The Florida Capitol Report For The Week Ending February 26

The session continued this week with extremely packed committee agendas and days long floor action. The Legislature is, as of this writing, not in agreement on spending allocations for the budget. Although, word from the Capitol late last evening was that the Senate and House were close to achieving consensus and, perhaps, ready to conference this weekend.

We had a good crowd up from Palm Beach and Dade this week: PBA President John Rivera, Palm Beach President John Kazanjian, PBA Treasurer Ernie George, Dade County Executive Board Member Robert Davis, Palm Beach County Executive Board members Kevin Igo and Greg Allen, and Dade County PBA member Darryl Hall. They helped us reach out to several key lawmakers this week as we made our case on our remaining issues.

We publicly supported SB 7022 which will prevent the expiration of a public records’ exemption for the depictions of killing of a law enforcement officer. We stood in support of SB 436, a proposal that makes threats against law enforcement officers and their families a felony terroristic threat. The body camera legislation SB 418 cleared its final committee in the Senate this week so both bills are on the chamber floors. We feel strongly that each of these issues will pass the full legislature by session’s end.

The House passed its latest version of FRS pension reform (HB 7107). Although we are not supporters of all three provisions within the reform package, we have asked that two of the provisions be included in a compromise (if one can be achieved). We support allowing retirees and those who took a withdrawal from their investment accounts to be allowed to be re-enrolled in the investment plan if that employee is reemployed by an FRS employer. We also support either plan (House or Senate) to increase the FRS death benefits for employees killed in the line of duty. We do not support changing the default from the pension plan to the investment plan for new employees after July 1, 2017. In our opinion, keeping the default to the pension plan is critical to the overall health of the pension system and, therefore, we cannot support a change.

Finally, the budget conferencing process holds a major issue still on the table for the PBA. First and foremost, we have been very encouraged by the legislative leadership’s response to our career development plan for State Law Enforcement, Highway Patrol, FDLE Special Agents and Lottery Law Enforcement. Our goal for the career development (a step plan) proposal is to get a resolution into the budget during conference. Let me offer everyone concerned about this issue a few additional thoughts: 1) information about budget conference is always difficult to broadcast because so much happens on weekends and in the late evenings with long breaks in between meetings (follow our emails alerts); 2) the legislature always (always, always, always) decides employee issues like raises and impasse resolution at the end of conference which only heightens the tension; 3) we have spent the last two weeks reintroducing our plan to the legislative leadership and legislative staff who deal directly with our subject matter. Our plan should be very fresh on their minds and we will be there to remind them of the message as conference gets under way. Like I stated last week and countless other times, we are consistently applying the necessary pressure to put this conference issue over the top.

That is all for this week. Until next week, may God bless you and please stay safe.

Matt Puckett
Executive Director
Florida PBA

The Florida Capital Report For The Week Ending February 12

Sadly, our country has experienced another deadly wave of attacks on the brave men and women who wear the badge. Five officers killed in four days. Words cannot express our collective grief. Please stay alert and look after each other.

Despite widespread neglect by far too many of our elected leaders (not to mention cultural and business leaders), the Florida Legislature is making strides to further protect and honor the sacrifices of law enforcement officers.

This week legislation enhancing the penalty for terroristic threats against law enforcement officers and their families (SB 436) advanced through the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice.

The Senate and House proposed separate increases to the FRS death benefit for the survivors of an officer killed in the line of duty (more information to follow).

Finally, HB 1009, which attempts to add a homestead tax exemption for first responders totally and permanently injured in the line of duty, passed the full House of Representatives.

There were a few legislative wrinkles thrown at us this week, too.

Our busy Monday did not go as planned. Neither, the career development plan, nor the protection of a murder witness legislation were heard in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. The panel took up a proposal to address the method by which Florida sentences an individual to death. Recently, Florida’s method was ruled unconstitutional. As you can imagine the discussion was lengthy. The good news is that both of our priority bills were rescheduled to be heard on Tuesday, February 16.

Additionally, the long rumored FRS pension reform plan (HB 7107)that the Florida House of Representatives desires to achieve was heard in the House’s State Affairs Committee. There are three provisions contained within the reform package:

  • Allowing employees who previously left the investment plan and took a disbursement the ability to return to employment and re-enroll in the investment plan. This provision is limited to employees who were previously enrolled in the investment prior to an employment separation and disbursement. Former pension plan retirees will not be allowed to enroll into the investment plan.
    • Increasing the investment plan death benefit for survivors to an equal amount to the pension plan death benefit (half of the officer’s salary at the time of death). Currently, the investment plan death benefit only provides the survivor with the contents of account at the time of death.
      • Changing the default option for newly hired employees after July 1, 2017 to the investment plan instead of the pension plan. The new employee will still have the option to choose the pension plan during the first 8 months of employment. The once in a career switch option will also still be available to the new employees.
      • Although the bill does contain two important improvements to the overall plan, we are not supporting the legislation at this time. Our concerns about the economic viability of the investment plan given the incredibly low contribution levels far outweigh our support for the death benefit provision and the re-enrollment option. We are hoping to remove the default provision from the bill. Fortunately, the Senate has passed separate death benefit and re-enrollment bills that do not contain the default provision. HB 7107 passed the committee by an unusually close 10-8 vote. Negotiations are underway.

        We thank our elected leaders from Dade County PBA and Southwest Florida PBA who came to help us lobby this week. From Dade County PBA – PBA President John Rivera, Executive Board Member Pablo Lima, and Executive Director Blanca Greenwood. From Southwest Florida PBA – President Mick McHale who is also the President of the National Association of Police Organizations.

        Here’s a brief summary of Senate’s death benefit legislation:

        First Responder Death Benefits – SB 7012 by Senator Jeremy Ring.
        The legislation will increase the surviving benefit for a spouse, or children of a special risk member killed in the line of duty to 100% of the salary at the time of death. Currently, a spouse receives 50% of the salary at the time of death if the officer was enrolled in the pension plan. Investment plan employees were not able to provide the salary benefit to their survivors. The legislation allows the surviving spouse of an investment plan employee the option of taking the 100% salary benefit in lieu of the investment plan option. The investment plan option provides the survivor with the contents of the account at the time of death.

        The Florida Senate unanimously passed this legislation with all 40 Senators signing on as co-sponsors. It was a very powerful moment of support for the family of Orange County Deputy Sheriff Scott Pine (His wife and children were in the chamber’s gallery) who was killed in the line of duty two years ago.

        That is all for this week. Until next week, may God bless you and please stay safe.

        Matt Puckett
        Executive Director
        Florida PBA

Funeral Arrangements For Miramar Officer Joseph Vetter

As most of you already know, Miramar Officer Joseph Vetter passed away unexpectedly on Monday. He leaves behind a wife and two children. The viewing and funeral arrangements for Officer Vetter are as follows:

VIEWING:
Friday, February 5, 2016 4:00-8:00 p.m.
The Pentecostals of Cooper City
5201 South Flamingo Road
Cooper City 33330
(north of Sterling Rd/south of Flamingo Rd)

FUNERAL MASS:
Saturday, February 6, 2016 10:00 a.m.
St. Mark – Evangelist Catholic Church
5601 South Flamingo Road
Southwest Ranches 33330
(just south of The Pentecostals of Cooper City) The graveside service will be held at Hollywood Memorial Gardens followed immediately by the Repast back at The Pentecostals of Cooper City.

The family welcomes flowers or a donation can be made to the GoFundMe account set up in Joe’s memory at Ofc. Joseph Vetter-Fallen Brother by click here.

Florida Capitol Report’s 2016 Legislative Session Update

The third week of the 2016 Florida legislative session was eventful overall, but we did not have as many priority bills move forward as we originally anticipated.

We had movement on the terroristic threats legislation (SB 436 & HB 257) and the constitutional amendment providing a homestead property tax exemption to permanently disabled first responders (HB 1009).

We attended appropriation subcommittees multiple days throughout the week in order to monitor the roll out of budget proposals for state agencies. Both chambers are expected to place a full appropriations proposal forward by the end of next week.

A compressed committee meeting filled with controversial issues prevented both the state pay raise legislation and the FRS COLA legislation from receiving a hearing. The bills will be rescheduled for next week (Pay Raise SB 478) and the weeks to come.

The are several issues on the early released committee agenda for next week. Most notable is legislation dealing with law enforcement officer body worn cameras (SB 418) and a extension of the public records law exempting agency videos and photos of a killing (SB 7022), along with state employees salaries (SB 478).

Here’s a list of the issues we addressed in committee meetings this past week:

Terroristic Threats – SB 436 by Senator Joe Abbuzzo and HB 257 by Representative Jimmie Smith
This legislation makes it unlawful for a person to threaten to commit a crime of violence with the intent to cause, or with reckless disregard for the risk of causing terror or the evacuation of a building, place of assembly, or facility of public transportation.

A person violating this provision commits a third degree felony punishable by up to 5 years imprisonment and a $5,000 fine.

A person commits a second degree felony punishable by up to 15 years imprisonment and a $10,000 fine if occupants of the building, place of assembly, or facility of public transportation are diverted from their normal or customary operations. It is also a second degree felony, if the threat is against instructional personnel, a law enforcement officer, state attorney or assistant state attorney, firefighter, judge, or elected official or any of their family members.

Florida PBA offered public support for this legislation in both the Senate and House this week. HB 257 is now available to be heard by the full House of Representatives.

Relating to Tax Exemption for Senior, Totally Permanently Disabled First Responders – HB1009 by Representative Larry Metz
This legislation proposes an amendment to the State Constitution to authorize a first responder, who is totally permanently disabled as a result of an injury sustained in the line of duty, to receive a discount on ad valorem taxes assessed on homestead property. The original amendment required that the first responder must be 65 or older. However, Representative Metz has removed that provision and now the exemption is available to all totally permanently disabled first responders regardless of age.

Florida PBA publicly supported this good legislation.

That is all for this week. We are looking forward to having a number of PBA members in Tallahassee to assist our lobbying team next week.

Until next week, stay safe.

Matt Puckett
Executive Director, Florida PBA

Florida PBA’s 2016 Legislative Update

The 2016 Legislative Session started last Tuesday, January 11th with the typical pomp and circumstance of opening day. The Florida PBA was well represented with elected leaders and members from our charters and chapters.

We thank PBA President John Rivera, Treasurer Ernie George, Vice President of Services John Kazanjian, Vice President of Chapters Mick McHale, Lou Penque, Robert Davis, Pablo Lima and Nikki Sears for joining our lobbying team during the first week.

The amount of legislation we have been able to address during committee hearings has steadily increased since the first day. We have handled a number of important legislative agenda items while also adding a few new issues to the list.

Here’s a list of the issues we have addressed in committee meetings over the last two weeks.

Care for Retired Law Enforcement Dogs – SB 440 by Senator Joe Abbuzzo

This legislation is referred to as the “Care for Retired Law Enforcement Dogs Program Act”; creating the Care for Retired Law Enforcement Dogs Program within the Department of Law Enforcement; requiring the department to contract with a corporation not for profit to administer and manage the program; placing an annual cap on the amount of funds available for the care of an eligible retired law enforcement dog; providing an appropriation, etc.

Vice President Mick McHale testified in favor of this legislation.

Selection and Duties of County Officers – HB 165 by Representative Frank Artiles

This legislation will require that all counties have all five constitutional county officers – Sheriff, Property Appraiser, Tax Collector, Supervisor of Election, and Clerk of Court selected by an election of the citizens of the county. If by special act a county chooses to combine the duties of one office into another that must also be decided by a vote of the county citizens.

PBA has taken a interest in this legislation, which if passed will be a constitutional amendment on this year’s general election ballot, because of the abuse of power we have seen out of the Miami – Dade Mayor’s office. The Mayor serves as the sheriff, supervisor of elections and also controls the budget of the county ethics commission and inspector general’s office. We strongly believe that this consolidation of power is too great for any single office holder. We have witnessed numerous incidents where the mayor has used his overwhelming authority for personal gain.

PBA President John Rivera and Executive Director Matt Puckett have testified before committees over the last two weeks in favor of this legislation.

Relating to Tax Exemption for Senior, Totally Permanently Disabled First Responders – SB 1194 by Senator Joe Negron and HB1009 by Representative Larry Metz

This legislation proposes an amendment to the State Constitution to authorize a first responder, who is age 65 or older and totally permanently disabled as a result of an injury sustained in the line of duty, to receive a discount on ad valorem taxes assessed on homestead property.

We have added this proposed constitutional amendment to our legislative agenda and testified twice in favor of the legislation before legislative committees. PBA Lobbyist Ali Davidson offered public testimony in support.

Public Records/Identity of Witness to a Felony – HB 475 by Representative Ed Narain

Provides an exemption from public records requirements for the personal identifying information of witness to a felony for specified period.

This issue was actually the highest polling issue of support from our membership survey back in August. PBA Lobbyist Gary Bradford offered public testimony in favor of the legislation.

State Employee Group Health Plan – PCB HHSC 16-01 by Representative Jason Brodeur

This legislation is incredibly important to our state employee members.

Florida PBA has been working with Representative Brodeur for a few years trying to balance the need for reform with a high quality continued level of care at lower costs. This legislation may be ideal to address those concerns.

One thing that needs to be made clear is the low costs for health care under the current arrangement are running dangerously close to coming to an end. The state has not increased the costs for employees in many years, but the employers’ premiums have been on the rise. Prescription drugs are driving the premiums up by double digits and it is only a matter of time before the legislature is forced to shift a larger portion of the costs to the employees.

The PBA has not and will not simply sit back and do nothing when this issue is a looming financial burden for our membership. The potential solution contained in this legislation is phased in over time. It does not break the system or your paycheck. In fact, if the pilot project and phased approach works according to plan, this will actually help to lower your costs without compromising quality health care.

Please read through the analysis from the Health and Human Services Staff below:

The State Group Insurance Program (program), administered by the Department of Management Services (DMS), is an optional benefit for employees that includes health, life, dental, vision, disability, and other supplemental insurance benefits.

The program offers employees a choice among a health maintenance organization (HMO) plan, prefer provider plan (PPO) plan, and a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) with a health saving account (HSA). However, only one benefit level is offered for each plan type. Additionally, the employee’s premium for the HMO and PPO are the same, even though the HMO provides greater benefits.

PCB HHSC 16-01 adds new products and services to the program by giving DMS broad authority to contract for a wide variety of additional products and services. Employees will be able to purchase new products as optional benefits. DMS is directed to contract with at least one entity that provides comprehensive pricing and inclusive services for surgery and other types of medical procedures. The contract requires cost savings to the program, which will be shared by the state and the enrollee.

Beginning in 2017, DMS is directed to contract with at least one entity that provides online health care price and quality information, including the average price paid for health care services and providers by county. The contract requires the entity to allow enrollees to shop for health care using the information provided to select higher quality, lower cost services and providers. The contract also requires the entity to identify any savings realized by the enrollee, and share those savings with the enrollee.

Beginning in the 2019 plan year, the bill provides that state employees will have health plan choices at four different benefit levels. If the state’s contribution for premium is more than the cost of the plan selected by the employee, then the employee may use the remainder to:

  • Fund a flexible spending arrangement or a health savings account.
  • Purchase additional benefits offered through the state group insurance program.
  • Increase the employee’s salary.

The bill directs DMS to hire an independent benefits consultant (IBC). The IBC will assist DMS in developing a plan for the implementation of the new benefit levels in the program. The plan shall be submitted to the Governor, the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives no later than January 1, 2018.

The IBC will also provide ongoing assessments and analysis for the program. The bill directs DMS to recommend employee contribution rates for standard plans and high deductible health plans for the 2017 plan year reflecting the actuarial benefit difference between the HMO and the PPO plans for both self-insured and fully insured products. The proposed enrollee premium rates for the 2017 plan year must be submitted to the Legislative Budget Commission (LBC) for review and approval.

If the LBC does not approve the proposed rates, the rates provided in the 2016-17 General Appropriations Act will apply.

The bill provides $151,216 in recurring trust fund and $507,546 in nonrecurring trust fund authority to the Department of Management Services, and two full-time equivalent positions to implement the administrative provision of the act. The provisions of the bill are expected to have a positive, but indeterminate, fiscal impact on the state.

Law Enforcement Officer Body Cameras – HB 93 by Representative Shervin Jones

The legislation is identical to the legislation from the 2015 session which requires a law enforcement agency that permits its law enforcement officers to wear body cameras to establish policies & procedures addressing proper use, maintenance, and storage of cameras & data. It requires the agency to ensure that specified personnel are trained and requires that data be retained in accordance with specified requirements. Also requires periodic review of agency body camera practices and exempts recordings from specified provisions relating to interception of wire, electronic, & oral communications under chapter 934 Florida Statutes.

This legislation does not mandate the use of body cameras. PBA supported the legislation during committee this week.

That is all for this week, but next week looks to be equally busy with a bill reinstating a version of the FRS COLA SB 1326 and legislation making threats against law enforcement officers and their families a felony SB 436 already on the early schedule.

Until next week, stay safe.