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News for Florida Voters – July/August 2019

Top stories: Florida joins national voter registration database. Judge hearing case on felons’ voting rights asks: is Amendment 4 even constitutional? Governor names state’s first “resilience officer.” School districts lose again over law that bolsters charter schools. Chances of a Florida recession are on the rise. Also in this post: Florida’s U.S. Senators on the China tariffs, red flag laws, student debt and more. For this and other news for Florida voters, read on.

Florida Government

Voting & Elections

For years, Florida Supervisors of Elections have wanted the state to join the Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC, which makes it easier to track voter registrations across state lines and clean up voter polls of deceased voters. Membership in ERIC requires a commitment to reach out by mail to every eligible but unregistered voter in Florida. More than a year after it was authorized by the Legislature, Governor DeSantis gave the OK.

In November, voters overwhelmingly approved the Voting Restoration Amendment to allow people convicted of a felony who have completed their sentence to earn back the right to vote — except for those convicted of murder or felony sex offenses. Subsequently, the Governor signed a law that defined completion of a sentence to mean paying off all fines, fees or restitution owed to a victim, and the ACLU and others sued in federal court. The latest:

Also of note:

Environment & Growth

In August, Governor DeSantis appointed the state’s first Chief Resilience Officer, tasked with preparing Florida for the environmental, physical and economic impacts of sea level rise.

And Southwest Florida leaders are forming a compact to work together on issues that cross city and county lines: climate change, sea level rise, and storminess. “For me, it’s not a political issue. It’s a people issue. It’s a quality of life issue,” Republican Senator Kathleen Passidomo of District 28 (which includes Collier County) said.

While the Governor received praise for his pro-environment executive order in January, “widespread anxiety lingers about the blooms’ long-term health effects.”

Meanwhile, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried announced the agenda for her department’s upcoming Energy and Climate Summit. Previous commissioner Adam Putnam “routinely avoided discussing climate change, let alone its causes.”

A massive multi-year road expansion program approved by the Legislature last session is officially underway. Three task forces are launching a series of hearings over the next 13 months, analyzing the cost, design and likely routes, along with the potential benefits and risks of each of the three highway plans.

Also of note:

Public Education

Collier County was one of twelve Florida school districts that sued the Legislature over a 2017 law (HB 7069) that created “Schools of Hope.” This month, an Appeals Court panel upheld the constitutionality of the law.

In a win for traditional public schools, Judge nixes charter schools’ bid for share of new $200 million school tax. The case centered on whether a state law requiring that charter school students be funded “the same as students enrolled in other public schools in the school district” applies to money from special, voter-approved taxes. Palm Beach Post – 8/23/19

A new state law the Governor signed in late June mandated a look at civics, which is a middle school class with a state-required end-of-course test.

Education Commissioner Corcoran released a “back-to-school” reading list that was sharply criticized for its “lack of diversity of authors, characters, and themes, as well as the predominance of old titles and overall lack of relevance to today’s young readers.”

And in other FDOE news, the state Board of Education unanimously named a new chairman. He’s long been a controversial figure.

Ever since the creation of Florida’s Voluntary Prekindergarten program, early education advocates have said the state needs to measure children’s abilities as they enter and as they leave, to determine whether their schools have helped them.

The Department of Education began implementing the expanded school-safety law signed by the Governor last spring.

Also of note:

The Budget & Economy

The stage has been set for the Legislature’s upcoming budget negotiations. State economists updated their General Revenue Fund & Financial Outlook, and it projects there will be about a half-billion less to spend in each of the next two years.

Odds & Ends

Federal Government – Florida’s Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott

China Tariffs

Rubio: “What other alternatives do you have to rebalance what has now been 30 years of cheating, lying, stealing and unfairness on behalf of the Chinese?”

Scott: “Anything we raise in tariffs, we should give back to the rank and public in tax reductions,” to help address “short-term pain” Americans might be feeling.

Gun Safety / Red Flag Laws

Rubio: In the aftermath of the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Rubio urged U.S. Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the committee, to look at a “Red Flag” bill he first introduced in March 2018.

Scott: “Depriving Americans of their constitutional right to bear arms is the ultimate goal of many on the left who exploit tragedies such as these for political gain. But that doesn’t change the fact that we must not allow people who threaten harm to themselves or others to have guns.”

Student Debt

Rubio: After teaming up with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren earlier this year to bring back the “Protecting Job Opportunities for Borrowers (Protecting JOBs) Act,” Rubio is working on another bipartisan student loan bill.

Scott: “What I’m trying to do is get ideas from around the state on how can we at the federal level” make college more affordable and accessible.

Healthcare and Drugs

Rubio: After the Florida Legislature passed a bill establishing the Canadian Prescription Drug Importation Program, President Trump asked HHS for an implementation plan. But Rubio is “a little bit concerned that we’re all getting excited about something that Canada’s not going to allow.”

Scott: The former healthcare industry CEO introduced four bills in the last five months related to curbing healthcare costs.

Climate Change

Rubio: Real problems deserve real solutions.

That’s it for my recap of news for Florida voters about what happened in our state government in July and August, and some of what our two U.S. Senators had to say about issues of importance to them. Next up: my recap of news specific to Collier County voters.

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