This month in Florida government news: Parental consent abortion bill heads to governor; appeals court had good news for ex-felons but challenge continues; FDOE releases new state standards. For these stories and more news for Florida voters, read on …
With just two weeks remaining in Florida’s 2020 legislative session, I will begin this post with what we know so far. Then I will highlight important developments in other areas of state government, and close as always with news about our two U.S. senators. Next month, I will recap significant policy actions taken by the legislature this session that will affect our daily lives.
The 2020 Legislative Session
As of 2/29/20, of the 3,513 bills introduced this session, the governor has signed just six into law. All had passed unanimously in both chambers. Four deal with recurring administrative matters; one might affect you:
- Homeowners associations can’t stop police vehicles from parking in neighborhoods. Tampa Bay Times, 2/25/20; CS/SB 476
The other bill the governor signed removes the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence as the state’s sole-source provider and coordinator of domestic violence services, after revelations that the agency paid its director a $761,000 annual salary and more than $7 million in compensation.
- Governor receives bill stripping domestic violence agency of guaranteed contract with state. Florida Politics, 2/26/20
- Domestic violence salary scandal leads to questions of cover-up. Miami Herald, 2/26/20
As I reported last month, both the Governor’s and the House budget proposals totaled $91.4 billion and the Senate’s totaled $92.8 billion. All three are up from the current year’s $90.8 billion budget. Five key budget areas must be reconciled in order to produce a balanced budget: the total budget amount, state pay raises, Florida Forever funding, raiding the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, and Visit Florida funding.
- Big budget issues remain unresolved between Florida House and Senate. Tallahassee Democrat, 2/12/20
The House approved a tax package whose provisions would reduce state and local taxes by $103.9 million annually. The centerpiece of the bill is a reduction in the communication services tax of 0.5% and a reduction in the business rent tax from 5.5% to 5.4%.
- First draft of House tax package emerges. Florida Tax Watch, 2/21/20
Monitor state tax proposals as session progresses with Florida Tax Watch’s 2020 Legislative Updates.
Abortion: Parental Consent
Florida will soon be among a handful of states requiring both notification and consent for a minor to get an abortion.
- Florida House sends parental consent for abortion bill to Gov. DeSantis. USA TODAY NETWORK – Florida Capitol Bureau via Naples Daily News, 2/20/20; SB 404
Certain the bill will be challenged, Gov. DeSantis said he welcomes the Florida Supreme Court’s review.
- What’s next on the abortion front in FL? A legal showdown. Florida Phoenix, 2/21/20
- ‘Power grab’: House takes Energy Office from Democrat Ag Commissioner Nikki Fried. Florida Politics, 2/14/20
- Bill seeking to close the ‘gun-show loophole’ fails in Florida Legislature. Orlando Sentinel, 2/26/20
Other State Government News
At the start of last year, Gov. DeSantis issued an executive order “outlining a path for Florida to improve its education system by eliminating Common Core and paving the way for Florida students to receive a world-class education to prepare them for jobs of the future.” Now:
- Department of Education unveils proposed standards as Common Core eliminated in Florida. Florida Daily, 2/9/20; FDOE Press Release, 2/7/20
- Florida has new school standards. Did it dump the Common Core? Tampa Bay Times, 2/12/20
Environment & Growth
Gov. DeSantis created the position of chief science officer shortly after being sworn in, and a biological scientist and University of Florida professor is the first person to hold the job.
- Florida’s chief science officer doesn’t mince words on climate change, says humans need to reduce carbon emissions. Herald-Tribune, 2/4/20
Meanwhile, after less than six months, Florida’s first chief resilience officer, the person tasked with helping the state survive climate change, is leaving.
- Florida’s first climate czar is leaving to go work with Trump on homeland security. Miami Herald, 2/20/20
The Department of Agriculture has been paying sugar lobbyists to advise the state’s Office of Agricultural Water Policy on setting Lake Okeechobee water levels. That’s about to stop.
- Agriculture commissioner fires, takes consultants tied to sugar farmers off Lake O panel. TCPalm/Treasure Coast Newspapers, 2/3/20
A new, 26-member committee has been formed to advise on energy conservation, renewable energy, climate change, sea-level rise, alternative vehicle technologies, and more.
- Nikki Fried launches Florida Advisory Council on Climate and Energy. Florida Daily, 2/26/20
As I have reported previously, three of the biggest toll road expansions ever planned for Florida could have a big impact on much of the state. Recommendations for their exact placement are due by October.
- Toll roads to avoid sensitive areas; environmentalists not swayed. WLRN.org, 2/17/20
- Will new toll roads bring economic prosperity? It’s too soon to tell, but sides are drawn. Naples Daily News, 2/26/20
Law & Justice
Last session, the legislature passed a law that is being challenged in the courts that requires former felons to pay any owed fines or restitution before they can register to vote under 2018’s Amendment 4. But there is no centralized office tracking fines and fees across courts in Florida’s 67 counties and older court records might not be immediately available.
- Florida courts struggle to collect fines owed by ex-felons. APnews.com, 2/10/20
It’s no wonder that since it was approved by nearly two-thirds of Florida voters in 2018, Amendment 4 has become arguably the most high-profile voting rights case in the nation.
The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition wants the state clemency board to remove the current five- and seven-year waiting periods and reserve hearings for applicants with the most serious offenses. The move comes amid an ongoing court battle over the law implementing 2018’s Amendment 4.
- Rights Restoration Coalition looks to Florida Clemency Board reforms. WFSU News, 2/20/20
Five days after the USA TODAY NETWORK – Florida reported that nearly 30 final orders from the Florida Commission on Ethics were awaiting his final decision:
- Cutting backlog by half, Gov. DeSantis imposes ethics penalties on Andrew Gillum, others. Tallahassee Democrat, 2/12/20
A new public-private partnership tasked with increasing investment in workforce training and re-entry programs for Florida prison inmates was unveiled by Gov. DeSantis.
- Public-private partnership to address Florida inmate re-entry programs. The Center Square | Florida, 2/7/20
Health, Safety & Welfare
After years of giving sole-source status to the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, lawmakers said they were blindsided by reports that more than $7.5 million of taxpayer money was paid to a single executive in the last three years. Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, emphasized that the issue was “an administrative problem” and not a reflection on what she said is “excellent service” offered by the domestic violence shelters.
- Legislators ‘stunned’ by misuse of funds at domestic violence agency. Miami Herald, 2/13/20
Mary Mayhew, secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, oversees close to 31% of Florida’s total state budget. Here’s what she says her agency is doing:
- Florida’s strategy for tackling its top 5 health concerns. Sun Sentinel, 2/24/20
- Will your vote count? Lack of disclosure makes it nearly impossible to tell. Tallahassee Democrat, 2/25/20
- Ron DeSantis launches program to help veterans, active-duty military buy homes in Florida. Florida Daily, 2/20/20
- Senate won’t confirm DeSantis’ nominee to be chief administrative judge. Miami Herald, 2/18/20
- Highest income earners in Florida taxed at 2.3% rate. The Center Square | Florida, 2/16/20
In the Courts
Delivering a defeat to Gov. DeSantis and the Republican-controlled Legislature, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta upheld a lower court decision that found the state could not deny ex-felons the right to vote just because they can’t afford to pay outstanding court fines, fees and restitution.
- Florida loses appeals court ruling on felon voting law. Politico Florida,
In response, the DeSantis administration asked for a full court “en banc” review.
- Gov. Ron DeSantis asks court to revisit Florida felon voting ruling. Orlando Sentinel, 2/27/20
Florida Department of Health attorneys have asked the Florida Supreme Court to uphold the Legislature’s embattled 2017 “vertical integration” law regulating the state’s medical-marijuana industry that two lower courts declared unconstitutional.
- Dueling briefs frame arguments as Florida’s medical-marijuana laws face Supreme Court test. The Center Square | Florida, 2/7/20
- Marco Rubio joins Senate Climate Solutions Caucus. Florida Daily, 2/10/20
- Senators Rubio, Klobuchar, and Representative Dunn applaud signing of their Supporting Veterans in STEM Careers Act into law. Press Release, 2/11/20
- Common good capitalism: an interview with Marco Rubio. American Affairs Journal, 02/2020
- Rick Scott proposes amendment making it tougher to impeach President, other federal officials. Florida Daily, 2/6/20; Scott Op-Ed, 2/6/20
- Rick Scott appears at Trump rally amid 2024 presidential bid speculation. The Capitolist, 2/11/20
- Rubio, Cotton, Portman reintroduce Foreign Influence Transparency Act. Press Release, 2/13/20
That’s it for my recap of Florida government news for February Next up: my review of government news specifically for Collier County voters.