Sunday, March 31, 2019

State News in Review - March 2019

Last month, I reviewed some of the many things that were happening in the weeks leading up to the start of the 2019 Legislative session. Today I’ll pick up where I left off.

The Legislature convened on March 5 and is now half-way through its eight-week session.

Gov. DeSantis opened the session pledging more money for the environment while outlining proposals to expand school vouchers, boost vocational education, give teachers bonuses and ban “sanctuary” cities. Miami-Herald; Text of Address; YouTube

Following DeSantis’ speech, Senate President Galvano addressed the Senate's session, quoting Lincoln and urging moderation (Tampa Bay Times) and House Speaker Oliva outlined his priorities for the session: health care and higher education (News Service of Florida via WLRN.org).

Most of the almost 3500 proposed bills filed won’t make it through their assigned committees, let alone to the Governor’s desk for signature. Nonetheless, I think it’s important for us to know what our elected representatives are working on. As you skim through this post, perhaps you, like me, will ask: What problems are these bills trying to solve? Are they focused on my community’s and my state’s most significant priorities?

In addition to highlighting the month’s Legislative activity, I’ll share some of what our elected Cabinet members and State and Federal representatives are doing. If we don’t monitor how they’re using their authority, how will we decide if they deserve to be reelected?

As a reminder, all elected officials representing Collier voters are Republicans except for Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried, who is a Democrat. If you’re new to Collier County, as many of my readers are, you might find my Recap and reflections on the November elections helpful in putting my State News posts in context.

In the Legislative Branch

K-12 Education
  • Bill requiring school elective Bible course OK’d in House. In addition to constitutional issues, some lawmakers are concerned about exposing school districts to potentially costly lawsuits without providing them with any money or financial protection. apnews.com, 3/7/19; HB 195
  • House takes steps to eliminate controversial teacher test. The General Knowledge exam “has probably outlived its usefulness," sponsor Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, says. Tampa Bay Times, 3/7/19; HB 7061
  • House panel approves school voucher expansion for middle-class families. The House bill, which is literally twice the size of what the governor and Senate proposed, would create 28,000 new "scholarships" that could be used at private schools and that, eventually, would be available to students with family incomes nearing $97,000 a year. Orlando Sentinel, 3/14/19; HB 7075
    • Related: School voucher plan could be key test for new Florida Supreme Court. Herald-Tribune, 3/8/19
  • Florida lawmakers propose ‘parental rights’ law. It asserts parents’ authority in making decisions about school choice, objecting to classroom materials, and more, and would require school districts to adopt detailed policies promoting parental involvement. Tampa Bay Times, 3/21/19; SB 1726
  • Voucher program for bullied kids is off to a slow and confusing start. As of March 1, 91 students have been awarded Hope Scholarships, and the Department of Education is cracking down on school districts to ensure they’re notifying parents of the program. Florida Phoenix, 3/25/19; SB 1410
  • School book removal bill overhauled before first committee stop. The revision removed most of the controversial provisions, but activists expect to keep on top of it to the end. Tampa Bay Times, 3/25/19; HB 855
  • School board term limits inch closer to 2020 ballot. A resolution to ask voters to decide whether “Eight is Enough” for Florida school board members is headed to the state House floor. Tampa Bay Times, 3/28/19; HJR 229/SJR 274

Regulation of Firearms
  • Legislature advances proposal to let more people carry guns around schools. It would repeal a state law that gives school boards the right to prohibit anyone over the age of 18 from parking on a school campus with a gun securely locked in their vehicle. Florida Politics, 3/12/19; HB 6005/SB 996
  • House advances school security bill that would allow armed teachers. The 36-page bill would allow school districts to let teachers voluntarily participate in the state’s armed guardian program if they survive a rigorous background check and complete required training. Tampa Bay Times, 3/21/19; SB 7030; HB 7093
  • Lawmakers consider allowing guns at churches on school property. A proposal would allow leaders of a religious institution to authorize and establish rules for a person who has a license to carry a concealed firearm when on property it owns, rents or is otherwise lawfully using. Tampa Bay Times, 3/26/19; SB 1238; HB 403

Voting and Elections
  • House Committee passes Amendment 4 bill, requires ex-felons to pay. Democrats on the committee charged that the proposal would impose "a poll tax" on ex-felons to have their voting rights restored. Tallahassee Democrat, 3/19/19; PCB CRJ 19-03
  • Elections bill would give Florida more time to count ballots. The proposal mostly seeks to address concerns raised during the 2018 midterm elections. News Service of Florida via Bradenton Herald, 3/21/19; HB 7101; SB 7066
  • Critics say lawmakers are thwarting voters again – this time about criminal sentencing changes. Inmates who could benefit from Amendment 11 may remain stuck doing time, depending on how lawmakers decide to implement it. Florida Phoenix, 3/26/19; SB 1656; SB 704
  • Lawmakers cite “foreign entities” as reason to restrict citizen-led constitutional amendments. A bill would require people who gather petition signatures to be Florida residents, to register with the Secretary of State’s office, and to not be paid per signature, as is the case currently. Florida Phoenix, 3/28/19; SPB 7096

Preemption of Local Control
  • Legislature moves to stamp out local laws. A bill to prevent any local government from regulating businesses has the backing of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Retail Federation and Associated Industries of Florida. Florida Phoenix, 3/7/19; HB 3/SB 1748
    • Related: Opinion: State legislators are up to the same old tricks. By Karson Turner, president of the Florida Association of Counties and a Hendry County Commissioner, via Tallahassee Democrat, 3/1/19
  • Legislature wants to make it harder for county voters to say ‘yes’ to new taxes. While Florida lawmakers often squawk that Washington frequently overreaches into states, the Legislature does the same to counties. Herald-Tribune, 3/24/19; HB 5, SB 336, SB 1040
  • House targets Airbnb as it moves to preempt local rules on home rentals. Ordinances passed by local governments to restrict their use or impose standards would not apply. Orlando Sentinel, 3/26/19; HB 987
  • Legislature advances measures to stop local governments from banning plastic straws. One would fine any local government that banned straws $25,000; another would prohibit local governments from creating ordinances on a number of issues, including regulating plastic straws. Florida Phoenix, 3/26/19; HB 603; HB 1299
  • Bill would prohibit local governments from regulating employers. It would preempt to the state the right to regulate conditions of employment by an employer and void any existing ordinances. Watchdog.org, 3/27/19; HB 847/SB 432

The Environment
  • Sea level rise bill advances in Florida Senate. The bill mandates that any coastal construction project that receives state funds get a “sea level impact projection” study before commencing. Herald-Tribune, 3/12/19; SB 78
  • Environmental regulation bills start moving in Florida Legislature after algae troubles. Two measures dealing with municipal sewage are the first major algae-related water quality regulation bills to gain traction in the session. Herald-Tribune, 3/12/19; SB 1278; SB 214/HB 85
  • House, Senate bills ban 2 of 3 forms of oil, gas fracking in Florida. Opponents say they don’t go far enough because they would leave in place a rock-dissolving technique called matrix acidizing which could contaminate groundwater supplies. Associated Press via Orlando Sentinel, 3/26/19; HB 7029; HB 239; SB 7064

Health Care
  • DeSantis’ drug importation plan gets Florida House support. One of the bill’s plans would allow the state to import drugs from Canada for Medicaid and prison health care; another would be available to individual residents. Both would need federal approval before being implemented. News-Journal, 3/12/19
  • Don't expect smokable medical marijuana right away. Even though Gov. DeSantis signed the bill into law, it could take weeks or even months before rules are promulgated to make smokable medical marijuana available at state-approved dispensaries. Tallahassee Democrat, 3/15/19 and Tallahassee Democrat via Naples Daily News, 3/19/19; SB 182
  • Firefighters battling cancer look to the Legislature for help. A bill would require cities and counties to create a new compensation and health insurance program for them, but the Florida League of Cities calls it too open-ended. Florida Phoenix, 3/18/19
  • Florida House's free-market overhaul of health care rattles hospitals. The biggest change would end required state approval for a new hospital, called certificate of need, or CON. Orlando Sentinel, 3/29/19; HB 21

Other Legislative News
  • Right to grow front-yard veggies gets green light for Senate floor. ”It’s the principle, but we can’t have someone’s private property rights impacted like that," said Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples. Tampa Bay Times, 3/6/19; SB 82
  • Florida bill defining anti-Semitism as racism advances. Free speech advocates warn the bill faces potential legal challenges unless hate speech directed against Jews is not clearly separated from political criticism of the state of Israel. Watchdog.org, 3/12/19; HB 741/SB 1272
  • Editorial: Bunch of bills might restrict public’s right to see or know. Some are ominous — and in our view, unnecessary — intrusions on First Amendment freedoms and the taxpayers’ right to hold government accountable. Tallahassee Democrat via Naples Daily News, 3/12/19
  • Florida falls in national teacher pay ranking to 46th. Increasing teacher pay lately has come from the Legislature in the form of bonuses, which do not carry a guarantee from year to year, and do not count toward a teacher’s pension. Tampa Bay Times, 3/12/19
  • SFWMD's new governing board names leaders. Chauncey Goss was named as Chairman, Scott Wagner as vice chairman, and Drew Bartlett as the group’s executive director. Florida Politics, 3/14/19; Press Releases
  • SFWMD: Caloosahatchee River reservoir ready in five years. The South Florida Water Management District approved a long-awaited $523 million project that represents one of the final steps in making the “C-43” reservoir built and operational. Fort Myers News-Press via Naples Daily News, 3/14/19
  • Three plans: Governor, Senate, House have 45 days to resolve education budget differences. Per-student funding, teacher bonuses, aid to struggling schools among issues to be reconciled. Florida Watchdog, 3/20/19
  • House seeks tough stance on ‘sanctuary’ cities for noncompliance.“Ifwinknews.com, 3/20/19; HB 527/SB 168
  • Bill puts more teeth in texting-while-driving ban. The measure would shift texting while driving from a “secondary” offense to a “primary” offense. News Service of Florida via Orlando Sentinel, 3/26/19; HB 107, SB 76
  • House Assignment of Benefits (AOB) bill heads to a floor vote in coming week. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Bob Rommel, R-Naples, would make it harder for restoration contractors to collect attorney fees in lawsuits against insurance companies and allow lower premiums for policyholders who give up the right to assign policy benefits. Florida Politics, 3/28/19; HB 7065

In the Florida Cabinet

Attorney General Ashley Moody
  • AG “examining” 10-state lawsuit filed to block underwater blasting that harms whales, dolphins. Florida Phoenix, 3/1/19
  • Florida joins U.S. DOJ and FTC in nationwide sweep to stop tech support scams. Space Coast Daily, 3/10/19
  • Moody helps secure multimillion-dollar recovery in health care fraud scheme investigation. Space Coast Daily, 3/13/19
  • Moody supports proposal to ban sanctuary cities and sue cities that don't cooperate with ICE. News Service of Florida via cltampa.com, 3/19/19; SB 168

Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried
  • Fried appoints Florida’s first LGBTQ consumer advocate. Florida Phoenix, 3/22/19
  • Florida Department of Agriculture declares war on gas skimmers. WUWF, 3/12/19

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis
  • Patronis moves on multiple fronts to expand Florida's fight against fraud. Florida Daily, 3/4/19; ABC7 News, 3/5/19; bizjournals.com, 3/28/19
  • Patronis: Congress must reauthorize Flood Insurance Program; stop states from building in high-risk flood areas. InsuranceNewsNet.com, 3/14/19

In the Judicial Branch

  • Justices delve into ‘stand your ground’ change. Should it apply retroactively? News Service of Florida via The Gainesville Sun, 3/6/19
  • Administrative law judge says school districts must provide security officers to charter schools. News Service of Florida, 3/12/19
  • Florida appellate court weighs 24-hour abortion waiting period. News Service of Florida via Sun Sentinel, 3/26/19

From Collier’s Congressional Delegation

Senator Rick Scott
  • Scott urges GOP colleagues to back Trump on border wall. Washington Examiner, 3/3/19
  • Scott urges U.S. DOT to complete Tamiami Trail, calls it vital to Everglades. Florida Daily, 3/27/19
  • Scott seeking add-ons for Everglades, hurricanes, pre-existing conditions in U.S. Senate budget. Florida Politics, 3/27/19
  • Scott announces Transparent Drug Pricing Act to promote transparency in drug pricing and reduce cost of prescription drugs. Press Release, 3/29/19
  • Scott becomes Trump point man on GOP health care policy. Orlando Sentinel, 3/30/19

Senator Marco Rubio
  • Rubio votes to end Trump's national emergency. Sun Sentinel, 3/14/19
  • Rubio, others, introduce bill giving parents option for paid family leave. Press Release, 3/27/19; Fact Sheet

Congressman Francis Rooney
  • Rooney leads Florida congressional delegation in warding off oil rigs. Florida Politics, 3/2/19; Press Release
  • Rooney takes on the sugar industry, demanding change to the Army Corps of Engineers. WINKNews.com, 3/13/19
  • Brent Batten: Everglades money light in Trump's budget, but Rep. Rooney persisting. Naples Daily News, 3/16/19
  • Rooney files bill to end ‘free speech zones,’ where universities confine political protests. Florida Politics, 3/21/19; HR 1672
  • A multimillionaire construction magnate is Florida’s most pro-environment Republican. Miami-Herald, 3/29/19
  • Rooney wants to end mandated project labor agreements on federal construction projects, saying they discourage non-union competition. Florida Daily, 3/29/19

Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart
  • Diaz-Balart takes new stance on background checks. Miami-Herald, 3/4/19
  • Diaz-Balart among seven Republicans to help pass bill to help close gender pay gap. Roll Call, 3/27/19
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That’s it for March’s state news. Next up: Local News in Review. Stay tuned!