• ‘Glitch Bill’ To Help Young Sex Trafficking Victims Passes First House Panel

    A bill building on reforms to help young sex trafficking victims passed its first House panel Wednesday. The so-called glitch bill seeks to prevent further victims from being charged.

    Rep. Ross Spano (R-Dover) is carrying the bill in the House.

    “Simply surprising to me that there were actually 39 children charged with prostitution in the state of Florida in the last fiscal year alone, which was very surprising to me based on the law that we passed several years ago, stating our intent that that not be the case,” said Spano.

    In 2012, Florida lawmakers passed the Florida Safe Harbor Act, which states child prostitution is abuse of a child. But, a glitch in the law does not allow children under arrest or prosecuted to be seen as child sexual abuse victims. And, Spano says that has to stop and clarifies the legislative intent.

    “A few years ago, the legislature found that minors are unable to consent to prostitution as children, and this bill will simply ensure that children will continue to be qualified and able to receive dependent state and benefits from the state,” he added.

    Rep. Gayle Harrell (R-Stuart) praised Spano’s work on the bill, saying it builds on the legislature’s anti-human trafficking efforts.

    “And, this really falls into the same line,” she said. “We passed the bill originally in 2012 that changes the definition, and really made it quite clear that minors cannot consent to prostitution. So, this is a cleanup bill, and we thank you for doing it and continuing the good work that this legislature is doing to really assure that when a minor is charged…well, a minor cannot be charged with prostitution. They indeed have no ability to consent.”

    The measure passed the House Children, Families, and Seniors Subcommittee Wednesday. Its Senate companion has not yet had a hearing.


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  • Lawmakers, Opponents Seek Compromise On FHSAA Reform Bill

    The Florida High School Athletics Association is fighting for its survival. State lawmakers have proposed measures that could transform the organization and those for it and against say it’s time to strike a compromise on changes.

    The FHSAA regulates high school sports. But a plan by Dover Republican Representative Ross Spano would let schools chose other associations to join by sport. Spano describes the effort as athletic choice:

    “Now schools have the choice and ability to join as a full-time FHSAA member, or non-member on a per-port basis.,” he said. “Give schools the ability to join other associations on a per-sport basis without FHSAA action or discriminatory retribution against those schools.”

    Opponents to the Association complain it’s too strict when it comes to student eligibility and too aggressive in fining schools. Others say it claims to be a non-profit yet has millions of dollars in the bank and Spano’s bill would cap what the FHSAA could charge in dues and fines. Tuesday, the organization’s leader Roger Dearing addressed the House Education Appropriations Committee:

    “Ima give you a broad brush. Those fees and dues we collect in every area amounts to $2.6 million a year. We spend $5.2 million a year. We don’t collect more than what it costs us to do it. The difference comes in our sponsorships.”

    The fight over the FHSAA has raged for years, leading capital gadfly Brian Pitts throw up his hands.  “You can move on by finding another association and designating a new one,” he said.

    Miami Republican Representative Erik Fresen likened the fight over the FHSAA to one that has raged over alimony reform:

    “Whatever can happen between the two parties so that this can become an athletic alimony reform bill we can go ahead and do that.”

    Several lawmakers are expressing a desire to see a compromise between Dearing and Spano. The FHSAA says it’s willing to work with the smaller associations and Spano says he’s willing to keep talks going.

  • High school athletics bill clears first House committee

    The state’s oversight body for high school athletics is way down at the half, after the first of two House review panels unanimously OK’d legislation that would overhaul the organization.

    The House Education Appropriations subcommittee on Tuesday cleared the bill (HB 31) filed by state Rep. Ross Spano, a Dover Republican.

    It would change the way the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) does business, including ensuring that it is revenue neutral each year.

    The unanimous 12-0 passage, including votes by Democrats who questioned the need for the bill, wasn’t a good sign that the association would emerge unscathed this upcoming Legislative Session, as it has in previous years.

    This will make the fifth year in a row that lawmakers have challenged the organization, which oversees 32 male and female high-school sports, including player eligibility in each. Bills filed last session would have done away with the group altogether.

    Conservative lawmakers have targeted the association in recent years after constituents complained about their children not being able to play certain sports because of strict transfer rules, especially when youngsters change schools but don’t move to another district.

    FHSAA’s CEO, Roger Dearing, said Tuesday’s hearing at least helped narrow the issues.

    “I truly believe there is some misinformation out there,” he told Florida Politics after the vote. “Once I have a chance to educate members, I think there will be fewer issues.”

    For instance, Dearing told lawmakers his group saves its 805 member-schools money by seeking sponsorships from Spalding, Gatorade, Champion and other athletic concerns, with that money – about $2.6 million – subsidizing the costs of athletic competition.

    “It feels like we are being criticized for having a good business model,” Dearing said.

    But the head of an athletic group for small private and charter schools said FHSAA’s one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for his members, who may join FHSAA but aren’t required to.

    Spano’s bill says FHSAA “may not prohibit or discourage any school from simultaneously maintaining membership in the FHSAA and another athletic association.”

    It would allow schools to join on a per-sport basis, rather than signing up for a full membership that would require a school to play by FHSAA’s strict rules in all athletics.

    “Offer choice and give control back to the schools,” said Stuart Weiss, president of the Sunshine State Athletic Conference. “They know what’s best for these kids.”

    Spano’s bill next goes to the House Education committee; other related bills have been filed in the Senate and House. The 2016 Legislative Session starts Jan. 12.


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  • High school athletics bill set for hearing

    One of several bills aimed at overhauling the state’s oversight body for high school athletics will be heard by a House panel next week.

    The bill (HB 31) is set to be considered by the Education Appropriations subcommittee next Tuesday, records show.

    State Rep. Ross Spano, a Dover Republican, filed the legislation for the 2016 Legislative Session.

    It tweaks state law governing the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA), including ensuring that it is revenue-neutral.

    This will make the fifth year in a row that lawmakers have taken on the organization, which oversees 32 male and female high-school sports.

    Bills filed last session would have done away with the group altogether.

    The FHSAA has hired the Corcoran & Johnston lobbying firm to represent it before the Legislature. Founding partner Michael Corcoran is brother to state Rep. Richard Corcoran, the House budget chief and speaker-designate for 2016-18.

    Conservative lawmakers targeted the association in recent years after constituents complained about their children not being able to play certain sports because of strict transfer rules, especially when youngsters change schools but don’t move.

    The group’s defenders, including Democrats and some public school officials, have countered that weakening the rules would create a free agency system for high school athletes.

    Spano’s bill keeps the association “designated as the governing nonprofit organization of athletics in Florida public schools.” But it would replace it with another body if FHSAA “fails to meet the provisions of this section.”

    The legislation says FHSAA “may not prohibit or discourage any school from simultaneously maintaining membership in the FHSAA and another athletic association.”

    Further, the bill would restrain the group from collecting fees and event revenue that “exceed actual costs” of running the organization.


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  • Newly Signed Human Trafficking Awareness Signs Bill To Take Effect Next Year

    Among the most recent set of measures Governor Rick Scott has approved is a newly signed bill meant to enhance Florida’s anti-human trafficking efforts.

    “It would require the posting of hotline numbers for victims at various public facilities, rest areas, rail stations, that kind of thing,” said Spano. “So, obviously that’s important. So, there’s so many different facets of the trafficking battle. You come at it from so many different angles. This is one angle. It’s an important angle. And, something we’ve never done.”

    The new law would not just allow the signs to be posted in rest areas, weigh stations, and service plazas, it would also require the signs to be posted in emergency rooms, strip clubs, and certain massage establishments.

    Spano says posting these signs is important because victims sometimes don’t know there are people that can and want to help.

    “We want to make sure they know that there is help, that there is a number they can call, that there is somebody who’s willing to find them, to help them, get them back on their feet to rehabilitate them, and we do care about them and we want to aggressively protect them. And, the idea being we put them in some of the places that these folks might frequent and they’ll have an opportunity to see them and make a call and get the help that they need,” added Spano.

    And, Terry Coonan agrees. He’s the Executive Director of Florida State University’s Center for the Advancement of Human Rights.

    “You know, this is a really important step for Florida to have taken,” said Coonan.

    He says he’s been following the anti-human trafficking legislation in the Florida Legislature. And, Coonan adds requiring the signs to be posted in multiple areas also benefits victims by making more people aware of human trafficking—often called modern-day slavery.

    “The really important step that Florida has taken now—and it puts us very much in the lead with a number of other states—but realizing that we have to get the word out better within our communities,” added Coonan. “It’s our citizens, it’s our people in religious communities, it’s our civic communities, people in our businesses, and really in our metropolitan world that they’re the ones, whether they know it or not, may see trafficking. So, it’s really important to getting that word out.”

    The new law takes effect next year. Meanwhile, the Governor has also recently approved a measure cracking down on the solicitation for prostitution—a driver of human trafficking in Florida. And, he okayed two public records exemptions protecting the identity and location of human trafficking victims. Those three measures take effect October 1st.


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  • Teacher liability insurance advances, but union says it’s a waste

    TALLAHASSEE — A proposal to require the state to provide liability insurance to protect public school teachers has received strong support, despite opposition from the state’s largest teachers union.

    The measure (HB 587) cleared its first two committee stops with unanimous consent. The proposal would require the state Department of Education to administer a liability insurance program, which would protect educators from liability on claims stemming from on-the-job incidents and would provide $2 million in coverage to full-time instructional personnel, such as teachers. Language tucked into the House education budget also calls on the state’s education department to administer a liability insurance program.

    “All we said as a state is in the event that a teacher has such exposure to liability, and lacks liability insurance, we’re going to make sure they have it,” said Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, chairman of the House education appropriations subcommittee.

    Rep. Ross Spano, R-Dover, the bill sponsor, said the insurance program would protect teachers if a claim is filed against them, but a spokesman for the Florida Education Association said such a program “just isn’t necessary.”

    “The last time the state offered this liability insurance, it cost taxpayers $4 million and paid out one claim,” said Mark Pudlow, a spokesman for the Florida Education Association. “This is wasteful spending. There are many other places in public schools that could better use whatever dollars are spent on this.”

    The Florida Education Association offers liability insurance, and Pudlow said all 140,000 members are covered by that program. Pudlow said his organization has not experienced an uptick in claims in recent years.

    The state had a similar liability insurance program from 2001 until fiscal 2006, when lawmakers repealed the program because of the cost. According to a Jan. 2006 report by the Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability (OPPAGA), the state paid nearly $4.4 million in premiums over a four-year period. During that same time period, the state paid $50,375 for three claims. Spano said the report “was a little bit skewed in terms of actual implications,” since there were nine open claims at the time of the report. Still, he said very few people buy insurance with the intent of using it.

    “You don’t buy insurance expecting to file a claim every year for the amount of the premium,” he said. “You hope you never have to use it.”

    But Spano said he wants teachers to have the option to use it if they need it. While he said some teachers are covered by their school district or another organization, like the Florida Education Association, there are some educators who don’t have general liability coverage.

    “The expectation is that we’re not going to have a lot of claims,” Spano said. “We hope that’s the case, but if there is and when there is, we want to make certain that teachers don’t have to worry and be concerned in having to come out of their own pockets for costs for an attorney to defend themselves.”

    Spano said one of the main differences between the current proposal and the program in place more than a decade ago is that the state can choose to go the self-insurance route, if that is a more cost effective route. Self-insurance was one of the recommendations made in the 2006 report.

    Despite support in the House, it’s too early to tell whether the proposal will become law. Pudlow said there aren’t any similar proposals in the Senate. Spano’s measure now heads to the House education committee.


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  • Rep. Ross Spano turning heads by singing at community events

    Ross Spano’s elected position to the Florida House of Representatives isn’t the only reason he’s been a key invitee to local community events.

    The other draw is his voice, which Spano, the Republican elected to the District 59 seat, used this year to perform the national anthem at the Greater Riverview Chamber of Commerce membership and awards dinner and a similar event for the Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce.

    “Where has he been hiding that voice?” said Tad Denham, who was seated next to Spano at the Riverview chamber’s Jan. 16 dinner. “After I heard them call his name, I said, ‘Ross, I didn’t realize you were a singer.’ He said, ‘Hold that thought until you hear me sing.’ ”

    According to Spano — or, more specifically, his mother, as he recounted — the 48-year-old representative has been singing at church services since he was 3-years-old.

    “It’s a part of who I am,” he said, in a Feb. 24 interview at the membership luncheon hosted by the Riverview chamber at The Regent. “There’s something about music that allows us to express ourselves in a way that is so much deeper, that’s so much more meaningful, than words. I consider it a gift and a tremendous honor to do it.”

    Singing is so intrinsically woven into Spano’s life that it factors as well into his long-established marriage. As a young man, coming off a three-year relationship, Spano recalls his father telling him their church “has lots of young ladies, although, of course, that’s not the reason you go to church.”

    At Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, Spano met his wife, Amie, with whom he is set to celebrate his 24th wedding anniversary in July.

    “We met each other in the choir,” Spano said. “I was 23, almost 24, and she was 19, almost 20. I remember telling my friend, ‘See that girl with blonde hair in the alto section? I’m going to marry her.’”

    A 1984 graduate of Brandon High, Spano recalls as well using his voice in the theater department, playing the lead role of Tony in the school’s production of “West Side Story.” One day, when life is not as hectic, he said, he wouldn’t mind getting involved in community theater productions.

    His life today is filled with work, family and legislative responsibilities, succeeding Rachel Burgin in the District 59 seat, who also surprised her constituents when she, too, would sing at community events and gatherings.

    “I asked Ross, ‘Is singing a prerequisite for the District 59 seat,’ knowing that Rachel Burgin sang as well?” Denham said. “And he said, ‘Not necessarily.’ ”

    Spano said he and Burgin have discussed their shared love of singing and that it is a nice sidebar to the office — that both back-to-back officeholders could hold their own before a microphone.

    Indeed, after Spano sang at the Brandon chamber dinner, Denham recalls telling him he now had the answer to his initial inquiry concerning Spano’s status as a singer.

    “When Ross finished singing, I said, ‘There’s no doubt you’re a singer,’” Denham said. “Anybody who can give me chills when they’re singing the national anthem, that’s a singer.”

    Spano said as a singer his goal is to connect to his audience.

    “You don’t want to sing to them, or at them,” he added. “You want them to be a part of the experience.”

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  • Local heart doctor benefits from less invasive heart procedure he used to save patient’s lives

    TAMPA, Fla. – State Representative Ross Spano (R-District 59) is young and fit.  But, he started feeling symptoms he thought was simply, “Indigestion.  Kind of a heaviness in the center of my chest.”

    After a particularly stressful episode, Spano was rushed to the hospital.  He had three stents put into his heart by going through the groin, the most popular way to do this intervention.

    But Dr. Jim Smith, an interventional cardiologist at Florida Hospital Pepin Heart Institute, says radial intervention – going through the wrist – is gaining in popularity.

    “Some of the studies have shown greater safety going in through the radial approach.  As much as 60 percent fewer bleeding complications,” said Smith.

    And, with newer technology and tools Dr. Smith says, “We can do 99 percent of the things we do now through the wrist artery. The great advantage is, when we are done, when we put that bandage on afterwards, it’s much easier on the patient.”

    When Spano needed another stent placed, due to this obvious blockage, he came to Dr. Smith.

    Spano says it was like night and day.

    When going through the groin he had to lay on his back for hours and, “The recovery is longer, you can’t drive for a while. It’s kind of uncomfortable. It’s sore. With the radial procedure it feels like an outpatient procedure,” Spano said.

    But that’s not the end of this story.

    In an ironic twist, the man who is now recommending radial intervention ended up needing it himself.

    Dr. Smith says, “In September, I came in with some chest symptoms. And my young partner did a radial approach catheter on me, and I got three stents that way.  Very smooth. Very easy.”

    For more information go to: http://www.floridaheart.com/pepinheart.aspx


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  • Between endorsements and fundraising, Rep. Ross Spano had a good week in HD 59

    Ross Spano is coming off a good week in his re-election effort for House District 59.

    Not only did the first-term Republican from Dover received two high-profile GOP endorsements, but he also raised nearly $28,000, with andadditional $3K in-kind support from the Republican Party of Florida.

    Both U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and Attorney General Pam Bondi announced their endorsements of Spano this week. Both cited his work on human trafficking as basis for their support. It is a top issue for him, one of the first bills Spano sponsored as a freshman legislator was to address human trafficking.

    In a statement, Rubio said Spano “worked incredibly hard to help create jobs, strengthen families and protect the most vulnerable members of our state.

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  • Tribune endorsement: Spano, Narain, Harrison, Grant for state House seats in Hillsborough

    But the hard-working Republican Spano, 48, has proved effective and fair-minded, and he’s also willing to stand up to leadership, a trait badly needed in Tallahassee.

    A focus of his first term was fighting human trafficking, and he worked with law enforcement on bipartisan efforts to toughen penalties and extend the statute of limitations for prosecuting human trafficking.

    He also pushed legislation to make it easier for the courts to vacate the convictions of human trafficking victims who are forced into prostitution and other crimes.

    He opposes the expansion of Medicaid — “we shouldn’t expand a system that is broken” — but understands the current system is forcing businesses and others to pay the costs of uncompensated care in hospitals. He appears open to compromise.

    Spano has sought to protect homeowners’ rights, advance school choice and protect consumers. He is responsive to constituents.

    In House District 59, The Tampa Tribune recommends Ross Spano.

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