Matt Willhite scores on veteran, police, patient and hurricane safety laws
For Democratic Rep. Matt Willhite of Wellington, the end of the 2022 legislature marked another successful phase of bipartisan legislation, during which he saw through several key points.
This session was also his last – for the time being – as it is his goal won a seat on the Palm Beach County Commission in November, a move that will allow him to spend more time with his family.
Willhite, an active duty firefighter, had his two teenage sons come to Tallahassee for the end of the session. Their presence, he said, increased his desire to spend more time with them, his wife, and their two dogs.
“I’m not going to get that time back with them, and I don’t want to look back and be like, ‘Did I miss something?'” he told Florida Politics. “I love local politics. I was in local government for eight years and have worked for the county for 26 years. I want to continue to hold public office, but if I want to do that, now is the time to do it close to where I live.”
He will be able to point to strong legislation this year to convince local voters he will deliver for them.
Among them: HM63a monument now on the way to the President Joe Biden for review calling on the federal government to officially recognize and address the “epidemic of suicides” among US military veterans.
“These are the heroes serving our country who shouldn’t come back and feel so desperate and alone that they take their own lives,” Willhite said.
The subject is personal for Willhite, a US Navy veteran who died in 2017 restored the Florida Veterans and Military Families Caucus.
Zephyrhill’s Republican Sen. Danny Burgessa member of the US Army Reserve, restored the caucus with Willhite and wore a Senate version of the monument (SM302) this session.
The memorial notes that some veterans have difficulty transitioning into civilian employment, “because the highly developed skills they acquired in military service may not translate into high-level civilian jobs and the resulting economic disparities, unemployment, poverty and… Homelessness among veterans is emerging as a risk factor in veteran suicide.”
While a recent Veterans Affairs report suggests that veteran suicides are declining, the report cites Data for 2019 and does not account for recent stressors such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
A previous version of the bill was stuck on a procedural issue, Willhite said. This year it “fly through”.
As Florida politics previously reportedFrom August 2020 to 2021 there was a drastic increase in communications with the Florida Department of Veteran Affairs. Veteran Crisis Line. The national suicide prevention hotline saw calls increase by 7%, online chats by 40% and texting by 98% in 2020.
More than 1.5 million veterans and active duty members live in Florida. In 2019, 553 Florida veterans died from suicide, the VA said.
“We, the President, Congress and the Veterans Administration need to start doing more to help these veterans find jobs and settle back into society, give them training and other things that will help them come back,” said Willhite. “We set them up in that position and then once they’re done, we let them fade away. We shouldn’t do that to people who have served our country.”
Willhite also reviewed several standard bills, all of which came into effect on July 1st.
A (HB837) is a crucial measure to fund and extend the lifespan of Florida Hurricane Mitigation Program (HLMP) and improving the safety of those living in prefab homes during storm season.
Willhite introduced the bill in December to add a Republican senator from Clearwater. Ed Hopper submitted in October (SB578).
The HLMP, created by the legislature in 1999, uses $10 million annually through the tax exemption Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund created afterwards Hurricane Andrew to fund the retrofitting of facilities for use as hurricane shelters and the protection of residential and mobile homes against hurricane force winds. It also includes an annual grant of $700,000 to Florida International University for hurricane research
HB 837 continues to fund the program for another decade, including an additional $7 million this year from the general revenue fund, which Willhite said will help clear a “backlog” of projects and it Allow HLMP funds used for the conversion of hurricane shelters to be used for the construction of new shelters.
Due to housing affordability challenges, particularly in South Florida, many residents live in mobile homes. Some could be at risk, Willhite said, if the security measures they have in place are substandard — a problem the program should help address.
“A lot of this was done before Hurricane Andrew, before building codes and standards were put in place, so (RV) bindings were not designed to withstand winds from hurricanes,” he said. “We want to continue to protect these people in their homes, so we should help them, and we have.”
one more bill HB459establishes protocols that managed care plans and insurance companies must follow for programs in which there are specific sequences in which prescription drugs, medical procedures, and other treatments must be used for a health condition.
Such a program is known as a “step therapy” program.
Once ratified, the law will require companies using step therapy programs to provide customers and healthcare providers with information on how to request exceptions to step therapy protocols.
Companies that approve exceptions would then have to provide customers with written details of the approved prescription drug, medical procedure, or course of treatment. In cases where companies refuse exceptions to step therapy protocols, they must provide consumers with a written explanation including the clinical justification for the refusal.
“When people are told ‘no’ they want to know why. Now they can get a written response asking why their insurance companies refused this process,” Willhite said. “All that was important to me about this law was to make sure that patients have a say in their healthcare and insurance.”
Although barely sprightly on target, HB 459 and its Senate analogue (SB730) by Stuart Republican Sr. Gayle Harrell attracted a lot of attention behind the scenes. By the end of January more than 110 lobbyists have registered Lobbying for the bill in the House, Florida Politics previously reported.
Willhite and Hooper also teamed up on a second bill (HB773; SB1046) to fill a legal loophole that previously allowed public records applicants to obtain information from a police officer’s in-vehicle Global Positioning System (GPS).
Law enforcement officials enjoy some protection from requests for public records, including protection of their addresses from most disclosures. Information from your vehicle’s GPS could be just as dangerous, and potentially more dangerous, in the wrong hands.
“If a police officer routinely brings his patrol vehicle home, the officer’s GPS data, if released as part of a public record, could reveal a police officer’s whereabouts.” domestic staff wrote in an analysis of the bill. “Furthermore, such GPS data, if released to the public, could reveal information about law enforcement surveillance and investigative techniques.”
A police officer’s GPS data would still need to be handed over when federal, state, or local agencies request the information; a court authorizes disclosure of the information to an individual who reasonably establishes a reason for disclosure; the information is requested in criminal, civil or administrative proceedings; or it is included in an official report from a law enforcement agency.
“There are still parameters to take into account specific circumstances in which the information could be used, but in general there is no real need for the public to know where a police officer lives. And obviously the original intent of protecting that personal information was to protect them from retaliation by someone they stopped, ticketed, or arrested,” Willhite said. “This is just keeping up with technology to protect it.”
Unless further legislative action is taken, the measure will be automatically repealed on October 2, 2027.
Willhite also passed successfully HB1233which allows unarmed security guards to obtain their licenses by accumulating online course credits.
Republican Representative from Brevard County Randy fine Co-sponsored House bill joined by Republican Senator from Fleming Island. Jennifer Bradley filed a Senate counterpart (SB1474).
State law currently requires armed and unarmed security officers to complete an in-person training course. Beginning in July, Gov. Ron DeSantis does not veto the bill, all unarmed rain could be done online.
Additionally, those seeking an armed guard license can take up to 21 hours of online training, with all remaining hours of instruction — including the firearms portion — to be conducted in person.
HB 1233 brings Florida in line with other states, including California and Georgia, that are allowing online guard training — which the state temporarily allowed during the peak of the pandemic.
“It worked really well” Fine told a committee last month. “This would simply allow us to continue with what we’ve seen work.”
The measure would still require the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to ensure safety schools maintain a physical location and verify that an applicant has received all necessary instructions.
Safety schools must also have an insurance policy of at least $1 million.
“These are people who work as janitors, bus drivers or something like that and go to school, become a security guard and maybe someday want to be a police officer, but can’t afford to sit in on a classroom,” Willhite said. “With today’s technology, we have the ability to do more things from the comfort of our own home or a public library — something to do better for your family and generate more income.
“People can now get a master’s degree from a college online. Why shouldn’t we train our security forces?”
Jason Delgado and Christine Jordan Kuester from Florida Politics contributed to this report.