Senator Don Gaetz

UWF's next president, Martha Saunders.
University of West Florida website

The University of West Florida has selected Provost Martha Saunders to be the sixth president in the school’s history.  Saunders beat out former Senate President Don Gaetz and two other candidates to take the top spot.

Sen. Don Gaetz (R-Niceville)
The Florida Channel

Former Senate President Don Gaetz is in the running to head up the University of West Florida in Pensacola.  But the League of Women Voters is urging the search committee to reject the Niceville Republican.

Florida Channel

The Florida Senate has passed a bill allowing the state to provide financial help to the families who want to rebury the remains of their loved ones, found on the Panhandle property of the former Dozier School for Boys. Its House counterpart is also heading to the floor.

Florida Channel

Bills seeking to compensate the families who want to rebury their loved ones found on the property of the now-closed Dozier School for Boys are continuing to move in both chambers of the Florida Legislature. One bill is already headed to the Senate floor.

Kennedy Space Center/MGN Online

Florida lawmakers marked the 30th anniversary of the failed liftoff of the space shuttle Challenger, that left several astronauts dead.

MGN Online

Plans to expand education options for people with disabilities passed the Senate Wednesday with a unanimous vote. The measures are a priority for Senate President Andy Gardiner, who was moved to tears at the bill’s passage.

MGN Online

A Florida lawmaker is hoping to bring back a discussion about the best way to prevent skin cancer in younger people. Her measure bans minors from using tanning beds.

MGN Online

Four Northwest Florida school districts received more than $6 million total in the recently signed state budget. It’s for areas serving military-related students.

Florida Channel

A controversial abortion bill is now headed to the Governor, after receiving final passage from the Florida Senate Friday.

The Division of Vocational Rehabilitation is a federal-state partnership program that helps people with disabilities find and keep jobs.
Division of Vocational Rehabilitation / Florida Department of Education

A bill that would require The Florida Office of Vocational Rehabilitation to undergo evaluations has been approved by the full Senate vote today, and is awaiting a final vote in the House. The job placement service for people with disabilities will need to shape up, or else.

MGN Online

A bill making it illegal for adults to smoke in the vehicle where certain minors are present is close to heading to the Senate floor, after passing another committee Tuesday.

U.S. Navy/MGN Online

The Florida Senate held a moment of silence Wednesday for the eleven soldiers and Marines who were killed during a training exercise in the Florida Panhandle last week.

APD Director Barbara Palmer (in gray) with supporters during Developmental Disabilities Awareness Day at the Capitol
Sascha Cordner / WFSU News

Florida House and Senate Leaders have boasted about an ambitious agenda to improve the experiences of persons with disabilities. But some disability rights groups fear a proposal in the legislature filed by two powerful lawmakers, could privatize one of the important job placement programs that people with ‘unique abilities’ rely upon.

Florida Department of Children and Families

In an effort to increase adoptions, Florida lawmakers are pushing a measure that would give state employees an incentive to add foster kids to their families. Under a bill moving through the senate, state workers would get $10,000 for taking home a child with special needs and $5,000 for taking home a child with no special needs. Sen. Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) is sponsoring the measure. He says the money will help families who might otherwise hesitate to adopt while also helping the state.  

For months, Senator Don Gaetz and Representative Will Weatherford have been called the designated Senate President and House Speaker respectively. But as of Tuesday, the term “designate” has been removed and the Speaker and President titles are official.

Gaetz, a Republican from Niceville, got a nomination from Democratic Senator Bill Montford from Tallahassee. Montford said he knows it’s unusual to nominate a Senate president from another party, but says, putting politics aside, Gaetz will make a good leader.

Florida lawmakers are gearing up for the next legislative session which starts in March and in meetings this week Republicans and Democrats are formalizing their leadership teams and outlining their agenda for the 2013 legislative session.

After more than two years of opposition to the federal healthcare overhaul law, Florida’s Republican leaders are now saying they plan to take it up in the upcoming legislative session. That’s a reversal of course for many Republicans who were staunch opponents of the law, including Governor Rick Scott. 

The state’s change of tone does not mean Florida will be ready to meet looming deadlines, and it still leaves the fate of several of the law’s programs and provisions up in the air.

Florida legislative leaders have sent letters to the federal government saying they can’t make a decision on health insurance exchanges right now. Lynn Hatter reports the state had until Friday to inform the feds of whether it would set up its own healthcare marketplace, or leave it up to the government. The Obama Administration now says the deadline has been pushed out to December.

Florida has until 2014 to implement some of the provisions in the Federal Affordable Care Act. Governor Rick Scott says the state won’t do it, but  some Florida lawmakers say it’s too early to start jumping to conclusions.

The Florida Supreme Court upheld most of the Federal Affordable Care Act, also called the healthcare overhaul law. But it left a few pieces up to the states, and Florida Governor Rick Scott said  he’s not implementing anything he can avoid.

“It’s very disappointing what the Supreme Court did. This is going to be devastating for patients," Scott said.

The redistricting debate now moves to the House. The Republican-dominated Florida Senate passed a revised map of senate districts designed to fix constitutional flaws identified by the Florida Supreme Court. However, James Call reports there are Democrats who say the plan still violates new anti-gerrymandering standards.

The Florida Senate Reapportionment Committee was scheduled to vote a new redistricting plan Tuesday but got bogged down on procedural issues. James Call reports, the panel agreed to delay final action until Wednesday.

An almost 40-year old scuffle between two kinds of eye care professionals could be coming close to an end. But, as Sascha Cordner reports, despite passage of a bill that could do so, opponents say ending the war at the cost of limiting the amount of legitimate medical malpractice claims is not the way to do it.

It’s an ongoing dispute known as the “eyeball wars” between ophthalmologists and optometrists. Both professions deal with eye care, but there’s one difference:

Ophthalmologists are medical doctors, while optometrists are not.

Hundreds of government workers rallied in Tallahassee to protest what they call a war on the middle class.  James Call reports members of the labor union representing state county and city employees roamed the halls of the state Capitol to talk to lawmakers about policies they say favor the wealthy at the expense of working people.