Capitol preview: What to expect this week in Florida politics

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Three major pieces of legislation arrive on the floor of one chamber or the other this week. The big legislative news this week won’t come until Friday, when the House votes on the final maps in the once-in-a-decade redistricting process. That would leave only a final Senate vote between the maps and their respective destinations — the legislative plan heading to the Florida Supreme Court and the congressional map going to Gov. Rick Scott. The House is in Friday afternoon for the vote after bringing them to the floor Thursday.

In the Senate, two highly controversial bills come to the floor on Tuesday for discussion and questions before debate and likely votes on Wednesday. One is the Senate’s prison privatization bill (SB 2038), the other is a bill that would allow school districts to approve inspirational messages at certain events (SB 98).

The House will give the budget its first full look this week in the Appropriations Committee.

Of course the politics of the week may overshadow everything, with Tuesday’s presidential primary. Many Florida Republicans have already voted, but they have until close of polls Tuesday if they haven’t. Voters in two north Florida counties, Gadsden and Washington, also will be deciding on whether to allow slots at two pari-mutuel facilities.

A round-up via The News Service of Florida.

MONDAY, JAN. 30, 2012


CITRUS AND HORSES: The Senate Agriculture Committee starts its day off with orange juice. Actually, it’s a bill that has significant changes to the Florida Citrus Code, though all the changes were essentially agreed to last summer by an advisory committee made up of industry organizations, individual growers, and other stakeholders. Some of the main changes are new qualification requirements for members of the Citrus Commission, and staggered 3-year terms, instead of terms that all run the same. The bill also requires the Department of Citrus to be staffed 40 hours a week, 5 days a week, rather than allowing some of the flex schedules the agency has used in the past. The bill (SB 1648) also gives the commission new powers to adopt rules establishing quality standards for citrus and citrus products that are “designed to increase the acceptance and consumption by the consuming public of such regulated citrus fruits and food products of citrus.” The bill says the agency can set out color standards for oranges, for example, along with juice content requirements. The committee also hears a presentation on the impact of the equestrian industry in Florida. (Monday, 10 a.m., 37 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)

CAP AND TRADE REPEAL: A bill (SB 1648) that would repeal a law that could lead to using a “cap and trade” system for limiting greenhouse gas emissions is the most controversial measure before Senate Communications, Energy and Public Utilities on Monday morning. The law, which was pushed by former Gov. Charlie Crist in 2008, hasn’t actually been used to pursue a cap and trade incentive system for cutting emissions, but opponents of that approach say the law could be. That bill is SB 648. The panel also takes up a major piece of energy legislation (SPB 7202) that adds renewable energy factors into what must be considered when utility regulators review power companies’ 10-year site plans, renews a sales tax exemption on renewable fuel materials, and renewable energy tax credits, among other issues. (Monday, 10 a.m., 110 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)

PUBLIC HOSPITALS, LOCAL BIZ TAXES: A measure dealing with the sale of public hospitals to private sector buyers (SB 1568) is before the Senate Community Affairs Committee Monday, along with a bill (SB 760) that would repeal the law that allows local municipalities to levy a business tax. That same bill has stalled a bit in the House, but continues to move in the Senate. The committee has another measure that has drawn controversy, a proposed constitutional amendment (SJR 1070) that would create term limits for local county commissioners and constitutional officers. The committee also considers legislation (SB 1322) that seeks to end Miami-Dade County’s dangerous dog law – a ban on owning pit bulls in that county. (Monday, 10 a.m., 412 Knott Building, The Capitol.)

SENATE RULES: A wide-ranging elections bill (SB 1596) goes before the Senate Rules Committee Monday. The measure repeals a ban on using certain addresses as a way to confirm a voter’s legal residence, requires new disclosures on fundraiser tickets, and makes some technical changes to campaign treasury requirements. (Monday, 1 p.m., 110 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)

FULL AGENDA FOR SENATE ED: The Senate Education PreK-12 Committee, takes up a number of bills, including: SB 756, which would require middle-school courses in career and education planning include “Florida’s Career Clusters” and establish requirements for career high school diplomas; SB 1704, which would create the Sunshine Independent Athletic Association to govern private-school athletics; and SB 1852, which overhauls the state’s charter school law to allow high-performing charter schools to create three new schools a year, up from one, and increase their size and the number of grade levels offered. (Monday, 3:30 p.m., 301 Senate Office Building, The Capitol)

BARKING UP THE RIGHT TREE (FROG) The Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee on Monday takes up a number of measures including a perennial issue for Sen. Steve Oelrich, R-Cross Creek, to name the barking tree frog the state’s official amphibian. On a more serious note, the panel will take up the SB 2060, which allows the state to set numeric standards for water pollution levels.  The panel also hears a couple of water bills. SB 1178 would extend the duration of consumptive use permits from 20 years to 30 years for alternative water sources, which include utilities and municipal sources. Another measure, SB 1858, would make it easier for the state to enter contracts with private landowners for water storage.  The panel also takes up SB 604, which would restrict local governments from enforcing strict ordinances dealing with fertilizer application.  (Monday, 3:30 p.m. 110 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)


SNAPPING UP BETTER FOOD: The House Health & Human Services Access Subcommittee will consider a proposal (HB 1401) that would put more restrictions on food purchases by beneficiaries of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. So-called SNAP funds could not be used, for example, to buy soda, candy, doughnuts, pretzels and potato chips. (Monday, 2 p.m., 212 Knott Building, the Capitol.)

EXCESS PROFITS: The House Insurance and Banking Subcommittee takes up a measure to allow workers’ compensation insurers to keep excess profits they received from premiums paid by businesses. Since 2003, workers’ compensation insurers have returned $200 million in excess profits to businesses. The measure, HB 4169, would allow them to keep it. The committee also takes up HB 1065, which expands disclosure requirements when annuities are sold to consumers. The panels also takes on fraud in the check cashing industry with HB 1277, which boosts enforcement and reporting requirements for more than 1,000 check cashing facilities. (Monday, 2 p.m., 404 House Office Building, the Capitol.)

TOUGHER PENALTIES FOR CHILD KILLERS: Penalties would be tougher for those convicted of murdering someone under age 17 regardless of whether killer knew the age of the victim under a bill (HB 583) in the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee in the House on Monday. The panel also considers a bill aimed at keeping the law one step ahead of the drug users in the arms race of the drug war. Last year, lawmakers added certain synthetic marijuana compounds and bath salts to the list of controlled substances. But just since last year, new formulas of synthetic canabinoids and bath salts have been developed that use chemicals not covered in the law. The bill (HB 1175) adds them. (Monday, 2 p.m., 17 House Office Building, The Capitol.)

HOUSE SPECIAL ORDER CALENDAR SET: The House Rules and Calendar Committee meets briefly Monday afternoon to set the special order calendar for the week. (Monday, 5 p.m., 404 House Office Building, The Capitol.)


NCAA PRES SPEAKS IN TALLAHASSEE: National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) President Mark A. Emmert, Ph.D., will speak to the Economic Club of Florida on Monday in Tallahassee. The topic: “Are College Sports Broken?” Emmert is the fifth president of the NCAA and has held the post since October 2010. He is the former president of the University of Washington and chancellor at Louisiana State University. (Monday, 12:10 p.m., lunch at 11:30 a.m., Tallahassee Civic Center, 505 W. Pensacola St., Tallahassee.)

SOUTHERLAND TO PUSH STATE WATER STANDARDS: U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland hosts a news conference in Tallahassee Monday to roll out legislation to make clear that Florida officials, not federal officials, have the power to set numeric nutrient standards for state waters. He’ll be joined by Associated Industries President Tom Feeney, Florida Chamber of Commerce President Mark Wilson and others. (Monday, 2 p.m., Front steps of Old Capitol, Tallahassee.)

TUESDAY, JAN. 31, 2012

PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY: Four Republican candidates are contesting Tuesday’s primary election in Florida, seeking the state’s 50 delegates, half what they normally would get from the state because it moved its primary up in the calendar drawing a penalty from the national GOP. Mitt Romney is the front runner – having polled in a statistical dead heat with Newt Gingrich last week, but opening up a 38 percent to 29 percent lead on Gingrich in a Quinnipiac University poll out Friday. Romney performed well in Florida in 2008 — getting 31 percent of the vote but losing to U.S. Sen. John McCain — and has used his fundraising advantage to saturate airwaves in critical central Florida. Gingrich is considered to still have a chance, but it appeared to be dwindling heading into the weekend. Three other polls released this week, robopolls from Rasmussen Reports and InsiderAdvantage and one from Monmouth University, showed Romney up by at least seven percentage points. It’s also thought to be critical for Romney to do well in Florida after having lost South Carolina to Gingrich and having Iowa removed from his win column this past week. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, has appeared unable to ride his after-the-fact Iowa win to lasting success and he and Ron Paul are simply trying to remain factors in the race. Paul, whose foreign policy views don’t mesh well with a large number of military veterans and active military Republicans in Florida has all but conceded the state to focus on later contests. Florida’s primary is winner take-all. Nearly a half million Florida voters have already cast ballots. (Tuesday.)

SLOTS VOTES IN PANHANDLE: Voters in Gadsden and Washington counties decide Tuesday whether to allow slots at pari-mutuel facilities. There’s a question of whether a favorable vote will result in a slots license, but that’s likely a matter to be decided in court later. Gadsden County, just west of Tallahassee, has a barrel horse racing facility in Gretna that plans to seek a slots permit if voters say yes. In Washington County, just north of Panama City, the greyhound track in tiny Ebro is awaiting the results, and its owners have said they’d build a hotel and expand their operation if it passes. (Tuesday.)


MORE HHS BUDGET TALK: The Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee will continue discussions about 2012-13 budget issues and take public testimony. Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart, is working on a budget proposal that he said will involve about $850 million in cuts. (Tuesday, 8 a.m., 110 Senate Office Building, the Capitol.)

JUSTICE BUDGET: The Senate continues to review law enforcement agency budgets, and takes up legislation asking voters to raise the constitutional retirement age for judges and justices (SJR 408) and a bill (SB 488) that sets out required charges for certain animal control and cruelty violations at the local level with the money going for spay and neuter programs. (Tuesday, 8 a.m., 37 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)

SENATE ED FUNDING COMMITTEE TAKES UP CONCUSSIONS (POSSIBLY) Sen. Anitere Flores’ attempt to reduce school sports head injuries continues with a bill (SB 256) requiring parents and coaches get more information about the dangers and requiring athletes be pulled after suspected head injuries until they can be checked out is back on the agenda for the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Education PreK-12. The measure was temporarily postponed at the last meeting. The committee is also set to discuss budget issues. (Tuesday, 8 a.m., 412 Knott Building, The Capitol.)

HIGHER ED FUNDING: The Senate Budget Subcommittee on Higher Education Appropriations hears about higher education outcome statistics and discusses budget issues. (Tuesday, 10 a.m., 412 Knott Building, The Capitol)

SENATE IN SESSION – PRISON PRIVATIZATION, SCHOOL PRAYER: The proposal (SB 2038) to require the Department of Corrections to privatize about 30 facilities in 18 Florida counties is on the calendar for discussion on the Senate floor on Tuesday. The Senate also could take up SB 98, which, authorizing district school boards to adopt resolutions that allow inspirational messages, including, but not limited to, prayers of invocation or benediction, at secondary school events. (Tuesday, 1 p.m., Senate Chamber, The Capitol.)

IMMIGRANT TUITION BILL IN SENATE HIGHER ED: The Senate Higher Education Committee takes up SB 1018, which would allow Floridians who are the children of undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at Florida colleges and universities. Among the other items on the agenda: a bill (SB 878) making the performance evaluations of Florida college presidents public records. (Tuesday, 3:30 p.m., 301 Senate Office Building, The Capitol)

DISCHARGING SEPTIC SYSTEM LAW: The Senate Health Regulation Committee will consider a bill (SB 820) that would repeal a law that requires septic-tank inspections. The committee also will consider several other bills, including a proposal (SB 1516) that would make wide-ranging changes in Agency for Persons with Disabilities programs. (Tuesday, 3:30 p.m., 412 Knott, the Capitol.)

LIMITS ON FOOD ASSISTANCE: Convicted felons would find themselves ineligible for food assistance or temporary cash assistance under legislation (SB 1128) before the Senate Children and Families Committee. A measure (SB 320) backing off a bit on new background screening requirements for certain people who work with mental health patients – such as their own family members – is also in the committee. (Tuesday, 3:30 p.m., 401 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)

HUMAN TRAFFICKING: Increased penalties would come into play for those convicted of human trafficking under a bill (SB 1880) before Senate Criminal Justice. (Tuesday, 3:30 p.m., 37 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)

Senate General Government Appropriations: (8 a.m., 401 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)
Senate Transportation Appropriations: (10 a.m., 110 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)
Senate Judiciary: (3:30 p.m., 110 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)


PUBLIC HOSPITAL SALES REVIEWED: The House Civil Justice Subcommittee will consider a bill (HB 711) that could lead to circuit judges reviewing the sales or leases of public hospitals. Also, the panel is scheduled to take up two controversial abortion bills (HB 839 and HB 1327). (Tuesday, 8 a.m., 404 House Office Building, the Capitol.)

BEES AND BEACHES: The House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee takes up a number or water and permitting issues. HB 663 would double the permit period for qualified solid waste facilities to 20 years. Another measure, HB 1389 tries to make it easier for regional water officials to work with private landowners on water storage issues while another, HB 691, makes it easier to obtain permits for construction and reconstruction along the coastline. Honey bees also get a break. Under HB 1197, the critters get added to the list of bona fide farm animals that can be protected from urban encroachment. (Tuesday, 9 a.m., 102 House Office Building, the Capitol.)

HOUSE COMMUNITY & MILITARY AFFAIRS: Proposed constitutional amendments adding new limits on assessment increases and a new homestead exemption, and a bill (HB 1443) that would make it easier for local governments to shut down pain clinics by declaring them a public nuisance are among several measures before the House Community and Military Affairs Committee. (Tuesday, 9 a.m., 212 Knott Building, The Capitol.)

HOUSE GOVERNMENT OPERATIONS SUBCOMMITTEE: The panel has a lengthy list of bills that include a number of local issues. One of statewide import is HB 337, which sets up guidelines for the creation of public/private partnerships in the construction of public buildings and utilities by private companies. The panel will also hear a measure to reduce the age limit for vesting in the Florida Retirement System for law enforcement and employees in other high risk jobs. The bill would drop the eligible retirement age from 60 years old and 30 years of service to 55 years of age or 25 years of service. The bill attempts to undo what lawmakers passed last year. (Tuesday, 9 a.m. 306 House Office Building, the Capitol.)

COMPETITIVENESS SUBCOMMITEE ON ATHLETICS, EARLY LEARNING: The House K-20 Competitiveness considers HB 1403,  a measure that doubles the maximum size of private schools whose students can participate in public high-school athletics, allows charter schools, virtual schools and home-school cooperatives to join the Florida High School Athletics Association and eases the transfer rules for student-athletes. The panel also takes up a proposed committee bill (KCOS 12-01) that would require the auditor general to audit early-learning coalitions while repealing credential requirements for VPK instructors and the section of law creating the Florida Early Learning Advisory Council. (Tuesday, 9 a.m., 17 House Office Building, The Capitol)

HOUSE PREK-12 APPROPS HAS SWEEPING EDUCATION MEASURE: The House PreK-12 Appropriations Committee takes up a bill (HB 7059) that would allow students who have completed 24 credits to graduate early and receive Bright Futures; would tie funding for must-pass courses to student performance on tests in those subjects; and would set or clarify eligibility rules for Advanced Placement and dual-enrollment programs. Another measure on the agenda (HB 465) would give school districts more flexibility on the length of and payment plans for bonds. (Tuesday, 12:30 p.m., 17 House Office Buildings, The Capitol)

HEALTH CARE REGULATIONS EYED: The House Health & Human Services Quality Subcommittee will take up two bills (HB 787 and HB 1419) that include a series of changes for nursing homes and other types of health-care facilities. (Tuesday, 12:30 p.m., Reed Hall, the Capitol.)

HOUSE CRIMINAL JUSTICE: The House Criminal Justice Sub has a long list of bills available, including legislation dealing with sexual predators (HB 1097), parole for juveniles (HB 5), offenses against unborn children (HB 137), and expunction of juvenile records (HB 497). (Tuesday, 12:30 p.m., 404 House Office Building, The Capitol.)

HOUSE ENERGY AND UTILITIES: The House Energy & Utilities Sub on Tuesday considers a bill (HB 743) providing that a portion of the money from a local government infrastructure surtax could be used for loans, grants and rebates to homeowners who make energy efficiency improvements. The panel also tries to bring the communications services tax law up to date by changing “cable service” to “video service” – envisioning more Internet television – and making other changes (HB 809). (Tuesday, 12:30 p.m., 404 House Office Building, The Capitol.)

HOUSE EDUCATION INNOVATION MEETING: The House K-20 Innovation Subcommittee meets to consider a measure (HB 903) that would toughen standards on charter schools, including requiring the sponsor of a charter school to terminate its charter if the school receives an “F” grade in two of three years and order the education commissioner to review “high-performing” charter schools’ eligibility for the designation. Also on the agenda: A proposed constitutional amendment (HJR 931) that would allow the governor to appoint the student representative to the Board of Governors, instead of automatically giving that selection an organization that doesn’t include Florida State University, and a bill (HB 1465) making the performance evaluations of Florida college presidents public records. (Tuesday, 3:30 p.m., 404 House Office Building, The Capitol.)

DOGS AND ZOOS : The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee takes up a measure, HB 997, that would abolish Miami-Dade County’s dangerous dog ordinance and replace it with a more restrictive statewide standard enacted in 1990. Another bill, HB 1117 would allows accredited zoos to use state-owned land for research, breeding and other activities. Following up on legislation from last year the panel takes up HB 1383, which transfers responsibilities to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as part of a reorganization approved last year by lawmakers in 2011. (Tuesday 3:30 pm. 102 House Office Building, the Capitol.)

FISH: Local tourist development tax dollars could be used to build a new aquarium or to help maintain any of the state’s 25 aquariums under a bill (HB 1015) before the House Business and Consumer Affairs Committee. (Tuesday, 3:30 p.m., 12 House Office Building, The Capitol.)

CITIZENS BILL UP IN HOUSE BUDGET SUB: A measure to change the way losses are paid in the event of a major hurricane comes up before the House Government Operations Appropriations Subcommittee. The measure, HB 1127 would reduce or eliminate some assessments for Citizens Property Insurance Corp. policyholders and shift the repayment of losses by expanding the pool of policyholders who pay. The committee also takes up a pair of bills, HB 887 and HB 221, to make it easier for veterans to start a business or get back on the civilian feet. (Tuesday, 3:30 p.m., 17 House Office Building, the Capitol.)

GETTING PHYSICAL: The House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee will take up a proposal (HB 799) that would allow the Board of Physical Therapy to grant temporary permits to people who have graduated from programs for physical therapists or physical therapist assistants. (Tuesday, 3:30 p.m., 212 Knott Building, the Capitol.)

TRANSPORTATION: An omnibus transportation bill (HB 1399) is among the measures to be heard Tuesday by the House Transportation Committee. The panel also works on a committee bill (HB 681) dealing with ignition interlock devices that keep habitual drunk drivers from starting a car. (Tuesday, 3:35 p.m., 306 House Office Building, The Capitol.)

Other House committees Tuesday:
Transportation Appropriations: 12:30 p.m., 306 House Office Building, The Capitol.


CHILDREN’S WEEK: FIRST LADY’S BREAKFAST RECEPTION: First Lady Ann Scott hosts a breakfast reception in honor of Children’s Week. (Tuesday, 8 a.m., The Governor’s Mansion, Tallahassee.)

CHILDREN’S WEEK: Gov. Rick Scott and Department of Children and Families Secretary David Wilkins will hold a news conference to mark Children’s Week at the Capitol. (Tuesday, 12 p.m., Courtyard, The Capitol.)



FULL SENATE BUDGET COMMITTEE: With no budget allocations yet, the Senate Budget Committee still doesn’t have a spending bill to work through. The panel continues to work through individual pieces of legislation with fiscal impacts. It has several mostly non-controversial measures on an expedited consideration calendar. (Wednesday, 9 a.m., 412 Knott Building, The Capitol.,)

OLDER JUDGES: Judges and justices could be a little older if voters are given the chance to change the constitution. The proposed amendment (SJR 408) is in the Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Budget Sub on Wednesday. (Wednesday, 10:15 a.m., 37 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)

SCHOOL MONEY: The Senate Budget Subcommittee on Education PreK-12 discusses budget issues. (Wednesday, 10:15 a.m., 412 Knott Building, The Capitol)

COLLEGE MONEY: The Senate Budget Subcommittee on Higher Education Appropriations discusses budget issues. (Wednesday, 11:30 a.m., 412 Knott Building, The Capitol)

SENATE IN SESSION: After criticism that it’s rushing toward passing a controversial prison privatization proposal, it seems unlikely the Senate will waive its own rules and vote Tuesday on the bill (SB 2038) instead of waiting the customary day between bringing it to the floor and taking a vote, which would set the vote for Wednesday. The school prayer bill (SB 98) also is likely to be taken up for a vote mid-week. (Wednesday, 1:30 p.m., Senate Chamber, The Capitol.)

PUBLIC MEETINGS: The Senate 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 is before the Senate Gov Oversight Committee on Wednesday. The panel is waiting on a number of other measures that could arrive, including a bill (SB 1358) that would allow, though not require, state agencies to conduct random drug testing of employees. (Wednesday, 3:30 p.m., 110 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)

Other Senate committees Wednesday:
Finance & Tax: (10:15 a.m., 301 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)
Gen Govt. Approps: (10:15 a.m., 401 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)
HHS Approps: (10:15 a.m., 110 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)
Transportation Approps: (11:30 a.m., 110 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)
Military Affairs: (3:30 p.m., 37 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)


HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS TAKES UP BUDGET: The full House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to consider the budget, increasing the pressure on the Senate to move more quickly on its spending plan. House leaders want to finish the session on time, but Senate leaders are more cautious about acting on revenue estimates that would be more than five months old when the new fiscal year begins. (Wednesday, 11 a.m., 212 Knott Building, The Capitol)

THURSDAY, FEB. 2, 2012

HOUSE TACKLES REDISTRICTING: House leaders have scheduled 10 hours of floor time to begin weighing redistricting plans for the House, Senate and the state’s congressional districts. Republicans should have the votes to repel any major amendments to the plans, even if Democrats were inclined to offer them after largely allowing the majority party to run the redistricting process. (Thursday, 1 p.m., House Chamber, The Capitol)

FRIDAY, FEB. 3, 2012

HOUSE VOTES ON REDISTRICTING: The House votes on the final maps in the once-in-a-decade redistricting process, with only a final Senate vote standing between the maps and their respective destinations — the legislative plan heading to the Florida Supreme Court and the congressional map going to Gov. Rick Scott for his signature. (Friday, 1 p.m., House Chamber, The Capitol.)

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.