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TALLAHASSEE — After years of trying, Florida lawmakers are on the verge of significantly restricting access to abortion with Gov. Ron DeSantis signaling his support and conservatives in control of both state and federal high courts.
Abortion bans have failed in the Florida Legislature in recent years, but signs point to a different outcome this session, which convened Tuesday.
Anti-abortion groups see 2022 as the year to act.
Roe v. Wade, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that established a constitutional right to abortion, is on shaky ground. Florida’s state Supreme Court is solidly conservative with DeSantis appointees filling three of the seven seats.
Republican politicians who control Tallahassee will face voters later this year in elections. Abortion likely will be at the forefront with the U.S. Supreme Court expected to deliver a decision over the summer on Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban. That law, which lower courts have blocked from taking effect, served as the model for Florida’s proposal.
Oral arguments suggest the high court will uphold Mississippi’s law, said Elizabeth Nash, who tracks state abortion policy for the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights.
“For a long time, abortion has been an issue that has ginned up the conservative base and now even more so because we have a solidly anti-abortion U.S. Supreme Court,” she said.
Two influential GOP state lawmakers — state Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, and state Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach — filed Florida’s anti-abortion legislation.
They appear to have the backing of Florida’s key political leaders.
DeSantis called a 15-week ban “very reasonable” and signaled he would sign it. Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls have also embraced the proposal, stressing their opposition to abortion.
The proposal (SB 146/ HB 5) includes an exception for serious medical emergencies or if a “fatal fetal abnormality” is detected.
The Senate version has been assigned to two committees, while most bills get at least three committee hearings. The House version is scheduled to be heard by three committees.
Another bill modeled after Texas’ six-week ban has been filed. That proposal, though, hasn’t gotten traction in Florida. Texas’ law relies on citizens to enforce it by suing abortion providers.
John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council, said he favors an outright restriction on abortion, but a 15-week ban would still mark a significant victory for anti-abortion groups.
“If this passes, it will be the most comprehensive, robust pro-life bill protecting unborn children in Florida’s history post-Roe,” said Stemberger, an Orlando attorney.
Supporters of abortion rights are vowing to fight, but Democrats have little power in the Republican-controlled Legislature.
State Rep. Anna Eskamani said Floridians don’t want their access to abortion restricted, and she is hoping to mobilize public opinion to derail the ban. The Orlando Democrat worked for Planned Parenthood before being elected.
“There is no such thing as a reasonable abortion ban,” she said at a rally outside the Capitol. “There is nothing reasonable about taking away my rights, getting between me and my doctor and my God and my family and making decisions about my pregnancy.”
Florida has taken a softer stance on abortion than its Southern neighbors, making it a destination for women from other states seeking medical care, Nash said. If Florida limits abortion, it will have consequences beyond its borders, she said.
Meanwhile, anti-abortion voters will be watching what the governor and Legislature do, said Lynda Bell, president of Florida Right to Life. DeSantis is widely seen as a possible presidential contender in 2024, and abortion is a key issue for conservative voters.
“It’s time to act,” Bell said. “The pressure is on.”
A 20-week abortion ban failed to pass the Florida Legislature this past year, and so-called “heartbeat bills” that ban abortion at about six weeks of pregnancy have also stalled. The state Constitution includes a “right of privacy” that the state Supreme Court has used in the past to strike down abortion restrictions.
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A lunch-hour look at what’s trending in Florida politics.
But today’s court has a different ideological makeup than it did in 1989, when justices struck down a law requiring teenage girls to get their parents’ consent for an abortion. In 2020, the Florida Legislature approved a similar parental-consent law that is now on the books.
The landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 said states could not ban abortions before fetal viability, which is now considered to be about 23 to 24 weeks. Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the case involving Mississippi’s abortion law, focuses on whether fetal viability should be the standard on how far states can go in limiting access to abortion.
Florida’s abortion debate will be watched nationally as it plays out during the legislative session, which ends on March 11, Nash said.
“The impact of it will be felt far and wide,” she said.
A Palm Bay man convicted of fraudulently collecting more than $1.3 million in COVID-19 relief funds has been sentenced to five years in prison.
Johnson Eustache was sentenced Tuesday in Orlando federal court, according to court records. He pleaded guilty in August to wire fraud and aiding and assisting in the preparation of false tax returns. He must also forfeit approximately $700,000 seized from several bank accounts, as well as real properties in Palm Bay and Poinciana.
According to court documents, Eustache submitted 13 different fraudulent Economic Injury Disaster Loan and Paycheck Protection Program applications to the Small Business Administration and other lenders from March 2020 to April 2021. In total, he sought more than $2.1 million in pandemic-related emergency benefits, according to the documents.
Eustache included false statements in the applications regarding criminal history, number of employees and total payroll, prosecutors said.
Lenders approved four PPP loans and four EIDL loans, totaling more than $1.3 million, officials said. Eustache used the money to make personal financial investments, to purchase real estate and to build residential properties.
Beside the pandemic-relief fraud, Eustache, while working as a tax return preparer, filed 28 returns for taxpayers from 2017 to 2021 containing false adjustments, false income amounts or false deductions, investigators said. Eustache included these false items fraudulently to inflate the amount of the taxpayers’ refunds, and the total loss to the IRS was $87,044, officials said.
The Paycheck Protection Program represents billions of dollars in forgivable small-business loans for Americans struggling because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s part of the coronavirus relief package that became federal law in 2020.
United Way of Broward County is pleased to announce that James Heaton has joined the non-profit organization as the new Senior Director of United Way of Broward County’s MISSION UNITED. In his new role, Heaton will focus on the development of strategies and tactics for an integrated approach to United Way of Broward County’s community impact process for the MISSION UNITED Program.
As Senior Director, Heaton will focus on developing and implementing MISSION UNITED’s strategic and operation plan by overseeing its day-to-day operations and managing its direct services and System of Care. He will be responsible for the coordination of the MISSION UNITED Advisory Council, developing a competitive procurement process to identify local community agencies to successfully deliver services to Veterans and their families, in addition to overseeing Federal and State grants.
“James is a terrific addition to our team, and we’re very excited to welcome him to MISSION UNITED,” said Kathleen Cannon, President/CEO of United Way of Broward County. “He is a high-energy leader and change agent, pairing insightful legal acumen with a passion for military and Veteran families.”
Heaton’s career is defined by his advocacy for homeless, disabled, and at-risk Veterans. He has been active in the South Florida pro bono community for several years assisting military and Veteran families through the Miami VA Health Care System, US Southern Command, Florida International University’s legal clinics, the Broward County Bar Association (BCBA), and United Way of Broward County. Additionally, Heaton has presented on a variety of legal topics for the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, the American Bar Association, the Florida Bar, and various local voluntary bar associations.
“I am both honored and excited to be joining United Way of Broward County’s MISSION UNITED team,” said Heaton. “I look forward to bettering the lives of Veterans (and their families) in the community by continuing the mission of providing them with the services they need to acclimate to civilian life.”
Prior to taking on the role as Senior Director at United Way of Broward County’s MISSION UNITED, Heaton served as the supervising attorney for the Veterans Project at Legal Aid Service of Broward County, assisting low-income and disabled military Veterans, active-duty service-members, reservists, and their families facing a variety of civil, administrative, and military related legal issues by engaging legal resources throughout the community.
Heaton completed his Bachelor of Arts (BA) in history with honors from Florida Atlantic University and later received his Juris Doctor from Florida International University’s College of Law in Miami. He currently serves as President for the BCBA’s Young Lawyers Section, Vice-Chair for the Florida Bar’s Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, and as a member of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Homelessness and Poverty. Additionally, James was the co-chair of the Broward Days Veterans Impact Group focusing on legislative advocacy to improve access to fair housing, mental health services and education for servicemembers and military Veterans during the 2019, 2020, and 2021 Florida legislative sessions.
United Way of Broward County is a volunteer driven, community-based, non-profit organization servicing Broward County for more than 80 years. United Way of Broward County fights for the Health, Education and Financial Prosperity of EVERY person in our community. United Way of Broward County is the catalyst for change and convener of partnerships that unite the hearts, minds, and resources within the Broward community. For more information, visit www.UnitedWayBroward.org.
About United Way of Broward County’s MISSION UNITED
MISSION UNITED is a critical program supporting US military service members, Veterans and their families in Broward County by helping them acclimate to civilian life. Key focus areas include employment services, education, health, legal assistance, financial stability and housing support. Through MISSION UNITED, United Way of Broward County is aligning existing services and creating solutions where there are gaps in support. or more information about MISSION UNITED, please call 954-4-UNITED or visit www.MISSIONUNITEDbroward.org, Facebook or Twitter.