”

But Sen. Wilton Simpson, said that the loud music can be a distraction that can keep drivers from hearing ambulance sirens.

“This is a serious bill with serious implications,” he said.

Elections supervisors stunned by last-minute ‘attack’

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013 by Dara Kam

The appointed secretary of state would have the authority to decide if elections supervisors are “non-compliant” and force them to take additional training under a last-minute provision included in a sweeping elections bill by the Senate this morning.

Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, sponsored the late-filed amendment to give the secretary of state “a little more clout” over the local officials.

“It’s more symbolic than anything else, but it’s an important message to send I believe,” said Diaz de la Portilla, who has been an outspoken critic of Miami-Dade County’s elections and is the sponsor of the controversial 2011 HB 1355 that shrank the number of early voting days from 14 to eight. Many critics believe the shorter number of days contributed to the long lines encountered by voters in counties with large populations, including Palm Beach.

Looking on from the public gallery, the 22-18 vote in favor of Diaz de la Portilla’s amendment stunned several supervisors, including the Florida State Association of State Elections Supervisors President Vicki Davis of Martin County.

Polk County Supervisor of Elections Lori Edwards, a former state representative, called the last-minute amendment a “typical inside Tallahassee backroom deal.”

And Pasco County elections supervisor Brian Corley, who minutes before had been tweeting praise of the bill, called the idea that a “politically appointed Tallahassee bureaucrat” could put local elections officials on “super secret probation” insulting.

The House approved its version of the elections changes (HB 7013) on the first day of the legislative session. The Senate could vote in its version as early as next week, and could add more changes.

PIP: Scott ‘arm bending’ works. DLP ‘phoney-baloney’ rant. Negron ‘not a home-and-away’ game.

Friday, March 9th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott scored a huge victory late Friday night when the Florida Senate signed off on a last-ditch effort to crack down on personal injury protection fraud.

By a narrow 21-19 vote, the once-again divided Senate agreed to the compromise language passed earlier this evening by the House, and then passed the measure (HB 119) 22-17.

But the vote elicited rebukes from some senators who wanted the upper chamber to stand its ground and refuse to concur with the proposal – crafted largely by insurance industry lobbyists – in a debate highlighted by a stemwinder by Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami.

Diaz de la Portilla, a lawyer, repeatedly called the deal a “phoney baloney” attempt to combat fraud and pilloried the House for bowing to powerful insurance lobbyists and the governor, who made PIP reform his top priority this legislative session. Diaz de la Portilla had convinced the Senate in its version of the PIP reform to keep intact “multipliers” allowing lawyers to be paid escalated fees. The compromise did away with that but, in a concession to the Senate, did not cap attorneys’ fees or set an hourly rate.

Growing more incensed as his rant went on, Diaz de la Portilla said that PIP scams aren’t the real fraud.

“I think the House measure that’s been sent over to us and that we’re being asked to concede to, that’s the fraud. It’s a fraud on the consumers of the state of Florida. It’s a fraud on the people who have to buy these policies by law. It’s a fraud on those who are injured in accidents. It’s a fraud because it basically is the Insurance Company Relief Act of 2012. That’s what it is. That’s exactly what we’re talking about,” Diaz de la Portilla said, referring to the package as “phoney-baloney” at least three times to the delight of a bipartisan group of senators surrounding him.

The compromise does not require a set rate reduction, as the Senate plan did, but requires an actuarial analysis by an independent party to back up a detailed explanation of insurers’ rates if they do not roll back by 10 percent by October and 25 percent by 2014.
Sen. Dennis Jones, a Seminole chiropractor who said he is probably the only senator who actually treated a PIP patient, called the bill a “very, very punitive” measure for chiropractors. Patients will now be limited to $2,500 worth of chiropractic treatment, a change from the 24 visits over three months now allowed.

Gov. Rick Scott scored a huge victory late Friday night when the Florida Senate signed off on a last-ditch effort to crack down on personal injury protection fraud.

By a narrow 21-19 vote, the once-again divided Senate agreed to the compromise language passed earlier this evening by the House, and then passed the measure (HB 119) 22-17.

But the vote elicited rebukes from some senators who wanted the upper chamber to stand its ground and refuse to concur with the proposal – crafted largely by insurance industry lobbyists – in a debate highlighted by a stemwinder by Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami.

Diaz de la Portilla, a lawyer, repeatedly called the deal a “phoney baloney” attempt to combat fraud and pilloried the House for bowing to powerful insurance lobbyists and the governor, who made PIP reform his top priority this legislative session. Diaz de la Portilla convinced the Senate in its version of the PIP reform to keep intact “multipliers” allowing lawyers to be paid escalated fees. The compromise did away with that but, in a concession to the Senate, did not cap attorneys’ fees or set an hourly rate.

Growing more incensed as his rant went on, Diaz de la Portilla said that PIP scams aren’t the real fraud.

“I think the House measure that’s been sent over to us and that we’re being asked to concede to, that’s the fraud. It’s a fraud on the consumers of the state of Florida. It’s a fraud on the people who have to buy these policies by law. It’s a fraud on those who are injured in accidents. It’s a fraud because it basically is the Insurance Company Relief Act of 2012. That’s what it is. That’s exactly what we’re talking about,” Diaz de la Portilla said, referring to the package as “phoney-baloney” at least three times to the delight of a bipartisan group of senators surrounding him.

Sen. Dennis Jones, a chiropractor who said he is probably the only senator who actually treated a PIP patient, called the bill a “very, very punitive” measure for chiropractors. Patients will now be limited to $2,500 worth of chiropractic treatment, a change from who will now be limited to $2,500 worth of treatment. The House originally wanted to cut chiros out from PIP treatment altogether.

“I know it’s late and I know you all just want to flush something out and go home,” Jones, R-Seminole, said, adding “You’re making a major, major mistake.”

Scott worked lawmakers especially hard on PIP, stepping up pressure as the clock wound down toward the session end Friday. The governor gave hand-written thank you notes to House and Senate members who voted “yes” on the bill.

But Jones wasn’t on that list, especially after calling out Scott before the vote.

“Most people have had their arms bent or twisted or been down to the governors office two or three times,” Jones said.

Sen. Joe Negron, the Stuart Republican who brokered the deal for the Senate and sponsored the chamber’s trial lawyer-friendlier proposal, rejected his colleague’s criticism that the Senate would be giving up too much by taking the House offer.

It isn’t true “that somehow we’ve been run out of the gym by the House and we shouldn’t concur on their message because we passed our bill and by God our bill is better than their bill,” Negron said. “Anytime you have a bill of this magnitude, you’ve got to make principled compromises and find a middle ground.”

Negron then defended his efforts to keep chiropractors in the mix at all.

“The House wanted to take chiropractors, tie two 50-pound cement blocks to their ankles and drop them over the boat into the bottom of the ocean. And they were never going to be heard from in PIP again. I found that very offensive,” Negron, a lawyer, said.

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, a former Senate president who pushed alongside Scott for the overhaul, called Senate critics “dead wrong” about the deal.

“The Senate got all its fraud language. The Senate got all its licensure language. The Senate got room for chiropractic care. The Senate did not cap attorneys fees. The Senate did a fine job. The House was very firm on driving the cost drivers of utilization down. They came together with a really solid compromise,” Atwater said.

Atwater said he’s certain premiums will decrease although the bill does not require it.

“I think they’re going to see when that independent study comes down that they’re going to indicate rates need to be coming down. They need to come down now,” he said.

Head of Senate Ethics and Elections Committee probably violated ethics laws, panel finds

Thursday, February 9th, 2012 by Dara Kam

The Associated Press reported that state Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla is facing an ethics charge that he failed to properly report his finances.

Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, is chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee.

The AP story:

The Florida Ethics Commission on Wednesday released findings from its closed-door meeting held last Friday.

The commission found probable cause that the senator violated ethics laws because he did not list his checking account on forms he initially filed. Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, is chairman of the Senate subcommittee that deals with ethics and election laws.

The commission also concluded the senator failed to timely disclose retirement accounts. But the commission said there was no reason to pursue that charge any further.

Diaz de la Portilla said he unintentionally left his checking account off his forms because he had listed his income elsewhere on the forms.

Internet café stand-off: Senate committee passes regulation, House and Scott want shut-down

Thursday, January 19th, 2012 by Dara Kam

An Internet café showdown is shaping up after a Senate committee overwhelmingly approved a measure that would regulate the “casinos-on-corner” shortly before the sponsor of a proposal that would shut them down withdrew his bill from consideration.

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee signed off on the regulation of the cafés (SB 380) after hearing from proponents who said the facilities provide up to 13,000 jobs and are a place for seniors to socialize.

“We have never had one, eensy-teensy, bit of crime,” said Julie Slattery, who owns two Internet cafés in Melbourne.

“This is a business. It’s a real business. It’s a form of entertainment,” Slattery said. She asked the committee to regulate rather than shut the locales to “get rid of whatever it is you’re afraid of.”

But prosecutors and the Florida Sheriffs’ Association objected that the cafés are a venue for crimes and illegal gambling and need to be shuttered.

Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, the bill’s sponsor, rejected those arguments, noting that prosecutions have not resulted in a single conviction.

“I guess there’s a shortage of real crime out there so there’s a need to create some more so you can go prosecute it,” Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, said, adding that traffic problems and robberies often take place at convenience stores.

“Should the next bill ban convenience stores, too?” he said.

After passing the regulatory measure by an 8-1 vote, the committee then took up a bill (SB 428) that would outlaw the facilities. That proposal is similar to one passed by a House committee earlier this week and mirrors the criminalization Gov. Rick Scott yesterday said he’d like lawmakers to impose.

But before the committee could vote on his bill, Sen. Steve Oelrich asked the committee to temporarily put it aside, fending off the panel possibly killing the measure. That would have put an end to the possibility of outlawing the cafés for the rest of the session.

(more…)

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