Last night state lawmakers wrapped up the 2013 legislative session, with House and Senate members adjourning at 7:16 p.m. The Fiorentino Group enjoyed a very successful session on behalf of our clients. There were a number of important matters considered during the session. Key among them was overhauling the state health care system – a matter lawmakers worked on for months leading up to the session.
In addition to health care, there were a number of other key issues on the table, including reforming the state’s ethics, elections and campaign finance laws, making changes to Florida’s education standards, and finalizing a state budget for the coming year.
While much of the 60-day process went relatively smoothly, the session climate changed during the final week, with a landmark alimony bill vetoed by Governor Scott, and a questionable late-night majority House vote on the Governor’s recommended tax break for Florida’s manufacturers. There is talk of the latter issue possibly being addressed by Florida courts, as matters that impact local government revenues require a two-thirds majority vote. In addition, the health care debate became contentious in the House in the final days of session, with House Democrats making a motion for the House computer, dubbed “Mary,” to read each bill brought up in its entirety. This was in retaliation over the decision by House Republicans not to accept federal dollars for expanding Florida’s health care programs.
With so many policy issues on the table and the state budget being debated until the final hours of session, many bills simply died without being taken up for a final vote. For example, the transportation package, which included a number of provisions relating to state and local transportation policies, as well as an incentive package for Florida’s professional sports teams, had been so heavily amended by both chambers that it simply died under its own weight without being taken up for a final vote in the House.
Though lawmakers adjourned last night, the 2013 session may not officially be over, with the issue of the vote for the Governor’s manufacturing tax incentive being called into question. In addition, Florida’s Democrat lawmakers are calling for Governor Scott to convene a special session to address health care issues.
House and Senate lawmakers began this session with a budget surplus for the first time in many years. Once Governor Scott released his recommendations prior to the start of session, which included increased spending for education and economic development incentives, lawmakers in both chambers began working to craft their respective budgets for the coming Fiscal Year, which begins July 1st.
The final product approved by lawmakers last night was a record $74.5 billion state budget that includes raises for teachers and state employees, a boost of $1 billion for Florida’s K-12 schools, funding for the state’s higher education system, and money for the Florida Everglades. This year’s budget was significantly larger than previous state budgets, with spending increased by more than $4 billion from last year’s plan. One item notably absent from the budget was the use of federal dollars to expand Florida’s health care.
From here the budget will be sent to Governor Scott for his review and approval. Under state law, the Governor is allowed a budget line-item veto, so some projects may be cut from the plan. He will have 15 days from receipt of the budget to take action.
Ethics, Elections and Campaigns
Lawmakers in both chambers were committed to addressing issues relating to Florida’s ethics, elections and campaign finance laws. House and Senate leaders agreed that the House would focus on campaign finance, while the Senate focused on state ethics laws. In late April, members sent two bills on these issues to Governor Scott. The ethics bill, SB 2, works to close the legislative “revolving door,” where members began lobbying immediately after their term expired. In addition, public officials will now be prohibited from accepting secondary jobs in the public sector as a result of their elected positions.
Under the new campaign finance rules, Committees of Continuous Existence (CCEs) are eliminated, while Political Committees, which are more transparent than CCEs, can receive unlimited contributions and can contribute directly to campaigns. In addition, the contribution limits for individual campaigns were increased from $500 to $1,000 for legislative races and $3,000 for statewide and Supreme Court races, per candidate, per election cycle. The ethics and campaign finance bills were signed into law by Governor Scott this week.
In addition, lawmakers passed legislation on the final day of session addressing issues with state elections procedures and policies. This legislation resulted from problems experienced by voters during the 2012 election cycle. The new law will allow more time for early voting, provide flexibility for more early voting sites, and simplify information included on ballots going forward. The legislation is headed to the Governor, who has indicated that he will sign the bill.
Prior to the start of the 2013 session, Governor Scott made a surprising call for legislators to expand Florida’s Medicaid program, as provided in the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, (PPACA) and accept federal funding. Under the Act, the federal funding would be allocated at 90 percent to the state for the first three years of expansion. After that, funding would be uncertain – an issue that made many state lawmakers reluctant to put forth a policy relying on federal funding. Despite the fact that lawmakers worked throughout the session on this matter, the Legislature adjourned last night without passing legislation addressing health care expansion to more low-income Floridians.
With the outcome of the state budget depending upon this issue, the matter was heavily debated by lawmakers, with three health care proposals considered this session – two in the Senate, sponsored by Senators Bean and Negron separately, and one in the House, sponsored by Representative Travis Cummings. The Senate plans contained a number of significant differences – primarily, accepting full federal funding. Senator Negron’s legislation called for an extension of the Florida Healthy Kids Corporation, to be known as “Healthy Florida”,” which would serve as a vehicle for Medicaid expansion in the state. Key to the proposal was its utilization of federal dollars. Senator Bean’s plan called for creation of a “Health Choice Plus Program,” which would target adults with incomes below 100 percent of the poverty level. The plan provided for individual “health benefits accounts” for enrollees, rather than a traditional health insurance program. The money would come from enrollees, employers and the state.
On the House side, Speaker Weatherford and other House leaders made clear from the start of session that the House would not be amenable to accepting federal funding for health care. Members in that chamber released a plan later in session that aimed to offer subsidies to low-income parents and people with disabilities. The plan did not utilize federal funding and was heavily opposed by Democrats.
While members spent considerable time working on the different plans, it was decided early last month that Medicaid would not be expanded in Florida, and instead an alternative would be sought. It then became clear as session drew to a close that lawmakers were unlikely to come to an agreement on the matter. As noted previously, Democrats are calling for Governor Scott to convene a special session to address this issue.
Despite the lack of an alternative to state Medicaid, members did pass a stripped down version of Senator Bean’s plan, which aims to boost Florida’s Health Choices program by providing an online health marketplace for Floridians to enroll and use funds to purchase health care products or pay for health care costs.
Much of the focus on education this session was the commitment by Governor Scott and lawmakers to increase funding for Florida’s K-12 schools and provide salary raises for Florida’s teachers and school personnel.
With regard to policy, last month Governor Scott signed into law legislation backed by Senate President Gaetz focusing on career education. The bill will provide more funding for Florida’s career education programs in order to better prepare students for the workforce. In addition, members passed legislation focusing on Florida’s charter schools which provides for increased accountability and transparency, but also allows for more flexibility.
The most notable policy issue on the education front, however, was the controversial “parent trigger” bill, which was defeated last session. The legislation, which would have given parents input over failing public schools and potentially allowed parents to dictate measures for improvement, including converting the failing schools to charter schools, was debated again this session and died in the Senate on a 20-20 vote.
There were also a number of other bills heard and passed by members relating to education, including legislation to provide for a review of state instructional materials by the Florida Department of Education or school boards. In addition, members passed legislation addressing issues relating to Florida’s Early Learning organizations.
Last week, members passed legislation aimed at depopulating Citizens Property Insurance Corporation. The bill creates a Citizens Clearinghouse for new applicants and customers up for renewal with private insurers if certain conditions are met. However, the final product was a stripped down version of the original bill. Senator David Simmons, who sponsored the legislation, wanted to push for more extensive reductions of the program. The bill will now be sent to Governor Scott, who has not indicated whether or not he will sign it.
Energy and Environment
The 2013 environmental permitting package, sponsored by Representative Jimmy Patronis in the House and Senator Thad Altman in the Senate, was heavily debated throughout the session. The legislation, supported by business groups and opposed by environmental groups, made its final passage yesterday. The product passed was stripped of language banning new local fertilizer ordinances, as well as provisions regarding the regulation of local wetlands. Items in the final bill include provisions related to expedited permitting for oil and gas pipelines, as well as other permitting items.
In addition, members passed legislation relating to an ongoing issue regarding potential future nuclear plants in Florida. The bill passed by lawmakers revises state laws allowing utilities to charge customers for nuclear plants that may never be built. The new legislation will require utilities to demonstrate to the Public Service Commission that they intend to complete their projects.
Lawmakers also passed historic legislation updating the state’s Everglades Restoration plan and providing funding for the project, as well as a bill resolving issues between the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regarding Florida’s Numeric Nutrient Criteria rules.
Early in the session, lawmakers passed legislation to shut down Florida’s internet café’s, which had been a controversial topic in the state for years. The legislation was in response to a federal investigation of internet cafe operations and a number of arrests made for money laundering and racketeering charges. The issue also resulted in Florida’s Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll stepping down from her position due to her work for the industry prior to becoming Lieutenant Governor. The bill was signed into law by Governor Scott early in the session.
One item heavily debated throughout this session, as well as in previous sessions, was a law to ban texting while driving in Florida. The effort had been years in the making, with members finally passing a bill to send to the Governor. The legislation makes it illegal to read or type texts or emails while driving, but keeps doing so while stopped legal. The measure was watered down throughout the committee process, with the final product providing that only drivers pulled over for other offenses can be cited for texting while driving. The legislation also makes it very difficult for law enforcement officers to pull a driver’s cell phone records to prove a case, with House members amending the bill this week to provide that only in instances where a crash results in injury or death can a driver’s cell phone records be accessed. Governor Scott has not yet indicated whether or not he will sign the bill.
Now that the 2013 legislative session has adjourned, the focus turns to Governor Scott and his potential signing or vetoing of legislation passed, as well as his review and approval of the budget plan sent over by lawmakers. Under state law, the Governor has seven days to act on legislation laid on his desk during the session. For any legislation formally submitted to the Governor during the weeks following the session (which is when most bills are sent), the Governor has a 15 day window to act. When presented with a bill, the Governor can either sign it into law, veto the legislation, or choose not to act, which results in a bill automatically becoming law once the deadline passes.
In addition to legislative activities, many will be watching for the selection of a new Lieutenant Governor. In addition, state officials will be looking ahead to the 2014 campaign season, where the Governor and all Cabinet members, as well as many legislators, will be up for reelection and, due to the law recently passed, can raise even more money than before.