Governor Ron DeSantis today received the following bills from the Florida Legislature. [Read more…] about Governor Ron DeSantis Receives 10 Bills from the Florida Legislature
Governor Ron DeSantis today received the following bills from the Florida Legislature. [Read more…] about Governor Ron DeSantis Receives Six Bills from the Florida Legislature
Governor Ron DeSantis today praised the Florida Legislature for passing school choice expansion, Gardiner Scholarship funding and Best and Brightest Teacher and Principal Bonuses among other top educational priorities for the administration. [Read more…] about Governor Ron DeSantis Commends Florida Legislature for Passage of School Choice Expansion and Key Education Priorities
Governor Ron DeSantis and Lt. Governor Jeanette Nuñez today joined Florida Senate President Bill Galvano and Florida House Speaker Jose Oliva for Sine Die, commemorating the end of a successful legislative session. [Read more…] about Governor Ron DeSantis Celebrates Sine Die with Florida Legislature
In a victory for the citizens of the Treasure Coast region, and based on work by Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida (CARE FL) and Indian River and Martin Counties, the Florida Legislature has included language in the state budget directing the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) to commission a study to examine existing and planned passenger rail operations, including high-speed passenger rail, in Florida. Currently, Florida has no laws or regulations addressing the safety of high speed trains such as the one proposed by All Aboard Florida (AAF).
The study language was proposed by Senator Debbie Mayfield and the Florida Senate following an unprecedented series of deaths and injuries in six separate incidents in which individuals were struck by AAF/Brightline high speed trains currently running between West Palm Beach and Ft. Lauderdale. The language was included despite efforts and politicking by AAF to kill any measure related to rail safety this session.
The AAF/Brightline project proposes to send 32 new 80-110 mile per hour passenger trains, and more and longer FEC freight trains, along the same tracks between Miami and Orlando. The deaths and injuries, which occurred at rail crossings in South Florida, clearly demonstrated the urgent need for safety measures to protect pedestrians and motorists who cross the tracks multiple times a day every day.
“This study will require the hiring of experts to take a hard look at the impacts of high speed rail in Florida and in areas that never previously contemplated trains travelling at 110 miles per hour through densely populated areas,” said Dylan Reingold, Indian River County Attorney. “The study should confirm that pedestrians, children and vehicles are in danger at many of the at-grade crossings.”
“Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida is deeply grateful to Senator Debbie Mayfield and Representatives Erin Grall and Mary Lynn Magar for their unwavering commitment to protecting the residents of our community and all Floridians,” said Brent Hanlon, CARE FL Chairman. “This study is a necessary step so when our Legislature meets again, they will understand and act to address the deadly consequences of high speed trains in our communities.”
The AAF/Brightline high speed rail project will significantly increase the number and speed of trains passing through nearly 350 at-grade road crossings along the Florida East Coast Rail corridor, 28 of which are located in Martin County and 31 of which are located in Indian River County, posing more dangers and opportunities for accidents between trains and vehicles or people.
“If done responsibly, the rail study should compel state and federal governments’ to finally meet their regulatory obligations to ensure the safety of the public in and around railroads,” said Ruth Holmes, Martin County Senior Assistant County Attorney.
The study will include the following:
- An overview of the Florida Rail System, including existing and planned passenger rail and high-speed passenger rail operations in the state, and identification of existing and planned passenger rail and high-speed passenger rail stations, corridors, and associated railroad-highway crossings.
- An overview of the jurisdiction of federal, state, and local governments to regulate passenger rail and high-speed passenger rail operations.
- A review of data relating to incidents, including resulting injuries and fatalities, involving passenger rail and high-speed passenger rail operations in this state.
- Recommendations to further enhance passenger rail and high-speed passenger rail safety in this state, including a review of current crossing signalization, grade crossings and separations, corridor protection, public education and awareness, and coordination with local law enforcement and emergency management officials.
- Recommendations to further improve passenger rail and high-speed passenger rail in this state.
According to the language, the final report will be submitted to the Governor, the President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives by November 1, 2018.
However, the language authorizing the study now heads to Governor Rick Scott’s desk for his approval.
“We urge the Governor to approve this much-needed study to ensure the public’s safety,” added Hanlon.
Senator Aaron Bean (R-Fernandina Beach) today announced the winners of the Florida Legislature’s Annual Biggest Loser Weight Loss Competition. The eight week contest is open to members of the legislature and Capitol employees who compete to lose the most weight during the legislative session.
“Session is a stressful time for everyone at the Capitol, and it is easy to put on a few pounds if you’re not careful,” said Senator Bean. “The Annual Biggest Loser Competition serves as a great way to promote weight loss and motivate legislators and staff to make positive, healthy changes in their lives.”
The 2018 Biggest Loser Weight Loss Competition winners are:
1. Rep. Clovis Watson – 27.5 lbs
2. Gary Austin (Sergeant’s Office) – 22 lbs.
3. Kurt Schrader (Bill Drafting) – 16.5 lbs.
1. Mary Cowart (Aide to Rep. Stafford) – 17.5 lbs.
2. Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen – 16 lbs.
3. Heather Bishop (House Policy Chief) – 12 lbs.
Honorable mentions for legislative losers include Representative Larry Ahern, Representative Tracie Davis, Representative Bob Cortes, Senator Aaron Bean, Senator Kevin Rader and Senator Daphne Campbell. Representative Bobby Payne won the “Steady Eddy” award by weighing in and out at the same weight.
Participants weighed in with a registered nurse at the Capitol Clinic during the first week of the 2018 legislative session in early January and weighed out by March 7. 48 participants lost a total of 173 pounds with 27 men losing 82.75 pounds and 21 women losing 90.75 pounds. The proceeds from the contest were awarded as a $1,000 charitable donation to the Florida Guardian ad Litem Foundation.
Senator Bean represents Senate District 4, which includes parts of Nassau and Duval Counties. He can be contacted in Tallahassee at (850) 487-5004 or in his District Office at (904) 757-5039.
Governor Rick Scott today issued the following statement following the Florida Senate unanimously voting in support of HB 359. HB 359 was also passed unanimously in the Florida House of Representatives in January and advances Governor Scott’s proposal to strictly prohibit the State of Florida, including all state agencies, from investing in any company that is doing business with Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro’s oppressive government. See Governor Scott’s announcement of this proposal HERE.
Governor Scott said, “With the passage of this landmark legislation, Florida continues its commitment to the people of Venezuela who are fighting for freedom and democracy. This legislation will prohibit all state agencies from investing in the Venezuelan government and puts even more financial pressure on the Maduro regime by stopping any future state investment with them. I want to thank Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, as well as sponsors Senator Rene Garcia and Speaker Pro Tempore Jeanette Nunez, for their great work on this important bill. Together, we will continue to shine a light on the unacceptable political tyranny and violence that is inflicted by Maduro and his ruthless thugs. We need to do everything we can to help stop these injustices and Florida stands with the people of Venezuela.”
Senator Rene Garcia said, “It was an honor to sponsor this important piece of legislation. HB 359 shows that Florida continues to stand strong against the brutal Maduro regime and any business that supports their oppressive leadership. We will continue fighting for human rights and democracy for our friends in Venezuela.”
Florida House Speaker Pro Tempore Jeanette Nunez said, “This legislation strengthens Florida’s opposition to Maduro’s brutal and oppressive regime. I want to thank Governor Scott on his leadership and commitment to the Venezuelan people. Together, we will keep fighting to bring democracy to the people of Venezuela.”
Faith leaders, civil rights groups, state and community advocates’ objections fall on deaf
ears as Florida House joins Senate in passing a new 200% interest predatory loan bill
As a new report shows payday lenders have invested at least $8 million in Florida since 2007 between campaign contributions and lobbying expenses, the House voted to pass SB920/HB 857 today, a bill that a spokesperson from the Office of Financial Regulations admitted to a reporter was proposed and “run” by the payday lending industry.
The bill, which passed the Florida Senate on a rare Saturday session called by President Negron to debate measures to address gun violence, now heads to Governor Scott, who could kill the measure with a veto. The bill would double the amount lenders may loan to each borrower and increase the cost to the consumer for the loans, with interest rates over 200% annually.
Groups opposing the bill include the NAACP Florida State Conference, Florida AARP, Florida Veterans for Common Sense, League of Southeastern Credit Unions, UnidosUS, Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, Hispanic Unity, Florida Prosperity Partnership, Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Florida, 11th District Episcopal AME Church, Latino Leadership, Beaches Habitat for Humanity, Legal Aid of Palm Beach County, Legal Aid of Collier County, Catalyst Miami, Solita’s House, Raise Florida Network, Legal Aid of Broward County, Manatee Community Federal Credit Union, Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, Tallahassee-Leon Federal Credit Union, Florida Legal Services and others.
Color Of Change, the nation’s largest online racial justice organization, with more than one million members, including tens of thousands of Floridians, called on its Florida members to urge their representatives to oppose the bill.
“Despite the predatory nature and discriminatory impact of payday lending corporations, Democrats and a striking number of members of the Florida Black Legislative Caucus have continued to carry water for this morally bankrupt industry. For all of us, it is extremely important to make sure Black elected officials know that they are accountable to our communities, not to companies giving them thousands of dollars. We have to be able to count on the decision-makers that we’ve put in power to hold the line and act for us, not to the detriment of our families,” said Brandi Collins-Dexter, Senior Campaign Director. “We will continue to fight back against this predatory bill and encourage our members to call Governor Scott’s office and demand he veto it.”
Research shows that payday lenders locate disproportionately in communities of color even in comparisons of neighborhoods with similar income levels, including in Florida.
“Payday Lender Influence in Florida,” was released Thursday by the Florida Consumer Action Network and Every Voice Counts. In addition to documenting at least $8 million spent by payday lenders in Florida since 2007, the report found that the Florida Republican Party accepted over $1.1 million of payday lender cash in the past decade. The Florida Democratic Party took at least $412,500, and the PAC of Governor Rick Scott, called Let’s Get to Work, took at least $175,110.
A spokesperson for the Florida Office of State Regulations admitted the payday lenders’ overwhelming influence to a Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times reporter in an article released Monday night. Said Jamie Mongiovi, “It was an industry-proposed bill, it was an industry-run bill. We weren’t running the show here.”
“We have watched this bill sail through one committee after another where most of our lawmakers have given deference to payday lending lobbyists and all but ignored the real harms presented to them by groups and individuals who know the nature of payday lending all too well,” said Alice Vickers, of the Florida Alliance for Consumer Protection. “Just this week, I spoke with a retired woman named Maria from Palm Beach County who has been trapped in a payday loan for 8 years. Why are lawmakers falling for the payday lenders’ denial that their business is based on trapping people in debt at triple-digit interest rates? Governor Scott should step up where they have stepped back and veto this bill.”
Reform passed in 2001 failed to stop the cycle of debt that payday lending intentionally creates. In Florida, over 83% of loans go to people with seven or more loans per year, and the payday lenders suck over $300 million annually out of the state’s economy. The new bill would add an additional product, not reform current payday lending practices.
Payday lenders claim they need a new product in Florida to avoid falling under a rule by the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which is meant to protect people from long-term debt traps. But the Consumer Bureau rule is under heavy attack at the federal level which puts its future in doubt, and it is not scheduled to take effect until August 2019.
Floridians whose communities will be harmed by these predatory lending products consistently raised their voices in opposition, but were unheeded by their elected officials:
The Rev. James T. Golden of the AME Church in Florida asked members of the Senate Appropriations committee to be honest that they are helping the industry and not consumers.
Testifying before a House committee, Rev. Golden said: “I find it very difficult to be sympathetic to multi-millionaires sitting in here saying to you, we need help, when you all know that the resources this preacher and I bring to bear on this situation doesn’t come with one campaign contribution. But it comes with a heartfelt plea to you to do the right thing by the people who couldn’t come here today. Do the right thing by the people who couldn’t lift their voices because they’ve been too busy paying off these loans they’ve gotten from the industry.”
Adora Obi Nweze of the Florida NAACP said in a Miami Herald opinion editorial: “Rather than receiving help through a crisis, payday borrowers report a worsening of their financial situations after getting caught in the debt trap. They have increasing trouble paying living expenses as time goes on. Some people lose their bank accounts after repeat overdrafts, forced by the unmanageable terms of payday loans. After doing everything they can to get through a tough situation, some folks even end up having to file bankruptcy. Those who say with a straight face that these loans provide a valuable service have just not done their homework.”
Jared Nordlund, with UnidosUS, said, “We do not see usurious loans as a valid alternative for any consumer. Our communities are targeted by these businesses, and we should not be a haven for these predatory lenders.”
“We cannot support loans that place borrowers in a cycle of debt with 50% of these loans going to borrowers with 12 or more loans per year,” said Marucci Guzmán, Executive Director of Latino Leadership. “We look to our legislators to do a better job helping our community meet its financial needs.”
Faith leaders including a former payday borrower spoke out in a press conference in February (http://bit.ly/2EektKA):
“On behalf of the millions of people that have actually been involved in this type of predatory lending, you start off as a customer but you eventually become a victim…I quickly found one $425 payday loan put me in a spiral to where when the next payday came the money that I had to pay to the loan would make me short somewhere else…It is just a treacherous trap and a juggling game. You are not borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, you’re borrowing from the devil to pay the devil.” — Elder Wayne Wright, Mt. Olive Primitive Baptist in Jacksonville.
“I serve in a community in one of the toughest hit areas of … I represent 236 churches throughout Florida where we have looked in our communities and found that payday lending is set up in communities least able to afford opposition to those lenders… This bill would not reform payday lending even though it is badly needed, but instead…it would add another type of high-cost debt trap payday loans to the toolkit of payday lenders.” — Pastor Lee Harris, Mt. Olive Primitive Baptist in Jacksonville.
“It is an injustice to punish those or to box persons in who find themselves needing assistance.” — Bishop Teresa Jefferson-Snorton, 5th District of the CME Church, Florida.
“I consider it an economic justice issue, it is a consumer protection issue for the poor and often the not-so-poor, who need a quick loan to cover some unexpected expense, but they’re invited to their own financial funeral and interment.” — Bishop Adam J. Richardson, 11th District of the AME Church, Florida.
“Why are Florida lawmakers listening to payday lenders and not to those of us who have our fingers on the pulse of the communities that are hardest hit by predatory lending?” — Rev. Rachel Gunter Shapard, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Florida.
“It seems it’s open season for vultures to take advantage of the most vulnerable members of our society…The payday lending industry raked in more than $300 million last year and we need to think of that $300 million as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for our poorest children.” — Rev. Dr. Russell Meyer, Florida Council of Churches.
In a letter , Florida-based civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump expressed opposition to the bill: “Payday lending puts the burden of extremely high interest rates on people of extremely low means. And these loans offer no value but instead serve to systematically redistribute wealth from low-wealth communities to large, corporatized predatory lenders. And as with so many other issues, this is one that has a devastating impact to the fabric of Black and Latino communities… We cannot in good conscience let a sophisticated means of exploitation, especially one that can be resolved with such a simple solution, continue to destroy good and decent people. Florida lawmakers should reject this new product and instead pass a usury cap on payday loans – just as people across this state are asking them to do.”
Many faith leaders and other advocates support capping annual interest rates on Florida payday loans at 30%. A cap of 36% APR or less protects people from predatory lending in fifteen states and D.C. In these jurisdictions, former borrowers express relief at being sprung from the trap and report a variety of strategies for dealing with cash shortfalls that are much cheaper and less harmful than payday loans.
While payday lenders claim APR is irrelevant for payday loans because they are short-term, the APR is actually a legally-mandated disclosure allowing borrowers to make an apples-to-apples comparison of the costs of various credit products such as an advance on a credit card, which is typically a fraction of the cost of a payday loan.
The Florida Legislature today approved House Bill 395, which would create a municipality in Martin County to be known as the Town of Hobe Sound. If signed into law by Governor Scott, the bill would take effect only upon approval by a majority vote of the municipality’s electors.
“This legislation includes the opportunity for the citizens of Hobe Sound to vote on whether or not they would like for their town to become incorporated,” said Senate President Joe Negron (R-Stuart), a native of Hobe Sound. “The people of this community have waited years for this legislation, and I am pleased to see it earn the favorable support of both the House and Senate, and move to the Governor’s desk for his consideration.”
Governor Rick Scott announced today that the Florida Health Care Association, Florida Senior Living Association, LeadingAge Florida and the Florida Assisted Living Association have agreed to support the Governor’s rule to have emergency generators to power their air conditioning units during emergencies. These associations, which represent thousands of nursing homes and assisted living facilities (ALFs) in Florida, have worked with the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) and the Department of Elder Affairs (DOEA) through the rule-making process and have agreed to drop their challenges against the agencies and work with their members to have emergency generators. Hundreds of nursing homes and ALFs in Florida have already agreed to follow the Governor’s rule and are working to install the necessary equipment. While the rule challenges against the currently proposed nursing home and assisted living facility generator rules have been dropped by all parties, these rules are still awaiting ratification by the Florida Legislature. The legislature must ratify these rules during the current legislative session.
Governor Scott said, “Following the tragic loss of life at the Hollywood Hills Rehabilitation Center last year, I immediately ordered our state agencies to require each nursing home and ALF in Florida to have emergency generators to keep their residents safe during a disaster. My goal throughout this process was to ensure that every facility in Florida can provide a safe environment for its residents. These rules accomplish this important goal by having generators and fuel supply resources at every nursing home and ALF in Florida. This is a big win for our state and makes Florida one of the first states in the nation to require emergency generators at nursing homes and ALFs. The bottom line is that we fought for residents and they will be safer because of these rules. I look forward to the legislature ratifying these life-saving rules.”
AHCA Secretary Justin Senior said, “We have put together a rule that we believe can help save lives. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities are homes for some of Florida’s most vulnerable populations, and these rules are vital to ensuring patient safety. We are glad that the hard work of Governor Scott and stakeholders will establish standards that will keep Florida’s vulnerable populations safe.”
DOEA Secretary Bragg said, “When Florida families make the decision to place their loved ones in long-term care facilities, they expect that they will be safe and well cared for at all times. Since September, our Department has been working to ensure the safety and welfare of Floridians in assisted living facilities during periods of prolonged power outage. We are glad that all parties were able to come together and create procedures that will ensure protection for these populations.”
Florida Health Care Association Executive Director Emmett Reed said, “The health and well-being of our state’s frail elders is our members’ number one priority. Our association has worked with Governor Scott, AHCA and DOEA since September on how our members can implement these important life-saving rules. We are glad that all stakeholders were able to come to the table, work together and agree to lasting policy that will keep residents and patients safe in Florida.”
Gail Matillo, President of the Florida Senior Living Association said, “Throughout this process, we have remained supportive of the Governor’s original intent – to ensure vulnerable Floridians are kept safe during emergency situations. We believe these rules will benefit both Florida seniors and the communities invested in providing them with quality living environments.”
Shad Haston, Chief Executive Officer of Florida Assisted Living Association said, “Our assisted living facilities are implanted in communities all over the state and ensuring resident safety has been a key issue since the storm this fall. Governor Scott was able to bring key stakeholders together, and work through the rules ensuring that facilities large and small will be able to implement them.”
Steve Bahmer, President and CEO of LeadingAge Florida said, “Ensuring the safety of Florida’s seniors has always been the primary goal of LeadingAge Florida and our members, and we appreciated the Governor’s leadership on this as Hurricane Irma moved through our state. The state has stayed in close contact with our association during the course of this process, and we support the implementation of these rules to ensure that Florida’s seniors are safe.”
With this agreement AHCA and DOEA have filed notice of change to the permanent nursing home and assisted living facility generator rules. The notice of change can be found here for nursing homes and here for assisted living facilities.