It’s a wrap!
After a three-day extension, the Legislature ended its 2017–18 session on Sunday, March 11, with the passage of a $88.7 billion budget. That’s not just a record for the state. It’s more than Gov. Scott’s $87.4 billion request, the House’s $87.2 billion proposal and the Senate’s $87.3 billion bill.
- 10 things to know about Florida’s new budget. It includes more money for schools, some tax cuts and a boost in spending on the state’s environmental land buying program. U.S. News & World Report, 3/11/18
- Parkland tragedy shifted tone, goals of Florida’s session. When Florida lawmakers began their annual 60-day session, two priorities were protecting students from bullies and government workers from sexual harassment. Then on Valentine’s Day, the entire tone and focus of the session turned to protecting schools. Tampa Bay Times, 3/12/18
- Editorial: Kudos & kicks for the 2018 Florida legislative session. Naples Daily News, 3/18/18
- Closing legislative session, Scott vetoes aquifer bill, signs 17 others. Of the 195 bills passed by the Legislature, the governor signed 193 bills and vetoed two. Law.com, 4/9/18
- Impasse resolved; state Medicaid formula doesn’t change. The agreement keeps additional payments for largely “safety net” hospitals with a higher Medicaid caseload and increases state money for nursing homes by $50 million, resolving the final points of contention that had kept the session from ending on time. Miami Herald, 3/7/18
- Superintendents to Gov. Scott: ‘Let’s do more’ on proposed 2018–19 school budget. Per-student unrestricted money works out to 47 cents, which will be largely eaten up by rising fuel costs, employee pensions and insurance, and various state mandates. Tampa Bay Times, 3/15/18 (Scott took no action on the request.)
- Superintendents call for veto of school ‘guardian’ funding. The Florida Association of School Superintendents asked Gov. Scott to veto the $67 million set aside for the new school ‘guardian’ program, and to direct the Legislature to reallocate the amount so it can be used to pay for either the guardian program or additional sworn resource officers, whichever a district prefers. Tampa Bay Times, 3/9/18 (Scott took no action on the request.)
- Budget boosts school construction. Public schools will receive $50 million in maintenance and renovation funding, while charter schools will receive $150 million, including $5 million contingent on federal reimbursements. Charter school funding was increased because under a new law (HB 7055 – see below), school districts will not have to share local property taxes used for construction and maintenance with charter schools. The Ledger, 3/12/18
- Related: Wives of legislators who back charter schools are charter school board members. Miami Herald, 3/29/18
- Arts groups face major cutbacks in Florida budget. The budget provides just $2.65 million in the Cultural and Museum Grants category to be shared by about 480 organizations, compared to $11.1 million last year and $19 million in 2016. Herald-Tribune, 3/13/18
- Scott signs new budget, uses veto pen sparingly. Although lawmakers boosted overall school funding by more than $101 per student, most of the new money is tied to a school safety measure. School districts aren’t allowed to move the money into other areas. U.S. News & World Report, 3/16/18
Important bills signed by the governor
- Sweeping bill expanding Florida school vouchers heads to Gov. Scott. News Service of Florida via Palm Beach Post, 3/5/18
The “train” bill (HB 7055) — which the Governor signed — includes dozens of changes for the state’s 67 school districts. They include:
- a new “Hope scholarship” program, which offers vouchers for public-school students who are bullied or otherwise face harassment, to transfer to private schools;
- a new voucher program that bolsters the existing Gardiner scholarships, which provide aid to disabled students, and could be used to expand the longstanding Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program;
- a new voucher program that provides reading scholarships, which can be used for private services like tutoring for struggling readers in the third through fifth grades;
- requiring schools to prominently display the state motto, “In God We Trust;” and
- overhauling rules governing charter schools, including raising evidentiary standards used by school boards in terminating charter contracts.
Related: Private school voucher plan for bullied children becomes law. Herald-Tribune, 3/11/18
- Rick Scott signs school safety bill to arm some teachers, fund mental health. Dubbed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, the half-billion dollar package addresses gun laws, school safety and mental health. Tallahassee Democrat, 3/9/18
- Related: Florida lawmakers stiff schools on safety program funds. Is arming teachers the only option? Tallahassee Democrat via Naples Daily News, 3/10/18
- Related: NRA sues Florida to block part of new gun law. CNN, 3/9/18
- After reports of violence, low pay, wretched conditions, Scott signs juvenile justice reforms. For the first time in a decade, Florida juvenile detention and probation officers will see a bump in their salaries — part of a series of juvenile justice reforms passed by the Legislature. Miami Herald, 3/27/18
- Legislature passes bill to combat opioid epidemic. Most initial prescriptions must have a limit of three days for Schedule II painkillers like Oxycontin and Fentanyl, but doctors could prescribe up to seven days for acute pain exceptions. Associated Press via U.S. News & World Report, 3/10/18
- Public access to private beaches to be affected by new Florida law. The bill will restrict a local government’s ability to pass customary-use ordinances, which are needed for ensuring public access to private beaches. Naples Daily News, 3/28/18
- Related Commentary: Customary use beach bill widely misunderstood. By State. Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, via Naples Daily News, 4/09/18
- Legislature OKs changes in controversial tourism tax bill. Under certain circumstances, the money could be used for roads, sidewalks, bike paths, boardwalks, drainage projects, solid waste facilities and other capital projects that would directly grow tourism. Florida Today, 3/13/18
- Gov. Scott signs legislation requiring emergency generators at all nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Florida is one of the first states in the nation to do so. Staff News Release, 3/26/18
- Legislature adds to the more than 1,000 exceptions to Florida’s public records law. Among them is one that withholds the identities of armed school staff who are trained as part of the state’s new “guardian” program, which has open government activists particularly concerned. Miami-Herald, 3/11/18
Bills that failed
- Florida won’t pass sexual harassment bill. Despite legislative leaders’ vows to tackle the issue, lawmakers wrapped up non-budget business without an agreement on a bill to prevent and punish harassment. Associated Press, 3/10/18
- Bill to ban fracking for oil and gas dies in Florida Legislature again. State Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, whose district includes the site of an exploratory oil well that ignited controversy over fracking in 2013, said she still favors a moratorium coupled with a study over an outright ban. Naples Daily News, 3/16/18
- Gambling bill talks collapse, leaving Florida without a gaming pact with Seminoles. A ‘No Casinos’ ballot measure in November will ask voters to mandate future gaming-related proposals be approved in statewide referendums, not by legislators. Florida Watchdog, 3/11/18
In the courts
- Federal judge orders Rick Scott, Cabinet to create new voting rights restoration system for felons by April 26. It’s yet another legal blow to a system that permanently strips a convicted felon of the right to vote unless that right is restored by the governor and Cabinet, a system the judge called unconstitutionally arbitrary. Tampa Bay Times, 3/27/18
- Related: Florida challenges order to make voting rights changes. U.S. News, 4/5/18
- Related: Florida voters will have say on restoring voting rights to felons. Tampa Bay Times 1/23/18
- Lakeland judge named Florida Supreme Court chief justice for a second time. Current Justice Charles T. Canady will succeed Justice Jorge Labarga, who will remain on the court as a justice. Tampa Bay Business Journal, 3/8/18
An update on the Constitution Revision Commission
The Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) is a group of 37 people appointed last year to review and recommend changes to the Florida Constitution. It’s one of five ways Florida can amend its constitution, and it only happens once every 20 years. Proposals it approves will be on Florida ballots in November.
In all, 782 public proposals and 103 commissioner proposals were considered by the Commission. In late March, commissioners agreed to send 25 of them to the Style & Drafting Committee, which will clarify, codify, arrange and group them, and draft the ballot title summaries to appear on the ballot. The CRC will meet again in April for a final vote.
- CRC drops certificate of need revamp. Gov. Scott’s long-standing priority to eliminate the certificate-of-need program for Florida hospitals came to a halt, after a member of a powerful panel withdrew a proposal that would have overhauled the current hospital-approval system. News Service of Florida, 4/3/18
- Constitution panel proposes putting 24 ideas into 12 amendments on November ballot. Under the proposal tentatively agreed to, here’s what voters would see.… Miami Herald, 4/4/18
- Opinion: CRC home stretch on education amendment proposals: Beware! The two likely constitutional amendments affecting K12 education expand charter schools and lead to greater state control of local schools. By Sue Legg, LWVeducation, 4/7/18
It was another busy month!
In April: The Legislature may be called back for a special session if an updated gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe is reached. The CRC will likely finalize the amendments it will put on the November ballot. And state and local election campaigns will continue to heat up. On Monday, as long-expected, Rick Scott declared his candidacy for the U.S. Senate, challenging incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson. Many say Florida will be the “battleground for control of Congress.”
Stay tuned for next month’s Sparker’s Soapbox for updates!