This month, with little fanfare or publicity, online voter registration became available in Florida. County elections supervisors lobbied for it for years, and the Florida legislature approved it two years ago, wrote the Tampa Bay Times.
To me, that’s the most important state news of the month, as it should make it easier for people to register to vote and keep their registration current. New registrations and changes to name, address and party affiliation can be made on the state site here, or through the Collier Supervisor of Elections at colliervotes.com.
Getting to work in Tallahassee
In October, committees began meeting and legislators began filing bills for the 2018 legislative session that begins in January.
Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, who represents Collier County, chairs the powerful Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Pre-K – 12 Education. She is also Vice Chair of the Senate Health Policy Committee.
In the House, Rep. Bob Rommel, who represents western Collier, is Vice Chair of the Oversight, Transparency & Administration Subcommittee. Rep. Byron Donalds, who represents central Collier and Hendry County, is Vice Chair of the PreK–12 Appropriations Subcommittee. And Rep. Carlos Trujillo, who represents eastern Collier and parts of Broward and Miami-Dade counties, chairs the powerful Appropriations Committee and is Alternating Chair of the Joint Legislative Budget Commission
Here are some stories about bills that interest me.
- Lawmakers pitch voucher-like program to help bullied, abused students change schools. Rep. Byron Donalds will be spearheading the legislation. Miami Herald
- Bills on open meetings, tax votes move through Florida Senate. Both, with broad implications for Florida school district operations, are back, having failed to gain traction in the 2017 legislative session. Tampa Bay Times
- Higher education reforms remain top focus for Florida Senate. Undeterred by a veto from Gov. Scott over the summer, Florida Senate leaders are making another go in 2018 at sweeping reforms to the state university system in an effort to make the state’s 12 public universities “world-class destinations.” Miami Herald
- Florida lawmakers unveil legislation restricting pain pill prescriptions. HB 21 restricts standard pain pill prescriptions to a three-day supply but authorizes up to a seven-day supply in cases where an “acute medical condition” makes it “medically necessary.” Herald-Tribune
- Sen. Passidomo offers bill to help opioid babies. The proposed pilot project in SB 434 would allow private, non-profit organizations to establish facilities to provide 24-hour care, require background checks before licenses are issued, reduced fees to make it affordable, and require accepting Medicaid. News-Press
- Sen. Passidomo proposes tax holiday for disaster preparedness supplies. If SB 620 is passed, shoppers will not have to pay sales tax on eligible items and supplies purchased between June 1–10, 2018, that can be used to prepare for and recover from natural disasters. Press Release
- Republicans attempt another statewide fracking ban, but SB 462/HB 237 faces a tough journey without an environmental study. Naples Daily News
- Related: Conservancy calls for legislators to protect water resources, ban fracking. Commentary by Nicole Johnson, Director of Environmental Policy – Conservancy of Southwest Florida via Naples Daily News
- House wants local tourist tax spending public, repurposed. A trio of bills House Speaker Richard Corcoran unveiled would force local tourism and economic development agencies to publicize lucrative contracts, undergo regular audits and stop using trade secrets to hide financial deals. Tallahassee Democrat
- Senate workshop on vacation rentals previews upcoming legislative fight. Lawmakers attacking vacation rentals ordinances say the state needs a uniform rule that protects property rights. TCPalm
- Florida House bill would ban pro-sports stadiums on public land. The fast-tracking of the stadium bill (HB 13) signals House leaders’ opposition to using public dollars for private ventures. Palm Beach Post
- Related: Tallahassee plots a coup against local governments. It’s not the responsibility of state legislators to impose one-size-fits-all rules from Tallahassee. Editorial, Orlando Sentinel
Getting to work in the 2017–18 Florida Constitution Revision Commission
Every 20 years in Florida, a Constitution Revision Commission is appointed. It meets for approximately one year, traveling across the state, identifying issues, performing research and possibly recommending changes to the Florida Constitution. It holds public hearings to learn about issues that matter to Floridians and considers proposed constitutional amendments submitted by the public and by commissioners.
Over 2,000 public proposals were submitted to the 2017–18 CRC by the deadline of October 6; list here.
Out of the 2,000-plus ideas, the commission agreed to “sponsor” (i.e. consider further) only six (list here) — an acceptance rate of .3 percent. The League of Women Voters of Florida and 10 other organizations protested this result in a letter to the CRC Chairman and Commission members:
(You) issued a stunning rejection of the thousands of Floridians who invested considerable time and effort to share their ideas and draft proposals for improving their constitution…. (T)his commission’s actions are brazenly dismissive of the concerns and suggestions of Floridians.
October 31 is the deadline for commissioners to submit their own proposals. Over 40 were submitted through October 28; list here. Of note:
- Ballot proposal draws concern from abortion-rights backers. A measure under consideration by the Constitution Revision Commission would limit privacy rights. Orlando Sentinel, DECLARATION OF RIGHTS, Right of privacy – P 22
- Related: Constitution Revision Commission might take away Floridians’ privacy., Commentary by Howard L. Simon, executive director – American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, via Orlando Sentinel
- Leaders consider proposed Florida Constitution amendment to let more felons vote. The revision would apply only to felons who have committed nonviolent and nonsexual crimes. Naples Daily News, SUFFRAGE AND ELECTIONS, Disqualifications – P 7
- Related: Florida’s felon vote: Destroying lives and wasting taxpayer dollars. Commentary by Martin Dyckman, former associate editor – Tampa Bay Times and Darryl Paulson, emeritus professor of government – USF St. Petersburg, via Tampa Bay Times
- Leaders consider amending Florida’s closed primaries law. Florida primaries are open to voters of all political affiliations, but only when the candidates are from the same party. Naples Daily News, SUFFRAGE AND ELECTIONS, Primary, general, and special elections – P 11
- Related: Write-in candidates: Close loophole, open primaries to every voter. Editorial, Tallahassee Democrat via Naples Daily News
Also of note: CRC Commissioner Erika Donalds, a Collier County School Board member who is married to Rep. Byron Donalds, submitted five proposed amendments. They are:
- DECLARATION OF RIGHTS – P 18 – establishes “the inalienable right of all persons to pursue an honest trade, vocation, occupation, or career”
- SUFFRAGE AND ELECTIONS – P 31 – removes the requirement that a method of public financing for campaigns for statewide office be established by law
- EDUCATION – P 32 – provides that members of the State Board of Education, district school boards, state university boards of trustees, and the Board of Governors of the State University System shall serve without compensation…
- Related: Are Florida school board members paid too much? Florida lawmakers proposed ending school board salaries back in 2011, one of several attempts to affect board members who opposed policies coming from the state. It didn’t pass. Tampa Bay Times
- EDUCATION – P 33 – requires that the superintendent of schools of a school district be appointed by the district school board
- Related: Should Florida’s school superintendents be elected or appointed? Of the 67 districts in the state, 44 place superintendents in office through elections every four years. Tampa Bay Times
- Collier voters chose many years ago to have the Superintendent appointed by the School Board.
- EDUCATION – P 43 – establishes term limits for members of district school boards.
Call to action: If there is a proposed amendment that you do not want to see moved forward to the 2018 ballot, let your voice be heard! The CRC will consider public input on proposals prior to their final vote. You can email Commissioners directly here.
Other top stories
- Florida budget woes go from bad to worse after Irma. Budget analysts had already predicted a $1.6 billion budget shortfall by 2020, caused by spending decisions in Tallahassee and an increase in the school and Medicaid populations that outpace revenue growth. On top of that is Irma, which has already caused the state to use $141 million in rainy day funds. The Florida Times-Union
- Pension numbers increase budget pressure. Lowering the expected rate of return on Florida’s $154 billion pension fund will put more pressure on lawmakers as they craft a new state budget. The decrease from a 7.6 percent return to 7.5 percent will require an additional $124 million in state funding in the 2018–2019 budget to keep the pension fund financially sound. The Ledger
- Hurricane Irma will be ‘quite expensive’ for FPL customers. How much to charge customers, and for how long, ultimately will be decided by the Public Service Commission, the appointed board that has regulatory power over utilities in Florida. Naples Daily News
- Related: Time to think reforms to Florida Public Service Commission. Regulated utilities in Florida, especially those with deep financial pockets for political donations and lobbyists, attain undue influence over the regulators, according to a new report by Integrity Florida. Opinion, TC Palm
- Voters give Gov. Scott high marks for Irma, but thumbs down on evacs. Voters’ overall satisfaction with how Scott managed the storm can’t be good for U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who is likely to face-off against the governor in his bid for re-election next year. News Service of Florida
An important exposé
- Schools Without Rules: An Orlando Sentinel Investigation. The Sentinel spent months reporting on Florida’s scholarship programs, which will send nearly $1 billion to private schools this year. It also reviewed thousands of pages of Florida Department of Education documents, court records and other materials and interviewed dozens of people, including parents, students, school operators and policy experts. Orlando Sentinel
- Related: School vouchers gone wild: A serious problem exposed by serious journalism. If voucher supporters actually cared about the safety and education of these children, they wouldn’t make excuses for all the problems exposed here. Commentary by Scott Maxwell, Columnist – Orlando Sentinel
In my next post, I’ll report on October’s top local government and school district news.