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The day that was in Florida politics – March 5

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The day that was in Florida politics – March 5

Remember the projected $1 billion surplus lawmakers were going to have when they started writing a state budget? Well, don’t be counting on it. That seems to be the word spreading through the Capitol Thursday. After the House adjourned, Speaker Steve Crisafulli told reporters he was still planning on cutting taxes this year. Whether lawmakers will be able to check off everything on the governor’s list — Gov. Rick Scott wants nearly $700 million in cuts —  is another question.

The scheduled end of the Low Income Pool program, which provides nearly $2 billion to pay hospitals for providing care to the uninsured, has wrapped next year’s spending plan in uncertainty.

“We’re at a standstill on the budget … until we get some clarity on how we are going to fund health care,” said Sen. Tom Lee, Senate Appropriations Chairman.

“We’re going to produce a lean budget, leaner than what it is now,” said Lee.

The program is scheduled to end June 30 but state officials hope to reach a deal.

Scott has written the president about the issue, saying he does not intend to use state dollars to backfill a hole created by Washington.

The House is not including the money in its budget deliberations because it is taking Scott’s letter to President Barack Obama as a veto threat if they did.

Scott started the day in St. Petersburg, where he explained his position to reporters.

“Here’s one thing that’s frustrating,” Scott said. “The federal government often starts a program– and remember they’re funded with our state dollars … now what they’re saying is, well, they’re not sure they’re going to continue to do it.”

You can read more here.

The House passed a water bill Thursday, a top priority of the House speaker. HB 7003 expands a program that reduces pollution in runoff, includes protection for natural springs and lifts some restrictions on landowners north of Lake Okeechobee.

“Florida’s most unifying feature is our water and the House of Representatives has shown great leadership in passing a bill that will provide a comprehensive, long-term and flexible approach to protecting the supply and quality of our water now and in the future,” said Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Environmentalists don’t like the bill because it eases regulations on landowners in the Lake Okeechobee watershed and the Everglades.

“It has been described as a comprehensive water bill and it’s missing one thing, it’s not comprehensive,” said House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford. “There’s nothing about Apalachicola, frankly there’s no discussion of anything South of the Lake (Okeechobee).   Lot’s of discussion of east and west of the Lake, lot of discussion of north of the Lake, no discussion of Florida Bay and salinity levels.”

More details are here.

State Sen. Jeff Brandes’ red-light bill cruised through its first committee stop without any citations – not the best metaphor for a bill that was amended but Brandes is putting the pedal to the metal in his anti-red-light camera proposal. They don’t write tickets for bad puns, do they?

Thursday the Senate Transportation Committee approved four amendments including authorizing the use of cameras only as a last resort at intersections prone to accidents and ensuring citizens the right to review the video and/or electronic images of the alleged traffic infraction.

“These cameras were initially proposed as programs designed to improve safety, but they’ve turned into nothing more than a back-door tax increase on Florida drivers,” Brandes said. “These programs collect over $100 million annually from Floridians, yet the data shows us that they do not improve safety on our roadways.”

There is more here.

House Education Chair Marlene O’Toole said Thursday that she expects the committee to approve Monday a proposal scaling back testing in public schools. The proposal eliminates an 11th-grade language arts exam, removes the requirement that school districts test every student in every subject and places less emphasis on student test performance on teacher pay.

“We’re going to try to get this to the floor as soon as we possibly can so we can alleviate all of the stress and uncertainty in the field,” O’Toole said.

There is more here.

By 6 p.m. Thursday the halls of the state Capitol grew quieter than a congressional Democrat when asked about Hillary Clinton’s e-mails as lawmakers closed out the first week of the 2015 legislative session and headed home.

One committee meeting scheduled for Friday: The Department of Environmental Affairs will provide the House State Affairs Committee with an overview of the state lands program.

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