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2019 Mid-Session Legislative Update

Davis Bean The Fiorentino Group Bio Page Placeholder 2State lawmakers convened in Tallahassee last month to kick off the 2018 Florida legislative session. Members have worked in recent weeks to address numerous issues relating to various state policy and appropriations matters. This week marked the midpoint of the 60-day process, with four weeks remaining for members to discuss, debate and vote on a number of policy proposals, as well as finalize and pass a state budget for the coming year.

At this point, many issues remain in flux, with a number of topics still being discussed and debated. However, the main focus for members at the moment is the state budget. This week, both the House and Senate officially passed their budget proposals through their respective chambers, with the Senate bill (SB 2500) becoming the main budget vehicle from here. The next step will be budget conference, which will begin once presiding officers agree on final allocations for each area of the budget. It is not yet clear exactly when, but members could be in conference as early as next week or next weekend.

Overall, the first half of session has gone relatively smoothly, with the Governor, House and Senate working together on a number of key issues and avoiding early squabbles on budget and policy matters. So far Governor DeSantis’ popularity seems to be as strong with the legislature as it is with the public. Last month he achieved one of his goals for session when he signed legislation allowing for smoking medical marijuana into law. He had given legislators a deadline of March 15 to repeal the smoking ban, which was passed by lawmakers during the 2017 session after voters approved a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana in Florida. In the Senate, President Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton) continues pushing his priority for increased education spending, as well as his plan to expand transportation projects in rural areas of the state. House Speaker Jose Oliva (R-Hialeah) is also seeing a number of his priorities move through the legislative process, with numerous health care reform measures being considered over the past several weeks. With the session at the mid-way point, it will be interesting to see how closely they continue to work together on issues that may become contentious.

The peaceful atmosphere did see a slight disruption this week when members were working to pass their chamber budgets. The issue surrounded budget conforming bills, which amend state statutes to comply with measures outlined in appropriations bills. The Senate, under the leadership of President Galvano, is committed this session to keeping policy and budget matters completely separate. As a result, the Senate requested that the House hold up the final vote on several conforming bills this week and, in order to keep budget talks and negotiations moving forward, the House agreed. Going forward, with conference looming and numerous legislative proposals still up for debate, particularly measures relating to health care and education policy and funding, the second half of session could be much more eventful than the first.

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


State Budget

In February, Governor DeSantis released his proposed spending plan to lawmakers, totaling a record $91.3 billion and providing increased funding for environmental programs, K-12 schools, and storm recovery efforts for parts of the state still dealing with significant damage from Hurricane Matthew. With the Governor’s proposal totaling $2.6 billion more than the current state budget, it was anticipated that lawmakers would pass more scaled down plans, and both the House and Senate have proposed less spending than the Governor’s recommendations. At this time, the two chambers are around $400 million apart in their spending plans.

The Senate’s $90.3 billion budget passed through the upper chamber unanimously this week. President Galvano referred to this year as one of the more difficult budget years he’s experienced. One big issue lawmakers are facing is the hurricane recovery effort in the Panhandle, which is costing the state around $2 billion. On the House side, members passed a more trimmed down budget, with House lawmakers approving an $89.9 billion plan by a vote of 105-8 this week. The Senate dedicates more funding to nearly every area of the budget than the House. At this time, key differences between the two chambers surround K-12 spending, with the Senate proposing a record $1 billion increase in per-student spending, and the House proposing around $500 million less. The chambers also differ on economic development spending, with the Senate providing full funding for Visit Florida, the state’s economic development organization, and the House only providing enough funding for the organization to operate through its expiration date later this year. Another key difference, which could end up being a big fight between the two chambers, is health care funding – an issue that’s been a major source of contention between the two chambers for several years. This session the issue surrounds $319 million in extra Medicaid funding. The House wants to distribute the funds to hospitals that provide the most charity care to uninsured patients, as has been done in recent years. The Senate is looking to distribute the money evenly to all hospitals. This will be a key issue as lawmakers head into budget conference in the coming weeks. Last year, the Senate conceded to the House on the distribution of extra Medicaid funds in return for a funding boost for nursing homes. However, this year, the nursing home dollars are not included in the Senate budget plan.

There are still a number of issues bringing uncertainty to the budget process. President Galvano’s transportation priority may become a bargaining chip during budget conference. The House’s push to repeal the state’s Certificate of Need laws, which regulate the expansion of health care facilities in Florida, may also play a key role in budget negotiations. And finally, the state remains in talks with the Seminole Tribe of Florida regarding the state’s gambling compact with the tribe. If negotiations fail, it could mean a loss of around $350 million in revenues to the state. Once members pass the budget – the only action they are constitutionally required to complete during session – it will be sent to the Governor for his select veto actions and overall approval of the spending plan.


Health Care

Health care has been one of the biggest issues debated this session and is a major priority of House Speaker Oliva, who aims to implement significant changes to remedy what he calls the “health care industrial complex” in Florida. Speaker Oliva’s plans for reform include repealing and overhauling the state’s Certificate of Need process, which the House approved last month, as well as expanding telehealth and the services of nurse practitioners, and bringing more transparency to health care pricing for patients. In addition, legislators are considering several measures to expand the services offered by ambulatory surgical centers.

At this time, Certificate of Need remains a big issue for lawmakers this session. With the House pushing for a full repeal of the program, Senate leaders expressed opposition to the measure early in session. However, late last month, Senate health leaders indicated their opposition may be wavering, with Senate Health Budget Chair Aaron Bean (R-Fernandina Beach) announcing plans to reconsider. Presently, the Senate is moving the measure through the committee process, with the House language included in the bill. Going forward, the two chambers will have to negotiate potentially exempting hospices and nursing homes from the repeal, and applying the changes only to Florida hospitals.

Another major health care issue being addressed by lawmakers this session would allow for the importation of prescription drugs from Canada – a key priority of Governor DeSantis, who aims to combat the rising prices of prescription medications for Floridians. The House has already passed its proposal. The Senate version is currently moving through the legislative committee process.

Florida’s opioid epidemic also remains a key issue for lawmakers, with numerous bills being considered regarding opioids and prescribing the medicines to patients. Governor DeSantis has called for the reestablishment of the Florida Office of Drug Control, which would be under the leadership of a Drug Czar, to manage the state’s response to the crisis. In addition, both the Governor and Attorney General Ashley Moody are pushing for a statewide opioid task force. This effort is included in Senate legislation sponsored by Senator Wilton Simpson (R-Trilby).


Medical Marijuana

In 2016, more than 70 percent of voters approved a constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana in Florida. Following the passage of the landmark amendment, state lawmakers worked to determine the best method for implementing the new law. Ultimately members passed a bill in a special session in 2017 to establish a framework for growers, prescribers and patients, and included language banning the smoking of medical marijuana, instead allowing patients to use other forms of the medicine.

Medical marijuana has again been a key topic of discussion for lawmakers this year and is the subject of the first bill signed into law by Governor DeSantis in his role leading the state. The legislation repeals the ban on smoking medical marijuana, making it more accessible for patients throughout the state.

Members are also considering measures relating to a hemp program in Florida, which would be under the oversight of the Florida Department of Agriculture. The proposals at this time work to establish a framework for regulating hemp, which was legalized at the federal level last year. Hemp can be harvested for the production of cannabidiol, a product used in supplements and other dietary and wellness items.

Also on the medical marijuana front this session, there is a push among House lawmakers to pass legislation to establish a limit on the level of THC allowed in medical cannabis products in the state. The measure, which would prompt the Florida Department of Health to establish oversight of medical cannabis in Florida, would also limit the supply of edible cannabis products for patients and increase regulations of daily dosages. There is currently no similar measure in the Senate.


Education

This session lawmakers will address several large proposals relating to K-12 education and higher education in Florida. Reforming the state’s K-12 education system is a big priority of Governor DeSantis and Speaker Oliva, who are looking to expand school choice and offer enhanced scholarship programs for Florida’s students, including vouchers for low-income students to attend private schools.

The Senate and House differ on funding for K-12 schools, which will likely make education one of the most debated and contested issues during session, second only to health care. The Senate is looking to provide a record boost in funding for the state’s public schools. The $1.1 billion increase proposed by the Senate would be the largest increase since 2006. In addition to increasing per-student spending, the Senate is looking to increase the amount for the base student rate, and would also provide a $68 million increase for school safety spending and more than $230 million for a teacher and principal bonus program. While the House does propose an increase in K-12 funding, it totals around $500 million less than the Senate plan. The Senate is also looking to cut the $140 million Schools of Hope program and move the funding elsewhere in the education budget. The House, however, is looking to increase the program, with a move to allow the schools more flexibility with spending their allocated state dollars. In addition, with the backing of Governor DeSantis, House education leaders are proposing linking the program to the federal opportunity zone program, which would mean a significant expansion of the charter school program statewide. Regarding school safety, the House is proposing keeping school safety funding around last year’s level of just over $160 million. The two chambers also differ on funding for mental health services in schools, with the Senate looking to increase the funding by $30.7 million.

As previously noted, there was some contention between the two chambers this week when, at the request of President Galvano, the House had to postpone a vote on several budget conforming bills. Two of the bills address education matters, with one regarding private school scholarships and the other being a House school safety measure that would allow teachers to carry guns in schools. The House has still yet to vote on the bills, both of which would have a significant budget impact to the state.

The school safety proposal is in continued response to last year’s Parkland massacre and is based on recommendations from a Commission created in response to the shooting. Last session, lawmakers passed language to implement a number of school “hardening” measures for keeping students safe, as well as a provision allowing school districts to opt into a program to provide firearm and safety training to school employees. This year, members are considering revisions to the measures passed last year, with one of the most controversial proposals being the potential expansion of the law allowing some teachers to carry guns in schools. Current law allows only teachers who also have roles outside of the classroom.

In the Senate, leaders are proposing a measure to change the way school districts are funded by amending the District Cost Differential (DCD) program and basing it on wages instead of prices. The DCD is utilized to adjust funding based on each district’s cost of living. Senate education leaders are also looking to change the rules and application process for charter schools to open schools at the district level.

With regard to higher education, lawmakers are focused on issues relating to funding for Florida’s colleges and universities this session. Given the recent scandal at the University of Central Florida relating to the misuse of millions of taxpayer dollars, Florida’s higher education institutions are under heavy scrutiny this session – particularly in the House. Speaker Oliva has outlined plans for higher education reform, with increased oversight and accountability measures. One measure would allow state leaders to call for investigations of potential financial mismanagement. In addition, the House budget cuts five projects at state colleges and universities and allows for the completion of other school projects that have already been approved. The House plan would cut higher education construction spending in half from $673 million to $344 million.


Energy, Environment and Water Issues

Environment and water issues have been some of the most discussed and debated in recent years, particularly measures to address numerous issues around Lake Okeechobee. This year, Florida’s southwestern and panhandle regions are dealing with the most severe red tide bloom in more than a decade. As a result, lawmakers are now focused on methods to remedy these problems and providing adequate funding for those methods.

This issue is a big priority of Governor DeSantis, who committed to providing a total of $2.5 billion in environmental spending over his four-year term. Senate and House leaders are also committed to resolving Florida’s water problems, with the Senate proposing even more funding for water programs than Governor DeSantis. Budget efforts are focused on Everglades restoration, funds for a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee, land acquisition and conservation programs, petroleum clean up, springs restoration and water quality improvements. Legislatively, Senate members are considering a comprehensive water quality bill to address nutrient levels to prevent algae growth, among other issues.

On the energy front, a key topic this year is a proposed constitutional amendment to deregulate the state’s energy market. The controversial measure, which supporters aim to have placed on the 2020 ballot, would essentially upend the state’s current energy market by limiting investor-owned utilities to just construction, operation and repairs of transmission systems, and giving customers the ability to choose their energy provider. Proponents highlight the potential for significant savings for taxpayers under a more competitive market, while opponents argue the move would bring chaos to current systems and cause a significant decline in the quality and reliability of Florida’s current energy systems. The issue may be resolved by lawmakers, who are currently working to move legislation to limit ballot initiatives, beginning with the 2020 ballot.

In addition, lawmakers are again considering legislation relating to gas hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” in Florida. This topic has been considered and debated by lawmakers for years, with numerous bills to ban the practice in the state. This year’s ban legislation is opposed by environmental groups, who argue the language would alter the definition of fracking to allow the extraction of gas and oil in Florida. The likelihood of fracking measures passing this year is yet to be determined.


Transportation and Economic Development

Transportation will be a key issue this session for lawmakers, particularly in the Senate, with President Galvano making rural transportation projects one of his biggest priorities this session. The Senate President is calling for $75 million to cover three expansive highway projects in rural areas of the state, looking to make the projects “multi-purpose corridors,” in an effort to boost economic development as well as provide an additional hurricane evacuation option for Floridians. The measure will likely come down to budget negotiations between the President and the Speaker.

Members are also considering numerous changes to the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), particularly regarding the leadership and organization of the agency. The proposal being considered would implement additional requirements for the FDOT secretary regarding education and experience, among other proposed changes. In addition, legislation relating to autonomous vehicles is currently moving through both chambers. The bills authorize the use of vehicles in autonomous mode in Florida, with the goal to make the state a leader in autonomous vehicle testing and allow for more innovation in state transportation policies.

Economic development has been a key issue in Florida for the past decade and has caused a strong amount of contention among state leaders in recent years. One subject of controversy has been Visit Florida, the state’s tourism promotion agency. Specifically, leaders have sparred in recent years about the efficacy of the organization and the state dollars provided to fund it. The House, under conservative leadership, has long argued that state dollars should not be provided to fund economic development policies and organizations. Therefore, this session House leaders have allocated just enough funding to get Visit Florida through October, when it is set to expire. The Senate, however, has maintained funding for Visit Florida at $50 million – the current funding level. This issue is almost certain to become a matter of negotiation between the two chambers throughout the budget conference process. In an interesting twist, the Senate funding is now tied to an issue surrounding local governments banning certain sunscreens. The amendment would prohibit Visit Florida from spending money to promote areas that have such bans in place, and is particularly targeted at Key West.

Members are also considering a number of pre-emption bills this session to move the regulatory process over a number of rules and industries from the local level to the state level. One of the more controversial measures is included in legislation relating to vacation rentals, which includes a sanction against Airbnb – an issue that has been discussed over recent years. This results from Airbnb’s prohibition on listings in the West Bank, which many leaders see as anti-Semitic. This measure and other pre-emption bills are heavily opposed by local governments.


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 to address legislation already filed and craft amendments to bills addressing various issues. In addition, budget conference will soon be underway, with House and Senate budget leaders looking to push their respective plans and priorities.

The 60-day session is officially set to adjourn on Friday, May 3rd.

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2019 Legislative Session Kick-Off

The Fiorentino Group UNF President John Delany Interview 2019 Legislative Session Kick-OffFlorida lawmakers convened in Tallahassee today to kick off the 2019 legislative session. The official start followed months of preparation, with lawmakers periodically holding interim legislative committee meetings since last December to discuss and debate various policy and funding matters on tap for session.

After a typical Florida election last November, complete with recounts, candidate concessions, withdrawal of those concessions, and the removal of an elections official from office, Florida’s newly-elected, reelected and sitting legislators will work together through the 60-day session with a new Governor, Agriculture Commissioner, and Attorney General. Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis is also relatively new to his position, but had been appointed prior to the general election last year. In addition, both the Senate and House are under new leadership, with President Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton) and Speaker Jose Oliva (R-Hialeah) officially sworn into their positions late last year.

During his inaugural remarks in January, Florida’s new Governor Ron DeSantis expressed a desire to give more power to the legislature. This is a significant shift from previous Governor Rick Scott, who was often at odds with legislators, even though both chambers were led by members of his own party. Governor DeSantis has committed to making education and environmental issues his priorities during session, with a key focus on overhauling the state’s preK-12 education system, as well as passing measures relating to red tide and algae bloom issues. He also plans to address medical marijuana matters, looking to make medical marijuana more accessible for patients.

In the Senate, President Bill Galvano is seen as a moderate Republican, and is focused on expanding transportation projects in rural areas of the state. He is a fair, thoughtful leader who gives careful consideration to some of the most significant issues impacting Florida. On the House side, Speaker Oliva, a gifted orator and steadfast conservative, has placed some of the state’s biggest programs and institutions – health care facilities, higher education systems, and economic development programs and incentives – directly in his cross hairs. He is planning extensive reforms for each of these this session.

While pre-session efforts have been fairly collaborative between the legislative and executive branches, with Governor DeSantis even receiving praise and support from Democrats on his proposed spending plan, differing priorities will most likely bring some contention between officials over the next 60 days. However, the only issue members are constitutionally required to address during session is the budget, with legislators required to pass a balanced state budget each year. Any other items addressed or passed will be at the discretion of state leaders and will be the result of lengthy discussions and negotiations between the two chambers of the legislature, as well as between the legislature and the executive branch.


State Budget

With parts of Florida still reeling from the devastation of Hurricane Michael last year, and the effects of 2017’s Hurricane Irma still being felt statewide, hurricane recovery funding is certain to play a large role in budget discussions this session. The state has already spent more than $1 billion on recovery efforts after Hurricane Michael, and Senate Budget Chair Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island) has indicated that costs in the 2019-2020 budget could total around $2.7 billion.

Last month, Governor DeSantis released his proposed spending plan to lawmakers, totaling a record $91.3 billion. The proposal includes nearly $2 billion for storm recovery efforts and places key focus on environmental programs, with $50 million for springs protection, $360 million for Everglades restoration, $100 million for Florida Forever – the state’s land buying program – and $25 million to address algae and red tide blooms which have impacted numerous areas of the state. In addition to environment and water issues, the Governor is making preK-12 education a key priority, proposing a three percent increase in per-student funding, as well as $50 million for school safety and $10 million for mental health programs in response to last year’s tragic school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in South Florida. For transportation and infrastructure spending, Governor DeSantis is proposing nearly $10 billion for the state’s transportation work program, including more than $700 million in bonding – a move supported in the Senate, with President Galvano committed to boosting rural transportation projects.

The Governor’s spending plan, which is $2.6 billion more than the current state budget, will likely be scaled down by lawmakers during session, as Florida’s conservative legislative leaders are committed to passing a tight budget for the coming year. In the House, indications are that budget leaders may make cuts in the areas of health care, particularly hospital funding – a target of Speaker Oliva – as well as higher education spending, which will be under the microscope this session, with the University of Central Florida recently found to have misused $40 million in funding for construction projects.


Medical Marijuana

In 2016, more than 70 percent of voters approved a constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana in Florida. Following the passage of the landmark amendment, state lawmakers worked to determine the best method for implementing the new law. Ultimately, members passed a bill in a special session in 2017 to establish a framework for growers, prescribers and patients, and included language banning the smoking of medical marijuana, instead allowing patients to use other forms of the medicine.

This year, medical marijuana is again a key topic of discussion for lawmakers. The matter has already been debated extensively in response to Governor DeSantis calling for an updated law allowing for smoking medical marijuana to be passed by mid-March. Senator Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) is leading the charge in the Senate, with measures currently moving through both chambers. In addition to the smoking issue, there are numerous reports of questionable prescribing practices in Florida, as well as heavy criticism of the Florida Department of Health for not monitoring the process and failing to investigate allegations against physicians and organizations providing prescriptions to patients. With a federal ban on medical marijuana still in place, the matter remains complicated at best. Members will continue their efforts to pass smoking language in the coming weeks.


Health Care

Health care will be one of the biggest issues debated this session and is a major priority of House Speaker Oliva, who plans to implement significant changes to remedy what he calls the “health care industrial complex” in Florida. During his opening remarks to the legislature this morning, Oliva labeled health care a “five alarm fire.” His plan for reform includes repealing and overhauling the state’s certificate of need process, which is used to regulate the expansion of health care facilities. He is also a big proponent of teleheath, as well as expanding the services of nurse practitioners and bringing more transparency to health care pricing for patients. In addition, legislators will also consider a measure to expand the services offered by ambulatory surgical centers this session. With health care costs taking up nearly half of the entire state budget, many lawmakers are seeking ways to trim health care spending, and Speaker Oliva is leading the charge.

Governor DeSantis is also a strong supporter of health care reform and advocates policies to make services more affordable for patients. The Governor is promoting legislation filed in both chambers to create a shared savings program, allowing patients to research the prices and details about procedures up front in the health care process, and providing for financial incentives for patients to shop for lower-priced services. He announced today that he has asked the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) to expedite the website its currently developing to track health care pricing in Florida. He also recently announced a controversial plan to import prescription drugs from Canada – a move criticized by President Galvano, who argues that the state is intruding on an issue controlled by the federal government. Galvano is instead supporting legislation filed in both chambers to increase options for patients to research and shop the lowest prices for prescription drugs.

Florida’s opioid epidemic will also remain a key issue for lawmakers this session. In addition to numerous bills filed addressing various opioid matters, Attorney General Ashley Moody is focused on the issue, and recently released a number of recommendations. These include allowing civilian law enforcement to administer opioid antagonist drugs like Narcan, increasing criminal penalties against drug dealers, and providing more options and services for opioid addicts in Florida.

There will also be other numerous legislative proposals related to health care this session. Among these are a measure filed by Senator Aaron Bean (R-Jacksonville) to continue a cost-saving measure passed by lawmakers last year. The bill restricts the amount of time patients are eligible for Medicaid coverage prior to submitting an application for the coverage. Previously, state law allowed for a period of three months. Last year, lawmakers shortened the window to one month but the move, which would free up more than $100 million in funds, has to be re-approved this session. In addition, legislation filed by Senator Wilton Simpson (R-Trilby) would require health insurance companies to offer at least one plan to accept patients with pre-existing conditions.


Education

Governor DeSantis has called for significant reforms to the state’s preK-12 education system this session, including expanding school choice, overhauling teacher bonuses and offering enhanced scholarship programs for Florida students, including vouchers for low-income students to attend private schools. The Governor’s preK-12 plans are supported by House leaders, with Speaker Oliva also a strong proponent of school choice.

The Governor’s proposed overhaul of the teacher bonus program, known as “Best and Brightest,” would increase bonus amounts for recipients, but would eliminate tying bonuses to teacher scores on college entrance exams. Under the proposal, the bonuses would instead be awarded to teachers at schools with improved grades who also score “highly effective” on their classroom evaluations. In addition, members will consider legislation this session to expand the Hope Scholarship Program, which was created two years ago to provide funds for students who are victims of bullying to attend other schools. This year, a measure sponsored by Senator Manny Diaz (R-Hialeah) would change requirements regarding reporting bullying incidents, allowing parents to report incidents to Hope Scholarship officials rather than school principals, and expand the program to allow bullied students to attend private schools.

Higher education matters will also be front and center this session – primarily issues relating to funding for Florida’s colleges and universities. Given the recent scandal at UCF relating to the misuse of millions of taxpayer dollars, Florida’s higher education institutions will be under heavy scrutiny this session – particularly in the House. Speaker Oliva has outlined plans for higher education reform, including changes to funding formulas with emphasis on performance funding, and regulating funding for college and university construction projects, including a possible requirement that schools provide a down payment for projects.

The House has also released a committee bill addressing issues relating to the state’s higher education institutions. The measure would place requirements on how universities run direct-support organizations and require that the information be made public. Legislative leaders would also be given the power to call for investigations of suspected financial mismanagement by state universities.


School Security

Last February, Floridians were left reeling from one of the worst school shootings in the nation’s history. The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland became the key focus of state lawmakers during the last half of the 2018 legislative session. Efforts centered around three key topics – school safety and security measures, background checks and requirements for purchasing firearms, and mental health services and programs.

Last session, lawmakers passed language including a number of school safety and school “hardening” measures for keeping students safe, as well as a provision allowing school districts to opt into a program to provide firearm and safety training to school employees. This year, members will consider revisions to the measures passed last year, and will factor in recommendations from a commission created by the state in the wake of the tragedy. One of the most controversial topics lawmakers will consider is the potential expansion of the law allowing some teachers to carry guns in schools. Current law allows only teachers who also have roles outside of the classroom. This year’s proposal would expand the program to allow all teachers to go through the training. This measure is supported by Governor DeSantis and Republican leaders, and was a recommendation outlined by the Parkland Commission.

In addition, this session members will consider legislation to compensate Parkland victims and their families. The bills, filed by Senator Lauren Book (D-Plantation), would create programs to provide around $160 million for victims of the shooting and their families.


Environment and Water Issues

Environment and water issues have been some of the most discussed and debated in recent years, particularly measures to address numerous issues around Lake Okeechobee. This year, Florida’s southwestern and panhandle regions are dealing with the most severe red tide bloom in more than a decade. The issue is also impacting more than 100 miles of the state’s Atlantic coastline. During session, lawmakers will focus on methods to remedy these problems and offer much-needed relief in the impacted areas of the state. This is a top priority of Governor DeSantis, who made environmental issues a key topic of his campaign, and wants to allocate more than $600 million to various water and land use programs this session. The Governor has committed to providing a total of $2.5 billion in environmental spending over four years. Senate and House leaders are also committed to resolving Florida’s water problems. Today Speaker Oliva expressed a commitment to “supporting the Governor and funding his priorities as he leads in the protection of our natural resources.” Whether or not the Senate will meet the Governor’s environmental funding request is yet to be determined, with President Galvano committed to addressing the state’s water problems, but also focused on providing necessary hurricane relief funds and boosting state transportation and infrastructure projects.


Energy

The key topic relating to energy this year will most certainly be a proposed constitutional amendment to deregulate the state’s energy market. The controversial measure, which could be placed on the 2020 ballot, would essentially blow up the state’s current energy market by limiting investor-owned utilities to construction, operation and repairs of transmission systems, and giving customers the ability to choose their energy provider. Proponents highlight the potential for significant savings for taxpayers under a more competitive market, while opponents argue the move would bring chaos to current systems, and cause a significant decline in the level of service, quality and reliability of Florida’s current energy systems. Opposition to the measure is strong, with Attorney General Ashley Moody asking the Florida Supreme Court to keep the proposed amendment off the ballot.

This session, lawmakers will again consider legislation relating to gas hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” in Florida. This topic has been considered and debated by lawmakers for years, with numerous bills to ban the practice in the state. However, this year’s legislation to ban fracking is already surrounded by controversy and is opposed on both sides, with some of the state’s largest environmental groups as well as oil industry representatives in opposition to the measure. Environmentalists argue the language would alter the definition of fracking to allow the extraction of gas and oil in Florida. The oil industry opposes any sort of ban. Today Speaker Oliva announced his support for a study on different forms of fracking. He has also expressed support for a ban on fracking, but to what extent is yet to be determined.


Transportation, Infrastructure and Development

Transportation will be a key issue for lawmakers, particularly in the Senate, with President Galvano making rural transportation projects one of his biggest priorities this session. The Senate President is calling for $75 million to cover three expansive highway projects in rural areas of the state, looking to make the projects “multi-purpose corridors,” in an effort to boost economic development as well as provide an additional hurricane evacuation option for Floridians. This measure will likely be heavily amended and debated between the two chambers this session, with passage likely coming down to budget negotiations between the President and Speaker.

Also this session a group of transportation stakeholders are pushing for changes to the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), particularly regarding the transportation secretary as well as the organization of the agency. The Florida Transportation Builders Association is calling for tighter requirements for the secretary position, including that the secretary be a registered engineer, hold an advanced degree in an appropriate field, or have a minimum of 10 years of experience in the transportation industry. This language was also introduced in last year’s transportation package. The group is also proposing language to boost the powers of the FDOT central office in Tallahassee, removing certain powers from the seven regional offices located throughout the state.

In addition, in recent budget discussions, Senate transportation budget leader Travis Hutson (R-Palm Coast) called for increased funding for shovel-ready road construction projects throughout the state in an effort to boost economic development.


Election Reform

Florida’s chaotic 2018 general election highlighted a number of problems that lawmakers will work to address this session through election reform legislation. There are currently several bills filed, including proposals to move the 2020 primary election day up by one week, outline a process for notifying voters when their mailed and provisional ballots are rejected due to mismatched signatures, and provide a set amount of time for voters to remedy the issue. The measure would also expand the time for voters to receive, complete and submit their mail-in ballots.

Another measure filed by Senate Democrats would require elections supervisors to apply the same rules currently in place for overseas ballots to domestic mail ballots. This means domestic ballots would be accepted and counted for up to 10 days following the election, as long as they are postmarked by Election Day. Yet another measure will extend current state recount deadlines and provide stricter requirements for county voting machines. These measures will likely be heavily amended and debated throughout 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. Already, members have filed more than 3,000 bills. Of these, only around 200 bills will pass completely through the legislative process by the time session wraps up.

In the coming weeks, lawmakers will continue to hear various policy proposals relating to a wide array of topics affecting the state. In addition, appropriations subcommittees will continue to meet and craft their individual budgets, each of which will make up sections of the overall budget plans approved by the House and Senate. Once those plans are passed, the two chambers will go into budget conference, where negotiations are made over differences between the two spending plans. Once a comprehensive budget is agreed upon and passed by both chambers, it will be sent to the Governor for his consideration. The budget conference process typically happens during the last two weeks of session.

The 60-day session is scheduled to wrap up on Friday, May 3rd.

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The Fiorentino Group Hires Former Florida Department of Transportation Exec Shannan Dunaway Schuessler

Legislative Session Kick-Off TFG Logo

Contact: John Finotti
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[email protected]

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

The Fiorentino Group Hires Former Florida Department of Transportation Exec Shannan Dunaway Schuessler

Shannan Dunaway Schuessler

Shannan Schuessler will be joining The Fiorentino Group in Tallahassee.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (January 29, 2019) – The Fiorentino Group (TFG), one of Florida’s leading government relations and business development firms, today announced that Shannan Dunaway Schuessler has joined their team as principal in its Tallahassee office.

Schuessler joins TFG from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), where she served as Chief of Staff and Director of Legislative Affairs. During her time with FDOT, Schuessler assisted with the supervision and operation of all department activities, including policy development, responsibility for 6,200 employees and a $10 billion annual budget. She also served as the primary liaison for FDOT with other state agencies and local governments to advance multimodal transportation projects and priorities.

“We are looking forward to Shannan becoming part of our team,” said TFG founder and president Marty Fiorentino. “With technology changing the transportation landscape almost daily, Shannan’s experience and knowledge of state transportation issues will be invaluable to our clients.”

In her new position, Schuessler will continue to utilize her skills in legislative affairs and policy development and to create strategies to assist TFG clients with transportation issues as well as business, economic development and local government issues.

“I am excited and honored to be joining The Fiorentino Group,” said Schuessler. “I look forward to remaining a part of the Tallahassee community and using my professional relationships and experience to assist clients in navigating state government.”

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

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TFG Trendlines: December 2018

TFG Trendlines

The Fiorentino Group’s Company Newsletter

 

 Video: Marty Fiorentino Reflects on the Lives of President George H.W. Bush and Senator John McCain

 

2019 Session Prep Work Underway

 

“Little” Additions to the TFG Family

 

TFG’s Move to New Offices

 

 

Video: Marty Fiorentino Reflects on the Lives of President George H.W. Bush and Senator John McCain

Our new video has an update from Marty as well as a few more thoughts on the passing of President George H.W. Bush and Senator John McCain.

Click here for the news compilation video: Marty Fiorentino’s Thoughts on President Bush and Senator McCain

Still ahead: an update on the 2019 session, the newest generation of TFG, and some final thoughts on TFG’s move.


2019 Session Prep Work Underway

After a tumultuous 2018 general election, Florida lawmakers convened in Tallahassee late last month to hold Organization Session and officially begin preparations for the 2019 legislative session. Members held their first official interim legislative committee meetings earlier this month, and will continue meeting throughout the months of January and February. Throughout this time, key policy and appropriations issues will be discussed and debated and priorities will be outlined and finalized for the coming session. There are currently a number of hot-button issues set to be addressed this session, including environmental matters, higher education funding issues, gaming, school safety, and campaign and election reform (on the heels of the 2018 general election and subsequent recount process), among others.

The Florida House and Senate also welcome new presiding officers this session, with Senator Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton) serving as Senate President and Representative Jose Oliva (R-Hialeah) serving as House Speaker. In addition, Florida will officially have a new Governor after the New Year, with Republican Ron DeSantis set to be sworn in to lead the state in January.

Provided below is an outline of the remaining interim legislative committee meeting schedule, as well as other key session dates. The 2019 legislative session will officially kick off on Tuesday, March 5th.

  • January 7-11, 2019: Interim Legislative Committee Week
  • January 8, 2019: Inauguration of New Governor
  • January 22-25, 2019: Interim Legislative Committee Week
  • Early February: Governor releases Fiscal Year 2019-2020 budget recommendations to the legislature
  • February 4-8, 2019: Interim Legislative Committee Week
  • February 11-15, 2019: Interim Legislative Committee Week
  • February 19-22, 2019: Interim Legislative Committee Week
  • March 5, 2019: First day of 2019 Legislative Session
  • March 5, 2019: Deadline for filing bills for introduction
  • May 3, 2019: Last day of 2019 legislative session

“Little” Additions to the TFG Family

2018 saw a few newcomers to the TFG staff, but members of the firm welcomed new additions to their families as well!

Robert and Susie welcomed Cameron to their family…

TFG Trendlines December 2018 Little Additions

TFG Trendlines December 2018 Little AdditionsAnd Tiffany and Karl welcomed Quinn to theirs…

TFG Trendlines December 2018 Little Additions

TFG Trendlines December 2018 Little Additions

No word yet on future careers in lobbying…


TFG’s Move to New Offices

We’ve moved! In May of this year, TFG moved into new offices in the Riverplace Tower. TFG called The Carling in downtown Jacksonville home for 12 years. As a growing firm, we relocated to Riverplace Tower on the Southbank for new opportunities. The buildout took approximately five months but ultimately we have a new spot to call home.

TFG Trendlines December 2018 The Fiorentino Offices Before and After

TFG Trendlines December 2018 The Fiorentino Offices Before and After

TFG Trendlines December 2018 The Fiorentino Offices Before and After

Our Front Door…Before and After

TFG Trendlines December 2018 The Fiorentino Offices Before and After


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Copyright © 2018. All Rights Reserved.

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Delaney to Join the Strategic Alliance of Rogers Towers and The Fiorentino Group

Roger Towers & The Fiorentino Group Strategic Alliance

Legislative Session Kick-Off TFG Logo

 

 

 

 

 

 

Media Contact: Maddie Milne
Cell: 1-828-781-6219
Office: 1-904-398-5222
Email: [email protected]

April 11, 2018

 

Delaney to Join the Strategic Alliance of Rogers Towers and The Fiorentino Group

Jacksonville, Fla. – Rogers Towers, one of Florida’s oldest and most established law firms headquartered in Jacksonville since 1905, and The Fiorentino Group, Jacksonville’s largest full-service government relations and business development firm, jointly announced today that retiring University of North Florida President John Delaney will join the strategic alliance formed by the two firms effective June 1, 2018.

“John’s professional career has been one of the most unique and diverse of almost anyone I know and he brings to our clients’ needs a special perspective that will be of great value as they deal with legal issues as well as the ever-changing landscape of both the political world and government affairs arena,” said Fred Franklin, Rogers Towers managing director. “As a lawyer, John’s background and knowledge carries with it a distinct perspective, his political and government savvy is matchless.”

Delaney became the University of North Florida’s fifth president in 2003. In that capacity, he oversees a campus of more than 16,000 students, 600 faculty and more than 1,000 staff. The 1,381-acre campus in Northeast Florida is considered a driver in the region, with an annual economic impact of nearly $1 billion. Each year, 4,000 students graduate from the University’s six colleges.

“John has been a part of some of Jacksonville’s most successful public policy initiatives,” said Marty Fiorentino, president of The Fiorentino Group. “His decades of experience in local, state and federal politics and tenure as president of one of Florida’s leading educational institutions has involved him in many complex issues where his leadership has had a real and positive impact. His addition to our team will provide exceptional added-value services as we develop winning strategies for our clients to influence public policy.”

Delaney’s presidency continued a distinguished career as a public servant. He served two terms as mayor of Jacksonville, the country’s thirteenth largest city, spearheading major initiatives including The Better Jacksonville Plan, a $2.2 billion improvement plan that gave the city new public facilities and other amenities. He also created the Preservation Project, a massive land conservation program giving Jacksonville the distinction of having the largest urban park system in the United States. Prior to that, he served as the chief assistant state attorney, the number two prosecutor for Northeast Florida, and as the General Counsel for the City of Jacksonville. He also served as interim chancellor of the State University System of Florida. He has served on numerous non-profit and corporate boards.

“As I made my decision to retire from UNF, I looked for a new chapter to open in my career that offered me the chance to bring together the skills and experiences I have harnessed since starting out as a young lawyer working for former Mayor Ed Austin, when he served our community as State Attorney,” said Delaney. “Having known Marty and Fred both personally and professionally over the years, I was aware of the great work their firms were doing. We collectively started a conversation that led to this decision. I look forward to working with the two of them and their teams to represent clients in a variety of areas both here in Northeast Florida and around the state and nation.”

The strategic alliance formed five years ago by Rogers Towers and The Fiorentino Group focuses on areas such as integrated business and government affairs issues; business counsel; higher education issues; complex environmental matters and a variety of other government affairs needs at the local, state and federal levels.

About Rogers Towers, P.A.: Rogers Towers, P.A., founded in 1905, is a Florida law firm with offices in Jacksonville, Ponte Vedra Beach, St. Augustine, Amelia Island, and Fort Lauderdale. The firm provides legal services in the areas of: Banking and Financial; Litigation; Construction; Corporate; Labor and Employment; Environmental; Eminent Domain; Elder Law; Family Law; Health Law; Immigration; Intellectual Property; Land Use; Public Finance; Real Estate; Taxation; Transportation and Logistics; Trusts and Estates; and Wills. www.rtlaw.com.

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

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TFG Trendlines: March 2018

TFG Trendlines March 2018

The Fiorentino Group’s Company Newsletter

Video: UF Health Jacksonville CEO Leon L. Haley Jr.

In our latest video, Marty and Joe check in with UF Health Jacksonville CEO Leon L. Haley Jr.

Read on for news about a TFG 40 Under 40 Honoree, our take on the 2018 legislative session, and a change in scenery for TFG.


Jacksonville Business Journal Selects TFG’s Mark Pinto As 40 Under 40 Honoree

The Jacksonville Business Journal (JBJ) has selected TFG Principal Mark Pinto as one of their 40 Under 40 honorees. According to the JBJ they look for “business success, leadership skills and a high level of community involvement” when deciding whom to honor.

Mark Pinto

TFG’s Mark Pinto

“This is a well-deserved award,” said TFG President Marty Fiorentino. “Mark has proven himself time and time again. He is a terrific asset to our firm and provides excellent service to our clients.”

“This is a real honor,” said Pinto. “I’m flattered to be among the other honorees and I’m proud to be a part of The Fiorentino Group team.”

The JBJ will celebrate this year’s honorees at an event on Thursday, April 19.


ICYMI

Check out our extensive recap of the 2018 legislative session.

2018 Post-Session Legislative Update

TFG is moving! We’re looking forward to relocating to Downtown Jacksonville’s Southbank.


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Copyright © 2018. All Rights Reserved.

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2018 Post-Session Legislative Update

Legislative Session Kick-Off 2018 Post-Session Legislative Update

Late Sunday afternoon the Florida legislature officially wrapped up the 2018 legislative session. The session was extended through the weekend due to delays in the budget process resulting from legislative efforts regarding the Parkland shooting, as well as differences during the final week over big ticket funding items.

There were many important issues up for discussion early on, including higher education, K-12 education, texting while driving, gaming, the opioid crisis, “sanctuary cities” in Florida, hurricane response and preparedness, sexual harassment, and growth and development packages, among others. However, ultimately, in terms of policy, the 2018 session was more about what didn’t happen than what did. While some of the issues outlined above were addressed in successful legislation, many were not. In an election year, it is expected that lawmakers will stay away from issues considered too controversial. That, combined with the mid-session shift in focus to school shooting issues, meant numerous comprehensive legislative proposals failed to make final passage. Out of more than 3,000 bills filed, only 200 passed both chambers. Governor Scott is now receiving some of the legislation that was passed, including a public safety measure and comprehensive K-12 education and higher education packages, all of which he has already signed into law.

This session was one of the most unusual in recent memory, starting with the pall cast over the Senate due to sexual harassment claims, which resulted in the resignation of then-Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala from the Senate, and ending with the tragedy of the Parkland massacre, which brought thousands of students and citizens to Tallahassee to push for gun safety regulations. The session began with Governor Scott and legislative leaders – Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran – outlining clear policy and funding priorities. However, these issues took a back seat in the aftermath of the February mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. This tragic event shaped the final few weeks of session, with lawmakers shifting their focus to passing comprehensive legislation relating to school safety, the purchase of firearms in Florida, and mental health services. This also resulted in new budget priorities for the state, with leaders committed to boosting funding for each of these initiatives. Ultimately, members focused the last week of session on passing a comprehensive public safety package through both chambers, which, as previously mentioned, has already been signed into law. In addition, after extending session to Sunday, members passed the largest budget in state history, totaling nearly $89 billion.

Overall, the session was seen as largely successful for leaders. And, in a major election year, politics were certainly at play for each of these leaders, with Governor Scott looking to run against Bill Nelson for his U.S. Senate seat, and Speaker Corcoran all but certain to run for Governor this fall. Both the Governor and Speaker saw success for their education policy and funding priorities, and most of Governor Scott’s recommended tax cuts were supported by the legislature, as well as his priority to provide funding for issues relating to the state’s opioid crisis. As for the overall spending plan, it will now be sent to Governor Scott for his review and action. The Governor has the power of line-item veto over the budget, meaning some of the projects included by lawmakers may ultimately be cut.


State Budget

The $88.7 billion budget passed by lawmakers this session is the largest in state history. The spending plan is nearly $4 billion larger than the current state budget, and more than $1 billion more than the spending plans recommended by the Governor, Senate President and Speaker.

Lawmakers approved more than $400 million for enhancing school security measures and boosting mental health services as part of the public safety package passed this session. Prior to the Parkland shooting, each chamber had already worked through and outlined many budget priorities. However, the commitment of members to support funding to address issues surrounding the shooting meant several large sections of the budget, including K-12 and higher education, as well as health care, were unresolved until the final days of session. Reports indicated that the roadblock in negotiations surrounded health care and hospital funding. However, many also reported that legislative leaders deliberately held up budget discussions until the public safety bills addressing shooting issues were passed. There were also reports that members who did not support the measures saw funding for their district projects pulled from the final budget plan.

The K-12 education budget totals more than $21 billion – with increased education spending outlined as priorities of both Governor Scott and Speaker Corcoran. More than $100 million will be from local property tax funds. In addition, the state’s Bright Futures scholarship program was permanently expanded – a priority of Senate President Joe Negron. The spending plan also includes $170 million in tax cuts agreed upon by lawmakers – the smallest cuts passed by state lawmakers in recent years. In addition, members provided more than $50 million for efforts to combat the state’s opioid crisis – a funding priority of Governor Scott. The health care budget also factors in around $318 in Medicaid Enhancement funds – a sticking point between the two chambers during budget negotiations. The funds are for 28 hospitals throughout the state, and the differences between the two chambers surrounded how those funds should be allocated. In addition to enhancement funds, members also had to iron out differences relating to other federal funding for hospitals, as well as extra funding for nursing homes.

For economic development spending – a controversial topic in recent years – lawmakers maintained funding for Visit Florida at $76 million. In addition, land and conservation spending was heavily discussed and debated throughout the session and was a priority of President Negron. Ultimately, Florida Forever, the state’s land-buying program, received $100 million in the budget, and lawmakers allocated $25 million for Keystone Heights lake region projects in Northeast Florida, where Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley is from. Members also provided just over $11 million for beach erosion projects resulting from hurricane damage. However, the area of environmental funding was certainly impacted by the Parkland discussion, with only a small amount of funding allocated for individual water projects throughout the state. Members allocated around $30 million for these projects, compared to more than $55 million in the budget passed by lawmakers last year.


Public Safety and Firearms

In the wake of one of the worst school shootings in the nation’s history, lawmakers immediately shifted their focus to safety issues for students. Their efforts centered around three key topics – school safety and security measures, background checks and requirements for purchasing firearms, and mental health services and programs. The issues were not without controversy, with many calling for lawmakers to ban assault rifles in the wake of the shooting, and public opinion split on lawmakers’ plans to arm certain school staff as a protection measure. There was much discussion and debate and emotional public testimony on this legislation. In addition, as previously mentioned, reports indicated lawmakers held up budget discussions to ensure member votes on the measure, and pulled funding for projects sponsored by members who did not support the proposal.

Ultimately, the comprehensive legislative package agreed upon by both chambers provides new requirements when purchasing firearms, includes language to stop people suffering mental health issues from purchasing firearms, and includes a number of school safety and school “hardening” measures for keeping students safe going forward. The new requirements for purchasing firearms include a three-day waiting period, and a minimum age requirement of 21 years old. This language also allows school districts to opt into a program to provide firearm and safety training to school employees. Governor Scott signed the bill into law on Friday. The budget passed by lawmakers includes $400 million for implementing these new measures.

At this point, this issue looks like it will remain a complex, ongoing matter for the state. After Governor Scott signed the public safety legislation into law on Friday, the National Rifle Association (NRA) sued the state as a result of the new requirements for purchasing firearms. In addition, the state Constitution Revision Commission, which meets every 20 years, is currently considering placing an amendment on the November ballot allowing Florida voters to decide if assault weapons should be completely banned.


Education

Florida’s education system was again one of the biggest issues discussed and debated during session. Speaker Corcoran has made K-12 education one of his legacy issues throughout his tenure as House leader. In addition, President Negron highlighted higher education funding as one of his key priorities this session. Ultimately, there were two comprehensive education packages passed – one relating to K-12 education, and the other relating to higher education.

On the K-12 side, Speaker Corcoran supported an omnibus education bill which was compared to his education reform bill passed last year. Certain provisions of the bill were fairly controversial early in session, tying $8 billion in funding to passage of the measure, which called for a scholarship program, known as the Hope Scholarship, to provide funds for bullied children to attend other schools. While the language requiring passage for funding was removed, what passed is a comprehensive package providing $41 million for the Hope Scholarship Program. The legislation, however, is still not without controversy, as many consider it to be another private school voucher bill. The legislation also includes controversial language relating to teachers unions, calling for possible re-certification if local teachers union membership falls below 50 percent. This proposal hurts the unions and was opposed by the Florida Education Association.

On the higher education side, the measure passed by lawmakers expands the Bright Futures scholarship program to 100% of tuition for high-achieving students, with the Medallion Scholarship covering 75 percent of tuition. In addition, members changed performance metrics at universities in order to help students graduate on time. There is also controversial language in the higher education measure, which removes the independent accreditation of two University of South Florida (“USF”) Schools, located in Sarasota-Manatee and St. Petersburg, and merges all USF locations into one system.

There was also Senate legislation filed this session to overhaul the state college system, but it was never taken up on the Senate floor.


Health Care

Health care has been a contentious issue among Florida lawmakers for several years, with differences between the two chambers surrounding topics ranging from the Medicaid program to state funding for hospitals. Last year the hospital funding issue became so contentious that it resulted in a special session to resolve differences in the state budget. This year, hospital funding again became a sticking point for lawmakers in the budget negotiation process. The issue surrounded Medicaid inpatient “enhancement” funds, and ideological differences between the two chambers on the issue. There was roughly $318 million in funds for the legislature to decide how to distribute to hospitals. The Senate wanted to divide the funds based on each hospital’s Medicaid base rate, which would have negatively impacted the state’s safety net hospitals. The House, however, wanted to distribute the funds to hospitals whose patient services include at least 25 percent in Medicaid care. Ultimately, the House prevailed.

Lawmakers also placed key focus this year on working to combat the state’s opioid crisis – an issue plaguing states across the nation. Governor Scott made this a key priority this year, proposing $50 million in funding for programs going into session and supporting legislation to implement new, strict policies on opioid prescriptions. This was also outlined as a priority by Senate lawmakers as session began. Ultimately, members agreed on a nearly $54 million package that limits opioid prescriptions to three days, and would enhance the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program and require physicians to consult the database before writing opioid prescriptions. The legislation will now be sent to Governor Scott.

This session lawmakers also considered a number of other legislative proposals relating to health care. Among the proposals considered were bills to repeal the certificate of need process, which regulates the building of hospitals in Florida, and a measure providing authorization for certain health care services to be provided via telehealth. While both bills moved through the legislative process, neither made it through final passage. Members did, however, approve legislation relating to direct primary care, which will allow patients to make direct agreements with their doctors for care, as well as trauma services legislation, which redesigns the state’s trauma system.


Hurricane Response and Preparedness

Following the devastation of powerful Hurricane Irma last fall, 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 current and future storm issues. Through the Committee’s efforts, members narrowed down specific issues to address this session, 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. While the sense of urgency was somewhat diminished due to new and different session priorities forming over time, members did pass legislation requiring that nursing homes have generators in case of hurricanes or other emergencies. The measure will now be sent to Governor Scott for his approval.

Members also considered comprehensive emergency management legislation crafted by the House this session, which placed key focus on fuel availability and delivery during major emergencies. However, the measure failed to pass through the legislative process.

On the budget side, members allocated over $11 million for beach and dune repair and restoration projects in response to damages caused by Hurricane Irma.


Economic Development, Taxes and Incentives

Economic development and job creation have been the top priorities of Governor Scott during his time leading the state. While the issue was once a source of major contention between the Governor and House leaders, the two sides have come to terms, with the legislature providing funding this year for the Governor’s infrastructure fund at $85 million, as well as $76 million for Visit Florida, the state’s tourism promotion agency.

Members also passed a slimmed down tax package this session based on recommendations from the Governor and legislation crafted in the House. The measure focuses on sales tax holidays and tax cuts for hurricane-related supplies. The tax package totals around $170 million and nearly meets Governor Scott’s request for $180 million in cuts and incentives. Under the measure, the state will enjoy three back-to-school sales tax holidays, as well as a seven-day disaster preparedness tax holiday window.

In addition, members passed a measure this session to place a constitutional amendment on the 2018 ballot requiring a two-thirds vote of each chamber in the legislature to increase state taxes or fees. Also considered was legislation relating to tourist development taxes, otherwise known as “bed taxes.” The proposals would have expanded those taxes to include infrastructure projects that benefit tourism, but both the House and Senate bills died in the legislative committee process.


Transportation and Infrastructure

Each year lawmakers consider comprehensive transportation packages during session. The bills, often known as legislative “trains,” are usually heavily amended throughout session and often die without final hearing or consideration due to the amount of language added throughout the process. This year was no exception, with members amending a transportation package filed in the House throughout the final week of session. The legislation had numerous provisions relating to vehicle tag requirements, registration requirements, truck platooning, and license plates, among a number of other issues. With several other bills being debated throughout the waning hours of session, the transportation package was not taken up for final passage.

There were also a number of other bills relating to transportation innovation and infrastructure this session. Members in both chambers were focused early in session on the issue of autonomous vehicles, with legislation filed in both chambers to authorize vehicles with this technology in Florida. However, these bills failed to make it through the legislative committee process.

In addition, later in session, House and Senate members considered legislation to create a statewide alternative transportation authority to develop alternative transportation systems and programs to relieve traffic congestion issues in the state. This legislation also failed to make it through the session process.


Environment, Land Use and Development

Environment and water issues have been some of the most discussed and debated in recent years, and this year was no different. Lawmakers, particularly Senate members, placed a key focus this session on securing funding for the state’s land buying and water programs, with Senate leaders expressing that maintaining and preserving land in Florida is a “responsibility” of the legislature. Ultimately, Senate members prevailed on funding, securing $100 million for the Florida Forever program and $50 million for beach projects statewide, as well as other funding allocations for various waterway projects.

On the policy end, lawmakers passed a comprehensive environmental regulation and permitting bill. The legislation includes numerous issues and provisions relating to Florida’s water and sewage treatment policies, as well as Florida’s wetland policies. The final bill also includes language pertaining to Lake Okeechobee – a key issue during the 2017 session – and authorizes use of the C-51 Reservoir to divert discharges from the Lake.

Members also considered legislation this session relating to coastal management in Florida, which would have made significant changes to how the state deals with beach erosion and nourishment issues, would have made the $50 million allocation for beach projects permanent, and would have provided for a three-year beach management plan. The legislation, however, failed to make it through the session process.

On the development end, legislation relating to community redevelopment agencies (CRA) moved through both chambers during the final week of session but failed to secure final passage. The comprehensive language would have limited CRAs in Florida. However, the legislation was heavily amended throughout the final days of session and ultimately was not taken up for final hearing. Members did, however, pass legislation relating to developments of regional impact (DRI) and eliminating state review of the current DRI process.


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.

This year, while gaming was a hotly discussed and debated issue from the start of session to the very finish, members were again unable to pass a comprehensive gaming measure. While this year’s legislation was more limited than in previous years, gaming bills are always complex and uncertain. The proposals looked to ratify a new compact between the Seminole Tribe and the state. However, agreement between the two chambers about pari-mutuels and the number of allowed new slot machine licenses could not be reached, and the session ended again without successful gambling legislation.

In addition to the legislation considered, a powerful coalition of anti-gambling groups worked hard over the past few months to push a petition to place an anti-gambling amendment on the 2018 ballot. The amendment will be considered by Florida voters later this year.


Going Forward

At this time, the Governor has received a total of only 38 bills, with six signed into law and 32 waiting for action. Legislative staff is currently working to finalize numerous other bills to send to the Governor’s office. Once the Governor receives a bill, he has 15 days to act – either sign the bill into law, veto it, or let it become law without his action. The Governor has the same time limit for the comprehensive state budget passed by lawmakers, which at this time is still being finalized by staff. With the budget, however, the Governor has line item veto power.

Once all bills have been acted on, much of the focus will shift to the upcoming elections later this year. This will be a big year for many current state lawmakers, as numerous officials are working for reelection to their current seats or positions, or running for higher or other office. It will be interesting to see how the gun legislation and Trump Effect, if any, impacts the elections.

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2018 Mid-Session Legislative Report

Legislative Session Kick-Off TFG Logo 2018 Mid-Session Legislative Report

Florida lawmakers convened in Tallahassee last month to kick off the 2018 Florida legislative session. Members have worked in recent weeks to address numerous issues relating to various state policy and appropriations matters. Last week marked the mid-point of the 60-day process, with four weeks remaining for members to discuss, debate and vote on a number of policy proposals, as well as finalize and pass a state budget for the coming year.

While lawmakers have worked steadily since session kicked off, at this point, many issues remain in flux. Just last week, both the House and Senate officially passed their budget proposals through their respective chambers. The next step will be budget conference, which will begin once presiding officers agree on final allocations for each area of the budget. Members will likely be in budget conference sometime later this week or next. While the first half of session went relatively smoothly, going forward, with conference looming and several legislative proposals still to be discussed, the second half of session could become more contentious for lawmakers.

There are many important issues up for discussion this year and, as noted above, many of those issues will be resolved in the coming weeks. Among the matters up for discussion and debate this session are higher education funding, K-12 education funding and policy, texting while driving, the opioid crisis, and “sanctuary cities” in Florida, among others. In addition, members have worked throughout the past several months on issues relating to hurricane response and preparedness in the state.

On the leadership side, Senate President Joe Negron (R-Palm City), House Speaker Richard Corcoran (R-Lutz) and Governor Rick Scott are all in the final year of their current leadership positions. All three leaders began the session with clear objectives and priorities, with the Governor staying focused on economic development and K-12 education, and supporting measures and funding to fight Florida’s opioid epidemic. On the Senate side, President Negron is committed to increasing higher education funding, as well as funding for the state’s land-buying and environmental programs. Speaker Corcoran remains focused on the state’s education system and is looking to boost policy and funding for charter schools. The Speaker is also pushing measures to ban sanctuary cities in Florida and pass legislation to combat texting while driving.

At this mid-point in session, many of the key issues that are still unresolved are also seen as likely points of contention between the House and Senate over the next four weeks. One of these issues is Speaker Corcoran’s omnibus education measure for this year, which would allocate public funds for a new voucher program to allow certain students to attend private schools. The controversy surrounds the House’s plan to make more than $8 billion in funding for public schools contingent upon the successful passage of the legislation, which also contains a number of other provisions relating to K-12 education. The Senate has criticized this move and it is yet to be determined how the House plans will factor into overall budget negotiations. The House and Senate also have very different plans for higher education funding, with President Negron determined to provide increases, while Speaker Corcoran has proposed cuts to state colleges and universities. In addition, the two chambers currently differ on sanctuary cities legislation – a major priority for Speaker Corcoran. The House and Senate also disagree on plans relating to how lawmakers can raise state taxes and fees going forward. And, in a sea change from last year’s session, the House and Governor’s Office are on the same page regarding economic development funding, while the Senate has proposed cuts to Visit Florida.

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


State Budget

There are a number of factors currently impacting the state budget. Key among those are repeated tax cuts, as well as annual increased spending on programs like Medicaid. In addition, 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 last month with a commitment to passing a trimmed down, efficient budget for the coming year. On Friday, the state Revenue Estimating Conference issued a general revenue projection showing the state with an increase of $181 million more than previous estimates for the coming year. While the increase is good news for Florida, all current indications are that legislative leaders plan to place the extra funds in state reserves.

In November, Governor Scott released his $87.4 billion recommended budget for 2018-19, which was $3.9 billion more than he recommended last year, and $5 billion more than the budget passed by lawmakers last session. The Governor’s proposal included around $180 million in tax cuts, a four-percent increase in Florida’s K-12 funding, increased higher education funding for the Bright Futures scholarship program, and funding to combat the opioid issue. In recent weeks, both the House and Senate have worked to craft their respective budgets for the coming year. Once allocations for each section of the budget are agreed upon by the two chambers and released by legislative leaders, which will likely happen sometime this week, members will begin budget conference, where differences in the spending plans will be negotiated. Once members pass the budget – the only action they are constitutionally required to complete during session – it will be sent to the Governor for his select veto actions and overall approval of the spending plan.

All three budgets proposed are very close in total numbers, with Governor Scott proposing $87.4 billion, the Senate proposing $87.3 billion and the House at $87.2 billion. Education funding is once again a major priority 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 remains committed to increasing higher education spending – specifically, the Bright Futures program, the House is taking a different stance, focusing on K-12 funding issues. The House budget increases K-12 funds by just over $500 million, but cuts more than $200 million from state universities. The Senate, however, proposes increasing funding for state colleges and universities by more than $380 million. In addition, as noted above, Speaker Corcoran has provided that $8.3 billion in funding for the Florida Educational Finance Program, which school districts are primarily funded through, will be contingent upon his proposed comprehensive education bill becoming law. These differences on education funding could become significant points of contention between the two chambers in the budget conference process.

On the economic development side, both chambers are providing $85 million for Governor Scott’s infrastructure program. However, on the Senate side, the funds are tied to federal reimbursement funds the state should be receiving from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). This stipulation could become another point of contention between the House and Senate as the budget is ironed out. The Senate plan also decreases funding for Visit Florida – a difference between the upper chamber and the House and Governor’s office.

The Senate has recently focused on key health care funding issues, with President Negron expressing a commitment to a Medicaid funding model that would redistribute more than $265 million in “enhancement” funds to hospitals through their Medicaid base rates. The two chambers differ on how this funding should be distributed, with the House taking the stance that the funds should be sent to hospitals based on their percentage of Medicaid care provided to patients. In addition, there are differences between the two chambers regarding $130 million in one-time funds the Senate wants to provide for hospitals to offset cuts, but the House does not agree to that provision.

For environmental funding, both chambers have expressed a commitment to providing funds for Florida’s waterways and coastal areas, with the Senate committing $75 million for springs restoration and $50 million for other water projects, and the House allocating $25 million for state beach renourishment projects. However, there are significant differences with regard to the state’s land buying program, with the House providing $8 million for Florida Forever, while the Senate has prioritized the issue, providing $150 million for the program. For transportation, both chambers are supporting legislation to provide $60 million to create a new statewide “alternative” transportation authority to address traffic congestion.


Education

Florida’s education system is once again set to be the biggest issue discussed and debated during the 2018 session. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has made K-12 funding and policy matters his legacy issue throughout his tenure as House leader. This year, Speaker Corcoran’s omnibus education bill, mentioned in earlier sections of this report, is being compared to his education reform bill passed last year, which created the controversial Schools of Hope scholarship program. Speaker Corcoran’s legislation this year, which will likely cause contention with the Senate over its tie to $8 billion in K-12 funding, includes a number of sweeping policy measures. Key among these provisions is language allowing students who are bullied at public schools to use public funds to attend private schools instead. This language, which is supported in the Senate as well, has been compared to other controversial school voucher legislation considered by lawmakers in recent years. In addition, the bill contains language providing funds for low-performing readers in elementary schools to secure tutoring services, and controversial language regarding membership in teachers’ unions, among other items. In addition, the legislation contains numerous provisions relating to charter schools, including language making it more difficult for school districts to close charter schools.

From the start of session, Senate leaders expressed a commitment to focusing on higher education policy and funding issues in Florida. 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. Last week, the Senate released a budget plan to increase funding for colleges and universities by more than $380 million. This would include a significant increase for financial aid, which covers the Bright Futures program. In addition, state universities would receive funding boosts, including additional performance funding, as well as Florida colleges, which would receive an additional $40 million in operating funds. The House plan, however, is vastly different. With a stance that Florida’s higher education system has been “overfunded” for years, the House is looking to reduce funding for universities and is not supportive of the increase for Bright Futures.


Health Care

Health care has been a contentious topic among Florida lawmakers for several years, with differences between the two chambers typically surrounding the state’s Medicaid program. Last session, however, the big health care debate centered around legislative funding reductions for the state’s hospitals, and it looks like the hospital funding fight could come back up again this session.

The issue this year surrounds Medicaid inpatient “enhancement” funds, and ideological differences between the two chambers on the issue. There is roughly $265 million in funds that the legislature needs to decide how to distribute to hospitals. The Senate wants to divide the funds based on each hospital’s Medicaid base rate, which would negatively impact the state’s safety net hospitals. The House, however, wants to distribute the funds to hospitals whose patient services include at least 25 percent in Medicaid care. The hospital funding issue became so divisive last year that session was extended for several days to address the matter. Ultimately, it was decided that hospitals would receive around $130 million in one-time funding to offset cuts. The Senate wants to provide the one-time funding again this year, but the House has not agreed to the move, setting the matter up to become an issue in budget conference.

On the policy end, lawmakers have placed key focus this year on working to combat the state’s opioid crisis – an issue plaguing states across the nation. Governor Scott made this a key priority this year, proposing $50 million in funding for programs and supporting legislation to implement new policies like a strict limit on the frequency of opioid prescription refills. The Senate has also made this issue a priority, currently considering legislation to limit prescription lengths and other changes to current state policy. In addition, both chambers are providing funding for efforts on this issue.

Members are also again considering legislation to repeal the certificate of need process, which regulates the building of hospitals in Florida, and measures providing authorization for certain health care services to be provided via telehealth. In addition, there are a number of proposals relating to health insurance claims and payments, including legislation prohibiting health insurers from retroactively denying claims in certain circumstances. One key issue also being considered by lawmakers is regarding trauma centers in the state. Both chambers are working on legislation that addresses the approval of new trauma centers, as well as the “grandfathering in” of existing trauma centers as the issue is currently being litigated in the state court system.

Going forward, it appears that once again health care matters could become a major and difficult issue during budget conference.


Hurricane Response and Preparedness

Following the devastation of powerful Hurricane Irma, 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 current and future storm issues.

As the committee began 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. In addition to the committee’s work, there have been a number of bills filed pertaining to hurricane-related issues this session. For example, legislation prohibiting cable and telephone companies from charging customers for service during outages from storms and other incidents.

These matters are also factoring largely into budget discussions this session. Both chambers have included hurricane-related issues in their budgets, with funding provided for housing in areas impacted by the storm.

In addition, Governor Scott is focused on resolving issues relating to storm evacuations, and recently directed the Florida Department of Transportation (“FDOT”) to implement changes relating to Florida’s transportation and highway system, as well as fuel availability along evacuation routes. Also with regard to fuel, lawmakers are considering legislation this session to develop a task force to address fuel reserve and shortage issues during storms.


Environment and Land Use

Environment and water issues have been some of the most discussed and debated in recent years, and this year is no different. Lawmakers, particularly Senate members, have placed a key focus on securing funding for the state’s land buying and water programs, with Senate leaders expressing that maintaining and preserving land in Florida is a “responsibility” of the legislature.

The Senate has focused its efforts on both substantive and appropriations legislation, with measures to commit nearly $300 million annually to protect the state’s land buying efforts, as well as fund programs to restore and protect Florida’s springs and other water bodies. On the House side, members have allocated around $43 million for land acquisition and conservation, and $25 million for springs protection. The differences between the two chambers on funding for environmental programs is vast and will need to be addressed during budget conference.

Legislation has been filed again this session relating to coastal management in Florida. The measures would make significant changes to how the state deals with Florida’s beach erosion and renourishment issues. However, current indications are that the legislation is unlikely to pass again this year. While the proposal, which would allocate $50 million for beach projects and provide for a three-year beach management plan, has passed through all committees in the Senate, at this time it looks like it will not be taken up by the House.

In addition, members are considering measures in both chambers to shift the responsibility and oversight of wetland permitting from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”). This is also a priority of Governor Scott, who has been working with the Trump administration on the issue.


Economic Development, Taxes and Incentives

Economic development and job creation have been the top priorities of Governor Scott during his time leading the state. The issue was initially a source of much contention between the Governor and the Speaker, with the Speaker scrutinizing a number of the programs the Governor strongly supported. However, negotiations made between the two sides last year resulted in lawmakers providing the Governor with an $85 million infrastructure fund, and fully funding Visit Florida as the Governor requested. Presently, that $85 million is provided in both chambers’ budgets, although the Senate has tied the money to funds the state is set to receive from FEMA. That Senate provision could become a conference fight between the two chambers.

This year, Governor Scott requested a total of $100 million for Visit Florida – an increase of $24 million from last year. While the House has not agreed to the increase, House members did fund Visit Florida – the state’s tourism promotion agency – at last year’s level. The Senate, however, only provided $50 million in its budget for the organization.

In addition, both chambers are currently considering legislation relating to tourist development taxes, otherwise known as “bed taxes.” The proposals would expand the use of those taxes to include infrastructure projects that benefit tourism. However, the move is not supported by those in the industry, who mainly want to focus the revenues on marketing efforts. House members have also worked on legislation to add more transparency to local economic development efforts – a priority of Speaker Corcoran.

With regard to taxes, the House is expected to release its tax package soon – possibly this week. It is anticipated that any tax cuts will be less than in recent years due to unexpected costs to the state from issues like Hurricane Irma. Even Governor’s Scott’s recommended tax cuts for the coming year were the least he has proposed since taking office as Governor.

Lawmakers are also currently considering legislation to implement rules regarding how legislators increase taxes in the future. On the House side, the legislation would require a two-thirds vote by members to raise taxes. The Senate version would require a three-fifths vote.


Transportation and Infrastructure

Lawmakers are considering 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 are also considering legislation relating to prohibiting the operation of drones in certain locations, as well as regarding the use of electric and hybrid vehicles in Florida.

In addition, both chambers are currently working on their comprehensive transportation packages, which will likely be added to existing bills at this point. These would include numerous provisions relating to Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (“DHSMV”) and FDOT programs.

The House and Senate are also considering legislation to create a statewide “alternative” transportation authority. The move would create an authority to develop alternative transportation systems and programs in order to relieve traffic congestion issues in the state.


Energy

Early in the legislative session, bills were filed in both chambers to ban oil and gas hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” in Florida. This topic has been considered and debated by lawmakers in recent years. However, the issue became headline news in January when President Trump announced plans to open the majority of the Outer Continental Shelf off the U.S. Coast, including Florida, for offshore drilling. This was an issue long opposed by Governor Scott, and the Governor quickly jumped into action to have Florida excluded from the order. Soon after, federal officials announced that Florida would be exempt from the new offshore drilling plans (although other federal officials expressed that Florida was still being “analyzed”). Since then, state legislators have pushed a resolution requesting that Congress extend a moratorium on drilling off of Florida’s coasts. The legislation to completely ban fracking in the state has also received hearing in the Senate, but the House stance is that any ban should be temporary while studies are developed.

Many topics up for consideration this session center largely around hurricane issues, in response to the massive power outages the state was left to deal with in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. The storm led to scrutiny of Florida’s utility and power policies, and members began looking to address issues before the state faces future storms. One measure filed would prevent utilities from charging Floridians during large service outages. In addition, legislation is moving this session to give the Florida Public Service Commission (“PSC”) the authority to determine when electric transmission lines should be located underground.


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 have shown 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. In fact, Senator Hutson filed an amendment to his language just last week. The new provisions include the Seminole Gaming Compact and keep fantasy contests exempt. This is in addition to stand-alone legislation being considered this session to exempt fantasy sports from current gaming regulations, making fantasy sports legal in Florida. While the new Senate language is still different from the House version, adding the Seminole Compact language brings the two chambers closer together for negotiations as lawmakers go into the final weeks of session.

In addition, a powerful coalition of anti-gambling groups worked hard in recent months to push a petition to place an anti-gambling amendment on the 2018 ballot. In January, that group, which was supported by the Seminole Tribe, was successful in their effort. The amendment will be considered by Florida voters later this year.


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. With this being an election year, politics will undoubtedly be a big factor going forward. Members will continue in the coming days and weeks to address legislation already filed and craft amendments to bills addressing various issues.

The 60-day session is officially set to adjourn in less than 30 days on Friday, March 9th.