Sunday, May 12, 2019

Recapping Florida's 2019 Legislative Session

Legislators fulfilled their sole constitutional responsibility — passing a balanced budget — last Saturday, May 4, one day later than scheduled. It came in at $91.1 billion, up 2 percent from last year’s $89.3 billion, and set another Florida record. Assuming few line-item vetoes by the Governor, 2019-20 will be the eighth year in a row of budget increases; the 2011-12 budget was $69.1 billion. In addition to passing the budget, legislators passed 197 bills and $121.5 million in tax cuts.

Obviously, bills passed by the Legislature and signed into law by the Governor make public policy. That’s why elections matter. In this post, I highlight some of the bills passed this session that significantly affect areas of interest to Collier voters. In addition to links to related news articles, I included links to the related Florida Senate webpages, where you’ll find bill texts, Staff Analyses that provide background to make the case for the bills' necessity, legislator vote history, and more.

Like beauty, whether it was a “good session” or a “bad session” is in the eye of the beholder. For overviews from each perspective, I highly recommend:
  • Statement from Majority Leader Passidomo on the successes of the 2019 legislative session, by Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, representing Collier, Hendry, and part of Lee counties, Majority Office Press Release, 5/4/19, and
  • Florida legislators failed to make the state better, by Paula Dockery, who served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland and is now a registered NPA, Tampa Bay Times, 5/10/19.

With that, here are what I consider some of the most significant policy-making and spending decisions made by the Florida Legislature this session.

The environment
  • DeSantis announces more than $680 million in environmental funding. The budget includes $367.2 million for the Everglades and $100 million for Florida's springs ($50 million of which is unspent from last year.) “This governor has delivered greater advances in Everglades restoration and clean water than we have seen in at least a decade,” said Eric Eikenberg, CEO of the Everglades Foundation. WSVN.com, 5/7/19
  • Florida Forever land acquisition falls short in this year’s budget. Legislators appropriated $33 million from the Florida Forever Trust Fund, a far cry from the Governor’s requested $100 million, and $31 million for parks, compared to his proposed $54 million. Tampa Bay Times, 4/26/19; Florida Today, 5/3/19; WSVN.com, 5/7/19
  • Politicians’ pledges to tackle red tide eco-disaster end at the Legislature with… wait for it… another task force. Florida Phoenix, 4/30/19

Voting and Elections
  • Legislature passes several “fixes” to election laws. Florida Phoenix, 5/6/19; SB 7066
    • Moves the deadline for voters to request vote-by-mail ballots from six days before an election to 10 days before.
    • Prohibits county Supervisors of Elections from mailing out ballots less than eight days before the election instead of the current four days.
    • Requires the Secretary of State to provide signature matching training to elections workers and county canvassing board members.
    • Increases the time when voters can remedy a ballot that’s been questioned because the signature on the ballot doesn’t match the one on file at the Supervisor of Elections office.
    • Requires a Supervisor of Elections to send a first-class letter to voters if the signature on a vote-by-mail ballot is questioned; notification by email or text message is also allowed.
    • Moves up by one week the date of the August primary election, adding an extra week to the general election campaign.
    • Revises requirements for vote-by-mail ballot instructions.
  • Lawmakers tighten ballot measure rules ahead of 2020 election. Anyone gathering voter signatures would be required to register with the state, and groups that hire people to gather signatures could not pay them based on the number of signatures obtained. Also, any referendum to adopt or amend a local option sales surtax must be held at a general election. Politico Florida, 5/3/19; HB 5
  • Felon voting bill passed amid outcry; DeSantis says he’ll sign. The legislation is aimed at carrying out a constitutional amendment approved in November by over 64 percent of voters. The amendment granted restoration of voting rights to felons “who have completed all terms of their sentence, including parole or probation.” AP News, 5/3/19; Tampa Bay Times, 5/8/19; SB 7066
    • Related: League of Women Voters’ statement re: the Amendment 4 law. “Not only is it morally wrong, but it is an affront to the 5.2 million Floridians who voted for Amendment 4 and a direct attack on the Florida Constitution...” LWVFL.org, 5/2/19

K-12 Education
  • Budget hurdles cleared; major education bill restructures teacher bonuses. Legislators agreed to spend $12.4 billion on the Florida Education Finance Program, the major part of the budget for public schools. That includes a $248 per student increase and $233 million for the controversial Best and Brightest teacher-bonus program. Tampa Bay Times, 4/30/19; News Service of Florida via Daytona Beach News-Journal, 4/28/19; SB 7070
  • New Family Empowerment Scholarship Program allows more students to use taxpayer-funded vouchers to pay for private school; court challenge expected. In 2006, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the state Constitution bars Florida from using taxpayer money to finance a private alternative to the public system. WLRN.com, 5/5/19; SB 7070
  • Governor signs bill to arm teachers. The bill adopts the recommendations of a commission formed in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Massacre that claimed 17 lives. Tallahassee Democrat via Naples Daily News, 5/2/19; Sun Sentinel, 5/1/19; SB 7030
    • Related: Sen. Passidomo supports school safety bill for its provisions for the mental health assistance allocation.”I support this bill and any bill that we can put together that will help our students overcome the difficulties that they bring to school,” she said in her weekly Legislative Update email. SB 7030
  • Legislature raises SAT score levels for Bright Futures scholarships. For students who would receive the “Academic” scholarship, which covers full tuition and fees at state universities and colleges, the required SAT score will rise from 1290 to around 1330. Miami-Herald, 5/4/19; SB 190
  • Lawmakers approve anti-Semitism bill. Religious discrimination would be added to actions based on race, gender, disability, marital status or national origin, which are already banned in Florida schools. Gainesville Sun, 4/29/19; HB 741
    • Related: Anti-Semitism bill to be signed in Israel, DeSantis says. Tampa Bay Times, 5/10/19

Taxation

The tax bill passed this year requires school districts and charter schools to share revenues raised by future tax measures approved by voters. “It’s another attack on local control,” Collier County School Board Chairman Roy Terry said. Naples Daily News, 4/26/19; HB 7123
  • Related: Florida tax package draws fire over charter schools. News Service of Florida via dailycommercial.com, 4/26/19
The $121.5 million tax cut package amounts to $87 million in state revenue losses in the first year (of which one-time cuts total $48.5 million) and $73 million of revenue losses on a recurring basis. The cuts include:
  • A reduction in the business rent tax from 5.7 percent to 5.5 percent. Estimated revenue loss: first year $30.8 million, $64.5 million per year thereafter.
  • Back-to-School sales tax holiday - August 2-6, 2019. Estimated one-time revenue loss: $41.7 million.
  • Hurricane sales tax holiday - May 31 - June 6, 2019. Estimated one-time revenue loss: $5.5 million.
  • Sales tax donations to 501(c)(3). Estimated recurring revenue loss: $4.9 million per year.
  • Insurance Premium tax credit flexibility. Estimated recurring revenue loss: $1.1 million per year.

The estimates of fiscal impact are from page 20 of the HB 7123 Final Bill Analysis. For more on the tax law changes, see the Florida TaxWatch 2019 Session Wrap-Up and Session Spotlight.

Health Care
  • Certificates of Need (CON) about to become history. After many years of debate, the CON process was repealed for hospitals, but will remain for long-term care and hospice facilities. News Service of Florida via Sunshine State News, 4/27/19; HB 21
  • Legislature approves Canadian drug import bill, other health reforms. The program, a top priority for Gov. DeSantis, would have to be approved by the federal government. Orlando Sentinel, 4/29/19; HB 19
    • Related: Trump directs Feds to ‘explore’ authorizing Florida drug-import plan, but stiff DC opposition awaits. Florida Watchdog, 5/8/19
  • Florida legislature passes new telehealth law. It provides a framework for telehealth in Florida, establishes new telehealth practice standards, creates a registration process for out-of-state health care professionals to use telehealth to deliver health care services to Florida patients, and introduces commercial reimbursement provisions. Health Care Law Today, 5/7/19; HB 23

Other
  • 'Sanctuary cities' ban passed by Florida lawmakers. The governor’s desire to force local and state officials to fully cooperate with federal immigration authorities exposed a sharp partisan divide in the Legislature on how the state, which has about 800,000 undocumented immigrants, should enforce immigration laws. Pensacola News Journal via Naples Daily News, 5/4/19; Florida Phoenix, 5/2/19; SB 168
  • Last-minute legislative amendment penalizes anyone who challenges Florida development. While governments are still allowed to require new developments to include some affordable housing, they havArticles from these Florida news publications are among the sources I used in writing this post: Daily Commercial, Daytona Beach News-Journal, Florida Today, Florida Phoenix, Florida Watchdog, Gainesville Sun, Miami-Herald, Naples Daily News, Orlando Sentinel, Palm Beach Post, Pensacola News Journal, Politico Florida, Sun Sentinel, Sunshine State News, Tampa Bay Times.e to repay the developer for any financial losses that result. Florida Phoenix, 5/7/19; HB 7103
    • Related: Editorial: After a decade on life support, Florida just killed growth management. Orlando Sentinel, 5/8/19; HB 7103
  • Florida will spend about $200 million on affordable housing next year, most of it in the Panhandle areas devastated by Hurricane Michael. The total is double what the state spent last year on affordable housing, but it falls far short of what the Governor wanted. Tampa Bay Times, 4/27/19
    • Related: Editorial: DeSantis must confront lawmakers over immoral grab of affordable housing money. Orlando Sentinel, 5/6/19
  • Legislature sends criminal justice reform to DeSantis, but advocates see mixed victory. Tampa Bay Times, 5/3/19; Sun Sentinel, 4/29/19; HB 7125
  • Legislature approves ban on texting while driving. It makes texting while driving a primary offense instead of a secondary offense and requires drivers to go totally hands-free when operating wireless communications devices in school zones and in construction zones when workers are present. Palm Beach Post, 4/29/19; HB 107
  • Alligator Alley fire station be partially funded by state, Collier residents. Sen. Passidomo pushed for approval of the legislation and said around 10 percent of incidents that occur on Alligator Alley involve Collier County residents. Naples Daily News, 5/10/19
  • Finally, Assignment of Benefits reform bill heads to an eager DeSantis. Passage of the bill was a major victory for insurers and business groups. News Service of Florida via Sunshine State News, 4/24/19; HB 7065
______________

Articles from these Florida news publications are among the sources I used in writing this post: 
Daily Commercial, Daytona Beach News-Journal, Florida Today, Florida Phoenix, Florida Watchdog, Gainesville Sun, Miami-Herald, Naples Daily News, Orlando Sentinel, Palm Beach Post, Pensacola News Journal, Politico Florida, Sun Sentinel, Sunshine State News, Tampa Bay Times.
________________

Funding for Projects Benefiting our Region


“Of the budget projects I sponsored this year, Collier, Hendry, and Lee County received about $8.6 million in funding in this year's budget,” wrote Sen. Passidomo in her May 6 Legislative Update email. They are:
  • $2 million for the City of Clewiston C-21 Bridge Canal Crossing
  • $1.2 million for Naples Bay Red Tide/Septic Tank Mitigation
  • $1 million to connect Airglades Airport to the City of Clewiston Wastewater Treatment Plant
  • $650,000 for Auditory Oral Intervention for Children with Hearing Loss
  • $500,000 for the Marco Island South Barfield Drive Drainage Project
  • $500,000 for Marco Island-Barrier Island Emergency Fire Services
  • $500,000 for Destination Graduation
  • $381,000 for City of Clewiston Storm Spill Prevention
  • $312,500 for Plantation Island Hurricane Irma Waterway Recovery
  • $279,000 for the David Lawrence Center Wraparound Collier Program
  • $250,000 for Florida Network: Stop Now and Plan for Children
  • $250,000 for Learning for Life (Boy Scouts Program)
  • $110,000 for City of LaBelle Emergency Generators
  • $100,000 for Caloosahatchee River Aqua Vegetation
  • $87,000 for Lehigh Acres Caloosahatchee River & Estuary Storage & Treatment
  • $85,000 for Lighthouse for the Blind - Collier County
  • $75,000 for Jewish Family and Community Services of SWFL - Dementia Respite & Support

Thursday, May 2, 2019

State News in Review - April 2019

The Florida Legislature is expected to wrap up its 2019 session this weekend, so I’ll save those highlights for next week. In this Month in Review, I’ll focus on where our elected Governor, Cabinet, and congressional representatives have been focusing their attention. It's a good opportunity to see if their priorities and values align with our own.

Governor Ron DeSantis

  • DeSantis taps new Florida surgeon general, brings back drug office to fight opioid epidemic. Tampa Bay Times, 4/1/19
  • DeSantis announces task force on opioid crisis. Associated Press via Naples Daily News, 4/1/19
  • DeSantis names Florida's first chief science officer. Treasure Coast Newspapers via Naples Daily News, 4/1/19
  • DeSantis: Collier County will receive $40.9 million for Irma recovery reimbursement. Naples Daily News, 4/9/19
  • DeSantis appoints “Alligator Ron” Bergeron to SFWMD board after ethics panel gives OK. Treasure Coast Newspapers, 4/12/19
  • DeSantis agrees to make Spanish-language ballots available statewide. Florida Phoenix, 4/12/19
  • DeSantis seeks free speech resolution allowing controversial speakers at Florida universities. Tampa Bay Times, 4/16/19
  • DeSantis to hold Cabinet meeting in Israel May 25-31. News Service of Florida, 4/10/19
  • DeSantis picks panel to tackle ‘massive’ blue-green algae problem. Miami-Herald, 4/29/19
  • Senate confirms DeSantis’ embattled pick to run Florida’s $29 billion Medicaid agency. Florida Phoenix, 5/1/19
  • "I want to stand for freedom, but some of that stuff can be touchy," DeSantis says of U.S. and Venezuela. Florida Phoenix, 5/1/19

Attorney General Ashley Moody

  • Moody issues consumer alert for tax, identity scams. Press Release, 3/26/19
  • AG rejects county E-Verify proposal; says Legislature has ‘exclusive prerogative’. News Service of Florida via News4Jax.com, 4/1/19

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis

  • Patronis: Weigh the risks before you merge health records with Alexa. Press Release, Florida Daily, 4/15/19
  • Patronis announces Scam Tracker partnership to help inform Floridians of growing trends and emerging scams in their area. Press Release, News4Jax, 4/22/19

Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried

  • Processing time for gun permits one-third faster under Fried. The Capitolist 3/30/19
  • Fried highlights Fresh From Florida partnership with Subway. Press Release, 4/4/19
  • Fried: Don’t mess with medical marijuana potency. Florida Phoenix, 4/8/19
  • Fried seeks money for more gun license processing. Orlando Sentinel, 4/17/19
  • Fried: 'Sanctuary cities' bill threatens Florida's entire agriculture industry. Tallahassee Democrat, 4/17/19
  • Fried: Health insurers should cover medical marijuana. Tallahassee Democrat via Naples Daily News, 4/18/19

Senator Rick Scott

  • Scott backs effort to expand suicide-prevention, mental health services for law enforcement. Florida Daily, 4/5/19
  • Scott co-sponsors legislation to protect individuals with pre-existing conditions. Press Release, 4/10/19
  • Scott wants U.S. military to deliver aid in Venezuela. Miami-Herald, 4/11/19
    • Related: What’s next for US-Venezuela policy? A conversation with Sen. Rick Scott. American Enterprise Institute, 4/11/19
    • Related: Scott says Venezuela could become ‘Syria’ if Maduro not ousted. Miami Herald, 4/25/19
    • Related: Pushing to deploy the U.S. military, Rick Scott helps to shape Trump’s Venezuela policy. Washington Post, 5/1/19
    • Related: Venezuela crisis resonates loudly in battleground Florida, PBS.org, 2/3/19
  • Scott asks FBI for details on reported Russian meddling in Florida’s elections. TheHill.com, 4/19/19; Press Release, 4/19/19
    • Related: FBI to discuss Florida election hacking with Scott, DeSantis. Politico Florida, 4/25/19

Senator Marco Rubio

  • Rubio reintroduces bipartisan bill to help law enforcement investigate fentanyl, protect officers. Press Release, 3/27/19
  • Rubio proposes ‘opportunity zones’ offering tax breaks for disaster area investment. Florida Politics, 4/3/19
  • Rubio wants answers from Energy Secretary Perry on DOE helping Saudi Arabia’s nuclear ambitions. Florida Daily, 4/3/19
  • Rubio wants stiff sanctions to deter Russia election meddling. Reuters.com, 4/3/19; Press Release, 4/3/19
  • Rubio urges full accountability for Khashoggi's assassination, determination about responsibility of Saudi Crown Prince. Press Release, 4/9/19
  • Rubio votes to confirm new Interior Secretary; is confident ban on drilling off of Florida’s coasts will remain in place. Press Release, 4/10/19
  • Rubio concerned with Russians in Mueller report. Florida Politics, 4/19/19
  • Rubio conducts Senate Intelligence oversight trip in support of counterterrorism operations in East Africa. Press Release, 4/19/19
  • Rubio urges revolution as Guaidรณ declares start of 'final phase’. Newsweek, 4/30/19

Congressman Francis Rooney

  • Rooney wants to cut off funds to sanctuary cities despite voting against Trump on immigration. Florida Daily, 3/31/19; Press Release, 3/26/19
  • Rooney leads bipartisan Florida delegation urging Appropriations Committee to fully fund Everglades Restoration. Press Release, 4/3/19
  • Rooney wants to end chain migration, fund border security “at the level requested by President Trump.” Florida Daily, 4/14/19; Press Release, 4/10/19
  • Rooney calls on Army Corps of Engineers to monitor toxic algae. Florida Daily, 4/15/19
  • Rooney calls on EPA not to change mercury and air toxics standards. Sunshine State News, 4/23/19
  • Rooney brings together federal, state and local officials for harmful algal bloom event; CDC, EPA, NOAA to attend. Press Release, 4/23/19
    • Related: Public, media excluded from upcoming Rooney roundtable. News-Press via Naples Daily News, 4/30/19
  • Rooney requests hearing to consider effects of damaging chemicals on coral reefs. Press Release, 4/29/19; HR 1834

Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart

  • Diaz-Balart joins Democrats in vote to expand domestic violence law, defying NRA. Politico.com, 4/4/19
  • Diaz-Balart backs instant background checks and “Safe to Tell” school security bills. Sunshine State News, 4/17/19; Press Release, 4/4/19
  • Diaz-Balart, Shalala introduce Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Nicaraguans. Press Release, 5/1/19

Monday, April 29, 2019

Local news In Review - April 2019

April's news includes several examples of community members affecting elected officials' decision-making, which reminded me: those officials and our governing bodies publish newsletters, alerts and press releases to let us know what’s happening before decisions are made so that we, too, can weigh in. At the end of this post, I list some you might want to signup for. 

Top stories: community members turned out to oppose several projects being considered by the County Commission or Planning Board; after months of discussion and community input, the Naples City Council approved the Naples Beach Hotel redevelopment plan; the Marco Island City Council approved an ordinance requiring a supermajority vote for major capital expenses; and the North Collier Fire Control and Rescue District Commissioners named a new fire chief. For these and other stories about our local government, read on.

Board of County Commissioners

Reporting and insight by Brent Batten, Laura Layden and Patrick Riley - Naples Daily News
Next elections: August 2020 Primary. Find your commission district HERE.

Growth, development, and redevelopment

  • Collier commissioners approve Whippoorwill Lane extension. In response to resident concerns about traffic, noise and safety, the project will include a new traffic signal at Livingston Road and Marbella Lakes Drive, roundabouts, raised medians, and narrower lanes to help slow traffic along the roads. Naples Daily News, 04/09/19
  • Related: Editorial: Collier road network needs long-planned Whippoorwill-Marbella link. Naples Daily News, 4/11/19
  • Brent Batten: Too much success on Bayshore? Commissioner Donna Fiala was taken aback when fellow commissioner Burt Saunders suggested that the county put an early expiration date on the Bayshore Gateway Triangle Community Redevelopment Agency. Naples Daily News, 4/13/19
  • Planning Commission delays vote on proposed mixed-use project. Community members filled commission chambers to express concerns about the project at Immokalee Road and Collier Boulevard. Naples Daily News, 4/18/19
  • Proposed garage at Clam Pass Park raises concerns. County staff plans to meet with nearby neighborhoods and communities before returning to the County Commission for direction. Naples Daily News, 4/21/19
  • Commissioners delay decision on offers for 47-acre Golden Gate Estates property. County staff had recommended they accept the offer of the highest bidder to create "a quality, vibrant mixed-use development to serve the needs of the rapidly growing eastern Collier County population.” Naples Daily News, 4/23/19
  • Commissioners want new leadership for Collier County's business accelerators. Economic Incubators Inc., the nonprofit tasked with operating the Naples and Immokalee accelerators, will lose control of the county accelerator program following longstanding questions about how the organization has spent its money, managed the program and delivered results. Naples Daily News, 4/29/19

Other County news

  • Commissioners signal desire to reconsider short-term vacation rentals vote. After pushback from the industry, they voted 3-2 to bring the matter back at their next meeting. Naples Daily News, 04/09/19
  • County may buy North Naples fire station to keep EMS there. Commissioner Saunders said he considers EMS one of the most important services the county provides and isn't "particularly concerned about the capital cost." Naples Daily News, 4/11/19
  • Commissioners try to lure mystery company, 80 new jobs. The company, identified as “Project Peak,” could receive up to $320,000 from the state and $80,000 from the county for an “expansion of the corporate headquarters and medical device manufacturing project.” Naples Daily News, 4/24/19

Naples City Council

Reporting and insight by Brent Batten and Lisa Conley - Naples Daily News
Next elections: February 2020; City boundary map here.
  • Planning board approves new luxury movie theater at Coastland Center. If City Council approves it at its May 1 meeting, demolition is to begin by the end of May with a tentative opening of late 2020. Naples Daily News, 4/10/19
  • Residents say Naples' septic tank replacement project has been poorly managed, extremely disruptive. The project is a joint venture with the city in charge of the utilities portion and the county responsible for the stormwater portion of the project. Naples Daily News, 4/14/19
  • Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club redevelopment plan approved by City Council. The vote was unanimous, although councilors Ray Christman and Terry Hutchison separately opposed the exclusion of a third party from the “negative easement” that will protect the golf course as green space. Naples Daily News, 4/17/19
  • Bill Barnett seeks fifth term as Naples mayor. Barnett, 78, has served as either a council member or mayor on and off since 1984 when he was first elected to the City Council. Naples Daily News, 4/18/19

Marco Island City Council

Reporting by Devan Patel - Naples Daily News / Marco Eagle
Next elections: November 2020
  • Marco council approves ordinance requiring supermajority vote for major capital expenses. By a 4-3 vote, approval will be more difficult for capital purchases that are greater than 10 percent of the average of the last four years of general fund revenues. Marco Eagle, 4/23/19
  • City council sets meeting to interview Marco Island city manager candidates. They will host the five finalists from May 5-7 and hold a special meeting on the final day for a public interview session. Marco Eagle, 4/23/19
Meanwhile, turmoil continued as interim City Manager David Harden dealt with the departure of Police Chief Al Schettino:
  • MIPD, police supporters organize to keep chief. Emails from police personnel and comments from supporters of the department show events at the City Council meeting, which included armed officers in uniform entering council chambers to support the chief, were orchestrated to undermine the authority of the city manager. Marco Eagle, 4/4/19
  • EEOC complaint details Marco police discrimination, information leaks, potential perjury. The complaint not only alleges gender discrimination but states that Chief Schettino leaked information about a battery investigation into the former city manager and along with a former councilman, sought his ouster. Marco Eagle, 4/12/19
  • Marco city manager says police chief decision stands. Harden’s decision to seek new leadership for the department appears unwavering despite overwhelming support for the embattled chief. Marco Eagle via Naples Daily News, 4/16/19

Collier County School Board

Reporting by Rachel Fradette - Naples Daily News; Heather Doane - Leadership Collier Foundation
Next elections: August 2020
  • Superintendent Kamela Patton honored as 2019 Leadership alumna. “In light of Dr. Patton’s game-changing leadership in public education and CCPS’s annual participation in our Leadership Collier Foundation programs, we felt she was most deserving of this recognition,” said Michael Dalby, CEO - Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce. Naples Daily News, 4/12/19
  • Collier School Board proposes changes to student code of conduct. It considers expanding its zero tolerance policy relating to weapons on campus to include “simulation” of gun use. The annual review of policies will continue at the board’s next meeting. Naples Daily News, 4/17/19
  • Collier, Lee educators join statewide 'walk-in' for more state funding. Collier School Board member Stephanie Lucarelli, who joined walk-in at the Barron Collier High School, said her participation shows that the district and School Board support more state funding. All Collier School Board members were expected to participate in a walk-in, according to the union. Naples Daily News, 4/17/19

Fire Districts

Reporting by Jake Allen - Naples Daily News
Next elections: August 2020. Find your fire district HERE.
  • North Collier Fire Control and Rescue District approves contract for new chief. Deputy Chief Eloy Ricardo, a 19-year veteran of the district and Florida’s 2018 Professional Firefighter of the Year, will replace retiring Chief James Cunningham. Naples Daily News, 4/11/19
  • Opinion: Moving technology forward to better the community. Automating the 9-1-1 countywide dispatch system and removing 1960s-era VHF audio tones from dispatch broadcasts are helping fire agencies move toward goal of a 240-second arrival 90 percent of the time. By J. Christopher Lombardo, Chairman - North Collier Fire Control and Rescue District via Naples Daily News, 4/23/19

That’s it for April’s local news. Next up: State News in Review!


Sunday, April 7, 2019

Local news In Review - March+ 2019

The biggest news in this “March” update happened on April 2 when Ray Christman won the Naples City Council Special Election. The Naples Daily News editorialized that “the facts of his win — a majority total in a four-person election; prevailing over a runner-up with citywide name recognition and two other candidates with strengths of their own; a higher-than-expected turnout and a rejection of the endorsements of the council majority — indicate the status quo does not sit well with residents.” I’ll say! 

In other news: growth, development and redevelopment decisions continued to dominate County Commission meetings; the County’s sales tax oversight committee had its first meetings and votes were not unanimous; crackdowns on vacation rentals are coming soon; the beautiful new Baker Park is open for business; and more. Read on!

Board of County Commissioners
Reporting and insight by Tim Aten, Brent Batten, Liz Freeman, Laura Layden and Patrick Riley - Naples Daily News; NBC-2 News; WINK News
Next elections: August 2020 Primary. Find your commission district HERE.

Growth, development, and redevelopment

  • Collier officials present plans to spur Golden Gate redevelopment. Commissioner Burt Saunders, whose district includes Golden Gate, favors aspects of the proposal, but some residents worry it may do more harm than good. Naples Daily News, 4/3/19
    • Related: Plan for labs, lofts, arts and shops along Bayshore in East Naples draws interest, skepticism. Naples Daily News, 2/12/19
  • Commissioners approve $400,000 land purchase for Vanderbilt Beach Road extension. Commissioner Bill McDaniel said the $100 million project is essential for the demands of the growing Golden Gate Estates community. NBC2 News, 3/12/19
  • An uncertain future for the Golden Gates Golf Course. While there is nothing set in stone, commissioners believe the location is a good site for development. WINK News, 3/11/19
    • Related: Brent Batten: Putting the public in the idea of a public golf course. Naples Daily News, 3/19/19
  • Work begins at long-stalled Davis Crossing building. The project on the southwest corner of Davis and Collier boulevards, that still needs final permits, is targeted to be ready for tenant build-out by the end of the year. Naples Daily News, 3/11/19
  • East Naples Triangle site targeted for redevelopment is back on the market — again. The buyer had a change of heart due to a disagreement with the County's planning and zoning officials over how many hotel rooms can be built on the roughly 2-acre site. Naples Daily News, 3/10/19
  • Brent Batten: For growth to east, Collier County set to borrow $77 million for water plants. Two wastewater treatment plants, a 7.5-million-gallon tank potable water storage tank and another tank for irrigation water are just a precursor of things to come. Naples Daily News, 3/9/19
  • As Collier population increases, county leaders grapple with long-range planning for growth. In a recent workshop, they focused on a variety of growth-related questions, from what type of housing younger residents are seeking to how to push developers to build communities in line with the county’s vision. Naples Daily News, 3/5/19
  • From town to village: Collier Enterprises plans 1,000-acre Rivergrass Village development in eastern Collier. Revised plans by Collier Enterprises could include up to 2,500 homes, golf course. Naples Daily News, 3/1/19
    • Related: Editorial: Scaled-back plans welcome, but private property rights can't be ignored. Naples Daily News, 3/7/19

Local Option Sales Tax

  • Collier sales tax advisory board narrowly approves Big Corkscrew Island Regional Park. Those who opposed spending on the project took a narrow view of the intent of voters, which County Attorney Jeffrey Klatzkow said could jeopardize other projects as well. Naples Daily News, 4/3/19
  • Collier road projects, animal shelter improvements move forward. A citizen oversight committee signed off on the projects and continued another to their next meeting on April 3. Patrick Riley, Naples Daily News, 3/6/19

Other County news

  • Collier County explores making its beaches wider, taller. Beach renourishment projects are funded through the county's tourist tax, a 5 percent levy on short-term rentals of six months or less and hotel stays. Naples Daily News, 4/1/19
  • Collier County to crack down on vacation rentals. Commissioners voted 4-1 to direct county staff to enforce existing rules that ban owners from renting their homes for less than six months in most residential areas outside city limits. Naples Daily News, 3/27/19 
    • Related: County's decision to crack down on vacation rentals stirs opposition. Naples Daily News, 3/30/19
  • Collier County commission votes 3-2 not to abolish controversial PACE financing program despite consumer protection worries. Commissioners Donna Fiala and Penny Taylor voted no. Naples Daily News, 3/26/10

Naples City Council
Reporting and insight by Brent Batten and Lisa Conley - Naples Daily News
Next elections: February 2020; City boundary map here.
  • Naples Bay artificial oyster reef project gets underway. The goal is to revive the oyster population, which plays an essential role in improving water quality. Naples Daily News, 4/5/19
  • Naples to spend its $25.8 million share of county sales tax money on hurricane preparedness, safety improvements. While Council members unanimously supported some of the 12 proposed projects, they questioned the necessity and cost of others. Naples Daily News, 4/3/19
  • Ray Christman wins Naples City Council special election. With 50.8 percent of the vote in a four-way race, he will be sworn in during a City Council meeting on April 17. Naples Daily News, 4/2/19
    • Related: Editorial: Christman's City Council win signals voters aren't satisfied with status quo. Naples Daily News, 4/4/19
  • Naples City Council to reinstate fertilizer blackout period. The majority of Councilors directed staff to reinstate a rainy season blackout period and ban the use of phosphorous year-round unless a certified soil test shows a deficiency. Naples Daily News, 3/18/19
  • Naples opens part of Baker Park along Gordon River after years of planning and construction. The project started taking shape in May 2013 when the City Council approved the purchase of about 7 acres near land that once was the city's landfill and 5 acres of mangrove forest along the Gordon River. Naples Daily News, 3/15/19
    • Related: Everything you need to know about Baker Park — including its location. Naples Daily News, 4/1/19
  • Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club redevelopment plan approved by planning board. Since the proposal first appeared before the board, the developer has made some changes to address expressed concerns. Naples Daily News, 3/13/19

Marco Island City Council
Reporting by Devan Patel - Naples Daily News / Marco Eagle
Next elections: November 2020
  • Marco city manager search down to five candidates. The goal is to have the new manager in place by August. Marco Eagle via Naples Daily News, 4/3/19
  • Recruitment process begins for next Marco Island police chief. The Florida Police Chiefs Association STARS Program will assist in the search. Marco Eagle via Naples Daily News, 4/1/19
  • Marco City Council approves Veterans' Community Park master plan. Community input and outreach determined that the top-4 infrastructure improvements sought by the community were restrooms, a band shell, increased shade and landscaping. Marco Eagle, 3/22/19
  • Florida DOT to fix lighting for Marco Island. The Jolley Bridge, the “washboard road” and new stretch of road on US 41E from 951 to Greenway Road will see improvements. DonnasTidbits, 3/18/19

Collier County School Board
Reporting by Kristine Gill - Florida Weekly
Next elections: August 2020
  • Collier Schools gear up to hire hundreds of new teachers…again. By the beginning of next school year, the District anticipates having to fill 375 open teaching positions as the result of growth and attrition. Naples Florida Weekly, 3/14/19

Fire Districts
Reporting by Jake Allen - Naples Daily News
Next elections: August 2020. Find your fire district HERE.
  • Greater Naples Fire Rescue District received new firefighting apparatus with financial assistance of the Golden Gate Land Trust. The state-of-the-art vehicle will be housed at Fire Station 71 located at 100 13th Street SW replacing the station's previous vehicle decommissioned last year after more than 20 years of service. Chief Schuldt's Weekly Email, 4/3/19
  • North Collier Fire Control and Rescue District selects Eloy Ricardo as new fire chief. Chief Jamie Cunningham informed commissioners of his retirement plans last year. Naples Daily News, 3/20/19
  • Immokalee fire officials blame budget issues for delayed response to fatal chainsaw accident. The firefighters needed a ladder truck to rescue the worker, but the district had sold its only one last year. Naples Daily News, 3/7/19

That’s it for March’s local news. Enjoy your April — be healthy and happy.



Sunday, March 31, 2019

State News in Review - March 2019

Last month, I reviewed some of the many things that were happening in the weeks leading up to the start of the 2019 Legislative session. Today I’ll pick up where I left off.

The Legislature convened on March 5 and is now half-way through its eight-week session.

Gov. DeSantis opened the session pledging more money for the environment while outlining proposals to expand school vouchers, boost vocational education, give teachers bonuses and ban “sanctuary” cities. Miami-Herald; Text of Address; YouTube

Following DeSantis’ speech, Senate President Galvano addressed the Senate's session, quoting Lincoln and urging moderation (Tampa Bay Times) and House Speaker Oliva outlined his priorities for the session: health care and higher education (News Service of Florida via WLRN.org).

Most of the almost 3500 proposed bills filed won’t make it through their assigned committees, let alone to the Governor’s desk for signature. Nonetheless, I think it’s important for us to know what our elected representatives are working on. As you skim through this post, perhaps you, like me, will ask: What problems are these bills trying to solve? Are they focused on my community’s and my state’s most significant priorities?

In addition to highlighting the month’s Legislative activity, I’ll share some of what our elected Cabinet members and State and Federal representatives are doing. If we don’t monitor how they’re using their authority, how will we decide if they deserve to be reelected?

As a reminder, all elected officials representing Collier voters are Republicans except for Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried, who is a Democrat. If you’re new to Collier County, as many of my readers are, you might find my Recap and reflections on the November elections helpful in putting my State News posts in context.

In the Legislative Branch

K-12 Education
  • Bill requiring school elective Bible course OK’d in House. In addition to constitutional issues, some lawmakers are concerned about exposing school districts to potentially costly lawsuits without providing them with any money or financial protection. apnews.com, 3/7/19; HB 195
  • House takes steps to eliminate controversial teacher test. The General Knowledge exam “has probably outlived its usefulness," sponsor Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, says. Tampa Bay Times, 3/7/19; HB 7061
  • House panel approves school voucher expansion for middle-class families. The House bill, which is literally twice the size of what the governor and Senate proposed, would create 28,000 new "scholarships" that could be used at private schools and that, eventually, would be available to students with family incomes nearing $97,000 a year. Orlando Sentinel, 3/14/19; HB 7075
    • Related: School voucher plan could be key test for new Florida Supreme Court. Herald-Tribune, 3/8/19
  • Florida lawmakers propose ‘parental rights’ law. It asserts parents’ authority in making decisions about school choice, objecting to classroom materials, and more, and would require school districts to adopt detailed policies promoting parental involvement. Tampa Bay Times, 3/21/19; SB 1726
  • Voucher program for bullied kids is off to a slow and confusing start. As of March 1, 91 students have been awarded Hope Scholarships, and the Department of Education is cracking down on school districts to ensure they’re notifying parents of the program. Florida Phoenix, 3/25/19; SB 1410
  • School book removal bill overhauled before first committee stop. The revision removed most of the controversial provisions, but activists expect to keep on top of it to the end. Tampa Bay Times, 3/25/19; HB 855
  • School board term limits inch closer to 2020 ballot. A resolution to ask voters to decide whether “Eight is Enough” for Florida school board members is headed to the state House floor. Tampa Bay Times, 3/28/19; HJR 229/SJR 274

Regulation of Firearms
  • Legislature advances proposal to let more people carry guns around schools. It would repeal a state law that gives school boards the right to prohibit anyone over the age of 18 from parking on a school campus with a gun securely locked in their vehicle. Florida Politics, 3/12/19; HB 6005/SB 996
  • House advances school security bill that would allow armed teachers. The 36-page bill would allow school districts to let teachers voluntarily participate in the state’s armed guardian program if they survive a rigorous background check and complete required training. Tampa Bay Times, 3/21/19; SB 7030; HB 7093
  • Lawmakers consider allowing guns at churches on school property. A proposal would allow leaders of a religious institution to authorize and establish rules for a person who has a license to carry a concealed firearm when on property it owns, rents or is otherwise lawfully using. Tampa Bay Times, 3/26/19; SB 1238; HB 403

Voting and Elections
  • House Committee passes Amendment 4 bill, requires ex-felons to pay. Democrats on the committee charged that the proposal would impose "a poll tax" on ex-felons to have their voting rights restored. Tallahassee Democrat, 3/19/19; PCB CRJ 19-03
  • Elections bill would give Florida more time to count ballots. The proposal mostly seeks to address concerns raised during the 2018 midterm elections. News Service of Florida via Bradenton Herald, 3/21/19; HB 7101; SB 7066
  • Critics say lawmakers are thwarting voters again – this time about criminal sentencing changes. Inmates who could benefit from Amendment 11 may remain stuck doing time, depending on how lawmakers decide to implement it. Florida Phoenix, 3/26/19; SB 1656; SB 704
  • Lawmakers cite “foreign entities” as reason to restrict citizen-led constitutional amendments. A bill would require people who gather petition signatures to be Florida residents, to register with the Secretary of State’s office, and to not be paid per signature, as is the case currently. Florida Phoenix, 3/28/19; SPB 7096

Preemption of Local Control
  • Legislature moves to stamp out local laws. A bill to prevent any local government from regulating businesses has the backing of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Retail Federation and Associated Industries of Florida. Florida Phoenix, 3/7/19; HB 3/SB 1748
    • Related: Opinion: State legislators are up to the same old tricks. By Karson Turner, president of the Florida Association of Counties and a Hendry County Commissioner, via Tallahassee Democrat, 3/1/19
  • Legislature wants to make it harder for county voters to say ‘yes’ to new taxes. While Florida lawmakers often squawk that Washington frequently overreaches into states, the Legislature does the same to counties. Herald-Tribune, 3/24/19; HB 5, SB 336, SB 1040
  • House targets Airbnb as it moves to preempt local rules on home rentals. Ordinances passed by local governments to restrict their use or impose standards would not apply. Orlando Sentinel, 3/26/19; HB 987
  • Legislature advances measures to stop local governments from banning plastic straws. One would fine any local government that banned straws $25,000; another would prohibit local governments from creating ordinances on a number of issues, including regulating plastic straws. Florida Phoenix, 3/26/19; HB 603; HB 1299
  • Bill would prohibit local governments from regulating employers. It would preempt to the state the right to regulate conditions of employment by an employer and void any existing ordinances. Watchdog.org, 3/27/19; HB 847/SB 432

The Environment
  • Sea level rise bill advances in Florida Senate. The bill mandates that any coastal construction project that receives state funds get a “sea level impact projection” study before commencing. Herald-Tribune, 3/12/19; SB 78
  • Environmental regulation bills start moving in Florida Legislature after algae troubles. Two measures dealing with municipal sewage are the first major algae-related water quality regulation bills to gain traction in the session. Herald-Tribune, 3/12/19; SB 1278; SB 214/HB 85
  • House, Senate bills ban 2 of 3 forms of oil, gas fracking in Florida. Opponents say they don’t go far enough because they would leave in place a rock-dissolving technique called matrix acidizing which could contaminate groundwater supplies. Associated Press via Orlando Sentinel, 3/26/19; HB 7029; HB 239; SB 7064

Health Care
  • DeSantis’ drug importation plan gets Florida House support. One of the bill’s plans would allow the state to import drugs from Canada for Medicaid and prison health care; another would be available to individual residents. Both would need federal approval before being implemented. News-Journal, 3/12/19
  • Don't expect smokable medical marijuana right away. Even though Gov. DeSantis signed the bill into law, it could take weeks or even months before rules are promulgated to make smokable medical marijuana available at state-approved dispensaries. Tallahassee Democrat, 3/15/19 and Tallahassee Democrat via Naples Daily News, 3/19/19; SB 182
  • Firefighters battling cancer look to the Legislature for help. A bill would require cities and counties to create a new compensation and health insurance program for them, but the Florida League of Cities calls it too open-ended. Florida Phoenix, 3/18/19
  • Florida House's free-market overhaul of health care rattles hospitals. The biggest change would end required state approval for a new hospital, called certificate of need, or CON. Orlando Sentinel, 3/29/19; HB 21

Other Legislative News
  • Right to grow front-yard veggies gets green light for Senate floor. ”It’s the principle, but we can’t have someone’s private property rights impacted like that," said Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples. Tampa Bay Times, 3/6/19; SB 82
  • Florida bill defining anti-Semitism as racism advances. Free speech advocates warn the bill faces potential legal challenges unless hate speech directed against Jews is not clearly separated from political criticism of the state of Israel. Watchdog.org, 3/12/19; HB 741/SB 1272
  • Editorial: Bunch of bills might restrict public’s right to see or know. Some are ominous — and in our view, unnecessary — intrusions on First Amendment freedoms and the taxpayers’ right to hold government accountable. Tallahassee Democrat via Naples Daily News, 3/12/19
  • Florida falls in national teacher pay ranking to 46th. Increasing teacher pay lately has come from the Legislature in the form of bonuses, which do not carry a guarantee from year to year, and do not count toward a teacher’s pension. Tampa Bay Times, 3/12/19
  • SFWMD's new governing board names leaders. Chauncey Goss was named as Chairman, Scott Wagner as vice chairman, and Drew Bartlett as the group’s executive director. Florida Politics, 3/14/19; Press Releases
  • SFWMD: Caloosahatchee River reservoir ready in five years. The South Florida Water Management District approved a long-awaited $523 million project that represents one of the final steps in making the “C-43” reservoir built and operational. Fort Myers News-Press via Naples Daily News, 3/14/19
  • Three plans: Governor, Senate, House have 45 days to resolve education budget differences. Per-student funding, teacher bonuses, aid to struggling schools among issues to be reconciled. Florida Watchdog, 3/20/19
  • House seeks tough stance on ‘sanctuary’ cities for noncompliance.“Ifwinknews.com, 3/20/19; HB 527/SB 168
  • Bill puts more teeth in texting-while-driving ban. The measure would shift texting while driving from a “secondary” offense to a “primary” offense. News Service of Florida via Orlando Sentinel, 3/26/19; HB 107, SB 76
  • House Assignment of Benefits (AOB) bill heads to a floor vote in coming week. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Bob Rommel, R-Naples, would make it harder for restoration contractors to collect attorney fees in lawsuits against insurance companies and allow lower premiums for policyholders who give up the right to assign policy benefits. Florida Politics, 3/28/19; HB 7065

In the Florida Cabinet

Attorney General Ashley Moody
  • AG “examining” 10-state lawsuit filed to block underwater blasting that harms whales, dolphins. Florida Phoenix, 3/1/19
  • Florida joins U.S. DOJ and FTC in nationwide sweep to stop tech support scams. Space Coast Daily, 3/10/19
  • Moody helps secure multimillion-dollar recovery in health care fraud scheme investigation. Space Coast Daily, 3/13/19
  • Moody supports proposal to ban sanctuary cities and sue cities that don't cooperate with ICE. News Service of Florida via cltampa.com, 3/19/19; SB 168

Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried
  • Fried appoints Florida’s first LGBTQ consumer advocate. Florida Phoenix, 3/22/19
  • Florida Department of Agriculture declares war on gas skimmers. WUWF, 3/12/19

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis
  • Patronis moves on multiple fronts to expand Florida's fight against fraud. Florida Daily, 3/4/19; ABC7 News, 3/5/19; bizjournals.com, 3/28/19
  • Patronis: Congress must reauthorize Flood Insurance Program; stop states from building in high-risk flood areas. InsuranceNewsNet.com, 3/14/19

In the Judicial Branch

  • Justices delve into ‘stand your ground’ change. Should it apply retroactively? News Service of Florida via The Gainesville Sun, 3/6/19
  • Administrative law judge says school districts must provide security officers to charter schools. News Service of Florida, 3/12/19
  • Florida appellate court weighs 24-hour abortion waiting period. News Service of Florida via Sun Sentinel, 3/26/19

From Collier’s Congressional Delegation

Senator Rick Scott
  • Scott urges GOP colleagues to back Trump on border wall. Washington Examiner, 3/3/19
  • Scott urges U.S. DOT to complete Tamiami Trail, calls it vital to Everglades. Florida Daily, 3/27/19
  • Scott seeking add-ons for Everglades, hurricanes, pre-existing conditions in U.S. Senate budget. Florida Politics, 3/27/19
  • Scott announces Transparent Drug Pricing Act to promote transparency in drug pricing and reduce cost of prescription drugs. Press Release, 3/29/19
  • Scott becomes Trump point man on GOP health care policy. Orlando Sentinel, 3/30/19

Senator Marco Rubio
  • Rubio votes to end Trump's national emergency. Sun Sentinel, 3/14/19
  • Rubio, others, introduce bill giving parents option for paid family leave. Press Release, 3/27/19; Fact Sheet

Congressman Francis Rooney
  • Rooney leads Florida congressional delegation in warding off oil rigs. Florida Politics, 3/2/19; Press Release
  • Rooney takes on the sugar industry, demanding change to the Army Corps of Engineers. WINKNews.com, 3/13/19
  • Brent Batten: Everglades money light in Trump's budget, but Rep. Rooney persisting. Naples Daily News, 3/16/19
  • Rooney files bill to end ‘free speech zones,’ where universities confine political protests. Florida Politics, 3/21/19; HR 1672
  • A multimillionaire construction magnate is Florida’s most pro-environment Republican. Miami-Herald, 3/29/19
  • Rooney wants to end mandated project labor agreements on federal construction projects, saying they discourage non-union competition. Florida Daily, 3/29/19

Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart
  • Diaz-Balart takes new stance on background checks. Miami-Herald, 3/4/19
  • Diaz-Balart among seven Republicans to help pass bill to help close gender pay gap. Roll Call, 3/27/19
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That’s it for March’s state news. Next up: Local News in Review. Stay tuned!