Winners and Losers from the 2014 Legislative Session

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In case you missed them from over the weekend, here are my Winners and Losers from the 2014 Legislative Session.

Winner: Will Weatherford

With the passage of the immigration tuition bill, Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford is the single biggest winner of the 2014 legislative session. He has completely silenced his detractors by accomplishing something few of the old silverbacks could have pulled off, and it is the capstone on the first phase of a political career that will inevitably find its full expression on the national stage.

It’s his Nixon-to-China moment, not Gov. Rick Scott’s.

He has pulled the Republican Party in a new and better direction in a successful act of political daring unequaled in Tallahassee for many years.

It also destroys the myth that Weatherford is too nice to throw sharp elbows. He was willing to buck Republican orthodoxy, post up against Florida Senate President Don Gaetz, and pull a seemingly bewildered Rick Scott to the finish line on an issue that has huge practical implications for a few and enormous symbolic value for everyone.

Remember he started this initiative when the Senate president opposed it, the governor would not say he supported it, and powerful members of his own chamber didn’t like it.  It is one of those threshold moments of authentic vision and leadership to be relished.

I’ve seen the future, and it is Will Weatherford.

Winner: Adams Street Advocates delivers for Florida Pharmacy Association

The Florida Pharmacy Association, led by their new lobbying firm Adams St. Advocates, had an extremely successful legislative Session.

FPA and the Independent Pharmacy Cooperative were instrumental in passing legislation that would require fair and uniform pharmacy audit rules (SB 702)  by pharmacy benefit managers’ (PBMs).   This new law will provide predictability and common sense business practices for pharmacies to prepare and respond to audits increasing efficiency and productivity.

FPA through budget language fought to give state employees the option to purchase their 90 day maintenance drugs from retail pharmacies.  Current law required state employees to buy these drugs from a mail order pharmacy often resulting in much needed medication going to wrong addresses, waste due to a change in prescription or long periods of time sitting in mailboxes.  This ability to visit and purchase from a retail pharmacy will give employees better access to care and proper medication counseling.  This effort was strongly supported by Cynergy Consulting who represents multiple pharmacy related  interests.

After much debate and controversy on the House side, FPA together with the Florida Independent Pharmacy Network and the Florida Society of Health System Pharmacists successfully supported legislation by Senator Grimsley to address the number of pharmacy technicians a pharmacist must supervise.  The legislation that ultimately passed both chambers wisely removes an arbitrary cap and allows the Board of Pharmacy to approve any increase in the number of pharmacy technicians a pharmacist can supervise in a particular setting.  It revises the makeup of the Board to increase the number of actively practicing pharmacists to ensure patient safety is a priority in this process.

This was a major victory for ALL pharmacists in Florida.

Winner: Affordable Housing 

In too many years past, funds that would be reserved for affordable housing were raided and diverted to other agendas. This year, however, affordable housing advocates across the state will see housing trust fund dollars used to serve their rightful and intended purposes.

The Sadowski Housing Coalition emerged as the face for the effort, calling on the Legislature to avoid more trust fund sweeps and appropriate housing trust funds dollars for housing.

The effort resulted in a $100 million appropriation for the State Housing Initiatives Partnership program and $67.7 million for the State Apartment Incentive Loan program.

After a tactful and strategic lobbying effort lead by Ken Pruitt and the P5 Group, coupled with an aggressive earned media effort spearheaded by Bascom Communications & Consulting, the Coalition’s ask was able to ring loud and clear in the ears of Subcommittee Appropriations Chairs.

Florida’s effective affordable housing programs will receive the funding they need – and deserved – to help house Floridians in need.

Winner: Anfield Consulting

If Florida’s water resources had a voice, that voice would holler a big thank you to the Legislature for its attentive ear in 2014. And would likely shout an even louder thank you to the team at Anfield Consulting for advocating so vigorously for all things water.

Anfield, commonly known in the Capitol as “the water guys” (and otherwise known as Frank Bernardino, Lee Killinger, and Albert Balido), delivered this precious resource a nearly uncountable number of wins this session.

Anfield successfully secured funding for multiple public and private-sector clients promoting initiatives such as the protection of the environment (Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Package in the Senate), local water projects benefiting the residents of various cities and counties, the development of regional water supplies, the enhancement and protection of water supplies, and local water treatment initiatives.

In the policy arena, Anfield worked on behalf of its clients with policymakers to secure positive changes to legislation relating to springs protection, reclaimed water, and wastewater regulation. They were trusted advisors on water funding to Rep. Ben Albritton and Sen. Alan Hays in particular.

Through its involvement with Florida Water Advocates, Anfield continued to shed light on the need for statewide water infrastructure funding and was invited to make presentations before legislative committees with this well-received message.

Anfield’s efforts in this area are reflected in the Legislature dedicating the highest state funding levels in the past six years to water resources — not just in terms of dollar amounts, but in terms of the share of the budget dedicated to it. Anfield’s expertise and partnerships are no doubt a driving force behind H20’s big wins in 2014.

Winner: Behavioral health advocates

The Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association pulled out some hefty session wins, and in doing so, scored some points for safer communities across the state. Its efforts have secured greater treatment options for mental health and substance abuse addiction disorders, and have worked toward integrating conversations about behavioral health into the primary care setting.

Some of the FADAA’s legislative priorities included measures on background screening, needle exchange programs, inmate reentry, and weight thresholds for oxycodone and hydrocodone to be considered trafficking.

Because of FADAA’s testimony, a new pilot project is being created to bring an individualized treatment regimen for families with children in child welfare. The Casey Report and Miami Herald series identify 68 percent of child victims also had parents with substance abuse problems.

These priorities were lobbied under the able guidance of Frank and Tracy Mayernick, as well as FADAA executive director Mark Fontaine, and Jill Gran. Other team coalition players were the Florida Council for Community Mental Health, Florida Partners in Crisis and several FADAA members and their lobbyists, such as DACCO and Manatee Glens.

Though the association tallied many wins this year — some simply the moral victory of having favorable hearings if not full passage — many other priorities failed to gain speed. These included telemedicine, Baker Act reform, and Medicaid expansion. Can’t win ’em all, but the FADAA and its allies are clearly among the net winners of 2014.

Winner: Charlotte’s Web, RayAnn Moseley & Cannabis Growers

Low-THC cannabis will be legalized in Florida for patients with specific ailments. Who could have seen that one coming a year ago?

There are more winners on this one issue than are easily enumerable. We’ll start with the obvious: lawmakers Matt Gaetz, Katie Edwards, Aaron Bean, Rob Bradley, and Jeff Brandes for having the courage to do what is right instead of what is easy by filing and fighting for a medical marijuana bill in a Republican-led Legislature in an election year.

Then there are two fairly unknown lobbyists, Jules Kariher and Kim Berton, who took the lead on Charlotte’s Web and managed to pull off the feat of getting the measure passed — with veto-proof majorities, at that. SB 1030 was approved by a vote of 30-9 in the Senate and 111-7 in the House.

RayAnn Moseley, the face of the Charlotte’s Web fight in Florida, is another clear winner. Her life — like those of so many other children suffering from severe forms of epilepsy — will be forever changed.

Finally, farmers — at least those who have been in operation for at least 30 years in this state — will have the opportunity to become approved to grow this strain of marijuana. Time will tell, but my guess is that this represents a big win in the farmers’ column, too.

None of these wins would have been possible had the Florida House and Senate not stayed the course, keeping partisan politics out of the bill.

But that is not to say the issue is apolitical. To the contrary, the debate around the legalization of Charlotte’s Web is the opening salvo in a far larger war that is likely to occur in 2015 when and if the far “broader” medical marijuana language in Amendment 2 passes in November.

While certainly serving those in need of this compassionate and right measure, this year’s debate was also a necessary exercise in desensitization in which Republican legislators were forced to wrap their heads around the concept that medical cannabis may have a legitimate role in the lives of Floridians.

 If this blog were featuring the legislative “winners” of the past decade, this one issue would absolutely make the list. Charlotte’s Web represents a major triumph by an odd-bedfellow team of proponents. There have been few issues like it before, and few will easily follow this unlikely and groundbreaking course.

Winner: Lobbying firm Corcoran & Johnson

Multiple funding items and policy measures were passed in 2014 that bring energy to the Tampa Bay region. Notably, the IMG Academy was pegged for $5 million; the Florida Aquarium, for $3.65 million; and the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority the potential for ungodly amounts through SB 218, which adds the ability for the authority to build and operate managed lanes and other transit supporting facilities.

The Florida Aquarium project is also a big deal, going beyond mere cash flow. It will provide funding for cultural facilities and cultural support grant applications, as well as funding for partnership projects with TECO and the Fish & Wildlife Commission in the Apollo Beach area.

Tampa Bay’s gains in no small part came through the tireless efforts of Corcoran & Johnston lobby team — Michael and Jessica Corcoran, Jeff Johnston, Matthew Blair, Michael Cantens, and Amanda Stewart. Their Tampa-based firm solely represents the Florida Aquarium, IMG, the Tamp and Hillsborough Expressway Authority.

Between these projects, the potential for state stadium funding, and the impressive leadership of Bay Area lawmakers, these communities are the 2014 Session’s regional winners in the book of this blogger.

Winners: Disney and No Casinos

Every year when there’s no expansion of gambling, it is a win for No Casinos, and also for Disney. The 2014 session began with what seemed like a perfect context for gaming expansion. And ended with nothing but a faint glimmer of hope for casino allies thinking forward to next year.

No Casinos operated a flawless, well-tuned lobbying strategy, and with Disney aboard, ably thwarted some equally powerful foes — foes like Genting, Las Vegas Sands, parimutuels, and more.

 It will get easier for the anti-casino crowd with Andy Gardiner as Senate president next year. And, as I have argued, casinos gained some strategic edges this year due to blunders by the Scott administration.  

No doubt, having a 29-person lobby team helped No Casinos frustrate opponents. Among these, some big names: Mercer Fearington; the Johnson & Blanton firm; Colodny Fass Talenfeld Karlinsky Abate & Webb; Randy Enwright; Tom Gallagher; Dan Pollock; Liberty Partners; and more.

Winner: Doritos

The debate around the legalization of Charlotte’s Web is the opening salvo in a far larger war that is likely to occur in 2015 when and if Amendment 2, the medical marijuana amendment, passes.  The debate this year was a necessary exercise in desensitization in which Republican legislators were forced to wrap their heads around the concept that medical cannabis may have a legitimate role in the lives of Floridians.

Winner: Duke Energy

We think of a legislative win as being something that was proposed or killed, something amended or whipped up at the 23rd hour that makes its way into law. But other wins are quieter. They are wins in the form of… nothing.

Plenty has been written about the forces that lobby not for change but for the status quo. And when it comes to these dynamics in Florida, 2014 has one true winner: Duke Energy.

Duke Energy has quietly, expertly pulled a major win in the form of “nothing.” Despite all of the negative press the company has endured this past year — especially from the Tampa Bay Times — there was nary a mention about legislation impacting Duke’s nuclear cost recovery fees. No rolling back of these fees, no new reporting requirements, nada, zilch.

While at least two bills were filed relating to nuclear cost recovery fees, neither was heard in any of the six or so committees of reference.

Duke’s team of 17 lobbyists did something right to take an issue of wide contention and broad public dismay and diffuse it fully before even an inch was gained.  

Winner: The Everglades Foundation 

What happens when water that once flowed naturally from Lake Okeechobee gets diverted to accommodate housing and commercial development? An unnatural flow plus pollution and runoff that disrupts the natural — and important — ecosystems of the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin, and the Everglades. Wildlife are hurt, water quality goes down, water bodies become dangerous to fish in or recreate in, and our economies are diminished.

That’s why the 2014 session and its extraordinary focus on the Everglades and water quality restoration projects can be deemed a winner.

Thanks largely to Sen. Joe Negron and a willing House to make a deal, Everglades Foundation priority projects were funded to the tune of more than $259 million.

The lobby teams at Capital City Consulting and Southern Strategy Group were among those to bring home some of the big ones within this figure — such as  Water Quality Restoration Strategies ($32 million), Everglades construction projects ($85.1 million), Tamiami Trail – DOT Workplan ($90 million), and Lake Okeecbobee cleanup ($19 million).

Winner: Florida Health Care Association

This session, the Florida Health Care Association advocated its most ambitious agenda in years — and has done so with extraordinary results.

It is the only profession to pass tort reform (see SB 670), it passed a major Certificate of Need reform bill without any of the customary CON acrimony (see HB 287), it met its goals in the budget, and successfully supported an increase in nursing home residents’ personal needs allowance from $35 to $105 per month.

Success on a tort reform measure alone would be enough to place the FHCA on the 2014 “winner’s” list. SB 670 was written to ensure that nursing home residents and their families are able to pursue lawsuits against those directly at fault for negative events while preventing unreasonable, frivolous claims against passive investors who have no role in care decisions.

Behind the FHCA’s legislative triumphs this year were a strong team of lobbyists and media consultants  — namely Sachs Media Group, and 22 lobbyists including this year’s TallyMadness winner Jon Johnson. Others on the team are the FHCA’s internal legislative director Bob Asztalos, along with Sean Pittman, Matt Bryan, Allison Carvajal, David Ramba, Travis Blanton, Melanie Brown, and Amy Christian.

Loser: Florida Justice Association

This once proud organization used to command respect on the 4th and in the EOG. No longer. This year, they did something they have never done in their long history (this organization once toppled the most powerful senator in modern history, Dempsey Barron): They agreed to – and even publicly supported – a tort reform measure in order to ensure no further harm to their members.

As reported here, they cut a deal that will live in infamy.  They agreed to restrict lawsuits brought by injured nursing home residents against large corporate nursing home owners in exchange for allowing smaller suits against mom & pop and locally owned nursing homes – an idea they vigorously and vocally opposed in past years.  In the process, they tossed overboard a highly regarded former member who specializes in these kinds of suits (and who they once gave their highest advocacy award to) in order to have a peaceful session.

The deal worked.  No other tort bills even made it to the floor.  But the need to cut such a pitiful deal spells trouble for the future of this waning Florida power.

Winner: Florida taxpayers

Chalk up a win for Joe Lunchbucket. The Legislature saw an opportunity in this first budget surplus year in ages to give some back to Florida taxpayers. These breaks come in the form of a rollback in car fees, avoidance of subsidizing sports teams owned by billionaires, and sales tax holidays.

The biggest return to taxpayers may be the annual vehicle registration fee rollback. SB 156 cut these fees to the tune of $400 million, or about $25 per typical motor vehicle, and Gov. Scott promptly signed this into law.

Then, there’s the neglected stuff that we used to do as a state, which taxpayers truly benefit from: bolstering environmental protection, higher education, biomedical research, and programs for kids and cops.

We will see if Florida TaxWatch takes apart this year’s budget with its annual turkey hunt … but my take is that, overall, Florida taxpayers pulled a big win this year.

Winner: Human Rights, Freedom & Baseball 

In what began late in session as an unlikely amendment but quickly gained support and momentum, we have today a huge legislative win that takes a stand on some of America’s most foundational values: human rights, freedom, and — yes — baseball.

Rep. Matt Gaetz joined with Rep. Jose Felix Diaz to take on yet another big issue in 2014 in this proposal to require Major League Baseball to change how Cuban players are treated if baseball wants to share in state money for stadium work.

In short, MLB allows foreign players to negotiate as free agents — yet singles out Cuban players, prohibiting them from negotiating as free agents while still in Cuba. Those who defect to the U.S. must enter the annual amateur draft, at a substantial disadvantage to where they would have been otherwise.

These unforgiving rules have led to Cuban players to try to establish residency in a third country, such as Mexico, resulting in (not surprisingly) unwanted and dangerous entanglements with human traffickers, smugglers, and drug cartels.

The Diaz/Gaetz amendment, added to HB 7095, was embraced by Speaker Will Weatherford.  Sen. Anitere Flores joined on as the measure’s Senate sponsor, and did so with the support of Sen. Jack Latvala.

Behind these lawmakers’ push was Sachs Media Group, producing a website (baseballinjustice.com), a media blitz, national stories, a response from MLB, and more, in just two weeks’ time.

Winner: Jack Latvala

Welcome to the Latvala Show, a political spectacle of strategic positioning.

Bills and policy triumphs aside, the big picture is about who will assume the Senate presidency next: Jack Latvala or Joe Negron. Here’s how Latvala used the 2014 session to all but ensure his success. Negron opposed an idea that has grown in popularity across party lines: allowing children of undocumented immigrants in-state tuition rates, providing that these children had been students for at least three years in a Florida high school. Negron’s stance against this measure was unconvincing, and it blew open a hole big enough for Latvala to exploit.

The Tampa Bay ringmaster rallied two-thirds of the Senate to his cause. He can now hold this out to his colleagues as an example of Negron’s outdated views and lack of leadership skills. While Negron looked weak and out of touch, Latvala looked strong and forward-thinking. That’s enough to tip the scales in Latvala’s favor and break the stalemate in the race to assume Senate leadership. Adding to this prediction: it is more than likely that Latvala will be the right-hand man to incoming president Andy Gardiner. This position is arguably more powerful than that of the presidency itself, at least in the hands of such an able political veteran. Latvala has two years to fill that vacuum around Gardiner.

Winner: Gaming interests

Here is where I will contradict the easy estimation that “gaming” was a big loser this session.

What I am about to say in no way detracts from the fact that No Casinos and Disney are clear winners. These organizations had clear direction, strategy, message and delivery. Their game was impeccable and unlikely to be derailed with ease.

But allow me to explain how gaming interests also won, but in a different way, and due entirely to the ill-fated foibles of the Scott administration.

Rick Scott and his beleaguered chief of staff made a massive tactical blunder by exposing the Seminole Compact negotiations — and in doing so, they effectively killed any chance that a deal will be ratified before next year.

This means that gaming expansion is once again back up for consideration during the next legislative session.

Second, the terms of the negotiation were exposed: $2.55 billion over seven years, plus a new facility in Fort Pierce for the Seminoles.

While these terms are obviously a non-starter with the Legislature, knowing these details gives Genting, parimutuels and other gaming advocates a huge leg up on any potential negotiations in the future. We now know for certain that any Seminole compact will require at least that much, and more than likely a lot more in terms of payments to the state.

Third, the pinheads surrounding Rick Scott once again did nothing except create more enemies than they can count by attempting to negotiate such a deal in the first place. Let’s count them:

1) Every gaming interest that ever donated a dime to Rick Scott now doesn’t trust him.

2) The Seminoles are furious for outing the deal. They don’t trust him and are likely to support Charlie more than ever. (As if their support for Crist was ever really a question, right?)

3) The Legislature holds a degree of disdain for the Scott staff (mostly Hollingsworth) that is palpable and stems from the fact that Hollingsworth naively believes the governor is in a position of strength. He isn’t. He will veto many turkeys in the budget. That’s nothing new. But when that’s done, he’s the lamest of lame ducks, and Hollingsworth will be neutered.

So, to recap, here’s how Scott’s maladroit team once again snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, made enemies of friends, and tried to split the proverbial baby only to make everyone mad.

(Think Medicaid expansion, where Scott said he was for it and did nothing after that, enraging his base while cementing his image among moderates as a lip-service politician willing to say anything to win a vote…)

In the case of gaming expansion this year, Scott’s handlers pissed off the Legislature, guys like Sheldon Adelson, parimutuels, and the Seminoles. That’s the whole list, guys.

For these reasons, I offer gaming expansion as a non-loser thanks to the loserdom of Scott and Hollingsworth. No, Genting and Sands are not closer to establishing a beachhead on South Beach, but thanks to some epic gubernatorial nincompoopery, gaming allies may soon sit in the winner’s circle alongside their foes, Disney and No Casinos.

Winner: Imbibers win and lose in 2014

For once let’s start with a loser: the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association. The organization pushed for unnecessary, anti-free market red tape on a growing Florida industry. While other states are passing bills to make it easier for craft brewers to expand their businesses, the FBWA made it their mission to add regulations where none are needed. While doing so opened the beverage titans to a flood of public backlash, little doubt they’d take the same tack again to protect precious and lucrative turf.

Meanwhile, in the winner’s circle is Scott Dick, who represents ABC Fine Wine and Spirits. While ABC’s stance was also to limit retailer’s ability to easily sell distilled spirits, at least the group had crafted a rationale for doing so.

You are likely familiar with this issue, even if you were unaware that it was a contentious one. Florida supermarkets and other retailers may sell wine and beer within their main store but must operate a separate space to sell alcohols such as whiskey or gin. The law requiring such separation was written in 1935, making it “archaic” in the minds of many, including Sen. Bill Galvano.

Galvano sponsored SB 804 to repeal the separation requirement, but withdrew the measure because he didn’t have the votes. Because Dick and his allies had run a fantastic ground game and convinced members of the merits of keeping distilled spirits out of arms reach.

Charles Bailes, head of ABC, explained to the TC Palm that their position was one that kept higher potency alcohols further out of reach from teens who would stick out a lot more in a liquor store than in an aisle at Walmart.

“The best checkout system in the world isn’t going to keep liquor out of the hands of kids,” Bailes said. “They’re stealing it and even drinking it in the store.”

House companion bill HB 877 never got traction. Agree or disagree with ABC, there is little contesting they had a winning game.

Loser: Rep. Marlene O’Toole

It’s hard to find a bigger loser than Marlene O’Toole this legislative session.

She singlehandedly blocked the Money Course, a favorite of this blogger, which would have required a financial literacy course in high school.

The measure would have required the Florida Department of Education to work with nonprofit organizations to develop standards, curriculum and professional development guidelines for teaching financial literacy. Who knows — this could have benefited not only the next generation of Floridians, but perhaps also their teachers and parents in the process.

What’s worse? O’Toole told the Associated Press she supported it but didn’t have time to hear it in her committee.

You know who that pissed off? The Florida Chamber of Commerce, CFO Jeff Atwater, the Florida Council on Economic Education, the Florida Bankers Association, the Business Section of the Florida Bar, the Florida Prosperity Partnership, and any other rational person watching this bill.

HB 367, sponsored by Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen and cosponsored by, oh, just a bipartisan coalition of more than a third of the entire House, never had a hearing.

Meanwhile, its companion bill (SB 212), sponsored by Sen. Dorothy Hukill, made its way through two committees before halting on April 9 — due to the House’s failure to do its part.

If O’Toole doesn’t fix this next year, she will secure herself a position in the Saint Petersblog Losers Hall of Fame.

Winner: Matt Hudson and Alzheimer’s advocates 

House health care budget chair Matt Hudson had his work cut out at the beginning of the 2014 session, and he delivered on these goals in big ways.

Hudson delivered for Edison State College in its rebranding as Florida South Western State college (HB 137); delivered for people and children with severe allergic reactions (HB 1131); delivered for the East Naples Fire Control and Rescue District (HB 949); and delivered for the Collier County/Golden Gate Fire district, too (HB 951). All of these passed the House and Senate.

But standing out among Hudson’s wins was HB 709, on Alzheimer’s disease. This important bill supports individuals currently suffering from Alzheimer’s disease while also establishing a competitive grant program for Alzheimer’s research to be conducted in Florida. The measure also develops and maintains special needs shelter guidelines — important to persons with cognitive disabilities during times of emergency.

As noted elsewhere, Hudson’s leadership — alongside that of Senate health care budget chair Denise Grimsley — brought huge returns for elderly and disabled Floridians, including through the funding of various regional caregiver and respite support services.

Winner: New College of Florida 

New College of Florida, the small liberal arts college in Sarasota, has been in the news a few times over the past few months, mostly in announcements by college rating organizations that boast the school’s excellent value, unique academic model, affordability, and high percent of students awarded with Fulbright’s and other similar honors.

And now, add to the list of recent accolades a big win in the 2014 session: the addition of the school’s first-ever master’s degree program. This two-year M.Sc. program in Data Science and Analytics will produce 15 graduates per year, and will fill a growing need for graduates in this field in Florida’s workforce.

Despite the unmet need there are no master’s program in Florida that specialize in the use and analysis of big data. Consulting firms such as McKinsey and Gartner have projected the current shortfalls to grow to well over 140,000 nationwide in the next few years despite starting salaries above $80,000.

This big win came through the efforts of the tireless Capital City Consulting team — namely Nick Iarossi, Chris Schoonover, and Ron LaFace Jr. — and reflects the college’s academic fortitude and growing fan base.

Winner: Older Floridians and their families

Several flagship, Florida-based organizations providing critical assistance to elder Floridians and disabled adults saw significant gains during the 2014 legislative session under the trusted leadership of House Chairman Matt Hudson and Senate Chair Denise Grimsley.

Beginning with the Florida Association of Area Agencies on Aging and the Florida Council on Aging, these two organizations whose membership provides frail seniors and disabled adults with access to home and community-based care saw significant increases in funding – nearly $24 million, to provide services to persons on the waiting list for care.

By providing frail elders and disabled adults with just a little help – home-delivered meals, personal care, transportation, etc., through programs like Community Care for the Elderly and Alzheimer’s Disease Respite Care, Local Service Programs and others, Floridians can remain at home safely and with dignity, avoiding the need for more costly nursing home care.

Florida’s Coalition for the Homeless was also recognized for its efforts to increase the visibility of homelessness and the need for additional funding to prevent and solve the problem of homelessness, particularly for children and their families.

Supported by the efforts of Sen. Latvala and Rep. Kathleen Peters, the Florida Coalition for the Homeless and local continuums of care received $8.2 million in additional funding for services and advocacy on behalf of homeless Floridians.  These increased dollars will be put to good use by Florida’s 20 local homeless continuums of care in their efforts to prevent homelessness and provide a “hand-up” to those that are homeless today.

Loser: OOCEA

Timing is everything, and the OOCEA picked a bad day to have one of its board members pull a three-count felony indictment for bribery and corruption.

It was the same day the Legislature was considering whether to dismantle the OOCEA and create a newer, bigger, and presumably less corrupt authority to build toll roads throughout Central Florida.

Governor Rick Scott had to quickly suspend the indicted board member, Scott Batterson, and the state attorney hinted that more indictments may be coming down the pike in this growing scandal.

What began as a modest inquiry into possible technical violations of the Sunshine Law has metastasized into what could become Florida’s political scandal of the year.

Winner: Pharmacies

Common sense legislation leveling the playing field for local community pharmacies is also on its way to the Governor’s desk.

Senate Bill 702, championed by Senator Aaron Bean and Representative Travis Cummings and a major priority for Pharmacy Choice and Access Now (PCAN), Florida Pharmacy Association (FPA), Florida Independent Pharmacy Network (FIPN), Independent Pharmacy Cooperative (IPC) and Pharmacy Provider Services Cooperative (PPSC) directs pharmacy benefit managers to follow certain procedures when it comes to pharmacy audits. The legislation mandates notification of an audit, eliminates auditing during the busiest times of the month, protects local pharmacy owners from fines for simple clerical errors and provides reasonable time for pharmacies to address audit discrepancies. This legislation simply sets the ground rules for pharmacy benefit managers to create a more effective auditing process.

Winner: Florida Students and Teachers

Florida students and teachers are among the biggest beneficiaries of a strong 2014 legislative session.

The House and Senate demonstrated their commitment to providing every Florida student with a quality education by passing Senate Bill 1642 to improve Florida’s accountability system. Lawmakers voted to restore focus, clarity and confidence to one of the A+ Plan’s hallmark principles, A-F school grading.

Hardworking teachers and student-centered reforms are working. Florida has further to go, but we are headed in the right direction and are on a path that fundamentally puts student learning above all else.

A simplification of the school grading formula will bolster the intent of Florida’s comprehensive reforms and will reinforce public confidence that school grades actually mean something. These grades determine in part which top-performing schools get performance bonuses, and which struggling schools must up the game with new staff or face closure.

At the same time, SB 1642 offered a one-year reprieve from sanctions or penalties as a result of school grades. As the state transitions away from the FCAT and to a new assessment, the first year of testing will be used as a baseline to measure schools in the future.

Detractors, mainly Democrats, threw criticisms that school grades would be inappropriate even after next year. For example, Rep. Karen Castor Dentel opposed SB 1642 saying that it would allow Florida to continue to rely on “the test-obsessed genie of reform” and that “we are simply trading a one-trick pony for a three-ring circus.”

I don’t know, but to me, Castor Dentel’s so-called “one-trick pony” is precisely what got Florida out of the gutter in academic performance.

Prior to the implementation of the A+ Plan, half of Florida fourth-graders were functionally illiterate and our high school students — even the unimpressive percent that graduated — were laughable in terms of national comparisons.

If a one-trick pony works… let it keep performing. And that’s why Florida students are the big winners of the 2014 session.

SB 1642 heads to Rick Scott for his signature.

Winner: Southern Strategy Group

The SSG army of two dozen lobbyists descended on the Capitol this March and showed little interest in taking prisoners this session.

It routinely saw in the Capitol corridors lobbyists from their far-flung Florida network including those from Miami, Tampa, and Orlando, in addition to the usual platoon of Tallahassee regulars.

And, this firm tackled some of the biggest issues under the twin domes, including those tied to healthcare, gaming, sports franchises, insurance, public safety, and education.

SSG also seemed to fully use the talents of itsr most recent high-profile hire, former budget chief Jerry McDaniel, to shepherd through nearly three dozen appropriation items.

Notable wins for SSG included a rare high-profile defeat of the NRA on the issue of concealed weapons in emergency evacuations, a $5 million premium tax break for Fidelity, a rewrite of the state’s ticket laws for Disney, a new process for professional sports franchises to apply for a sales tax credit, the creation of a new expressway authority in Central Florida, and a closely watched knife fight with a rival lobbying firm over an important appropriation.

 As a bonus, the political world got to track SSG’s maneuverings on Twitter where its 1000+ followers got a daily glimpse into the world of Tallahassee power lobbying.

Winner: Florida Sports “Commish” Brian Ballard

A major winner on the last day of session were sports teams that take to the field and racetracks in the Sunshine State. Legislation passed to set up an equitable process by which sports franchises can apply for state sales tax refunds in order to help pay for stadium construction.

The high profile winners were the Daytona International Speedway and two new soccer franchises among others.  The Speedway, in the middle of a $400 million renovation to the iconic venue, was a major player in moving the legislation through the process this year.  And, the Speedway’s lead lobbyist, Brian Ballard, has firmly established himself as the new Commissioner of Florida Sports lobbying.

Ballard not only delivered for Daytona, but also for Major League Baseball Spring Training clients – the Yankees, Mets, Tigers and Astros – and delivered a nice birthday present for one of his newer clients, David Beckham, whose new soccer franchise in Miami also wins with this legislation.

Winner & loser: Thrill-seeking recreationalists 

Winner:  ATV enthusiasts! Imagine if dirt bikes were still defined by law as machines that required lawnmower-style pull-starts. That wouldn’t make sense, considering that technology has advanced motorsports substantially over the past many decades. But for ATV riders, Florida law has been comparably ancient in its definitions. Until now. SB 1024 has finally redefined ATVs to embrace modern amenities such as steering wheels instead of handle bars, and side-by-side seating instead of straddle seats. If signed by Gov. Scott, Florida will no longer be among the dwindling number of states clinging to archaic seating arrangements to define this genre of sports vehicle. The new law opens up Florida’s trails to safer, more comfortable ATVs and also helps to make Florida’s wild lands more accessible to the disabled.

Loser:  Bungee Jumpers.  Here is the story of how in one architectural phallic symbol (the Florida Capitol) funding for another architectural phallic symbol (SkyRise Miami) was denied. We’ve talked about SkyRise Miami here before. Apparently the Senate was on the same page. Despite a gallant run, Ron Book’s last-minute efforts to get $5 million sent to a developer for this should-be-privately-funded project fell through. SkyRise Miami, which will boast a 1,000-foot bungee tower, may have been the Eiffel Tower in the House, but in the Senate it was “that effing tower.” The House proposed $5 million, the Senate countered with $2 million to be paid after the developer demonstrated he had secured $400 million in private funding.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.