Tallahassee will become the capital city this week when lawmakers arrive at the state capitol Tuesday for the 2015 Legislative Session and begin debate on how to spend $77 billion.
Other issues as well will be considered during the next 10 weeks; developing a state water policy, curbing the use of standardize test in public schools, allowing guns on university campuses, and changing regulations governing alcohol, gambling and marijuana.
For the inhabitants of the Capitol Political Media bubble the two-months of wonkish discussions, policymaking and partying is like Christmas, the Super Bowl and Spring break all occurring at once.
One party dominance in Tallahassee makes words such as Democrat, Republican, conservative and liberal roads to misunderstanding what goes on when citizens, lobbyists and lawmakers gather at the state capitol.
If there is anything to the point that Debbie Wasserman Schultz tried to make after the Democrats’ defeats in November about the party being “right” on the issues then it is that people agree with Democrats but don’t vote for them. So, if you want to get anything done at the Florida state capital it may be in your interest to have a friend or two who are card-carrying members of the GOP.
Florida is a community of 20 million people and if one party can’t figure out how to be relevant then people don’t stop having needs or ideas they want to share with lawmakers.
And one party control of the state capitol does not make lawmakers a group of sheep walking lockstep behind a leader or in sync with an ideology; to survive they must win more votes the other candidates. That is why concurrent majorities tend to pop up when elected officials debate significant proposals.
Ad-hoc coalitions of minority groups form to block the action of a majority. In recent years it has happened on prison, immigration and education proposals. Former Sen. Paula Dockery was often in the midst of these blocking maneuvers. Sen. Jack Latvala has been praised as a “master” at coalition building.
“Liberal” and “Republican” are terms used to describe macro ideas but a lot of times a vote on an issue isn’t – listen closely to Sen. Jeff Brandes’ explanation of his medicinal marijuana proposal and Sen. Rene Garcia talk about health care for two examples of lawmakers breaking from the pack.
Self-described conservatives may think the Senate is where good House ideas go to die when it’s part of the process of self-government.
The fun begins Tuesday, but Monday comes first with a Department of Health hearing on a proposed rule for a medicinal marijuana law approved last year.
Here’s what’s ahead this week at the state capitol:
The Charlotte’s Web law has been held up by a failure of stakeholders and regulators to agree on rules for a Florida marijuana industry. To break the logjam, DOH invoked a rarely used negotiated rulemaking procedure to produce a set of regulations and a south Florida investor requested Monday’s hearing to clarify some of the points.
The Joint Administrative Procedures Committee also had some questions and Thursday afternoon sent the Office of Compassionate Use a 14-page letter asking OCU to explain how some of the procedures outlined in the rule were consistent with the law as written.
Director Patricia Nelson responded by the end of Friday; conceded JAPC’s point about a statement of estimated regulatory cost by saying any estimate would be “speculative” at this time since DOH has not yet calculated a renewal fee. Other than that, Nelson said with moving forward with the rule the department “will have done its statutory duty without placing unlawful or invalid minimum criteria on the Applicants.”
That’s how bureaucrats expecting a fight say, “bring it on.”
Nelson had opened the negotiation session last month by telling the stakeholders:
“We need a rule that will survive a rule challenge and will survive a rule challenge quickly . . . We had one deadline and we missed it so we need to get our act together and get moving.”
She has set the pace, “lightening quick,” according to one nurseryman interested in a license to grow marijuana and has produced a rule, “as best as the law will allow,” according to a lobbyist.
The drama continues Monday with those wanting to sink Nelson’s work product get to fire their first shots but keep in mind she began writing a rule with her eyes wide open and in her words and deeds has demonstrated a commitment to deliver a medicinal cannabis product as “swiftly and safely as possible.”
Also Monday, the Florida Transportation Commission will discuss the Department of Transportation work program at 1:00 p. m. at DOT Tallahassee headquarters.
Although more than 1,100 bills wait lawmakers once they convene the 2015 Legislative Session Tuesday it is all about politics and money. Only one bill matters, the state budget, the one stating how to spend the people’s money. It is the only one lawmakers are required to pass. And there are more than 10 lobbyists for each legislator to explain how that money should be spent.
The legislative season begins Monday night with the annual Associated Industries of Florida’s pre-session party for the players; the nearly 1,700 registered lobbyists, the 160 elected legislators and others; writers, academics interested citizens who aren’t registered to lobby but often act that they are just as interested as any paid lawyer, consultant or representative.
Lawmakers are expecting a $1 billion surplus but a federal program providing a billion dollars for health care will expire, Gov. Rick Scott wants $673 million in tax cuts, a gambling compact that produces a $100 million will end without renewal and voters mandated a required amount of spending on environmental programs.
Amendment 1 directs about $1 billion for water programs and land acquisition. Water policy is a top priority of legislative leaders. Sen. Charles Dean has a plan to earmark some of the money to storm water projects and watershed protection. Everglades advocate want a share to buy U.S. Sugar land.
While balancing a state spending plan, lawmakers will also wrestle with demands from craft brewers for more freedom in producing and marketing their product and big grocery retailers wanting to sell distilled liquor on their shelves alongside other items.
The Legislative Session begins in the Florida House when Speaker Steve Crisafulli calls the chamber into session at 9:30 a.m. The Senate will follow at 10 and a joint session of the House and Senate will convene at 11.
Scott will deliver a State of the State address and then lawmakers will begin the process of policymaking; the Senate is expected to take up SB 2, a greyhound injury-reporting bill. A committee will consider moving the 2016 presidential primary to the third Tuesday of March.
In the House, a subcommittee will consider a proposal creating the Florida Institute for Charter Schools at Florida State University.
Sen. Greg Evers continues his push to improve prison safety and stop guards from abusing inmate. SB 7020 is up in the Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriation Subcommittee.
Sen. Charles Dean’s work on a springs protection bill continues in the Senate Environmental and Preservation Committee with a presentations from the departments of Environmental Protection and Agriculture. And Sen. Renee Garcia will present SB 294, enabling immigrant children to enroll in KidCare in the Health & Human Services Committee.
House State Affairs Committee chair Matt Hudson is expected to participate in a panel discussion of water at a Florida Chamber of Commerce event at the Turnbull Conference Center.
And friends, colleagues and other participants in the legislative process will gather to remember a former Senate President, “As he asked us to do.”
Bascom Communications will host the 5th Annual Jim King Happy Hour. The Jacksonville lawmaker served former served 24 years in the legislature and passed away in 2010. The Happy Hour in his honor begins at 5:00 p.m.
Leading lawmakers will attend a luncheon as part of the Chamber’s Capitol Days. Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, Attorney General Pam Bondi, CFO Jeff Atwater, Speaker Steve Crisafulli, Senate President Andy Gardiner are all expected to attend the luncheon at the Turnbull Conference Center.
Also Thursday there will be a 75th anniversary showing of Frank Capra’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” at the Challenger Learning Center 7 – 9 p.m.
The first week of session closes out with two Revenue Estimating Conferences; PECO at 9:00 a.m. and transportation at 9:30; the Florida Commission on Ethics will meet on a case involving Rep. Marlene O’Toole not disclosing a conflict of interest on a vote involving the 2013 state budget and the Florida State University Board of Trustees will meet at 1:00p.m.