Capitol Preview: What to expect this week in Florida politics

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Lawmakers return this week with a full slate of committee meetings and get right to what will be some of the most watched issues of the year. 

They’ll quickly take the issue of school safety in the wake of last month’s Connecticut school shooting, with Tuesday’s Senate Education Committee taking that issue up, and the Senate’s Education Budget panel looking at the possible costs of security improvements starting Wednesday. 

The problems in last year’s election – long lines and difficulty counting votes – will start to get a look this week too. The Senate gets into that on Monday in Ethics and Elections hearing from 10 local elections supervisors. A House committee will hear from them on Tuesday. 

How to deal with the new federal health care law also will be considered by special committees, and just what a gaming committee that isn’t supposed to pass major legislation will do might start to become evident on Monday. 

Also on tap this week will be a top priority of legislative leaders: ethics reform; and possibly the beginnings of an effort to reform local pension laws. 

Outside of the Legislature, the effort to put in place new rules for how clean Florida waterways are will be back this week. The federal Environmental Protection Agency holds hearings in Tampa. 

Meanwhile, a bunch of people will be zipping around the Everglades in airboats this week trying to kill unwanted pythons. What could go wrong? The snakes are a nuisance, mostly there because people released them (or they were born to mating snakes that had been released). The highlight for political junkies: U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson will head out into the Glades on Thursday with Alligator Ron Bergeron, who hunts snakes with his hands. Nelson will also take a machete. Again, what could go wrong?


SENATE E&E TALKS ELECTION, HEARS FROM SUPES: The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee gets right into the high profile stuff, starting its discussion of what may have gone wrong on Election Day. The panel, chaired by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, will hear from several county supervisors of elections. Supervisors scheduled to appear are Vicki Davis of Martin County; Mark Andersen of Bay County; Jerry Holland of Duval County; David Stafford of Escambia County; Sharon Harrington of Lee County; Penelope Townsley of Miami-Dade County; Brian Corley of Pasco County; Gertrude Walker of St. Lucie County; and Mike Ertel of Seminole County. (Monday, 10 a.m., 412 Knott Building, The Capitol.)

SENATE OBAMACARE COMMITTEE: The Senate Select Committee on Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act meets Monday to discuss impacts of the new law on employers and take public testimony. (Monday 4 p.m., 412 Knott Building, The Capitol.)

SENATE’S SPECIAL GAMING COMMITTEE HOLDS FIRST MEETING: While legislative leaders have said they don’t expect the Legislature to pass any major legislation expanding gambling opportunities this year, the special committee the Senate has created to study the issue holds its first meeting on Monday. The Senate Gaming Committee, chaired by Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, will get an overview of the economics of gaming in Florida from the head of the Legislature’s economic research office and will hear about the history of the regulation of pari-mutuel gaming from Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Ken Lawson. Lottery Secretary Cynthia O’Connell will give an overview of the Lottery and staff will brief the panel on the state’s gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe. (Monday, 4 p.m., 110 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)


OBAMACARE GETS A LOOK: With elections behind them, House members begin the task of responding to the 2010 Affordable Care Act. The House Select Committee on the PPACA will get its first look at what may be down the road as the state complies with required aspects of the federal mandate. (Monday, 1 p.m., 17 House Office Building, The Capitol.)


AUDITING: The Joint Legislative Auditing Committee meets Monday and will consider a request by Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, for an audit of the South Florida Workforce Board. (Monday, 4 p.m., 309 Capitol.)


MIAMI OFFICIALS CALL FOR GUN LAW CHANGES: Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado, Police Chief Manuel Orosa and others call on federal officials to enact changes to gun laws, including background check improvements, and a ban on “high capacity” weapons. (Monday, 10 a.m., Miami City Hall, 3500 Pan American Dr., Miami.)

FIRST LADY KICKS OFF LITERACY WEEK: First Lady Ann Scott will kick off Celebrate Literacy Week, Florida! on Monday in The Villages. (Monday, 10 a.m., The Villages Intermediate Center, 521 Old School Road, The Villages.)

NEW SUPERVISORS ORIENTATION: A three-day orientation for new elections supervisors begins Monday, with a lunch and tips on administering supervisors’ offices. The new elections chiefs will also learn about the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections, which is holding the event. (Monday, 12 p.m., Doubletree Hotel, 101 South Adams St., Tallahassee.)

DIGITAL TEXTBOOKS: The Digital Instructional Materials Work Group meets by webinar on Monday. The webinar will be a presentation by Dr. Mark Edwards, superintendent of North Carolina’s Mooresville Graded School District, on moving to digital instructional materials. (Monday, 2 p.m., (888) 670-3525 Toll Free or (720) 389-1212; Conference ID 647 251 856. To join the online meeting, go to and click “Join.”)

FLORIDA POLICE CHIEFS MEETING: The Florida Police Chiefs Association meets through Tuesday in St. Augustine. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam speaks to the group on Monday. (Renaissance World Golf Village Resort, St. Augustine.)



AG HEARS OF OYSTER WOES: The Senate Agriculture Committee on Tuesday hears about the problems with the oyster fishery in Apalachicola Bay. The panel will hear from the University of Florida Oyster Recovery Team and also hear a presentation on the effects of the decline in the fishery on the community around the bay. (Tuesday, 9 a.m., 301 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)

DRONE BAN IN SENATE CRIMINAL JUSTICE: The Senate Criminal Justice Committee takes up a measure (SB 92) that would prohibit police agencies from using remote control unmanned aircraft – or drones – to take pictures. (Just for the irony, if you can’t make it you could tune into the Florida Channel, which covers committee meetings by remote control cameras throughout the Capitol.) The committee also takes up a proposed committee bill (SPB 7000) dealing with records of victims of domestic or sexual violence and another bill. The panel also will hear a presentation from the Florida Smart Justice Alliance, an organization proposing ways to reduce the cost of prisons by changing the state’s outlook on sentencing. The committee also will hear a presentation from the Department of Corrections on the use of private transportation companies. (Tuesday, 9 a.m., 37 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)

SENATE ETHICS AND ELECTIONS BEGINS WORK ON ETHICS REFORM: The Senate E&E Committee starts its work on ethics reform with a workshop on Tuesday that will be closely watched by members and lobbyists. Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and House Speaker Will Weatherford have both said they want to make ethics changes and will make that a top priority. What exactly they may change is still up in the air, but the Senate committee, chaired by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, may indicate that in its first meeting Tuesday. The Florida Commission on Ethics will outline its legislative agenda for the year in meeting Tuesday as well. (Tuesday, 9 a.m., 412 Knott Building, The Capitol.)

CALL CENTER BILL IN SEN COMMERCE AND TOURISM: Call center contractors working for the state under certain contracts would have to use people actually in the United States under a bill (SB 90) that gets its first committee hearing Tuesday before the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee. The measure is sponsored by Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale. The committee also takes up SB 100, which bars employers from using a job applicant’s credit report or history to make hiring decisions in most cases. The committee also gets a presentation on the fiscal health of the unemployment compensation system, with Department of Revenue officials giving a report on contributions into the state fund and other officials updating the panel on recent changes in the jobless benefits system and proposed changes for the coming year. (Tuesday, 10 a.m., 110 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)

ALFS DISCUSSED IN CHILDREN-FAMILIES COMMITTEE: Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs on Tuesday gets an update from staff on an interim project on assisted living facilities and on proposed legislation. Also, the state’s long-term care ombudsman, Jim Crochet, talks about complaints in ALFs and the panel will hear recommendations from the Florida Assisted Living Facility Workgroup, as well as taking public testimony. On another issue, the committee will hear from several officials about the independent living program for foster children. (Tuesday, 2 p.m., 37 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)

SCHOOL SAFETY AND SECURITY: In the wake of December’s school shooting in Newtown, Conn., lawmakers begin their look at public school safety in Tuesday’s Senate Education Committee. The issue will be one of the most watched of the session. So far, the panel, chaired by Sen. John Legg, R-Port Richey, has no legislation under consideration. (Tuesday, 2 p.m., 412 Knott Building, The Capitol.)

SENATE DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS: The Senate Democratic Caucus holds its first meeting of the new year Tuesday evening. (Tuesday, 5 p.m., 200 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)


ELECTIONS SUPERS BRING ISSUES TO HOUSE: The House Ethics and Elections Subcommittee will hear from a panel of local election supervisors on early voting and other issues relating to the 2012 general election. Supervisors and lawmakers are looking for ways to reduce the wait times for voters. (Tuesday, 8 a.m., 212 Knott Building, The Capitol.)

CITIZENS PROPERTY UPDATE: The House Insurance and Banking Subcommittee will get a rundown on Citizens Property Insurance Corp as it prepares to make changes aimed at reducing the number of policies in the state-backed insurer, the state’s largest property insurer.  (Tuesday, 9 .a.m., 404 House Office Building, The Capitol.)

WIND MITIGATION ASSESSMENTS:  The House Insurance and Banking Subcommittee will hear presentations on wind mitigation  and assessments as it relates to hurricane insurance rates. Lawmakers are expected to address efforts to reduce risk by providing incentives for property owners to bolster their homes against hurricanes. (Tuesday, 9 a.m., 404 House Office Building, The Capitol.)

TRANSPORTATION AGENDA: The Department of Transportation and the Department of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles outline their legislative priorities for the year before the House Transportation and Highway Safety Subcommittee on Tuesday. (Tuesday, 2 p.m., 306 House Office Building, The Capitol.)

House Justice Approps, 9 a.m., 17 House Office Building.
House Health Innovation, 9 a.m., 306 House Office Building. 
House Higher Education, 9 a.m., 102 House Office Building.
House Economic Development and Tourism: 9 a.m., 12 House Office Building.
House Agriculture and Natural Resources: 2 p.m., 102 House Office Building. 
House Business and Professional Regulation: 2 p.m., 12 House Office Building. 
House Choice and Innovation Subcommittee: 2 p.m., 404 House Office Building.
House Health Care Appropriations, 2 p.m., 212 Knott Building. 
House Gov Ops, 2 p.m., 17 House Office Building.


SUPREMES HEAR FLORIDA LAND CASE: The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in a long-running environmental permitting dispute between an Orange County landowner and the St. Johns River Water Management District. Coy Koontz, Sr., wanted to develop part of his property, but the district denied permits after he refused to improve wetlands on another site as a way to mitigate damage to his land. Koontz, who has died, and his son argued that the district’s actions amounted to an unconstitutional “taking” of his property. The Florida Supreme Court rejected that argument, but the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. (Tuesday, 10 a.m., U.S. Supreme Court, Washington.)

UNEMPLOYMENT TAX REVIEW: The revenue estimating conference meets to update the state’s unemployment tax picture. The panel of analysts from the Legislature and the governor’s office is expected to have some good news. Running a deficit since mid-2009, Florida’s unemployment compensation trust fund will again be in the black by May after repaying nearly $550 million over the next several months. (Tuesday, 10 a.m., 117 Knott Building, The Capitol.)



CLERKS OF COURT BUDGET DISCUSSED: The Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Budget Committee discusses a proposal to give the Clerks of Court of continuing appropriation.  The panel also hears about the Faith and Character initiative at the Department of Corrections and begins looking at the parts of the budget under its jurisdiction. (Wednesday, 8:30 a.m., 37 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)

SENATE ED BUDGET PANEL LOOKS AT SCHOOL SAFETY AND SECURITY: The issue of making schools safer looks to be a major one in the Legislature this year in light of the shooting last month at a Connecticut elementary school. The issue of how to pay for any safety improvements will be discussed Wednesday by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education. Florida’s school districts are pushing lawmakers to boost school security money in the wake of the most recent massacre. Currently, Florida spends about $70 million on school security, primarily for armed school resource officers in middle and high schools. School district officials recently said they’ll push for several additional changes, including upgrades to locks, camera systems and other entry security devices. (Wednesday, 8:30 a.m., 412 Knott Building, The Capitol.)

CITRUS GREENING: The Senate General Government Appropriations Committee hears presentations on state efforts to battle citrus greening. (Wednesday 12:15 p.m., 110 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)

SENATE BANKING AND INSURANCE: The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee will get an in-depth look at Citizens Property Insurance Corp and the issues facing the state-backed insurer. Panelists are expected to get a picture from a variety of perspectives as lawmakers look for ways to depopulate the state’s largest property insurance company. (Wednesday, 3 p.m., 110 Senate Office Building, the Capitol.)

FLORIDA HOUSING FINANCE CORP DISCUSSED: The Senate Community Affairs Committee on Wednesday hears a presentation from state auditing agencies on reviews of programs and operations of the Florida Housing Finance Corp. The housing finance corporation, which was privatized in 1998, last year found itself the target of a move in the Senate to bring it back into state government following concerns about where the organization has funded affordable housing projects and whether it is frugal enough. (Wednesday, 3 p.m., 301 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)

OTHER SENATE COMMITTEES:Senate Transportation Appropriations: 8:30 a.m., 110 Senate Office Building.Senate HHS Appropriations, 12:30 p.m., 412 Knott Building.


MASSAGE PARLORS: In an effort to crack down on human trafficking, lawmakers have had their eyes on a certain group of “massage” parlors. The legitimate massage industry also would like the less legitimate elements taken care of. The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee on Wednesday takes up a proposed committee bill that, among other things, would prohibit massage therapy establishments from operating between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless the establishment is at a resort or a health club or some other clearly legitimate establishment. The committee, a subcommittee of House Judiciary, also hears from FDLE about synthetic drugs, and the attorney general on efforts to combat human trafficking. (Wednesday, 8:30 a.m., 404 House Office Building, The Capitol.)

MENINGITIS OUTBREAK: The House Health Quality Subcommittee will hear from state health officials about a recent meningitis outbreak. Also, they’ll get an update on what happened when the state closed A.G. Holley Hospital for tuberculosis patients last year. (Wednesday, 9 a.m., 306 House Office Building, The Capitol.)

BENNETT WELCOMED: New Education Commissioner Tony Bennett will meet the House Education Appropriations Subcommittee. (Wednesday, 9 a.m., 17 House Office Building, The Capitol.)

HOUSE VETERANS AFFAIRS: The Veteran and Military Affairs Subcommittee gets an update on compliance with military compatibility land use plan adoption and hears from the Department of Environmental Protection on the effects of land acquisitions from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill settlement fund. (Wednesday, 9 a.m., 12 House Office Building, The Capitol.)

MORE OBAMACARE: The Select Committee on PPACA hears a presentation on the impact of the new federal health care law on the State Employee Group Plan, and presentations by private employers. (Wednesday, 12 p.m., 17 House Office Building, The Capitol.)

MORE ELECTIONS: The House Ethics and Elections Subcommittee gets an overview of campaign finance laws from staff, and presentations on campaign law and ethics. (Wednesday, 12 p.m., 212 Knott Building, The Capitol.)

CITRUS GREENING AND EVERGLADES: The House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Committee hears presentations on state efforts to battle citrus greening and receives an update on Everglades restoration efforts. (Wednesday 3:30 p.m., 102 House Office Building, The Capitol.)

TALKING TORTS: The House Civil Justice Subcommittee on Wednesday holds a discussion of Florida’s civil litigation system, but no bills are scheduled to be taken up. (Wednesday, 3:30 p.m., 12 House Office Building, The Capitol.)

RETIREMENT SYSTEM DISCUSSED: The House Government Operations Subcommittee of the State Affairs Committee hears presentations on the Florida Retirement System, and on local pension plans. (Wednesday, 3:30 p.m., 212 Knott Building, The Capitol.)

HOUSE K-12: The Education Committee’s K-12 Subcommittee discusses a committee bill (PBC KTS 13-01) that repeals some requirements for schools, including a required report on recycling programs; a foreign-language curriculum plan; high school diploma program that includes a student’s “major,” among several other things. The panel also hears a presentation on the shift to Common Core standards for evaluating students and school. (Wednesday, 3:30 p.m., 17 House Office Building, The Capitol.)

House Energy and Utilities: 9 a.m., 212 Knott Building.
House Transportation: 9 a.m., 102 House Office Building. 
House Healthy Families: 3:30 p.m., 404 House Office Building.


NEW SUPERVISORS SEE ELECTIONS DIVISION: A three-day orientation for new elections supervisors, held by the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections, wraps up with a day focused on the Florida Division of Elections. Supervisors will hear from Secretary of State Ken Detzner and other officials at the agency. (Wednesday, 8 a.m., R.A. Gray Building, 500 Bronough St., Tallahassee.)

ENTERPRISE FLORIDA BOARD OF DIRECTORS EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE: The Board of Directors Executive Committee of Enterprise Florida, the public-private economic development agency, meets Wednesday. (Wednesday, 9:30 a.m., 800 N. Magnolia Ave., Suite 1100, Orlando.)

LIP MONEY DISCUSSED: The state’s Low Income Pool Council will discuss the so-called “LIP” program, which funnels about $1 billion a year to hospitals and other health providers that serve large numbers of poor and uninsured patients. The council, in part, makes recommendations to the Legislature about how the money should be divvied up. (Wednesday, 10 a.m., Agency for Health Care Administration, 2727 Mahan Dr., Tallahassee.)

BOARD OF GOVERNORS COMMITTEES MEET: Three committees of the Board of Governors meet in Gainesville in advance of the full board meeting Thursday. Key sessions include a meeting of the Audit and Compliance Committee to hear about the findings of an investigation into the anti-hazing programs at Florida A&M University and the Strategic Planning Committee’s discussion of online education. (Wednesday, 1 p.m., Emerson Alumni Hall, University of Florida, 1938 University Avenue, Gainesville)



APALACHICOLA OYSTERS: The Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee gets an update Thursday on the Apalachicola River Basin and another on the status of the Apalachicola Bay oyster fishery. The oyster harvest has been hit hard by a combination of things, including low water flow levels in the Apalachicola River, which Florida blames on water use in Atlanta and its suburbs. The fishery was also depleted by overfishing in the wake of the BP oil spill, when oysters from the bay were taken in greater numbers because of a shortage of western Gulf oysters. The committee also will hear a presentation on efforts to clean up Kings Bay, which is at the mouth of Crystal River on the state’s Gulf coast. (Thursday, 10:30 a.m., 110 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)

LOCAL GOVERNMENT RETIREMENT PLANS: The Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee wades into the issue of local retirement plans. Lawmakers are hoping to make changes in the way local police and firefighter pensions are paid for as local officials complain that retirement funds in many cases are badly underfunded. There’s no draft legislation yet, but the panel will workshop a proposal if it’s available. The panel’s chairman, Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, said last week that he expects the legislation to resemble an earlier effort to deal with the problem. The measure would let cities use additional money from  a tax on insurance premiums and also consider shifting new plans to defined contribution plans more like 401 (k) plans used in the private sector. (Thursday, 10:30 a.m., 412 Knott Building, The Capitol.)

SENATE TRANSPORTATION: Bills making it easier to renew disabled parking permits (SB 94) and to convert “low speed vehicles” – small car-like vehicles that typically go less than 25 mph – into golf carts (SB 62) are before the Senate Transportation Committee on Thursday. Another interesting item before the panel: a presentation by Metropolitan Planning Organization Advisory Council on a study on transportation revenue. Also, Department of Transportation officials will brief the panel on future needs, and future expected revenue. (Thursday, 10:30 a.m., 37 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)


BUDGET OVERVIEW: The House Appropriations Committee gets a presentation on PECO, the bond funding mechanism for school construction and improvements, and hears an overview of revenue and budgeting from staff. (Thursday, 8 a.m., 212 Knott Building, The Capitol.)


LBC ON MORTGAGE, TAJ MAHAL SETTLEMENTS: The Legislative Budget Commission meets to discuss 22 budget amendments, including how to spend some of the $334 million Florida received as part of the national mortgage settlement and whether to approve funding for a settlement over art that was ordered for the controversial First District Court of Appeal building in Tallahassee. The panel will also consider requests aimed at helping to deal with recent tropical storm damage. (Thursday, 2 p.m., 212 Knott Building, The Capitol.)


BOARD OF GOVERNORS HEAR STATE OF SYSTEM ADDRESS: Board of Governors Chairman Dean Colson is set to give the State of the System address on Thursday during the second day of the board’s meeting at the University of Florida. Two board committees will also meet, and the full board is set to approve 10 appointees for university boards of trustees. (Thursday, 8:30 a.m., Emerson Alumni Hall, University of Florida, 1938 University Avenue, Gainesville)

SENATOR TO KILL GIANT SNAKES WITH JUST A MACHETE: U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson has already gone up in space. Now he’s going into the Everglades with just a machete and his bare hands to kill as many pythons as he can find. Nelson, 70, will take part in the first giant python hunt, meant to rid the Everglades of some of the nuisance snakes that have thrived there as the descendants of people’s turned-loose pets. Nelson, Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commissioner Ron Bergeron and others will have a short media availability on Alligator Alley before heading out in an airboat to whack some snakes. (Thursday, 10 a.m., Mile Marker 41, Alligator Alley.)

SUPREME COURT OPINIONS: The Florida Supreme Court releases opinions. (Thursday, 11 a.m.) 

ENVIRO NEWS CONFERENCE ON EPA RULES: The Sierra Club, Florida Wildlife Federation, St Johns Riverkeeper, Earthjustice, and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida hold a news conference on Florida water pollution regulations as the EPA prepares to hold hearings on the proposed rules (see below). (Thursday, 12 p.m., N. Franklin St. pedestrian mall between Kennedy Blvd. and E. Jackson St., near Tampa Hotel, Tampa.) 

EPA HEARINGS ON WATER RULES: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency begins two days of hearings on water rules aimed at protecting Florida waterways from excess nitrogen and phosphorus. The hearings provide opportunities for the public to submit written comments on EPA’s proposed rule for some of Florida’s coastal and estuarine waters, and on portions of EPA’s final rule for Florida’s inland waters. (Thursday, 1 p.m., Hotel Tampa, 211 N. Tampa St., Tampa. The hearings resume Friday morning.)
More information:


EPA HEARINGS ON WATER RULES CONTINUE: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency continues hearings on water rules aimed at protecting Florida waterways from excess nitrogen and phosphorus. The public information sessions will not have an agenda and will have an “open house” format. The hearings also provide opportunities for the public to submit written comments on EPA’s proposed rule for some of Florida’s coastal and estuarine waters, and on portions of EPA’s final rule for Florida’s inland waters. (Friday, 9 a.m., Hotel Tampa, 211 N. Tampa St., Tampa.)
More information:

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.