Capitol preview: What to expect this week in Florida politics

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The state of the state is ….? We’ll find out on Tuesday, as Gov. Rick Scott gives the annual address to the Legislature, which convenes for its regular session on the same day.

The governor is expected to hit familiar themes of making the state more attractive to business, while touting his claimed successes so far in that arena, including a drop of about 2 percentage points in the unemployment rate since he was elected. He also plans to discuss education – he’s requested a billion dollar increase in K-12 funding and will urge lawmakers to go along with it.

The first committee hearing for the Senate’s casino plan comes on Monday in the Regulated Industries Committee and there are redistricting committees this week.

A round-up from the News Service of Florida.

SENATE IN SESSION

The Senate has a floor session Tuesday afternoon, and could immediately take up a couple of claims bills that are important to the Senate president.

MONDAY, JAN. 9, 2011

ENVIRONMENTAL PRESERVATION: In what won’t be the most pleasant series of discussions, the Senate Environmental Preservation Committee on Monday takes up bills dealing with wastewater that’s disposed of in the ocean (SB 724), sewage treatment and disposal systems (SB 820) and solid waste management facilities (SB 738.) The panel also considers the appointment of Charles W. Roberts to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. (Monday, 10 a.m., 110 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)

BIG CHANGES IN EDUCATION MULLED: A proposed constitutional amendment to have the commissioner of education return to being an elected Cabinet position is one of the measures before the Senate Education Pre-K-12 Committee on Monday. The proposed amendment (SJR 96) is sponsored by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart. The committee also will hear the bill (SB 344) allowing advertising on public school busses, and a measure (SB 962) that would increase the amount of money available for the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, which lets businesses take a tax credit for paying private school tuition for kids. The bill, by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, ups the cap on the scholarship fund from $140 million to $250 million, and says that in future years if 90 percent or more of the fund is actually handed out in private school tuition, then the cap would increase by another 25 percent. The committee also will hear several presentations on education-related projects. (Monday, 10 a.m., 301 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)

MAPPING THE FUTURE OF CONGRESS: The House Subcommittee on Congressional Redistricting meets to whittle down the number of options expected to be presented to the full House Redistricting Committee later. Redistricting Committee Chairman Will Weatherford has asked the subcommittee to come up with at least three options; the panel is currently weighing seven maps. (Monday, 12 p.m., 404 House Office Building, The Capitol.)

RUBBER STAMPING THE SENATE?: The House and Senate have essentially struck a deal to accept each other’s maps for their respective chambers, meaning the House Subcommittee on Senate Redistricting’s meeting won’t be especial contentious. The panel is set to take up the Senate map. (Monday, 12 p.m., 17 House Office Building, The Capitol.)

STATE INVESTMENT STRATEGY, AND WATER MANAGEMENT DISTRICTS: The Senate Governmental Oversight Committee takes up a proposal (SB 880) by Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Boca Raton, that increases the amount of the retirement and other state funds available to be invested in “alternative” investments, including private equity funds, venture funds, hedge funds and other non-traditional holdings. Increased in 2008 from 5 percent to 10 percent, the legislation in the committee on Monday would up that to 20 percent. An outside asset liability study determined the state has a small amount of such holdings compared to other large pension funds, and that has hurt the fund’s performance during the stock market downturn. The bill also decreases the amount of the Lawton Chiles Endowment Fund available for research.  The panel also takes up a bill (SB 560) requiring water management districts to apply certain criteria in determining effects of proposed uses of water, and allowing water districts to consider an adjoining district’s water reserve and flow levels when considering a consumptive use permit without having to adopt them by rule. (Monday, 1 p.m., 110 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)

LOOKING OUT FOR VETERANS: Young soldiers who return from the military ought to be able to get a concealed weapons permit after carrying around weapons for the last couple years, even if they’re not 21, reasons Sen. Joe Negron, the sponsor of SB 998, which will be heard Monday in Senate Military Affairs. The committee also takes up SB 922, which among other things provides that someone who claims they committed a criminal offense as a result of posttraumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, substance abuse, or psychological problems stemming from service in a combat theater in the United States military may have a hearing on that issue before sentencing. The bill also creates a misdemeanor pretrial veterans’ treatment intervention program, and requires colleges and universities to move veterans to the head of the line when admitting students to college if they meet the requirements.  (Monday, 1 p.m., 37 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)

CHOOSING THEIR OWN LINES: The House subcommittee charged with crafting lines for the House holds a meeting to whittle down the number of options expected to be presented to the full House Redistricting Committee later. Redistricting Committee Chairman Will Weatherford has asked the subcommittee to come up with at least three options; the panel is considering five. (Monday, 3 p.m., 404 House Office Building, The Capitol.)

CASINOS PLAN GETS FIRST TEST: The Senate Regulated Industries Committee is expected to vote on a controversial bill (SB 710) that would allow up to three “destination” resort casinos in Florida. The bill also would make a number of other changes that would affect pari-mutuel facilities and Internet cafes. (Monday, 3:15 p.m., 110 Senate Office Building, the Capitol.)

SENATE BANKING AND INSURANCE: Bills before the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee on Friday include a measure (SB 438) that increases the proportionate loan amounts subject to descending top interest rates, increasing maximum delinquency payments and making other changes in loan consumer finance charge laws. A somewhat technical bill (SB 676) dealing with the process for exemptions from workers compensation requirements and a bill making some changes to the laws dealing with insurance agents and adjusters (SB 938) are also before the committee. (Monday, 3:15 p.m., 412 Knott Building, The Capitol.)

COMMERCE AND TOURISM: Owners of master recordings or their trade associations would be able to get restitution from people who make unauthorized audio recordings under a bill (SB 432) before the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee Monday. Other bills before the panel deal with secondary metals dealing (SB 540), fees for certificate of conversion to a domestic corporation (SB 222), community-based development organizations (SB 562), and transfer of tax liability (SB 170). The committee also gets an update on current projects and jobs in the space industry in Florida. (Monday, 3:15 p.m., 401 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)

SENATE TRANSPORTATION: One bill before the Senate Transportation Committee would provide additional fines for certain vehicle violations, like driving with a suspended license. While Republicans in control of the Legislature have generally been tough on crime, they’ve also generally been opposed to higher fees, calling them taxes under another name. It’s possible that’s why this bill (SB 474) by Sen. Jim Norman, R-Tampa, has been postponed in two earlier meetings of the Transportation Committee. Another controversial issue is before the panel on Monday as it considers the creation of a new expressway authority, the Seminole County Expressway Authority. The proposal (SB 354) by Sen. David Simmons, R-Longwood, comes as other lawmakers and the Scott administration consider whether to consolidate the state’s myriad expressway authorities. The committee also considers a bill (SB 546) aimed at preventing the state from contracting with a French railroad company that was involved in transporting Jews to Nazi death camps. Actually, the measure would bar any railroad that helped transport Jewish people to concentration camps from getting any contracts for publicly funded rail projects in Florida. But the company that would be most likely to be directly affected would be the French national railroad SNCF, which during the time the Nazis occupied France was involved in transport to death camps. The company last year sought to bid on the planned high speed rail project, which raised questions about the company’s past. Gov. Rick Scott has since killed that rail project anyway. Another measure before the panel would grant free airport parking to people in cars that can carry motorized scooters (SB 780) and another (SB 854) would create a program that would notify parents when their teen agers break a traffic law. (Monday, 3:15 p.m., 37 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)

ALSO

NEW OPEN GOVT WEBSITE: The Foundation for Government Accountability, which bills itself as a “free market think tank,” will roll out FloridaOpenGov.org, an interactive web site that allows users to access details of nearly $1.4 trillion in state, county and local government spending, payroll and vendor payments. “FloridaOpenGov.org includes decades of government spending and payroll data, searchable by state agency, employee name, municipality, business name, and other indicators,” the group says. “Key findings from the nearly 35 million records—all obtained through public records requests to various government agencies—will be shared.” Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater also attends, along with Republican legislators. (Monday,  10 a.m, Majority Office Conference Room, 323 Capitol.)

FAMU TRUSTEES GET UPDATE FROM AMMONS: The Florida A&M Board of Trustees holds what is expected to be a regular meeting to get an update from FAMU President James Ammons on investigations into hazing at the university. The board will meet by phone. (Monday, 10 a.m., 1-877-884-1929 Conference ID number is 41678062.)

TALKING ABOUT CHILDREN’S WELFARE: Children and Families Secretary David Wilkins, Florida Children and Youth Cabinet, Florida’s Foundation, the Washington-based Forum for Youth Investment, Legislators, school system and higher education officials take part in a roundtable discussion at the Forum for Youth Investment’s Ready by 21 event. (Monday, 10 a.m., Governor’s Large Conference Room, The Capitol.)

REDISTRICTING CASE HEARD: A three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals hears oral arguments in a challenge to the redistricting standards added to the Florida Constitution by voters last year. Democratic Congresswoman Corrine Brown, Republican Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart and the Florida House argue that the standards approved by voters trample on the Legislature’s rights under the U.S. Constitution to draw the lines as it sees fit. (Tuesday, 56 Forsyth Street, N.W., Atlanta.)

TUESDAY,  JAN. 10, 2011

JOINT SESSION TO OPEN THE SESSION: House and Senate members meet in joint session Tuesday morning to officially open the legislative session and hear from Gov. Rick Scott. (Tuesday, 10 a.m., House Chamber, The Capitol.)

STATE OF THE STATE: Gov. Rick Scott delivers his second State of the State address on Tuesday. Last year’s address focused almost entirely on creating jobs, a sales pitch of sorts for cutting government to make the state business friendly. The job creating agenda’s success so far is open to interpretation – Scott took credit for a number of changes in the law he said would help, and unemployment has dropped. But the state still has a 10 percent jobless rate and Scott’s mission could hardly be considered accomplished. But even though it’s only been a year, his focus has already shifted a bit – although he’s still zeroed in ultimately on creating jobs, and this year’s speech is likely to reinforce that. The governor gave a small hint in his weekly radio address of what he’ll talk about: “This session, my focus will be on three things: first, I will pass a jobs creation package to ensure that Florida’s unemployment numbers continue to drop. Second, we will reform Florida’s auto insurance costs, so we can keep the cost of living low in Florida. Third, I want to ensure that Florida’s children have access to a quality education by adding an additional $1 billion into next year’s education budget,” Scott said.  This year’s speech returns to the longtime starting time of 11 a.m., after former Gov. Charlie Crist had moved it to the evening. (Tuesday, 11 a.m., House Chamber, The Capitol.)

SENATE IN SESSION: The Senate will open on the floor Tuesday afternoon, and may immediately take up bills on the calendar that are a priority for Senate President Mike Haridopolos. One of those bills that’s ready for the floor is SB 2, a relief bill for William Dillon, who was wrongfully imprisoned for 27 years before being exonerated after DNA testing. Another is a relief bill (SB 4) for Eric Brody, who was injured in a crash with a Broward County Sheriff’s deputy who was racing to work. Both those measures are important to Haridopolos and he has suggested they’ll likely pass early. They’re among a handful of bills available to lawmakers to take up right away. (Tuesday, 2:30 p.m., Senate Chamber, The Capitol.)

ALSO

PSC TO TAKE UP WATER, GULF POWER ISSUES: The Florida Public Service Commission will consider several issues, including a proposed increase in water and wastewater rates for Sanlando Utilities Corp. in Seminole County; a proposed water rate increase for Water Management Services, Inc., in Franklin County; and settlement of some issues in a Gulf Power Co. base-rate case. (Tuesday, 9:30 a.m. Betty Easley Conference Center, 4075 Esplanade Way, Tallahassee.)

AWAKE THE STATE: For the second time in as many years, a group of critics will convene on the session’s opening day to oppose policies of Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-led Legislature on health care, education and other “middle class” topics. The Awake the State rally is part of a statewide initiative (Tuesday, 11 a.m., Old Capitol building, Tallahassee.).

WEDNESDAY, JAN. 11, 2011

ETHICS AND ELECTIONS: The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee on Wednesday takes up a bill (SB 206) that would require that members of the public be given a reasonable opportunity to be heard before a board or commission takes official action on an item of significant interest to the public under certain circumstances.  The committee also hears a proposed committee bill (SPB 7042) that would shrink by one week the length of time between the primary and the general election. The bill would mean the primary would be held 11 weeks before the general election instead of 12 weeks as is currently the case. (Wednesday, 10:15 a.m., 412 Knott Building, The Capitol.)

TEEING UP SENATE REDISTRICTING DEBATE: The Senate Reapportionment Committee is expected to vote on maps for the state’s congressional delegation and the state Senate, clearing the way for a floor debate on the proposals as soon as next week. (Wednesday, 1 p.m., 412 Knott Building, The Capitol.)

THURSDAY, JAN.  12, 2011

TEXTING WHILE DRIVING BAN CONSIDERED: The Senate Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committee will take up a bill (SB 416) that would ban texting while driving. (Thursday, 8 a.m., 110 Senate Office Building, the Capitol.)

MUCK FARM WORKERS: The Senate Agriculture Committee hears a presentation on the status of health-related consequences to muck farm workers in the Lake Apopka region. (Thursday, 8 a.m., 37 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)

INJURED DETAINEES: A bill (SB 452) in the Senate Community Affairs Committee would provide that if someone is injured during an arrest, their health care is their own responsibility. (Thursday, 8 a.m., 412 Knott Building, The Capitol.)

PUBLIC NOTICES: Another bill in Senate Community Affairs Committee on Thursday would let local governments use their websites for required legal notices instead of having to publish them in a newspaper. It’s a controversial issue, opposed, for obvious reasons, by newspaper publishers. Advocates for the poor also typically don’t like the idea. (Thursday, 8 a.m., 412 Knott Building, The Capitol.)

REDUCING STRAYS: A bill (SB 488) in the Senate Community Affairs Committee sets out required charges for certain animal control and cruelty violations at the local level with the money going for spay and neuter programs. The panel also considers a bill (SB 818) that would require shelters to try to find rescue agencies to take animals before euthanizing them. Redrawing political boundaries is at the heart of the redistricting session, but a measure in Community Affairs on Thursday seeks to redraw some lines for real. The bill (SB 800) would re-make the boundaries of Martin and St. Lucie counties, to give party of what is now St. Lucie to Martin, which would become bigger. Other measures before the committee include those that deal with 911 operators (SB 514); new entities that could do needed work without an environmental permit (SB 602); new processing fees for tax deed applications submitted through the Internet (SB 734); EMT training (SB 450); public retirement plans (SB 698); notices to building code violators (SB 704); the creation of local energy zones (SB 640). (Thursday, 8 a.m., 412 Knott Building, The Capitol.)

SETTING UP THE BUDGET: State revenue forecasters huddle to decide how much money the state is likely to have in the fiscal year that begins July 1. It’s scheduled to be the last estimating conference before lawmakers draw up the budget, but Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, has said that he wants to wait until the Legislature can get firmer numbers. House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, has suggested that would be unnecessary unless the change in the numbers is particularly dramatic. The size of the state’s current budget shortfall is estimated to be close to $2 billion. (Thursday, 9 a.m., 301 Capitol.)

PUBLIC HOSPITAL SALES COULD GET COURT REVIEW: The Senate Health Regulation Committee will consider a proposal (SB 464) that could lead to circuit courts reviewing the sales or leases of public hospitals. Also, the committee will take up a bill (SB 342) that would make changes in the use of cigarette tax money to help the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute. (Thursday, 10:15 a.m., 412 Knott Building, the Capitol.)

ALSO

MALCOLM X’S DAUGHTER: Attallah Shabazz, the eldest daughter of Malcolm X will give an address during the Commemorative Celebration, one of several events that make up Florida State University’s 24th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, a week-long commemoration. (Thursday, 12 p.m., Ruby Diamond Concert Hall, Westcott Building, Florida State University, Tallahassee.)

FRIDAY, JAN. 13, 2011

SENATE BUDGET COMMITTEE: The Senate’s full Budget Committee has Friday morning blocked out for a meeting, but hasn’t yet released its agenda. (Friday, 9 a.m., 412 Knott Building, The Capitol.)

EDUCATION COMMITTEE LOOKS AT TEXAS: The House Education Committee is scheduled to begin discussing proposals for overhauling the state’s higher education system with college and university presidents, though Chairman Bill Proctor, R-St. Augustine, says it’s too soon to know yet whether the committee will draft legislation or simply recommendations. (Friday, 9 a.m., 102 House Office Building, The Capitol.)

ALSO

MEDICAID DRUGS DISCUSSED: The Agency for Health Care Administration’s Pharmaceutical and Therapeutics Committee will discuss recommendations for the Medicaid preferred-drug list. (Friday, 1 p.m., Tampa Airport Marriott, Tampa International Airport.)

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, 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.