steve crisafulli Archives - Page 5 of 21 - SaintPetersBlog

Big-name groups, leaders trumpet progress on legislative priorities

A major trio of political players at the Florida Capitol are happy with progress made Thursday on big-ticket priorities in the Legislature.

The H2O Coalition, a water policy consortium affiliated with Associated Industries of Florida, applauded the further progress of what it calls comprehensive water reform in the Legislature.

The praise comes after the House gave final approval to SB 552 by Sen. Charlie Dean, which is identical to HB 7005 by Rep. Matt Caldwell, who led the House’s efforts to update state water policy after voters’ overwhelming approval of Amendment 1 in 2014.

“Today is a historic day for Florida. Floridians should be proud of the leadership demonstrated by House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, Senate President Andy Gardiner, Representative Matt Caldwell, Senator Charlie Dean and Commissioner Adam Putnam in passing a comprehensive water policy that should serve as a model for other states,” AIF Senior Vice President of State and Federal Affairs Brewster Bevis said in a prepared statement Thursday afternoon.

“If enacted, the impact of this comprehensive water policy will be far-reaching and felt long after the members of this body are in office,” Bevis said. “Future generations of Floridians will remember the 2016 Legislative Session as the time when lawmakers upgraded our water policy with higher water quality standards, stronger protections for our springs, and a forward-thinking approach that integrates water planning into economic development.”

The AIF executive and policy advocate concluded his remarks with a clarion call to the governor, who must sign the legislation for it to go into effect.

“As this bill goes to Governor Scott’s desk for his consideration, I join representatives from Florida’s business, environmental and agricultural communities in urging him to sign it,” Bevis said. “The future of Florida’s water supply depends on it.”

Foundation for Florida’s Future, for its part, celebrated the approval of greater educational funding and support for children with unique abilities.

“I am particularly grateful to the Legislature, which today expanded the Gardiner Scholarship Account Program to include 3- and 4-year-olds as well as students with muscular dystrophy and autism spectrum disorder,” FFF Executive Director Patricia Levesque said after the passage of SB 672. “This measure will give parents more options and resources to ensure brighter futures for their children. Thank you to Senator Don Gaetz and Representative Erik Fresen for sponsoring this measure, and to House Speaker Steve Crisafulli for supporting and leading the House to support.

“But my deepest appreciation goes to Senate President Andy Gardiner. His passion and drive has turned a personal crusade into a state priority. The impact of his advocacy will make a profound difference in the lives of children – with unique abilities – for generations to come. It is an outstanding legacy and one that will be long remembered.”

Finally, the Senate President himself took a victory lap after securing the relatively easy passage of a raft of priorities, chiefly the aforementioned support for children with disabilities.

“I am so grateful to Speaker Crisafulli and my colleagues in the House for making our cradle-to-career pathway to economic independence a reality for people with unique abilities and their families,” Gardiner said.

“There are so many Floridians with unique abilities who can benefit from the opportunity to personalize their education and to learn the skills needed to contribute to Florida’s workforce in a meaningful way. This comprehensive package will give people with unique abilities and their families a road map to education and employment opportunities that will help them on the path to economic independence.”

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Linkedin
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit
Share On Stumbleupon
Share On Youtube
Contact us

House OKs priorities for Steve Crisafulli, Andy Gardiner

The state House of Representatives knocked out three pieces of priority legislation Thursday, sending two measures — a wide-ranging water policy bill and an education bill expanding scholarships to students with disabilities — to the governor.

“I think this just sets the tone,” Senate President Andy Gardiner said after the House adjourned Thursday. “I think you’re going to see us work together quite a bit on all this stuff. This has just been a really good week.”

The water bill (SB 552) was a top priority for House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, a Merritt Island Republican. The bill, according to the Associated Press, “modifies dozens of areas of Florida law, including controlling pollution and restoring natural flow in springs and rivers.”

“This is what working together can do, and obviously this is us finishing off a work plan we started together,” Crisafulli said during a joint news conference with Gardiner. “Obviously there is a lot left to do, with the budget to pass and some great things we can do for the state of Florida over the next several weeks.”

The House shot down several amendments proposed by Minority Leader Mark Pafford, a West Palm Beach Democrat.

The water package passed the Senate 37-0 on Wednesday. The House voted 110-2 on Thursday to approve it.

“The Florida Chamber has long supported science-backed efforts that will ensure our state can meet the demands of today and of the future,” said Christopher Emmanuel, director of infrastructure and governance policy at the Florida Chamber, in a prepared statement. “This bill is a meaningful step in the right direction to help ensure Florida’s water future doesn’t go the way of California. This bipartisan effort is a fantastic start to Florida’s 2016 Legislative Session.”

The House also approved an education bill (SB 672) that a top priority for Gardiner. Among other things, the bill expands scholarship opportunities for students with disabilities and provides incentives for school districts to adopt dress codes for students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

The measure also renames the scholarship program — formerly known as Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts, or PLSAs —  the Gardiner Scholarships, after the Senate President.

The state Senate voted 39-0 to approve the measure Wednesday; while the House supported it 109-1. Republican state Rep. John Tobia was the only”no” vote.

The House also approved another Gardiner priority bill. That measure (HB 7003) addresses economic independence of individuals with disabilities. Among other things, it creates a Financial Literacy Program for Individuals with Development Disabilities to promote economic independence and employment opportunities for individuals with developmental disabilities. That measure passed 110-0. It now heads to the Senate.

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Linkedin
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit
Share On Stumbleupon
Share On Youtube
Contact us

Senate passes disabled children bill; now it moves to House

The Florida Senate on Wednesday passed legislation expanding aid for students with intellectual disabilities and named the program for Senate President Andy Gardiner, who has made what he calls “people with unique abilities” the signature issue of his tenure as president.

The bill (SB 672) increases funding from $55 million to $73 million for $10,000-per-year scholarships for children with autism, Down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities, starting as early as age 3.

The program was expanded last year to add categories of disabilities, increasing recipients to about 4,300. The new bill makes the expansion permanent, likely increasing recipients to 8,000.

Gardiner says he expects the House to pass a companion bill, HB 7011, by Friday, sending the legislation to Gov. Rick Scott.

Gardiner has a son with Down syndrome, and his wife has been active on the issue.

He initially rejected an amendment by sponsor Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, naming the program “Gardiner Scholarships” in honor of his family. Gardiner said he had promised House backers the Senate would pass a bill with no amendments, to match the House bill.

But he accepted the honor, and was overcome with emotion at the podium, when House Speaker Steve Crisafulli called during the deliberations to say the House would accept the amendment.

“I didn’t see that coming. It’s a moment I won’t forget,” Gardiner said afterward.

“This is a bill that people come up to us with tears in the eye and talk about how it’s changed their lives,” he said from the podium.

The bill passed despite objections by Democrats that it included $14 million for financial incentives for school districts that require students to wear uniforms. The districts would get an extra $10 per student per year.

Sen. Jeff Clemens, a Lake Worth Democrat, called the incentives “a giveaway to the school uniform industry,” but withdrew an amendment to remove them.

Gardiner said the uniform measure was included because, “It was a priority of the House.”

The Senate also passed bills creating employment incentives and a financial literacy program for persons with intellectual disabilities.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Linkedin
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit
Share On Stumbleupon
Share On Youtube
Contact us

Major players react to Senate passage of water legislation

On Wednesday, the Senate passed a major water bill, a major priority of House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and the object of much interest on the part of environmentalist community as well.

Reactions from significant groups and individuals will continue to flow in as the debate goes forward, but for now here’s a look at what some of the most influential Floridians are saying about the move.

The Senate itself put out a detailed statement breaking down the legislation piece by piece. It heralded the move as a major step forward, one year after disagreement on health care policy ended the Session and sent a similar environmental bill to its demise.

“Passing this legislation today is a win for Floridians,” said President Andy Gardiner. “This legislation increases public access to conservation lands for recreational purposes, protects Florida’s unique environment, and ensures Floridians have quality water for future use through restoration and conservation efforts of our water bodies.”

Gardiner also thanked Sen. Charlie Dean, who chairs the Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation committee.

“Today, the Senate approved legislation to transform the way Florida conserves our most valuable natural resources, making certain that we take a statewide, comprehensive approach on restoring and preserving our water and natural resources,” Dean said. “This bill establishes a systematic and transparent process to ensure taxpayer dollars are allocated to meaningful water quality and restoration projects and implements best management practices to increase our clean water supply.”

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam also relayed his pleasure at the bill moving forward.

“I thank the Senate for the passage of this key legislation,” Putnam said. “This session, we have an opportunity to pass meaningful water policy reform that will help meet the needs of our growing population and thriving economy, while protecting our most precious natural resources.

“This proposed legislation is a much-needed step forward that accounts for a long-term, science-based and strategic approach to protecting our water,” Putnam said.

The Associated Industries of Florida’s affiliated H2O Coalition also had fond words for the legislation Wednesday. The group was formed in part to promote the bill in 2015.

“The Florida Senate’s adoption of SB 552 has been many years in the making. Over the past year, this legislation has been improved to strengthen the protection of Florida’s springs and create stronger water quality standards. Today, a unanimous, bipartisan majority has agreed this comprehensive approach to water policy represents the best path forward for our people and our state,” said AIF VP of State and Federal Affairs, Brewster Bevis.

“We appreciate the leadership of President Gardiner and Senators Dean, Simmons, Hays, Simpson, and Montford.  Their tireless work on this bill has put us one step closer to passing this historic reform.”

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Linkedin
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit
Share On Stumbleupon
Share On Youtube
Contact us

Senate passes education, water bills

The sausage-making began in earnest Wednesday morning, as the Florida Senate teed up nine bills for final approval and passed a sweeping $95 million educational policy bill and a water protection measure desired by House Speaker Steve Crisafulli.

The education bill (SB 672) was sponsored by GOP state Sen. Don Gaetz of Niceville, a former schools superintendent. Among other things, it expands scholarships for students with disabilities and awards public and charter schools $10 per K-8 student if they adopt a dress code or require school uniforms.

The dress-code provision generated the most questions, with Lake Worth Democrat Jeff Clemens even saying he was concerned about “shoving school uniforms down the throats” of constituents. He offered an amendment to delete that language, then withdrew it.

The bill then hit a snag when Gaetz, as a last-minute change, wanted to name the scholarships after Senate President Andy Gardiner. He politely rejected that notion, saying he promised to send the House a “clean bill.” But Crisafulli actually called the Senate, saying the idea was OK by him.

Finally, Gaetz asked for ceremonial co-sponsors from the floor and 38 other senators added their names, missing only state Sen. Denise Grimsley of Sebring, who had an excused absence.

In closing, Gaetz said there wouldn’t be lobbyists or protesters interested in the passage of his bill, “just thousands and thousands of Florida families who are waiting quietly, and prayerfully, to see what we will do today,” he said.

It then passed 39-0 and was sent to the House.

The water protection bill (SB 552) was sponsored by state Sen. Charlie Dean, an Inverness Republican.

According to the Associated Press, it “modifies dozens of areas of Florida law including controlling pollution and restoring natural water flows in springs and rivers; developing alternative water supplies; water-use permitting; and restoring flows and preventing pollution around Lake Okeechobee and the northern Everglades.”

The legislation easily survived several attempts at floor amendments to make it even tougher; environmentalists say it doesn’t go far enough to guard the state’s springs and surface water.

It was supported by the H2O Coalition, an offshoot of the Associated Industries of Florida business lobby, which called the bill “the best path forward for our people and our state.”

Getting a water bill done this session is one of Crisafulli’s top goals before he departs the Legislature: He’s term-limited this year.

The bill passed the Senate 37-0. That makes two priority bills that likely will be the first triumphs the two leaders will advertise as signs of their new harmony after the 2015 regular session that ended in impasse over health care funding.

“What you see is a real trust between the Speaker and me going into this Session that we want to help each other,” Gardiner later told reporters.

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Linkedin
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit
Share On Stumbleupon
Share On Youtube
Contact us

Steve Crisafulli advocates for ride-sharing legislation in opening-day speech

Opening the 2016 Legislative Session Tuesday, Speaker Steve Crisafulli listed the priorities that he expects the House to focus on in 2016.

That included an endorsement of Gov. Rick Scott‘s goal of cutting taxes by $1 billion, something that Senate members have expressed discomfort with. He also put in a good word for legislation that would regulate ridesharing companies such as Uber and Lyft.

“Let’s put the free market to work for Florida families,” he said in his speech. “Let’s cut red tape and create forward-looking, predictable regulatory frameworks to give companies like Uber and Lyft and other disruptive technologies their day in the sun. Florida should be a state where our regulations welcome innovation, not discourage people from finding new and better ways of doing things. If people in Orlando or Miami or Tallahassee want Chair Workman to be their Uber driver, then we should give them that freedom.”

That was a reference to House Rules Committee Ritch Workman from Melbourne, who took a side job as a driver for Uber last year.

Crisafulli’s comments are his most enthusiastic yet about backing a bill that would regulate the ridesharing companies that have been operating in Florida for the past couple of years with no state or local regulations.

Controversy in some local communities has followed Uber and Lyft since they began operating in Florida, however, particularly in Hillsborough and Broward counties.

Uber pulled out of Broward on July 31 to protest the county’s new regulations, which included fingerprint-based FBI background checks and a geography test for drivers.

After harsh criticism from constituents who professed their love for Uber and Lyft, though, the Broward County Commission reversed course in October and dropped the requirements.

In Hillsborough, the county’s Public Transportation Commission has resumed issuing citations against Uber and Lyft drivers for driving without permits, while litigation continues between the county and the two companies. The PTC curtailed issuing those citations as a statement of good will last fall, saying they would hold off on passing any regulations until the Legislature addressed the issue in the Session that began Tuesday.

Last month, the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation approved a measure sponsored by Plant City Republican Dan Raulerson that would establish a new regulatory framework for allowing Uber and Lyft to operate legally in the county.

Those lawmakers said that they hoped the Legislature would approve a statewide bill during the current session. A bill has been introduced by Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz in the House (HB 509) would set insurance requirements for transportation-service drivers while they are logged on, require prospective drivers to undergo criminal background checks and prohibit local governments from imposing their own rules on the app-based companies as they do now for taxi companies and limousine services. The legislation passed in the House Highway and Waterway Safety Subcommittee last month. It’s scheduled to be debated in the House Economics Affairs Committee on Wednesday.

It lacks a Senate sponsor, though, and the perception is that it won’t get much support in that part of the Legislature

“Florida should be a state where our regulations welcome innovation, not discourage people from finding new and better ways of doing things,” Crisafulli said Tuesday. Whether that will translate finally into a statewide policy regarding Uber and Lyft is uncertain.

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Linkedin
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit
Share On Stumbleupon
Share On Youtube
Contact us

Steve Crisafulli: House, Senate will pass “3 important bills” by end of week

The state House and Senate will pass three bills by the end of the week, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli told members during his opening remarks Tuesday.

“As we look ahead to the next 60 days, I want us to double-down,” said Crisafulli, a Merritt Island Republican. “We will do that first by finishing what we started. By the end of the week, the House and Senate will pass three important bills that were part of last year’s Work Plan.”

Crisafulli said the House and Senate will take up statewide water policy legislation (HB 7005 and HB 522); an education bill that expands the personal learning scholarship (HB 7011 and SB 672); and a measure (HB 1359 and SB 962) aimed at creating employment opportunities for people with unique abilities.

“Members, these are three bipartisan bills we can all be proud to support and deliver for Floridians,” said Crisafulli. “Of course, those bills are only a fraction of our work this session.”

Crisafulli’s comments were echoed by Senate President Andy Gardiner, who told lawmakers that sending Scott those measures by the end of the first week of the 2016 Legislative Session “sets the tone.”

Crisafulli used his opening comments to highlight several other issues lawmakers will tackle this session, including tax cuts.

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Linkedin
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit
Share On Stumbleupon
Share On Youtube
Contact us

Andy Gardiner promises first 3 bills this Session

On the first day of the 2016 Legislative Session, Senate President Andy Gardiner made a promise that Gov. Rick Scott would get three bills by the end of the week.

Gardiner, an Orlando Republican, spoke during the Senate’s first floor session for 2016, with Scott sitting in the first row.

The first measure is statewide water policy legislation (SB 552/HB 7005) championed by Republican state Sen. Charlie Dean.

According to The Associated Press, it “modifies dozens of areas of Florida law including controlling pollution and restoring natural water flows in springs and rivers; developing alternative water supplies; water use permitting; and restoring flows and preventing pollution around Lake Okeechobee and the northern Everglades.”

Another was an education bill (SB 672/HB 7011) that creates a Personal Learning Scholarship account for children with autism or muscular dystrophy that would provide for a $10,000 lifetime scholarship. It’s backed by state GOP Sen. Don Gaetz.

The third (SB 962/HB 1359) is aimed at employment opportunities for people with unique abilities, focussing on “vocational evaluation and planning, career counseling and guidance, job-site assessment and accommodations, job placement, job coaching, and on-the-job training.” Gardiner has a son with Down syndrome.

Forwarding those efforts to Scott by the end of the first week of session “sets the tone,” Gardiner said.

“Last year was unusual,” he added, referring to the regular session that ended in the House leaving town three days early over a budget impasse, resulting in a special budget session.

Two other special sessions for redistricting ended without agreement on new political maps, resulting in courts making the final decision.

“You have my commitment we will do everything we can,” Gardiner told the chamber, filled with former and current lawmakers, all the statewide elected officials and five Supreme Court justices. “We will work to cut taxes, pass a balanced budget and appropriate unprecedented funding for K-12 education.”

Gardiner, however, said his chamber would “work with” Scott on funding for Enterprise Florida, the state’s public-private economic development agency. Scott wants a $250 million fund for business incentives, something the Senate isn’t fully on board with.

By the end of this session, Gardiner said, he hoped every senator will be able to say, “Andy gave me every opportunity to be successful.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Linkedin
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit
Share On Stumbleupon
Share On Youtube
Contact us

Gambling, guns, tax cuts and more facing Florida lawmakers

The Legislature will begin its annual session early this year with the hopes of avoiding the chaos and dysfunction that marked the 2015 Session and three special sessions that followed.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner say the past is the past and there’s no lingering animosity after the two chambers found it difficult to agree on much last year.

“What you’re seeing is a real desire to get some things done. While a lot of people talk about what happened last session, as far as I’m concerned the relationship with the speaker and the governor have been good,” said Gardiner.

Crisafulli acknowledged there were “many challenges” this past year.

“Now it’s time to look ahead,” he said, adding that lawmakers will begin the upcoming session by addressing major issues that died last year when the House went home early, including a water protection bill and measures to help developmentally disabled residents.

Here’s a look at issues facing lawmakers when the 60-day session opens Tuesday.

GOV. RICK SCOTT’S AGENDA

Scott is pushing for $1 billion in tax cuts and a $250 million for business incentives. On Wednesday, he will start a three-day bus tour that hits most of Florida’s major media markets to promote both ideas. Scott’s proposed cuts are largely aimed at businesses, including the elimination of corporate income taxes for manufacturers and retailers. That alone would cost the state treasury an estimated $770 million a year. Scott also wants to cut sales taxes charged on commercial leases by 1 percent and permanently eliminate the sales tax charged on the sale of manufacturing equipment.

The governor is also calling for a 10-day back-to-school sales tax holiday as well as a nine-day sales tax holiday on supplies used for hurricane preparation. Scott also wants to permanently eliminate sales taxes on college textbooks.

While the Republican-led Legislature is open to the idea of tax cuts, leaders in both chambers have said $1 billion might be too much, especially if it’s largely revenue the state will permanently lose.

GUNS

Two bills are moving through committees that would give more rights to gun owners. Each has been passionately debated during legislative committees. One would allow concealed weapon permit holders to openly carry their handguns. A second would allow permit holders to carry guns on state university and college campuses.

If both become law, universities could go from gun-free places to having students in class openly displaying handguns. Gun-rights advocates say that will make universities safer. However, every state university president and police chief in Florida opposes the guns-on-campus bill.

ENVIRONMENT

Both chambers say a top priority is passing a bill designed to help protect springs and groundwater while cleaning Lake Okeechobee, the northern Everglades, rivers and other waterways. The idea is to limit pollutants entering waterways and to come up with long range plans to manage water resources. Environmentalists say the legislation doesn’t go far enough to address regulating sugar producers, cattle ranchers and farms that contribute to pollution.

Lawmakers will also consider a proposal to dedicate $200 million a year to restoring the Everglades.

Environmentalists are upset over a bill that would require the Department of Environmental Protection to come up with regulations for fracking, a form of drilling that uses chemicals and water to blast through rock to get to oil and gas underneath. Supporters say there is nothing to stop fracking now, so regulations would make sure it’s done safely. Opponents would prefer to see the practice banned because of fears groundwater will be contaminated.

GAMBLING

The Legislature will consider the gambling deal Scott signed with the Seminole Tribe. It would guarantee the state $3 billion in revenue in exchange for allowing blackjack to continue at the tribe’s seven casinos and letting them operate roulette and craps. The agreement as signed is guaranteed to go through changes as the lawmakers consider regional interests like slot machines at dog and horse tracks.

Lawmakers will also consider a proposal to allow lottery sales at gas pumps and self-checkout registers at grocery stores.

A bill would regulate the fantasy sports companies like DraftKings and FanDuel while making it clear that they can legally operate in Florida.

AND MORE …

• Among other bills is a measure that will repeal an unenforced 19th-century law that makes it illegal for unmarried men and women to live together and have sex.

• Lawmakers are considering a measure that will ask voters to make the education commissioner an elected instead of an appointed position.

• A bill would ask for the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith that represents Florida in the U.S. Capitol.

• A bill would let terminally ill patients use marijuana.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Linkedin
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit
Share On Stumbleupon
Share On Youtube
Contact us

Jim Rosica’s Top 10 stories of 2015 in state government

From palace intrigues to pot, 2015 brought a plethora of material to the Capitol Press Corps. Trying to pick the top 10 state government stories is a subjective pursuit, to say the least, but here are the FloridaPolitics.com picks for the passing year:

No. 1: The “firing” of Gerald Bailey

Gov. Rick Scott actually forced out the state’s top cop in December 2014 but the repercussions of that move spilled well over into the new year.

Scott originally announced Bailey’s departure as voluntary at a Florida Cabinet meeting. As head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Bailey was one of a handful of top state officials whose position required the governor to consult with the rest of Cabinet before a firing.

Bailey himself soon contradicted Scott’s account, saying the governor’s staff had told him to “retire or resign.” He also said Scott’s staff asked him to state falsely that acting Orange County Clerk of Court Colleen Reilly was under investigation for a high-profile prison break that embarrassed the state’s corrections department.

News organizations and open government advocates soon filed a lawsuit, since settled, alleging that Scott staff members violated the state’s open meetings law by acting as back-channel “conduits.” That led to a weeks-long round robin of finger-pointing and question-raising as to whether Scott had orchestrated an end-run.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam told The Tampa Tribune “what we were told and what happened were not the same” regarding Bailey’s leaving, adding that the governor’s staff “were not forthcoming about their timeline and intentions regarding Commissioner Bailey.” Finally, at a February Cabinet meeting in Tampa, Scott said, “I could have handled it better … The buck stops here.”

Scott, Putnam, CFO Jeff Atwater and Attorney General Pam Bondi then agreed to overhaul the way state agency heads are hired, evaluated and fired.

No. 2: Health care funding disputes sink session

The Florida Senate bet nearly all its political capital on Medicaid expansion during the 2015 Legislative Session, then lost big to the Florida House. The disagreement over taking federal dollars to expand Medicaid eventually contributed to a $5 billion budget divide between the two chambers.

The Senate wanted to help about 800,000 working poor Floridians, who make too much for traditional Medicaid but not enough to take advantage of tax credits under the Affordable Care Act, the 2010 federal health care law championed by President Barack Obama. House leadership opposed the plan, saying the state would be on the hook should the feds fail to follow through.

Also at issue was how much to pay for hospitals’ charity care through a joint federal-state fund known as the Low Income Pool, or LIP. The disagreement at one point caused controversy when  House Republicans held a closed-door caucus meeting to rally their side against expansion. Associated Press reporter Gary Fineout pressed his ear against the meeting room door to overhear snippets of conversation, during which Speaker Steve Crisafulli told members to “stand like a rock” in opposing the Senate.

Finally, an exasperated House quit three days before the scheduled end of session and went home, forcing Senate Democrats to rush to the Supreme Court in an unsuccessful attempt to coerce the other chamber back into session. Five justices, however, agreed that the House’s move was unconstitutional. The Legislature had to reconvene in Special Session in June to complete the state budget.

No. 3: Florida becomes last state to legalize growlers

Not all was lost that session, as lawmakers approved and Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a measure legalizing the half-gallon size of beer container known as a “growler.” Previous efforts to legalize that size had failed, making Florida the last state that outlawed such containers. Craft beer aficionados now can fill up 64-ounce growlers, the most favored size to take home tap-drawn beer.

No. 4: Court says online travel sites don’t have to charge tax

Ending a decade-long court case, the Florida Supreme Court in June ruled that Expedia and other travel websites don’t have to charge hotel tax on the fees they charge when customers use them to book rooms.

Alachua and 16 other Florida counties had argued that they were losing millions in tax money. The court said in a 5-2 decision that the tourism development tax counties get from hotel guests should apply only to the amount actually paid for the stay, not for the service used to book it. Furthermore, the majority opinion slammed state lawmakers for knowing about the taxing dispute for years and choosing to do nothing about it.

The issue isn’t unique to Florida: The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington-based think tank, estimated in a 2011 study that local and state governments were taking in $275 million to $400 million less in tax revenue yearly. Florida was losing out on $31 million to $45 million a year.

No. 5: Economic development czar starts war of words with lawmakers

It was the shot heard ’round the Capitol when Bill Johnson, CEO of Enterprise Florida, the state’s public-private economic development agency, teed off during a conference call this summer.

Johnson was steamed that lawmakers had brushed off his request for $85 million more in business incentive funding during the Special Session for the budget. Senate President Andy Gardiner in particular said the organization was asking for more money than it was likely to dole out.

An audibly irate Johnson told his board members, “For the third most-populous state in the nation, and a leader in economic development, that’s shameful … There’s no need for (Enterprise Florida) to exist if we cannot garner the support of our Florida Legislature.”

Johnson told them to call legislators on their mobile phones, if necessary, to convince them of the need for funding. “This is not the time to back down,” he said.

The outburst stuck in the craw of key senators months later, and had Johnson eating crow: He apologized for the comments when he appeared before a Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee meeting in September. Johnson may yet have the last laugh, though. His boss, Gov. Rick Scott, is pressing for a new $250 million incentive fund and may threaten his veto pen on members’ favored projects as leverage.

No. 6: Court redraws Florida’s congressional districts

The Florida Supreme Court in December finally OK’d a redrawn version of the state’s 27 congressional districts three years after a court challenge said they were unconstitutional.

The League of Women Voters of Florida, Common Cause and others had sued over the current congressional lines, redrawn after the 2010 census, saying the existing map violates a state constitutional prohibition against gerrymandering, the manipulation of political boundaries to favor a particular incumbent or party. Voters in 2010 had passed the “Fair Districts” constitutional amendments to prohibit such gerrymandering.

The case worked its way to the high court, which ruled that the current map was “tainted by unconstitutional intent to favor the Republican Party and incumbents” and ordered a do-over. The Legislature tried but failed to agree on a redrawn congressional map in a Special Session this summer, and the matter bounced back to Circuit Judge Terry Lewis.

Lewis was charged to take evidence and figure out a new map. He recommended the plaintiffs’ plan. The justices agreed with Lewis in a 5-2 decision.

Among the big changes, the court agreed with shifting Democratic U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown‘s current Jacksonville-to-Sanford district “in an east-west manner,” stretching it into what is now Gwen Graham’s territory in the Big Bend and Panhandle. That eviscerates Graham’s Democratic base in Gadsden and Leon counties. Brown reportedly had been mulling a move to Orlando to run for Republican icon Daniel Webster’s district, redrawn to become a virtual Democratic lock. She’s since decided to make a stand in her own redrawn district. 

No. 7: Judge to recommend State Senate redistricting

Later in December, Circuit Judge George Reynolds began a week-long trial to work out the makeup of the state’s 40 senatorial districts.

Similar to the congressional case, the League of Women Voters of Florida, Common Cause and others had sued the Legislature, alleging the current Senate district map was rigged to favor Republicans and incumbents. The Senate settled the case by admitting fault – a rarity – and agreeing to redraw the lines with the House. Both chambers, however, came to an impasse over the best way to do that during a recent Special Session, ensuring that the courts would have to figure it out.

Reynolds now must figure out a configuration that also abides by the state constitution’s Fair Districts amendments. He has said he will likely pick one of five suggested maps, one submitted by the Senate and four from the plaintiffs, rather than combine elements or try to draw his own. Whatever Reynolds picks, it will have to go back to the Florida Supreme Court for final approval.

The judge also allowed the state’s elections supervisors to intervene in the case. Their attorney told him elections officials need to know the new Senate district map by mid-March 2016: Qualifying for state Senate seats begins June 20, and candidates have to know what district they’re in to run.

No. 8: Negron overcomes Latvala for Senate presidency

In November, the long, bitter race between Jack Latvala and Joe Negron for the 2016-18 Florida Senate presidency came to an end. Latvala, a Clearwater Republican, withdrew his name from consideration, deferring to Negron, a Stuart Republican.

Republicans control the 40-member chamber by 26-14. Latvala’s consolation prize was a promise that Negron would name him the Senate Appropriations committee chair. Negron had said in August that he had captured a majority of votes from the Senate’s Republican caucus to become head of his chamber for 2016-18, succeeding current President Andy Gardiner of Orlando. Latvala’s move, though, finally put a definitive end to the neck-and-neck and often contentious race.

No. 9: Scott clinches $3 billion blackjack deal with Seminole Tribe

After months of back and forth, Gov. Rick Scott announced in December a new deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida to allow it to continue offering blackjack at its casinos in return for a $3 billion cut of the take over seven years. Scott called the agreement the “largest revenue share guarantee in history.”

However, the new Seminole Compact must be reviewed and approved by federal officials and state lawmakers, some of whom blanched at the gambling expansion provisions tucked inside. The agreement would let the Seminoles add roulette and craps tables, as well as permit the Legislature to OK slot machines at the Palm Beach Kennel Club and allow blackjack at some South Florida racetracks “with some limitations.”

House Republican Leader Dana Young of Tampa tried pushing her own gambling overhaul legislation last Session that would have, among other things, allowed two destination resort casinos in South Florida. The legislation failed.

Young and other lawmakers soon gave mixed reviews on the compact’s chance of passage: “Any time you pick winners and losers, it is a very heavy lift in the Legislature,” she said.

No. 10: Medical marijuana finally gets moving in Florida

The state last year approved a mild strain of marijuana last year for children with severe epilepsy and patients with advanced  cancers. But bureaucratic and legal delays have held up the process of getting the drug to those who need it.

For instance, the awarding of licenses to nurseries that will grow the medicinal pot was challenged. Officials with the Department of Health first proposed awarding the licenses through a lottery. That was struck down by a judge.

A three-person committee was then established to screen applications and select the nurseries. But another hiccup struck that panel when one of its members picked for her financial background stepped down because her certified public accountant license was inactive. That board finally named the five nurseries on Nov. 23.

But by a December filing deadline, 13 challenges to the license awards had been lodged with the state Department of Health. Undeterred, Orlando trial attorney John Morgan is trying again for a constitutional amendment for medical marijuana. Also, bills have been filed for next Legislative Session that would allow stronger varieties of prescribed marijuana than the “Charlotte’s Web” strain.

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Linkedin
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit
Share On Stumbleupon
Share On Youtube
Contact us
Show Buttons
Hide Buttons