2017 Legislative Session Archives - Page 3 of 24 - SaintPetersBlog

Florida Lottery made $528 million in April, for strongest quarter to date

The Florida Lottery sold more than $528 million in tickets during April, contributing to its strongest quarterly returns on record, officials announced Thursday.

That was $100 million more than the April returns five years ago, and meant more than $130 million to the state’s Educational Enhancement Trust Fund.

“I am extremely proud of our Florida Lottery team and retailers as we continue to shatter previous records,” Florida Lottery Secretary Tom Delacenserie said in a press release.

“In addition to their winning experiences, our players should take pride in knowing that with the purchase of every lottery ticket, they are making a difference in the lives of Florida’s students,” he said.

The news followed a strong 2016, when the lottery surpassed $6.2 billion in sales. That set a record for annual sales.

Lottery administrators have predicted a hit to sales under new legislation requiring warnings against gambling addiction to be printed on tickets. Assuming a sales slump of 1 percent to 3 percent, they projected a revenue decline of between $16 million and $50 million.

During the past 15 years, the lottery has contributed more than $1 billion to education — 6 percent of state spending on schools.

Rick Scott has a friend in White House and foes back home

With a friend and a political ally in the White House, this was supposed to be a moment of triumph for Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

For years, Scott complained and criticized President Barack Obama and contended he wasn’t helping Florida. Now with Donald Trump in office, Scott has worked out a deal with federal officials to provide at least $1 billion for the state’s hospitals and he obtained a promise to move forward with repairs to a federally-operated dike that surrounds the state largest freshwater lake.

But that didn’t help him with the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Instead by the end of this year’s session, Scott’s legislative agenda was in tatters, ignored by GOP legislators he has feuded with for months and criticized during visits to the lawmakers’ hometowns.

And on Tuesday, he bashed the newly-passed $83 billion budget, giving his strongest sign that he may veto the spending plan and force the state House and Senate to reconvene in a special session. He criticized legislators for assembling most of the budget — which covers spending from July of this year to June 2018 — in secret and for refusing to set aside money for his top priorities including money for business incentives.

“I ran for governor to fight career politicians and it’s backroom deals like this that make families think politics is nothing more than a game,” Scott said in a statement. “Just like I do every year, I will make my decisions based on what’s best for our families because my job is to wake up every day and fight for Floridians.”

The Florida Legislature wrapped up its session late Monday, passing a series of budget-related bills that included a pay raise for state workers, a measure to cut funding to the state’s tourism marketing agency by two-thirds and a small boost in money for day-to-day school operations. They also passed a sweeping education bill that includes more than $400 million for teacher bonuses as well as money for charter schools that enroll students now attending failing public schools.

Scott contends the new budget could harm the state’s economy and suppress job creation.

The big question, however, is whether Scott will take the political risk of vetoing the budget since it was passed by overwhelming margins. A Florida governor hasn’t vetoed the entire budget in more than two decades.

Scott, a potential candidate for U.S. Senate next year against incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, could be embarrassed if legislators return to the Capitol and override him. It takes a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate, meaning Republicans would need Democrats to join with them.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran has derided Scott’s requests for business incentives as “corporate welfare” and has ridiculed VISIT Florida for deals such as the secret one where the rapper Pitbull was paid $1 million to promote the state. The Land O’ Lakes Republican has defended his strong stance opposite Scott and criticized politicians he says have flipped positions. Scott backed strong anti-immigration moves in 2010 but then backed off later. The governor also flipped on whether to support Medicaid expansion.

“There’s a war going on for the soul of the party,” said Corcoran, who says he thinks the Legislature has enough votes to block Scott’s veto. “Are we going to be who we say we are?”

Senate Republicans say they tried to back Scott’s priorities and have urged him to sign the new budget. Sen. Bill Galvano, a top Republican from Bradenton, said Scott’s situation was a byproduct of negotiations in order to get a final budget.

“The reality is what it is,” Galvano said. “There’s got to be some give and take.”

Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon from Miami Gardens said Republicans should not assume that Democrats will join in an override, especially since there are measures, including the education bill, that were opposed by Democrats.

“You can’t predict that until we see what he vetoes,” Braynon said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

‘Lack of transparency’ causes calls for Rick Scott budget veto

Both citing a “lack of transparency,” the heads of the League of Women Voters of Florida and the First Amendment Foundation are calling for Gov. Rick Scott to veto the just-passed state budget for 2017-18.

But with the House of Representatives passing the budget 98-14 and the Senate approving 34-4 on Monday, there are enough votes there to override a veto, assuming none change.

League President Pamela S. Goodman and FAF President Barbara A. Petersen alerted their members in separate emails on Tuesday.

“The lack of transparency in the process enabled last-minute bills and amendments to be passed,” Goodman wrote in an attached letter to Scott, seeking the budget veto. “Many legislators are on record stating they did not have the opportunity to read and fully comprehend bills presented at the end after emerging from behind closed doors.

“It is the job of every elected official representing their constituents to be able to vote in an informed manner and with complete transparency of the process,” she added.

Goodman also criticized education funding that “starve(s) public schools and expand(s) privately run charter schools” and complained that Florida Forever, the state’s conservation land acquisition program, “was zeroed out in the budget.”

In her email, Petersen wrote that 17 new exemptions to the state’s open government laws were created this Legislative Session.

“Equally alarming is the secretiveness of the budget process this session and FAF will be asking the governor to veto the budget based solely on the lack of transparency,” she said.

Petersen added that her letter to Scott would be sent later this week.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran has rejected claims of secrecy over budget negotiations, even though much was handled behind closed doors, instead calling the Legislature’s work “bold” and “transformative.”

Florida Realtors legislative recap shows what successful Session looks like

Florida Realtors really want you to know what a successful Legislative Session looks like.

To celebrate the close of a “triumphant” 2017 Session – including passage of the state’s $82.4 billion budget – Florida Realtors released a recap of its major victories, bills and budgetary items of interest to real estate professionals statewide.

Florida Realtors 2017 president Maria Wells says: “Your investment in the Florida Realtors PAC ensured Realtor-friendly legislators were elected. During committee weeks and session, you made your voices heard in the public policy process, making the difference for Realtors to celebrate a victorious year on our key issues in Tallahassee.

“Thank you, Gov. Scott, members of the Legislature and our incredible Tallahassee staff for listening to our concerns and turning our feedback into action.”

The 2017 Legislative Victories document conveniently concentrates the group’s productive 60-day-plus Session into a simple, easy-to-read format, outlining important property rights wins such as a cap on estoppel certificate fees, the first-ever reduction in business rent taxes, added homestead tax exemptions and a 10 percent cap on non-homestead property taxes.

Realtors also congratulate the Florida Capitol for passing bills to fine tune condominium termination laws and provide additional oversight for condo boards. Lawmakers also funded affordable housing workshops, and offered up to $500,000 to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation to combat unlicensed real estate activity.

Other triumphs include tax exemptions for disabled first responders, providing a 100 percent homestead tax exemption for those totally and permanently disabled in the line of duty, tax breaks for businesses using rooftop solar and other renewable energy devices, and a push to grow the private flood insurance market.

And in some cases, when bills fail, Realtors see it as a win anyway, as in the case of the establishment of mandatory time-of-sale septic tanks inspections. HB 285 from state Rep. Randy Fine and SB 1748 from Sen. Linda Stewart were amended to require just disclosure instead of an inspection, later changing them to shorten disclosure language. Nonetheless, both bills did not garner sufficient support before Session’s end.

Realtors were also disappointed by the failure of lawmakers to restrict local regulation of vacation rentals. In 2014, the Florida legislature gave municipalities the ability to regulate vacation rentals. While cities and towns cannot prohibit vacation rentals, or regulate duration or frequency, they are free to impose new ordinances. In cities and counties around the state, these ordinances have resulted in unreasonable burdens on vacation homeowners.

HB 425, from St. Cloud Republican Rep. Mike La Rosa, would have mandated that if a municipality adopts a new restrictive ordinance, it must apply to all residential properties; vacation rentals could not be singled out. While HB 425 passed the House, it died on the Senate floor.

Gwen Graham calls on Rick Scott to veto ‘education-eviscerating’ budget

Hours after Florida lawmakers approved the new state spending plan, Gwen Graham is demanding Gov. Rick Scott veto the Legislature’s “education-eviscerating” budget.

In a statement Tuesday morning, the newly announced Democratic candidate for governor said, if elected, she would veto any budget that shortchanges Florida schools in favor of the “education industry.”

“For decades, Floridians have pleaded with their elected officials to support our public schools — but year after year, the legislature and governor abandon their responsibility to our children,” Graham said. “As a mother and PTA president, I saw firsthand how important every dollar is to Florida’s schools.”

Late Monday evening, legislators ended an extended 2017 legislative Session by approving an $83 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year beginning July 1. Critics argued the proposed spending plan is a significant blow to public education, with a modest $25 increase in PreK-12 schools per-student funding, much less than the $200 increase per student Scott requested.

Graham discussed her most recent “Workday” event last week at Miami Carol City Senior High, where the former congresswoman from Tallahassee worked alongside teachers “who struggle to pay off their personal student loans,” while spending their own money on school supplies.

“Once again, Republicans say this budget increases funding for students — but any teacher or parent can tell you it’s a lie,” Graham continued. “We haven’t yet recovered from Rick Scott’s first year of devastating education cuts, and now they want to reduce per-student funding to school districts even more.

“This terrible trend should end today with Governor Scott’s immediate veto of the budget and policy bill.”

“As governor,” she added. “I will veto any budget or policy that shortchanges our schools in favor of the education industry. I’ll cancel the legislature’s summer vacation and demand they start over from scratch. We no longer have time for rhetoric or games.

“Now is the time to hold Tallahassee politicians accountable and finally give our children the education they deserve.”

If Scott vetoes the entire state budget, lawmakers would have to return for a special session to recalculate. The governor has previously criticized cuts to incentive programs like VISIT Florida and Enterprise Florida but has not gone as far as to publicly say he would veto the budget outright.

“I’m going to look at my options,” Scott told the Tampa Bay Times during a tour stop in Tampa Last week. “That’s an option I have. But what I do every year is I go through (the budget) and say what’s good for our Florida families? I represent everybody in the state, so I’m going to do what’s best for every family in the state.”

Tre’ Evers: On the contrary — Rick Scott, John Morgan real winners of 2017 Legislative Session

Don’t pick a fight with folks who buy ink by the barrel — or so the saying goes. Well, it’s a good thing Peter Schorsch doesn’t actually buy ink, because I’ve got a bone to pick with him.

Rick Scott and John Morgan could be considered “losers” only in a Tallahassee-centered universe.

These two guys are among the best-known (i.e., most hated or loved) names in Florida. No legislator — in either party — enjoys anywhere near the cachet of these twin political titans, whether you measure by name recognition, professional success or personal wealth.

Sure, their legislative agendas fared poorly. However, Tallahassee’s “session thinking” is astonishingly shortsighted. Look at the long game to understand how this year’s legislative combat strengthened both Scott and Morgan. Their priorities remain wildly popular with voters while the ideas of their opponents have lost ground with all but the chattering classes. Scott wanted incentives to create more jobs plus money to fix the Herbert Hoover Dam that would help the Everglades and Morgan wanted to implement the medical marijuana initiative, all of which were foiled by lawmakers.

Scott’s legislative losses are fuel for his political persona. Consider: In 2010, Rick Scott came from nowhere. A conservative, tea party firebrand, he blasted both parties on his way to a self-funded victory and then won a bruising re-election, spending even more of his own money. The scars of those campaigns left Scott with a battered approval rating, except among Republicans, where his numbers have consistently exceeded 75 percent.

Bashing insiders — even those within his party — is how Rick Scott won statewide in 2010. Republican lawmakers just built him a platform to do it again in 2018. A few months ago, it would have been tough to believe that the GOP’s legislative leadership would attack the most popular Republican in Florida, giving him cause to travel the state promoting jobs and mainstreaming his image. But that’s what happened.

Every week, Governor Scott appears in front cameras blasting Republican insiders while promoting jobs with local business people. Meanwhile, he raises money for his political committee and places millions of dollars of TV advertising. Best of all, he gets to run against the “Tallahassee politicians,” who few Floridians know but all instinctively mistrust.

Then there’s John Morgan — the best-known Democrat in Florida. Not only is Morgan’s face routinely plastered on billboards and TV ads across the Sunshine State, but his colorful, rant at Boots and Buckles (in which he exhorted young people to vote for his Medical Marijuana amendment) is an enduring reminder that his outspoken, charismatic brand of political celebrity appeals to many. He failed in 2014 but succeeded in 2016. Now, he’s the front-runner for the Democratic nomination for Governor, even though he may not run.

Again, consider the long game. John Morgan isn’t going anywhere, and this Tallahassee setback is merely political fuel; it will empower him to either sue the Legislature, run for Governor or both. Either way, he’ll be in the headlines. And to Republicans hoping John Morgan runs because he’s said and done crazy things: You must have missed the 2016 election.

Democrats love to hate Rick Scott and Republicans love to hate John Morgan. However, the 2017 legislative session made both men more palatable to those who hate them and more powerful among those who love them. So, what looks like a setback on Adams Street is likely to play well in Paisley, Palatka, Palm Beach or as the saying goes, Peoria — making Rick Scott and John Morgan the biggest winners of the session.

In final video from Session, Richard Corcoran says its time to say goodbye

Ricard Corcoran Photo: Phil Sears)

Time to say goodbye.

The Florida House Speaker’s Office, which has produced video after video this Legislative Session, it closed out 2017 Session with a three-minute video narrated by House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

“I’m often asked, where are the leaders worthy of the title and I tell them they’re right here, in the Florida House,” Corcoran says in the video, called “Leaders.”

In an email to members, Corcoran said while every member isn’t featured “the sentiment applies to all” of them.

Florida legislators ended Session Monday evening by approving an $83 billion by a 34-4 vote in the Senate and a House vote of 98-14. The budget now goes to the desk of Gov. Rick Scott.

The annual 60-day Session was supposed to end last week, but the two chambers didn’t reach an agreement on the budget in time for the state-mandated 72 hour waiting period before a final vote.

While session has officially ended, legislators still may have to come back. There is the possibility Scott could veto the budget. During Session, the governor criticized several legislators for severe cuts to his top priorities, such as VISIT Florida, the state’s tourism arm, and the Enterprise Florida business incentive program.

Corcoran, in a statement marking some of the successes of 2017, honored his fellow colleagues — including Democrats — and called Florida taxpayers “the real winners” in Session:

“Whether it was cutting property taxes, passing another $25,000 homestead exemption, rewarding the best teachers in the classroom, giving poor children a world-class education, cleaning up the budget process, passing the strongest ethics rules in America, or ending government picking winners and losers, hardworking people won in the Florida House.

“I’d like to thank Democratic leader Janet Cruz for her dedication to her principles and her willingness to work with us on good public policy. Whether we agreed or disagreed, I can always count on leader Cruz to keep her word and lead her caucus.

“Each and every member of the Florida House of Representatives can be proud of the work they did for every Floridian and especially for kids, for veterans, for families and for job creators. The people’s house did the people’s work and the people will benefit.”

Included in the final budget agreement are pay raises for state employees and increased funding to public schools and Florida colleges and universities.

Jeff Brandes celebrates long list of legislative wins in 2017 Session

Now that the 2017 Legislative Session is in the rearview mirror, state Sen. Jeff Brandes looks back on some big wins from the past two months.

The St. Petersburg Republican is celebrating his top eight successes, which include a diverse range of issues such as renewable energy tax exemptions, statewide regulation for ridesharing, flood insurance reforms and the development of personal delivery drones.

In 2017, Brandes championed the bill on renewable energy source devices (SB 90), which passed unanimously through both the House and Senate, implementing Amendment 4 from the 2016 election.

SB 90 exempts 80 percent of the value of solar and renewable energy devices from property taxes for 20 years, beginning Jan. 1, 2018.

After four years of battling with the taxicab industry, Brandes made major inroads with the landmark SB 340, the uniform statewide regulation for for-hire transportation services provided by transportation network companies. The bill sets up requirements on insurance and background screening, officially legalizing the use of services like Uber and Lyft everywhere in Florida.

Brandes also spearheaded flood insurance alternatives in Florida. SB 420, which passed both chambers unanimously, extends to 2025 the rate flexibility afforded to private insurers who seek to enter the market to offer flood insurance as an alternative to the National Flood Insurance Program.

Other of Brandes successes also include SB 460, which defines and authorizes “personal delivery devices” (PDDs) to operate on sidewalks and crosswalks in Florida, and SB 590 which changes the way Florida handles time arrangements for unmarried and divorced parents and their children. The Child Support and Parenting Time Plan creates an optional default time sharing plan, as well as an easier system for parents to agree on parenting time arrangements.

The bill does not affect any child support arrangements, it seeks only to simplify the visitation schedule in order to benefit the child and may have the effect of helping as many as 1 million fathers see their children more often.

Brandes introduced a measure setting up the Task Force on Affordable Housing, part of the implementation bill included in the 2017-2018 General Appropriations Act, which will study and suggest sweeping reforms to Florida’s strategy on affordable housing.

One more winner in the 2017 Session was SB 1012, a priority of Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, requiring insurance companies to adopt anti-fraud plans and report fraud related statistics to the Division of Insurance Fraud regularly to assist the state in combating fraud.

The legislation, unanimously adopted by the House and Senate, adopts accountability reforms through reporting requirements of dedicated insurance fraud prosecutors throughout the state to assess the effectiveness of the dedicated fraud prosecutor system.

Another solid success was SB 1272, a boost to businesses in Florida by waiving a number of business and professional licensing fees for members of the military, their spouses, surviving military spouses, and low-income individuals whose income is less than 130 percent of the federal poverty line. The bill also allows reciprocity for many regulated professions for service members (and spouses) who travel to Florida from other states during their service.

Education bill, key to budget deal, clears the Senate by two votes

Only one of the budget conforming bills debated in the Senate Monday drew a point of order — SB 7069, to implement the House’s ideas about charter schools and teacher bonuses.

It didn’t stop the bill from passing, on a vote of 20-18.

House and Senate negotiators have paired the bill with separate legislation carrying the Senate’s higher education agenda.

Sen. Gary Farmer raised the point of order, arguing that the education compromise violated multiple Senate rules. For example, he argued, it contained non-germane amendments; was considered in conference absent a roll call or quorum; and that the language wasn’t settled until hours following the conference committee.

Rules Chairwoman Lizbeth Benaquisto ruled against Farmer on all grounds, saying conference reports deserve more latitude than ordinary legislation.

“The conference report is a special case because the bill has been through all of its readings in both chambers, and comes to us, not on the part of a single senator, but as a product of a committee appointed to provide a solution to an impasse between the chambers,” she said.

In debate on the merits, Farmer denounced the package as “a piece of junk” and “a monstrosity.”

“The things that are in there and are not in there, combined, will without a doubt hurt our traditional public schools. They will hasten the privatization of public education,” he said.

“We’ve tried privatization in a number of different fields — prisons come to mind. It hasn’t really worked out all that well,” Farmer said.

The deal would provide $140 million for a Schools of Hope program, to lure charter schools to replace failing public schools, and $234 million for the Best and Brightest bonuses for high-achieving teachers and principals.

The Senate would get language requiring state universities to charge students per semester, so they could load up on courses and perhaps graduate sooner. There would be no tuition increases, but there would be increases in aid and scholarships.

In all, the measure changes 20 substantive areas of law.

Senators voiced concern throughout the broader debate Monday about the conference process. In this case, the Senate side saw the final House language around 7 p.m. Thursday, Senate negotiator David Simmons said.

He and staffers pored over it until 12:30 a.m. Friday, before the final conference by House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron.

Sen. Tom Lee wanted to know: Did Simmons doubt the House’s good faith?

“I do not question at all their good faith. As a matter of fact, I applaud their excellent idea. I just think that it’s exceedingly difficult to be able to implement this,” Simmons said.

“There are some good things in this bill. But couldn’t we have hammered out more reasonable solutions that would have been kinder to our public school partners, and maybe not allowed the House to determine this great change in public policy?” Republican Doug Broxon asked.

“Each of us will have to make his or her own decision about this. Even the proponents in the House have acknowledged that there are problems … regarding implementation,” Simmons said.

For example, as many as 25 out of 200 struggling public schools could apply for extra money to run “wrap-around” services intended to help children overcome social problems, but would have two years to show progress. New charter schools would get five years, he said.

Sen. Kathleen Passidomo suggested a lot of misinformation is circulating about the bill. “Some of the policy issues you may or may not agree with, but it is not a piece of junk,” she said.

Democrat Lauren Book objected to sharing public school capital investment money and federal Title I money for disadvantaged students with charters.

“Very little of this is new,” Sen. Bill Montford said — rather, it contains a litany of proposals long rejected by the Senate. And charter operators once promised they never would seek capital money, he said.

“There’s a lot of good things in this bill. But there’s a lot of things that will have a detrimental impact on the districts this year,” Montford said.

Area lawmakers, Dozier survivor pitch Pasco forensics lab to Rick Scott

Legislators from Pasco County urged Gov. Rick Scott Monday to approve legislation authorizing construction of a $4.3 million criminal forensics laboratory there that would attack the state’s 16,000-case backlog of unsolved murders.

“This is not about Pasco County. This is about the entire state,” Sen. Wilton Simpson said. The project would “greatly expand law enforcement’s ability as it relates to terrorism and as it relates to cold cases,” he said.

“This project is going to change lives, and it’s going to provide so much closure to those who have been suffering so long without it,” Rep. Danny Burgess said.

Part of the inspiration for the program was the investigation into abuses at the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna.

Erin Kimmerle, whose Florida Institute of Forensic Anthropology and Applied Science at the University of South Florida helped uncover much of that history, will help run the new center.

The center would be one of seven such facilities in the nation, and would conduct investigations and train law enforcement officers and students. It would be named after Thomas Varnadoe, who died in Dozier at age 13 in 1934.

“What the Dozier example shows is is that time isn’t our greatest challenge — it’s capacity and will,” Kimmerle said.

“Sixteen thousand cases — if you solve 50 of those, that may seem like so little,” said Robert Straley, a Dozier survivor. “But to the families that are going through this … something like this will help immensely.”

Jeff Peake, a major in the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, said the facility would provide research, forensic services and “cutting-edge” training for investigating murders and terrorist attacks.

Beyond that, “this facility will allow answers — long-awaiting answers — for the family members of cold-case victims throughout the state of Florida,” Peake added.

This is probably the biggest thing the Legislature has done for law enforcement in my recollection,” former Pasco Sheriff Bob White said.

“You go to a murder scene, the first people you want to see are your crime scene techs. Well, this facility, Dr. Kimberly and her team, will have the ability to provide premium training — world-wide training — to all of our crime scene techs in the state of Florida,” he said.

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