0

Legislative Session Kick-Off – January 2018

TFG Logo

Florida lawmakers convened in Tallahassee yesterday to kick off the 2018 legislative session. Leading up to yesterday’s official start, House and Senate members were busy in recent weeks and months holding interim legislative policy and appropriations committee meetings. Throughout this time, key issues were discussed and debated and priorities were outlined and finalized for the session, which will extend through the next 60 days.

Among the matters set for discussion and debate are higher education funding, K-12 education policy, texting while driving, and proposals to combat the opioid crisis, among other important issues. In addition, the state was left reeling after Hurricane Irma last September. As a result of the storm and the damage it caused in numerous regions of the state, lawmakers jumped into action, holding public hearings and legislative meetings to discuss the state’s response and preparedness to Irma, as well as future storms going forward.

Governor Rick Scott, Senate President Joe Negron (R-Palm City) and House Speaker Richard Corcoran (R-Lutz) have each outlined their priorities for session. Governor Scott issued his policy and funding recommendations – the largest state budget proposal ever put forward – to the legislature back in November. The Governor’s plan includes a four percent increase in per-student spending for K-12 schools, as well as a renewed ask for transportation and infrastructure funding and increased health care spending on issues like opioids and mental health services. On the Senate side, President Negron is pushing for increasing funding for the Bright Futures scholarship program to 100 percent of tuition and fees for Florida’s higher education students, as well as funding Florida Forever, the state’s land buying program. Speaker Corcoran remains focused on cutting government waste, boosting policy and funding for charter schools, banning sanctuary cities in Florida, and has expressed a commitment to pass legislation to combat texting while driving.

While lawmakers typically stray from issues considered too controversial during election years, differing priorities will most likely bring some contention between officials over the next 60 days, with House and Senate members already set to square off over education spending. In addition, more than half of Governor Scott’s proposed increase for education funding would come from local property taxes – an issue that will likely be a fight between the Governor and House lawmakers.

Tallahassee has not been immune to the national focus surrounding sexual harassment. In addition to the legislative work outlined above for session, Senate lawmakers have recently dealt with other substantial issues – primarily, the resignation of powerful Senate Budget Chief Jack Latvala amidst allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct. In the wake of Latvala’s departure, Northeast Florida Senator Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island) was appointed by Senate leaders to take over the powerful post. In addition, yesterday’s session began with two powerful senators issuing a joint statement apologizing to their families and constituents for having an affair that was the subject of an anonymous blog and accompanying video.


State Budget

While the state economy is strong overall with low unemployment, Florida’s budget is in a much different state due to tax cuts and annual increased spending on programs like Medicaid. And while original projections completed last year had the state with a budget surplus of about $52 million, much of that number was wiped out by Hurricane Irma. As a result, lawmakers started the session yesterday with a commitment to passing a trimmed down, efficient budget for the state in 2018-2019.

In November, Governor Scott released his $87.4 billion recommended budget for the coming year. The Governor’s plan includes $180 million in tax cuts – the smallest proposed during his tenure in office. In addition, the plan proposes a four percent increase in Florida’s K-12 funding, but relies on property tax revenues to fund half of the increase – which will likely be an issue for debate this session. While the Governor increases funding for the Bright Futures scholarship program, he calls for a small decrease in funds for state universities. The Governor’s proposed health care budget allocates funding for combating opioids and providing mental health services and, in a change from previous years, includes no cuts to the state’s public hospitals. The Governor has also requested environmental funding to repair the Lake Okeechobee dike, address beach renourishment and beach erosion issues, and fund septic tank conversion programs.

Education funding looks to be a major priority for legislative leaders and the Governor this session, but each side seems to have differing ideas of how funds should be allocated and what programs should be increased or not. While the Senate is committed to increasing higher education spending – specifically, the Bright Futures program, the House looks to be taking a different stance, focusing on funding for Public Education Capital Outlay (“PECO”) projects. House Budget Chairman Carlos Trujillo (R-Doral) expressed during a committee meeting last year that the state may want to hold on PECO funding for new projects in 2018-19 and instead focus on fulfilling commitments for unfinished projects.


Hurricane Response and Preparedness

Last fall Florida was hit with powerful Hurricane Irma, which led to the largest evacuation in state history and caused the unfortunate deaths of 14 Floridians due to a power outage at a nursing home. Following the storm, Speaker Corcoran appointed a team of House members from across the state to serve on a Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness to discuss and determine the best ways for the state to respond to Irma issues, as well as prepare for future storms going forward.

As the committee continued its work, members narrowed down specific issues to address, including power supply at assisted living facilities, availability and accessibility of fuel in times of emergency, and the strength and efficiency of the state’s electric grid, among other matters. Lawmakers are also factoring in the extensive damage in Puerto Rico due to Hurricane Maria, and how that might impact our state budget.

The Governor and Senate have already been at odds over the Governor’s use of funds in the days following Hurricane Irma, and it looks like the House and Senate may disagree over how hurricane funds should be allocated and spent. Governor Scott has also issued a request for the legislature to double the state’s emergency management budget. Environmental funding will be key, as it’s estimated that beach erosion costs could total around $350 million post-Irma. These matters will factor largely into budget discussions this session.


Education

Florida’s education system has always been a top priority for lawmakers and is again set to be the biggest issue discussed and debated during the 2018 legislative session. With regarding to the state’s K-12 budget, Governor Scott is pushing for a four percent increase in spending over last year. However, the Governor wants to use local property taxes to fund more than half of this increase – a point of contention between the Governor and House leaders.

On the House side, most of the efforts will focus on programs relating to charter schools in Florida. Speaker Corcoran has announced his support of legislation to offer scholarship funds, known as the “Hope Scholarship Program,” for students who face bullying or abuse in public schools to attend charter schools instead. This will be a priority for the House this session. There is also the ongoing issue of Speaker Corcoran’s omnibus “Schools of Hope” legislation, which passed last year and is currently being weighed by the courts. The legislation, known as an education “train,” was overwhelmingly supported in the House but ultimately received final passage on the last day of the 2017 session as part of a deal brokered between the House and Senate. The charter school-friendly measure is being challenged before the Florida Supreme Court by a coalition of school boards throughout the state, who argue the legislation undermines local control of public schools. Last month state education officials released their proposal to implement the legislation, which will be considered by the State Board of Education.

Lawmakers have already placed key focus on higher education policy and funding issues in Florida leading up to the start of session. Boosting funds for the Bright Futures scholarship program has long been a priority for Senate President Negron, and he has committed to passing the measure this year. Negron is also looking to restore the second-level Bright Futures scholarship, the Medallion Scholar Award, which would cover 75 percent of tuition. Senate lawmakers have also heard Negron’s full higher education agenda, which includes measures to improve four-year graduation rates. The legislation has already passed through its assigned committees and is set to be taken up for a full Senate vote later this week.

At this time, the House is taking a different stance on funding for higher education, with House budget leaders looking to tighten the reins on spending rather than increase funding this year. Several House members have expressed concern about the availability of funds for such substantial increases. However, Speaker Corcoran has expressed support for President Negron’s overall plans for both state universities and community colleges.

On the policy side, Senate lawmakers will consider legislation to create a new state board to govern the state’s community college system. The measure would also put requirements in place to ensure community colleges are serving “local education needs” before expanding degree programs.


Environment and Land Use

Environment and water issues have been some of the most discussed and debated in recent years, particularly last year, with the legislature’s passage of a measure to address issues around Lake Okeechobee. This year, spending for environmental land use programs will again be a key issue for lawmakers. On the Senate side, Senator Rob Bradley, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee as well as the Senate Committee on Environmental Preservation and Conservation, has filed legislation to provide annual funding of $100 million for Florida Forever, the state land conservation program. Members will also focus on spending for beach renourishment and beach erosion – particularly areas impacted by Hurricane Irma – with legislation filed in both chambers to ensure $50 million in annual state funds for beach programs. Senator Bradley is also looking to increase spending on rehabilitation projects for the St. Johns River, as well as springs protection programs in Florida.

In addition, continuing the issue passed last year, Governor Scott has requested $50 million from the legislature for funds to repair the dike around Lake Okeechobee, as well as funding for Everglades restoration.


Health Care

Health care has been a contentious topic among Florida lawmakers for several years now, with differences between the two chambers typically surrounding the state’s Medicaid program. Last year, however, the big health care debate centered around legislative proposals to cut funding for hospitals. The issue ultimately resulted in a three-day extension of session.

Health care costs remain the largest expense for the state, accounting for more than 30% of the state’s spending budget. Membership in the state’s Medicaid program is expected to grow annually for the next several years. However, with Florida utilizing a portion of the $1.5 billion handed down from the federal government to cover some health care costs for underinsured patients, overall Medicaid spending is expected to be less this year.

On the health care policy end, lawmakers are placing a key focus this year on working to combat the state’s opioid crisis – an issue plaguing states across the nation. Members are looking to increase funds for programs and make changes to the way health care professionals treat patients with opioid addiction issues. Governor Scott has made this a key priority this year, proposing $50 million in funding for programs and supporting legislation to implement new policies like a three-day limit on prescribed opioids. There are also other bills filed on this issue, with a Senate measure aiming to limit prescriptions to seven days and allow refills for only 30 days.

In addition, members will again consider direct primary care legislation which would enable patients to contract directly with doctors for basic health services, as well as other health care measures relating to telehealth, a proposal to eliminate the “certificate of need” process which regulates the building of hospitals in Florida, as well as a measure to allow ambulatory surgery centers to hold patients for up to 24 hours, among other measures.

Lawmakers will also focus this session on mental health services and funding, with Governor Scott proposing increased spending for mental health programs and the Senate considering legislation to better treat mental health patients in order to avoid events like mass shootings. In addition, a measure has been filed in the House to rework state laws regarding trauma centers and where they can be opened in the state.


Economic Development, Taxes and Incentives

While economic development and job creation have been the top priorities of Governor Scott during his time leading the state, those issues were under heavy scrutiny by the legislature last year. Leading the charge was House Speaker Corcoran, who labeled the programs and incentives “corporate welfare” and looked to cut funding to Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida in last year’s budget. However, in a late budget deal reached between the Governor and Speaker, an agreement was made to restore funds for Visit Florida and create the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund, which provided $85 million for the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (“DEO”) and Florida Department of Transportation (“FDOT”) for public infrastructure projects and workforce training grants. This was undoubtedly one of the most highly debated issues last session.

This year, Governor Scott has requested a $24 million increase for Visit Florida. This request has not been received well by some House lawmakers who again question the efficiency of and need for an organization like Visit Florida. Other economic development proposals for consideration this session include legislation in both chambers aiming to prohibit local governments from utilizing tax dollars for professional sports stadiums.

Considering budget projections released in recent months showing limited surplus dollars due to increased spending and decreased taxes, Governor Scott proposed just $180 million in tax cuts in his budget recommendations. This is the smallest number of cuts the Governor has proposed in his time in office. The Governor’s request includes two sales tax holidays – one for back to school supplies and the other for hurricane preparedness supplies.


Transportation and Infrastructure

Lawmakers will consider several bills relating to transportation innovation and infrastructure this session. Members in both chambers have been largely focused on the issue of autonomous vehicles, with legislation filed to authorize vehicles with this technology in Florida. Members will also consider legislation relating to prohibiting the operation of drones in certain locations, the use of electric and hybrid vehicles in Florida, as well as “Florida Smart City Challenge Grant Program” legislation, which would provide funding through FDOT for local transportation initiatives.

In his proposed budget, Governor Scott allowed for $740 million in new debt for transportation projects, which would focus mostly on right-of-way and bridge construction projects. In addition, 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 have not yet been filed for the session but are typically heavily debated and amended throughout the 60-day period.


Energy

Legislation was recently filed in both chambers to ban oil and gas hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” in Florida. One member also filed a bill to place the issue on the ballot as a constitutional amendment. This topic has been considered and debated by lawmakers in recent years. However, the issue recently became headline news when President Trump announced plans just after the New Year to open the majority of the Outer Continental Shelf off the U.S. Coast, including Florida, for offshore drilling. Drilling off of Florida’s coast is an issue that has long been opposed by Governor Scott. The Governor immediately announced his intention to meet with members of the administration to have Florida removed from the federal plans. Just yesterday, federal officials announced that Florida would be exempt from the new offshore drilling plans.

Other energy issues up for consideration this session center largely around Hurricane Irma and the massive power outage Floridians were left to deal with in the storm’s aftermath. The situation led to scrutiny of Florida’s utility and power policies and members are looking to address the issues before the state faces future storms. One measure filed would prevent utilities from charging Floridians during large service outages.


Texting While Driving

Speaker Richard Corcoran recently announced plans to push legislation that would increase punishment on texting while driving offenses. This issue has been discussed and debated in various forms among legislators for years, but Speaker Corcoran has expressed a commitment this year to cracking down on the issue. While previously passed legislation would technically ban texting while driving, it is currently only considered a secondary offense. This means law enforcement officers cannot pull a driver over for texting or suspicion of texting alone. The legislation supported by Speaker Corcoran this year would make texting while driving a primary offense, which means drivers could be stopped for that violation alone and could face strict penalties if cited.


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. Another factor in Florida’s gambling equation is the state’s gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

Preliminary estimates show that a gaming deal would potentially provide the state a revenue boost of around $300 million per year – an amount that could help fund the state’s big ticket items like education and Medicaid. While Senator Travis Hutson (R-Palm Coast) filed a more limited measure this session, gaming bills are always complex and uncertain and typically run through the final week of session. There is also legislation filed this session that would exempt fantasy sports from current gaming regulations, making fantasy sports legal in Florida. In addition, a powerful coalition of anti-gambling groups is working hard to push a petition to place an anti-gambling amendment on the 2018 ballot. The Seminole Tribe is supportive of this amendment and has reportedly contributed $1 million to the group.


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. While the session officially kicked off yesterday, work actually started last fall and has been steady since that time. As the work of lawmakers continues, issues are evolving and changing at a rapid pace.

The session is scheduled to wrap up on Friday, March 9th.

0

TFG Trendlines: December 2017

Video: Join Us for a Political Preview

In our newest Trendlines video, Marty, Joe, and Mark discuss Florida’s upcoming legislative session and invite all of you to a special luncheon event on Friday, January 5th.

To RSVP for the Political Preview luncheon, click here.


Jacksonville Transportation Authority’s (JTA) Autonomous Vehicle (AV) Test & Learn

On Wednesday, December 20th, the JTA demonstrated their AV Test & Learn track at a kickoff event.  According to JTA, the process is designed to evaluate different vehicles from the AV industry in order to implement them into their system.  The event, which took place at Intuition Ale Works and the adjacent AV Test & Learn track south of the Hart Bridge, included remarks from JTA CEO Nat Ford, a video presentation, and public tests of an AV vehicle.

The JTA’s AV Test & Learn Track

“This may be the most exciting time in transportation history,” said TFG President Marty Fiorentino.  “AVs will transform time and travel as we know it.  They will become entertainment and work spaces.  From my experience this year working with Secretary Chao at the United States Department of Transportation I saw first-hand how transformational AVs will be for our society.  Nat Ford and the JTA are about to take Jacksonville on this transportation journey.”

JTA will test vehicles continuously for approximately two years.


Joe Mobley Celebrates 10 Years at TFG

TFG Principal Joe Mobley is celebrating his 10 year anniversary at the firm. To celebrate, the firm is sending him to Pasadena to see his beloved Dawgs in the College Football Playoffs.

“Joe has been a tremendous asset to our firm,” said TFG President Marty Fiorentino.  “He has been a great part of our success.  He has a great reputation and is one of the most creative individuals I know.  I look forward to working side-by-side with Joe over the next 10 years.”

“It continues to be a privilege to work with my extended family at TFG,” said Mobley.  “I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the next 10 years.”

TFG’s Joe Mobley


Click here to join the newsletter!
Copyright © 2017. All Rights Reserved.

0

TFG Trendlines: July 2017

In our latest video segment we talk transportation and infrastructure and speak with Jacksonville Transportation Authority Chief Executive Officer Nat Ford.


3 Questions With: Jacksonville Port Authority Interim Chief Executive Officer Eric Green

The Fiorentino Group: From a local economy perspective, why is deepening of the St. Johns needed? And what’s the next step in the deepening process?

Eric Green: The Jacksonville Harbor Deepening project is the single biggest opportunity to grow our port, support area businesses, increase manufacturing, warehousing, distribution, transportation and more, ensuring quality employment for future generations. A deeper harbor will make JAXPORT more competitive in the global economy, bringing jobs and increased opportunity to Jacksonville and Northeast Florida.

JAXPORT’s Eric Green

It will allow us to move much more cargo on and off of the largest international container ships already calling JAXPORT. We want every bit of cargo that should be moving through Jacksonville to come here—rather than some out-of-state port—as each piece of cargo represents jobs and dollars for this region.

Construction is set to begin by early 2018. Along with substantial state support already in place, the $484 million, 11-mile project recently received $21.5 million in federal funds. Plus, the deepening has been designated as a new start project making it eligible for up to half of the total cost in federal dollars.

TFG: JAXPORT recently sponsored a student marine program and JAXPORT.com has been upgraded to better connect job seekers here in Northeast Florida with maritime positions. In your own words, why is community involvement so important to JAXPORT?

EG: We understand the role we play in the region’s economic vitality. As a corporate citizen, we work to take that even further by offering support to community programs and events in specific areas such as economic development, environmental awareness, small business and employment in port, logistics and transportation careers.

A skilled workforce is one of our strengths in attracting top companies to do business through Jacksonville. By investing in future, dynamic transportation and logistics leaders, we are ensuring the region’s continued economic vitality and competitiveness. One way we do this is by taking a special interest in the next generation, mentoring through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program and awarding a transportation and logistics college scholarship each year.

TFG: It’s been just over a year since the expansion of the Panama Canal – how has that impacted JAXPORT and Northeast Florida?

EG: The Asian container trade continues to be the fastest growing segment of JAXPORT’s container cargo business. We grow by double digits every year. That’s why the deepening project is so important. Larger ships are already calling JAXPORT through the new Panama locks, but the Suez Canal has also contributed to this steady growth.

It’s important to note that the world’s largest 14 ocean carriers carrying cargo between the U.S. East Coast and Asia currently call on JAXPORT. Combined, these ocean carriers handle 77 percent of all global container trade, and nearly every bit of containerized cargo coming to the East Coast. These ships use both the Panama and Suez canals and both these waterways will be very important as we continue to increase our Asian trade.

We are seeing more and more transportation, logistics, freight forwarding and retail distribution businesses opening and expanding in the Jacksonville area to take advantage of the opportunities this growing Asian trade represents. These companies hire employees, pay taxes and add to the overall attractiveness and vibrancy of our community.


2018 Session Prep Work Set To Begin This Fall

The 2018 legislative session is set to kick off in January – two months earlier than the usual time – which is a practice lawmakers are now implementing in election years. Senate President Joe Negron (R-Palm City) recently released the Senate’s 2017 interim legislative committee meeting schedule, with meetings set to begin the week of September 12th. The schedule for the House has not yet been released, but will likely be identical or very similar to the Senate.

While the recent legislative session and following special session provided some of the most interesting political debate in recent state history, the 2018 session is likely to be even more eventful and, possibly, more tumultuous. There will likely be a large number of important issues up for discussion next year, including further implementation and clarification of state medical marijuana policies, a potential rewrite of the state’s workers’ compensation statute, funding for Florida’s public colleges and universities, and gaming, among other key matters. In addition, with significant current activity regarding health care laws at the federal level, health care funding in Florida will likely be up for debate again in the coming year and typically leads to contention between the two chambers.

Next year will also prove to be an interesting year in Florida government where politics are concerned, with numerous key state and federal races open or up for reelection next November.


ICYMI: TFG’s New Website

If you missed the launch of our new website earlier this year, make sure to head to thefiorentinogroup.com to check out our new and improved site!

 

Click here to join the newsletter!
Copyright © 2017. All Rights Reserved.

0

Legislative Update: Special Session

Late Friday afternoon Florida lawmakers wrapped up a three-day special session after hours of tense discussion, debate and brokering between leaders to resolve issues relating to the state budget, education, health care and medical marijuana, among other matters. The special session, called at the beginning of the month, followed a tumultuous regular session where contentious budget discussions and differing priorities among legislative and executive leaders resulted in a stalemate on a number of issues and led to the passage of controversial funding measures in the final hours of session.

On May 31st, legislators formally submitted their $82.4 billion spending plan to the Governor’s office. Many predicted the Governor could potentially veto the entire plan, as the Governor and House Speaker Richard Corcoran remained at odds over the Speaker’s cuts to funding for the Governor’s economic development priorities. Many also predicted that the Governor was likely to veto the Speaker’s omnibus education budget conforming bill in retaliation for the cuts to economic development agencies Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida. The education bill, also known as “Schools of Hope,” eases restrictions and provides funding for more charter schools to open throughout the state.

Although the regular session wrapped up on May 8th with tensions between the Speaker and Governor stronger than ever, politics and deal-making between legislative and executive officials led to a surprising agreement regarding special session earlier this month. However, this unofficial agreement ultimately resulted in an all-out battle between the House and Senate during the three-day special session, with Senate President Joe Negron expressing great frustration about deals made between the Governor’s office and the House, and eventually leading his chamber to even override some of the post-session actions taken by the Governor. Provided below is an overview of the special session and the issues considered.


Budget Negotiations

On June 2nd, just two days after Governor Scott received the budget, he called a press conference together with Speaker Corcoran and President Negron. At that time, a three-day special session was officially called for the following week. While many predicted the session would primarily address the medical marijuana issue, it was instead announced at that time that the focus would be a budget deal reached between the Governor and legislative leaders. Under the agreement, funding for Visit Florida would be restored and an additional $85 million would be allocated for other economic development programs. In return, the Governor would sign the comprehensive education funding bill for the state’s public schools – Speaker Corcoran’s “Schools of Hope” legislation. In addition, lawmakers agreed increase K-12 education funding by $215 million. That same day, Governor Scott signed the state budget into law. However, in order to fund both the education and economic development increases and programs, the Governor freed up around $410 million in the budget by vetoing nearly 400 projects. This move dealt a heavy blow to numerous organizations and institutions around the state, as well as the lawmakers who worked hard throughout the session to ensure funding for these now-vetoed projects.

While the initial call for the special session was a fairly simple one – Florida Education Finance Program funding and economic development funding – in the days following the announcement, the agenda was expanded to include medical marijuana legislation, a review of higher education funding, and consideration of funding for Lake Okeechobee dike repairs. In addition, Senate members considered a measure to restore some of the funding cut from state hospitals during the regular session.

The overall budget discussions were tense throughout the three-day special session. As negotiations broke down, President Negron expressed just before the final day that the original agreement reached between the Governor’s office and lawmakers was, in fact, just between the Governor and Speaker and had received no input from the Senate. At that time, it looked as though the special session would end without resolution on any of the items presented. However, members ultimately compromised and jointly supported an $11.7 billion House spending bill which provides funding for economic development and infrastructure, boosts K-12 education funding by $215 million, restores $60 million in funding for higher education projects recently vetoed by the Governor, and provides state dollars in effort to speed up federal repairs of the Lake Okeechobee dike.


Economic Development

While economic development and job creation have been the top priorities of Governor Scott during his time leading the state, those issues were under heavy scrutiny by the legislature this year. Leading the charge was House Speaker Corcoran, who labeled the programs and incentives “corporate welfare,” and ultimately, together with the Senate, cut funding to Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida in the 2017-18 budget passed by lawmakers and sent to the Governor. This issue was one of the most heavily discussed and debated during the regular session and caused a political rift between Corcoran and Scott, leading many to speculate that the entire budget could be at stake as a result.

However, in his late budget deal reached with the Governor, Speaker Corcoran agreed to restore funds for Visit Florida at the current amount – $76 million. In addition, House members proposed legislation to create the “Florida Job Growth Grant Fund,” which would provide $85 million in funds for the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (“DEO”) and Florida Department of Transportation (“FDOT”) for public infrastructure projects and workforce training grants.

On the Senate side, members took issue with some of the provisions in the House measure, including public-private match requirements for Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida, as well as the details of the additional $85 million in infrastructure funding, which the Senate criticized for a lack of oversight. Senate members were also particularly concerned with the fact that the proposal basically resulted from negotiations between the Governor and the House, with little input from the upper chamber. Ultimately, amendments offered to the economic development legislation on the Senate side were voted down. However, the House did agree to language supported by Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala relating to local tourist development funds. The final result of the special session includes the full current funding for Visit Florida and the $85 million in new funding for infrastructure projects.


K-12 Education Funding

One of the key issues addressed by lawmakers this year was the “Schools of Hope” bill – a priority of Speaker Corcoran. The measure, which allocates funding and puts provisions in place to make it easier for charter schools to open in areas where traditional public schools are failing or struggling, was ultimately included in language passed in the final hours of the regular session. This legislation, originally thought to be doomed once it reached the Governor’s desk, was eventually included in the budget deal reached between the Governor’s office and Speaker Corcoran. While the Governor did not verbally commit to sign the bill, which was submitted last night, it is understood that he will support the measure in exchange for his economic development priorities.

In addition to the unofficial deal reached, Governor Scott expressed during the pre-special session press conference that he intended to veto the legislature’s funding for public schools and instead provide an additional $215 million in spending for a $100 per-student increase. This issue became one of the most debated of the special session, with President Negron expressing early last week that he planned to fund most of the additional $215 million using local dollars instead of the vetoed funds freed up by Governor Scott. While President Negron announced plans to pull the funds from taxes on new construction rather than property taxes, this led to a showdown between the House and Senate, with the House labeling an increase of the “required local effort” a tax increase, and expressing refusal to concur with the plan.

In addition, a third possible funding scenario was offered – this time from Senator David Simmons, Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on PreK-12 Education. Senator Simmons proposed removing funds allocated for the “Schools of Hope” legislation and utilizing it for general operating in the state’s traditional public schools. This only served to increase the tension between the two chambers.

In a surprise move, the Senate voted to override the Governor’s veto of the public school funding in the budget passed by members during the regular session, citing the move as an “insurance policy” for public schools in case special session ended with no resolution on the matter. However, the House remained adamantly opposed to this and any other veto overrides.

Ultimately, both chambers agreed to include the funding in one comprehensive piece of budget legislation offered by the House. This includes the additional $215 million in funds for Florida’s K-12 schools. The final language passed makes no change to the current required local effort for school funding.


Higher Education Funding

While not included in the original “call” (or agenda) of special session, higher education funding became a contentious and debated issue over the three-day work period, with politics heavily at play. Despite Senator Negron’s presence at the press conference with the Governor and Speaker calling special session, it became clear over time that the unofficial deal regarding K-12 and economic development funding included little input from the Senate. Adding to the already-contentious situation was the decision by the Governor to fund the education and economic development priorities using veto dollars, primarily from projects supported by Senate members. In fact, of the nearly $410 million in vetoed projects, approximately $300 million was stripped from projects sponsored by Senators.

As a result, a frustrated President Negron included higher education funding issues in his memo released last Tuesday and, as the special session kicked off, Senate members convened to override around $75 million of the funds for higher education projects vetoed by Governor Scott. The overrides were again completely opposed by the House and led to an even wider rift between the two chambers.

Ultimately, the issue of higher education funding became one of many items of compromise between the House and Senate in the final hours of special session. The House eventually agreed to restore $60 million of the higher education projects vetoed by the Governor, and included the funds in its comprehensive $11.7 billion funding bill that was ultimately passed.


Medical Marijuana

During the regular session, lawmakers worked to determine the best method for implementing Amendment 2, which was supported by more than 70% of Florida voters last November. While members worked for several months and into the final hours of session on the issue, the two chambers were ultimately unable to come to terms on final language and no legislation was passed to implement the amendment. The key sticking point between the House and Senate surrounded the number of dispensaries each medical marijuana company could operate and how that number should be capped or limited in the state. After session ended with no bill, the Department of Health began working to implement the amendment at the executive level, but ultimately lawmakers picked the issue back up during the special session in order to get policy passed as dictated by Florida voters and establish a framework for growers, prescribers and patients.

The final result was another product of compromise between the two chambers, with members agreeing on a measure to license 10 additional medical marijuana companies by October, with companies limited to 25 retail dispensaries. In addition, language was included to sunset the provision setting the caps in April 2020, as well as language creating a sales tax exemption on medical marijuana. Members also agreed to ban the smoking of medical marijuana, instead allowing patients to use other forms of the medicine.


Funding For Hospitals

Just days before the start of the special session, the Senate announced a proposal to restore a portion of the significant funding cuts to Florida hospitals, which passed as part of the budget approved by lawmakers during the regular session. This issue was heavily argued at that time and caused delays in the budget conference process as leaders in the two chambers worked to negotiate their differences, leading to a three-day extension of the regular session. The cuts made by lawmakers were steep and drastic, totaling just over $520 million. These cuts will fall largely on facilities that serve low-income patients through the Medicaid program – primarily, the state’s safety net hospitals.

The day before the start of the special session, President Negron released a memo announcing that the Senate planned to restore $100 million of the cuts to state hospitals. This proposal was strongly opposed by the House and Governor’s office and ultimately died due to concerns about long term impacts to recurring annual funds for hospitals, as well as a lack of support from the House.


Lake Okeechobee / Herbert Hoover Dike

Key among the policy measures passed by lawmakers during the regular session was a Senate proposal to address water quality and discharge issues in Lake Okeechobee and its surrounding water bodies. The bill passed by lawmakers and approved by Governor Scott provides for 30,000 acres of land already owned by the state to be used for reservoirs for Lake Okeechobee discharges.

In addition, during the regular session, Governor Scott called for lawmakers to provide $200 million for Lake Okeechobee dike repairs, which would allow the Lake to hold more water and reduce the need for discharges. At the time, members in both chambers rejected the call, arguing that the dike is the responsibility of the federal government. However, in a surprise move late in the special session last week, members agreed to provide $50 million in funding for repairs to the dike, which members are hoping will help speed up the federal repair project.


Summary

While lawmakers have officially concluded their work for 2017, there are still several big items up for final approval by the Governor’s office. These include the 278-page “Schools of Hope” measure (HB 7069) as well as a higher education bill (SB 374) passed by lawmakers during the regular session. SB 374 includes provisions scaling back the Florida Community College System – many of which have been longtime priorities of President Negron. With the Governor seeing success on his top issues last week, he will likely sign both bills into law without delay.

Looking back on the three-day special session, it’s difficult to outline winners versus losers, as the Governor and presiding officers all achieved key funding and policy priorities. However, both the regular session and special session this year highlighted vast differences between the two chambers with regard to ideology and methods, and battle lines were drawn over a number of critical issues. With both President Negron and Speaker Corcoran up for another year in their leadership posts, the 2018 session will likely be another one for the books. The fact that it will be an election year will only add to the dynamic.

Once all actions are taken with regard to the 2017 budget and legislation, lawmakers will have a limited amount of time off before reconvening in Tallahassee to prepare for the 2018 session. Since session will take place two months earlier next year, a practice lawmakers are now implementing in election years, members are likely to be back in Tallahassee for committee meetings around September, and will convene to kick off the 2018 session in January.

0

Post-Session Legislative Update – May 2017


Last week, Florida lawmakers officially wrapped up the 2017 legislative session. The budget-focused session lasted 63 days, with a three-day extension called as the result of a complex negotiation process to craft a state spending plan for the coming year. Even now there is much uncertainty surrounding session outcomes, with the budget – the only item lawmakers are constitutionally required to address each year – currently being finalized for delivery to Governor Scott for his review and action. The session started with a tumultuous relationship between the House Speaker and the Governor as the result of a House proposal to eliminate state economic development programs. The bad blood lasted throughout the more than two-month process, and many speculate the Governor could wield heavy use of his veto pen this year, or even veto the entire budget, as a result.

The 2017 session could largely be viewed as a mixed bag. While Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran both saw successful passage of their main priorities, numerous other key issues that were considered critical for lawmakers to address died without agreement between the two chambers. These included reforming state workers’ compensation laws to help businesses stave off the potential impacts of a looming significant rate increase, and implementing the medical marijuana amendment overwhelmingly supported by Florida voters last fall. In addition, while members were able to agree on an $83 billion state budget, the spending plan passed implements more than $500 million in cuts to Florida hospitals – many of which are already strapped due to a largely uninsured or underinsured patient population. In fact, the budget seems to be the biggest sore spot for session critics. This year, legislation known as budget conforming bills seemed to play a bigger role than ever. Several conforming bills, which do not fall under the same rules and requirements as general budget items and cannot be amended on the House or Senate floor, included a great deal of substantive policy issues in the final hours of session.

Delays in the budget process throughout session were caused largely by ideological differences and a complicated relationship between the leaders in the Senate and the House. Ultimately, members were able to come to terms, with both sides making a number of concessions to finalize and pass a plan. Speaker Corcoran saw numerous successes. A vocal critic of the state’s economic development programs, which he refers to as “corporate welfare,” the Speaker ensured funding for the programs was significantly scaled back. He is also a staunch supporter of charter schools and oversaw the passage of landmark education legislation to make it easier for charter schools to open statewide. In addition, the Speaker is a strong opponent of any expansion of gambling in Florida, and new gaming measures failed to pass this session. On the Senate side, President Negron also achieved success on his biggest priorities – passage of legislation to address issues with water storage around Lake Okeechobee, which has already been signed into law by Governor Scott, as well as significant reductions in funding for the state college system (formerly community colleges), and increased funding for the state university system.

On the executive side, Governor Scott’s biggest priorities throughout his tenure in office have been jobs and economic development. With significant reductions in funding for Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, the Governor has expressed a strong amount of concern and dissatisfaction with the results of session. It will be interesting to see what actions he takes on the budget in the coming weeks. He has the ability to strike individual line items, or even veto the entire budget, and has indicated more than once that he will consider doing so in response to what he sees as a lack of transparency in the process this year.

Additionally, there has been near constant talk since session ended of a special session to address medical marijuana and other possible issues. While there is no indication of when a special session would take place, the possibility is supported by Speaker Corcoran. For a special session to happen, it would either need to be called by the Governor or called jointly by the House Speaker and Senate President.


Budget

In Florida, the legislature is constitutionally required to pass a balanced state budget each year. Many predicted the 2017 appropriations process would be one of the most contentious in recent years. Considering the session was extended due to lengthy, complex budget negotiations, the reality may have even exceeded those expectations. There were a number of big issues at stake this year, including the fate of the state’s economic development agencies, boosts in funding for Florida’s K-12 schools, and hundreds of millions in spending for district or “member” projects.

The plans passed by each chamber in April were around $4 billion apart. While the House proposed a limited, trimmed-down budget, Senate members allocated more in spending for various programs. With the two sides unable to agree on total funding allocations for various sections of the budget until late in session, the conference process was delayed by more than a week, and negotiations stalled several times throughout the final week of session – with members “bumping” numerous items to budget chairs and presiding officers to address. These included a controversial proposal to make $600 million in cuts to Florida’s already strapped hospitals.

Ultimately, conforming bills – legislation conforming state law to each section of the budget – were a key component of the contentious budget process. The 15 conforming bills became more complex and critical than ever this session, with many loaded up with numerous policy changes – including a controversial education funding measure passed the final day of session. While the actual budget bill comes with a required 72-hour “cooling off” period, conforming bills do not have the same requirement. The controversial provisions tacked onto those bills in the final days of session became the ultimate showdown between lawmakers, with both sides eventually making concessions – the Senate more so than the House – so that the $83 billion spending plan could be voted on and prepared for the Governor, and the 2017 session could finally wrap up.


Economic Development and Incentives

Throughout his time as leader of the state, Governor Scott has made economic development and jobs his top priorities. 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. Leading the charge has been Speaker Corcoran, who released a proposal early in session to eliminate the majority of the state’s economic development programs. This proposal caused tension between the Governor’s office and the House, which lasted throughout the more than 60 days of session.

The two agencies under scrutiny this session were Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida. While many predicted this could be one of the biggest showdowns of the session between the two chambers, the funding was agreed upon fairly early in the process compared to other issues, with members allocating $16 million for Enterprise Florida and $25 million for Visit Florida. However, late in the process Speaker Corcoran added language in the conforming bill that tied the funding for Visit Florida to new rules regarding travel and employee salaries. The language was eventually accepted by the Senate. These efforts are not likely to sit well with Governor Scott, who called for $100 million in funding for Visit Florida and more than $100 million for Enterprise Florida. While reports early in session indicated Speaker Corcoran was building enough support to override any potential veto by Governor Scott, the bill is actually five votes short of being veto-proof.

In addition to economic development, members also passed legislation relating to property taxes – another priority of Speaker Corcoran. Under the measure, a constitutional amendment will be placed on the 2018 ballot to expand the state’s homestead exemption program by an additional $25,000.


Education

During the recent session, as in most years, members addressed a number of issues relating to state K-12 and higher education policies and funding. There were numerous education bills considered by members over the past two months – most tied to large amounts of funding and left without final decision until the last moments of session. Many of the K-12 changes were ultimately outlined in nearly 300 pages of budget conforming language released late in the process – an issue criticized by the media and public for being handled behind closed doors rather than in the “sunshine,” as is required by state law. As session ended, education funding and policy became a matter of ultimate compromise between the two chambers, with the Senate accepting Speaker Corcoran’s K-12 priorities, and the House accepting key, longtime priorities of President Negron relating to state colleges and universities. While many Senate members expressed reluctance to support the late-filed language proposed by the House, it was understood that agreement was necessary for session to wrap up.

Key among the K-12 education measures considered this year was the “schools of hope” bill – a priority of Speaker Corcoran. The measure, which allocates funding and puts provisions in place to make it easier for charter schools to open in areas where traditional public schools are failing or struggling, was ultimately included in the language passed. The comprehensive bill, which Speaker Corcoran referred to as “the greatest education K-12 policy passed in the history of the state,” also includes expansion of the “Best and Brightest” bonus program, as well as a measure amending the way local and state funding is shared between charter schools and traditional public schools, and a continuation of efforts to amend and scale back the state’s standardized testing policies. In addition, members addressed issues relating to Title I funding and providing more federal dollars the state receives to charter schools.

On the higher education front, much of the discussion this session surrounded a push by President Negron to make steep funding cuts to state colleges in Florida. While many criticize the move to cut colleges while at the same time boosting funding for state universities, this has been a longtime priority for Negron. The language was included in a comprehensive higher education package passed in the final hours of session to implement the newly-created “College Competitiveness Act.” The measure includes a number of provisions to increase funding for state universities and amend tuition requirements, while implementing new rules regarding the way the state’s 28 state or community colleges are governed. The ultimate result is nearly $8 billion in overall funds for higher education, with roughly $30 million in permanent cuts to state colleges.

Also on the higher education front, members pushed legislation through this session to expand online course services offered by colleges and universities. However, Governor Scott weighed in during the last week of session, expressing concern about the state joining an alliance with schools in other states to offer online programs. Governor Scott wanted to ensure that Florida could withdraw from any alliance or compact. Lawmakers amended the language to reflect the Governor’s request.


Energy, Environment and Land Issues

Environment and water issues were some of the most discussed and debated this session. Key among them was a Senate proposal to address water quality and discharge issues in Lake Okeechobee and its surrounding land and water bodies. What ultimately passed after much debate was a comprehensive plan to provide for Everglades water storage and allocate $800 million in bonding authority for the project. While the original proposal called for the state to acquire 60,000 acres of farmland south of the Lake to build a reservoir, it was highly controversial. The final plan involves utilizing around 30,000 acres of land already owned by the state for reservoirs. The issue will continue next year, with funds for additional state land acquisition already set aside in next year’s budget. The legislation passed by lawmakers this session has already been signed into law by Governor Scott.

Funding for state environment and natural resources programs became one of the most contentious areas of budget negotiations this year. As conference began, Senate leaders had several large priorities for environmental spending, but the House countered on most of them. What resulted is a plan allocating funding for beach recovery and renourishment, hurricane recovery efforts, and more than $100 million for Everglades restoration. The plan also includes $50 million for springs restoration and more than $13 million for St. Johns River and Keystone Heights lake region projects, but no funding for the Florida Forever program. In addition, lawmakers allocated funding to continue implementation of 2014’s Amendment 1, approved by voters for water and land conservation programs. However, this year’s funding has been criticized by environmental groups, as it applies to salaries and benefits and other operational costs instead of actual land conservation.

Lawmakers also focused on various energy and environmental policy issues this session. Key among them was legislation to implement a solar amendment approved by voters during the primary election last August. The measure passed by members extends the state’s solar tax exemption to businesses as well as residences. It will now be sent to Governor Scott for approval. Members also filed proposals again this year to establish a statewide ban on fracking, but the legislation never progressed through the committee process.

In addition, members worked to determine the best way to distribute funds from the 2010 BP oil spill to eight counties throughout the Panhandle area. After much discussion and debate, the House and Senate finally came to agreement during the final week of session on a plan distributing millions in funds for damage related to the spill. Under the measure, the eight Panhandle counties hit hardest by the oil spill will receive $300 million, with guidelines on how the money can be spent. The measure still needs to receive final approval from Governor Scott.


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, with stark differences between the two plans. With Speaker Corcoran opposed to gambling, the House proposal was largely limited to addressing the state’s gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The bill introduced by the lower chamber 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.

As the end of session approached, members in both chambers worked to negotiate the stark differences between the plans. While the House proposed to essentially freeze gaming activity in the state, many compromises were made throughout the negotiation process that would have resulted in new gaming policies very different from the House’s original goal. However, negotiations collapsed during the last week of session due to a proposal pushed by President Negron to allow eight counties where local referendums were passed to add slot machines to existing dog and horse tracks. This essentially killed any efforts to pass gaming legislation this session.


Health Care

Health care has been a contentious topic among Florida lawmakers for several years now, with differences between the two chambers typically surrounding the state’s Medicaid program. However, this year’s big health care debate came down to the final days of session and centered around proposed funding cuts for the state’s hospitals. The issue eventually caused additional delays in an already-contentious budget process, and ultimately resulted in a three-day extension of session. While members expressed early in the process that cuts to hospitals would be likely to address potential state revenue shortfalls in the coming years, the proposed cuts were steep and drastic.

As the budget conference process began in late April, lawmakers received word that Florida would receive $1.5 billion in federal funding for the state’s Low Income Pool (LIP), which reimburses hospitals for serving uninsured and underinsured patients. However, the funding was not included in the budget passed by members, with lawmakers instead planning to determine how best to distribute the funds at a later date, as federal officials have yet to outline terms and conditions for the funding. The total cuts for hospitals ended up just over $520 million – a steep amount that will fall largely on facilities that serve low-income patients through the Medicaid program – primarily, the state’s safety net hospitals.

Members did also address issues relating to the state’s Medicaid program this session. While a measure to restructure the program from 11 regions statewide to eight larger regions was considered in the final hours of session, the legislation became weighted down with amendments adding language from other bills, and ultimately died without passage.

There were also a number of other health care proposals considered, but nearly all failed to pass successfully through the legislative process. These measures dealt with issues ranging from nursing education, nursing homes, expanding practice abilities of advanced nurses, and implementing policies relating to telehealth. In addition, a controversial measure to eliminate the current “certificate of need” process, which regulates the building of hospitals in Florida, ultimately failed. Also among the numerous health proposals not passed by lawmakers were a measure to allow ambulatory surgery centers in Florida to hold patients for up to 24 hours, as well as legislation that would have allowed patients to contract directly with doctors for basic health services – known as the direct primary care bills.


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 a 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, House and Senate members worked to determine how the new amendment should be implemented. Unfortunately, lawmakers were unable to come to agreement on final language and, even though members worked until the final hours of session to resolve the issue, no legislation was passed to implement the medical marijuana amendment.

Members in both chambers filed proposals early in session to create a system for the growth, prescription, and use of medical cannabis in Florida. The proposals addressed 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 treatment, among other matters. The ultimate sticking point between the two chambers was the total number of dispensaries each licensee would be allowed to have. At this point, it will be up to executive branch officials at the Florida Department of Health to put a framework for the new law in place. However, there have been numerous calls for a special session to readdress the issue – including from Speaker Corcoran. This issue is one that will continue to be addressed over the next several months.


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. This year was generally quiet with regard to transportation issues, but lawmakers did pass a transportation package late in session.

Members also considered and passed ride-sharing legislation – a big win for Florida’s free market, and companies like Uber. The legislation was heavily supported this year and has already been signed into law by Governor Scott. In addition, members passed legislation creating regulations for unmanned devices, including drones.

On the funding side, members increased transportation funding by more than $130 million from last year.


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 the 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 last year’s rulings was a 14.5% increase in rates. As a result, lawmakers were very focused on this issue throughout the session, aiming to rework and reform the state’s workers’ compensation laws. Unfortunately, members were unable to come to agreement and the legislation was not passed.

With plans to address issues regarding attorney fees and the rate-making process, legislation offered by both chambers included provisions regarding the length of time benefits would be available, as well as caps on attorney fees. However, the attorney fees were the ultimate sticking point that could not be negotiated between the chambers, as the House wanted to cap fees at $150 an hour, and the Senate wanted a cap of $250 an hour.

With the looming increase and the potential for an additional 20% increase next year, business groups around the state have expressed great disappointment about the lack of any successful legislation to address the matter.


Going Forward

While the 2017 session has officially adjourned, it is far from over. With several issues left unresolved, including a state budget largely opposed by the Governor, as well as numerous bills that have yet to be sent to the Governor’s desk, most actions taken by lawmakers during session still face an uncertain future. When it comes to the budget, the Governor has the power to veto individual line items, or could even veto the entire spending plan. Conforming bills have to be either passed or vetoed altogether. With such heavy policy issues wrapped into conforming bills this year, it will be very interesting to see what actions the Governor takes on all budget products passed by lawmakers. For regular substantive legislation, the Governor has 15 days to take action once he receives a bill. He can either sign the bill into law, veto it, or let it become law after the 15 days without his action.

In addition to the issues outlined above, there is still the potential for a special session to address medical marijuana and other possible unresolved issues.

Once all actions are taken with regard to the 2017 budget and legislation, lawmakers will have a limited amount of time off before reconvening in Tallahassee to prepare for the 2018 session. Since session will take place two months earlier next year, a practice lawmakers are now implementing in election years, members are likely to be back in Tallahassee for committee meetings around September, and will convene to kick off the 2018 session in January.

0

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.

0

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.

0

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.

zoo

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.

IMG_4036

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!

New Employee scratch off email 3-1 (5)

Click here to join the newsletter!
Copyright © 2016. All Rights Reserved.