The 2019 Legislative Session Is Officially Underway

On Tuesday, March 5, the 2019 Legislative Session officially began.

From our perspective, this session is our chance to change course on several fronts. The previous eight years setback law enforcement and corrections considerably. Now, Florida has a new Governor in Ron DeSantis, along with a new Cabinet, who hold a pro law enforcement and corrections outlook.

The most obvious setback everyone experienced was the reduction to your pension. Florida PBA has been on a “claw back” mission since 2012 to restore pension benefits across the board at both the local and state levels. We cannot get everything restored at once, but we must stop the bleeding and begin to repair what was broken. When we talk about restoring pension benefits, we include the FRS investment plan participants, too.

Here’s a less obvious setback that legislation cannot fix, but building stronger relationships with Florida’s top leadership can. There is a politically correct ideology that pushes extremely harsh discipline, along with aggressive micro-management and deflection of blame to subordinates. Officers under this ideological leadership do not feel like upper administrators have their backs and that they make all of their decisions base on how the media may react to a situation. The worst part of this ideology is the false impression given to people outside of the agency. From the outside, all seems fine, but internally the rank and file are suffering. The task of unmasking this behavior can be daunting, but having strong support of law enforcement and corrections from Governor Ron DeSantis and other top leaders like Lt Governor Jeanette Nunez, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis can help change this negative atmosphere. Thankfully, this ideology is not everywhere and if it is not happening to you, consider it the blessing of good leadership.

More money has always been our top priority, but even with the recent salary increases in certain locations, there are still many officers who are grossly underpaid for their public service and sacrifice. Florida’s economy is growing, but the salaries of those who protect this state (which, by the way, greatly contributes to our positive economic growth) have not kept pace.

So that ‘s what this session means to us. Our chance to reset what has gone astray, rebuild what was taken, and provide what has been withheld.

Here’s where we are as of today… in no particular order.

Pay raises for State Law Enforcement Officers, Lottery Law Enforcement Officers, FDLE Special Agents, Florida Highway Patrol, Correctional Probation Officers, and Correctional Officers are a yearly priority for the Florida PBA. The Legislature does not fund multiple year pay proposals. Therefore, we must request yearly increases. This year we may have an option to create internal career development plans with existing agency monies to help alleviate some of the pay burdens. We are negotiating a proposal to allow each agency the ability to create its own unique career plan if the dollars exist. PBA is also pursuing across the board raises and other pay enhancements for all of our state employee bargaining units. The pay decisions are part of the General Appropriations Act which is not decided until the first week in May.

SB 784 by Senator Joe Gruters and HB 779 by Representative Chuck Clemons will create a COLA floor of no less than 2% for all Special Risk Employees hired prior to July 1, 2011. The legislation requires a special impact study in order to become law. Our study request was submitted to the Division of Retirement this week. We have no idea what this proposal will cost and, under Florida constitution, the legislation cannot become law without the study.

SB 920 by Senator Jason Pizzo and HB 1021 by Representatives Chris Latvala is a work in progress, but we had a lot of positive discussion on the legislation this week. The idea is to help speed up the process for an arrest of a DNA match. Current law, requires a search warrant to a collect buccal swab of a person who matches the crime scene sample and the offender profile in CODIS. This step is added because sample collections are performed by humans and humans make mistakes. However, we strongly believe that a warrant for arrest should be an option available to a judge when a CODIS match is found.

SB 76 by Senator Wilton Simpson and HB 45 or 107 by Representatives Emily Slosberg and Jackie Toledo will attempt to make distracted driving, or, at a minimum, texting while driving a primary traffic offense. Our organization has been involved with this legislation for multiple years now. This week our Florida Highway Patrol Chapter President and Vice President of Legislation Bill Smith was able to place an amendment on the Senate bill which requires the vehicle to be in motion in order for any violation to occur. We thank Senators Travis Hutson and Wilton Simpson for working with us on the amendment.

We are involved in the debate around criminal justice reform which continues to advance in the Senate. The Senate is conducting a full scale review of our sentencing laws to specifically include minimum mandatory sentences for drug offenses, along incarceration models and diversion programs. This debate centers on ideology clashing with data.

We are also working with other special interests groups on an array of issues during this session. You can always the PBA if there’s a question about something that we did, or did not cover in this report.

Until next time please stay safe and may God bless you.

Interim Committee Period Ends; 2019 Legislative Session Begins March 5

The interim committee week period prior to the start of session ended on February 22, and the official start to the 2019 Legislative Session begins Tuesday, March 5. The Legislature will take next week off before the 60 day stretch begins.

Our lobbying team hit all of our objectives during the interim period.

Our pay raise requests for all of the Florida PBA state employee bargaining units have been discussed with House and Senate Appropriations’ leadership. We are still in the process of making the formal request through the collective bargaining process. However, that process is merely perfunctory since all pay decision are handled by the Legislature. Meaning even if the PBA and the Executive Branch agreed to a pay plan (we are currently not in agreement), the final decision rests with the Legislature’s 2019-2020 General Appropriations Act.

SB 784 by Senator Joe Gruters and HB 779 by Representative Chuck Clemons will create a COLA floor of no less than 2% for all Special Risk Employees hired prior to July 1, 2011. The legislation requires a special impact study in order to become law. Our study request was presented to legislative staff this week and we now must wait for a formal submission of the study from the Legislative committee chairman. Yes, I am being vague and that is by design. This study has been derailed for two years so caution is needed.

Our Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) DNA database legislation has been assigned bill numbers in both chambers SB 920 by Senator Jason Pizzo and HB 1021 by Representatives Chris Latvala. This bill proposal will removed the required probable cause for a search warrant to seek a buccal swab from an offender who already matched crime scene DNA with the offender profile in the CODIS. Instead, the bills may be used to find probable cause for the issuance of a warrant for arrest of the offender following a match of crime scene DNA to the offender profile in CODIS. The elimination of the search warrant requirement will speed up the apprehension of the offender.

SB 76 by Senator Wilton Simpson and HB 107 by Representatives Emily Slosberg and Jackie Toledo will attempt to making distracted driving, or, at a minimum, texting while driving a primary traffic offense. Our organization has been involved with this legislation for multiple years now. Last year, we felt like the proposal was stopped over claims of potential racial profiling by police officers. Not only will this legislation save lives, but our engagement in the debate will help us build stronger relationships with legislators who may have a level of discomfort with police. These legislators are potential future allies. However, there are no doubt a handful of legislators who simply do not like the police and no amount of constructive dialogue will change their position.

There are other issues we have been working on, or around, during this interim period. Our team has been busy since January and we are ready to go with the regular session.

Week Two Of The February Interim Committee Weeks Is Complete

Meetings are still the top order of business for our lobbying team. We had quite a few this week highlighted by a chance to sit and discuss our budget requests with both chambers’ appropriations chairmen (Senator Rob Bradley and Representative Travis Cummings). Two great friends of the Florida PBA who really understand our issues. Our priority was simple – PBA’s state bargaining unit employees need a raise.

A small team consisting of me, Executive Committee Vice President of Services Jim Baiardi, Business Director Al Shopp, General Counsel Stephanie Dobson Webster met with new Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Mark Inch and Deputy Secretary Ricky Dixon. We used the time together to discuss our priorities and hear about his plan to steer the department forward. We came away with a positive feeling about his core principles and beliefs. Let’s all move forward with him and his team to raise the morale and the salaries.

Both Florida Retirement System Cost of Living Adjustment bills are officially filed now. SB 784 by Senator Joe Gruters and HB 779 by Representative Chuck Clemons will create a COLA floor of no less than 2% for all Special Risk Employees hired prior to July 1, 2011.

Our study request is scheduled to be discuss with legislative committee staff next week. Our proposed study request will look at a return of the COLA for all employees regardless of hire date and a retroactive return of the age and years of service requirements for all employees hired after July 1, 2011. This change will have a positive effect for every member including FRS investment plan members. As noted last week, the normal costs to the system will increase with any COLA and age enhancements which will increase the contribution into your investment account.

Our CODIS DNA proposal continues to gain support among legislators. Look for bills to appear over the next two weeks. The new language will allow a probable cause for arrest of an offender following a match of crime scene DNA to the offender profile in CODIS.

Florida PBA President John Kazanjian, VP of Services Jim Baiardi, VP of Legislative Services William Smith, General Counsel Stephanie Dobson Webster and I visited chapter meetings on Monday and Tuesday in the Central Florida PBA and Northwest Florida PBA Chapters. We appreciate the hospitality and the feedback we received from the members of Ocoee, Leesburg, Escambia County and Santa Rosa County, along with our Correctional Probation Officer Chapter.

Also big thanks to PBA lobbyists Gary Bradford and Ken Kopczynski for their hard work this week.

Broward County PBA Names Michael Braverman Senior General Counsel; Revamps Legal Department

The Broward County Police Benevolent Association, the voice of law enforcement in Broward County, announced today the naming of Michael Braverman, P.A. as the organization’s Senior General Counsel.

In his new role, Braverman will lead an expanded legal department which now incorporates PBA-affiliated attorneys from Palm Beach and Miami-Dade Counties as well.

Braverman began his career with the Dade County PBA from 1985-95, serving as a law clerk, staff attorney and General Counsel. He started his own firm in 1995, but remained a PBA-affiliated attorney, representing law enforcement officers throughout the state of Florida as a special labor counsel. Braverman received his undergraduate degree in criminology in 1984 from Florida State University, where he graduated cum laude, and his J.D. in 1987 from the Saint Thomas University School of Law in Miami. He was admitted to the Florida Bar Association in 1988.

“We are proud to bring our members the most powerful legal department in PBA history,” Broward County PBA President Rod Skirvin said. “We have joined forces with the Dade and Palm Beach County legal teams to combine with our already highly respected attorneys, who are well established in Broward County.”

The Florida Capitol Report For The Week Ending January 11

Florida Capitol Report

An opening week of celebration to welcome in the new leaders of Florida’s state government was highlighted by the Inauguration of Governor Ron DeSantis, Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nunez, Attorney General Ashley Moody, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, and Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried. The mood was festive, yet business like, giving us multiple opportunities to discuss our legislative priorities with Legislators and new members of the Florida Cabinet. We are eager to get going and excited for what the future holds.

Florida Police Benevolent Association’s Board of Directors set several priorities for the upcoming session. Most of the items are from previous years:

  • Our state employees’ bargaining units request for yearly pay raises
  • Restoring the Florida Retirement Systems’ (FRS) Cost of Living Benefit (COLA)
  • Reverting to the 25 years and out years of service for FRS Special Risk Class members hired after July 1, 2011
  • Defending Municipal Police pensions

This session, the board added the following items:

  • Updating Florida law to allow probable cause for an arrest after a Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) match (or hit)
  • Upgrading texting while driving to a primary offense
  • Criminal justice reform with an emphasis on the Florida Department of Corrections

The agenda is not complete since there are several other areas in terms pay, retirement and public policy that we will be involved with before the session ends on May 3, 2019.

Our lobbying team had contact with legislative budget leaders to begin discussions on across the board pay raises and career development plans for our state employee bargaining units. The budget outlook has slightly improved since the last Capitol Report correspondence which is encouraging. The next step will be negotiations with the Department of Management Services (DMS) over each sides wage proposal. The proposals will be sent to the Legislature for final determination. The process will take place over the entirety of interim committee weeks and the full legislative session.

Our team also discussed a Florida Retirement System study request with new leaders in the Legislature. We have been talking to members of the leadership since the early summer of last year. A new actuarial impact study will have to be complete before the Legislature can enhance any of the FRS benefits. We are requesting several options to examine restoration of the COLA, restoring years of service and age. Our sponsors for the Legislation are Senator Joe Gruters and Representative Chuck Clemons.

We also discussed updating Florida law to allow a CODIS hit to grant probable cause for an arrest instead of probable cause to take a DNA sample from the match in the CODIS. The law was created back when DNA science was in its infancy. Today, DNA sample are as accurate as a latent fingerprint. Our position is as follows – waiting for the results of a DNA match following a CODIS hit unfairly places the public in danger. Not to mention, the delay gives a suspect time to flee.

All in all, this week was successful.

Our lobbying team and a great many of PBA elected officials were able to attend the Inaugural events while also advancing our issues for the upcoming session.