Eleanor Sobel, senator, Florida

Last week: This week we continued to follow the developments in Syria as the U.S. Congress decides whether to approve military strikes. The use of chemical weapons, particularly against innocent civilians is unacceptable. We cannot stand by as oppressive leaders use inhumane means to advance their power-hungry agenda. As a member of the Jewish community, the use of these kinds of weapons of mass destruction hits close to home. Although we need to carefully consider our national security, we simply cannot allow the past to repeat itself, nor can we allow such a terrible loss of life to persist.

Looking ahead: Next week the Florida Senate will prepare for the first committee weeks leading up to the 2014 Legislative Session. I am excited to announce that my committee, the Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee, will be holding a joint meeting with the Judiciary Committee to discuss the horrific issue of sexual predators in our State. I am eager to tackle this multi-faceted problem and other important timely issues during the upcoming committee weeks, including but not limited to bringing the ongoing examination of the recent DCF child deaths to Tallahassee for the entire Legislature to discuss and examine.

Sept. 1

Last week: This week we saw the resignation of the deputy long-term care ombudsman, Don Hering. This news follows the suspension of the state long-term care ombudsman, Jim Crochet. As chair of the Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee, I am deeply troubled by these developments and what they could mean for the seniors in our state assisted living facilities. I hope that Mr. Hering’s replacement proves confident and capable.

Looking ahead: Next week I will be getting the word out about a panel convened by the Sun-Sentinel on Sept. 12 to discuss Florida’s implementation of the Affordable Care Act. As a member of the panel and the Vice-Chair of the Senate Select Committee on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, I look forward to providing legislative insight to people in our community who may have questions about the new law.

Aug. 25

Last week: This week, I hosted a South Florida Tri-County Delegation Town Hall meeting on critically important issues facing the tumultuous Department of Children and Families. A distinguished panel of expert speakers joined 17 outraged legislators from South Florida to discuss recent deaths of 20 children previously investigated by DCF, and to seek meaningful solutions to the problems confronting the agency. My legislative colleagues in attendance came away more informed and armed with ideas for reform to take back to Tallahassee. This meeting was a first step in the right direction. Our work is just beginning to improve our complex child welfare system.

Next week: Next week, my office will continue to help implement the law of the land, the Affordable Health Care Act. Shoppers of health insurance plans will be provided with information about enrollment options under the federally-run health insurance Marketplace, a critical component of Obamacare. Enrollment begins Oct. 1 and my staff and I are committed to working with “navigators” and informing interested insurance consumers about new web sites and choices available to them. I believe the Marketplace will provide citizens with an array of plans to choose from that are both affordable and comprehensive in terms of the benefits to enrollees.

 

Aug. 18

Last week: Last week, I joined many of my colleagues in signing a petition to call for a Special Session to review and change the Stand Your Ground (SYG) Law in Florida. As one of the original 20 legislators who voted against SYG in 2005, I have always felt this law would create a very dangerous climate in Florida. While we were unsuccessful in meeting the three-fifths requirement of signatures to enact the session, I will continue fighting to reform our laws to make ALL Floridians safer.

Looking ahead: This week, I will be hosting a Tri-County Legislative Delegation meeting on Thursday, Aug. 20, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Broward College South Campus to review the deaths of children under investigation by the Department of Children and Families. As the chair of the Senate Committee on Children, Families, and Elder Affairs, and the Broward Legislative Delegation, I feel we must examine ways to fix the problems at DCF and protect Florida’s most vulnerable children. Along with legislators from Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach County, we will also hear from Interim Secretary of DCF Esther Jacobo and other child welfare advocates.

Aug. 11

Last week We saw news that Jim Crochet, the State Long-term Care Ombudsman, was forced to retire after being told to stay home and not speak to anyone. No one knows yet why he was forced to retire. Long-term care ombudsmen are volunteers who inspect nursing homes and ALFs for unsafe conditions. Crochet reduced the independence of local ombudsmen to asking, “how are things going?” rather than being the voice for risky unsanitary and unsafe conditions. Hopefully, Secretary of Elder Affairs, Charles Corley, will appoint a chief ombudsman who will restore some of the duties of these local “watchdogs.”

Looking ahead: Next week we will continue see the development of the trial of Nadal Hasan, the ex-army psychiatrist who opened fire in Fort Hood in 2009, killing 12 and wounding dozens. He is representing himself, but does have a defense team on standby. Hasan’s defense team claims that he is seeking the death penalty. While this is a capital case, it is up to the military tribunal to decide whether death is the proper form of justice.

Aug. 4

Last week: This week, PBS aired a Frontline special titled, "Life and Death in Assisted Living." The hour-long documentary showed many of the egregious problems facing residents of assisted living facilities. Assisted living accountability is a nationwide problem and it is especially important right here in Florida with baby boomers arriving at the highest rate adding to our population growth.  As Chair of the Senate Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee, I introduced legislation that would implement common-sense reforms to address some of these issues, and I plan to do so again next session.

Looking ahead: This week, I will be hosting a consumer advocacy town hall meeting on property insurance on Thursday, August 8th from 6:00pm to 8:00pm at the Hallandale Beach City Hall Commission Chamber. I have invited several experts to help residents better understand issues they may be having with their homeowner's insurance. These experts include State Insurance Consumer Advocate Robin Westcott, Chairman Carlos Lacasa of the Citizen’s Property Insurance Board of Governors, and President Anthony Dopazo of the Latin American Association of Insurance Agents. Many South Floridians have had difficulties with their policies and will certainly benefit from this event. Public testimony is welcomed.

July 28

Last week: This week we have been going through a transition at the Department of Children and Families. Last week Secretary David Wilkins resigned after much controversy regarding the death of four children since May, all of whom had already been investigated by the department for possible abuse. Unfortunately, since Wilkins’ resignation, another child has died. This is unacceptable! We now have lost five innocent lives as result of a failure in our system. I will be meeting with interim-secretary Esther Jacobo over the next few weeks to change the direction of the Department and to put an end to these unnecessary tragedies.

Looking ahead: Next week we are likely to see a continuation of ongoing protests by the Dream Defenders, a group demanding a repeal of the Stand Your Ground law outside of Gov. Rick Scott's office. The group has pledged that they will not leave the governor's office until he agrees to call a special session to repeal or amend Stand Your Ground. As someone who voted against Stand Your Ground in the Florida House, I applaud the resilience of these young protesters, and I hope to see action taken to address the problems with this law.

July 7

Last week: The story of the week was the inspirational eleven-hour filibuster by Texas Senator Wendy Davis. While wearing a back brace and forbidden to eat, drink, use the restroom, or sit down, Sen. Davis passionately defended women's constitutional right to abortion and health care options. She exposed the new proposed Texas law as limiting and intruding on women's personal health decisions, putting more women at risk, and limiting physicians in their professional judgment. Once again, a majority of males in the Texas legislature and Gov. Rick Perry are determined to get this unconscionable bill passed in another special session.

Looking ahead: Hopefully, future Congressional talks will take place about reducing retroactively the doubling of student loan interest rates. Student loan rates doubled this past week from 3.4-6.8% after the failure of Congress to pass any kind of legislation to prevent the automatic rate hike that was deferred for one year. Students taking or renewing federal subsidized loans after July 1 can expect to pay an additional $3,000 on a $23,000 loan for a period of ten years. Many adults will forestall getting married, buying a home or a car due to the increased commitment to pay the higher loan amount.

June 23

Looking ahead: The upcoming story will be the June 25 Town Hall meeting of the Broward Legislative Delegation at the Broward  government center, 6-8 p.m., about increasing health care access in Florida. Experts on Obamacare will share information about how and when to sign up for the marketplace exchange, as well as community members sharing their stories about life without health insurance. Members of the Broward Delegation will answer questions.

Last week’s headline: The city of Pembroke Pines suggested the “nuclear option"  to privatize the "A-rated" Pembroke Pines city-run charter schools, to be run by a for-profit private charter school company -- Charter Schools USA. Quality teachers would be sacrificed for lower salaried teachers. Parents may agree to be taxed as an option to save their city schools from privatization.