The Florida Capitol Report For The Week Ending March 4

This week was supposed to be dominated by budget conference meetings, but there has been very little of it so far. However, we fully expect conferencing to happen with more frequency as the weekend nears. The days of regular committee meetings are over and we now have full floor sessions in both chambers. Next week will be more of the same.

Right now the most important event of the session is budget conference. The budget is the only reason why the Legislature must meet each year. Conference is where the two chambers work out the differences between the respective spending proposals.

For the Florida PBA, the conference is where potential pay raises, the career development plan, and state group health insurance premiums will be decided. The conference process decides every issue we have with money attached to it so we shifted our efforts early in the session to focus on conferencing in order to put our issues in the best possible posture.

As it stands today, pay raises for certain groups (perhaps all of our bargaining units) are still in play, the Senate placed the career development plan into its budget offer (keeping it in play), and the state group health insurance premiums look to stay the same (no increases). None of this is etched in stone and even if the Legislature agrees, we have to survive a gubernatorial veto. Remember the governor vetoed the forestry firefighters pay raise last year (a move we believe is in violation of collective bargaining rights).

As for the noneconomic issues, we have several bills in place to pass. The Legislature seems poised to make terroristic threats against law enforcement officers and their families a felony (SB 436 and HB 257). The LEO body worn camera bills (SB 418 and HB 93) appear likely to pass (remember this legislation does not mandate body cameras). Also, the public record exemption preventing the release of videos and photos depicting the killing of a law enforcement officer (SB 7022) will move to the Senate floor today. The House can then pick up the Senate bill and pass it.

Florida Retirement System legislation seems to remain in play. HB 7107 has two very important provisions that the Florida PBA supports and one provision that we do not support. We have been lobbying to separate the provisions enhancing the death benefits survivors and allowing investment plan retirees to return to the FRS investment plan. So far the two chambers are at odds with each other over these provisions. We remain hopeful.

That is all for this week. Follow our emails for updates.

Until next week, may God bless you and please stay safe.

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:

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)

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