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Mid-Session Legislative Update – April 2017

Florida lawmakers convened in Tallahassee last month to kick off the 2017 legislative session. Last week marked the mid-point of the 60-day process, with members taking time off this week to observe the Passover and Easter holidays.

Lawmakers have stayed very busy in recent months, but at this point in the session, nearly every key issue remains in flux. During their limited work period this week, both chambers are set to formally pass their budgets. The House and Senate are currently very far apart on their spending plans, and the budget will undoubtedly be a key focus going forward. The next step will be budget conference, which will begin once presiding officers agree on final allocations for each area of the budget. Members are expected to be in budget conference sometime around the weekend of April 21st. With conference looming and many major legislative proposals still to be discussed, the last half of the session could be quite contentious for lawmakers.

This session members set out to tackle issues and amend state laws relating to gaming, public education and health care, as well as potentially overhauling the state’s economic development programs, implementing the medical marijuana amendment, and rewriting the state’s workers’ compensation statute, among other matters. At this time, all of these issues are still moving through the legislative process.

Senate President Joe Negron (R-Palm City) and House Speaker Richard Corcoran (R-Lutz) are both well-experienced, strong leaders, and both remain dedicated to the issues they see as priorities for the state. In addition, with the power to veto legislation and individual items in the state budget, the Governor plays a significant role in session. Governor Scott and the legislature were already at odds as session kicked off in March, with the House offering legislation to eliminate many of the state’s economic programs and incentives. The Governor is heavily opposed to this effort, with economic development being his main priority throughout his tenure in office. The fight over this issue has the potential to upset the priorities of the House and Senate, and could have a major impact on the outcome of the session. In addition, the House and Senate are currently very far apart on their budget proposals. With a potentially volatile situation at play, the possibility of a special session to pass a budget has not been ruled out, and Speaker Corcoran has indicated that he’s already lined up votes for potential post-session veto overrides.

Provided below is a summary of some of the key issues and priorities being discussed and debated this session. Members are currently very hard at work on these matters, and issues continue to evolve at a very fast pace.


Budget

The 2017 legislative appropriations process may be one of the most contentious in recent years. The two chambers, under the leadership of President Negron and Speaker Corcoran, are currently several billion dollars apart in their spending plans. Governor Scott’s funding priorities are also at play, as he will have final review of the budget passed by lawmakers.

Leading into the 2017 session, Speaker Corcoran expressed a commitment to making Florida’s state budget process more transparent. Corcoran then announced new procedures for the House to hear and approve projects funded by the state, including requiring House members to file individual budget bills for appropriations projects this session. As a result, hundreds of bills were filed to fund local projects. However, early this month, House budget leader Carlos Trujillo (R-Doral) announced that one-quarter of those projects were struck from the House plan. While Senate leaders did not formally implement new budget requirements for the upper chamber, the two sides were able to come to terms on a joint process just before session started in March.

Last week, appropriations committees in both chambers passed their respective budget proposals, and members will hear the plans and make final votes this week. These proposals will serve as the blueprint for budget allocations to be released by House and Senate leaders soon, which will then take members into the budget conference process. With only four weeks remaining in the 60-day regular session, the budget process will begin to move very quickly from this week on.

At this time, differences between the two plans are stark, and total around $4 billion. While the House proposal is a conservative, trimmed-down budget, Senate members have allocated more in spending for various programs. Current predictions are that final budget negotiations between the House and Senate will begin on April 17th, with budget conference likely taking place the weekend of April 21st. With strong leadership in both chambers and the two plans currently so far apart, at this point no one is ruling out the possibility of a special session to comply with the constitutional requirement that state lawmakers pass a balanced budget each year.


Economic Development and Incentives

Throughout his time as leader of the state, Governor Rick Scott has made economic development his number one priority. Over the years, these efforts have included a number of tax cuts and proposals to increase funding for economic incentive programs to draw companies and jobs to Florida. However, these incentives have been under scrutiny in recent years, with many questioning the effectiveness of the programs, and whether or not the state funding that backs them is money well-spent.

Considering these concerns and Speaker Corcoran’s dedication to making state government more efficient, the House proposed a measure early in session to eliminate the majority of the state’s economic development programs. This proposal caused a large amount of tension between the Governor’s office and the House, with the Governor and Speaker on opposing sides of the issue. On the Senate side, Senate lawmakers expressed immediate reluctance to eliminate programs and funding for economic development in Florida. The differences between the two chambers are clear in their proposed spending plans.

This issue will be a significant budget fight, with the Senate proposing $1.4 billion in economic development funding and the House proposing just under $780 million. While the Senate funds Visit Florida at $76 million, the House allocates just $25 million for the agency – one of two under major scrutiny from the chamber, with the other being Enterprise Florida. This issue will remain one of the most interesting to watch this session as the legislature’s actions could put many member projects, particularly those in the House, on the line with Governor Scott, who continues to highlight economic development as a key priority.


Education

Education is always a top issue for lawmakers to address each session. At this time, there are numerous proposals being considered by both chambers to deal with issues surrounding Florida’s PreK-12 and higher education policies and funding. This session, on the PreK-12 side, one of the biggest efforts will be to address the state’s charter school policies. The measures being considered involve revenues from local taxes and how those revenues are distributed throughout school districts. On the House side, members want charter schools to be able to utilize those funds for capital outlay projects. Members are also considering a similar proposal in the Senate. In addition, House members are considering comprehensive legislation known as the “Schools of Hope” bill, which would provide incentives for charter schools in areas where traditional public schools are struggling. This measure is a key priority for Speaker Corcoran.

This session, legislative efforts also continue to address issues with standardized testing in Florida’s public schools. This has been one of the biggest education issues discussed by lawmakers in recent years. In the Senate, members are considering a heavily amended bill which would eliminate numerous high school end-of-course exams, push current testing dates back, and allow for the study of alternatives to standardized tests going forward. Members also continue to maintain a key focus on the “Best and Brightest” program, which is in place to award bonuses for “highly qualified” teachers in Florida. The current proposal being considered by members was recently amended to expand the program to apply to more teachers as well as principals in schools. In addition, lawmakers are considering legislation regarding the way class sizes are formulated, as well as a measure to prevent school districts from awarding annual contracts to teachers.

On the higher education front, members are debating a number of potential significant changes this session, including a renewed proposal to limit the mission and powers of Florida’s state college system. Senate President Negron has proposed a significant overhaul on this front, and both chambers are considering measures to tighten restrictions, including caps on how many four-year degrees state colleges can offer. There is also a large measure being considered to expand online degree programs in Florida, a move supported by Governor Scott but currently lacking the support of Senate leadership.

With regard to the education budget, Governor Scott has continued his push for consistent funding of current PreK-12 and higher education programs. At this time, the House and Senate plans differ in per-student spending, with the Senate looking to increase per-student funding significantly more than the House. The plans also differ regarding required local effort for education spending.

Higher education funding could be a divisive issue going forward, with the two chambers proposing differing plans for state college and university funding. While the House plan cuts higher education funding by more than $100 million, the Senate is proposing an increase of more than $300 million for state universities, as well as an increase in scholarship funding.


Energy, Environment and Land Issues

Environment and water issues have been some of the most discussed and debated this session. Key among them is a Senate proposal to address water quality and discharge issues in Lake Okeechobee and its surrounding land and water bodies. This matter has been one of the biggest issues of the session. The current Senate proposal, which originally called for the state to purchase 60,000 acres of sugar farm land south of the Lake to build a reservoir, was recently amended as a compromise for opponents of the purchase. The amended language has been scaled down to reduce the amount of land needed. Opponents argue purchasing the land would result in a significant loss of jobs and other economic damage to the area south of the Lake. The House’s position on the proposal is still uncertain. Speaker Corcoran recently expressed more of an interest in the amended version, but has stated he still has concerns about utilizing bonds to fund the project.

In addition, lawmakers are currently working to determine the best way to distribute funds from the 2010 BP oil spill to eight counties throughout the Panhandle area. The two chambers have worked out a number of differences in their respective plans to address this issue. Members are also considering legislation filed by Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala (R-St. Petersburg) and Representative Kathleen Peters (R-St. Petersburg), which would implement significant changes to the way the state manages its beaches. Citing a number of problems with beach renourishment issues in coastal communities throughout the state, the measures set aside funding for beach management projects, as well as amend the way projects are scored by the state.

Legislators are also working this session to implement Amendment 4, passed during the primary election last August, which extends the state’s solar tax exemption to businesses as well as residences.

On the budget front, the Senate has proposed providing more funding for state environmental programs than the House, which offers no funding for Florida Forever, the state’s land-buying program. The Senate funds the program at more than $15 million. The Senate has also offered funds to address damage in communities impacted by Hurricanes Matthew and Hermine.


Gaming

The topic of potentially expanding gaming in Florida has been debated by lawmakers for the past several years. Measures for gambling expansion in the state, particularly in South Florida, have been strongly backed by Vegas-style casinos, but have ultimately failed to pass through the legislative process.

Early in session, the House and Senate introduced their respective gaming proposals for session, with stark differences between the two plans. With Speaker Corcoran opposed to gambling, the House proposal mostly addressed the state’s gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The bill introduced by the lower chamber early in session explicitly banned new slot licenses in the state and aimed to limit the ability of counties to pass their own measures relating to slots. On the Senate side, the measure included potential expansion of gaming to include new slots and blackjack in South Florida, in addition to establishing a new compact with the Tribe.

At this time, each chamber is moving forward with their very different plans. The House legislation essentially places a “freeze” on gaming in the state, while the Senate moves forward with various forms of expansion. In addition, there are issues within the House regarding a provision in the lower chamber’s plan tying revenues to Speaker Corcoran’s “Schools of Hope” legislation. This would provide money the state brings in from gaming to high-performing charter schools in Florida. This issue will likely be debated through the final days of session.


Guns

House and Senate members are considering a number of measures this session relating to gun laws in Florida. Several bills have been filed for consideration, including “campus carry,” a measure to allow people with concealed weapons permits to carry firearms on college and university campuses, as well as a proposal to allow weapons in certain areas of airports, government meetings, and courthouses, among other locations where bans are currently in place.

In addition, Senate members introduced a new “Stand Your Ground” proposal earlier in session, which would shift the burden of proof from defendants to prosecutors during pre-trial hearings. The measure would require prosecutors to prove why a defendant couldn’t claim they “stood their ground” in an applicable situation. The House is currently working on a similar proposal, with legislation passing through the full chamber last week.


Health Care

Health care has been a contentious topic among Florida lawmakers for several years now – mostly regarding the issue of the state’s Medicaid program. This session, members are looking to make cuts in funding to hospitals to address potential state revenue shortfalls in the coming years. Members are also considering a measure to change the structure of the state’s Medicaid managed care program, establishing eight regions to receive Medicaid contracts and services. However, at the center of the contention between the two chambers, is a Senate push to expand the state’s Medicaid program and convert the system into block grants. This issue will be discussed at length going forward and will prove interesting to watch, as the House remains in strong opposition to any sort of Medicaid expansion.

In addition, members are considering a long list of health care bills relating to other issues. These include measures addressing direct primary care agreements between doctors and patients, which the House and Senate currently differ on, as well as proposals to stop insurance companies from removing prescription medications from plans after contracts are signed. One of the biggest health care issues being considered this session is a proposal to repeal the state’s certificate of need program, which currently requires health providers in Florida to secure a certificate before building new or expanding current facilities. Members in both chambers are also considering measures to allow ambulatory surgery centers in Florida to hold patients for up to 24 hours. These issues will be discussed and debated at length as session progresses.

On the funding side, the two legislative budget proposals currently differ on funding for the Low Income Pool (LIP). Governor Scott recently stated that he continues to work with the federal government on LIP funding issues. While the Senate funds LIP at more than $600 million in its budget proposal, a move supported by Governor Scott, the House included no funding for LIP in its budget. In addition, the House proposes a cut of the hospital share of Medicaid by nearly $239 million. When combined with federal matching dollars hospitals receive, Florida hospitals would take a hit of $621.8 million in the coming budget. However, the Senate takes a less severe approach, recommending a reduction in hospitals’ share of Medicaid by $99.3 million, totaling $258.6 million in funding losses for hospitals.


Medical Marijuana

While the issue of medical marijuana was previously considered controversial, a proposal to allow for its use in Florida was overwhelmingly approved by voters last November, with the constitutional amendment securing more than 70% of the vote. The amendment passed during the general election legalizes medical marijuana as treatment for patients with various serious medical conditions. This session, lawmakers are working to determine how the new amendment should be implemented.

After several public workshops were held by the Florida Department of Health as part of the state rulemaking process, members in both chambers began to file proposals early in session to create a system for growth, prescription, and use of medical cannabis in Florida. The proposals address the number of allowed licenses for growing and dispensing organizations, product quality and oversight, requirements for doctors prescribing medical marijuana to patients, and conditions eligible for the treatment, among other matters. There are currently multiple proposals being considered in the House. On the Senate side, last week members in the Health Policy Committee considered a comprehensive measure to implement the medical marijuana amendment. Included in the bill are provisions to allow non-residents to get medical marijuana under certain circumstances, as well as allow patients to receive a 90-day supply or more in certain situations. In addition, the latest Senate plan will increase the number of allowed dispensaries in Florida.

This issue will likely continue to be addressed by both chambers throughout the remainder of the session.


Transportation and Infrastructure

Each session the House and Senate transportation committees put forth their respective legislative packages, which include priorities outlined by the Florida Department of Transportation and Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles for the year. These bills are typically heavily debated and amended throughout the session. In addition to the comprehensive packages, members are also working on legislation that would keep local governments from regulating ride-sharing companies – a measure that passed through the House last week.

On the funding side, both chambers released their proposals for funding the state’s transportation programs and projects, including FDOT’s five-year work program.


Workers’ Compensation

Florida has been faced with the potential for major changes to its workers’ compensation policies in recent years, with the tipping point coming last year as a result of two landmark Florida Supreme Court decisions. Prior to the rulings, it had been about 14 years since the state enacted any major changes to the workers’ compensation system. The major effect of the rulings is a 14.5% increase in rates. As a result, lawmakers have been very focused on this issue during session.

Throughout committee weeks and the early weeks of session, members held a number of meetings and workshops to discuss workers’ compensation and craft proposals to address issues surrounding the matter, including attorney fees and the rate-making process. On the Senate side, members are proposing attorney fees up to $250 an hour. This is one of the biggest points of contention of the bills, as the House is proposing only $150 an hour – a move supported by business groups throughout the state.


Going Forward

There is much to be decided and much at stake in the legislature in the coming weeks, with the state budget and a number of potentially controversial issues up for discussion. Members will continue in the coming days and weeks to address filed legislation and craft amendments to bills addressing various issues.

The 60-day session is officially set to adjourn on Friday, May 5th. However, with the current budget divide and outstanding substantive proposals, the possibility of a special session will certainly be a factor going forward.

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Legislative Session Update – March 2017

Florida lawmakers convened in Tallahassee yesterday to kick off the 2017 legislative session. However, despite yesterday’s official start, House and Senate members actually began their session work months ago, and have been particularly busy in recent weeks holding interim legislative policy and appropriations committee meetings. Throughout this time, key issues have been discussed and debated, and priorities have been outlined and finalized for the session, which will extend through the next two months.

All indications are that the 2017 session will be an interesting and possibly contentious one. Late last year a new class of leaders assumed their positions in each chamber, including Senate President Joe Negron (R-Palm City) and House Speaker Richard Corcoran (R-Lutz). In addition, 66 new members were sworn in after the general election last November.

Both chambers are set to address major issues this session, including proposals relating to gaming laws, the state’s public education system, and numerous health care issues, as well as overhauls of the state’s economic development programs and gun laws, implementation of the medical marijuana amendment, and a rewrite of the state’s workers’ compensation statute, among other issues. Speaker Corcoran has also outlined a new set of House rules for his tenure leading the chamber. The new policies include registration requirements for lobbyists, as well as rules that aim to make the budget process more transparent. Late last week leaders in both chambers announced a new rule for the joint budget process going forward. That rule was passed when members convened for session yesterday.

Governor Scott released his session priorities and budget recommendations in February. The Governor and the legislature are already at odds, with the House considering legislation to eliminate many of the state’s economic programs and incentives. This is a move the Governor heavily opposes, with economic development being his main priority throughout his tenure in office. The fight over this issue has the potential to upset the priorities of House and Senate lawmakers, and could have a major impact on the outcome of the session.

As is typical in Florida, politics will likely play a key role in this year’s session, with many of the state’s current executive and legislative leaders having future aspirations and plans to run for other or higher office. With so much at stake, numerous difficult issues to be addressed, and an ever-changing environment for lawmakers to work in, some predict this year could resemble the 2015 session, when members were unable to pass a budget on time as is constitutionally required, and had to reconvene for a special session to do so. However, many are hopeful that the newly passed joint budget rule will help keep session running smoothly and members working together to achieve their legislative objectives.

Provided below is a summary of some of the key issues and priorities for session. Members are currently hard at work discussing and debating these matters, and issues are evolving at a very fast pace.


Budget

Last month, Governor Scott released his proposed $83.5 billion budget – an increase of around $1.2 billion from last year. The Governor’s proposal includes a large amount of tax cuts, as well as a continued increase in funding for state education programs. However, the Governor’s recommendations – particularly the $618 million in proposed tax cuts – have been met with resistance from lawmakers who are concerned about potential future budget shortfalls.

Expressing a commitment to make the state budget process more transparent, this session Speaker Corcoran announced a new process for the House to hear and approve projects and programs funded by the state. This includes requiring House members to file individual budget bills for appropriations projects and for those bills to be considered and heard by committees. At this time, there have been well over 1,000 budget bills filed in the House for member projects.

The Senate expressed some resistance at the new, stringent rules – particularly the timeline outlined by the House. However, late last week Speaker Corcoran and President Negron announced a new, agreed-upon rule as a compromise between the two chambers. Under the rule, passed by lawmakers yesterday, any member projects funded in the final budget must be included in the initial budgets passed by the House or Senate. This will keep last-minute projects that are not vetted through the full process out of the budget bill passed by members at the end of session.


Economic Development and Incentives

Throughout his time as leader of the state, Governor Rick Scott has made boosting economic development in Florida his number one priority. Over the years, these efforts have included a number of tax cuts and proposals to increase funding for economic incentive programs in an effort to draw companies and jobs to Florida. However, these incentives have been under scrutiny in recent years, with many questioning the effectiveness of the programs and whether or not the state funding that backs them is money well-spent. In February, a report released by the state Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) highlighted possible inefficiencies in the programs, which have been allocated nearly $600 million in recent years.

Considering these concerns and Speaker Corcoran’s dedication to “cleaning up” state government, the House has proposed a measure to eliminate the majority of the state’s economic development programs. This proposal has resulted in a large amount of tension between the Governor’s office and the House, with the Governor and Speaker on opposing sides of the issue. This will also likely be a source of contention between the House and Senate, with the Senate arguing the importance of many of the programs to the state.

The current House economic development proposals, which were heard in committee this week, would completely eliminate Enterprise Florida and cut funding to Visit Florida by two-thirds. On the Senate side, legislation is being considered to overhaul Enterprise Florida rather than eliminate it. The Senate proposal aims to boost economic development for small businesses and enforce stricter rules on the functions of the state’s economic development agencies.

This will undoubtedly be one of the most interesting issues to watch this session, as the legislature’s actions could put many member priorities, particularly those in the House, on the line with Governor Scott.


Education

Last month, legislative appropriations committees and subcommittees met to discuss budget priorities – those of the Governor, leaders in both chambers, and member budget projects in the House. During that time, Speaker Corcoran announced his commitment to a continued increase in funding for the state’s public schools. However, Speaker Corcoran has also committed to increasing the funding without raising property taxes – another sticking point between the Governor and the lower chamber.

One of the biggest issues in Florida’s education policy in recent years has been the debate over standardized testing in the state’s K-12 schools. Members have considered and passed a number of proposals over the years and this session the efforts will continue, with both chambers introducing legislation to change the time period for testing and possibly replace some of the state’s standardized tests with alternate exams. Members will also look at the funding formula for the state’s K-12 districts, with legislation calling for a study of the “district cost differential” to examine funding for districts in different areas across the state. Also with regard to funding, members are again considering proposals that would require school districts to share construction funds, raised by local taxes, with charter schools.

In addition, state lawmakers are considering funding for programs to increase teacher recruitment and retention. This funding would be an expansion of the current “Best and Brightest” teacher bonus program.

On the higher education front, House and Senate lawmakers will consider a number of potential significant changes this session, including a renewed proposal to limit the mission and powers of Florida’s state college system. The legislation has long been a priority of Senate leadership and would create a new governing board over state colleges. The measure would also limit the ability of state colleges to offer four-year degrees. In addition, members will consider comprehensive higher education legislation to expand the current Bright Futures scholarship program and enforce additional, stricter graduation standards at the state’s public universities.


Energy, Environment and Land Issues

Environment and water issues will be some of the most discussed and debated this session. Key among them is a Senate proposal to address water quality and discharge issues in Lake Okeechobee and its surrounding land and water bodies. This matter is shaping up to be one of the biggest issues of the session and is currently very fluid, as it was discussed in a Senate Committee today.

In addition, lawmakers are currently working to determine the best way to distribute funds from the 2010 BP oil spill to eight counties throughout the Panhandle area. Members will also consider a new bill filed by Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala (R-St. Petersburg), which would implement significant changes to the way the state manages its beaches. Citing a number of problems with beach renourishment issues in coastal communities throughout the state, Chair Latvala proposes setting aside $50 million in funding for beach renourishment and inlet management projects.

Legislators will also work this session to implement Amendment 4, passed during the primary election last August, which extends the state’s solar tax exemption to businesses as well as residences.


Gaming

The topic of potentially expanding gaming in Florida has been debated by lawmakers for the past several years. Measures for gambling expansion in the state, particularly in South Florida, have been strongly backed by Vegas-style casinos, but have ultimately failed to pass through the legislative process.

The House and Senate have now introduced their respective gaming proposals for session – and there are stark differences between the two plans. With Speaker Corcoran opposed to gambling, the House proposal mostly addresses the state’s gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, establishing a new 20-year compact with the tribe. On the Senate side, the measure includes potential expansion of gaming to include new slots and blackjack in South Florida, in addition to establishing a new compact with the tribe. The House bill explicitly bans new slot licenses in the state, and aims to limit the ability of counties to pass their own measures relating to slots. With such vast differences in their proposals, gaming is almost certain to become an issue of strong contention between the two chambers as session moves forward.


Guns

House and Senate members will consider a number of measures this session relating to gun laws in Florida. Several bills have been filed for consideration in the House, including “campus carry,” a measure to allow people with concealed weapons permits to carry firearms on college and university campuses, as well as a proposal to allow weapons in certain areas of airports, government meetings, and courthouses, among other locations where bans are currently in place. The House will even consider a measure allowing concealed weapons permit-holders to sue businesses that ban firearms for damages in the event that an incident occurs. It is uncertain at this time whether any of the House measures will be supported in the Senate.

Meanwhile, Senate members are considering a new “Stand Your Ground” proposal, which would shift the burden of proof from defendants to prosecutors during pre-trial hearings. The measure would require prosecutors to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, why a defendant couldn’t claim they “stood their ground” in an applicable situation. Many issues relating to firearms are currently being addressed at the state court level as well, which could impact the final result of many of the session proposals being considered.


Health Care

Health care has been a contentious subject among Florida lawmakers for several years now – mostly regarding the issue of Medicaid expansion. At this time, the state is awaiting federal approval of a three-year extension of Florida’s current Medicaid managed care system. In addition, the state’s safety net hospitals are seeking $1 billion in supplemental Medicaid funding to cover the state’s Low-Income Pool, which provides funding for hospitals to care for low-income patients. Both chambers are now in agreement regarding converting Medicaid into block grants – an issue that will be discussed at length going forward.

In addition, members will consider a long list of health care bills relating to other issues. These include measures addressing direct primary care agreements between doctors and patients, as well as proposals to stop insurance companies from removing prescription medications from plans after contracts are signed. House members have also been working on legislation relating to health maintenance organizations (HMOs) in Florida.

One of the biggest health care issues being considered this session is a proposal to repeal the state’s certificate of need program, which currently requires health providers in Florida to secure a certificate before building new or expanding current facilities. In addition, there is currently a law requiring a cap on trauma centers in Florida, limiting the number of centers to 19. A measure filed in the Senate aims to eliminate this cap. Members are also considering a measure to allow ambulatory surgery centers in Florida to hold patients for up to 24 hours. These issues will be discussed and debated at length as session progresses.


Medical Marijuana

While the issue of medical marijuana was previously considered controversial in Florida, it was overwhelmingly approved by voters last November. The amendment passed during the general election legalizes medical marijuana as treatment for patients with various serious medical conditions. This session, lawmakers have to work to determine how the new law should be implemented.

After several public workshops were held by the Florida Department of Health as part of the state rulemaking process, members began to file proposals to create a system for growth, prescription, and use of medical cannabis in Florida. The proposals address a number of issues surrounding the matter, including the number of licenses for growing and dispensing organizations, product quality and oversight, requirements for doctors prescribing medical marijuana to patients, and conditions eligible for the treatment, among other matters. There are currently several proposals being considered in the Senate, with one comprehensive bill anticipated from the Senate’s Health Policy Committee. The House released its proposed plan yesterday.

Transportation and Infrastructure

Each session the House and Senate transportation committees put forth their respective legislative packages, which include priorities outlined by the Florida Department of Transportation and Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles for the year. These bills are typically heavily debated and amended throughout the session. In addition to the comprehensive packages, members are also working on legislation that would keep local governments from regulating ride-sharing companies. The measure has already passed through all House committees and will go before the full chamber for a vote.

Members will also be heavily focused on legislation regarding a controversial Tri-Rail contract awarded by the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, which was awarded to a sole bidder and is being reviewed and called into question.


Workers’ Compensation

Florida has been faced with the potential for major changes to its workers’ compensation policies in recent years, with the tipping point coming last year as a result of two landmark Florida Supreme Court decisions. Prior to the rulings, it had been about 14 years since the state enacted any major changes to the workers’ compensation system. The major effect of the rulings is a 14.5% increase in rates. As a result, lawmakers will be very focused on this issue during session.

Members have already held a number of meetings and workshops over recent weeks to discuss this issue and, late last week, a proposal was released in the Senate. The House proposal was discussed in committee yesterday. The measures address key components of the overall equation, including attorney fees and the rate-making process.

This issue will likely be heavily debated throughout the next 60 days and may not be resolved until the final hours of session.


Going Forward

There is much to be decided and much at stake in the legislature in the coming months, with critical state policy and funding issues up for discussion. Members kicked off the session yesterday with a series of ceremonial events, but the work actually began just after last year’s general election and has been nearly non-stop since that time. As the work of lawmakers continues at a rapid pace, issues are evolving and changing just as rapidly.

The session is scheduled to wrap up on Friday, May 5th.

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TFG Trendlines: August 2016


 

Three Questions With: Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens Executive Director Tony Vecchio

The Fiorentino Group: Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens‘ new Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Center is scheduled to open early next year.  How will this impact North Florida?

Tony Vecchio: The Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Center is set to open in January.  This will provide the only facility in North Florida where injured, orphaned, or cold-stressed manatees will be cared for.  This year has seen record numbers of manatees injured by boat strikes.  Currently these compromised animals have to be transported to Orlando or Tampa to receive the care they need.  This facility will allow us to help the manatees from our region right here in our community.

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Vecchio at Jacksonville Zoo

TFG: The zoo recently launched the Wildlife Immersion Program, a one of a kind program in the state of Florida.  How will the immersion program help serve our youth?

TV: This program works with at-risk teens to teach them valuable skills that will help them not only as they further their educations but throughout their lives as well. These teens will, after extensive training, be paid zoo employees charged with educating our visitors as well as the community at large.  They will learn communication skills, but, more importantly, they will develop the confidence to speak with adults and children, one-on-one or in formal, group presentations.

TFG: The zoo is always holding interesting events like Brew at the Zoo.  Are there any new events on the horizon you’re excited about?

TV: Our newest event is Fiesta del Jaguar on September 17, a celebration of Hispanic culture and heritage that will highlight conservation in Latin America.

 


Ed Burr Honored at Mineral City Celebration

The Rotary Club of Ponte Vedra Beach recently honored GreenPointe Holdings President and Chief Executive Officer Ed Burr at their annual “Mineral City Celebration”. Burr started the Monique Burr Foundation for Children in 1997 in honor of his late wife, a staunch children’s advocate.

“Annually this event celebrates an individual who lives up to and exceeds the Rotary mottoes: ‘Service Above Self’ and ‘One profits most who serves best.'” said Rotary Club of Ponte Vedra Beach President Will Montoya.  “Ed has been so focused on making better and safer communities with his successful business and he has helped secure his late wife’s passion to work with and protect children by establishing the Monique Burr Foundation for Children.  It did not take us long to identify Ed as a true unsung hero of our community.”

“Ed Burr’s leadership is not only creating great companies, it is creating a better state,” said TFG President Marty Fiorentino.  “He is a thought leader that gives tirelessly of his time and talents. Because of Ed, his vision and the gifts he has made, Florida students have a prevention program that teaches them how to protect against bullying, cyber bullying, and all types of child abuse.  Ed is a dear friend with a selfless heart who brings a passion for excellence to everything he does.”

 


TFG Employee Reaches Milestone Anniversary

TFG’s Tiffany McKinley celebrated her 10 year anniversary at the firm in December. Prior to joining TFG, Tiffany served in Governor Jeb Bush’s office as assistant to the executive director of External Affairs and as a White House intern.

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TFG’s Marty Fiorentino, Tiffany McKinley and Tammy LeMaster celebrate Tiffany’s anniversary.

“Tiffany is an amazing person,” said TFG President Marty Fiorentino.  “She is the nerve center of our firm. Her outstanding work has provided our clients with tremendous value added services. While she works largely behind the scenes, her contributions to our firm are immeasurable and a large part of our growth and success.”

“Working with TFG has been an amazing experience,” McKinley said.  “I’ve learned so much throughout my time with the firm, and I’m proud of our efforts on behalf of our clients.  The past 10 years have been incredibly rewarding, and I look forward to many more with the TFG family.”

 


Russ Thomas Presented with Child Advocacy Award

Availity LLC CEO Russ Thomas has been given The R. David and I. Lorraine Thomas Child Advocate of the Year Award.

The award “recognizes those who have made a significant impact toward the lives of underprivileged youth.” Mr. Thomas received the award earlier this year at a Children’s Home Society of Florida awards luncheon.

“As an adopted child, raised by wonderful parents, I’ve always felt called to work with disadvantaged children,” Thomas said. “My early experience in child welfare with great organizations like Joshua House and Hillsborough Kids, both in Tampa, opened my eyes to the huge opportunity we have to break the cycles of abuse and neglect with children.”

“Russ is a renaissance man,” said TFG President Marty Fiorentino.  “He has grown a great company and is making an impact in our community with his leadership in the United Way and on the board of the Jacksonville Aviation Authority.  As an adopted child myself, I’m particularly thankful for his work with underprivileged and adopted children.”

Thomas, a native Floridian, was adopted through Children’s Home Society of Florida in Tampa and joined their Board of Directors later in life.

 


Yes for Jacksonville

A critical issue in Jacksonville is the city’s unfunded pension liability. Mayor Curry has worked tirelessly to develop a plan to solve this issue for our community. TFG was proud to be the lead lobby firm for the city, which passed state legislation authorizing a local referendum on this issue. In addition, TFG President Marty Fiorentino is serving as a finance co-chair for the “Yes for Jacksonville” campaign, which is supporting the referendum. Curry recently released a video that details his bold plan to solve the pension crisis once and for all. We urge everyone in Duval County to vote “Yes” on County Referendum No. 1 on August 30.

 


ICYMI: Allison Carter Joins TFG

Recently we announced the addition of Allison Carter to the firm by way of a virtual “scratch off” image. Click the image below to try it for yourself!

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Allison Carter Joins The Fiorentino Group

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For Immediate Release

 

The Fiorentino Group Grows Its Presence in Tallahassee

With Addition of Allison Carter 

 

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (June 21, 2016) – The Fiorentino Group (TFG) today announced that Tallahassee veteran Allison Carter has joined the government relations and business development firm as Principal in its Tallahassee office.

Carter brings more than 15 years of legislative and state government experience to TFG. Most recently, she served as the Chief Process Advisor to the Florida Speaker of the House. Previously, Carter worked for Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater as Director of Program Management, where she was responsible for assessing and recommending programmatic improvements.

“Allison’s deep knowledge of the legislative process and her many contacts in the legislative and executive branches of state government will be great assets to the firm as we continue to provide high-level representation to our clients,” said TFG President and Founder Marty Fiorentino. “We are excited that Allison will be joining our firm and look forward to her insight and counsel.”

Carter’s keen understanding of the legislative process will assist the firm in developing and supporting appropriations and policy issues for TFG clients. Her experience will be instrumental in the continued success and growth of TFG throughout Florida, Fiorentino added.

“I’m thrilled to join the TFG team and eager to begin this new chapter of my professional life,” Carter said. “The Fiorentino Group has a great reputation for integrity and results.”

A fitness enthusiast, Allison enjoys running and helping others reach their fitness goals in her spare time. She is also very active in her local church, Fellowship Baptist Church of Tallahassee.

Allison is a graduate of Florida State University. She and her husband Todd have a daughter, Lauren. 

About The Fiorentino Group (TFG): TFG is a full-service government relations and business development firm with offices in Jacksonville and Tallahassee.  The firm provides a broad range of consulting services to Fortune 500 companies and other highly regarded organizations looking to influence public policy and create new business opportunities. Founded in 2002, we are distinguished by our unparalleled relationships with decision-makers, our work in complex issues and our more than 50 years of combined experience in state, local and federal government relations. For more information, please visit www.thefiorentinogroup.com.

Media Contact:
John Finotti, Tucker/Hall
904-493-5006 (office)
904-891-3867 (mobile)
jfinotti@tuckerhall.com

 

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Post-Session Legislative Update – March 2016

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Last Friday evening, lawmakers formally wrapped up the 2016 legislative session. After passing a state budget for the coming year and addressing a number of legislative proposals, House and Senate members ended the session with little fanfare – a stark difference from last year’s budget breakdown and early session end. Members committed to having a more productive session this year, and the two chambers were largely able to maintain a good working relationship throughout the 60-day session. However, while the session had a more peaceful, harmonious tone, there were some issues that were not passed or even addressed, as lawmakers had little appetite for controversy during an election year. In addition, members ended up on the opposing side of the Governor on a number of priorities outlined in his recommendations released prior to the start of session. Earlier this week, despite not yet officially being presented with the budget from the legislature, Governor Scott announced his plans to veto $256 million of the $82 billion budget plan passed by lawmakers. Last year he recorded a record number of vetoes totaling $461 million.

While members did start the year facing several more contentious issues, including gaming and medical marijuana, any session fireworks came from debate over issues relating to education funding and policies, with a controversial and much-debated education bill sent to the Governor on the final day of session. In addition, there were differences between the legislature and the Governor regarding funding for economic incentives. Prior to the start of session, Governor Scott outlined his 2016 legislative priorities, including a $1 billion tax cut package and $250 million for economic incentive programs. Neither of these goals were met by lawmakers, but members did pass a $400 million tax cut compromise on the final day of session, which allowed the Governor to fulfill his campaign pledge made two years ago to cut taxes by $1 billion.

House and Senate members also declined a confirmation hearing for the Governor’s Surgeon General nominee, and refused to approve a renewal gaming compact negotiated by the Governor and the Seminole Tribe of Florida. This was the first time in 21 years that a department head of the Governor’s had not been confirmed. Members started the session with the issue of potentially expanding gaming on the horizon, but that matter died without passage as well, as lawmakers remain opposed to relying on gaming for state revenues. Among other issues not supported by members this session were a number of bills relating to gun rights in Florida, as well as a proposal to support ride-sharing services and technologies like Uber and Lyft.

The $82 billion state budget passed by lawmakers received bipartisan support in both chambers, with a unanimous 40-0 vote in the Senate, and only one dissenting vote by a lone Republican House member. While the legislature’s work is done for the year, there is still work to be done at the executive level, with the Governor set to officially sign the budget (including his announced vetoes), as well as consider the bills sent to him by lawmakers as session came to a close.

Going forward, members and candidates will be busy preparing for the November elections, with campaigns and fundraising in full swing. In fact, politics were already at play during the last week of session regarding future leadership of the Florida House, with Representative Eric Eisnaugle (R-Orlando) conceding to Representative Chris Sprowls (R-Clearwater) in the contest for the House Speaker term beginning in 2021. Leadership positions in the Florida House and Senate can be highly contentious and are often decided years in advance.

In recent news, today Melissa Sellers, chief of staff to Governor Scott, announced she will be departing the Governor’s office at the end of the month. Sellers served in the position for just over two years and was previously Governor Scott’s campaign manager. She will be replaced by current legislative affairs director Kim McDougal. In addition, Governor Scott’s General Counsel, Tim Cerio, has announced he is leaving his position as well. His replacement has not yet been announced.


State Budget

With last year’s budget issues (which resulted in a special session to pass a state spending plan) top of mind, state lawmakers began working on this year’s budget early this session. However, despite their efforts, members were still unable to finalize a plan until early the last week of session. This was after two weekends of budget conference and numerous meetings and discussions. The sticking point between the two chambers surrounded education funding.

The budget passed by lawmakers was around $3 billion more than the spending plan offered by the Governor. Governor Scott’s $79.3 billion budget proposal, released late last year, included increased funding for education, $1 billion in tax cuts and $250 million for economic incentives. Early in session, the House introduced a large tax cut proposal totaling $1 billion, but took a different approach with regard to which taxes were eliminated or reduced, and how long the exemptions would be in place. In the Senate, only small, individual tax bills were introduced, with Senate Appropriations Chair Tom Lee (R-Brandon) expressing that the upper chamber was not open to cutting such a substantial amount. Ultimately, members reached a compromise of around $400 million in cuts after an economic report revealed lower-than-expected state revenue projections. Of that total, only about $129 million applies to the specific tax cuts recommended by the Governor.

The final agreed-upon plan included a one-percent increase in per-student spending as well as nearly $714 million in funds for education construction projects and $49 million for the “best and brightest” program, which provides bonuses for Florida’s teachers With regard to environmental projects, the legislature’s budget included funding for restoration of the Florida Everglades, as well as projects to protect Florida’s springs.

With the unexpected early release of the Governor’s veto list this week, a number of the member projects passed late in the budget conference process were subject to the Governor’s veto pen. The full veto list includes the $55 million members pulled from an economic development trust fund, as well as $15 million from health care programs, nearly $70 million from education projects, $9 million from the criminal justice budget, and around $20 million in water projects. At this time, the budget still has not been formally presented to the Governor, and the vetoes will not be official until the Governor receives and signs the budget into law.


 

Taxes, Economic Development and Incentives

While members did not meet the Governor’s call for large-scale tax cuts and incentives, lawmakers did pass a more measured, compromise tax cut bill, which includes several priorities outlined by the Governor. The measure passed by lawmakers in the final hours of session will permanently eliminate the sales tax on manufacturing equipment and machinery, as well as implement a three-day tax holiday in August for back-to-school shopping. The legislation also includes a $290 million reduction in property taxes.

Members also passed legislation allowing for a proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot which will aim to extend a renewable energy tax break to commercial property as well as residential property.

On the policy side, comprehensive economic development legislation died without final passage again this session. The proposals aimed to clarify definitions and streamline the incentive process, including provisions to lower the return-on-investment totals projects are required to meet to be eligible for grants. However, the two chambers differed on funding for incentive programs, with the House bill having no funding component. Once the budget conference process was complete, the legislation died without final hearing.


 

Gaming

The topic of potentially expanding gaming in Florida was on tap for lawmakers again this session and, again, no gaming proposals were approved or passed through the process. This was a success for those individuals and groups who oppose any expansion of gambling in the state. Several bills were filed in both the House and Senate, some including language regarding a deal reached between Governor Scott and the Seminole Tribe prior to the start of session. The compact would have allowed the Seminoles to add craps and roulette at each of the tribe’s seven Florida casinos and in return, the tribe would pay the state $3 billion over seven years. However, finalization of the compact required legislative approval and lawmakers rejected the plan and all other gaming legislation this session.

Other proposals included provisions that aimed to overhaul the state gaming industry and allow for additional slot machines in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach Counties. In a surprise move, the Seminoles worked together with the pari-mutuel industry near the end of session in an attempt to get legislation filed and heard, but no bill was ever written.

Going forward, the gaming issue lies with the courts, where two gambling lawsuits are set to be heard involving the Seminole Tribe and the state.


 

Education

While many anticipated this session to be relatively light with regard to education, policy and funding issues relating to the state’s K-12 schools ended up being the most highly debated topic this session.

On the last day of session, after much debate and jockeying between the House and Senate, an omnibus school choice bill, known as the education “train,” passed through both chambers. Among other items, the legislation changes the way charter schools receive and qualify for funding, allowing charter schools that serve low-income students or students with disabilities to receive more funding allocated for construction projects. The bill also amends state law to allow public school students to attend any school in the state with space available, and includes performance funding language for state colleges and universities.

In addition to the education package, a number of other bills were passed, including legislation creating a pilot program for certain Florida counties that will allow principals in low-performing schools to oversee school improvement policies. One of the biggest issues lawmakers debated was the “Best and Brightest” program, which provides bonuses to teachers. The language passed in an education budget bill that ties in $49 million in state funding for the program. In addition, Senator Don Gaetz attempted to keep the fight against the state’s testing system with legislation that would have allowed school districts to offer national standardized tests instead of state standardized tests, but the measure ultimately failed to make it through the legislative process.

Members also passed legislation, which has already been signed into law by Governor Scott, making significant changes to the panel that oversees educator discipline issues, as well as legislation to ease certification requirements for STEM teachers. In addition, members passed important legislation to allow schools more flexibility for obtaining epinephrine auto-injectors used for potential allergic reactions.

On the higher education front, lawmakers passed a bill requiring that colleges and universities notify students of any proposed tuition hikes. In addition, members passed a top priority of Senate President Andy Gardiner, which will allow colleges and universities to establish programs for students with disabilities.


 

Health Care

While health care was easily the most contentious issue of the 2015 session, this year was much different, with members keeping the door closed on Medicaid expansion and focusing instead on other issues.

Of the proposals considered, the most significant measure was regarding “balance billing,” which happens when insurers charge patients the difference between the cost of a procedure and what an insurance company pays for the procedure. The legislation aims to curb the balance billing process and was amended on the final day of session with language regarding people with Down syndrome. The bill will now be sent to the Governor for signature.

In addition, members passed legislation to carve out dental services from the list of required benefits under Medicaid plans, and passed a measure regarding telehealth, which creates an advisory council to study the issue and report back to the legislature.

There were also several issues not passed this session, including a bill that would have eliminated hospital certificates of need, a measure allowing ambulatory surgical centers to hold patients for up to 24 hours, and legislation relating to direct primary care, allowing patients to pay directly through their primary care providers rather than insurance companies.

In addition, the medical marijuana issue continues in Florida, with legislation passed expanding the Right To Try Act to allow terminally ill patients to use medical marijuana. The issue will be back on the ballot as a proposed constitutional amendment this November.


 

Energy and Environmental Policy

Last session was predicted to be Florida’s “Year of Water,” but the end-of-session breakdown between the House and Senate resulted in a number of comprehensive environment, land and water bills dying without passage. However, lawmakers kicked off the first week of session this year by passing major water policy legislation mirroring the bill that failed last year. The bill was signed into law very early in session and establishes a timeline for actions by the state to protect springs, revise permitting for Lake Okeechobee projects and establish regulatory standards for water use permitting and planning in Central Florida.

One issue that caused a considerable amount of discussion and debate this session was legislation relating to oil and gas resources in Florida. The House version of the bill, which passed through the chamber by a 73-45 vote, would have placed a two-year moratorium on oil and gas fracturing while a study of the issue was conducted. However, the measure was considered too controversial and did not pass through the Senate.

Members did make two key environmental issues – Everglades Restoration and Lake Okeechobee projects – priorities during the session. The last bill passed by lawmakers before adjourning the 2016 session will dedicate $200 million per year (from Amendment One funds) for these issues.


 

Criminal Justice and Public Safety

Lawmakers addressed a number of issues relating to law enforcement, criminal justice and public safety this session. Key among those issues were a number of controversial measures relating to gun rights and laws in Florida. The two main proposals focused on “open carry,” which would have allowed those with concealed weapons licenses to openly carry their guns in holsters, cases or bags, and “campus carry,” which would have allowed Floridians with concealed weapons permits to carry their weapons onto Florida’s college and university campuses. While the House spent a considerable amount of time working on these proposals this session, neither of the measures were supported by the Senate and both bills died without passage.

In addition, members passed a new law relating to death-penalty sentencing, in response to a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision ruling that Florida’s death penalty system is unconstitutional. The ruling stemmed from Florida courts giving power to judges, instead of juries, in sentencing defendants to death. The bill will require jurors to decide unanimously on what factors make someone eligible to be put to death, and requires a 10-2 vote for a jury to recommend the death penalty.

Finally, lawmakers settled a long-standing dispute with local governments regarding the sharing of juvenile detention costs, with costs being split evenly going forward between the state and counties. This was a big win for county governments.


 

Transportation and Infrastructure

After bouncing back and forth between the House and Senate with numerous amendments (most of which were withdrawn), two transportation packages were passed into law the final day of session. Transportation bills are typically heavily amended late in session with sometimes controversial language, and often die without passage as a result. However, this year two bills were passed without significant debate. The legislation passed includes a number of provisions relating to transportation, infrastructure, seaports and airports, among other issues. The bills include language to increase annual funding for the Florida Seaport Transportation and Economic Development Program (FSTED) by $10 million to $25 million, as well as create a Seaport Security Grant Program. The legislation also includes language relating to airport zoning, and extends the terms of airport leases from 30 years to 50 years.

During the budget conference process, members agreed on transportation-related funding without much contention, providing full funding for the 2016-17 FDOT Work Program.


 

Going Forward

Florida lawmakers will now begin campaigning and raising political funds in earnest, as the general election in November approaches. With as many as 15 of Florida’s 40 Senate districts open or up for reelection, it will make for an interesting election season in the sunshine state.

Now that session has wrapped up, we shift to the Governor’s office, where the Governor must now act on the legislation passed by House and Senate members during session. Once the Governor receives a bill, he has 15 days to either sign it, veto it, or let it become law without taking action.

Lawmakers will not return for another session until March 2017, although the 2018 session has officially been moved up, with another January start date planned for that year.

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Mid-Session Legislative Update – February 2016

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Florida lawmakers convened in Tallahassee last month to kick off the 2016 legislative session, with today marking the midpoint of the 60-day work period. Members have stayed very busy over the past four weeks, with the House and Senate coming together to pass three comprehensive bills the first week of session. The legislation passed addresses issues relating to water and environmental policy, as well as educational and job opportunities for people with developmental disabilities – with the latter being the highest legislative priority of Senate President Andy Gardiner.

In addition, members began working early to craft a 2016-2017 state budget. While the state spending plan is normally addressed in the final weeks of session, House and Senate appropriations subcommittees presented their individual budgets late last month. The budget process is now in full swing, with members likely planning to go into budget conference next week.

Last year, the House and Senate ended session at odds over funding for state health care programs. That issue resulted in contention between the Legislature and the Governor as well, with the Governor vetoing more than $460 million in projects from the Legislature’s passed budget. Up to this point, this session has been much less rancorous than last year. While there are still many key policy and appropriations issues to be addressed, with this being an election year, members committed to establishing a better working relationship this session. There will be a number of differences to settle with regard to the budget, but legislative leaders indicate the two chambers are closer than in recent years. Members will also continue to address a number of controversial policy proposals regarding gun rights in Florida, as well as gaming issues, among other matters.

In December, Governor Scott released his $79.3 billion recommended budget for the coming year, which included increased funding for education and tax incentives. Job creation and economic development remain the Governor’s highest priorities. These will be addressed by the Legislature, but likely will not match the Governor’s recommendations.

Once the budget is finalized and passed and the session wraps up, as many as 15 of the 40 members of the Senate will depart the upper chamber of the Legislature. This is the largest number of Senators to leave the Senate since eight-year term limits were enacted in 1992. This large scale turnover, coupled with changes to Senate districts due to redistricting, has created a measure of uncertainty in the Florida Senate.

In addition, Florida’s presidential primary will take place on March 15th, with two prominent Floridians, Governor Bush and Senator Rubio, on the ballot. It will be interesting to see what, if any impact, this has on the session.


 

State Budget

Last week the House and Senate approved and filed their respective full budget plans – which are currently around $1 billion apart. Both plans include record funding for education and focus on economic development – two items that meet the recommendations outlined in Governor Scott’s proposed budget. However, the funding methods for economic development programs and incentives differ greatly between the two chambers. While the Senate plan includes the Governor’s call for $250 million for incentives, the House’s $1 billion tax plan leaves the $250 million allocation out and focuses solely on cutting taxes.

One key budget issue this session will be House Speaker-designate Richard Corcoran’s proposal to significantly alter education funding in Florida by providing more state dollars for charter schools than the state’s PECO fund, which is used for building maintenance at the state’s public schools. Speaker-designate Corcoran has also indicated that he aims to reform the process for distributing capital outlay funding for schools. In addition, House Education Appropriations Chair Erik Fresen (R-Miami) has proposed spending caps for construction costs at schools, after it was discovered that funds were misspent in recent years. The House’s education budget includes $90 million in capital outlay funds for charter schools and $50 million for traditional public schools. The Senate proposal would fund $50 million for public schools but currently includes no funding for charter schools.

The House and Senate budgets for environmental programs are currently around $200 million apart. Both chambers have proposed funding for land acquisition, local parks, and Everglades cleanup, though the amounts differ between the two plans. In addition, both chambers provide around $50 million for water projects. With regard to transportation, the economic development and transportation proposals are currently around $800 million apart, although both chambers are spending roughly the same amounts on Florida’s transportation agencies and programs, including the FDOT Work Plan. For criminal justice and court funding, the two proposals differ on state court system spending, but are more similar on public safety funding.

The state health care budget, which caused so much controversy last session, appears to be much less contentious this session. The House plan is more in line with the Governor’s proposal with regard to state hospital funding, with the House reimbursing hospitals on a tiered system based on the amount of low-income and charity patients treated.


 

Taxes, Economic Development and Incentives

Economic development and incentive programs are key priorities for Governor Scott, Senate President Gardiner and Speaker Crisafulli. In his budget recommendations released late last year, Governor Scott proposed $1 billion in tax cuts and $250 million for economic incentive programs to draw companies to Florida. The Governor’s proposal includes a permanent elimination of the manufacturing equipment tax, as well as the creation and extension of several sales tax holidays. In addition, the Governor called for a permanent repeal of Florida’s corporate income tax as well as a cut of the state’s current six percent commercial real estate tax by one percent.

The Senate budget plan meets the Governor’s request for a $250 million pot of economic incentives funding, but would fund $100 million with dollars tied to the latest Gulf oil spill settlement money. The current House budget includes no money for incentives. However, House members are considering a $1 billion tax cut package. The House plan relies on $700 million in single-year tax breaks. The proposal makes no reductions to the state’s corporate income tax, but does cut taxes on commercial leases, as recommended by Governor Scott.

On the Senate side, members are considering legislation to make permanent the state’s sales tax exemption on certain manufacturing equipment and machinery, which is currently set to expire in 2017. The Senate has indicated that it currently does not plan to support a comprehensive tax cut package, but has expressed a possible willingness to address issues relating to property taxes resulting from increasing property revenues in the state.


 

Gaming

The topic of potentially expanding gaming in Florida has been debated by lawmakers for the past several years, but measures have ultimately failed to pass through the legislative process. Depending on how proposed changes are received going forward, gaming could again become one of the more contentious issues this session.

Gaming proposals have been filed in both the House and Senate, with the House bill heard in committee yesterday. The proposals include language regarding a deal recently reached between Governor Scott and the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The agreement would allow the Seminoles to add craps and roulette at each of the tribe’s seven Florida casinos. The Seminoles will in turn pay the state $3 billion over seven years.

The House gaming legislation would overhaul the state industry and allow for additional slot machines in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach Counties, among other provisions. The House proposal would also “decouple” dog racing and some horse racing, no longer requiring card rooms and certain other gaming facilities to hold live races. The Senate proposals were also scheduled to be heard in committee yesterday, but Senate Regulated Industries Chair Rob Bradley (R-Orange Park) decided to postpone the bills until next week so that members can properly consider amendments.

While House members may be more amendable to gaming legislation, the issue is more uncertain in the Senate, where there is little appetite for expansion of gaming in any form.


 

Education

Education policy and appropriations issues remain key priorities for state lawmakers. In recent years, legislators and the Governor have provided record funding amounts for Florida’s K-12 programs and facilities, but there has been significant debate surrounding standardized testing in the state’s K-12 schools. Lawmakers continue to address the issue this session, with Senate Education Appropriations Chair Don Gaetz (R-Destin) proposing a measure to give school districts the option of choosing national tests – the ACT or SAT – instead of the state’s standardized test.

There are also a number of other legislative proposals on the table this session, including a bill aiming to potentially overhaul how public schools are locally governed in Florida. House lawmakers are considering a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow for citywide school districts, instead of the current countywide governance system. In addition, the Senate is considering a proposal to return the state Education Commissioner to an elected rather than appointed position.

One key issue this session relating to education would address the state’s K-12 charter schools. Lawmakers are considering measures to limit the amount of control local school districts have over charter schools. In addition, the House Appropriations Committee approved a measure that would require school districts to use property tax revenues to boost charter school funding.

On the Senate side, Education Budget Chair Gaetz has discussed funding for the state’s “Best and Brightest” teacher bonus pay program. At this time, there is no funding for the program in the Senate budget. Chair Gaetz has expressed that the chamber wants to vet the program more properly before committing funding.

With regard to higher education, most discussions at this time focus on funding. The Senate budget proposal provides more than $7 billion for higher education, including $4.6 billion for public universities and $1.2 billion for state colleges. The House higher education budget provides $4.7 billion for state universities and $1.2 billion for state colleges.

On the funding side for K-12 schools, the Senate proposal for funding methods currently differs significantly from Governor Scott’s plan. The Governor’s education budget relies primarily on higher property taxes, while Chair Gaetz wants to fund education programs with state tax revenues instead.


 

Health Care

Last year’s regular session was one of the most contentious in recent memory, all surrounding the federal government’s decision to discontinue LIP funding and the Legislature’s response to that decision. The issue caused a complete breakdown in negotiations between the House and Senate, as well as tension between the Legislature and the Governor’s office.

This session, members will again address the LIP program, which provides funding for hospitals to care for low-income and uninsured patients. Federal officials announced $608 million in funding for the program in the 2016-17 budget – down from $1 billion in the current budget. Currently, the Senate health budget would fully reimburse hospitals that see the most charity care patients, with tiered reimbursements for others. The House proposal also uses a three-tier system for hospital reimbursement. Going forward, members have decided to steer clear of any proposals to expand health care coverage for uninsured patients in Florida.

On the policy end, members are considering key measures in both chambers that aim to make the costs of health care at Florida’s hospitals more transparent. The issue has been pushed by Governor Scott, who wants to address what he calls “price gouging” at hospitals in the state. The Governor also pushed for $5 million in funding for the development of an all claims payer database. The measures filed by Representative Chris Sprowls (R-Clearwater) in the House and Senator Rob Bradley (R-Orange Park) in the Senate, are currently moving through the legislative process. The current House plan would require contracting for the database which would allow patients to search for information about the prices and quality of care available. In addition, members are again considering legislation relating to telehealth this session, which would allow doctors to remotely provide care to patients.

Members are also considering legislation to eliminate the “certificate of need” process for new or expanded hospitals, as well as a measure to allow ambulatory surgery centers in Florida to hold patients for up to 24 hours.

In addition, the medical marijuana issue continues in Florida, as both chambers are considering measures to broaden the types of marijuana that are available to certain patients and add marijuana to the list of experimental drugs that terminal patients are allowed to use. Florida voters will again see this issue as a proposed constitutional amendment on the 2016 ballot.

In other health care issues, Senator Aaron Bean (R-Jacksonville) filed legislation for consideration this session that would allow public and private schools to buy epinephrine auto-injectors to treat emergency allergy reactions directly from manufacturers at free or reduced costs. This legislation is sponsored by Representative Dane Eagle (R-Cape Coral) in the House and is currently moving through the session process.


 

Energy and Environmental Policy

While last session was predicted to be Florida’s “Year of Water,” the fighting between the House and Senate and contentious end to the session resulted in the lack of passage of a number of comprehensive environment, land and water bills. However, this year lawmakers kicked off the first week of session by passing major water policy legislation mirroring the bill that failed last year. The bill has already been signed into law by Governor Scott. The new measure establishes a timetable for actions by the state to protect springs, revise permitting for Lake Okeechobee projects and establish regulatory standards for water use permitting and planning in Central Florida.

Lawmakers have also spent a considerable amount of time this session working on legislation relating to oil and gas resources in the state. The measure has already passed through the House and makes a number of changes to the state’s Oil and Gas Program. The stated goal of the legislation is to make the process of high pressure well-stimulation safer for the conservation of oil and gas resources. At this time, the Senate version of the bill still needs to be heard by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

In addition, members of the Senate Finance and Tax Committee are supporting legislation to make Florida’s renewable energy production tax credit permanent and increase the annual cap on total credits from $10 million to $15 million per year.


 

Criminal Justice and Public Safety

Lawmakers are addressing a number of issues relating to law enforcement, criminal justice and public safety this session. Key among these issues are controversial measures relating to gun rights and laws in the state. The two main proposals focus on “open carry” and “campus carry.” The House has spent a considerable amount of time working on these measures this session, with both passing the House floor after extensive discussion and debate. The “campus carry” bill would allow Floridians with concealed-weapons permits to carry their weapons onto Florida’s college and university campuses. The “open carry” measure will allow those with concealed-weapons licenses to openly carry their guns in holsters, cases or bags. At this time it appears unlikely that these measures will be supported by the Senate.

Lawmakers are also considering other legislation relating to law enforcement and public safety, including a measure regarding jury counts and decisions in death penalty cases. At this time, the House and Senate do not concur on how best to address this issue. In addition, legislation is moving in the Senate to change state law so that aggravated assault convictions will no longer carry a minimum 10-year sentence.


 

Transportation and Infrastructure

Each session the House and Senate transportation committees put forth their respective legislative packages, which include priorities outlined by the Florida Department of Transportation (“FDOT”) for the year. These bills are typically heavily debated and amended throughout session. Due to the weighty amendment process for these proposals, often late in session, if passed, the bills usually do not receive final approval until the last hours of session. At this time, both the House and Senate transportation bills would, among other provisions, increase the minimum amount of funding FDOT must provide the Florida Seaport Transportation and Economic Development Council (FSTED) annually to $25 million. One key component of both proposals is the creation of a new DOT Financing Corporation that could issue bonds for some projects on FDOT’s behalf. In addition, the legislation allows FDOT to assume some responsibilities currently handled by the federal government with regard to environmental policy.

Another key issue moving through the Legislature this session aims to address transportation network companies in Florida. Companies such as Uber and Lyft are pushing a measure to preempt local laws, which prevent transportation network companies from operating in many municipalities.


 

Going Forward

There is much to be decided and much at stake in the Legislature in the coming weeks, with the state budget and a number of key controversial issues up for discussion. Members will continue in the coming days and weeks to address filed legislation and craft amendments to bills addressing various issues.

With the budget process already underway, members should be set to adjourn session by the scheduled deadline – Friday, March 11th.

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Pre-Session Legislative Update – January 2016

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Florida lawmakers are set to convene in Tallahassee tomorrow to kick-off the 2016 legislative session two months earlier than usual. Members will test the different start date this year and may consider going to a January start date every other year going forward. Given this is an election year, the session should be less rancorous than last year as legislators try to avoid unnecessary controversy.

House and Senate members will gather after wrapping up a very contentious 2015, which included four legislative sessions – three of them ending with the two chambers at odds over issues ranging from health care, to the state budget, to legislative redistricting. However, many remain optimistic about the coming session, with members set to address a number of bills that failed last year. These proposals include a sweeping water policy bill, as well as a number of bills relating to Florida’s K-12 education policies. Also high on the agenda will be Senate President Andy Gardiner’s highest legislative priority – a bill aiming to provide more educational and job opportunities for people with developmental disabilities. Members will also begin session with a budget surplus for the coming year. In late 2015, Governor Scott released his $79.3 billion recommended budget, which includes increased funding for education and tax incentives.

As many as 15 of the 40 members of the Senate will depart after this session. This is the largest number of Senators to leave the Senate since eight-year term limits were enacted in 1992. This large scale turnover, coupled with changes to Senate districts due to redistricting, could create a measure of uncertainty in the Florida Senate.

For legislative leaders in the House and Senate, as well as Governor Scott and his officials on the executive side, establishing a strong working relationship will be key to achieving any sort of legislative success this year. After last year’s political fallout between the House and Senate, and the Senate and Governor’s office, over budget and health care spending issues, it will be interesting to see if all sides can build a consensus this session. House and Senate leaders have expressed their willingness to work together, and while members remain cautious about the Governor’s ambitious budget proposal, it is likely that the legislature will fulfill much of the Governor’s requests this year.

Finally, Florida’s presidential primary is March 15th with two prominent Floridians, Governor Bush and Senator Rubio, on the ballot. It will be interesting to see what, if any impact, this has on the session. It will, however, hopefully result in this year’s session ending on time on March 11th.


 

Budget, Taxes and Economic Incentives

While opinions differ on the amount, lawmakers are set to begin the 2016 session with a budget surplus. State economists have estimated a surplus of just over $635 million, while the Governor’s budget leaders are predicting that it could be more than $1 billion. Either way, the surplus will be a huge benefit for members looking to fund key state education, health care and economic development programs.

One issue high on the agenda for lawmakers will be a tax incentive package proposed by Governor Scott. The Governor continues his push for jobs and economic growth in Florida, with his plan for $1 billion in tax cuts and $250 million for economic incentive programs to draw companies to Florida. Included in the Governor’s proposed tax cuts are a permanent elimination on the manufacturing equipment tax, as well as the extension of a sales-tax exemption on college textbooks, among others. The Governor also wants to permanently repeal the corporate income tax paid by Florida’s retailers and manufacturers. While both House and Senate leaders have expressed plans to pass some form of a bolstered tax incentive program, members are hesitant to commit such a large amount of state dollars to the Governor’s ambitious plan, considering the uncertainty of future state revenues.

While both Speaker Crisafulli and Senate President Gardiner agree to cutting taxes, their budget priorities are also focused on other areas, with the House highlighting increased education funding and boosting pay for certain state agencies and employees, and the Senate focusing on funding for mental health programs as well as education programs. The result will likely be a scaled down version of the Governor’s proposal.


 

Redistricting

Last summer, Florida lawmakers convened in Tallahassee to hold a special session to address the re-drawing of eight of Florida’s 27 Congressional Districts. These districts – 5, 13, 14, 21, 22, 25, 26 and 27 – were invalidated in a Supreme Court decision. The ruling also essentially invalidated Florida’s Senate districts, meaning they must be re-drawn as well. However, after the special session meeting period, House and Senate members failed to agree on a new Congressional District map, sending the issue back to the courts. In late December, the state was ordered by a Leon County judge to use a map of Congressional Districts drawn by a coalition of voting rights groups for the next three elections.

In October, members gathered in Tallahassee once again, this time to address the Senate map. However, this issue also went back to the court level and the selected map was announced just at the end of last year.

The new redistricting changes will have strong implications for candidates and incumbents, particularly in the state Senate. The new Senate plan will shake up Florida’s political races, placing a number of key incumbent Senators, including several future Senate leaders, against each other, and forcing a number of current state Senators to make difficult decisions about running and/or potentially changing locations prior to the coming November 2016 elections.

The redistricting fight has been ongoing in Florida since 2012, resulting from anti-gerrymandering provisions, known as “Fair Districts” standards, approved by voters for addition to the state Constitution in 2010. Lawmakers will again attempt to draw new maps in 2022, two years after the next U.S. Census.


 

Gaming

Gaming will likely be one of the most contentious issues this session. The topic of potentially expanding gaming in Florida has been debated by lawmakers for the past several years. Measures to expand gaming in the state, particularly in South Florida, have been strongly backed by Vegas-style casinos, but have ultimately failed to pass through the legislative process. Last session, a sweeping gaming reform bill was considered, but the measure was stripped of its biggest provisions and ultimately died without passage.

Presently, a group of local governments, racetrack casinos and anti-gambling advocates are filing a joint lawsuit before the state Supreme Court. At the heart of the case is a dispute between a racetrack in Gadsden County and the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation over the use of slot machines.

The gaming issue will be ongoing throughout the session and will impact the agreement, or “compact,” between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which expired last summer. Late last year, Governor Scott announced a new deal which would require the tribe to pay the state $3.1 billion over seven years in exchange for allowing craps and roulette in current Seminole casino operations. However, any new compact terms must be approved by the Legislature, and lawmakers have already indicated that the new agreement will not be passed. The deal announced by the Governor would also permit slot machines in two South Florida counties and allow for pari-mutuels to “decouple” horse and dog racing from card room and slot-machine operations. With all of these issues lumped into the legislation, passing it becomes a very difficult task.


 

Education

One of the biggest issues in Florida’s education policy in recent years has been the debate over standardized testing in the state’s K-12 schools. The issues with test scores became so serious last year that a bill was passed to temporarily suspend the school grading system until the problems were investigated and resolved. Heading into the 2016 session, members of the Senate Education Committee are set to consider a number of proposals, including an amended version of the teacher bonus pay program, as well as a bill to address an issue regarding schools skirting class size limit requirements. In addition, Senator Don Gaetz (R-Destin) has filed legislation to offer national exams like the SAT as an alternative to Florida’s new standardized testing requirements.

Regarding the school grading system, the Florida Board of Education recently voted to back Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart on her proposals setting benchmarks for school grades and test scores. This was despite a number of business groups criticizing the measures for not allowing enough students to pass the state’s standardized tests.

A number of other bills regarding K-12 education policy have been filed for the 2016 session. These bills include measures to limit the growth of charter schools, and establish and implement alternative graduation requirements, among others. The charter school proposal, filed by Senator Bill Montford (D-Tallahassee), would require the Florida Department of Education to issue a “statement of need” for charter schools in certain districts.

Senate President Gardiner’s legislative priorities for the 2016 session – measures to boost educational and job opportunities for people with developmental disabilities – are likely to pass quickly once the session begins.

With regard to higher education, Governor Scott recently announced plans to meet with Florida’s state university presidents at the next Cabinet meeting. The discussion will surround “Ready, Set, Work,” the Governor’s graduation-to-work challenge, which seeks to increase job placement rates for graduates.


 

Health Care

Last year’s regular session was one of the most contentious in recent memory, all surrounding the federal government’s decision to discontinue LIP funding and the legislature’s attempt to address the Medicaid expansion issue in response to the federal decision. This issue caused a complete breakdown in negotiations between the Senate, which supported legislation offering alternatives to Medicaid expansion, and the House, which refused to hear the issue at all. The end result was a surprising early end to the session. The Senate proposal also resulted in a significant amount of tension between the Governor’s office and Senate leaders.

This session, members will again address the LIP program, which provides funding for hospitals to care for low-income and uninsured patients. Federal officials have announced $608 million in funding for the program in the 2016-17 budget – down from $1 billion in the current budget. The legislature will debate how much in general revenue they will commit to backfilling this shortfall.

On the policy end, members will consider key measures in both chambers that aim to make the costs of health care at Florida’s hospitals more transparent. The issue has been pushed by Governor Scott, who wants to address what he calls “price gouging” at hospitals in the state and file criminal charges against hospitals that overcharge patients. The Governor is also pushing for $5 million in funding for the development of an all claims payer database, and has crafted language for his own bill, but it has not yet been filed. The measures filed by Representative Chris Sprowls (R-Clearwater) in the House and Senator Rob Bradley (R-Orange Park) in the Senate, fall short of the Governor’s plan, which would implement caps on what hospitals can charge patients.

Members are also considering legislation to eliminate the “certificate of need” process for new or expanded hospitals, as well as a measure supported by House members and Governor Scott to allow ambulatory surgery centers in Florida to hold patients for up to 24 hours.

In addition, the medical marijuana issue continues in Florida, as members will consider legislation to broaden the types of marijuana that are available to certain patients. It is also likely that Florida voters will see this issue again on the 2016 ballot, as medical marijuana supporters re-attempt to pass a constitutional amendment.

In other health care issues, Senator Travis Hutson (R-Palm Coast) filed legislation for consideration this session that would allow public and private schools to buy epinephrine auto-injectors to treat emergency allergy reactions directly from manufacturers at free or reduced costs.


 

Water and Environmental Policy

While last session was predicted to be Florida’s “Year of Water,” the fighting between the House and Senate and contentious end to the session resulted in the lack of passage of a number of comprehensive environment, land and water bills. However, this year lawmakers have already agreed to pass a major water policy bill which is a top priority for House Speaker Steve Crisafulli (R-Merritt Island).

During the 2014 election, Florida voters overwhelmingly supported Amendment 1, which requires that over the next 20 years, a minimum of 33 percent of revenues derived from document stamps on real estate transactions be used to buy and manage Florida land for conservation efforts. Members worked throughout last session to determine how best to implement Amendment 1.

Water remains a critical issue this year, with over $670 million in project funding requests submitted to the legislature for consideration this session. Members are set to vote on comprehensive water policy bills in each chamber this week. The proposals direct the state to provide more planning for water projects, establish water-flow levels for the state’s natural springs, and set other guidelines and management plans for water policy in Florida going forward. These measures are considered a top priority this session.


 

Criminal Justice and Public Safety

Lawmakers will address a number of issues relating to law enforcement, criminal justice and public safety this session. These issues include measures moving in the House and Senate to limit the ability of state prosecutors to charge juvenile offenders as adults, known as “direct file.”

Another key issue that will be heavily discussed and debated this session involves the issue of gun rights. There are two measures filed – one that would allow Floridians with concealed weapons licenses to openly carry firearms, and another to allow license-holders to carry their handguns onto Florida’s university and college campuses. The campus-carry bill has strong opposition from many key figures, including the state’s higher education leaders. It is uncertain whether either of these measures will be successful this session. There is also one gun control measure likely to pass, which would ban backyard shooting ranges in urban and suburban areas of the state.

Lawmakers will also consider a measure regarding how juvenile-detention costs are shared between local governments and the state. This issue has been a contentious one between the state and local authorities for years, and many are hoping for a compromise with the proposed legislation. The measure, sponsored by Senator Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater), would divide the cost of detaining juvenile offenders in an even 50-50 split, making it more fair for counties, which currently pay 57 percent of the costs.


 

Transportation and Infrastructure

Each session the House and Senate transportation committees put forth their respective legislative packages, which include priorities outlined by the Florida Department of Transportation for the year. These bills have been filed for this year and are typically heavily debated and amended throughout session. Due to the weighty amendment process for these proposals, if passed, the transportation packages usually do not receive final approval until the last hours of session. In addition, there are several other bills filed for lawmakers to consider this session, including measures to create new funding methods for Florida’s infrastructure projects, as well as legislation requiring fees collected by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles be set aside for freight mobility and trade projects.

There will also be legislation to address transportation network companies in Florida. Companies such as Uber and Lyft are pushing a measure to preempt local laws, which prevent transportation network companies from operating in many municipalities.


 

Going Forward

There is much to be decided and much at stake in the legislature in the coming weeks, with critical state funding and policy issues up for discussion. Members will kick off tomorrow with a series of ceremonial events, but the session work will begin immediately, with a number of key priority bills up for final passage this week. In addition, throughout the next two months, members will debate controversial topics, like gaming and health care, while also working to craft and pass a balanced state budget for the coming year.

The session is scheduled to end Friday, March 11th.

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TFG Trendlines: December 2015

JTA CEO Nat Ford Named White House Champion of Change
One of Jacksonville’s own is being recognized by the White House for contributions to transportation. Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA) CEO Nat Ford has been named a White House Transportation Champion of Change. The distinction is awarded to individuals who “do extraordinary things to make a difference” in their communities.

Mr. Ford, along with ten other individuals from around the nation, was selected by U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and the White House. The theme of this year’s program is Beyond Traffic: Innovators in Transportation for the Future. Mr. Ford was awarded in part for implementing a new Route Optimization Initiative, which has increased ridership and decreased travel times.

 

White House Champions of Change, Beyond Traffic: Innovators in Transportation, program at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Tuesday, October 13, 2015.

Nat Ford and Anthony Foxx

“Public transportation is essential to the quality of life,” Ford said. “I am honored and grateful to be recognized as a White House Champion of Change for the implementation of ROI. This award belongs to the entire JTA team of professionals that I have the honor of working with. I want to thank the JTA Board of Directors, our staff and our customers.”

The Champions of Change program was created for the White House to spotlight individuals with extraordinary achievements to empower their communities.

“Nat Ford has been a change agent at JTA,” said TFG President Marty Fiorentino. “The remarkable turnaround there is a testament to his leadership and vision.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation recently released a video of Ford and the other champions at a ceremony at the White House. You can watch that video below.


 

Linzee Ott Joins TFG
TFG has hired Linzee Ott to serve as Government Relations Consultant. Linzee will be lobbying and supporting day-to-day operations in the firm’s Tallahassee office.

“Linzee is a great addition to our growing team,” said TFG President Marty Fiorentino. “Her legislative affairs network creates value for our firm and clients. We’re excited to kick-off the upcoming session with Linzee on board.”

Linzee Ott

Linzee Ott

Prior to joining TFG, Linzee served in the Legislative Affairs Office for Governor Rick Scott, where she acted as a liaison between the Governor, his executive agencies and Florida legislators, as well as monitored legislation and aided in advising the Governor’s staff on legislative matters.

Linzee has also held posts at the Florida Department of Health’s Office of Legislative Affairs and as an intern in the U.S. Department of State’s European Office of International Information Programs. She graduated magna cum laude from Florida State University with a B.A. in Political Science and International Affairs.


 

2016 Florida Legislative Session to Start Early
Florida’s upcoming legislative session will kick off on January 12, 2016. That’s right – the 60-day session will begin two months early in the coming year. Lawmakers are set to test the different session date this year and may go to a January start date every other year.

House and Senate members have convened periodically in Tallahassee for interim legislative committee meetings since September. This interim period allows lawmakers to begin researching, discussing and debating the critical policy and appropriations issues that will become top priorities for the session.

Members will address a number of key issues in the upcoming session, including the ongoing, controversial topic of state health care funding, gaming, and proposals to overhaul some of the state’s K-12 education programs and implement new and increased tax cuts statewide.

The 2016 session will follow a series of special legislative sessions held this year to pass a current state budget and redraw Florida’s Congressional and state Senate district boundaries. The redistricting fight has been ongoing in Florida since 2012, and is currently still being addressed at the court level.


 

TFG Staff Named JMI Leaders Fellowship Class 2
TFG’s Mark Pinto and Melissa Langley have been named members of the second class of the James Madison Institute (JMI) Leaders Fellowship.

JMI is a Florida-based research and educational organization. The JMI Leaders Fellowship is a yearlong program designed to encourage and promote the growth, development, knowledge and networks of under-40 professionals living and working in Florida. The program operates in six state regions including Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Tampa, Orlando, Palm Beach and Miami.

TFG Principal Mark Pinto was named to the executive committee and as Jacksonville’s regional leader.

“It’s an honor to be a JMI Fellow for the inaugural class,” Pinto said.

Melissa Langley, TFG’s Development and Political Coordinator, was also named a member of the fellowship.

“As a young professional, it’s an honor to be part of the James Madison Institute,” Langley said.

Congrats, Mark and Melissa!


 

Congrats to New Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry on a Great Win!
We wanted to congratulate Mayor Curry on a job well done this year since his election in May!

Mayor Curry and TFG Staff

Mayor Curry and TFG Staff

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