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FIRST AMENDMENT FOUNDATION FILES AMICUS BRIEF IN SLC'S SUNSHINE LAW CASE

Florida’s Sunshine Law is a series of statutes requiring open government and access to public meetings. SLC filed suit on behalf of a citizen activist to challenge amendments to a City of St. Petersburg ordinance, alleging that the decision to amend the ordinance improperly took place at an attorney-client meeting closed to the public. The circuit court agreed that the City failed to provide notice to the public of the first reading of the ordinance and voided the amendments to the ordinance for this violation of Florida law. The City appealed, and our client cross-appealed the portion of the court’s order that found the City did not exceed its legal authority when it discussed amending the ordinance during the closed session. The First Amendment Foundation, the state’s premiere open government organization, filed an amicus brief urging the court to hold that the City exceeded its statutory authority by engaging in deliberations to amend the ordinance at a closed meeting.  Posted February 2017.


SLC’S APPEAL MOVES FORWARD TO PROTECT FORT LAUDERDALE FOOD NOT BOMBS' RIGHT TO PROTEST

When the City of Fort Lauderdale arrested more than a dozen individuals in 2014 for sharing food with homeless individuals in city parks, it sparked an international outcry. SLC took the City to court, filing a federal lawsuit on behalf of the political advocacy group Fort Lauderdale Food Not Bombs (FNB), part of the international Food Not Bombs Movement. The group shares food in a centrally located downtown Fort Lauderdale park as an expression of the political message that hunger and poverty can be ended if society’s resources are redirected from the military and war to, instead, providing food as a human right for all. In September of last year, the District Court ruled against the group, holding that food sharing is not protected under the First Amendment.  FNB appealed this decision to the Eleventh Circuit and SLC recently filed its Initial Brief, arguing that that the District Court erred in failing to recognize the significant history of food sharing as a form of symbolic communication and expressive conduct.   FNB argues that this message, and the use of food sharing to convey this message, should find protection under the First Amendment.  FNB chapters from across the country petitioned the court to file an amicus brief in support of this argument because this case has the potential to impact similar activities in Florida and around the country. A second amicus brief was filed on behalf of legal scholars due to the importance of the legal issues at stake in the appeal. Posted January 2017.


BIG CHANGES COMING TO FLORIDA'S MEDICAID LONG-TERM CARE PROGRAM

After more than a year of litigation, the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) has settled with four Plaintiffs who challenged AHCA’s management of the Medicaid Long-Term Care (LTC) Program. As of December 1, 2016, this Program had more than 94,000 enrollees, all of whom are elderly or have disabilities. About half of the enrollees are in nursing homes, while the remaining half, like all of the Plaintiffs, have chosen to receive care in their homes or community rather than enter a nursing home. The Plaintiffs were represented by the Law Office of Nancy E. Wright (Lead Counsel), Disability Rights Florida, Alice. K. Nelson, and Southern Legal Counsel.

Under the Settlement Agreement, health plans that administer Medicaid long-term care services will be “required to provide an array of home and community-based services that enable enrollees to live in the community and to avoid institutionalization.” The Settlement Agreement also states, among other things, that AHCA will:

•    Adopt rules that set out requirements for coverage of long-term care services;
•    Require a new assessment procedure that takes into account the availability, willingness and   
     ability of voluntary caregivers;
•    Amend their contract with health plans to assure compliance with these rules;
•    Require changes to health plan member handbooks to clarify enrollee rights and how to file
     consumer complaints;
•    Train (or retrain) health plans, hearing officers, AHCA staff and others on the new requirements;
•    Monitor case managers on how assessments are being done; and
•    Use enrollee surveys that ask about sufficiency of services.

The agreement impacts all six health plans now operating in Florida to provide Medicaid services through the Long-Term Care Program: Coventry/Aetna, Humana, Sunshine Health, Molina, United Healthcare, and Amerigroup. Posted January 2017.

COURT RULES AGAINST PLAINTIFFS IN STATEWIDE EDUCATION CASE

The Second Judicial Circuit Court issued an order that ignores the overwhelming weight of the evidence that the public education system in Florida is failing more than a million students. Even though Florida’s constitution is the strongest educational mandate of all the states, the court incorrectly concluded that the constitution has no judicially manageable standards and that the court is prohibited from ordering relief due to separation of powers. Southern Legal Counsel plans to appeal this decision and continue to seek a high quality education for all children in Florida. Read Final Judgment and Appendix of Facts.  Posted May 25, 2016


TRIAL CONCLUDES ON STATEWIDE EDUCATION CASE

In Citizens for Strong Schools, Inc. v. Fla. State Bd. of Educ., originally filed in 2009, Plaintiffs allege that the State is breaching its constitutional duty to provide a uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education, as required by Article IX, Section 1(a) of the Florida Constitution. The Court conducted a non-jury trial from March 14 to April 8, 2016. The trial was televised and the archives can be viewed at www.thefloridachannel.org. Plaintiffs introduced evidence from across the state showing that school districts do not have sufficient funding to provide the conditions for a high quality education for all students, with emphasis on children of all races, from low income backgrounds, with disabilities, those experiencing homelessness and English Language Learners. Read a Synopsis of the 273-page Proposed Order filed by Plaintiffs on Apr. 27, 2016. The Court’s order is expected by June 30, 2016.  Posted May 12, 2016


FOOD SHARING SUIT AGAINST DAYTONA BEACH SETTLED

In April 2016, SLC settled a suit against the City of Daytona Beach on behalf of a couple who were arrested and trespassed from a city park for providing food to homeless people as part of their ministry. After the City dropped the charges, it denied the couple a permit to continue their ministry in public parks. The federal suit alleged that the ordinances on food sharing violate the First (freedom of religion) and Fourteenth (due process) Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. In the settlement agreement, the City agreed to change its policies and procedures to permit our clients to share food, rescind the trespass notices that were improperly issued in the City Parks and to issue directives to its police officers that no City trespass warnings can be issued in City parks at this time. SLC co-counseled with the Legal Advocacy Center of Central Florida. Here is a link to news coverage: http://www.news-journalonline.com/article/20160323/news/160329776.  Posted May 5, 2016.


SLC TO COHOST EVENT "ROSEWOOD: THE ROAD TO REPARATIONS"

In January 1923, a white woman falsely accused a black man of attacking her, and a week-long rampage of hundreds of whites murdered many black residents of Rosewood, Florida, and burned the town to the ground.  Residents fled from Rosewood, then a thriving community, to Gainesville and other neighboring towns.  The Grand Jury found “insufficient evidence” to prosecute anyone.  It took 71 years for the State to acknowledge and grant reparations to the survivors and descendants of the Rosewood massacre.  Join us on February 4 to hear about the 1923 Rosewood story and the efforts in the 1990s to obtain justice.  For more information and tickets, visit www.trls.org. The event is a joint fundraiser for Southern Legal Counsel and Three Rivers Legal Counsel.
 
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Posted January 2016.

JUDGE ALLOWS ADULTS WITH DISABILITIES TO SUE STATE

Five adults with disabilities who reside in the community and are eligible to receive home and community-based services have been subjected to repeated denials of services, delays or insufficient provision of services. This has placed them at risk of unnecessary institutionalization in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA), the state agency responsible for the implementation and oversight of the Medicaid Long-Term Care Managed Care Waiver Program (“LTC Waiver Program”), has failed to provide meaningful guidance to ensure that the services would be provided.

SLC filed Parrales v. Dudek, a federal court action with Disability Rights Florida and Nancy Wright, who is lead counsel. On December 24, 2015, U.S. District Court Judge Robert L. Hinkle denied the State of Florida’s motion to dismiss. This order allows plaintiffs to go forward in the case and proceed to a trial set to begin in September 2016.

Specifically, the Court ruled that plaintiffs have alleged sufficient injury to have standing to sue AHCA. And that plaintiffs have stated a claim under the ADA that, due to AHCA’s ineffective implementation and oversight of the LTC Waiver Program, plaintiffs would have to enter a nursing home in order to receive the Medicaid benefits to which they are entitled. Read the Order here. Posted December 2015.


SLC FILES SUIT AGAINST DAYTONA BEACH

SLC and the Legal Advocacy Center of Central Florida filed suit to challenge the City of Daytona Beach’s ordinances and park rules which violate the constitutional rights of advocates that share food and assistance with homeless and hungry persons in public parks. Clients in the case are the organization Spreading The Word Without Saying A Word ministry and its two founders, Gilbert Jimenez and Debbie Jimenez.  The Plaintiffs received considerable public attention when they were arrested and trespassed from a City park in May 2014 for sharing food with homeless and hungry persons as an expression of their religious faith and beliefs. Plaintiffs challenge the City’s ordinances and park rules as violations of their First Amendment rights to religious expression and association and their right to due process. The Daytona Beach laws are part of a national trend by cities to criminalize food sharing and restrict the rights of advocates and homeless persons to be present in public spaces.  Suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida. Read the complaint and press release.  Posted October 2015.

SOUTHERN LEGAL COUNSEL LAUNCHES INDIEGOGO CAMPAIGN
 
We are reaching out to ask for your support for Southern Legal Counsel's Education Protection Fund campaign on Indiegogo.

Southern Legal Counsel initiated the Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for the trial for the statewide education lawsuit.  Watch the video.  It was made by an eighth grade student at Westwood Middle School in Alachua County. 

This video directly supports Southern Legal Counsel’s Five for Change campaign which was started as an effort to reach people from all walks of life to get involved in our case to bring a better education to Florida’s public school children. Every child in the state of Florida deserves a high quality education. Our landmark case can help bring that quality education to 2.9 million children statewide.

There are two ways to help:
1. Contribute - even small contributions raise their popularity and give SLC more visibility on the site.

2. Post to Facebook - in the end, the more people hear about SLC, the more likely we are to meet our target.  
Posted October 2015.

SLC FILES SUIT AGAINST SHERIFF OF PINELLAS COUNTY

SLC filed suit in August 2015 against the Sheriff of Pinellas County, in his official capacity, for discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act on behalf of Amber Alvey.  The Sheriff operates a homeless shelter, Pinellas Safe Harbor, that purports to provide temporary housing for individuals who otherwise have no place to live.  In June 2014, Alvey found herself with no safe place to live and sought shelter at Pinellas Safe Harbor.  The shelter refused to accommodate Alvey’s medical conditions and physical disabilities.  After a fall that resulted from the shelter’s refusal to provide an available bed rather than a floor mat, Alvey required brief hospitalization.  Upon discharge, the shelter decided to exclude her and denied her access to the shelter.  The suit seeks reasonable modifications and compensatory damages.  Read the complaint here.  Posted Sept. 2, 2015.

SLC FILES SUIT AGAINST CITY OF FT. LAUDERDALE
 
Southern Legal Counsel, the Legal Advocacy Center of Central Florida and the Law Offices of Mara Shlackman filed suit today against the City of Fort Lauderdale to challenge the City’s recently passed ordinance and its park rules which unlawfully restrict the sharing of food with homeless and hungry persons in public spaces as a violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, asks that the law be struck down, and that the Plaintiffs be awarded damages for the violations of their constitutional rights.  Clients in the case are the organization Fort Lauderdale Food Not Bombs, along with four of its members – Nathan Pim, Jillian Pim, Haylee Becker, and William Toole. Posted: January 29, 2015. 

 
 

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SLC'S NEW WEB DESIGN WAS GENEROUSLY DONATED BY TONY PECORA AT NORTHC CONSULTING.  THANK YOU TONY!