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Florida Government News for December 2019

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 …

News from Tallahassee

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:

DCF Accountability

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.

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.


Efforts advancing policy changes that were begun last term are also expected in the upcoming session, including:

Growth

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.”

Education

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:

Sentencing Reform

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:

Immigration

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.

Tourism Marketing

Regular tourism marketing can be handled by local governments and businesses. Is state funding needed, too? Senate and House leaders disagree.

State Wages

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:

Prison reform

Corrections Secretary Mark Inch warned that the “status quo is unsustainable.” Gov. DeSantis and Senate President Bill Galvano want to do more.

Taxation

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:

Preemption

Florida lawmakers continue to seek ways to consolidate more control over the public school system in the state education commissioner’s office.

Other State Government News

Everglades Restoration

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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:

Florida is increasing its participation in a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement program through a pilot program in the Florida Panhandle.

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.

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:

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:

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.

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.

Florida is one of four states with proposed state-sanctioned drug import plans awaiting HHS approval. Now:

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:

Florida’s 2017 stand-your-ground law switched the burden of proof from the defense to the state in stand your ground cases. Now:

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.”

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:

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.

Other Noteworthy News

Florida’s U.S. Senators are Marco Rubio and Rick Scott

Domestic Affairs

Foreign Affairs


That’s it for my recap of Florida government news for December. Next up: my review of government news specifically for Collier County voters.

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