Sunday, September 30, 2018

State News in Review - September 2018

The highlights of state news in September were the choice of running mates by gubernatorial candidates Ron DeSantis and Andrew Gillum, the refiling by the Florida League of Women Voters of their challenge to Gov. Rick Scott’s intent to appoint state Supreme Court justices before he leaves office in January, and Supreme Court rulings on some but not all of the challenges to the amendments put on the ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission. I’ll begin with those, and then share a few other stories relevant to Florida voters.

The running mates
  • Republican Ron DeSantis chooses state Rep. Jeanette Nuñez as his running mate. Nuñez, a Cuban-American from Miami, is a hit with Florida’s Republican Party — but isn’t exactly a conventional pick. WFSU.org, 9/6/18
  • Democrat Andrew Gillum’s unconventional pick for Lieutenant Governor. Evangelicalism might have held Chris King back in the Democratic primary, but in a statewide general election, his ties to the Christian community could be an asset. The New Republic, 9/11/18

The upcoming battle over Supreme Court appointments

The three upcoming vacancies on the court have the potential to transform its ideological makeup.
  • Rick Scott asks for Supreme Court candidates, though it’s unclear if he’ll get to nominate any of them. Florida Phoenix, 9/12/18
  • Lawsuit filed (again) over Gov. Scott appointing justices to state supreme court. Tampa Bay Times, 9/20/19
  • Florida governor urges: Throw out lawsuit over new justices. Palm Beach Post, 9/26/18
  • Opinion: Florida Supreme Court’s future part of the governor race. By Randy Schultz, Boca Raton, via Sun-Sentinel, 9/11/18

The amendments

As I reviewed last month, several proposed constitutional amendments headed to Florida voters’ November ballot have been challenged in court. In September, some but not all of the challenges were settled. Specifically, the Supreme Court:

Approved Amendment 6, known as “Marsy’s Law,” that would create a series of constitutional rights for crime victims and would also increase the retirement age for judges.
  • Victims’ rights amendment will appear on ballot, justices rule. The ACLU of Florida and others claimed the amendment would expand victims’ rights at the expense of criminal defendants, and that the ballot language did not make that clear. Florida Politics, 9/7/18
Rejected Amendment 8, that would have imposed term limits on school board members, required civic literacy to be taught in schools and taken away the exclusive power of local school boards to oversee charter schools.
  • Florida Supreme Court strikes Amendment 8 from November ballot. By a 4-3 decision, the Court found that the amendment misled voters by not clearly stating its true purpose and never mentioning charter schools by name. Tampa Bay Times, 9/7/18
  • Erika Donalds: Roadblocks re-energize reformers. “The devastating 4-3 Supreme Court decision to remove Amendment 8 from the ballot was a loss not just for so many students in desperate need of education reform, but for millions of voters who are now susceptible to disenfranchisement anytime an activist group pushes and funds its agenda.” By Constitution Revision Commissioner Erika Donalds, the main sponsor of Amendment 8, via Florida Politics, 9/17/18
  • Patricia Brigham: League of Women Voters makes no apologies for exposing deception. Erika Donalds claimed the League, the plaintiff in the suit, was “disenfranchising” voters, but “non-transparency and sneaky omissions in ballot language are actually a better description of ‘disenfranchisement’.” By Patricia Brigham, President - League of Women Voters of Florida, via Florida Politics, 9/18/17
Approved Amendment 10, that would require all local constitutional officers, including sheriffs, to be elected, and would remove the ability of charter counties to modify those offices.
  • Amendment 10 OK’d for ballot by Supreme Court. The Court said the “summary tells voters that the amendment would ‘ensure’ election of constitutional officers in all counties, and provides that county charters may not allow for their selection by an alternative method. It is therefore unnecessary to explain the obvious result — that voters would not be able to eliminate election of the officers by charter or special law.”
Cleared Amendment 13, that would ban commercial greyhound racing.
  • Supreme Court clears dog racing-ban for ballot. It ruled that the ballot text itself does not “mislead voters about the effects Amendment 13 would have on other forms of gaming” – that is, none – because “a reasonable voter would understand” that other kinds of gambling like cards and slots “will continue without material change.” Florida Politics, 9/7/18

The challenge to three other bundled amendments — 7 (first responder and military survivor benefits), 9 (offshore oil drilling and vaping) and 11 (real property rights and effect of amendments to criminal statutes) — has not yet been addressed, even though ballots have been finalized. But if the Court decides they are unconstitutional, any votes for them won’t have any effect.
  • What’s up with Amendments 7, 9 and 11 — and 6, 8 and 10? The fate of three constitutional amendments is still hanging in the balance about six weeks from election day, and another three may suddenly be in a quandary. Florida Phoenix, 9/21/18

Our tax dollars
  • Florida’s next governor may have budget surplus to work with. The three-year forecast predicts a relatively small surplus of about $223 million. The state’s overall budget, which includes billions in federal grants, is slightly under $90 billion. Associated Press via Naples Daily News, 9/9/18
  • State finance problems and threats to tourism loom as next governor comes into office. An analysis projects that hundreds of millions of dollars now reserved in state trust funds will be redirected from their intended purpose and instead used to balance the budget for the next three fiscal years. Florida Phoenix, 9/13/18
  • ‘True cost of government’ has state $11.6 billion in the red. Florida scored in the lowest dozen states because, like many, it defers paying down pension debts year after year while only budgeting the bare minimum annually to fund the plan. Florida Watchdog, 9/24/18
  • What are your tax dollars paying for at women’s “crisis pregnancy centers”? Advocates for women’s health are demanding more oversight from the state Department of Health to ensure that the publicly-funded centers aren’t pushing a religious agenda or shaming women into making decisions about their bodies. Florida Phoenix, 9/6/18

Red tide and blue-green algae
  • State directs funds to Mote Laboratory for red tide research. Nearly a year into the current red tide outbreak in Southwest Florida, the state is directing more than $2 million to test innovative technologies to quell the effects of the deadly algae. Herald-Tribune, 9/24/18
  • Algae crisis task force proposed — again. Gov. Scott said he wants the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and others to develop a red tide research center, and for the state to again fund a task force aimed at studying causes and impacts of harmful algal blooms like red tide and blue-green algae. Naples Daily News, 9/25/18

Education
  • More Florida counties are voting to raise local taxes for schools. Is it a message to lawmakers? Education leaders trace the financial strain to events that go back decades, some triggered by progressive Democrats. Tampa Bay Times, 9/10/18
  • State Board of Education backs $673 million boost in public school funding. The budget request includes an increase in per-student funding from $7,407 to $7,607. News Service of Florida via DailyCommercial.com, 9/14/18
  • Integrity Florida study looks at political influence, growth of charter schools. It asserts charters have strayed from the initial purpose they were meant to serve and notes that increasingly they are managed by for-profit companies.WGCU.org, 9/17/18. Report here.
  • Analysis: Florida is the fifth-worst state to be a teacher. Florida teachers were paid on average less than teachers in 45 other states, when cost of living was taken into account, and ranked 41st for public-school spending per student. Herald-Tribune, 9/24/18
  • Florida wins approval for its federal accountability plan. State Education Secretary Pam Stewart long resisted some of the Every Student Succeeds Act provisions, particularly in relation to assessment of English language learners and the math testing of advanced middle school students. Tampa Bay Times, 9/27/18
  • Florida legislators reject Gov. Scott on school security. Despite repeated requests, state Sen. Bill Galvano, the incoming Senate president, officially refused to steer $58 million to school districts to help them hire more campus police officers. Associated Press via Naples Daily News, 9/9/18
  • Related Editorial: Gov. Scott got school resource officer money shift right. Naples Daily News, 9/25/18

Other state news
  • When top NRA lobbyist emails Florida government officials, they jump. While most states have a law enforcement agency manage concealed weapons licenses, Florida lets the Department of Agriculture oversee the program. Marion Hammer takes credit for setting it up that way. Miami-Herald, 9/21/18
  • Feds launch audit of Keys debris contracts. One year after Gov. Scott responded to the devastation of Hurricane Irma by ignoring the debris removal contracts already in place and opting instead to hire more expensive companies to do the work, the Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security is launching an investigation into what happened. CBS Miami, 9/23/18

That’s it for September top stories about state government. My next post will summarize local news of note.