What a difference a year makes. Tallahassee went from the dysfunction of 2015 – the House going home early, no budget, a Special Budget Session – to the trains-on-time Session of 2016. Heck, the chilly capital even warmed up to the high 70s by Sine Die. No wonder there are more winners than losers this year than last. Some of those losses smart, though. As in: Really, Legislature? You couldn’t even pass a measure guaranteeing that school kids get 20 minutes of recess a day?
Now, this session’s Winners and Losers, with a “bonus round” below (kinda like a Marvel movie’s post-end credits scene!):
— WINNERS —
Steve Crisafulli and Adam Putnam for water policy — Gov. Scott approved SB 552, which “implements policies to protect and restore water and natural resources statewide, with a focus on meeting water quality and supply needs.” Crisafulli in particular wanted the measure passed before he leaves the Legislature since this is his last year in office. But water policy has been a priority of Putnam’s as well. As Scott put it, “we’re going to continue to protect the Everglades, but this is going to go further, and include our springs.”
Richard Corcoran — The Speaker Designate had a successful session in obvious and subtle ways. He confounded the Senate by refusing to care about what House Appropriations committee chairs usually care about. He countered lobbyist proposals with policy and government reforms. He quietly let the Senate smother some of his ethics reforms, opening the door for him to bypass the Senate and launch a statewide petition campaign to put ethics reform and judicial limits on the ballot.
Tom Lee – The Brandon Republican redeemed himself from the redistricting days with his masterful shepherding of the budget to passage. When he needed to, he cajoled in debate, and when he didn’t need to, his way of standing silently at his desk with the slightest of grins was oddly compelling.
Joe Negron — It was a good year for Joe. With a testy leadership battle in the rearview mirror, the Stuart Republican doubled down on public policy. He passed a dental carve-out bill and carried pro-Israel legislation, fending off attacks from opponents that included a video and outbursts in committee meetings. Don’t forget the Legacy Florida bill, where he worked with environmentalists and advocates alike. And even though a fantasy sports bill didn’t pass, Negron established a role in the gaming scene. See you next year, Mr. President Designate.
The relationship between Joe Negron and Jack Latvala — There were a couple of seeming skirmishes this session, but the hatchet now looks well buried between the future Senate President and the Appropriations Chairman. That bodes well for 2017.
Top legislative staffers – Katie Betta in the Senate; Kathy Mears in the House. Fiercely defensive of their guys when needed but generally pictures of serenity. Betta will be staying put in the Legislature for a seventh year as a spokeswoman, but Mears is moving on as chief of staff after Speaker Crisafulli steps down. Who will put those black binder clips on the backs of reporters’ sport coats next year?
Jeff Atwater on life insurance reform — On Atwater’s must-do list for 2016. He has inveighed against insurance companies what are lax in finding beneficiaries of life insurance policies, holding on to $8 billion nationwide. New legislation forces them to find beneficiaries when a policyholder has died and policy benefits need to be paid. If they can’t, the companies have to pay the proceeds to the Bureau of Unclaimed Property, which will hold it till the person who is supposed to get it can be found. State Rep. Bill Hager and Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto ran the bill.
Pam Bondi – Call her a big winner. Every single one of Bondi’s priorities made it through the Legislature. The Legislature OK’d bills that required evidence kits in sexual offense cases be tested within 30 days of being received; gave law enforcement more flexibility to prosecute synthetic drug dealers; and made tweaks to the state’s RICO Act. She was also able to kill a bill that could have affected her office’s Medicaid fraud litigation.
Cissy Proctor – It’s easy to call her a winner. Gov. Scott picked Proctor to lead the Department of Economic Opportunity in December, elevating her from being the agency’s chief of staff. She hit the ground running, and sailed through all of her confirmation hearings. She scored the backing of the full Senate on Tuesday.
Rob Bradley — The Fleming Island Republican led the effort to expand the Right to Try Act to include medical marijuana. He included language to get the low THC product to patients as soon as possible. He also can take some credit for the passage of a bill that would allow Jacksonville to put a referendum on the ballot to extend the infrastructure sales tax to help defray the $2.6 billion unfunded pension liability.
Oscar Braynon — The Democratic Leader-to-be is well liked among Republican leaders, and is in a position to have some clout in the upcoming legislative session. Outgoing Sen. Arthenia Joyner called said he “must have been sent from Heaven.” That’s high praise from Joyner. Must feel good to be on the up-and-up heading into the next few sessions.
Charlie Dean — Tip your hat to the Inverness Republican. Dean capped off more than a decade in the Florida Legislature this year. He remained persistent during more than one session to pass a wide-sweeping springs bill, killing it in 2015 when the state House bailed early and they couldn’t amend the bill. The Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection Act was signed into law on Jan. 21; but everyone knows it’s really called “Charlie’s water bill.”
Miguel Diaz de la Portilla — As Chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee, the Miami Republican refused to hear bills he said he thought discriminated against immigrants. The decision effectively killed bills that would have created tougher deportation penalties and that would have required local law enforcement to comply with federal immigration laws. He also stopped legislation that would have allowed concealed weapon holders to openly carry their guns and concealed carry on campuses.
Geraldine Thompson — Not only did she win the Legislative Black Caucus chair but, after her bill died, she got a proviso into the budget deal that takes care of her legislative priority, money and a requirement for Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate certain police use of force incidents.
Clay Ingram — For years, unscrupulous synthetic drug manufacturers have stayed one step ahead of law enforcement by changing up their products to keep them on the shelf. No more. Ingram worked with Sen, Wilton Simpson and Bondi to craft legislation that gives law enforcement officers the flexibility to react to changing products and prosecute drug dealers. He also worked with Sen. Jack Latvala to bring the TED budget in for a landing. That budget was filled with wins — including Visit Florida cash.
Jeremy Ring — The former Yahoo executive spearheaded a push to allow high school students to count computer coding as a foreign language, even going toe-to-toe with his own caucus over the proposal. The Margate Democrat also sponsored legislation to give more protections to people with autism when dealing with law enforcement, and backed legislation to reaffirm Florida’s commitment to keep state dollars from funding state sponsors of terror in Iran. Ring just finished up his last year in office, and his political future remains uncertain. Could a run for CFO be on the horizon?
Chris Sprowls — The freshman lawmaker pulled into a decisive lead as his class’ choice for Speaker. He did it all while pushing a legislative agenda filled with conservative public policy. He carried a well-received public school choice bill, and was the lead on some of the House’s health care priorities.
Dana Young — Leaving House as Republican Leader after forging strong relationships on both sides of the Rotunda in both parties. Running unopposed for state Senate seat with beaucoup campaign cash. Got her bill passed this year that protects pets and “vulnerable people” locked in hot cars. The kicker: Her farewell speech was a virtual mic-drop, clocking in at a record 44 seconds. As the Talking Heads put it, “Say something once/Why say it again?”
More House Members — Many House leaders had a good year, but a few stood out: Future Speaker Jose Oliva continued to consolidate power and influence. Those looking for conflict between Corcoran and Oliva were disappointed. Rep. Ray Rodrigues scored a rare feat by getting his solar amendment on the primary. Rep. Jose Felix Diaz passed his KidCare bill to expand healthcare for children of legal immigrants and is making a name for himself as the go-to man on controversial issues.
Americans for Prosperity-Florida — As an economic incentive package picked up steam in the Senate, Americans for Prosperity-Florida began to push back on the measure. They called the proposal, which included film incentives and Gov. Scott’s $250 million Enterprise Florida Fund, “corporate welfare” and began a direct mail campaign to voters who lived in districts of lawmakers who supported the proposal. Do we need to remind where the economic incentive package ended up?
American Airlines, Delta, and the other major air carriers – Legislature passed a long-sought initiative to level the playing field for payers of jet fuel taxes by removing a 1996 exemption on jet fuel taxation for airlines that met certain criteria. The legislation also lowers the current jet fuel tax rate from 6.9 cents per gallon to 4.27 cents per gallon to make the proposal revenue neutral and lessen the impact for the airlines that will begin paying when the legislation takes effect in 2019.
Bascom Communications and Consulting – With direct access to both chamber’s legislative leaders, a massive book of blue chip clients, BCC is, simply stated, the most powerful public affairs shop in capital politics.
Dean Cannon – The former House Speaker (2011-12) scores victories on bills (FMPA, FADA). Seems content to settle in to the lobby corps as a grinder, quietly tallying wins and staying out of the headlines.
Children, dentists and MCNA – A contentious Medicaid children’s dental bill finally cleared the Legislature. Republicans Rep. Jose Felix “Pepi” Diaz and Senate President-designate Joe Negron pushed the bill in the House and Senate, despite vigorous opposition from HMOs. The bill, which eliminates dental care from the list of minimum services managed-care plans are required to offer, was backed by Fort Lauderdale-based MCNA Dental; and cleared the Legislature in part because of the work of Southern Strategy Group, Paul Stanford, and The Mayernick Group.
Corcoran & Johnston – Whether securing appropriations for clients like USF, Ruth Eckerd Hall, the Florida Aquarium, All Children’s Hospital, the Florida Orchestra, Palm Beach County and the cities of Miami and Miami Beach; passing substantive legislation on behalf of clients including the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority, Florida Crystals, Purdue Pharma and UFC, or advocating on behalf of clients like the Public Transportation Commission, the Florida High School Athletic Association, HCA, Marathon Petroleum and American Airlines; Corcoran & Johnston’s access and influence was strategic in approach and highly effective this session.
Counties — The squabble over how to pay for juvenile detention costs is nearing an end. The proposal requires counties that aren’t fiscally constrained to pay $42.5 million for detention costs in fiscal 2016, with the state picking up the rest of the tab. In the following years, it’s a 50-50 split. The proposal – sponsored by Sen. Latvala and Rep. Chris Latvala, and supported by the Florida Association of Counties — is intended to end a years-long battle over how juvenile detention costs are paid.
Lenny Curry – The Jacksonville Mayor’s pension reform proposal sailed through the Senate this week, and will soon make its way to the governor’s desk. The measure would impose a pension tax via referendum if signed into law. With big assists from the JAX Chamber, not to mention a triumvirate of powerhouse lobbying firms – The Fiorentino Group, Southern Strategy Group, Ballard Partners – Curry is on pace to finally tackle the city’s massive, $2.6 billion unfunded pension liability. If Scott signs off (and there’s no sign as yet that he wouldn’t) Duval County residents will then vote the idea up or down later this year. It remains to be seen whether they’ll approve extending the half-cent Better Jacksonville Plan infrastructure sales tax all the way to 2060, Curry’s pitch to get the city’s extremely stressed fiscal house in order.
The anti-substance abuse community — Lawmakers passed a proposal (SB 422) increasing the availability of “abuse deterrent” opioids. Addicts often crush opioids, such as Hydrocodone, in order to snort, smoke, or inject them. New measures in pill manufacturing deter abuse by making them very difficult to crush or tamper with. Nice work, Travis Blanton.
Credit unions – HB 1233 was a big win for credit unions, giving chartered CUs in the state access to the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta’s secondary market mortgage program. They have been barred from entering this program, putting them at a disadvantage to federally chartered CUs and banks.
Digital Assets protection — Sen. Dorothy Hukill rates for guarding your ghost in the machine. Lawmakers passed and Scott signed her bill (SB 494) that would protect one’s “digital assets” after death, meaning someone of your choosing could have access to and control your financial accounts, social media and anything else you have online. The bill faltered last year, after Facebook said it conflicted with federal online privacy laws. Hukill tweaked the language to require giving “explicit consent” for someone to access and control your stuff.
Drug Policy Alliance and Ron Book – Civil libertarians scored a big win in the Legislature this week when a bill to overhaul the state’s civil asset forfeiture regime passed unanimously in both chambers. The measure – sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes – requires law enforcement to issue formal charges in order to confiscate Floridians’ property as part of an investigation, a major reform to clean up policing practices which in some cases saw thousands of dollars forfeited by people over allegations they were ultimately cleared of. The measure was lobbied by a diverse coalition of both liberal and conservative groups from the ACLU to Grover Norquist, led by Adams Street titan Ron Book and the Drug Policy Alliance’s Ben Pollara, known as a champion of civil rights and liberties.
The Everglades Foundation – It helped pass HB 989, creating a dedicated source of revenue for Everglades restoration in the amount of the lesser of 25 percent or $200 million for Everglades of Amendment 1 funds. The bill also allocates 7.66 percent of Amendment 1 dollars to fund springs restoration capped at $75 million and $5 million per year to Lake Apopka clean-up for 10 years. Nick Iarossi of Capital City Consulting, and Claudia Davant, Dave Ericks and Robert Beck of Adams Street Advocates also played role the passage.
Higher education — State universities scored when it came to bonding of PECO funding. Just to name a few: Heiser Natural Sciences Building at New College of Florida got $4.2 million; Florida International University got $7.1 million for a satellite chiller plant; and $8 million for Florida International University land acquisition. Those schools should be thanking Capital City Consulting for that.
Florida hospitals — Hey, remember The Commission on Healthcare and Hospital Funding? The one that Gov. Scott set up to go after those “price-gougers”? And all those terrible videos of patients complaining about hospitals raking them over the coals for their hard-earned money? Also, those reforms that Speakers-to-be Richard Corcoran and Jose Oliva were going to push through. Hello? Anybody? Well, at least it created a U.S. Senate candidate. Also defeated deregulation of Certificate of Need process and passed favorable transparency in pricing legislation HB 1175, Most important, despite the federal government reducing payments for Low Income Pool (LIP) funding for the hospitals that serve the highest levels of uncompensated care, they will be reimbursed at 100 percent of cost. $75 million was added in the budget to help hospitals recoup costs that service severe neonate and peds cases. Nice work, Bruce Rueben and Crystal Stickle.
International Consortium for Advanced Manufacturing Research – An obscure but significant economic development initiative in Osceola County scored a major advancement late in the budget process this year – thanks in large part to a multifirm coalition of lobbyists who shepherded the line item along. The Florida Advanced Manufacturing Research Center was appropriated $15 million by budget writers for FY 2017, to help its partners – including the University of Central Florida and the Metro Orlando EDC – to help build out its International Consortium for Advanced Manufacturing Research. It aims to purchase tools for what they hope will become a global hub of advanced manufacturing research in the booming area of sensor technology and networked “Internet of things.” The funds will help them continue to target international businesses and investment to potentially establish a presence in east Central Florida. Lawmakers Sen. David Simmons and Rep. Mike LaRosa as well as lobbyists Chris Carmody, Robert Stuart, Mark Delegal, Jeff Hartley, Dan Holsenbeck, and even senior GrayRobinson partner Charlie Gray, were all instrumental in securing the funds.
The Keys – Lawmakers passed the Florida Keys Stewardship Act, which makes eligible the “City of Key West Area of Critical State Concern” for Everglades restoration bonds and promises protection of nearshore water quality and fisheries, storm water and canal restoration projects, and projects to protect and enhance the water supply to the Florida Keys. The proposal was backed by Rep. Holly Raschein, and Sens. Wilton Simpson and Anitere Flores.
Barbara Lumpkin – Florida, the state with the second largest population of ARNPs, took a major step toward quality and access to care by passing HB 423, the “Barbara Lumpkin Prescribing Bill,” a law which allows Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioners (ARNP) and Physician’s Assistants (PA) to practice to the full extent of their abilities. The law, on its way to the governor’s office, will expand prescribing authority for trained professionals. Credit to Janet DuBois, Corinne Mixon and Allison Carvajal for never giving up on pushing for this bill.
Bob Levy and the Florida Nurses Association – Along the same lines, HB 423 makes Florida the last state in the nation to allow ARNPs to write prescriptions for controlled substances. It would also grant the same prescribing authority to physician assistants. “It’s been a long battle, and well worth the fight,’’ said FNA Executive Director Willa Fuller, talking about the two-decade effort by FNA lobbyist Levy to pass prescribing legislation, which happened every year since Bob Martinez was governor (1993). For those who are counting, that’s 21 of the past 22 years. The FNA also credits Rep. Cary Pigman, a physician, and Sen. Denise Grimsley, a registered nurse, for their roles in sponsoring the legislation in 2016.
Newspaper publishers – Beating back the self-storage industry once again to keep public notice in Florida newspapers, newspaper publishers, supported by Associated Industries of Florida, are in the win column this session. Expect this issue to come back, but for now score one for the print media.
No Casinos – The anti-gambling expansion group watched as gambling-friendly lawmakers larded up the Seminole Compact with oodles of concessions to the pari-mutuels, which killed it for the session. “Here, have some slots! You want decoupling? Have seconds!” Other gambling-averse legislators had a conniption, and John Sowinski, Paul Seago and Sara Johnson, laughed all the way back to Orlando. This was also one of several wins for lobbying firm Johnson & Blanton.
Bret Prater – The steadiest, calmest, most accessible, friendliest, best-natured individual who has held the role he played in many, many years. He operates under the radar and likes it that way. Never asks for credit, always makes others look good, even when the news is bad.
Publix – The Lakeland-based supermarket chain lobbied lawmakers to pass a measure blocking local governments from enacting Stryofoam-container bans. (To be clear, cities that already passed a ban are unaffected, but future ones are not allowed.) Publix uses scads of Styrofoam, from its deli counter to the meats section. Environmental advocates hate the stuff, saying it winds up in waterways and the sea. Kudos goes to Teye Reeves of Floridian Partners, the lead lobbyist for the supermarket giant.
Supervisors of Elections — The possibility of a pay raise makes the state’s county elections chiefs a winner. Lawmakers OK’d a proposal that puts supervisors of elections base salary in line with those of elected clerks, comptrollers, property and tax collectors. The average increase is $18,540 a year. Tip your hat to David Ramba, who pushed for the change. Two state lawmakers — Sen. Alan Hays and Rep. Alan Williams — are running for supervisor of elections. We’re sure that had nothing to do with the push for action this year.
Stephanie Smith, Jennifer Green, Jonathan Kilman – Advanced the ridesharing legislation as far as it has ever been driven, working almost around the clock during the last two days to broker a compromise. Sure, they and the rest of the Uber and Lyft team were thwarted at the one-yard line, but guess what? They will be back with a vengeance next session.
Trial lawyers – Came out smelling like a rose on medical damages limits, liability insurance coverage, “bad faith” actions, assignment of benefits, property insurance, debt collection and more. Credit the team of Debra Henley, Executive Director of the Florida Justice Association; Jeff Porter, Brecht Heuchan, Janet Mabry, Andreina Figueroa, GC Murray, Reggie Garcia, Nick Magdelano, Paul Jess and Kevin Sweeny.
University of Central Florida — The last piece of the funding puzzle for the University of Central Florida’s downtown campus came together in the waning days of the legislative session. The university was desperate to get $20 million for the campus, and President Gardiner and Speaker Crisafulli slipped it in to the budget. The school got another $14 million for an off campus research park they’re developing with the military. It’s good to have friends in high places.
The “Wall” of opponents to “whiskey & Wheaties” – Another session passes with a brushback of the proposed repeal of the Prohibition-era state law that requires businesses, including grocery chains and big-box retailers, to have separate stores to sell liquor. ABC Liquors and Publix take the “W” with help from lobbyists Scott Dick and the aforementioned Teye Reeves .
— MORE WINNERS —
Alan Suskey – Call this the publisher’s prerogative. Sure, there are many other more powerful lobbyists in Tallahassee. But Suskey, the best man at our wedding, recently signed his 21st client after hanging out his own shingle a year ago. And all of that was before Latvala, with whom Suskey is very, very close, becomes Appropriations Chairman.
Mark Anderson and Smash the Home Tax — For the second year in a row, Anderson pulled off another upset against the Realtors and title companies. He made the case that when homeowner associations spend more money, it’s a tax on homeowners. Also, smashing cinder blocks is just too cool.
Associated Industries of Florida — They scored big early in the session when the comprehensive water policy package sailed through the House and Senate. It was a top priority for the organization, and it was one of the first bills Gov. Rick Scott signed into law during the 2016 legislative session. The statewide organization also fought off retroactive denials, step therapy, and prior authorization. They also scored with the repeal of the sales tax on manufacturing machinery and equipment.
Assisted Living — Call it a win for assisted living facilities across the state. The Florida Chapter of the Assisted Living Federation scored its second legislative victory in just as many years when the Legislature OK’d a proposal to modernize fire codes at assisted living facilities. With more and more assisted living facilities popping up across the state, the reforms come as a welcome win. Extra kudos go to Southern Strategy Group for the assist.
Florida Association of Free and Charitable Clinics — Coming off a harsh veto in 2015, free and charitable clinics came back full force this session. The clinics, which help Florida’s neediest residents, got the full backing of the outgoing Surgeon General. They also scored a $10 million appropriation that will probably avoid veto pen this year.
Florida Sheriffs Association — The group took on Sen. Don Gaetz and Rep. Matt Gaetz on the open-carry gun proposal — and won. They also backed a measure that requires 10 jurors to support a death recommendation, a proposal that was signed by Gov. Rick Scott. Also in their win column: A bill that provides additional protections to people on the autism spectrum during interactions with law enforcement officers.
The Fiorentino Group — From bee stings to peanut butter, the potential for a dangerous allergic reaction is high at public and private schools across the state. The Legislature heard the call for action, and this year to change state law to allow the schools to use Epipens without fear of liability. The firm also pushed lawmakers to restore $11 million in PECO dollars for the University of North Florida; a big win for the First Coast delegation.
HCA Healthcare — The healthcare network flexed its muscles during the 2016 legislative session, and the results were big. The hospital system got a $15 million funding boost to serve needy patients; it squashed a certificate of need amendment pushed by Jackson Health System in Miami-Dade County; and fought off attempts to allow patients to stay three days in recovery care centers (think an ambulatory surgical center on steroids).
Law enforcement officers — The Florida Police Benevolent Association lobbied for legislation to require law enforcement agencies to set policies and procedures for body cameras. And the Legislature heard their call. The Legislature sent the bill — pushed by Sen. Chris Smith and Rep. Shevrin Jones — to the governor on Thursday. Gov. Scott now has until March 24 to sign the bill, which also requires departments to have proper training and policies governing camera usages.
Palm Beach State College — After getting zeroed out on their second-year funding for a new stem building last year, new President Ava Parker hired Southern Strategy Group to solve the problem and find the final $9 million and complete the building. Mission: accomplished.
Spirits of the Founding Fathers — State lawmakers took action this year on civil asset forfeitures without due process, with Sen. Jeff Brandes offering a powerful assist. In the House, Speaker Designate Corcoran helped scale back big government, playing a powerful role in the movement not to include economic incentives in the state budget.
Copart — Defeated database for salvage bills, defeated legislation requiring additional elements for advertising the sale of vehicles, defeated proviso that would have required an audit of the independent entities within Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles. Bill slayer!
Children’s Campaign — Saw the passage of a juvenile expunction bill and juvenile record confidentiality legislation.
Hill+Knowlton Strategies – Alia-Faraj Johnson, Ron Bartlett, Ryan Duffy, Bob Lotane and Susan Thurston are building a powerhouse public affairs practice with blue chip clients like U.S Sugar, the Seminole Tribe, State Farm, Motorola Solutions, and many others.
Keeton Correctional — They supported a public records bill that would require all contracts to contain language directing the contractor to refer public records request to the agency, and retained funding for Residential Substance Abuse Treatment, and got $900,000 to switch from nonrecurring funds to recurring funds.
Israel — It might be more than 6,600 miles away from Tallahassee, but the Legislature honed in on Israel this legislative session. The Legislature passed measures that look to ban the state from doing business with companies that boycott Israel. It calls on the State Board of Administration to assemble a list of companies that boycott Israel, and was a response to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. It also adopted resolutions in opposition to the BDS movement. Kudos to lobbyist Scott Ross on his work on this issue. Also attorney/lobbyist Steve Uhlfelder worked tirelessly/pro bono with Sen. Eleanor Sobel and Rep. Jared Moskowitz to get a “Holocaust Memorial” piece of legislation passed that will ensure a permanent tribute at Florida’s Capitol to the horrific losses of World War II’s Nazi regime among Jews and others.
Johnson & Blanton — As the lead contract lobbying firm for the Florida Hospital Association, the boutique/elite firm scored nearly half a billion dollars in revenue over a two-year period, knocked it down with No Casino’s and ended up with a nice come-from-behind victory on the almost dead back-to-school holiday. Cap it off with mental health funding and reforms, it’s fair to say they had a very solid 2016 session. We foresee a Golden Rotunda or two in Travis Blanton’s and Jon Johnson’s future.
But, truth be told, with their near victory on killing balanced billing – against the tide of pretty much everyone including the FMA and the ER docs – and having both Negron and Latvala swinging for them, this could have made 2016 one for the ages.
Local taxpayers — Floridians won’t have to shell out more in property taxes this year to help pay for education increases. The Legislature is putting forward $290 million to hold down local property taxes that would have otherwise gone to the state’s school-funding formula.
Oranges — The state fruit now lives in perpetuity in the House Chamber. Speaker Crisafulli included an orange in his official House portrait. Crisafulli appears to have the only full body portrait hanging in the chambers, and the orange has a prominent position. Is it just us, or does the state’s favorite piece of citrus appear to be glowing. Citrus greening be damned!
RSA Consulting – Rather than list what bills they worked on, allow us to share the sentiments of former Speaker Dean Cannon, who tells Florida Politics, “Ron Pierce and his partner, Natalie King, did a great job this session. I know this because we worked on a bill together, and they both demonstrated real professionalism and great work ethic, strategy, skills, etc. I’d recommend adding them to any lobbying team.”
United Way — Look for the Florida United Ways and community partners to provide tax preparation assistance and financial literacy services to low income workers. The TED budget includes $500,000 to allow the statewide organization to provide that help to more than 12,500 low income workers and their families.
Utility and telecommunications companies — They pushed for legislation to clarify who is responsible for paying relocation of utility costs, and won. Under a bill signed by the governor, utility companies aren’t responsible for paying relocation of utility costs when a local government makes a planning change and the utility company has the easement.
Florida Thoroughbred owners and trainers, and Florida Quarter Horse and Standardbred owners, trainers and breeders – The industry lives to see another day with the failure of an effort to approve decoupling at pari-mutuels.
Andy Gardiner – The departing Senate President took some hits for his floor management as the last week of Session became a sucking sound of seemingly unending farewell speeches. There also were fits and starts as bills got out of the correct procedural posture. But it wasn’t a repeat of 2015, and that, by itself, counts as a win.
The Legislative Black Caucus — Took a hit from The Florida Times-Union, which disclosed members’ junket to a Indian casino in Alabama run by the same tribe seeking a gaming compact from Florida for a facility it plans near Pensacola. But also saw the demise of disfavored bills, such as “stand your ground” and pro-guns measures.
The Competitive Workforce Act – The pro-LGBTQ measure had Republican backers such as Jack Latvala and a corporate narrative. After a decade or so of failure, the act finally got its first hearing and nearly passed a Senate committee. In the House, Majority Leader Dana Young joined nine other House Republicans in supporting the bill, which aims to prohibit employment, retail and other discrimination because of sexual orientation or gender identity. It would have amended the state’s Civil Rights Act.
Drillers — A bill to regulate fracking died in the Senate for the second year in a row. The proposal, sponsored by Sen. Garrett Richter in the Senate and Rep. Ray Rodrigues in the House, would have required drillers to get permits before fracking could begin and put a moratorium in place until a study and rules were completed. No legislation means no moratorium. But increased concerns over the effects of fracking elsewhere could mean increased scrutiny on companies looking into alternative drilling techniques.
Florida Association of Health Plans – The association opposed a bill that carved out dental services from Medicaid managed care plans, but their opposition was shot down at every turn. But the FAHP all but shut down Session on the final day over the balance billing issue.
Florida Chamber of Commerce — The statewide business organization was a big supporter of the comprehensive water policy bill that cleared the process early in the session. The organization also backed proposals to invest in Florida’s tourism industry, transportation and infrastructure. It helped defeat mandates on determining employee policies and ones that would have limited property rights. But a few priorities were left on the table because of philosophical differences, including a proposal to reduce the business rent tax.
Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association – Upside: This statewide trade association backed tourism proposals that boosted VISIT FLORIDA’s budget to $76 million this year – an increase of $2 million over last year. Plus, the association is slated to receive an additional $2.5 million to support in-state tourism marketing efforts. FRLA also helped pass a keg deposit bill, which was certainly a priority for its theme park members. While there was a statewide push to allocate some Tourist Development Tax dollars for emergency services, FRLA encouraged a significant comprise with lawmakers that limited the application to just three coastal counties: Bay, Okaloosa and Walton. The association also received full funding for its hospitality education training program, which supports school-to-career training for more than 30,000 students across Florida. Another downside: It was an early backer of the Seminole Gaming Compact. You see how that turned out?
Florida Medical Association – Upon further review and with a few new tidbits and a healthy exchange of information, we need to move the FMA back up the ladder. For starters, it is fair to say that the nurse-related expansion of scope came with enough caveats (i.e. prior authorization from a doc) to call this one a short-term draw and even a long-term win for the FMA as this settles a highly contentious matter likely for years to come. And with a few singles on the board with the extension of the CAT funds exemption, OB/GYN notification of 120 days prior to a hospital closing an OB unit, the needle exchange pilot program, and $750,000 into their foundation to promote healthy lifestyles our final score shows that maybe Mr. Medicine still had his thumb on the scale. Lastly, it is important to note that a strong strategic play for an association – ANY association – is to take a long view, sometimes accepting less than perfect today, with a few trade-offs and protections for your members here and there, and building long-term goodwill among the members is the best play after all. That’s what makes winners winners.
Independent Pharmacy Owners — With the help from Pharmacy Choice and Access Now, pharmacists showed up in full force in the Capitol. They landed an important workshop on the Medicaid Managed Care — a small miracle in a busy and quick session. Watch for Aaron Bean and another small-business-friendly member to get a study going so they can land in 2017.
Matt Gaetz — Let’s start with the good: Matt Gaetz — along with Rep. Katie Edwards and Rep. Jason Brodeur in the House — pushed legislation to expand medical marijuana to more people in need in Florida. But that might be where his legislative successes ended this year. His $1 billion tax cut was slashed to just over $120 million; his attempts to tack language to legalize fantasy sports onto a Department of Business and Professional Regulation bill failed; and while a bill to regulate transportation network companies easily cleared the House, it stalled in the Senate.
State workers – No pay raises this year, but their benefits and pension plan are unchanged, despite the best attempt the House could muster. The House will try again next year, no doubt.
Rick Scott – Didn’t really get his $1 billion tax cut. Didn’t get his $250 million business incentive fund. Didn’t get the $3 billion-over-seven-years Seminole Compact approved by lawmakers. His Secretary of Health (see below) is out of a job. Upside: No one will remember or care by the time he runs for U.S. Senate.
Carlos Lopez-Cantera — Session flew by, and no one seemed to notice the Lieutenant Governor. He made a few appearances on the floor of the House, but didn’t seem to make a political splash when he needed it the most. His official calendar was light during the Legislative Session, and if he advocated for his boss’ priorities, it didn’t seem to help much.
John Armstrong – The state’s Surgeon General and Secretary of Health was the first executive-agency head in more than 20 years to lose his job at the hand of the Senate. You can’t say he didn’t see it coming. He barely was confirmed on a 5-4 vote by the Health Policy Committee, then was Heisman-ed by the Ethics and Elections Committee, which simply didn’t issue a recommendation. After hems and haws, Senate President Andy Gardiner declined to just put Armstrong’s nomination before the full Senate. Armstrong also wasn’t confirmed by the Senate last year, and it’s two-strikes-you’re-out in the confirmation process.
Eric Eisnaugle – The Orlando Republican came back to the House in 2014 after serving 2008-12. He then entered the 2016 Legislative Session as a likely Speaker-to-be … and is leaving it as a likely not-Speaker to be. What happened? Palm Harbor Republican freshman Chris Sprowls pulled off a silent coup, gathering new pledge cards and flipping others for the 2021 speakership. Eisnaugle’s consolation prize may come if he pulls off a Jack Latvala move to ensure he’s not relegated to insignificance for the rest of his legislative career.
Department of Corrections — House and Senate budget writers scrapped Secretary Julie Jones request for 734 new correctional officers. The department wanted the positions so they could shift from 12-hour shifts to eight-hour shifts. While forest firefighters and crime lab analysts will get a pay raise, corrections officers won’t see more cash in the budget. Give the department a break, these guys (and gals) are in an incredibly stressful and dangerous job.
Don Gaetz — The Niceville senator pushed a proposal to allow Floridians to openly carry their weapons as long as they have a concealed-weapon permit. When Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee, said he would not hear the bill, Gaetz slammed the Miami Republican, saying DLP “promised and then reneged on a commitment” to meet with supporters to negotiate differences. Gaetz tried to add his open-carry bill to a bill relating to slungshots, but was shot down when Rules Chairman David Simmons told him the amendment was out of order.
Garrett Richter — The Naples Republican said his bill to regulate fracking might have been the “most important bill” he filed on behalf of his constituents. There’s just one problem: The bill didn’t pass. Richter did a yeoman’s job at trying to get the bill through the Senate, but couldn’t get it to the finish line. Richter at the helm of the Ethics & Elections committee, which didn’t confirm Surgeon General John Armstrong, who he supported. It wasn’t all losses: Richter scored with supervisors of elections spearheading an effort to give county elections chiefs pay raises. Richter can’t run again for re-election because of term limits, but with Dos Equis looking for a new pitchman, could there be another job in his future? Stay thirsty, my friends.
Harris Corp. – The Brevard-based radio communications giant did ultimately got its way when it came to a $7 million line item to “refresh” the state’s existing inventory of law enforcement radios. The House – and Harris PR efforts – argued the move was necessary to update equipment, though no state agency requested it. But the Senate argued the issue was “vendor-driven” and could jeopardize a competitive bidding process for when the contract expires in 2021, which Harris lobbied against. Competitor Motorola Solutions and the Senate, however, can take solace in the fact the Department of Management Services bid is still scheduled to go ahead.
ABLE grant students — It seemed like Don Gaetz and Erik Fresen were going to end the scholarship discrimination that gives some private college students attending certain types of institutions a lot more financial aid than others simply because of where they decide to go to college. Fix this.
Claim bills — Florida law limits local governments to paying no more than $200,000 a person in damages without lawmakers passing a claim bill for money above that. But the process still favors, when such a bill passes which is rarely anymore, victims or family members who get persuasive lobbyists. State Rep. Jamie Grant of Tampa tried three years to reform the process, chairing a special panel and issuing a series of recommended changes, including putting restrictions on lobbying and raising the local cap to $1 million per person. Its work wasn’t adopted.
Cyclists — For the second year in a row, Rep. Kathleen Passidomo backed legislation to make it safer for vulnerable users — cyclists, runners and the likes — to use the roadways. And for the second year in a row, the effort crashed. Passidomo’s bill received unanimous consent in all of its committee stops and was poised for a floor vote. So did a similar Senate bill sponsored by Sen. Thad Altman. But neither bill made it to the floor for a vote. While similar language was added to an omnibus transportation bill in the Senate, that measure was unlikely to move.
Enterprise Florida — The state’s public-private economic development arm said it desperately needed money for its quick action closing fund. The governor pushed for $250 million to help lure jobs. EFI CEO Bill Johnson said cutting the money would cost the state 50,000 potential jobs. He even called out Americans for Prosperity for its campaign to shut down the funding efforts. But it didn’t matter: Lawmakers slashed funding from the final spending plan.
Farewell speeches — We get it. It’s not easy to say good-bye. But it shouldn’t take 21 hours to say farewell, which is how long Sen. Jeff Brandes said the Senate spent in the last two weeks of session as it bid departing members adieu. There were jokes, there were tears and oh-so-many goodbye photo montages. We’re just as sad to see you go as the next guy, but why not take a cue from Dana Young next time?
Film industry — Making a movie in Florida just got a little tougher. The Legislature rejected efforts by state lawmakers — including Venice Republican Sen. Nancy Detert and Sen. Latvala— to approve an economic incentive package that included film incentives. Film Florida lobbied lawmakers to support the proposal, saying the state has lost more than $650 million in film projects in the past three years. With Detert leaving the Senate, the film industry is losing a big advocate.
Life insurance companies — A win for beneficiaries means a loss for life insurance companies. Under a bill sponsored by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto and Rep. Bill Hager, life insurance companies need to check annually to see whether their policy holders have died. If they have, then it’s on the company to track down the beneficiaries. It was a top priority for CFO Jeff Atwater, who said companies were making billions off life insurance investments. The kicker? If the governor signs off on the legislation, it goes into effect retroactively.
Marion Hammer —It wasn’t a very good year for gun legislation. Open carry, dead. Concealed carry on college campuses, dead. Concealed weapons at airports, dead. Hammer has vowed the bills will return each year until they pass. But it isn’t just stalled gun legislation that left Hammer and the NRA irked: The House Judiciary Committee declined to hear a bill shifting the burden of proof for Stand Your Ground cases.
Pari-mutuel interests — This year, the Legislature turned into Oprah: You get decoupling! You get slots! Now the future of pari-mutuel gambling in Florida is the status quo. The Palm Beach Kennel Club and others are out of luck. Lawmakers also get what they didn’t want: The fate of gambling expansion in the hands of the courts. Will the Supreme Court side with the Gretna track for expanded slots? Will a federal court side with the Seminole Tribe over the pari-mutuels’ player-designated games? This Legislature has no one to blame but itself.
Planned Parenthood — The women’s health agency took hits from all sides during the 2016 Legislative Session. The state House initially included language to defund the clinic in its state budget. That language was removed, but lawmakers OK’d a proposal to increase medical requirements on abortion clinics. The measure — sponsored by Sen. Kelli Stargel and Rep. Colleen Burton, both Lakeland Republicans — also prohibits state dollars from going to clinics affiliated with licensed abortion providers. Planned Parenthood officials promised to fight the legislation “with everything we’ve got.”
Property insurance companies — It was a critical issue for insurers, but the state Legislature failed to act on legislation to address assignment of benefits this year. The assignment of benefits bills would have banned contractors’ referral fees and limited the work contractors could do under assignment of benefits agreements. No fix means lawyers and remediators win.
Supporters of “whiskey & Wheaties” – This year was the worst showing of those who wanted to tear down the “wall of separation” between hard liquor and general retail. Big-box chains Wal-Mart and Target, who have supported booze integration, couldn’t even get a bill heard this session. The trade group behind the repeal, Floridians for Fair Business Practices, says they’ll be back next year.
Recess — Bah humbug, John Legg. The Florida House overwhelmingly supported a bill that requires public schools to provide 100 minutes of recess each week in kindergarten through fifth grade. But the bill, sponsored by Sen. Alan Hays, made no progress in the Senate. Legg, chairman of the Senate Education committee, declined to hear the bill because he said it was a local issue. The so-called recess moms who backed the legislation have said they would continue to lobby for the issues.
Seminole Tribe of Florida — Who knew a food fight would break out when Gov. Rick Scott and the Tribe inked a new $3 billion-over-seven-years gambling deal? Oh, who’s kidding? Of course we knew. Because gambling is a hot mess every session. So no surprise when lawmakers force-fed the deal like a goose with expanded gambling opportunities for the pari-mutuels. The tribe even tied a $1.8 billion expansion to the Legislature’s ability to approve the deal, and the governor said legislative inaction would push the tribe to lay off 3,700 workers statewide. No matter — the deal went belly up in the waning days of Session.
Senate chamber paneling — Say goodbye to that out of date wood paneling in the Senate chamber. Renovates are expected to begin on the Senate chamber right after session. The big loser in all of it? That wood paneling that reminded us all of our parents’ basements.
Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith — He was a career military man who served as a general in the Confederate army. Born in St. Augustine, Smith spent most of his life outside of the Sunshine State. Still, in 1922 the state decided to erect a statue of Smith in the National Statuary Hall Collection in the U.S. Capitol. He’s been there ever since, but his reign as a famous Floridian might be coming to an end. Gov. Rick Scott OK’d a law to remove and replace his statue with another famous Floridian. Don’t worry, Dr. John Gorrie, the father of air conditioner, isn’t going anywhere.
Tallahassee — Merchants in Tallahassee said the early session was a mixed bag. It was cold in the beginning, meaning rooftop bars and outdoor dining wasn’t really an option. The fall committee weeks competed with football. And some South Florida lawmakers griped about leaving their homes when it was beautiful outside to be in blustery North Florida. It didn’t seem to matter, though. The Legislature voted to start the 2018 legislative session to January again.
Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing companies — Everyone knew it wasn’t going to pass, but that doesn’t mean people weren’t holding out hope a compromise between all parties — that includes ride-booking companies, taxicab drivers, the House and the Senate — would be worked out. Those hopes were quashed when Sen. David Simmons pulled his bill that would have mandated minimum commercial insurance requirements for drivers. No compromise could be worked out, when the House said it wouldn’t budget on pre-emption language. Uber blamed Senate President Gardiner, slamming him in a series of advertisements. The House blamed the Senate. The real losers? Drivers and Uber users as local battles over regulations continue.
BONUS ROUND — The Tallahassee-based News Media Winners and “Non-Winners” via Peter Schorsch alone (so don’t blame Jenna, Jim or Ryan)
— WINNERS —
Gary Fineout — Still the gold standard. Still has the best access to the Governor’s Office. And we hear his editors at the AP have finally noticed the smart content on his standalone blog, The Fine Print.
Tia Mitchell — As president of the Capitol Press Corps, she’s brought peace to the organization (reporters are human, too, and there have been in recent years, fierce rivalries among some of the outlets). Does a lot with a little for The Florida Times-Union. Her mid-Session story about members of the Black Caucus taking a gambling junket was one of the best scoops of the season.
Michael Auslen — In only his second Session, Auslen has become the workhorse of the Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau. Even though he spurned joining POLITICO Florida, it will be back with an offer. One observer called him a “young (Matt) Dixon” (that is a good thing).
Jessica Bakeman — This Yankee brought an entirely new perspective and level of energy to the education beat. Clear choice for Rookie (to Florida politics) of the Year.
Steve Bousquet — While young bulls run down the hill to mount one cow, this old bull’s perspective has become, counterintuitively, more interesting than his straight reporting. He also wrote the definitive Rick Scott-is-a-lame-duck story.
Matt Galka — People are still talking about his parody of Drake’s “Back to Back” at this year’s Press Skits. Seriously, dude is a hustler for the Mike Vasilinda Empire.
Jason Garcia — Sure, his longform is hidden behind Florida Trend’s cumbersome paywall, but his in-the-weeds Tweets about The Process are some of the best — and best sourced — in the business.
Jim Rosica — Just as Christine Sexton set the pace for last session’s most important story (health care funding), Florida Politics’ new hire was the pack leader on this session’s biggest food fight (gambling).
Christine Sexton — Similar to last year, Gary Fineout’s better half changed the dialogue in the Capitol. Legislators responded to her reporting on Planned Parenthood by passing a restrictive abortion bill. They also are changing how waiting lists work after Sexton reported that more than 6,000 seniors died last year while waiting for services meant to keep them out of nursing homes. And her reporting that the amount of care provided by county health departments had been reduced and the number of patients seen dramatically dropped since John Armstrong took the helm at the Department of Health also proved troublesome for Armstrong. At press time, he appeared headed out the door because he wouldn’t be confirmed by the full Senate for a second year.
— MIXED BAG —
The Associated Press — Such talent at the AP, especially when Brendan Farrington and Fineout are bolstered by ex-Tampa Tribune political writer Windy March and sports reporter Joe Reedy during Session, but there is just something structurally off with its coverage. One never knows what it might cover — or not.
News Service of Florida — Even with POLITICO cutting in to its market share, NSF is still going strong. It seems more and more newspapers are dependent on it for coverage. But it’s not exactly a Raisin Bran box full of scoops.
POLITICO Florida — Yes, Matt Dixon is arguably the most connected reporter not named Fineout. Yes, Sexton is the best silo reporter in the business. And yes, Bakeman has may be the best addition to the Capitol Press Corps. But PF has not become the game-changer some (me included) thought it would be. And Dixon was a lot more fun when he was labor as opposed to management. (P.S. How has PF not changed its URL (CapitalNewYork.com/Florida) to something Florida-centric?)
Tallahassee Democrat — We appreciate the effort at the Gannett-owned paper to bolster its political reporting, but it still hasn’t taken ownership of the two beats most crucial to keeping and expanding readership: State Workers and Lobbying.
— LOSERS —
Daily Buzz — The Tampa Bay Times daily email, sent at 3 p.m., is neither an agenda-setter or thought provoker. The Times should just admit that there isn’t space in a Sunburn/Playbook world and trash this program.
Paywalls — Even in a gilded town like Tallahassee, the cost of just reading the news is exorbitant. It hasn’t happened yet, but there are almost as many reporters writing for insiders and lobbyists as there are for the average Floridian.