Sunday, December 9, 2018

State News in Review - November 2018

With the elections behind us, the transfer of power has begun. In this post, I’ll start with some transition-related news, then turn to the ongoing business of government.

Long-time readers may notice a few changes in this month’s State News in Review, and I plan to continue them going forward. I now include in the post:
  • News about our representatives in Congress - so we’ll be in a better position to evaluate and hold them accountable when they’re up for reelections, and
  • Separate sections for news about the Governor and Cabinet, the Legislature, and the Courts - to help remind us that we elect people to represent us in each of those branches of government.
If you are one of the hundreds of readers who responded to my Sparker's Soapbox subscriber survey, thank you! The input about areas of reader interest was helpful. I will work to incorporate it into my monthly “in-review” posts. And I’m also considering some new types of posts or platforms to address those interests in the months ahead. For a summary of the survey responses, visit my Sparker's Soapbox Facebook Page here.

I’ll be following up separately with the respondents who said they might be interested in an in-person class or discussion group about state and local government. If you are interested and didn’t say so in the survey, please reply to this email and let me know!

As always, thank you for your interest in being an informed voter!

The transition of power


As the result of the 2018 elections, Collier County will be represented in Congress by Republicans Rick Scott (Senator) and Representatives Francis Rooney (CD-19) and Mario Diaz-Balart (CD-25). What do these men want to accomplish in office?

  • Rick Scott wants to reinvent federal government and change, “like we did in Florida,” the direction of Washington, D.C. FOX 4, 11/7/18; see Scott’s “Make Washington Work” plan for details.
  • Francis Rooney’s top priorities are building the Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir and repairing Lake Okeechobee’s Herbert Hoover Dike. Naples Daily News, 11/7/18
  • Mario Diaz-Balart’s priorities are a strong military, a strong economy and the best possible educational system. Naples Daily News, 11/7/18

Ron DeSantis (Governor), Jimmy Patronis (Chief Financial Officer), Ashley Moody (Attorney General) and Nikki Fried (Commissioner of Agriculture) will take office on January 8. Representing Collier County in the Florida Legislature will be returning Senator Kathleen Passidomo (SD-28) and Representatives Bob Rommel (HD-105), Byron Donalds (HD-80) and newly-elected Ana Maria Rodriguez (HD-105). All are Republicans except Fried, who is a Democrat.

Some transition-related news of note:
  • A delayed swearing-in. Scott will remain in his current role until DeSantis is sworn in on January 8. A spokesman said the reason is that he “promised to fight for Florida families every single day of his term.” Miami-Herald, 12/4/18
  • What’s first on the agenda for Florida’s next governor? Ron DeSantis mentioned water quality, the environment, the Lake O reservoir, and the Florida Supreme Court in his election victory speech. Tampa Bay Times, 11/7/18
  • Newly-elected Ag Commissioner promises audit of concealed weapon permitting program. Fried’s plan has precipitated a likely legislative battle over whether the program should be moved to a different state agency - one headed by a Republican - or to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. APNews Florida via Naples Daily News, 12/2/18
  • Incoming Attorney General Moody names man who lobbied for opioid industry to inaugural committee. His recent client is at the heart of arguably the biggest lawsuit the AG’s office is handling right now. Tampa Bay Times, 11/27/18

And in the ongoing business of government:

The Governor and Cabinet


  • Over Sierra Club objections, Gov. Scott and Cabinet sign off on FPL power plant. The approval came after Scott, CFO Patronis and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam failed to disqualify themselves from the decision despite having received campaign contributions from FPL and its parent company, NextEra Energy, during the recent elections. CBS Miami, 11/30/18
  • DeSantis’ Supreme Court choices could secure Florida’s Republican reign. But some worry about the potential impact of a situation where actions by a Republican governor and GOP-led Legislature are endorsed by a conservative high court. Gainesville Sun, 12/8/18
  • Related: NAACP calls for reopening Supreme Court nominations. For first time in 36 years, there will be no African-Americans on the state Supreme Court. News Service of Florida via sunshinestatenews.com, 12/1/18
  • DeSantis quietly telling education leaders Corcoran likely next commissioner. The appointment of the staunch advocate for school choice programs would usher in a likely continuation of the pro-school choice policies that have defined the Department of Education during Scott’s two terms in office. Politico Florida, 11/30/18
  • Related: League of Women Voters objects to hasty appointment of commissioner. They urged members of the State Board of Education to conduct a national search for “an individual of the highest possible caliber” ... “and not simply “rubber stamp” a politically motivated choice.” lwvfl.org, 12/7/18
  • Arrest of opioid treatment center owner for insurance fraud underscores importance of anti-fraud efforts. “Combating fraud at opioid treatment centers will remain one of my top priorities,” CFO Patronis said. CFO Press Release, 11/9/18
  • Opioid lawsuits: Attorney General Bondi sues CVS, Walgreens and fentanyl-spray prescriber Insys. While other states reaped millions in legal settlements in the last two years, Florida stayed on the sidelines until now, despite its place at the center of Insys’ marketing blitz. Palm Beach Post, 11/21/18

The Florida Legislature


In late November, incoming House Speaker Jose Oliva and Senate President Bill Galvano laid out visions for their terms and made key assignments.

  • Oliva urges ‘restraint’ as lawmakers are sworn in. “If we allow ourselves to be told that we must learn to compromise, we will end up in an ideological mush in the center,” he said. Miami-Herald, 11/20/18
  • Florida health care ‘behind the curve’? Oliva wants to expand the scope of practice for Florida nurses, but Galvano wants to “make sure we are listening to our doctors.” News Service of Florida, 11/23/18
  • New laws? Or following the old ones? Galvano expects the Legislature to review various aspects of the elections process, but Oliva isn’t certain Florida election laws need a tweak. News Service of Florida, 11/21/18
  • Related: “It's not a question of reform. It's a question of making sure you have the proper tools to conduct a seamless election,” said Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples. NBC-2, 11/20/18
  • Galvano taps leaders of Senate committees. He slimmed down the number of lawmakers holding committee chairmanships and trimmed the number of Democrats in leadership spots. News Service of Florida via flanewsonline.com, 11/26/18
  • Related: Brent Batten: Passidomo attains a different and higher office in promotion to Senate Majority Leader. If she keeps her seat in 2022 and Republicans keep control of the Senate, she could be Senate president in the session that begins in 2023. Naples Daily News, 12/1/18
  • Oliva names committee chairs. Of note, Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, who has demonstrated willingness to further expand school choice and charter schools in Florida, will head the Education Committee. Florida Politics, 11/7/18

Public education
  • Florida voters are saying yes when school districts ask for more money. Is that a good thing?"I think the dollars ((the state provides)) to the districts are adequate for what they need to provide quality education to their students," said Passidomo, noting that some districts seem to be surviving without asking for more. Tampa Bay Times, 11/12/18
  • Florida House, Senate set to battle over education policy. A brewing fight pits supporters of traditional public schools against advocates for more school choice. Tallahassee Democrat, 11/23/18
  • Florida public school allies raise concerns. The appointments of pro-charter school lawmakers – with questionable credentials, according to their critics – as leaders of the House and Senate Education Committees have alarmed public education allies on the left and right. Tallahassee Democrat, 12/8/18
  • Battle continues over education law. More than 18 months after passage of controversial HB 7069, pushed by then-House Speaker Richard Corcoran, attorneys for the state and 11 county school boards are continuing to battle in court about whether the measure violates the Florida Constitution. News Service of Florida via news4jax.com, 11/28/18
  • Teachers with guns? The idea is back, but many Florida educators still say no thanks. Among them is Collier Schools Superintendent Dr. Kamela Patton. Tampa Bay Times, 11/30/18

Other legislative news of note
  • Rommel cosponsors bill to require 66-2/3 percent vote to amend the constitution. It’s his first and only bill filed for the 2019 session as of 12/9. HJR 57, 11/28/18. Sponsored bills of Rep. Rommel
  • Passidomo aims to protect state’s affordable housing trust fund. One of the first bills filed by the Naples Republican for this session aims to protect the State Housing Trust Fund and Local Government Housing Trust Fund, better known as the Sadowski Trust. Florida Politics, 11/29/18; Sponsored bills of Sen. Passidomo
  • Influential state senator files bill to ban "bundled" amendment proposals. SB74 offers a single-subject limitation as a legislative fix for the grouping together of unrelated measures into the same amendment. Florida Politics, 11/23/18
  • Pre-filed bills recycle failed text-drive ban. Others seek repeal of 2018 beach access law and to outlaw “conversion therapy,” restrict local regulation of residential vegetable gardens, require sea level impact projection studies and exempt diapers from sales taxes when the session begins March 5. Florida Watchdog, 11/27/1

The Florida Courts


  • Florida Supreme Court reverses course on re-sentencing for juvenile offenders. The reversal follows a change in the Court’s makeup since the earlier decision; Justice Alan Lawson was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott in 2016. Tampa Bay Times, 11/26/18
  • Court ponders whether felons rights ruling needed. Following passage of Amendment, attorneys for the plaintiffs and the state are to file arguments about whether the federal lawsuit challenging the state’s clemency process is now moot. Ocala Star-Banner, 11/26/18
  • Florida Supreme Court, in 4-3 decision, gives Scott approval to appoint a replacement for a retiring circuit judge. A dissenting justice called the situation a “travesty.” News Service of Florida via wlrn.org, 11/27/18
  • Senate Democrats begin process to reform Florida’s troubled judicial nominating process. Court packing and lack of diversity in judicial picks spur drive for legislative action. Florida Senate Minority Office Press Release, 11/30/18

Other of note


  • South Florida Water Management District vacates consent decree on Everglades restoration. The state promised 30 years ago to clean up polluted farm water draining into Everglades National Park, but now Board members say the federal oversight is no longer necessary. TCPalm, 11/8/18
  • Water District board OKs leasing EAA reservoir project's land to sugar grower.Treasure Coast Newspapers, 11/9/18
  • Related: Critics question timing, legality of agriculture lease. Some environmental groups and politicians are fuming over a state water district's decision to extend a Florida Crystals lease on land designated for an Everglades restoration project. News-Press, 11/9/18

Note: The South Florida Water Management District is a regional governmental agency that manages the water resources in the southern half of the state, covering 16 counties from Orlando to the Florida Keys. Learn more…

  • Ethical? Ex-Senate president takes job with private prison firm, big campaign donor. As a senator, Joe Negron was instrumental in getting the company millions in taxpayer dollars and voted for a bill that would have privatized the entire prison system. Miami-Herald, 12/8/18
  • Amendment 4 passed: What’s next for convicted felons and their voting rights? Some fear state officials could drag their feet in implementing a voter-mandated overhaul of the constitution that might hurt GOP candidates. Tampa Bay Times, 11/8/18
  • Grassroots group working on a ballot measure banning assault weapons in Florida. It hopes to get its proposed amendment on the 2020 ballot. Florida Phoenix, 11/27/18

Congress

  • Francis Rooney wants to protect religious organizations from labor unions. “I introduced this bill to ensure” that “religious organizations should not be forced to bend to the will of labor unions,” he said. Sunshine State News, 11/26/18
  • Florida Congressmen push carbon fee and refunds legislation. Francis Rooney and two others are backing the “Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act” (EICDA), a proposal to reduce carbon usage with price controls and then offer rebates back to American taxpayers. Sunshine State News, 11/28/18

That’s my slightly-delayed review of November state news. Next up will be a review of local news. Stay tuned!