This month in Florida Government news: Governor Ron DeSantis announces $91.4 billion state budget with higher starting teacher salaries and new teacher bonus program; wants increased regulation of water quality; will name two state Supreme Court justices in January. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, wins 2022-24 Florida Senate president race. For these stories and more Florida government news, read on …
The Governor’s Budget Proposal
In November, the governor outlined his budget priorities for 2020-21. But it’s the Legislature that actually crafts the budget. In fact, it’s their only constitutional duty.
At $91.4 billion, it is the largest budget ever proposed by a Florida governor and slightly more than the current year’s plan.
“The budget includes key investments in our K-12 education system, our environment and the well-being of our residents, while recommending over $480 million in savings and over $300 million in tax relief,” he said in a statement.
- Governor Ron DeSantis announces Bolder, Brighter, Better Future budget for FY 2020-2021. Governor’s Press Release, 11/18/19
House Speaker Jose Oliva called the Governor’s budget “a solid base upon which to begin our budget discussions,” and Senate President Bill Galvano said it reflects “many priorities my Senate colleagues and I share.”
- Florida’s leaders weigh in on Ron DeSantis’ proposed budget. Florida Daily, 11/18/19
With a trillion-dollar economy and one of the largest student populations in the nation, Florida ranks 46th among all states and the District of Columbia based on average public school teacher salary. The average is $48,486 for some 176,000 school teachers.
- Embarrassingly low teacher pay in FL has sparked a face-off between the governor and teacher unions. Florida Phoenix, 10/30/19
DeSantis’ budget boosts K-12 public school funding to an all-time high of $22.9 billion, an increase of $1 billion or 4.76% over the current year. It includes a $300 per-student funding increase to $7,979, a starting teacher salary of $47,500 and new teacher and principal bonus programs. To help pay for the increased funding, local property taxes (“required local effort”) would go up almost $158 million (2.01%). Details here.
- DeSantis’ $22.9 billion K-12 plan includes teacher pay hikes, $300 increase in per-student funding. The Center Square | Florida, 11/20/19
- Gov. DeSantis fleshes out teacher pay, bonus proposals in draft bills. Tampa Bay Times, 11/19/19
- Gov. DeSantis rolls out new teacher bonus proposal. Tampa Bay Times, 11/14/19
Critics say the Governor’s underlying approach to education as outlined in his recommended conforming bills has not changed. And:
- Support staff are the backbone of Florida’s schools, but they’re ignored in the debate about teacher pay. Florida Phoenix, 11/19/19
The DeSantis budget seeks $2 billion for the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, including the second-year $625-million installment of his four-year Everglades restoration and water quality plan. It was applauded by the Everglades Foundation but criticized by some as not doing enough.
- Conservationists: DeSantis’ $2 billion environmental plan not enough to avert “crisis of epic proportions.” The Center Square | Florida, 11/21/19
Elections Security Budget
The DeSantis budget recommends $6.6 million for state-level election oversight activities, with a focus on cybersecurity. Included is $1.3 million to assist local Supervisors of Elections to combat cyber threats and $1.4 million for voter registration list maintenance services and voter outreach.
- DeSantis’ budget: $1 billion on teacher pay, millions for elections security. Tampa Bay Times, 11/18/19
Other DeSantis Priorities
- Gov. DeSantis wants to boost state regulations to improve water quality. Florida Phoenix, 10/16/19
- DeSantis renews call for occupational licensing rollback in 2020 legislative agenda. The Center Square | Florida, 10/10/19
- Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signals another push For E-Verify system. CBSMiami/News Service of Florida, 10/29/19
Environment & Growth
After taking office last January, DeSantis quickly emerged as a different kind of Florida Republican leader.
- Florida GOP leaders starting to address climate change again after long ignoring issue. Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 11/3/19
At the urging of the Governor, Everglades restoration projects such as the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir Project have been expedited. Most recently:
- Focused on Everglades, Ron DeSantis activates C-44 reservoir and stormwater treatment area. Florida Daily, 11/8/19
On the other hand, oil and gas drilling in an environmentally critical floodplain is a step closer to reality, which could put the water supply for Florida’s Panhandle at risk.
- Florida DEP issues notice of intent to allow exploratory drilling in Apalachicola River basin. Naples Daily News via Tallahassee Democrat, 11/01/19
Lawmakers passed a bill last session to build more than 300 miles of toll roads and gave task force members until October 2020 to gather public input and make recommendations. Acknowledging subsequent complaints about the tight timeline:
- Task forces will get more scrutiny over toll roads, Florida officials announce. Tampa Bay Times, 11/11/19
Test results show that 42% of toddlers who participated in Florida’s free prekindergarten program were not ready for kindergarten.
- Florida’s free pre-K was supposed to be providing an educational head start. It may not be. Miami Herald, 10/27/19
Florida’s fourth and eighth grade 2019 reading scores represented little progress from a decade ago; lowest-performing students posted some of the biggest declines.
- Florida students post ‘significant declines’ on national reading test. Orlando Sentinel, 10/30/19
Law & Justice
Voters overwhelmingly passed Amendment 11 in 2018. One provision in the bundled amendment made it possible for the Legislature to retroactively free people imprisoned for what were crimes when committed but, due to changes in law, are no longer crimes today. And yet:
- Hundreds of Florida inmates are serving drug sentences no longer in state law. Tampa Bay Times, 11/13/19
- Ron DeSantis skeptical of releasing Florida inmates serving outdated sentences. Miami Herald, 11/19/19
A court ruled in July that penalizing local officials for violating a law that prohibits them from regulating firearms was unconstitutional. Now DeSantis and Attorney General Ashley Moody are appealing the decision.
- State, local governments gird for court battle over Florida firearms preemption penalties. The Center Square | Florida, 11/27/19
Voting & Elections
Returning Citizens’ Rights Restoration
A voting rights panel set up by lawmakers has made recommendations on implementation of Amendment 4, a citizen initiative passed by voters that granted voting rights to an estimated 1.4 million former felons living in the state.
- Florida panel says bureaucracies should be reworked to verify ex-felon voting rights. Politico Florida, 10/30/19
Meanwhile, as reported last month, a lawsuit that challenges a law passed last session specifying conditions for the restoration of voting rights continues. This month, in considering the Governor’s request to weigh in on the meaning of “all terms of their sentence:”
- Florida Supreme Court Justices weigh in on felon voting rights amendment. CBS Miami, 11/6/19
Secretary of State Laurel Lee acknowledged that Florida’s election systems are under daily attack by foreign or domestic adversaries.
- Election security ‘team’ works to thwart threats to Florida’s voting, restore trust. Miami Herald, 10/31/19
Health, Safety & Welfare
Florida regulators are proceeding with plans to import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada, a DeSantis priority, but questions persist.
- Getting cheap and safe Canadian drugs to Floridians is a big unknown. Florida Phoenix, 11/8/19
Attorney General Ashley Moody wants stronger regulations to prevent vaping dealers from selling to children. She would also like to see the existing Tobacco Free Florida program expanded to warn about the impact of vaping among teenagers.
- FL AG Moody wants lawmakers to address the growing problem of teenagers and vaping. Florida Phoenix, 10/30/19
Kathleen Passidomo Elected 2022 Senate President
Senate Majority Leader Kathleen Passidomo of Naples won the race for President of the Florida Senate beginning in 2022. But Republicans must keep their majority in the Senate if she is to take office in three years.
- Kathleen Passidomo, with race for Senate presidency wrapped, says focus remains on successful session. Florida Politics, 11/19/19
The Florida Courts
Two Florida Supreme Court vacancies were created this month when Justices Robert Luck and Barbara Lagoa were confirmed to lifetime appointments on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.
- GOP now controls court sending Florida cases to U.S. Supreme Court. Tampa Bay Times, 11/20/19
- DeSantis to name Lagoa, Luck Supreme Court replacements in early 2020. The Center Square | Florida, 11/4/19
DeSantis has said he looks for conservative judges who won’t impose their own policy views over those enacted by the Legislature. Such judges would likely uphold the GOP-dominated state House and Senate priorities on issues like abortion, state support for religious institutions, and access to the courts.
- Panel will work around holidays to vet fresh candidates for the Florida Supreme Court. Florida Phoenix, 11/25/19
Florida’s U.S. Senators are Marco Rubio and Rick Scott.
- Rubio’s and Scott’s environment protection bills advance in the Senate. FloridianPress.com, 11/13/19
- Marco Rubio helps secure funds for Holocaust Museum. Florida Daily, 11/4/19
- Rick Scott defends opportunity zone tax breaks that benefited wealthy donors. Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 11/15/19
- Marco Rubio gets Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act through the Senate. Florida Daily, 11/20/19
That’s it for my recap of Florida government news for November. Next up: my review of government news specifically for Collier County voters.