Thursday, February 28, 2019

State News in Review - February 2019

In the past month, our Florida government began gearing up in earnest for the 60-day Legislative Session that begins next week. Gov. Ron DeSantis issued his first budget proposal, announced an executive order to implement school security measures, and made clear his support for alternatives to traditional public schools, among other noteworthy actions ... Cabinet members Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, Attorney General Ashley Moody, and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis set to work on the priorities they campaigned on ... House and Senate committees began meeting ... and legislators filed more than 3,000 bills to be considered in the Session.

This post shares highlights of the month’s state news from Tallahassee, as well as some interesting news about our representatives in Congress.

Gov. Ron DeSantis

Like the president at the federal level (here), Florida’s chief executive presents a budget recommendation before the start of each year’s legislative session to be considered by the House and Senate in drafting their own. DeSantis’s 2019-20 budget proposalis for $91.3 billion, $2 billion more than the current fiscal year.

DeSantis' budget proposal
  • DeSantis unveils budget plan. Despite campaigning as a fiscal conservative, he not only didn’t take a meat ax to state spending — he spread dollars around freely. Gainesville Sun, 2/1/19
  • Heath care, education consume $50.8 billion in DeSantis’ budget request. His health care request is largely status quo; his K-12 education request includes an overall three percent increase per full-time enrolled (FTE) student – double what lawmakers approved last year. Florida Watchdog, 2/3/19
  • DeSantis wants to expand Gardiner Scholarship program for students with special needs. It is one of four state-backed programs that pay tuition for private schools. The proposed expansion would provide an average of $10,400 to students ages 3 to 22 and cost an estimated $19 million. Orlando Sentinel, 2/4/19
  • DeSantis: Use Trump tax plan to expand charter schools. He wants to give “Hope” charter schools more turf by expanding program guidelines to allow them to open in areas designated as opportunity zones under the $1.5 billion tax plan. Politico Florida, 2/19/19
  • DeSantis proposes $422 million increase in Best & Brightest teacher bonus program. He also wants funding for teacher recruitment and loan forgiveness or tuition waivers for 1700 people who commit to teaching for at least five years in Florida, among other proposals. Tampa Bay Times, 2/7/19
  • DeSantis’ school tax proposal raises concerns among House Democrats. It follows the same taxing practice as the past three years — lowering the local property tax rate to keep collections stable, with the exception of the rate charged on newly added construction. Tampa Bay Times, 2/7/19
Other news about the Governor
  • DeSantis issues executive order implementing school security measures; appoints grand jury to investigate school districts' post-Parkland actions. His orders focus largely on recommendations and findings by the commission convened after the Parkland shooting attack. Tampa Bay Times, 2/13/19; Executive Order, 2/13/19
  • DeSantis issues bills on his key education ideas. Many lawmakers have said they like the ideas, but some may bristle at the governor’s unusual attempt to do their job of writing laws. Tampa Bay Times, 2/18/19
  • DeSantis keeps Valenstein as Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection. The move quickly drew praise from a number of conservationists. News Service of Florida, 2/18/19; Press Release
  • DeSantis names four to South Florida Water Management District board. Marco Island City Councilor Charlette Roman and Sanibel City Councilor Chauncey Goss were among the appointees. Naples Daily News, 2/21/19
  • DeSantis calls on Trump to base proposed Space Force at Kennedy Space Center. The state’s aerospace economic development agency is pitching the state as a possible headquarters for Space Force or U.S. Space Command, the nation’s 11th unified combatant command, which also is in the works. Orlando Sentinel, 219/19
  • DeSantis wants Floridians to access cheaper prescription meds from Canada. The program would require support from both the Legislature and the federal government, which DeSantis said he has because of his relationship with Trump. Tampa Bay Times, 2/20/19
    • Related: Senate president cautious on DeSantis drug importation proposal. Tampa Bay Times, 2/22/19

COA Nikki Fried

  • Fried appoints Florida’s first Director of Cannabis. She will be involved in efforts to expand the hemp industry in the state,and to provide better access to medical marijuana. Florida Phoenix, 2/6/19
    • Related: Hemp program proposed for Florida as state officials eye potentially lucrative industry. News Service of Florida via Sun Sentinel, 2/14/19; HB 333SB 1020
  • Nikki Fried taps Gwen Graham’s husband to oversee concealed carry. The NRA has kind words to say. Florida Politics, 2/13/19

AG Ashley Moody

  • Moody appears in court during first hearing on state’s lawsuit against opioid drugmakers and distributors. Her appearance made a bold statement and a big impression in the state’s case against major drug manufacturers and distributors, including CVS and Walgreens. WFLA.com, 2/6/19; WFTS Tampa Bay, 2/6/19
  • Human trafficking ring busted on Treasure Coast. “This should be an example of how we will act going forward to stop this plague on our communities,” State Attorney General Ashley Moody said. TCPalm/Treasure Coast Newspapers, 2/19/19

CFO Jimmy Patronis
  • Patronis cites cancer coverage for firefighters as top legislative priority. The bill requires employers to grant insurance, disability and death benefits to a firefighter “upon receiving a diagnosis of cancer if certain conditions are met.” Florida Watchdog, 1/29/19; SB 426
  • Patronis seeks banking changes for medical marijuana. Citing a “tremendous safety threat,” he asks President Trump to use his executive power to allow banks to do business with state-authorized medical marijuana companies. News Service of Florida via Orlando Sentinel, 2/8/19

Other Executive Branch news
  • Florida recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital. Florida placed itself a step ahead of the Trump Administration, which recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital previously but has not spoken of whether it supports a united or divided Jerusalem. The Jerusalem Post, 1/31/19
  • State challenges pot dispensary ruling. As lawmakers weigh changes to the state’s medical marijuana laws, the Florida Department of Health has appealed a circuit judge’s ruling that struck down a limit on the number of dispensaries that marijuana businesses can operate. News Service of Florida via Florida Politics, 2/19/19
  • Key election officials have no previous election experience. Florida’s new secretary of state and two key election supervisors in some of the state’s most populous counties have never run an election. Fresh Take Florida News Service via AP News, 2/12/19

News from the Legislative Branch

Education
  • Senate education leaders announce 2019 priorities. Senators discuss legislation to improve safety, empower families, elevate neighborhood public schools. Press Release - The Florida Senate, 2/21/19
  • Senate pushes expansion of school vouchers; poll shows parent support for scholarships. The new scholarship, or voucher, program would do what Gov. Ron Desantis suggested earlier this month, using money from the state budget to pay for private school for up to 15,000 students on the waiting list for Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship program. Orlando Sentinel, 2/25/19
    • Related: Critics question value of foundation’s school choice survey. Tampa Bay Times, 2/25/19
  • Florida lawmaker files another bill to expand private school scholarships. This one builds on last year’s “Hope Scholarship” (“anti-bullying”) bill to make it easier for students to get an award, and allow private school students to be eligible for a scholarship. Tampa Bay Times, 2/27/19; SB 1410
  • Push is on for Bible ed in public schools. The proposals are getting more attention because they're linked to an initiative called Project Blitz coordinated by conservative Christian political groups which have put out a more than 100-page playbookthat lays out very plainly their strategy. USA Todayvia Naples Daily News, 2/4/19; HB 195
  • Senate committee approves arming teachers. The sweeping school-security package would make it easier for school districts to participate in a controversial “guardian” program and would allow classroom teachers to be armed. News Service of Florida, 2/13/19; SB 7030
    • Related: $2 million for Florida school 'guardian' program goes to gun equipment. Orlando Sentinel, 2/13/19
  • Have Florida teens learn civics in action, state lawmakers say. They propose a plan to get students actively involved in the process through a high school U.S. government and civic engagement half-credit course that includes a nonpartisan community project. Tampa Bay Times, 2/22/19; HB 1037SB 1316
Environment
  • Beach replenishment funding decisions would be revamped under FL legislator's bill. Under the proposal, there would be a "much more refined" set of criteria for the state's allocation of money for beach and inlet restoration projects. Florida Today via Naples Daily News, 1/31/19; SB 446
  • Two new bills in the Legislature want to prevent local governments from banning plastic straws. The state preemption of local regulations, if approved by lawmakers during the upcoming legislative session, would take effect July 1. News Service of Florida via WLRN.org, 2/1/19; HB 603SB 588
  • House and Senate on different paths to a fracking ban. Environmentalists applauded the Senate proposal and scoffed at the House's; the oil and gas industry rejected both. Tallahassee Democrat, 2/13/19; SB 314 / HB 7029
Other news
  • Florida's leaders taking baby steps on path to medical marijuana. The House and Senate are closer to reaching consensus on repeal of the current smoking ban, but two differences remain. News Service of Florida via Sun Sentinel, 2/27/19 HB 7015SB 182
  • Florida lawmakers revive push to ban 'sanctuary cities,' mandate cooperation between local cops and ICE. The legislation would give whistle-blower protection to officers who report people they suspect to be in the country illegally to federal authorities, while also protecting crime victims and witnesses from having their immigration statuses disclosed. Orlando Sentinel, 2/7/19; SB 168
  • Lawmakers target no-nos behind the wheel: texting, petting your dog and more. Opponents say the proposed law is too broad and raises concerns about racial profiling and unequal enforcement. Tampa Bay Times, 2/25/19; CS/SB 76

News about the Judicial Branch
  • Appeals court clears way for Everglades drilling. The decision overturned a decision by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. News Service of Florida via News-Press, 2/5/19
  • Revamped Florida Supreme Court rejects minimum wage case. The move by the now-conservative majority resulting from DeSantis’ appointments was the first major demonstration of the Court’s ideological shift. News Service of Florida via Daytona Beach News-Journal, 2/5/19
  • Judge rejects move by South Florida water managers to end Everglades oversight. After he repeatedly questioned attorneys about the timing of the motion, the judge decided moving forward while the South Florida Water Management District board remains in flux was unwise. Bradenton News, 2/11/19
  • Judges: Florida 'disenfranchised' voters by rejecting ballots for signature mismatches. The signature-mismatch lawsuit was one of myriad election challenges related to Florida’s November election. News Service of Florida via Sun Sentinel, 2/15/19
  • Judge: Census fight might cost Florida a seat. Including a citizenship question could hurt states with large immigrant populations in the once-a-decade congressional reapportionment process that will follow the Census. News Service of Florida via nwfdailynews.com, 2/18/19
News from Collier’s Congressional delegation

U.S. Rep. Francis
  • Rooney joined with Democrats to overturn Trump’s emergency declaration. TheHill.com, 2/26/19
    • Related: Why Francis Rooney voted to terminate Trump’s national emergency. Tampa Bay Times, 2/27/19
  • Rooney pushes resolution on rising seas. Sunshine State News, 2/11/19; H. Res. 112
U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart
  • Diaz-Balart talks infrastructure funding in new spending package.   Florida Politics, 2/15/19
  • Diaz-Balart one of eight Republicans who crossed party lines on expanded background check vote. Roll Call, 2/28/18
U.S. Sen. Rick Scott
  • Scott sponsors Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act. FOX35orlando.com, 2/7/19 
  • Scott slams Rubio's proposal to end preferential tax treatment of share buybacks. CNBC, 2/14/19
  • Scott urges Congress to create a path for 'Dreamers' to permanently stay in the US. CNBC, 2/14/19 
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio
  • Opinion: The truth about B.D.S. and the lies about my bill.By U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio via The New York Times
That’s it for February's state news. Next up: February 's Local News in Review. Stay tuned!