Friday’s failure to move the Seminole Compact was a microcosm of the next-to-last-week blues afflicting the Florida Legislature.
Plus things are also getting a little weird, like when Senate President Andy Gardiner seemed to suggest that legislative inaction is a kind of action.
The inaction was in the case of Gov. Rick Scott‘s state surgeon general and Health Secretary John Armstrong. It’s looking more likely he won’t be confirmed this year, partly because a Senate review panel wouldn’t vote on him.
Gardiner was asked even if he wanted to could he move the nomination under the Senate Rules without a recommendation by the chamber’s Ethics and Elections Committee?
“A recommendation could be (that) we did not act on it,” he said. “A recommendation is a recommendation.”
Bearing in mind Gardiner had just come off an eight-hour floor session, he was then asked whether not acting to recommend a gubernatorial appointee was in itself a recommendation.
“I guess, potentially,” he said. “But I would talk to Sen. Simmons,” the chamber’s Rules chair.
A gaggle of reporters then surrounded Simmons’ desk on the floor, as he thumbed through a well-annotated and highlighted copy of the rule book.
The upshot: He didn’t know, but said he would look into it and report back. We’ll let you know.
Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Jim Rosica, Ryan Ray, and Peter Schorsch. But first, the “Takeaway 5” – the top five stories from the week that was.
• • •
Game over — The Seminole Compact is dead. Again. The Florida House temporarily postponed the bill, a death knell at this point in session. House Speaker Steve Crisafulli said the House wanted to “keep hope alive, but obviously nothing panned out.” Even if hope sprang eternal in the House, the compact — and the associated gaming bills — were already on life support in the Senate, after the Senate Appropriations committee punted its version.
Election Day cometh — The election is just around the corner, and presidential politics are picking up in the Sunshine State. Nearly 1 million ballots have already been cast in the March 15 election, and voters in all of Florida’s 67 counties can begin in-person early voting Saturday. Candidates have already been stomping through the state (Hillary Clinton, Marco Rubio and Donald Trump celebrated Super Tuesday here); endorsements, or in the case of the South Florida Sun Sentinel a non-endorsement, are rolling out on a regular basis; and advertisements are flooding the airwaves.
Money talks — Budget talks are chugging along as state lawmakers work to bring the state’s annual spending plan in for a landing by Friday. After several days without conference meetings, budget writers closed out the state’s health care, general government, transportation and economic development, and criminal and civil justice budgets. A few issues still need to be resolved, though. Grab your sleeping bag, it might be a long weekend in the Capitol.
(Un)Confirmed — The clock is ticking on Surgeon General John Armstrong’s future. The Senate Ethics & Elections committee postponed a confirmation vote on the state’s top doctor Tuesday, the final day committees can meet without permission of the Senate President, according Senate rules. It’s unclear whether Sen. Andy Gardiner will bring Armstrong up for a full vote of the Senate before time runs out. Armstrong, head of the Department of Health, could be the first agency head in more than 20 years to lose his job at the hands of the Legislature.
The end is near — You know it’s almost time for Sine Die when the hashtag #CateSineDie is trending in Tallahassee, when lawmakers lovingly mock their colleagues on the Senate floor, and when you hear the phrase “bills are dying” uttered on a regular basis. While there was a fair amount of the latter — we’re looking at you fracking, open carry and school recess, just to name a few — lawmakers took time this week to enjoy each others company with farewell speeches in the House and Senate. Grab a hankie, you’ll need it.
• • •
Late last week Gov. Rick Scott signed a measure banning informal backyard shooting ranges.
Specifically, guns can’t be fired in a residential area, i.e., one residential unit per acre. Doing so would be a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
While the law bans “target shooting or celebratory shooting,” residents would still be allowed to fire a weapon in self-defense.
A similar measure failed last year after the issue because highly publicized in Pinellas County.
State Rep. Darryl Rouson backed the measure after a young man set up a makeshift outdoor gun range at his dad’s Lakewood Estates home in South St. Pete. The backdrop was created of old wooden pallets and sand.
That impromptu range was just a few doors from Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch‘s home
“I was literally looking at firing angles to see where my kids needed to be in the house to make sure we didn’t catch a stray bullet,” Welch said.
The man later removed the range after being given a free one-year membership to a Tampa gun range. But the law itself remained, until last week, ambiguously legal.
The bill’s passage gives Welch hope, especially when paired with Scott’s signature and the death of the so-called campus carry bill allowing college students with conceal carry permits to bring their guns on campus.
“This is just a gun-crazy Legislature,” Welch said. “Those most dangerous proposals did not pass. I get some optimism from that, although I think every year will be a fight.”
• • •
Rouson became emotional as he delivered his farewell remarks Tuesday, and he probably wasn’t the only one.
Rouson was one of several lawmakers who bid the chamber farewell this week. In his 10-minute speech, the St. Petersburg Democrat thanked his family, staff and colleagues. He also spoke of his recovery, thanking his Monday night Narcotics Anonymous group “for having kept me sober for the seven years I’ve been up here.”
Rouson was elected to the state House in a 2008 special election. In 2013, he was elected by his colleagues to serve as the minority leader. But that September, he was ousted after members said the party was divided under him.
“I learned that politics don’t always have to be partisan and relationships across the aisle can be as critical to success as relationship within your own caucus. There have been times I felt lonely, but never alone,” he said in his floor speech. “To my other seniors, in the Democratic caucus particularly, thank you. We have survived and I wish each of you greatness. I may not have pleased everybody, but I operated according to the dictates of my conscience.”
Rouson closed by telling lawmakers he felt honored to serve in the Florida House.
“As I take my seat, to have slept in dope holes and places with no running water, to have experienced treatment centers and halfway houses and to have people look at you for not where you have been, but for where you’re going has been the greatest honor,” he told his colleagues. “Mr. Speaker, thank you.”
• • •
In a continuation of his squeaky-wheel strategy, Gov. Scott said Wednesday he wrangled another 500 Zika virus antibody tests from the feds.
He also used the news as an opportunity to gin up support for state Surgeon General Armstrong, who may soon be unemployed.
“Florida currently has the capacity to test 4,621 people for active Zika virus and 1,579 for Zika antibodies,” Scott said in a statement. “Currently, Florida has 44 CDC-confirmed cases of the Zika virus, all of which are travel related.”
“… I would like to thank Dr. John Armstrong for his leadership to make sure our state is prepared to respond to any health emergency, including the Zika virus.”
Armstrong was snubbed Tuesday when his last confirmation hearing was indefinitely postponed.
If Armstrong, also state Health Secretary, isn’t confirmed by the full Senate this Session, he’ll be shown the door.
• • •
Mark Ruffalo — yes, that Mark Ruffalo — is showing Sen. Jack Latvala a little love.
Latvala was one of 10 lawmakers who voted against a bill (SB 318) to regulate fracking. On Feb. 26, the Clearwater Republican tweeted he “voted against fracking in Florida” because he thought it “imperative that we protect our water supply.”
Ruffalo, who founded Water Defense in 2010, retweeted Latvala’s comment on Feb. 28 and thanked Latvala “for standing with the citizens of Florida regardless of politics.”
Water Defense is a nonprofit organizations decided to clean water. The organization is opposed to fracking, and its chief investigator was a presenter at the Florida Fracking Summit in October.
Ruffalo wasn’t the only one heaping praise in the Twitter exchange. On Monday, Latvala wrote back thanking and congratulating the actor. Ruffalo was nominated for an Oscar in the best supporting actor category, and his film “Spotlight” won the Oscar for best picture.
• • •
Mental health emerged as a key “sleeper” issue just before Session this year, but it was no surprise to Rep. Kathleen Peters.
The Treasure Island Republican cleared two bills on the issue through the House this past week with little opposition.
HB 769 would change the time frame for mandatory dismissal of charges for individuals the court has found incompetent to stand trial, and allows for the continuation of psychotropic medications for inmates who need them. Another Peters-sponsored measure, HB 977, grants advanced nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants prescribing authority in certain cases, to cut down on costs for the often-indigent mentally ill.
Both measures, Peters said, are reforms whose time has come.
“People suffering from mental illness are not getting care as a result of a national shortage of behavioral health providers,” Peters said. “This takes a comprehensive approach to address this workforce shortage and ensure every person in the state of Florida suffering will have access to mental health professionals.”
“For far too long we have not acted in the best interest of people with mental illness and with the passage of these bills, we have now a taken a strong first step to address many issues within the behavioral health system,” Peters concluded.
• • •
Senior Forest Ranger Jared Dorrier is 2015 Forestry Firefighter of the Year, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Florida State Forester Jim Karels announced Wednesday.
“All of our wild-land firefighters demonstrate considerable bravery and dedication as they protect life, property and land in Florida,” Putnam said. “I commend Jared for his selflessness and commitment to protecting Florida.”
Putnam still smarts from Rick Scott’s veto last year of a proposed $2,000 a year pay increase for forestry firefighters. Putnam is fighting for the raise again for 2016-17.
Dorrier, with the Florida Forest Service since 2010, received a skull fracture and broken neck when struck by a tree limb during a training class in 2012.
“He worked tirelessly to make a full recovery, and he has demonstrated strong leadership within the Withlacoochee Forestry Center and the wildfire community,” a news release said.
The Florida Forest Service is under the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, managing more than 1 million acres of public forest land.
• • •
House Majority Leader Dana Young said farewell — and not much else — on Wednesday.
“It is hard to believe six years have passed,” she said. “I just want you to know that serving here in the House of Representatives, with all of you and those that have already gone, has truly been the greatest honor of my professional life.”
The Tampa Republican thanked House Speaker Steve Crisafulli for allowing her to serve as Majority Leader and her staff during her brief remarks. When we say brief, we mean it. Her farewell remarks, one of several speeches expected Tuesday, lasted 45 seconds.
“We have a lot of bills on the agenda, so with that, I conclude my remarks,” she said.
“If you’ve taught us anything, it’s a lesson in brevity,” joked Crisafull as lawmakers applauded Young for her service.
Young isn’t seeking re-election in the state House, choosing instead to run for state Senate District 18. She is currently running unopposed. The district includes about half of the population of her current House seat.
Young was elected to the state House in 2010, and was Majority Leader from 2014 to 2016.
• • •
Lawmakers are taking steps to make sure, as Rep. Katie Edwards put it, “not every junkie has to be a setting sun.”
The state House voted 95-20 to approve a measure (SB 242) that creates the Miami-Dade Infections Disease Elimination Act. The bill authorizes the University of Miami to create a needle exchange pilot program in Miami-Dade County.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle spoke passionately in favor of the proposal.
“We help when we can,” said Rep. Cary Pigman, an Avon Park Republican and physician. “We can provide clean needles, a smile and an offer to help.”
The bill looks to curb the spread of blood born diseases, such as HIV, AIDS and viral hepatitis. Florida leads the United States in new HIV infections; Miami-Dade and Broward counties were No. 1 and No. 2 in the United States in 2014 per 100,000 residents, according to the Miami Herald.
In her closing, Edwards quoted Neil Young’s 1972 song “The Needle and the Damage Done.”
“Not every junkie has to be a setting sun,” she said after quoting a few lines of the song. “With outreach, treatment, we can rewrite that song.”
The bill now heads Gov. Scott for his approval.
• • •
From the it-takes-one-to-know-one department: Florida’s U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson on Wednesday welcomed astronaut Scott Kelly back to Earth after Kelly spent a year aboard the International Space Station.
“I rise to welcome a national hero,” Nelson said. Kelly spent 340 days in space, now the U.S. record in longest space flight.
In January 1986, Nelson became the second member of Congress to go into space, serving as a payload specialist on the Space Shuttle Columbia. (Jake Garn was the first; the Utah Republican flew on Space Shuttle Discovery in 1985.)
He’s now the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Kelly has an identical twin; his brother is retired Navy Capt. and astronaut Mark Kelly.
Mark Kelly, who has been on Earth while his brother was aloft, is now a “baseline to compare the (physical) changes in the body and the psychological effects” from extended time in space, Nelson explained.
• • •
Attorney General Pam Bondi Wednesday thanked lawmakers for moving legislation to speed up DNA testing for criminal cases, including what are commonly called rape kits.
Such kits may include swabs of body surfaces and samples of bodily fluid for use in apprehending a suspect in a sexual assault or battery.
The bill (SB 636) was passed by the House Wednesday after having been approved by the Senate last week.
“As a career prosecutor, I have seen first-hand the heartache caused by sexual predators, and this legislation is a significant step toward bringing more predators to justice and helping victims heal,” Bondi said.
“This legislation will help ensure future kits are tested expediently (but) we must also work to ensure funding is made available by the end of session to begin testing the more than 13,000 unprocessed kits in our state,” she said.
The bill is headed to Governor Scott’s desk.
• • •
You didn’t enter the Twilight Zone, but it might have seemed like it.
On Wednesday, Rep. Mark Pafford filed an amendment to ban abortions in Florida. The West Palm Beach Democrat filed the amendment to a bill (HB 1411) sponsored by Lakeland Republican Rep. Colleen Burton that, among other things, prohibits public funding from going to organizations that are affiliated with licensed abortion providers.
“I believe this Legislature’s aim with the addition of each new hurdle, by each reduction in access, by each new limit on women is to end women’s right to a legal abortion,” Pafford said. “I know where I stand on legal abortion. I suspect all of you know where you stand on a legal abortion. I offer my amendment to end the slow erosion of legal abortion in Florida.”
The amendment never got a vote. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Republican, proposed a substitute amendment that kept the language of the original bill and incorporated legislative findings of another bill (HB 865) that prohibits abortion.
Gaetz’s amendment passed 72-36. The full House was expected to vote on Burton’s bill later in the week.
• • •
Legendary Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino visited the Capitol Wednesday for a sit-down with Rick Scott about his foundation for kids with autism and other special needs.
The nonprofit was formed in 1992 by Marino and wife Claire; their son Michael has autism. Since then, they’ve raised $55 million and opened an outpatient treatment center and educational facility.
A spokeswoman for Scott didn’t get into details of the conversation, but the Dan Marino Foundation did get funding in the 2013-14 state budget “to pilot an employment program in downtown Fort Lauderdale,” according to its website.
“We’ve been coming up here for many years,” Marino told the Tallahassee Democrat. “A lot of people have helped and we wanted to come up and show our appreciation … (Gov. Scott) has always been very supportive of everything we’re doing.”
• • •
The Senate reversed course Wednesday, removing an amendment to carve out anesthesiologist and radiologists from a proposal meant to protect consumers.
The Palm Beach Post reported that Sen. Jack Latvala withdrew the amendment when the Senate made a motion to reconsider the vote. The amendment would have carved out anesthesiologist and radiologists from the bill (SB 1442).
The proposal looks to curb surprise medical bills sent by providers to patients after they receive care not covered by health insurance plans.
The House passed its version (HB 221) of the bill Wednesday. The Senate version includes an amendment by Senate President Designate Joe Negron to make insurers pay for authorized procedures even if a patient fails to pay.
• • •
Legislation backed by state Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, would allow voters to decide whether businesses should get the same tax breaks as residential properties for solar energy.
The measure, if passed, would also have to be approved by voters in August.
Randy Miller, president and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation, said in a statement, “This legislation will give Florida voters the chance to open the market to new solar opportunities and clear the way for retailers to further invest in Florida and in our energy future.”
Added Julio Fuentes, president and CEO of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, “This business-friendly legislation would allow Florida companies to manage their energy bills with affordable solar and invest further in business and job growth. These bills represent a tax fairness issue that should gain legislative approval and allow the public to have their say in August.”
• • •
Kudos, Vilano Beach: You’ve got a heck of a main street.
The Vilano Beach Main Street District was selected the March 2016 Florida Main Street Community of the Month by Secretary of State Ken Detzner.
“In this quaint little town located on the barrier island two miles northeast of St. Augustine, people from all over the world come to enjoy the serene views of the beach, a day of fishing on the pier, and a glimpse of old Florida,” said Detzner in a statement. “Vilano Beach is a model Main Street community and a great place to visit.”
Vilano Beach was designated a Florida Main Street Community in 2003. Since its designation, the district’s achievements include $42 million in public-private reinvestments, a net gain of nine new business and more than 179 new jobs.
• • •
Florida’s environmental laws may be getting tweaked.
The Florida House voted unanimously to approve a bill (HB 589) that makes several changes to the state’s environmental statutes and regulations.
Among other things, the bill makes it easier to get licensed as a water well contractor, provides more oversight to stormwater management systems, and allows certain actions to generate credits under the state’s water quality credit trading program.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Cary Pigman, now heads to the Senate.
• • •
Volunteer Florida – the Governor’s official commission on volunteerism and community service – pulled in quite a haul for underdressed job-seekers with their annual #SuitsForSession initiative on Tuesday.
The initiative, aided by logistical help from Uber, brought in 4,023 items overall. That include 2,751 womens’s items, 851 men’s items, and 421 “others items” (shoes, belts, etc.). 110 bags of clothes were donated via Uber-sponsored pickup.
Donations came from more than 25 state agencies, Attorney General Pam Bondi, CFO Jeff Atwater, Speaker Steve Crisafulli, Mayor Andrew Gillum, and dozens of private individuals who frequent the Capitol.
Nice going, teams.
• • •
As reported by Matt Dixon of POLITICO, House and Senate budget writers offered to provide $200 million in economic incentive money sought by Governor Scott, meeting Scott well more than halfway
The deal went south, though, after the House refused to agree to the funding unless it also got to choose what tax cuts made it into the budget. The House has publicly been opposed to taxpayer-funded incentives that go directly to companies, and its original budget proposal had none.
The Senate funded Scott’s $250 million request, while the House’s top priority was $1 billion tax cuts. It now looks like Scott will get neither.
According to LobbyTools, Senate President Andy Gardiner said in order for the House to go to $200 million in economic incentive cash, it demanded control over what was shaping up to be $550 million in tax cuts.
“In the Senate, that does not work,” said Gardiner.
Crisafulli said he was “surprised” when the Senate sent back an offer zeroing-out the economic incentive funding, and he suggested that there was “plenty of time” to continue negotiating.
“Plenty of time?” Gardiner said Thursday night. “We had two weeks of back and forth. Like I told the governor, at some point we have to put the budget to bed and move on.”
“It’s amazing to me that it’s my fault for coming to someone else’s position when they would not come off of zero?” Gardiner said.
• • •
The Senate approved a pair of bills that would reform the state’s public-private partnership statutes and provide a public records exemptions for unsolicited P3 proposals, as reported by Legislative IQ powered by LobbyTools.
A bill sponsored by Sen. Greg Evers would institute several suggestions drafted by the Partnership for Public Facilities and Infrastructure Act Guidelines Task Force. Those proposals include special taxation districts and school districts in the list of entities that can enter into public-private agreements, and lay out guidelines for partnership proposals offered by private companies.
A linked public records exemption would protect unsolicited P3 proposals from records requests until the public entity receiving the proposal makes a final decision on whether to accept or the project.
Although the bill passed easily, the records exemption was opposed by Democratic Sen. Jeff Clemens who said there is “no good reason to be able to hide public proposals or public records that are funded with your tax dollars.”
Evers argued the exemption was necessary to protect companies from intellectual property theft, essentially copying off their legislative homework.
“Without this temporary exemption competing companies would have the unfair advantage of seeing their competitors’ work,” Evers said.
• • •
Is the Jet Fuel Tax Proposal – long a subject of controversy among backers of smaller airlines – being brought in for a landing?
It looks like the airline industry’s initiative to reform the jet fuel tax and make the tax for aviation fuel the same across the board for all air carriers, is moving forward. The Senate Finance & Tax package included a provision, matching the House proposal, to make the tax revenue neutral.
The package passed the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday, and now heads to the Senate floor. All current signs point toward this proposal coming in for a smooth dismount at the desk of Gov. Scott.
• • •
The Hillsborough County Commission heard testimony from an unlikely though persuasive advocate this week on the issue of a state-sanctioned bear hunting proposal: a 10-year-old girl from Orlando.
Despite her young age, Megan Sorbo made a powerful case before the commission, telling lawmakers to take a stand against the legalized hunting of black bears, gesturing and bringing the rhetorical heat in the form of tough questions.
“Can you imagine having the size of your home and yard reduced by over 80 percent and then having people wanting to come into your now-small home to hunt you while you were doing nothing wrong?” asked Sorbo. “That is what has happened to our bears.”
Sorbo won the applause of attendees and even the praise of commissioners, said the body’s former chairwoman Republican Sandy Murman.
“We need to capture this and film it and send it to our legislators in Tallahassee and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission,” Murman said. “You’re adorable. And your information is compelling.”
• • •
Can you feel it in the air? Yes, that’s right … April is Springs Awareness Month, according to a recently adopted House resolution.
The move was announced Wednesday in the Capitol by Reps. Elizabeth Porter and Keith Perry, as well as Sens. Charlie Dean and Rob Bradley, all of whom represent areas near Gainesville.
Lawmakers said the resolution and April dedication aims to “promote awareness for the preservation and restoration of Florida’s vibrant springs and vital natural resources.”
• • •
A rewrite of the Department of Financial Services regulations is headed to the Senate.
The proposal (HB 651), sponsored by Monticello Republican Halsey Beshears, passed the state House 114-1. The bill rewrites some regulations and establishes programs at the Department of Financial Services.
Among other things, the proposal calls on the department to create a grant program for volunteer fire departments and amends requirements for renewing firefighter certifications.
It also revises the criteria for the anti-fraud reward program and gives the agency access to digital photographs from the Department of Motor Vehicles to help investigate insurance code violations by unlicensed people.
The bill passed 114-1. Who guessed Rep. John Tobia cast the dissenting vote?
• • •
Your mom might think shacking up before marriage is a sin, but at least it’s almost legal.
The Florida Senate voted 38-0 to approve a bill (SB 498) that repeals a law making it a misdemeanor for a man and a woman to live to together before marriage.
The law was originally put on the books in 1868, and makes it a second degree misdemeanor for a man and woman “to lewdly and lasciviously associate and cohabit together without being married.”
Get caught living in sin with your beau? Well, that could cost you up to two years in prison, up to a year in county jail or up to a $300 fine — which is still cheaper than putting a ring on it.
The law isn’t enforced. The bill repealing it now heads to the House.
• • •
Want to carry a slungshot? Soon you may not even need concealed weapons permit for that.
The Florida Senate voted voted unanimously to approve a bill (HB 4009) that removes slungshots from the concealed weapons’ definition. The change means that someone can carry their slungshot without a permit.
The bill also allows companies can manufacture and sell slungshots in Florida.
The proposal unanimously cleared the House on Feb. 24. It now heads to the Governor.
• • •
Fundraising might stop during the Legislative Session, but the campaigning never ends.
Need an example? Rep. Matt Gaetz sent a campaign email to supporters on Friday talking about up his conservative credentials. The email — with its subject line “Why is big labor attacking me?” — asks supporters if they would help with his state Senate campaign by making phone calls, knocking on doors and helping at the campaign office.
In his email, Gaetz said big labor is attacking him because their allies support his “Democrat-turned-Republican opponent.”
“I’ve led the fight to cut taxes by nearly $1 billion over the past two years, but that hasn’t stopped Tallahassee union groups from running deceptive ads about my record,” he said in the email. “And just what is my record? I’ve fought for broad-based tax relief ranging from back-to-school sales tax holidays in savings for small businesses and military families.”
Gaetz faces Republican George Gainer in the state Senate District 2 Republican primary.
“The Republican voters of Northwest Florida should decide our next State Senator, not big labor and their liberal allies,” Gaetz wrote. “That’s why we need a strong grassroots campaign of conservatives committed to protecting our Northwest Florida values from the liberal special interests supporting my opponent.”
• • •
This week’s edition of Capitol Directions: