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

Roger Towers & The Fiorentino Group Strategic Alliance

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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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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.

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.

Legislative Session Kick-Off – January 2018

TFG Logo Legislative Session Kick-Off January 2018

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

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

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

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

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


State Budget

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

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

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


Hurricane Response and Preparedness

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

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

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


Education

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

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

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

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

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


Environment and Land Use

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

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


Health Care

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

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

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

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

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


Economic Development, Taxes and Incentives

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

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

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


Transportation and Infrastructure

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

In his proposed budget, Governor Scott allowed for $740 million in new debt for transportation projects, which would focus mostly on right-of-way and bridge construction projects. In addition, each session the House and Senate transportation committees put forth their respective legislative packages, which include priorities outlined by the Florida Department of Transportation and Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles for the year. These bills have not yet been filed for the session but are typically heavily debated and amended throughout the 60-day period.


Energy

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

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


Texting While Driving

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


Gaming

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

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


Going Forward

There is much to be decided and much at stake in the legislature in the coming months, with critical state policy and funding issues up for discussion. While the session officially kicked off yesterday, work actually started last fall and has been steady since that time. As the work of lawmakers continues, issues are evolving and changing at a rapid pace.

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

TFG Trendlines: December 2017

TFG Trendlines December 2017

Video: Join Us for a Political Preview

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

To RSVP for the Political Preview luncheon, click here.


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

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

The JTA’s AV Test & Learn Track

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

JTA will test vehicles continuously for approximately two years.


Joe Mobley Celebrates 10 Years at TFG

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

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

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

TFG’s Joe Mobley


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Copyright © 2017. All Rights Reserved.

TFG Trendlines: July 2017

TFG Trendlines July 2017

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


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

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

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

JAXPORT’s Eric Green

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


2018 Session Prep Work Set To Begin This Fall

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

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

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


ICYMI: TFG’s New Website

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

 

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Copyright © 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Legislative Update: Special Session

The Fiorentino Group Legislative Update Special Session

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

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

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


Budget Negotiations

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

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

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


Economic Development

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

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

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


K-12 Education Funding

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

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

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

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

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


Higher Education Funding

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

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

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


Medical Marijuana

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

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


Funding For Hospitals

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

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


Lake Okeechobee / Herbert Hoover Dike

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

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


Summary

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

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

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