Sunday, May 12, 2019

Recapping Florida's 2019 Legislative Session

Legislators fulfilled their sole constitutional responsibility — passing a balanced budget — last Saturday, May 4, one day later than scheduled. It came in at $91.1 billion, up 2 percent from last year’s $89.3 billion, and set another Florida record. Assuming few line-item vetoes by the Governor, 2019-20 will be the eighth year in a row of budget increases; the 2011-12 budget was $69.1 billion. In addition to passing the budget, legislators passed 197 bills and $121.5 million in tax cuts.

Obviously, bills passed by the Legislature and signed into law by the Governor make public policy. That’s why elections matter. In this post, I highlight some of the bills passed this session that significantly affect areas of interest to Collier voters. In addition to links to related news articles, I included links to the related Florida Senate webpages, where you’ll find bill texts, Staff Analyses that provide background to make the case for the bills' necessity, legislator vote history, and more.

Like beauty, whether it was a “good session” or a “bad session” is in the eye of the beholder. For overviews from each perspective, I highly recommend:
  • Statement from Majority Leader Passidomo on the successes of the 2019 legislative session, by Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, representing Collier, Hendry, and part of Lee counties, Majority Office Press Release, 5/4/19, and
  • Florida legislators failed to make the state better, by Paula Dockery, who served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland and is now a registered NPA, Tampa Bay Times, 5/10/19.

With that, here are what I consider some of the most significant policy-making and spending decisions made by the Florida Legislature this session.

The environment
  • DeSantis announces more than $680 million in environmental funding. The budget includes $367.2 million for the Everglades and $100 million for Florida's springs ($50 million of which is unspent from last year.) “This governor has delivered greater advances in Everglades restoration and clean water than we have seen in at least a decade,” said Eric Eikenberg, CEO of the Everglades Foundation. WSVN.com, 5/7/19
  • Florida Forever land acquisition falls short in this year’s budget. Legislators appropriated $33 million from the Florida Forever Trust Fund, a far cry from the Governor’s requested $100 million, and $31 million for parks, compared to his proposed $54 million. Tampa Bay Times, 4/26/19; Florida Today, 5/3/19; WSVN.com, 5/7/19
  • Politicians’ pledges to tackle red tide eco-disaster end at the Legislature with… wait for it… another task force. Florida Phoenix, 4/30/19

Voting and Elections
  • Legislature passes several “fixes” to election laws. Florida Phoenix, 5/6/19; SB 7066
    • Moves the deadline for voters to request vote-by-mail ballots from six days before an election to 10 days before.
    • Prohibits county Supervisors of Elections from mailing out ballots less than eight days before the election instead of the current four days.
    • Requires the Secretary of State to provide signature matching training to elections workers and county canvassing board members.
    • Increases the time when voters can remedy a ballot that’s been questioned because the signature on the ballot doesn’t match the one on file at the Supervisor of Elections office.
    • Requires a Supervisor of Elections to send a first-class letter to voters if the signature on a vote-by-mail ballot is questioned; notification by email or text message is also allowed.
    • Moves up by one week the date of the August primary election, adding an extra week to the general election campaign.
    • Revises requirements for vote-by-mail ballot instructions.
  • Lawmakers tighten ballot measure rules ahead of 2020 election. Anyone gathering voter signatures would be required to register with the state, and groups that hire people to gather signatures could not pay them based on the number of signatures obtained. Also, any referendum to adopt or amend a local option sales surtax must be held at a general election. Politico Florida, 5/3/19; HB 5
  • Felon voting bill passed amid outcry; DeSantis says he’ll sign. The legislation is aimed at carrying out a constitutional amendment approved in November by over 64 percent of voters. The amendment granted restoration of voting rights to felons “who have completed all terms of their sentence, including parole or probation.” AP News, 5/3/19; Tampa Bay Times, 5/8/19; SB 7066
    • Related: League of Women Voters’ statement re: the Amendment 4 law. “Not only is it morally wrong, but it is an affront to the 5.2 million Floridians who voted for Amendment 4 and a direct attack on the Florida Constitution...” LWVFL.org, 5/2/19

K-12 Education
  • Budget hurdles cleared; major education bill restructures teacher bonuses. Legislators agreed to spend $12.4 billion on the Florida Education Finance Program, the major part of the budget for public schools. That includes a $248 per student increase and $233 million for the controversial Best and Brightest teacher-bonus program. Tampa Bay Times, 4/30/19; News Service of Florida via Daytona Beach News-Journal, 4/28/19; SB 7070
  • New Family Empowerment Scholarship Program allows more students to use taxpayer-funded vouchers to pay for private school; court challenge expected. In 2006, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the state Constitution bars Florida from using taxpayer money to finance a private alternative to the public system. WLRN.com, 5/5/19; SB 7070
  • Governor signs bill to arm teachers. The bill adopts the recommendations of a commission formed in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Massacre that claimed 17 lives. Tallahassee Democrat via Naples Daily News, 5/2/19; Sun Sentinel, 5/1/19; SB 7030
    • Related: Sen. Passidomo supports school safety bill for its provisions for the mental health assistance allocation.”I support this bill and any bill that we can put together that will help our students overcome the difficulties that they bring to school,” she said in her weekly Legislative Update email. SB 7030
  • Legislature raises SAT score levels for Bright Futures scholarships. For students who would receive the “Academic” scholarship, which covers full tuition and fees at state universities and colleges, the required SAT score will rise from 1290 to around 1330. Miami-Herald, 5/4/19; SB 190
  • Lawmakers approve anti-Semitism bill. Religious discrimination would be added to actions based on race, gender, disability, marital status or national origin, which are already banned in Florida schools. Gainesville Sun, 4/29/19; HB 741
    • Related: Anti-Semitism bill to be signed in Israel, DeSantis says. Tampa Bay Times, 5/10/19

Taxation

The tax bill passed this year requires school districts and charter schools to share revenues raised by future tax measures approved by voters. “It’s another attack on local control,” Collier County School Board Chairman Roy Terry said. Naples Daily News, 4/26/19; HB 7123
  • Related: Florida tax package draws fire over charter schools. News Service of Florida via dailycommercial.com, 4/26/19
The $121.5 million tax cut package amounts to $87 million in state revenue losses in the first year (of which one-time cuts total $48.5 million) and $73 million of revenue losses on a recurring basis. The cuts include:
  • A reduction in the business rent tax from 5.7 percent to 5.5 percent. Estimated revenue loss: first year $30.8 million, $64.5 million per year thereafter.
  • Back-to-School sales tax holiday - August 2-6, 2019. Estimated one-time revenue loss: $41.7 million.
  • Hurricane sales tax holiday - May 31 - June 6, 2019. Estimated one-time revenue loss: $5.5 million.
  • Sales tax donations to 501(c)(3). Estimated recurring revenue loss: $4.9 million per year.
  • Insurance Premium tax credit flexibility. Estimated recurring revenue loss: $1.1 million per year.

The estimates of fiscal impact are from page 20 of the HB 7123 Final Bill Analysis. For more on the tax law changes, see the Florida TaxWatch 2019 Session Wrap-Up and Session Spotlight.

Health Care
  • Certificates of Need (CON) about to become history. After many years of debate, the CON process was repealed for hospitals, but will remain for long-term care and hospice facilities. News Service of Florida via Sunshine State News, 4/27/19; HB 21
  • Legislature approves Canadian drug import bill, other health reforms. The program, a top priority for Gov. DeSantis, would have to be approved by the federal government. Orlando Sentinel, 4/29/19; HB 19
    • Related: Trump directs Feds to ‘explore’ authorizing Florida drug-import plan, but stiff DC opposition awaits. Florida Watchdog, 5/8/19
  • Florida legislature passes new telehealth law. It provides a framework for telehealth in Florida, establishes new telehealth practice standards, creates a registration process for out-of-state health care professionals to use telehealth to deliver health care services to Florida patients, and introduces commercial reimbursement provisions. Health Care Law Today, 5/7/19; HB 23

Other
  • 'Sanctuary cities' ban passed by Florida lawmakers. The governor’s desire to force local and state officials to fully cooperate with federal immigration authorities exposed a sharp partisan divide in the Legislature on how the state, which has about 800,000 undocumented immigrants, should enforce immigration laws. Pensacola News Journal via Naples Daily News, 5/4/19; Florida Phoenix, 5/2/19; SB 168
  • Last-minute legislative amendment penalizes anyone who challenges Florida development. While governments are still allowed to require new developments to include some affordable housing, they havArticles from these Florida news publications are among the sources I used in writing this post: Daily Commercial, Daytona Beach News-Journal, Florida Today, Florida Phoenix, Florida Watchdog, Gainesville Sun, Miami-Herald, Naples Daily News, Orlando Sentinel, Palm Beach Post, Pensacola News Journal, Politico Florida, Sun Sentinel, Sunshine State News, Tampa Bay Times.e to repay the developer for any financial losses that result. Florida Phoenix, 5/7/19; HB 7103
    • Related: Editorial: After a decade on life support, Florida just killed growth management. Orlando Sentinel, 5/8/19; HB 7103
  • Florida will spend about $200 million on affordable housing next year, most of it in the Panhandle areas devastated by Hurricane Michael. The total is double what the state spent last year on affordable housing, but it falls far short of what the Governor wanted. Tampa Bay Times, 4/27/19
    • Related: Editorial: DeSantis must confront lawmakers over immoral grab of affordable housing money. Orlando Sentinel, 5/6/19
  • Legislature sends criminal justice reform to DeSantis, but advocates see mixed victory. Tampa Bay Times, 5/3/19; Sun Sentinel, 4/29/19; HB 7125
  • Legislature approves ban on texting while driving. It makes texting while driving a primary offense instead of a secondary offense and requires drivers to go totally hands-free when operating wireless communications devices in school zones and in construction zones when workers are present. Palm Beach Post, 4/29/19; HB 107
  • Alligator Alley fire station be partially funded by state, Collier residents. Sen. Passidomo pushed for approval of the legislation and said around 10 percent of incidents that occur on Alligator Alley involve Collier County residents. Naples Daily News, 5/10/19
  • Finally, Assignment of Benefits reform bill heads to an eager DeSantis. Passage of the bill was a major victory for insurers and business groups. News Service of Florida via Sunshine State News, 4/24/19; HB 7065
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Articles from these Florida news publications are among the sources I used in writing this post: 
Daily Commercial, Daytona Beach News-Journal, Florida Today, Florida Phoenix, Florida Watchdog, Gainesville Sun, Miami-Herald, Naples Daily News, Orlando Sentinel, Palm Beach Post, Pensacola News Journal, Politico Florida, Sun Sentinel, Sunshine State News, Tampa Bay Times.
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Funding for Projects Benefiting our Region


“Of the budget projects I sponsored this year, Collier, Hendry, and Lee County received about $8.6 million in funding in this year's budget,” wrote Sen. Passidomo in her May 6 Legislative Update email. They are:
  • $2 million for the City of Clewiston C-21 Bridge Canal Crossing
  • $1.2 million for Naples Bay Red Tide/Septic Tank Mitigation
  • $1 million to connect Airglades Airport to the City of Clewiston Wastewater Treatment Plant
  • $650,000 for Auditory Oral Intervention for Children with Hearing Loss
  • $500,000 for the Marco Island South Barfield Drive Drainage Project
  • $500,000 for Marco Island-Barrier Island Emergency Fire Services
  • $500,000 for Destination Graduation
  • $381,000 for City of Clewiston Storm Spill Prevention
  • $312,500 for Plantation Island Hurricane Irma Waterway Recovery
  • $279,000 for the David Lawrence Center Wraparound Collier Program
  • $250,000 for Florida Network: Stop Now and Plan for Children
  • $250,000 for Learning for Life (Boy Scouts Program)
  • $110,000 for City of LaBelle Emergency Generators
  • $100,000 for Caloosahatchee River Aqua Vegetation
  • $87,000 for Lehigh Acres Caloosahatchee River & Estuary Storage & Treatment
  • $85,000 for Lighthouse for the Blind - Collier County
  • $75,000 for Jewish Family and Community Services of SWFL - Dementia Respite & Support