Florida Weekend Recap – February 20

300-WEEKEND-FLORIDAFlorida Weekend Recap – February 20

A recap of this week’s best political and policy happenings; Historic City News brings you what you missed this week in Florida policy and politics.

A new analysis requested by the Florida Ports Council found that Florida’s seaports could nab a much larger share of imports and exports that enter the Sunshine State through non-Florida berths. ♦ Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty faced scrutiny over his use of a third-party credit card to pay for travel expenses related to professional conferences, which several other agency heads said they had not and would not do. ♦ A bill to allow auto insurance companies to set different rates for areas as small as a single zip code passed its first Senate subcommittee. Consumer advocates say that the bill allows discriminatory pricing practices that could harm consumers, but insurance industry professionals argue that it simply updates the law to allow reflect the influence of improved computer technology on the industry. ♦ All Aboard Florida has no viable economic model that wouldn’t produce a net loss, according to an analysis by a former White House economist commissioned by anti-rail group Citizens Against Rail Expansion.

The growth of the Florida Lottery is projected to slow dramatically in coming years, which could spell trouble for a state education system that receives significant amounts of money from the state operated games. The Legislative Budget Commission met Thursday and decided to punt the decision to the beginning of legislative session, when the full Legislature will decide what to do with the $7 million in funds. ♦ Sen. Nancy Detert is proposing major reforms to the state’s film incentives program by providing incentives in the form of a rebate of program and instituting two application periods to ensure that the funds are not all spent at the same time. ♦ A University of Florida study found that the demand for affordable housing has grown due to the combined trends of increasing rents and decreasing wages. ♦ Florida drew a record number of tourists in 2014 with 97 million travelers passing through the Sunshine State, but still felt slightly short of Gov. Rick Scott’s 100 million visitor goal.

The Board of Governors of the State University System approved adding three more projects to its Legislative Budget Request for the 2015 session. State lawmakers will decide which projects will get funded using the board’s list as a reference during the upcoming session. Those projects are a downtown campus for the University of Central Florida, a downtown medical school for the University of South Florida and a renovation of the College of Education at the University of Florida. ♦ More than twice as many families have joined Florida Prepaid this year compared with last year. It is likely due to a 2014 legislative plan to halt tuition increases. That number could get bigger as families have until the end of February before the annual enrollment window closes. ♦ Pencils down! Following the completion of an investigation by Education Commissioner Pam Stewart into Florida’s standardized testing at the behest of Gov. Rick Scott, she recommended enacting four measures. Her recommendations would reduce the number of local and state tests.

The Senate Agriculture Committee passed a pair of exemption bills this week. One clarifies an existing exemption from civil liability for farmers that allow people to pick produce from their land and another gives farmers a tax exemption on certain farming equipment. Both measures passed unanimously. ♦ Two bills seeking to reform the Public Service Commission passed their first committee. SB 288, sponsored by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, requires commissioners to hold meetings around the state and not just in Tallahassee, stream video of meetings live over the Internet and take yearly ethics training. SB 230, filed by Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, prohibits a utility from charging a higher rate because of a billing cycle extension. ♦ Another Dean-sponsored package of legislation seeking to restructure the state’s trust funds to implement Amendment #1 passed its first committee as well, though some housing advocates worry the measures may affect the state’s affordable housing trust fund. ♦ A nearly 100-page water policy bill made a splash when it passed its final committee, becoming one of the first bills to hit the House floor. Though environmentalists tacitly supported the measure, some thought the measure was just a drop in the bucket compared to all that could have been included in the proposal.

Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, filed a measure that would mandate that physicians performing abortions have admitting privileges at a licensed hospital that “provides obstetrical or gynecological health care services” within 30 miles of the clinic where the procedure is to be performed. ♦ After the release of an initial Department of Children and Families report found that the department bungled the handling of a case that led to the death of a 5-year-old girl, Senate President Andy Gardiner called for a review of the state’s mental health system and DCF’s procedures. ♦ 11.4 million Americans signed up for health insurance through HealthCare.gov and state-run exchanges during the official sign-up window for insurance under the Affordable Care Act. The Obama administration has said around 6.7 million people were enrolled in health plans ahead of the new sign-up window. ♦ IHS Inc. presented the results of a landmark doctor shortage study to the Senate Health Policy Committee. IHS concludes that Florida will be short 7,000 doctors by 2025. The report also found that rural areas would be hit hardest, while more broadly speaking the state’s shortage rate would actually see a decrease.

A bill to allow individuals with concealed carry permits to bring their guns on college campuses passed its first committee after intense debate between proponents and opponents. ♦ The Florida Supreme Court ruled that Florida law prohibits openly carrying weapons in public. ♦ Legislators must reconcile two bills that address a loophole that caused a recording proving that a man was soliciting an underage girl for sex to be thrown out of court. The House bill was broader the Senate bill, and legislators will have to decide what crimes the new exception will be applied to. ♦ South Florida legislator Sen. Eleanor Sobel is filing legislation that to a repeal a long standing but 0unenforced ban on cohabitation between unmarried different-sex couples.

Gov. Rick Scott said that his administration won’t appeal a federal court ruling that the state illegally tried to purge the voter rolls of suspected noncitizens within 90 days of 2012 election. “Our goal continues to be 100 percent participation by eligible voters and zero percent fraud,” Scott said in statement. ♦ It’s just business: Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said it was a “business decision” when the committee that coordinates Republican Senate campaigns pulled its money and offices out of the Republican Party of Florida. ♦ Tampa’s Democratic Mayor Bob Buckhorn is trying to raise his statewide profile through a political action committee. Buckhorn insists he’ll wait at least two years before he decides whether he’ll seek a statewide candidacy. ♦ Save the date: A bill to be offered by Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, is expected to set March 15, 2016, as the primary date for the presidential year election. It guarantees that Florida has a full complement of delegates and allows for delegates to be awarded in a winner-take-all fashion.

A bill mandating that health maintenance organizations contracting with the state provide medical services to members under the age of 21 was submitted by the Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee. The measure would require the Department of Management Services ensures that all contracted HMOs “provide a member under the age of 21 with access to medical services within three months of the request.” ♦ Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, filed a bill to deal iron out some of the legal issues surrounding ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft this upcoming session. HB 817 provides requirements for operating as a transportation network company or for employment as transportation network company driver in the state, and it deals extensively with the insurance issue, which right now is unsettled in Florida. ♦ Two public records exemptions are headed to the floor after passing through their committees of reference. SB 7000, which exempts information held by public transit providers from Florida’s public records laws, and SB 144, which exempts from public records certain information on impaired practitioner consultants, unanimously passed through the Senate Community Affairs Committee.

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