Florida Weekend Recap – March 6
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.
The Week in Review for March 2-6, 2015
BUSINESS & INDUSTRY
The Senate was off to the races with its first bill of the session, “The Victoria Q. Gaetz Greyhound Protection Act” passing the upper chamber without a single dissenting vote. That bill, however, is just one piece in the ever-evolving discussion around gambling regulations that now centers on a massive gaming reform bill filed by Rep. Dana Young that could allow two new destination casinos in Miami and Broward counties — if they were able to buy out some existing pari-mutuels first. ♦ CONNECT, the state’s unemployment benefits system, was the subject of a highly critical audit that found the system failed to resolve claims in a timely manner and had numerous accountability issues. ♦ A House committee passed a bill that would prohibit transgender individuals from using the bathrooms assigned to their self-identified sex, and make businesses owners open to lawsuits if they allowed such use, after emotional protests from opponents and transgendered individuals as well as arguments from supporters.
Florida had the seventh best economy in the nation according to a new study by Business Insider, which considered factors like payroll growth and the strength of the housing market to create the rankings. ♦ A $39.6 billion work plan aimed to construct 708 new miles of road, resurface another 7,000 miles and repair or replace 295 bridges is on the road to the Legislature after gaining approval from the Florida Transportation Commission. ♦ Florida leads the nation in fraud and identity theft, according to new data from the Federal Trade Commission that seven of the top 20 metro areas for consumer fraud were in the Sunshine State, with especially high concentrations of such activity in South Florida. ♦ The least expensive homes have some of the highest property tax rates according to a new analysis by RealtyTrac. Owners with houses valued under $50,000 paid a greater share of their homes’ property value in taxes than almost any other group, according to the report.
Don’t test me: A plan to scale back testing in Florida schools cleared its first Senate panel. It removes a requirement that school districts create exams in all subjects not already covered by a statewide assessment, caps the total number of hours students can spend on standardized tests and reduces the percentage of a teacher’s evaluation that is based on student tests performance from 50 to 33 percent. The House education panel is expected to vote on a similar plan Monday. ♦ A bill moving in the House would prevent Benedict Arnold from being a teacher in Florida. HB 477 aims to revise the educator background screening process but also adds more crimes that would prevent someone from getting teacher certifications and employment, including child abuse and human trafficking as well as treason. ♦ Fashion cents: A lower chamber proposal would incentivize school districts to adopt school uniform policies by paying them $10 per student.
ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT
A 94-page water policy reform bill, sponsored by Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres, is heading to the Senate after passing a full House vote. During the House’s debate on the bill, dissenting members pointed to the release of a Senate-commissioned, University of Florida water study that concluded that more water storage was needed south of Lake Okeechobee. ♦ Environmentalists have begun a push to get the state to buy 26,100 acres of U.S. Sugar land with Amendment #1 funds precisely for that purpose, but the Associated Industries of Florida has pushed back calling the Everglades land buy a misuse of funds. Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, says he’d like to see the Legislature at least look into the purchase. ♦ Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, has filed a measure that would add “high pressure well stimulation,” or fracking, to Florida’s law regulating oil and natural gas. SB 1468 defines the process as a “well intervention performed by injecting more than 100,000 gallons of fluids into a rock formation at high pressure” to create fractures in the rock to increase production at an oil or gas well.
HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES
A bipartisan group of lawmakers announced the filing of three bills (HB 1005, SB 1338, and SB 1462) to reform the state’s mental health system by creating a $450,000 loan forgiveness program for personnel who work at community behavioral health centers. The bills would also implement a 10-point plan to improve the mental health and substance abuse delivery system among other increases in funding. ♦ As the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in King v. Burwell, a case that will decide whether health insurance subsidies can be offered in states without their own exchanges, Gov. Rick Scott went on the offensive against President Barack Obama by writing an editorial published by Politico Magazine. Scott also sent a letter to the president calling on his administration to continue federal subsidies for Florida’s Low Income Pool program. The Obama administration contends that LIP funding wouldn’t be necessary if the state expanded Medicaid and the Florida Senate intends to do just that, using a private alternative. ♦ Sen. Aaron Bean’s, R-Fernandina Beach, Health Policy Committee has submitted SB 7040 to create a private sector-based expansion measure based on plan touted by A Healthy Florida Works.
LAW & ORDER
Gov. Rick Scott dropped a lawsuit aimed at restoring a controversial program that drug tested recipients of Assistance for Needy Families funds that was ruled unconstitutional in 2011. ♦ A package of prison reforms passed its second Senate panel but its author, Sen. Greg Evers, admitted that the reforms didn’t provide enough protection to whistleblowers in its current form. ♦ The nation’s highest court set a date to hear oral arguments on whether states have the constitutional ability to ban gay marriage and further revealed that they would take the unusual step of releasing audio recordings of the arguments immediately after they conclude. ♦ Traffic stops won’t be the ticket to higher revenue under SB 264, a bill about to go before the full Senate that would ban traffic ticket quotas and require reporting on traffic-ticket revenues from some counties.
Democratic Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, rumored to be a 2016 gubernatorial contender, won re-election with nearly 96 percent. ♦ In what is likely an unprecedented move in Florida, Gov. Rick Scott is going up with a campaign-style ad in every Florida media market as the legislative session begins. The ad buy includes broadcast, cable and satellite, and touches on Scott’s top legislative priorities, including education spending, the environment and tax cuts. ♦ The Florida Supreme Court held an hour-long hearing examining whether or not the Republican-controlled Legislature flouted voter-approved standards intended to stop legislators from drawing districts to help incumbents or members of a political party. A circuit court judge ruled last summer there was enough evidence to show that GOP consultants helped make a “mockery” of the process and ruled that two congressional districts were invalid. Legislators in August then drew new maps that altered seven districts and shifted nearly 400,000 voters in central and north Florida. ♦ House and Senate committees heard plans to move the presidential primary to March 15, 2016. Moving the date allows the state Republican Party to choose to distribute delegates in a winner take all fashion rather than proportionality.
Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, would prefer that local construction projects be open to all contractors in the state. His bill, SB 778, would require local projects receiving 50 percent or more in state funds conduct a competitive bidding process that includes construction contractors from around the state. It’s the Senate version of a measure filed by Rep. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville. The Hays-sponsored proposal passed through the Community Affairs Committee. ♦ Gearing up for the 2015 session, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli renewed calls to reform the Florida Retirement System this year, but that will be difficult because of continuing opposition from the Senate. The five-point work plan, a joint set of priorities with Senate President Andy Gardiner, doesn’t include major changes to the retirement system, a top priority of presiding officers in the House and Senate last year. But Crisafulli, during his remarks on the opening day of the 2015 legislative session, said the House will move forward with proposals to overhaul FRS. ♦ The Florida Senate is at a standstill when it comes to building the state budget, said Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee. The reason: uncertainty over the future of the Low Income Pool program, a $2 billion federal-state program that helps Florida hospitals that treat large numbers of uninsured, under-insured and Medicaid patients.