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Cypen & Cypen
MARCH 28, 2003

Stephen H. Cypen, Esq., Editor

Never Forget - September 11, 2001

In two recent Newsletters(see C&C Newsletters for March 20, 2003, Item 1 and January 15, 2003, Item 1), we lamented the situation of Florida’s antiquated per diem in travel expense reimbursements. However, at the time we were unaware that two bills on this subject matter had been filed. HB 1493 is just what the Florida League of Cities has called for: it recites that Attorney General Opinion 2003-01 clearly violates the intent of the Municipal Home Rule Powers Act and places municipalities that relied on Attorney General Opinion 1974-18 into position of having to repeal their policies on reasonable per diem and travel allowances. The bill would add a new subsection to Section 166.021, Florida Statutes, part of the Municipal Home Rule Powers Act, to provide that notwithstanding the provisions of Section 112.061, Florida Statutes, the governing body of a municipality may provide for per diem and travel expenses as it deems reasonable. Further, any policy on per diem and travel expenses provided by a municipality on January 1, 2003 (two days before AGO 2003-01 was issued) shall be valid and in effect for that municipality until otherwise amended. If the governing body of a municipality does not provide for per diem and travel expenses, the provisions of Section 112.061, Florida Statutes, shall apply. As written, the governing body of a municipality could exercise this “local option” by ordinance or resolution, making it applicable to all public officers, including pension board trustees. On January 31, 2003 SB 622 was introduced. The bill would (1) raise to $60.00 (from $50.00) the per diem allowance; (2) raise meal allowances for breakfast to $6.00 (from $3.00), lunch to $12.00 (from $6.00) and dinner to $18.00 (from $12.00); and (3) allow $2.00 per day for miscellaneous expenses such as tolls, phone calls and tips. Considering the cost of a hotel room, the increase from $50.00 to $60.00 per diem will probably not change the pattern of travelers opting to receive actual expenses for lodging plus the meal allowances. The passage of both these bills is the perfect solution: rates are raised so that there is a somewhat more reasonable reimbursement, but if a particular city wants to provide different reimbursement, it may do so. (Finally, on March 25, 2003 Senator Lawson introduced SB 2672. The 18-page Bill would increase reimbursement slightly, but would provide for annual adjustment based upon the CPI.)


An article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Danger: Missing Signals” paints a rather frightening picture facing public safety workers. By way of background, the article states something we had never heard before: firefighters were trapped in the burning Twin Towers partly because they never received police department messages warning that the buildings might collapse! Now, over a year and a half later, in city after city, police officers and firefighters still face huge problems communicating with each other during an emergency. This lack of “interoperability” is a huge problem across the country. The principal cause is an insufficiency of available radio airwaves, known as spectrum. Different public safety agencies in the same city often operate on different channels within different “bands.” Thus, police officers and firefighters cannot talk to each other to warn of life-threatening risks. The problem can be even worse in suburban areas, where dozens of local agencies, each on a different band, might serve a relatively large geographic area, without the ability to communicate. There is also the matter of cost. In large cities, overhauling the system would require buying new radios for tens of millions of dollars -- more than most local budgets can afford. Recognizing the shortage of spectrum, Congress voted in 1997 to require television stations to give up their analog share of the spectrum in the so-called 700-megahertz band by the end of 2006, if 85% of the public has access to digital television. There are bills pending in Congress that would make that spectrum available to public-safety agencies in 2006, regardless of how many homes have digital TV. The Federal Communications Commission is also exploring the use of other potentially underutilized bands of spectrum for public safety. Meanwhile, however, our public safety officers are faced with more dangers than just the disasters they respond to in our behalf.


On March 25 and 26, the Division of Retirement sponsored its Twenty Fourth Annual Police Officers’ and Firefighters’ Trustees’ School in Tallahassee. As usual, the group (Erin B. Sjostrom, David Jones, Trish Shoemaker, Keith Brinkman, Melody Mitchell, Larry Scott and Charles Slavin) sponsored a terrific program. The speakers and their topics were beneficial to all trustees, and the materials presented in the handbook provide instant reference and answers to many of your burning questions. Those of you who did not attend this year’s school should make plans to be there next year. You will enjoy the program and increase your knowledge ... thus making your job as trustee much easier.

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Items in this Newsletter may be excerpts or summaries of original or secondary source material, and may have been reorganized for clarity and brevity. This Newsletter is general in nature and is not intended to provide specific legal or other advice.

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