This month in Florida Government news: Amendment 4 rights restoration still in the courts; Gov. DeSantis wants high schoolers to take a civics exam; e-Verify battle heating up; Senate President Galvano says toll road funding is on track. For these stories and more Florida government news, read on …
As 2019 drew to a close, Gov. DeSantis issued a press release highlighting his administration’s major accomplishments during his first year in office. Read it here.
The 2020 Legislative Session
Two major new policy areas likely to be addressed in the upcoming session are (1) holding the state Department of Children and Families more accountable and streamlining its adoption process and (2) criminal justice reform aiming to reduce the sentences of young adult and juvenile offenders. Specifically:
Senate President-designate Wilton Simpson’s “DCF Accountability Act” would, among other things, create an Office of Quality Assurance and Improvement within DCF and streamline the state’s adoption process.
- Wilton Simpson bill seeks to improve DCF ‘accountability’. Florida Politics, 12/21/19; SB 1326
Criminal Justice Reform
Sen. Jeff Brandes’s “The Second Look Act” would allow a judge to resentence offenders who were convicted under the age of 25 who have been “reformed” in order to relieve prison crowding caused by mandatory sentencing guidelines and budget cuts.
- As juvenile crime plummets, Florida bills seek adolescent arrest, sentencing reform. The Center Square | Florida, 12/29/19; SB 1308
Efforts advancing policy changes that were begun last term are also expected in the upcoming session, including:
Senate President Bill Galvano will be seeking new funding for the controversial project approved last session to build three toll roads “to revitalize rural communities and improve rural networks.”
- Galvano: Toll road funding on track despite opposition. Florida Politics, 12/18/19
Seventy-one percent of Florida’s students passed the end-of-course civics exam required to graduate from middle school, and all Florida college and university students must pass a civics literacy test. Now, in addition:
- Ron DeSantis wants Florida high schoolers to take exam similar to citizenship test. Tampa Bay Times, 12/10/19
Florida voters approved a ballot measure in 2018 to allow lawmakers to apply current state sentencing laws to old cases, and hundreds of inmates are serving drug sentences that are no longer in state law. But:
- Key Florida lawmaker reluctant to make drug sentencing guidelines retroactive. Miami Herald, 12/18/19
Requiring employers to verify the immigration status of potential hires has long been a political hot potato in Florida. Now Gov. DeSantis must decide how much political capital he wants to spend on it.
- E-Verify battle heating up for 2020 session. news4jax.com, 12/17/19
Regular tourism marketing can be handled by local governments and businesses. Is state funding needed, too? Senate and House leaders disagree.
- Oliva: Visit Florida is a waste of $30 million. Tampa Bay Times, 12/6/19
- Visit Florida should stay alive, Senate President Galvano says. Orlando Sentinel, 12/17/19
A pay hike for state workers is a top priority for Democrats, the minority party in the legislature. It’s early in the process, but Senate President Galvano has said:
- Senate will include state worker pay raise in budget deliberations. Tallahassee Democrat, 12/17/19
Corrections Secretary Mark Inch warned that the “status quo is unsustainable.” Gov. DeSantis and Senate President Bill Galvano want to do more.
- Florida prison woes: Not enough staff, rising health care costs and crumbling buildings. Orlando Sentinel, 12/29/19
Lawmakers have slashed the state’s Business Rental Tax, the nation’s only sales tax on commercial leases, in each of three consecutive years. Now:
- Florida lawmakers to ponder cuts, exemptions to Business Rental Tax in 2020. The Center Square | Florida, 12/17/19
- Debbie Mayfield seeks sales tax holiday for guns, tents and other hunting supplies. Florida Politics, 12/26/19
Florida lawmakers continue to seek ways to consolidate more control over the public school system in the state education commissioner’s office.
- Bill could place more control over Florida teacher discipline in commissioner’s hands. Tampa Bay Times, 12/16/19
Other State Government News
The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) has awarded a contract to remove 5.5 miles of an elevated Tamiami Trail roadbed long cited as a “dam” that impedes Everglades’ sheet flow.
- Project to remove Everglades’ roadbed ‘dam’ by 2022 gets green light. The Center Square | Florida, 12/16/19
Voting & Elections
Hopes for full implementation of two significant changes to the way Florida registers voters were all but dashed at the annual meeting of the state’s 67 supervisors of elections.
- Florida voters expected changes in time for 2020 election. They’re not all happening. Miami Herald, 12/11/19
Meanwhile, following adoption of last session’s contentious law that limited the rights of former felons to cast ballots that has been on hold for months amid lawsuits and legal reviews (see “In the Florida Courts,” below), Florida officials are readying a plan to recommend their removal from voter rolls if they owe fines or restitution resulting from their convictions.
- Florida plans to ID former felons who want to vote but haven’t paid up. Politico Florida, 12/10/19
And separately, Florida has been accepted to the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), a multi-state network to improve the accuracy of voter registration systems. But full participation prior to the 2020 elections is contingent upon funding from the Legislature.
- Florida joins multi-state voter verification system, Gov. Ron DeSantis announces. Tallahassee Democrat, 12/12/19
Law & Justice
A Florida grand jury report recommended tougher penalties for data manipulation and insufficient security among other widespread violations of state laws passed in response to the Parkland shooting.
- Grand jury scolds Florida school districts, says they’re breaking post-Parkland laws. Tampa Bay Times, 12/12/19
In the last 10 years, former Gov. Rick Scott and state legislators extracted millions from the prison system, first by shifting from 8- to 12-hour shifts to cut 3,700 jobs, then with a push to privatize prisons and prison healthcare. Now:
- Audit: Privatizing Florida’s prison medical services was costly mistake. Miami-Herald, 12/13/19
Florida is increasing its participation in a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement program through a pilot program in the Florida Panhandle.
- Florida prison guards to be deputized as ICE agents in crackdown on undocumented immigrants. Orlando Sentinel, 11/25/19
Florida has the sixth-largest population of people detained by ICE in the U.S. Now, following a scathing report, civil rights and immigration lawyers are calling for complete oversight of all adult immigration detention facilities in the state.
- Report slams medical care, solitary confinement in Florida immigration detention centers. Miami Herald, 12/10/19
Gov. DeSantis banned sanctuary cities in Florida earlier this year and is working to make E-Verify mandatory in order to discourage illegal immigration. Now:
- New agreement will give some Florida prison guards immigration-related authority. The Epoch Times, 11/27/19
Health, Safety & Welfare
The Saudi military pilot who killed three people and wounded several others at a naval air station this month had legally purchased the 9mm handgun in Florida that he used in his rampage. Now:
- Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis calls for gun restrictions after Pensacola shooting. USA Today 12/9/19 via Naples Daily News
Risk protection orders, part of Florida’s 2018 red flag law, allow police and judges to strip gun rights from people who family members, co-workers, neighbors, teachers and others have identified as potentially dangerous.
- Guns are confiscated under Florida’s new red flag law. But are Lee, Collier counties safer? Naples Daily News, 12/12/19
Florida’s Baker Act of 1972 was intended to strengthen civil rights protections for people with mental illnesses. But it usually treats children and adults the same when someone is taken into custody.
- The Baker Act set out to improve care. Now it’s ensnaring more children. Tampa Bay Times, 12/10/19
Florida is one of four states with proposed state-sanctioned drug import plans awaiting HHS approval. Now:
- Trump push gives DeSantis’s drug import plan key federal endorsement. The Center Square | Florida, 12/20/19
In the Florida Courts
Despite overwhelming voter approval of 2018’s Amendment 4, the legislature last session passed a contentious law requiring felons to pay fees and restitution related to their sentencing before they register to vote. Now, even as the law is being challenged in the courts:
- Judge says felons can register, but not vote. News Service of Florida via Gainesville.com, 12/20/19
Florida’s 2017 stand-your-ground law switched the burden of proof from the defense to the state in stand your ground cases. Now:
- Florida Supreme Court rules 2017 stand-your-ground law change is not retroactive. Tampa Bay Times, 12/19/19
Dozens of cities, counties and local officials say a 2011 state law that threatens tough penalties if local elected officials approve gun regulations is an “unnecessary and unconstitutional overreach.”
- Cities, counties fight back at Florida’s attempt to punish local leaders who try to regulate guns. News Service of Florida via Orlando Sentinel, 12/24/19
- Florida Cabinet’s lone Democrat backs challenge to law that punishes local leaders who create gun regulations. Sun-Sentinel, 12/27/19
In 2014, 75 percent of voters approved the Water and Land Conservation Amendment which required putting a third of real estate documentary stamp tax revenue in a new Land Acquisition Trust Fund. Lawmakers used the funds to cover state park management costs, keeping the savings for general revenue, and a lawsuit followed. Now:
- Legislature seeks to halt conservationist’s appeal over Land Acquisition Trust Fund. Florida Politics, 12/28/19
Defending its 2016 Styrofoam ban in a case making its way to the Florida Supreme Court, the City of Coral Gables contends, in part, that the state preemption of its ordinance violates local home-rule powers.
- Florida seeks to put lid on styrofoam fight with Coral Gables. CBSMiami, 11/26/19
Other Noteworthy News
- State warns Florida’s elections websites could be target for hackers. Miami-Herald, 12/4/19
- New projections show that South Florida is in for even more sea-level rise. Miami-Herald, 12/4/19
- Florida Keys deliver a hard message: as seas rise, some places can’t be saved. New York Times, 12/4/19
- Corporate loopholes mean Florida taxpayers subsidize jobs in other states. Naples Daily News via Orlando Sentinel, 12/11/19
- ‘Shock wave’ engulfs hemp hopes; FL senators ask, ‘What went wrong?’ Florida Phoenix, 12/11/19
- Sen. Marco Rubio: It’s not “socialism” to push for an economy that works for all Americans. Opinion via New York Post, 12/4/19
- Sen. Rick Scott slams federal arts funding due to lack of “return on investment for taxpayers.” Orlando Weekly, 12/21/19
- U.S. Senate follows House, OKs budget with $200 million for reservoir, Everglades projects. TCPalm/Treasure Coast Newspapers, 12/19/19
- Scott wants Florida universities to ferret out faculty, researchers working with China. The Center Square | Florida, 12/6/19
- Rubio, McGovern lead 48 lawmakers in urging Trump administration to expand sanctions in response to China’s mass internment of Uyghurs. Press Release, 12/12/19
That’s it for my recap of Florida government news for December. Next up: my review of government news specifically for Collier County voters.