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Fla. Legislative update

February 3, 2016
By SEN. LIZBETH BENACQUISTO , Lehigh Acres Citizen

With Friday over, the third week of the 2016 Legislative session is in the books.

Appropriations Committees reviewed their preliminary budgets for the 2016-17 fiscal year, and policy committees dove into meaningful legislation in week three.

I was excited by the amount of Southwest Floridians who made it to Tallahassee during another busy week in the Florida Senate. Although Tallahassee is a long way from home, the citizens I have the honor of representing are constantly letting me know about their priorities.

Please do not hesitate to contact my office if there is anything I can do to help.

Good Samaritan Law headed to governor

This week legislation that I carried to empower ordinary citizens to save the lives of children, pets and the disabled passed the Florida House and Senate unanimously.

Florida has the second highest rate of child vehicular heatstroke deaths in the nation. The temperature inside a vehicle rises very quickly, and even with the windows cracked, can reach 125 degrees within minutes.

Twenty-three children and elderly persons have died in Florida from vehicular heat stroke since 2010, including four that have died so far this year.

HB 131/SB 308 strengthens Florida law by making it clear that a person who forcibly enters a motor vehicle to remove a child, elderly person, disabled adult or pet that they reasonably deem to be in imminent danger of suffering harm, cannot be held liable for property damage that results from their actions.

The person must call local law enforcement or 911 first and use no more force to enter the vehicle and remove the elderly person, disabled adult, minor or domestic animal from the vehicle than necessary under the circumstances. Then remain until a first responder has made it to the vehicle.

Our state has seen too many senseless tragedies at the hands of children and pets being locked in the sweltering heat. The time has come to empower ordinary citizens to come forward and help prevent these senseless tragedies, and I am proud to have sponsored this piece of legislation.

I am hopeful that the governor will sign it into law quickly.

Making rape kit testing a priority

This week SB 636, a bill that I have filed to ensure the timely testing of rape kits in the state of Florida had its first hearing in the Senate and passed the Criminal Justice Committee unanimously.

Florida took the first step towards fixing this problem in our state last fiscal year. Florida funded an audit of law enforcement agencies statewide, run by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, to wrap our arms around the size of the issue in our state. The data collected shows that we have the opportunity in Florida to help thousands of victims.

In our state there are more than 13,000 rape kits that are on backlog and untested. Testing these kits would provide valuable evidence that will help law enforcement and states' attorneys lock up predators.

This bill provides that any DNA evidence collected in a sexual assault investigation must be submitted to a member of the statewide criminal analysis laboratory system for forensic testing within 30 days after the forensic evidence is received by a law enforcement agency, or earlier if the request is made by a victim, a victim's parent or guardian, or the alleged victim's representative if deceased. The kit must then be tested with 120 days from submission.

This is a critical mission in the state of Florida for the 2016 Legislative session. We must create a policy that seeks to make sure victims know that the state of Florida is on their side. We will do all that we can to support them by making sure their rape kit is tested.

Bill movement

This week, I had the opportunity to vote for Senate Bill 1638 in the Higher Education Committee, which expands post-secondary education for veterans. The bill ensures service members receive academic college credit at public postsecondary education institutions for college level training and education acquired in the military. These incentives guarantee members of the United States have every opportunity to achieve their academic and career goals in Florida.

I was also proud to support Senate Bill 222 on the Senate Floor this week. This legislation sets up special parking for our disabled veterans. This proposal also prohibits the governing body of publicly owned airports from charging parking fees to vehicles of cars bearing a specialty disabled veteran license. Also the bill prohibits local governments from charging parking fees in a space or lot on cars displaying a disabled veteran plate stamped with the international accessibility symbol and the Paralyzed Veterans of America license plate. I believe that these bills are strong steps towards ensuring that the state of Florida is the most veteran friendly state in the nation.

Bills that I have filed on school choice and suicide prevention also moved towards the governors' signature this week, with only one more committee stop to go. While another number of bills have been added to the agenda for week four.

With this week's conclusion, we are about a third of the way through this year's session. This means that aside from the committee process, the legislature is also in the process of working on our state's budget. It is my goal to ensure that by the end of session, our state will adopt a balanced budget that will create a business friendly climate for our state. With this we ensure that Florida will continue to be the best place to start a business, raise a family and ultimately retire in.

The 2016 session is going by quickly, but there is still a lot of work to be done for the people of Southwest Florida.

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto represents District 30 in the Florida Senate. Contact her at (239) 338-2570. Her district office is at 2310 First St., Unit 305, Fort Myers.



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