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Another legal challenge to prison health care privatization looms

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012 by Dara Kam

The union representing state workers has vowed to file another lawsuit if a legislative committee approves the privatization of all prison health care services tomorrow.

Lawyers for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees contend the move to outsource the health care for Florida’s 100,000 inmates is illegal.

The Joint Legislative Budget Commission is slated tomorrow to vote on a request from the Department of Corrections to transfer money within the agency to pay for contracts with two private companies, Wexford Health Sources and Corizon. The state now spends about $350 million a year on prison health care, including drugs. The agency plans to begin the privatization, affecting about 2,600 employees, on Jan. 1.

The GOP-dominated legislature last year gave the corrections department permission to outsource the prison health care privatization in budget “proviso” language, but the privatization has been tied up in court. AFSCME and the Florida Nurses’ Association challenged the privatization, saying it was a major policy change that needed to be approved in a stand-alone bill. A judge thwarted a similar attempt to privatize a large portion of the state’s prisons last year, and lawmakers were unable to pass a prison privatization bill during the legislative session that ended in March.

A Leon County circuit judge did not rule on the health care privatization lawsuit because the proviso language expired with the June 30 end of the 2011-12 fiscal year.
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Spokeswoman for group pushing ‘parent trigger’ going to work for Obama campaign in California

Friday, April 20th, 2012 by Dara Kam

The spokeswoman of the California-based Parent Revolution group that pushed a controversial “parent trigger” bill in Florida is going to work for President Obama’s reelection campaign as the state spokeswoman.

Linda Serrato sent an e-mail saying she’ll start for Obama’s California campaign next week.

Serrato’s going to work for the Democratic incumbent after Florida Democrats – and some moderate Senate Republicans – excoriated the measure, also backed by former Gov. Jeb Bush. The parent trigger measure quickly evolved into a contentious battle over letting parents take over failing schools, with Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich taking the lead in fighting against it.

The measure died on a tie vote on the final day of the legislative session in March (not a single Senate Democrat voted in favor of the measure and just two Dems gave it a thumbs up in the House) but not before fiery messaging from Parent Revolution and opponents of the bill, including a coalition of Florida parent groups, the PTA among them.

“I feel honored to have worked with this dedicated, energetic and scrappy team. I have been proud to be a part of Parent Revolution’s work empowering parents to organize their communities,” Serrato wrote in an e-mail message announcing her departure.

Senators take aim at parent trigger

Thursday, March 8th, 2012 by Dara Kam

The Senate is poised to close out the 2012 legislative session with a fiery debate over a controversial measure that would let parents decide the fate of failing schools after opponents scored several victories with amendments to the “parent trigger” bill late Thursday evening.

The proposal, based on one pushed in California by the “Parent Revolution,” would allow parents to decide on a turnaround option for schools graded “F” for at least three years in a row if more than 50 percent of parents sign petitions.

The petition process received the most attention Thursday night from opponents, a coalition of Democrats and Republicans who say the signature-gathering is rife for shenanigans as experienced in California, which became the first in the nation with its “Parent Empowerment” proposition two years ago.

The parent trigger plan is backed by GOP leaders including Senate President Mike Haridopolos, Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher and former Gov. Jeb Bush. Several Los Angles-based Parent Revolution lobbyists, in the Capitol for weeks advocating for the proposal, were in the public gallery during a heated debate over the bill (SB 1718) Thursday night.

Opponents include teachers unions and a coalition of Florida parent-led groups including the PTA, also watching the two-hour debate from the gallery. The measure has already flared emotions and procedural maneuvering in the Senate.

Proponents beat down several amendments on 21-19 votes – including one that would have criminalized bribing parents to sign the petitions – indicating Friday’s vote will be close. But opponents, including Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich, said they believe they have enough votes to kill the measure on a 20-20 tie.

The anti-parent trigger group repeatedly tried to make changes to the signature-gathering process that would have put it on a par with petition-gathering requirements included in a controversial election law passed last year and signed by Gov. Rick Scott.

One change would have made it a misdemeanor to take or offer a bribe in exchange for a signature and made it a misdemeanor to falsify signatures. But opponents of that amendment called it overreaching, eliciting outrage from Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale.

“Are you kidding me? We put this in an election year last year people. We did this. But now it’s overreaching. It’s undemocratic. Are you kidding me?” Smith said. The amendment was defeated on a 21-19 vote.

But Rich scored a win with an amendment requiring that signatures be valid, undoing language in the original bill sponsored by Republican Lizbeth Benacquisto of Fort Myers that would have allowed signatures submitted after the validation period to be accepted.

“If you don’t vote for this amendment, it means you condone fraud,” Rich, D-Weston, said.

Accusations of fraudulent signatures and coercion of parents are plaguing a parent trigger effort at a Mojave Desert school in California, where both sides are accusing each other of wrongdoing and a judge is considering open an investigation.

The Florida proposal would give parents a say in federal turnaround options for failing schools that include conversion into profit or non-profit charter schools or hiring for-profit management company to take them over, which critics say is part of an overall effort to privatize Florida’s public schools.

Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, failed to convince a majority to sign off on her plan requiring the charter schools to pay rent to school districts if they take over a failing school.

But she rallied enough votes to include a provision banning foreign nationals from owning or operating the charter schools.

Before the floor session wrapped up at 10 p.m., Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner railed against his colleagues for objecting to giving parents more control over poor-performing schools.

“I know it’s late. And I know everybody’s emotional. But keep in mind what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about parents that are sending their children every day to an F school. Every day to an F school,” Gardiner, R-Orlando, said. “We’ve gotten off track here a little bit…These are F schools. These are just parents. Parents that want an opportunity to have their children go to a better school. We want to put a misdemeanor on them?”

Speaking against the bill, Sen. Larcenia Bullard invoked hanging chads, fraudulent petition-gathering campaigns in which dead people’s names were signed on petitions and other horribles.

“Trigger bill is double-barrel Glock,” Bullard, R-Miami, said.

Session likely to end on a sour note – again

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012 by Dara Kam

A testy Senate Special Order Committee meeting over a controversial “parent trigger” measure late Tuesday night set the stage for what will likely be an ugly end to the legislative session for the second year in a row.

But in a departure from the more typical animosity between the House and Senate, Senators can expect intra-cameral hard feelings before Friday’s sine die.

Intense bipartisan wrangling over the parent trigger measure peaked Tuesday night when Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, and Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich tried to remove the proposal (SB 1718) from a list of more than 50 measures being sent to the floor on special order on Thursday.

But committee chairman John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, backed up by Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner and Senate President-designate Don Gaetz, refused to grant the pair the option of voting solely against the “Parent Empowerment” measure, which they both oppose.

Near the end of the meeting, Lynn repeatedly tried to ask Thrasher to allow her to vote no on the bill. An increasingly angry Thrasher finally cut Lynn off and, speaking over her, ordered the vote on the entire package, which passed by an unusual 4-3 vote, setting the “special order” calendar for Thursday. Lynn, Rich and Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, rejected the entire list rather than sign off on the parent trigger bill.

Lynn called the block vote a “political maneuver” that was “inappropriate and incorrect.”

But Gardiner, R-Orlando, chimed in, reminding Lynn that it was a procedural maneuver on the part of a bipartisan coalition led by Rich and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, that kept the measure from being withdrawn from a committee and sent to the Senate floor and instead required a special – and very rare – Saturday morning budget meeting to move the bill along. (Thrasher and Gardiner are an odd coalition, considering they are locked in a fight over the 2014-2016 Senate presidency.)

Gaetz, R-Niceville, agreed, accusing the bipartisan group of an “effort to stymie the process so the bill could not get to the floor.”

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Senate Easter basket special? Pink bunnies!

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: Easter baskets could get even more festive if Gov. Rick Scott signs off on a bill heading his way that will allow farm animals, including bunnies, ducklings and chicks, to be dyed – that’s colored, not killed. The House passed the measure 109-5.

Nearly 50 years ago, Florida outlawed dyed bunnies, chickens and ducks.

But just in time for Easter, kids may find pink or green bunnies tucked in with other mellifluous treats in their holiday baskets after the Florida Senate tacked on an amendment to an agriculture bill (HB 1197) dealing with honeybees and other critters.

Animal- loving Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich tried to get the amendment stripped off, saying the statute banning animal dying comes under the “animal cruelty” section of the Florida Statutes.

Dyed bunnies, ducks and baby chicks “look really cute at a couple of months of age” Rich, D-Weston, argued. “But when they get older and nobody wants them, then they get loose or taken to our shelters.”

But Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, the amendment sponsor, said dog groomers want the ban on dying lifted so they can colorize pets for competitions and parades. She said dying dogs isn’t cruel and rejected Rich’s argument that pets don’t get asked if they want their fur dyed.

“We neuter dogs without their permission. I’ve never asked my poodle if he wanted a hair cut,” Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, said. “Animal cruelty is wrong…but dying a dog’s hair or horse’s tail I don’t think is cruel.”

But Rich didn’t back down.

“This is not about grooming poodles,” she said. “This…is a way of ensuring that we don’t have a lot of little adorable ducks, rabbits and chickens that are given away at Easter time and look so cute and then two or three months later nobody wants them.”

Rich’s attempt failed, and the amended ag bill now goes back to the House.

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.”

Parents, Democrats bash ‘parent trigger’ proposal

Monday, March 5th, 2012 by Dara Kam

A coalition of parent-led groups, including the Florida PTA, and Democrats bashed a fast-tracked “parent trigger” proposal that would let parents at failing schools determine their fate.

The bill “has everything with laying the groundwork for the hostile, corporate takeover of public schools throughout Florida, a direct attack on public education,” Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich of Weston said at a press conference this morning.

Before the event began, Los Angeles-based Parent Revolution lobbyists handed out press releases asserting that national Democrats support the controversial measure. The California group called opponents “defenders of the status quo” and accused the Florida Education Association of invoking “new boogeymen” in “an attempt to confuse parents and political observers.” The “parent trigger” is now in place in first-in-the-nation California, Texas and Mississippi.

In those states, Democrats including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, have favored the plan. The at-time unctuous, election-year parent trigger debate is pitting teachers’ unions and parent groups against charter schools and for-profit management companies throughout the nation.

At least 20 states, including Florida, are now considering “Parent Empowerment” legislation. The business-backed, conservative American Legislative Exchange Council has crafted model bills similar to the one (SB 1718, HB 1191) now on its way to the Senate floor in Florida; the House approved an identical measure last week along partisan lines. The Florida proposal is being pushed by former Gov. Jeb Bush and his education foundation, Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, and other GOP leaders.

(more…)

Prison privatization critics say they will kill the bill on tie vote in Senate Tuesday

Monday, February 13th, 2012 by Dara Kam

A key senator who helped kill an amendment that would have stripped a controversial prison privatization measure and replaced it with a study said he will vote against the measure on Tuesday in what opponents predict will be a tie vote.

“I liked the concept of the study. But I like the idea of just killing the bill better,” said Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, one of a gang of nine Republicans who have joined with all but one Democrat whose coalition would kill the measure on a 20-20 vote.

Sen. Paula Dockery, one of the leading GOP senators opposed to the privatization plan (SB 2038), insisted after the 21-19 vote on the amendment late Monday that her coalition will put the issue to rest on the Senate floor on Tuesday.

“We do not lose anybody who’s going to be here to vote. My only concern is does somebody get sick, does somebody whatever. But our 20 are solid, 100 percent, anti-, don’t want this to happen. Twenty very solid votes,” Dockery, R-Lakeland said.

The Senate was originally scheduled to be in session in the morning, but late Monday Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher announced on the floor the session had been postponed until later in the afternoon. Sen. Jeremy Ring, a Margate Democrat, was originally slated to be out of town tomorrow afternoon.

Later Monday evening, Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich said Ring’s travel plans were changed so he could be in the Capitol for the vote.

“He’ll be here,” Rich, D-Weston, said.

Partisan scuffle over privatization and tax breaks yields hot air and jerked knees

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012 by Dara Kam

Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich got the last word in a partisan flame war with Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner over firing prison workers vs. closing a corporate tax loophole.

Rich launched the skirmish when she fired off a statement accusing Senate President Mike Haridopolos of ignoring her proposal that would net $500 million a year by putting an end to the “water’s edge” tax break multi-state corporations receive but companies based only in Florida do not.

“If the Senate President is serious about reportedly fighting ‘like hell to try to find some savings,’ he needs to redirect the Senate’s aim to where the confirmed savings can be found,” Rich, D-Weston, said.

Senate budget chief JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, estimates the state could save at least $16.5 million a year with a prison privatization measure that would outsource Department of Corrections operations in an 18-county region in southern Florida. The embattled proposal is now on hold in the Senate and prompted Haridopolos to eject Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, as chairman of the Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee for his public vilification of the plan.

Gardiner accused Rich of employing a “knee-jerk, Democratic reaction” of raising taxes on already struggling Florida families and businesses. The Orlando Republican said the savings from the outsourcing would be better spent on education or health care in a time when lawmakers are fighting to close a $1.4 billion budget hole.

“It is irresponsible to trivialize a significant, multimillion-dollar savings,” Gardiner shot back in a statement. “It is my hope that we will soon see more solution-oriented language from the senator and less hot air.”

Rich didn’t leave it at that. She blamed her GOP counterpart of more “of the strong-armed tactics the Republican leadership is currently deploying to ram through” the privatization proposal.

“When a member of the Republican leadership deliberately distorts my words advocating for corporations to finally pull their own weight as a “knee jerk reaction” of “raising taxes” on Floridians, his so-called ‘response’ is not only wrong, but patently false. He’s correct, we ‘don’t need bills that raise taxes,’” Rich responded.

Rich’s proposal (SB 1590), which has not yet been heard in committee, levels the playing field for in and out-of-state businesses, she argued.

“Given the events Floridians have watched unfold this week – the inability to muster the votes to layoff thousands of corrections officers from their jobs, the punishment of a Republican Senator rightly critical of the prison privatization scheme, and now the accusation that Democrats want to raise taxes because the GOP so fears my legislation that could spare Floridians from the additional loss of critical services already cut to the bone – Senator Gardiner would do well to admit the real agenda behind their ‘teachers versus corrections officers’ privatization drive,” Rich said.

Senate approves elections overhaul, sends back to House

Thursday, May 5th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Civic groups like the Boy Scouts of America could find it harder to register voters under a sweeping elections bill (HB 1355) approved by the Senate and sent back to the House this afternoon.

The elections overhaul would, among other things, create tight restrictions on third-party voter organizations – such as the League of Women Voters, unions and the NAACP – and require them to hand over voter registration forms to elections supervisors within 48 hours or face $1,000 fines.

The bill would also shorten the number of days voters can cast their ballots early before Election Day.

Democrats argue the changes are aimed at suppressing Democratic voter turnout in 2012 because Democrats tend to use early voting more than Republicans and relied heavily on third-party groups to register voters in the 2008 presidential election.

“Maybe some people didn’t like the outcome of our last presidential election or the outcome of the ballot initiatives that have passed in recent years,” Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich of Weston said before the 25-13 vote. Republican Sens. Mike Fasano of New Port Richey and Paula Dockery of Lakeland joined Democrats in opposition.

Earlier today, union leaders urged Democrats to ask questions about the measure to lay the groundwork for lawsuits later this summer.

Democrats also complained that the changes would make it more difficult to voters to cast their ballots and have them counted.

But Sen. Mike Bennett, a Vietnam vet, said that maybe voting shouldn’t be so easy. He compared Floridians’ voting experiences with voters in new democracies in Africa who have to “walk 200 or 300 miles” to cast their ballots.

“How much more convenient do you want to make it? You want to go to the house? Take the polling booth with us?” Bennett, R-Bradenton, wanted to know. “For the guy who died to give you that right to vote it was not inconvenient…I wouldn’t have any problem making it harder. I would want them to vote as badly as I want to vote. I want the people of the state of Florida to want to vote as bad as that person in Africa who’s willing to walk 200 miles…This should not be easy.”

Florida on brink of nation’s strictest parental notification abortion bill

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Florida lawmakers are poised to make the state’s parental notification of abortion laws stricter, making it more difficult for a minor to get a judges’ approval for the procedure.

By a 20-19 vote today, the Florida Senate rejected an amendment that would have kept the current law allowing minors to get a waiver from a judge anywhere in the appellate circuit in which she lives. The bill (SB 1770, HB 1247) instead would limit girls seeking the waiver to the circuit court.

That’s problematic for minors who live in rural communities or small counties whose family members are likely neighbors of or on close terms with courthouse workers or observers, argued Democrats and some Republicans, putting her confidentiality at risk. Many of the young women seeking the judicial permission for the abortions are victims of rape or incest, they said.

“I’m sorry that some people in here don’t understand that there are families where if a young woman goes to them she could be beaten or even killed because of…incest or rape,” said Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich of Weston. “We should not be doing anything to place further barriers in front of these young women…There is no need to change this.”

But Sen. Alan Hays, who sponsored the bill, said that young women have plenty of opportunity to see a judge in their own community and should not be allowed to judge-shop.

“I find it preposterous that a young lady…might be put in a vehicle and transported all the way from Escambia County to Duval County just so she can get an abortion without her parents knowing about it,” Hays, R-Umatilla, said.

Abortion rights advocates contend that the measure, already approved by the House and expected to be passed by the Senate tomorrow, would make Florida’s parental notification laws the strictest in the nation.

(more…)

Senate passes $70 billion budget

Thursday, April 7th, 2011 by Dara Kam

The Florida Senate approved its $69.8 billion spending plan by a 33-6 vote after spending about an hour politely debating its pros and cons.

Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander acknowledged the plan is tough on state workers, who would be required to contribute between 2 and 6 percent to their pensions.

“We are asking a lot from our state employees. It has been a while since folks have had raises. I get that. But I also know in my district virtually every business has had layoffs…Many businesses have closed. Many businesses have struggled to remain open,” Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said, adding that he hoped his budget would prevent lawmakers from having to make future cuts to state workers.

“One of the biggest pressures we have in our job is when we’re insecure about our future,” he said. He said he hopes the plan gives workers “a reasonable confidence…that we will not be continuing to add to that burden going forward.”

According to Sen. Don Gaetz, lawmakers could either sign off on the nearly $4 billion spending cuts in the budget or raise taxes.

But Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich of Weston said lawmakers had not even attempted to close tax loopholes that could have pumped billions back into spending on health care for the poor, frail and elderly.

“In the long run, I really believe this budget is being balanced on the backs of our public employees, state workers and our working families,” Rich said. Closing loopholes are not tax increases. Nobody’s standing up here and urging a tax increase.
What I am urging is fairness in our tax structure so we don’t constantly put the emphasis on those who have the least and give to those who have the most.”

Senate approves health care amendment 29-10

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011 by Dara Kam

On the second day of the legislative session, the Florida Senate approved a proposed constitutional amendment allowing Florida to opt out of the federal health care law, the chamber’s President Mike Haridopolos’ top priority.

The Senate approved the measure, (SJR 2) by a 29-10 vote, with just one Democrat – Bill Montford of Tallahassee – voting in favor.

The amendment, which would go before the voters next year, bans the federal government from forcing Floridians from having to purchase health care coverage, the “individual mandate” that is the subject of several federal court cases, including one in Florida. A Pensacola federal judge struck down the law as unconstitutional. President Obama’s administration appealed that ruling yesterday, and the U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately decide on the case.

Lawmakers attempted to put a similar measure on the ballot last year, but the Florida Supreme Court struck it down saying it was confusing to voters. Haridopolos tweaked the language to try to meet the court’s muster this time around.

Haridopolos, a Merritt Island Republican, is running for U.S. Senate, and could possibly on the same November 2012 ballot as the amendment.

“This is about freedom. This is about federalism. This is not a unitary government where everything just comes on down high from government,” Haridopolos said before the vote. “This is about choice. This is about freedom and respecting the U.S. Constitution and…mostly, respecting individual rights.”

Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich of Weston argued that the federal law already allows states to opt out if they come up with another way to make sure its citizens are insured.

“The fact remains that this is the law of the land and it is our duty to take the appropriate steps to implement this law,” Rich said. “Whether you like it or not, we have a federal system of government…Federal law remains the supreme law of the land.”

The proposed amendment would require 60 percent approval from the voters to pass. The House has not yet voted on the measure.

Arguing against the bill, Sen. Tony Hill, D-Jacksonville, took umbrage at Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, calling the law “Obamacare.”

“Sen. Gaetz mentioned Obamacare,” Hill said. “At least somebody care.”

Rich scores legal aid victory for Senate Dems

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Score one for Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich who took over her caucus of 12 today.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos agreed to Rich’s unusual request for a lawyer to advise the Dems.

Rich, D-Weston, made the ask because of Haridopolos’ own unusual move: his chief of staff Steve MacNamara is serving a dual role as the Senate’s general counsel.

Rich objected that MacNamara, who earns $175,000 a year, is, as Haridopolos’ chief, too partisan to provide objective counsel to both sides of the aisle.

“The dual roles assumed under this administration raised fears that that objectivity and legal even-handedness would be compromised. We were left with no choice but to request our own attorney who would fill that critical void. I am pleased that the Senate President agreed,” Rich said in a statement announcing Haridopolos’ approval.

Rich tapped Shari Kerrigan, a Pepperdine law school university grad, as her legal eagle. Kerrigan, who’ll be paid $37,500 a year, was most recently executive director of the Kerrigan Family Charitable Foundation set up by her father, Pensacola lawyer Bob Kerrigan.

“The decision by the Republican administration allowing the chief of staff to double as the Senate’s top attorney raised concerns within our Caucus,” said Senator Rich. “Where previously the general counsel did not restrict himself to just one group of members or one partisan alliance, the dual roles assumed under this administration raised fears that that objectivity and legal even-handedness would be compromised. We were left with no choice but to request our own attorney who would fill that critical void. I am pleased that the Senate President agreed.”

It’s been 35 years since the minority party has had its own legal counsel, according to Rich’s staff. The minority party then? The GOP.

Nan Rich takes over Senate Dems

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Sen. Nan Rich has her work cut out for her as the Weston Democrat takes over as head of her caucus.

Dems are outnumbered more than ever after the elections earlier this month – just 51 Democrats remain of the 160 members of the House and Senate. Republicans have a veto-proof majority in both chambers – IF they can keep Democratic leader Rich and her House counterpart Ron Saunders from corralling moderate GOP members on crucial floor and committee votes.

Democrats are down to 12 in the Senate after losing two seats to Republicans earlier this month.

Perhaps Rich’s right-hand-woman, Sen. Arthenia Joyner, expressed it best during a caucus conference this morning.

“As the loyal opposition, we’ve got to be a voice for the voiceless,” Joyner, D-Tampa, said. “As a black woman…I’m ready for a fight every day because…Just to exist, everything’s a fight. It’s a way of life.
It’s not a problem because we know how to take it even in the worst of times.”

Senate finally allows debate on gay adoption

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Senate President Jeff Atwater allowed Democrats to talk about repealing the state’s gay adoption ban during the afternoon session today.

Sen. Nan Rich has tried and failed for the past four years to have her bills that would do away with Florida’s 33-year-old prohibition against gay couples or individuals adopting.

But today, Atwater allowed Sen. Charlie Justice to offer an amendment on a bill that would prohibit adoption agencies from discriminating against gun owners. Justice’s amendment proposed a similar prohibition for discrimination based on sexual orientation.

“Whether a person owns a gun or not has no bearing on his or her ability to be a loving parent,” Rich, D-Weston, said.

The ban on gay adoption is a “far graver inequality,” she said, and is “a law grounded on fear and ignorance rather than in sound public policy.”

Gay couples are allowed to be foster parents but are barred from permanently adopting the children. More than 3,000 Florida kids are waiting to be adopted and about 25,000 of them live in foster care.

A state appeals court is currently considering whether the law is unconstitutional, as some judges have recently ruled. The 1st District Court of Appeals could rule at any time on a case in which a judge allowed Martin Gill, a gay Miami-Dade County man, to adopt two foster children who have been in his care for years. The state is appealing the adoptions.

“I know this amendment is not going to pass today and that Florida’s discriminatory adoption ban will not fall today,” Rich concluded. ”It’s been four year since there’s been any debate on this issue in any official Senate proceeding in any Senate committee and it’s been 33 years since this issue has been debated on the floor of this chamber. It’s about time we did something about that.”

Justice, D-St. Petersburg, withdrew the amendment before a vote could be taken.

Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando, offered a similar amendment on the House floor this afternoon. He also withdrew the measure before it could be voted on.

Crist orders agencies to check on background checks

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist is ordering agencies to audit their compliance with state law requiring criminal background checks on workers who deal with children, the frail or the elderly.

Crist ordered the review after The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported that about more than 6,000 people had been approved by the state to work with the elderly, disabled and children, including some who had been convicted of murder and rape.

Crist is asking a host of agencies to examine the current legal requirements for screening, compliance and report back to him on Nov. 2.

Crist’s order comes on the heels of Democratic Sen. Nan Rich’s filing of legislation to tighten up screening requirements.

(more…)

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