Florida Weekend Recap – March 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.
Week in Review for March 16-20, 2015
BUSINESS & INDUSTRY
Negotiations to renew the banked card game monopoly the Seminole Gaming Compact provides to the tribe have screeched to a halt, according to remarks made by Seminole leaders and legal counsel. Citizens Property Insurance Corporation has shrunk to its smallest size since its creation in 2002 after shedding 416,000 customers in 2014, according to remarks made by Citizens CEO Barry Gilway. It may seem like a flight of fancy, but state lawmakers are considering subsidizing air travel after a Senate panel voted to allocate $1 million to encourage more pilots to work for small air carriers — like those that run to and from Tallahassee. The Florida Legislature may not tear down the walls between grocery and liquor stores, but they will let businesses install a door after amending a bill that originally repealed Florida’s alcohol separation laws. Whether the rest of the Legislature will accept the watered down proposal remains to be seen.
Florida’s unemployment rate was 5.7 percent in January, the same level as December, according to numbers released Tuesday. Lawmakers are considering capping spending on economic incentives, with the Senate proposing a $50 million annual cap on spending for programs in Florida’s “economic tool kit” and the House proposing a $60 million cap. Unions are rallying against a bill that would prohibit “project labor agreements,” which are used by state governments to set standards for projects fulfilled by private contractors that can regulate anything from required wages to work hours. Contractors say the agreements unfairly shut them out of negotiations, while unions say they are important tools for local governments seeking to partner with private businesses. The Department of Economic Opportunity defended the state’s unemployment benefits system, CONNECT, against a critical audit report and lawmakers on a joint legislative committee Monday. DEO said the results of the report were “stale,” and that the system was now a “B+”.
The House unanimously passed its plan to make changes to the education accountability system. Along party lines, the House rejected two amendments by Democrats. Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, proposed allowing parents to choose a paper test for their children until the computerized system can be verified by superintendents. Rep. Mia Jones, D-Jacksonville, reintroduced an amendment that failed in committee, seeking to pause school grades for a year. The Senate education budget committee passed an amended accountability plan the next day. Sen. John Legg, R-Lutz, acknowledged the discrepancies between the two chamber proposals and said he hoped to work out the kinks before his bill reaches the floor. The State University System’s Board of Governors released annual performance funding benchmarks. UF, USF and UCF topped this list. Florida Atlantic University went from the bottom of the system to being eligible for millions. The same goes for the University of West Florida. Florida A&M University will miss out on millions of dollars this year after scoring last on a metrics.
ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT
Two measures designed to regulate the process extracting oil and gas from rock referred to as “fracking,” passed through their first committee. HB 1205 and HB 1209, sponsored by Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, would fit the fracking process within the state’s existing regulatory framework and provide an exemption from public records for the proprietary chemicals used in extraction. Though fracking is currently unregulated, environmentalists say fracking bans are preferable to regulation. The House Energy and Utilities Subcommittee voted unanimously to file EUS1, a measure designed to further reform the state’s Public Service Commission. The bill establishes term limits for commissioners and requires a person who lobbies the PSC Nominating Council to register as a lobbyist with the state. A Scott administration official attempted to field questions from lawmakers on climate change “atmospheric reemployment.” Bryan Koon, director for the Florida Division of Emergency Management, addressed the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development and was peppered with questions relating to a new federal requirement that the state include a “climate change” plan in its five-year Hazard Mitigation Plan. While standing at the lectern, Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, tried to get Koon to say the words “climate change.” Gov. Rick Scott, who Koon works for, has taken heat in recent weeks after it was reported that his administration has banned usage of the term.
HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES
Florida Deputy Secretary for Medicaid Justin Senior says he hopes to have a letter of agreement outlining broad principles for the continuation of supplemental Medicaid funding that has come in the form of the state’s Low Income Pool program. Senior said the state is requesting “about” the same amount in supplemental payments available to the state under LIP — or about $2 billion — and would request that the supplemental payments be in effect for an additional two years. The feds have said they wouldn’t renew LIP in its current form and have all but suggested the state expand Medicaid to cover the looming budget gap. And that’s exactly what the Florida Senate’s health care budget intends to do. Senate President Andy Gardiner released a statement describing how the Senate Appropriation Subcommittee on Health and Human Services have included a new funding model for LIP and funding for the Senate’s private alternative to Medicaid expansion, making the House and Senate budgets around $5 billion apart. Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, is trying something new when it comes to helping to treat terminal patients in Florida. Brandes is sponsoring SB 1052, which would allow patients with terminal conditions to try medications not already approved by the FDA, like medical marijuana. The bill passed its first committee Wednesday.
LAW & ORDER
The state’s corrections system, wracked by a series of scandals, is the subject of an omnibus reform bill that passed the Senate appropriations committee Wednesday, but the House is pursuing its own plan, which revolves around giving more responsibility — and funding — to local sheriffs. These proposals are partially embodied in a bill adopted by the Justice Appropriations Committee Wednesday that would allow jails to hold low level felons for up to two years with a $60 per day subsidy from local governments. A bill that would change capital punishment sentencing guidelines to require unanimous consent before a jury could recommend the ultimate punishment passed its first Senate panel Monday by a 5-0 vote. Two House Democrats broke ranks to support a bill that would allow individuals with concealed carry permits to carry guns on campus, with Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel-Vasilinda telling a personal story about how her firearm ownership helped her protect herself from an attempted sexual assault when she was in school.
Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a change to the state’s presidential primary date, which in 2016 means the election will be March 15. That date is when the Republican National Committee allows state parties to begin setting winner-take-all primaries. If the Republican Party of Florida decides on a winner-take-all approach, all of its 99 delegates go to the winner, giving that candidate a huge early boost. Scott has told top fundraisers he’s interested in running in 2018 – when Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson’s third term ends – not 2016, when Scott will still be in the middle of his second term. Scott’s 2014 gubernatorial opponent, Charlie Crist, won’t be running for anything in 2016. The Government Operations Subcommittee passed HB 4043 repealing a requirement that write-in candidates must be residents within the district represented by the office sought at the time of qualification — about two months before Election Day. Two recent Florida District Courts of Appeal have held the statute unconstitutional because it conflicts with the residency requirements of those offices within the Florida Constitution, which requires residency at the time of election and not the time of qualification. It has two more committee stops.
There will be no attempts to change the Florida Retirement System this session, according to House Speaker Steve Crisafulli. After a recently-conducted actuarial study showed that doing so would lead to millions in costs instead of savings, Crisafulli announced that his chamber would not be pursuing changes to FRS in 2015, but that it didn’t mean that he doesn’t foresee changes in the future. Rep. Dwayne Taylor, D-Daytona Beach, joined a small chorus of Democratic voices praising the decision. In a statement Taylor praised the speaker for “his decision, given the results of those studies.” Though the House has paused reforming the state pension system, lawmakers are still moving ahead with trying to change local and municipal pensions. HB 1279, sponsored by Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, narrowly passed its first committee Wednesday. The proposal revises membership and requirements for firefighter and police pension boards by instituting term limits for trustees and mandates the pension plan to offer a budget for their operations to the municipality and its members. A bill (HB 7001) allowing a person to record without notifying someone who “is committing, or has committed an unlawful sexual act or an unlawful act of physical force or violence against the person” cleared a full House vote. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, seeks to provide a loophole to an existing Florida law barring the recording of another person without their consent.