Capitol preview: What to expect this week in Florida politics

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Happy Thanksgiving. And get ready for lawmaking.

The Legislature finally returns this week, though it’s a three day week shortened by the Thanksgiving holiday.

While lawmakers, including several new ones, return to Tallahassee on Tuesday for the organizational session, there’s another major government news event this week as Florida Power & Light goes before regulators on a rate case settlement issue.

Also, the courts will get back to the battle over the privatization of prison health care, with a hearing scheduled in a circuit courtroom on Monday.

MONDAY

FPL SETTLEMENT AT ISSUE: The state Public Service Commission will start a three-day hearing about a proposed settlement in a Florida Power & Light rate case. FPL reached the proposed settlement with major power-user groups, but the issue has been controversial because the state Office of Public Counsel opposes the proposal. If approved, the proposal would allow FPL to raise base electric rates by $378 million in 2013 and also lead to future increases related to the costs of new power plants. (Monday, 9:30 a.m., Betty Easley Conference Center, 4075 Esplanade Way, Tallahassee.)

PRISON HEALTH FIGHT CONTINUES: Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper is scheduled to hold a hearing in a long-running legal battle about the state’s plans to privatize prison health services. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Florida Nurses Association are fighting the plans. (Monday, 9:30 a.m., Leon County Courthouse, 301 South Monroe St., Tallahassee.)

NEWBORN HEART SCREENING: The American Heart Association holds a news conference to discuss legislation on newborn heart screenings. (Monday, 2 p.m., Florida Press Center, 336 E. College Ave., Tallahassee.)

THE LEGISLATURE

SENATE DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS: Senate Democrats will hold their caucus meeting Monday in the old Capitol and will elect their leader and leader pro tem for the coming term. Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale is expected to be elected minority leader. (Monday, 3:30 p.m., Historic Capitol Senate Chamber, The Capitol.)

HOUSE DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS: House Democrats will formally elect Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, as their leader for the coming session at their caucus meeting Monday evening. They’ll also vote on a leader pro-tem, expected to be Rep. Mia Jones. (Monday, 5 p.m., Historic Capitol House Chamber, The Capitol.)

DEMS HOLD RECEPTION AT OLD CAPITOL: Democratic lawmakers will celebrate their newly elected legislative leaders at a reception Monday evening in the Old Capitol. (Monday, 6 p.m., Historic Capitol.)

TUESDAY

ELECTION RESULTS CERTIFIED: The Elections Canvassing Commission is scheduled to meet to certify the official results of the 2012 elections. (Tuesday, 9 a.m., Cabinet meeting room, the Capitol.)

FPL SETTLEMENT HEARING CONTINUES: The state Public Service Commission will continue a three-day hearing about a proposed settlement in a Florida Power & Light rate case. FPL reached the proposed settlement with major power-user groups, but the issue has been controversial because the state Office of Public Counsel opposes the proposal. If approved, the proposal would allow FPL to raise base electric rates by $378 million in 2013 and also lead to future increases related to the costs of new power plants. (Tuesday, starting time TBA, Betty Easley Conference Center, 4075 Esplanade Way, Tallahassee.)

THE LEGISLATURE

LEGISLATURE MEETS IN ORGANIZATIONAL SESSION: The Senate will convene its organizational session Tuesday at 9 a.m., followed by the House at 10 a.m. The chambers will officially swear in new members, and new leaders. Votes are expected on adoption of the chambers’ new rules. (Senate in session, 9 a.m.; House in session 10 a.m.)

CENSUS RELEASES NEW RESIDENTIAL CONSTRUCTION FIGURES: The U.S. Census Bureau on Tuesday will release data on new residential construction, including building permits, housing starts and completions. (Tuesday, 8:30 a.m.)

WEDNESDAY

FPL SETTLEMENT HEARING CONTINUES: The state Public Service Commission is expected to finish a three-day hearing about a proposed settlement in a Florida Power & Light rate case. FPL reached the proposed settlement with major power-user groups, but the issue has been controversial because the state Office of Public Counsel opposes the proposal. If approved, the proposal would allow FPL to raise base electric rates by $378 million in 2013 and also lead to future increases related to the costs of new power plants. (Wednesday, starting time TBA, Betty Easley Conference Center, 4075 Esplanade Way, Tallahassee.)

SUPREME COURT OPINIONS: The Florida Supreme Court releases opinions this week on Wednesday, because of the Thanksgiving holiday. (Wednesday, 11 a.m.)

THURSDAY
Thanksgiving

THE REAL FIRST THANKSGIVING: With apologies to the pilgrims, St. Augustine, Fla. residents may mark the true first Thanksgiving feast by Europeans in the New World. In September of 1565, a full 56 years before the Mayflower arrived, the Spanish inhabitants of St. Augustine, in La Florida, had a feast of thanksgiving with the local Timucuan Indians. For some reason, the St. Augustine Thanksgiving story failed to catch on, so most Americans will celebrate the turkey and pumpkin-eating feast of New England, instead of eating the stew called “cocina” made of pork, garbanzo beans, garlic and olive oil that was part of the St. Augustine feast. Feliz Thanksgiving.

HOLIDAY TRAVEL: AAA projects 2.2 million Florida residents will take a trip of 50 miles or more away from home between Wednesday, Nov. 21 and Sunday, Nov. 25. This represents a 0.6 percent increase over last year. Auto travel remains the preferred mode of transportation this Thanksgiving with about 2 million Florida residents saying they go by car. Nationwide, AAA projects 43.6 million Americans will be going somewhere this holiday weekend.

FRIDAY

BLACK FRIDAY: Florida retailers are hoping that Friday marks the start of a much-needed wallet-opening year that would signal the hard times are truly behind us. And they’re expecting that’s what’s going to happen. The Florida Retail Federation forecasts a 5.2 percent jump in holiday sales this year, the largest annual increase since the recession started four years ago. Holiday shopping is expected to add more than 40,000 part time jobs this year, as well. Nationally, holiday sales are expected to increase by 4.1 percent to $586.1 billion, the National Retail Federation reported last month. The national prediction was higher than the 10-year average holiday sales increase of 3.5 percent. Whether Black Friday truly starts the holiday shopping season is questionable – in fact AAA’s annual holiday shopping survey says more than half of shoppers have already started their Christmas buying. That same survey also showed a 10 percent drop in the percentage of people who say they plan to shop on Black Friday. In all, 46 percent of shoppers are expected to hit the stores on Friday, according to AAA’s poll. By comparison, nearly 6 in 10 (58 percent) say they plan to make online purchases, maybe on “Cyber Monday,” a few days later.

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.