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TFG Employee News

TFG is pleased to share two updates about our team.  Davis Bean has been promoted to Government Affairs Consultant in our Jacksonville office. In his new role, Bean will utilize his skills in legislative affairs and policy development to create strategies to assist TFG clients with appropriations, local governmental matters, economic development and education issues.

Melissa Langley has returned to the firm as Community Relations and Political Director. In her new role, Langley is responsible for managing TFG’s political fundraising efforts, planning special events for the firm and engaging with the local community.

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TFG President Marty Fiorentino Speaks at PDCA International Conference and Expo

Th Fiorentino Group

TFG President Marty Fiorentino recently had the honor of serving as the keynote speaker at the 22nd Annual Pile Driving Contractors Association (PDCA) International Conference and Expo. Titled “Legislation and Advocacy in our Industry: Are You At The Table Or On The Menu?”, the presentation delved into the importance of being politically involved as a business or association.

“Governments and regulators are among the stakeholders with the biggest economic impact on companies,” said Fiorentino.  “Therefore, companies and industries should engage with governments and regulators proactively and regularly.  A strong government relations program can make industry winners and losers.  Don’t be on the menu, be at the table when government decision are being made.”

Marty Fiorentino speaking

“The construction marketplace is highly competitive with tight margins, especially during strong economic times,” said Frank Peters, Executive Director of the PDCA. “When a company is heavily involved in the bidding and building process, it’s easy to overlook the critical influences that the government can place on the construction industry through actions like municipal ordinances, state-level initiatives and even transformational Federal Acts such as an anticipated transportation re-authorization. Marty Fiorentino gave a thought provoking and eye-opening presentation to our PDCA members about the challenges our businesses face when they don’t pay attention to the policy developments that continuously reshape the playing field for the construction industry. It is clear that his insights made an impact on our members who attended his presentation.”

The PDCA is an organization of pile driving contractors that advocates the increased use of driven piles for deep foundations and earth retention systems. For more information, visit piledrivers.org.

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2019 Post-Session Legislative Update

Legislative Session Kick-Off TFG Logo


Florida lawmakers officially wrapped up the 2019 legislative session on Saturday afternoon. The session was extended by one day due to delays in finalizing the state budget, and a required 72-hour waiting period on a vote once the spending plan was compiled and printed. Members wrapped up all policy efforts late Friday night, then convened only to vote on the budget before officially adjourning the session on Saturday. The Fiorentino Group enjoyed another very successful session working on behalf of our clients, including securing critical funding for numerous projects relating to health care, education, veterans services, transportation and infrastructure projects, local environment and water projects, child safety, and critical initiatives for non-profit organizations in Northeast Florida.

While many significant issues were discussed and debated this session, a total of more than 3,500 bills were filed and less than 200 were approved by both chambers to be sent to Governor DeSantis for his consideration. Of the measures that did pass, many are comprehensive and address a number of the biggest issues impacting the state. These include several major health care policy measures, a measure to change the way constitutional amendments are placed on the ballot, a sweeping school choice bill, and legislation making texting while driving a more serious offense, among others.

Overall, the 2019 session was largely amicable, with the process staying relatively free of strife and conflict. The relationships between state leaders were mostly congenial, even through the normally contentious budget process. In this harmonious working environment, Governor Ron DeSantis, who is currently in his first year leading the state, and legislative leaders – Senate President Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton) and House Speaker Jose Oliva (R-Hialeah), both new to their leadership positions as well – collectively had a very successful session.

The session was also a sweeping success for the Republican Party. From a policy perspective, it was full of conservative wins, with successful bills to implement major health care reforms, ban sanctuary cities, expand private school vouchers, allow for the importation of prescription drugs, and boost laws to arm teachers, among other measures, all passing successfully through the process. The environment between Republican and Democrat leaders stayed remarkably harmonious as well, with one Democrat member accusing Party leaders of having a “get along, go along” mentality when it came to dealing with the Republican-led process.

Governor DeSantis saw several of his policy and funding objectives meet with success, including increased education spending, medical marijuana legislation, and a ban on sanctuary cities. President Galvano saw the success of his biggest session priority – a transportation measure to create three new toll roads in rural areas of the state. In the House, Speaker Oliva successfully pushed numerous sweeping health care measures through the legislative process. Health care reform has long been a key priority for the Speaker and was the subject of one of very few issues that caused contention this session – the Certificate of Need (CON) program. The CON program is a regulatory program that determines how, where and when hospitals and other health care facilities can be built in Florida. Speaker Oliva called for a complete repeal of the program, a move which the Senate strongly opposed early in session. However, the two chambers ultimately negotiated and reached a compromise on the matter, with the measure now headed to the Governor for his action.

Members also saw a smooth and successful budget process this session, with the $91.1 billion spending plan for the coming year passing unanimously through the Senate, and by a vote of 106-2 in the House.

It is generally more common to see sweeping policy measures passed in a non-election year, and that trend held true this session. Next year, Floridians may not see such significant changes come out of the legislature, with many members vying to hold their seats in the 2020 elections. Provided below is a summary of some of the key issues and priorities addressed throughout the 2019 session.

State Budget

Lawmakers passed the $91.1 billion budget with little fanfare and a strong amount of bipartisan support. The 2019-2020 budget is nearly $2.5 billion more than the current state budget.

Going into session, Governor DeSantis released his proposed spending plan to lawmakers, totaling a record $91.3 billion, with his funding priorities being increased dollars for environmental programs and K-12 schools, and addressing storm recovery efforts for parts of the state still recovering from Hurricane Michael. The final product passed by lawmakers ended up at $200 million less than the Governor’s recommendations. Interestingly, the final legislative budget was around $800 million more than the original Senate budget and $1.2 billion more than the original House budget. Lawmakers provided increases in numerous key areas of the budget, with boosts of nearly $800 million to education, more than $300 million to health care, and nearly $700 million for environment and water projects. In addition, members provided $1.8 billion for Hurricane Michael recovery efforts, as well as a $300 million tax package. Sticking points throughout the budget negotiation process surrounded several key issues, including health care and hospital funding – an issue that has been a source of contention between the two chambers for several years. This session the issue surrounded around $319 million in extra Medicaid funding from the federal government. The House wanted to distribute the funds to hospitals that provide the most charity care to uninsured patients, as has been done in recent years. The Senate wanted to distribute the money evenly to all hospitals. Ultimately, members decided to only distribute $9 million of the funds back to hospitals. The health care budget, which takes up more than 40 percent of the entire state budget, is always one of the last items settled in the budget conference process.

Members also spent time negotiating on various areas of the state education budget – both K-12 and higher education. Early in session House lawmakers proposed less than the Senate for both parts of the education budget, including cuts to state university projects as a result of a recent scandal involving the misuse of funds. Ultimately, the Senate prevailed on higher education funding, providing dollars for Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) for various higher education construction projects. On K-12 spending, lawmakers provided a boost in per-student spending, increased school safety and security funding and upped funding for the state’s teacher bonus program – a priority of Governor DeSantis. On economic development spending, members disagreed throughout session about an issue that has long been a point of contention – the state’s tourism marketing agency, Visit Florida. Speaker Oliva has been a vocal critic of the program, with the House looking to fund the organization only until its expiration date later this year. The Senate, however, called for providing $50 million for the organization. Ultimately, the Senate prevailed and plans to de-fund Visit Florida were scrapped for this year.

The budget will soon be sent to Governor DeSantis for his review and potential veto of certain line items. While the Governor does not have line item veto power in regular policy legislation, he does have the ability to veto certain funding projects in the comprehensive budget bill.

Health Care

Health care was one of the biggest issues debated during session and has long been a major priority of Speaker Oliva, who began the session looking to make significant changes to remedy what he calls the “health care industrial complex” in Florida. Overall, the Speaker’s health care reform measures were met with success, with four key bills passed. These include a successful Certificate of Need (CON) bill, a bill allowing for the importation of prescription drugs from Canada, a measure to expand telehealth services offered in Florida, and a bill expanding the services of ambulatory or outpatient surgery centers.

As noted previously, CON was one of the biggest health care issues lawmakers debated during the session. Ultimately, the two chambers reached a compromise that repeals the program for hospitals, but exempts hospices and nursing homes from the repeal. The repeal of CON laws for regular or general hospitals will be effective this year. For specialty and other hospitals, the repeal won’t go into effect until 2021.

In addition, Speaker Oliva and Governor DeSantis both pushed a landmark proposal to allow for the importation of prescription drugs from Canada to the United States. The measure ultimately passed by lawmakers was a more scaled down version than the original proposal, which would have allowed any pharmacy in Florida to import drugs from Canada. The measure passed by lawmakers will limit the imported drugs to only be used in public health programs. With regard to pricing, it will implement requirements for pharmacies to report how much they pay for imported drugs, but not the prices at which they are then sold.

With regard to telehealth, the bill passed by lawmakers will authorize Florida health care professionals to use telehealth methods to deliver health care services to patients. The measure hit a roadblock over language to allow out-of-state doctors that participate in an interstate licensing agreement to practice telehealth in Florida. The language adopted by lawmakers does not include the out-of-state provision but does leave the door open for the future, calling for a study of the matter. Under the legislation relating to outpatient surgery, patients will now be allowed to stay in surgery centers overnight. This measure is part of a comprehensive health package, which also requires hospitals to notify patients when they are being reviewed for admission. Each of these bills will now be finalized by legislative staff and sent to Governor DeSantis for his consideration.

In addition to the landmark health packages outlined above, there were also numerous other health care measures heard and passed this session. These include a measure relating to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), easing some of the state requirements on health care coverage and requiring most health plans offered in Florida to cover pre-existing conditions should the ACA be changed or no longer be in effect at some point.

Florida’s opioid epidemic also continues to be a critical issue throughout the state and a key priority for lawmakers. Attorney General Ashley Moody pushed a measure this session to allow the Attorney General’s office to access the state’s drug database during opioid investigations. This would be a key component of the overall opioid lawsuit the state is currently pursuing against numerous pharmaceutical drug-makers and pharmacies, including Walgreens and CVS. The legislative effort will give the Attorney General’s office access to patient information for use in the lawsuit. While at one point it looked like this legislation was unlikely to pass, in the final week of session members moved the issue through the process. The Governor has indicated that he plans to sign the bill. This issue has the potential to eventually bring in almost a billion dollars to the state, which would be used for drug treatment programs and other methods to combat the opioid crisis currently plaguing Florida and its citizens.

Members also passed a bill allowing transportation network companies (TNCs) to contract with Medicaid services to provide non-emergency medical transportation services to patients, increasing access for patients who have issues with transport to medical appointments.

One issue that did not pass was a push by House lawmakers to include a provision in this year’s tax package to require Florida’s non-profit hospitals to report information regarding their tax-exempt status. This language was eventually stripped from the tax bill passed by lawmakers.

Education

Each year, lawmakers address large proposals relating to K-12 education and higher education in Florida, and this year was no different. Reforming the state’s K-12 education system has been a big priority of Governor DeSantis and Speaker Oliva, who started the session looking to expand school choice and offer enhanced scholarship programs for Florida’s students, including vouchers for low-income students to attend private schools.

On the funding side, members provided a total of $17 billion to the Florida Education Finance Program, which includes $180 million (an $18 million increase) for school safety and security, as well as $75 million for mental health services in schools. The K-12 education budget provides a $242-per-student increase in school spending, as well as around $285 million in funding for the state’s teacher bonus program – a priority of Governor DeSantis. In addition, members agreed on a groundbreaking and controversial measure to allocate over $158 million in Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) money for maintenance of charter schools in Florida – leaving traditional public schools to continue relying on local tax dollars.

Lawmakers debated numerous comprehensive education proposals in the final days of session, but the biggest issue for members – an issue that has been extensively discussed, considered and debated since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting massacre in Parkland, Florida in 2018 – was school safety and security. After the shooting occurred during session last year, members responded with a measure outlining numerous school “hardening” measures for keeping students safe, as well as a provision allowing school districts to opt into a program to provide firearm and safety training to certain school employees. This year, members considered revisions to the measures passed last year, with a controversial proposal to expand the law allowing teachers to carry guns in schools being debated into the final week of session.

What ultimately passed was a comprehensive school safety package that implements numerous recommendations issued by a commission created after last year’s tragedy. The measure expands the school Guardian Program to allow for armed teachers in schools. The previous law only allowed staff with roles outside of the classroom to carry guns at school. Overall, the bill expands the power of school districts with regard to the Guardian program, removing requirements that districts obtain approval from local sheriffs to establish programs in schools. Governor DeSantis has expressed support for the measure and has indicated that he will sign it into law.

Members also passed a comprehensive school voucher program – the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program – to allow for expanded school choice options for Florida’s students. This was another priority of Governor DeSantis and Speaker Oliva. The measure will expand the Schools of Hope charter program, and has been compared to the voucher program previously created under former Governor Jeb Bush, who was honored during the session. In addition, a controversial education measure was proposed in the tax package passed by lawmakers and involved a long-debated issue surrounding utilizing more local dollars for charter schools. This particular proposal involved tax dollars approved in certain counties in referendums, and whether the money should be used for traditional public schools or shared with charter schools in those counties. The issue was a matter of debate between the two chambers, with the Senate even stripping the language from the tax plan at one point. Ultimately, members compromised on a plan to allow for sharing the local dollars with charter schools in only future referendums held after July 1st.

Lawmakers also passed legislation relating to workforce education in Florida, requiring school districts to offer certain courses and credits to create career opportunities for students. Members also addressed issues relating to Florida Virtual School, putting the organization under the control of the state Board of Education.

With regard to higher education, lawmakers were focused this session on issues relating to funding for Florida’s colleges and universities. Given the recent scandal at the University of Central Florida relating to the misuse of taxpayer dollars, Florida’s higher education institutions were under heavy scrutiny the past few months. Speaker Oliva outlined plans for major higher education reform, looking to increase oversight and accountability measures. While the issue was a source of contention between the two chambers at one point, the House eventually conceded to the Senate and agreed to pass a measure that allows universities to continue spending certain funds on school construction projects. The legislation does require schools to adopt spending plans for the funding, which are reserve or “carry-forward” dollars. The measure also increases reporting requirements with regard to school funds.

Energy and Environment

Environment and water issues in Florida have been a major priority for Governor DeSantis, who committed to providing a total of $2.5 billion in environmental spending over his four-year term. Senate and House leaders have also expressed commitment to resolving Florida’s water problems and focusing budget efforts on various environmental programs and projects throughout the state. Funding-wise, members exceeded the Governor’s request, providing more than $680 million for water quality and protection programs. Legislatively, members began session considering a comprehensive water quality bill to address nutrient levels to prevent algae growth around Lake Okeechobee and its tributaries, among other water issues. However, ultimately, this and other environmental policy measures failed. Members did, however, pass legislation relating to the state’s Red Tide issue and provided an annual allocation of $3 million for the matter.

On the energy front, a key topic this session was a proposed constitutional amendment to deregulate the state’s energy market. The controversial measure, which supporters aim to have placed on the 2020 ballot, would essentially upend the state’s energy market by limiting investor-owned utilities to only construction, operation and repairs, and giving customers the ability to choose their energy providers. With many strong opinions on both sides of this issue, it was particularly concerning to Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, as well as state lawmakers, who all see the potential for major crisis if the state’s energy market is turned upside down. As a result, both chambers of the legislature launched efforts this session to block the amendment from being placed on the 2020 ballot. In addition to attorneys for both chambers filing briefs against the measure late last month and urging the Supreme Court to block it from the ballot, both chambers moved legislation through the process this session to increase requirements for placing initiatives on the ballot. And although the legislation looked all but dead as session was nearing its end, members actually approved the proposal in the final hours of session. The bill passed will increase requirements on groups working to get amendment language on the ballot, including implementing registration and hourly wage rules, as well as requiring certain information about the amendment to be printed on the ballot. The measure will now go to Governor DeSantis for his consideration.

Members also considered legislation to ban fracking in Florida, but the measure had ambiguous language that led to opposition from both sides of the issue. Ultimately, the measure died without final hearing.

Transportation, Economic Development and Incentives

Transportation is a key issue for lawmakers every session. This remained true this year, particularly in the Senate, with President Galvano making a comprehensive rural transportation program his biggest priority. As session began, President Galvano called for $75 million to cover three expansive highway projects in rural areas of the state, looking to make the projects “multi-purpose corridors,” in an effort to boost economic development and provide an additional hurricane evacuation option for Floridians. The measure was at times used as a bargaining chip on budget matters and was heavily opposed by environmental groups, but ultimately passed successfully through session. The final product approved by lawmakers is a program to build President Galvano’s three requested corridors. The projects are as follows: the Southwest-Central Florida Connector from Collier to Polk County; the Suncoast Connector from Citrus to Jefferson County; and the Northern Turnpike Connector from the Florida Turnpike to the Suncoast Parkway.

Members also considered numerous comprehensive transportation measures this session, many of which passed successfully through the legislative process and will now be sent to Governor DeSantis. The provisions adopted by lawmakers include language relating to the Florida Department of Transportation procurement process. Members also passed a bill authorizing the use of vehicles in autonomous mode in Florida, with the goal to make the state a leader in autonomous vehicle testing and allow for more innovation in state transportation policies.

Economic development has been a key issue in Florida for the past decade and has caused a strong amount of contention among state leaders in recent years. One subject of controversy has been Visit Florida, the state’s tourism promotion agency. Specifically, leaders have sparred in recent years about the efficacy of the organization and the state dollars provided to fund it. The House – particularly Speaker Oliva – has long argued that state dollars should not be provided to fund economic development policies and organizations. Therefore, early in the budget process House leaders allocated just enough funding to get Visit Florida through October, when it is set to expire. The Senate, however, proposed $50 million in funding for the organization. Ultimately Visit Florida was granted a reprieve thanks to Governor DeSantis, who convinced lawmakers to keep the agency for another year. Lawmakers allocated $50 million for the program in 2019-2020.

Members also passed a tax package successfully through the process this year. The measure will provide more than $120 million in tax breaks for Floridians, including several sales-tax holidays on back-to-school items and hurricane supplies, as well as tax relief for farmers in the Panhandle area as part of the Hurricane Michael relief and recovery effort.

Medical Marijuana

Since the passage of a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana in Florida in 2016, lawmakers have been focused on the issue and working to create laws to implement the amendment language. Medical Marijuana was actually the subject of the first bill signed into law by Governor DeSantis this session. The legislation signed into law repeals the ban on smoking medical marijuana, which was part of the original implementation bill passed by lawmakers in 2017. The repeal will make the medicine more accessible for patients throughout the state.

Some House lawmakers also pushed legislation this session to establish a limit on the level of THC allowed in medical cannabis products in the state. The measure, which would have prompted the Florida Department of Health to establish oversight of medical cannabis in Florida, would have also limited the supply of edible cannabis products for patients and increased regulations of daily dosages. The language, however, lacked support in the Senate and died without passage.

Members also considered several measures relating to a hemp program in Florida, and ultimately passed a bill to establish regulations for a hemp industry in the state. The measure directs the Florida Department of Agriculture to oversee licensing and establishing standards for the cultivation and production of hemp in Florida. Hemp can be harvested for the production of cannabidiol, a product used in supplements and other dietary and wellness items. This follows the legalization of hemp at the federal level last year.

Going Forward

The 2019 session was an overwhelming success for lawmakers, Governor DeSantis, and the leaders currently overseeing the Senate and House.

At this time, the Governor has received a total of only 24 bills, with 22 signed into law and two waiting for action. Legislative staff is currently working to finalize 170 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 once he receives the comprehensive state budget bill passed by lawmakers. With the budget, however, the Governor has line item veto power.

Most of the bills passed this session, as well as the state budget, will go into effect July 1st. After that, there will only be a short amount of time before the process will start again. With the new policy of moving session up two months in election years, the 2020 legislative session will start next January, which means committee weeks could begin as early as September.

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2019 Mid-Session Legislative Update

2019 Mid-Session Legislative Update placeholder

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

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

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

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

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


State Budget

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

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

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


Health Care

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

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

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

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


Medical Marijuana

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

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

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

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


Education

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

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

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

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

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

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


Energy, Environment and Water Issues

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

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

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

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


Transportation and Economic Development

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

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

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

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


Going Forward

There is much to be decided and much at stake in the legislature in the coming weeks, with the state budget and a number of potentially controversial issues up for discussion. Members will continue to address legislation already filed and craft amendments to bills addressing various issues. In addition, budget conference will soon be underway, with House and Senate budget leaders looking to push their respective plans and priorities.

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

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2019 Legislative Session Kick-Off

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

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

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

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

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


State Budget

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

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

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


Medical Marijuana

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

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


Health Care

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

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

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

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


Education

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

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

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

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


School Security

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

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

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


Environment and Water Issues

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


Energy

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

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


Transportation, Infrastructure and Development

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

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

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


Election Reform

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

Another measure filed by Senate Democrats would require elections supervisors to apply the same rules currently in place for overseas ballots to domestic mail ballots. This means domestic ballots would be accepted and counted for up to 10 days following the election, as long as they are postmarked by Election Day. Yet another measure will extend current state recount deadlines and provide stricter requirements for county voting machines. These measures will likely be heavily amended and debated throughout session.


Going Forward

There is much to be decided and much at stake in the legislature in the coming months, with critical state policy and funding issues up for discussion. Already, members have filed more than 3,000 bills. Of these, only around 200 bills will pass completely through the legislative process by the time session wraps up.

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

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

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

Legislative Session Kick-Off TFG Logo

Contact: John Finotti
904.493.5006 (office)
904.891.3867 (mobile)
[email protected]

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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

Shannan Dunaway Schuessler

Shannan Schuessler will be joining The Fiorentino Group in Tallahassee.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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TFG Trendlines: December 2018

TFG Trendlines

The Fiorentino Group’s Company Newsletter

 

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

 

2019 Session Prep Work Underway

 

“Little” Additions to the TFG Family

 

TFG’s Move to New Offices

 

 

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

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

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

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


2019 Session Prep Work Underway

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

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

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

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

“Little” Additions to the TFG Family

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

Robert and Susie welcomed Cameron to their family…

TFG Trendlines December 2018 Little Additions

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

TFG Trendlines December 2018 Little Additions

TFG Trendlines December 2018 Little Additions

No word yet on future careers in lobbying…


TFG’s Move to New Offices

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

TFG Trendlines December 2018 The Fiorentino Offices Before and After

TFG Trendlines December 2018 The Fiorentino Offices Before and After

TFG Trendlines December 2018 The Fiorentino Offices Before and After

Our Front Door…Before and After

TFG Trendlines December 2018 The Fiorentino Offices Before and After


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