August 2017 Month In Review – State News

State news this month was dominated by fallout from some of the Legislature’s past actions, while 2018 election campaigns got underway for a few key statewide races. The 2018 Legislative session begins on January 9; committee meetings are to begin in mid-September.

Top stories

  • Florida Legislature, agency let $20 million in federal aid for mental health care expire without replacing it. Now, in the midst of an opioid crisis, Naples could lose substance abuse services for 219 people. Naples Daily News
    • Related: Sen. Jack Latvala urges Gov. Rick Scott to fill funding gap by executive order. The Florida Senate budget chief and 2018 gubernatorial candidate’s letter to Scott was also signed by Senate President Joe Negron and Senate President Pro Tempore Anitere Flores. Naples Daily News
  • After ‘hard and messy’ battle, Visit Florida faces new problems. Weeks after Gov. Scott struck a compromise with House Speaker Richard Corcoran allowing new regulations on the governor’s pet tourism agency in return for its $76 million budget, the marketing of one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations is in “serious disarray.” Tampa Bay Times
  • Power companies pumped $166,400 to Florida lawmakers who control their watchdog group. As state lawmakers work to fill three Florida Public Service Commission vacancies, it’s abundantly clear why the watchdog board has no teeth: Every single politician deciding who gets to sit on the board has taken thousands of dollars in campaign donations from power and fossil-fuel companies. Miami New Times
    • Related: Editorial: Florida’s broken system for selecting utility watchdogs. Utility companies contribute heavily to the campaigns of state lawmakers who serve on the PSC nominating council or appoint those who do. History shows these lawmakers favor applicants friendly to the utilities they are supposed to watchdog. It’s time to revisit how PSC members are selected. Sun-Sentinel
  • South Florida Water Management District emails show U.S. Sugar Corp. lobbyist’s influence. The District changed course immediately after a Dec. 2014 meeting with the lobbyist, halting planned rules meant to protect Florida waterways from pollutants in favor of a plan that “takes polluters at their word and holds no one accountable” if water quality suffers. TCPalm
  • Army Corps not ready to help South Florida Water Management District on Lake Okeechobee reservoir, asking for another month to make sure the Corps’ participation was “legally sufficient, policy compliant and implementable.” The SFWMD and Corps are supposed to have a basic design for the reservoir when the Legislature begins its 2018 session in January. TCPalm
    • Related: State may pay more on reservoir because its request will require the Corps to repurpose a project Congress already authorized. How much the federal government is willing to cover might have to be reconsidered. TCPalm
  • Florida’s Stand Your Ground change unconstitutional, second Miami judge rules. The ruling adds to an ongoing legal fight over whether lawmakers overstepped their authority when they revised the law to shift the burden to prosecutors, who are now forced to disprove a defendant’s claim of self-defense. Miami Herald
  • Florida Supreme Court strikes blow to death row inmates. The issue was whether all death row inmates should benefit from rulings by the U.S. and Florida Supreme Courts that struck down the state’s death penalty as unconstitutional because it didn’t require a unanimous jury vote. Palm Beach Post
  • Legal challenge to charter-friendly education law grows to 10 districts. The 274-page HB 7069 covers a wide range of provisions, some easing the ways in which charter schools can open and secure tax dollars.  News-Journal
    • Related: Editorial: Suing state over HB 7069 is understandable move for school boards. Lee County School Board members made the right decision to go to court against the state over approval of House Bill 7069. Naples Daily News
    • Related: Editorial “Kick”: School Board members Kelly Lichter and Erika Donalds opposed putting a review of HB 7069 by the district’s attorney on the board’s next agenda because it would be “divisive.” “We’d think members of any elected board would welcome a legal presentation on a ‘divisive’ issue. The ensuing discussion is only as “divisive” as the rhetoric the elected leaders then use when debating it.” Naples Daily News
  • Sen. Passidomo of Naples to lead education budget committee. She replaces Sen. David Simmons, who voted against the highly contested HB 7069. The Senate PreK–12 Education Appropriations Subcommittee is responsible for cobbling together the Senate’s education budget. Naples Daily News
    • Related: Senator Simmons replaced  by a “first term senator from Naples who just moved up from the House” and who supported HB 7069, the religious expression bill and the textbook review bill. Florida League of Women Voters
    • Related: Text messages reveal behind-the-scenes battle over charter school bill. Politico
  • Sen. Passidomo sets Collier’s 2018 Legislative Delegation meeting for October 19. Local government entities, businesses, organizations, and citizens are encouraged to “use this opportunity to share with the delegation” local bills and local budget requests in advance of the 2018 Legislative Session as well as issues they would like to see addressed by state government. Immokalee Bulletin
  • Florida textbook law: America’s fight over facts continues. The law, the first of its kind in the nation, allows any state resident to formally challenge instructional materials. A Collier County resident claims that “any textbook including climate change information should leave open the possibility that humans are not at fault….” Time
  • Florida will pay $82,000 after losing vote-by-mail lawsuit. The Florida Democratic Party and the Democratic National Committee sued last year because state law did not require voters to be notified if their signatures on their ballot and voter registration forms don’t match. The Florida Legislature changed the law this spring. Tampa Bay Online
  • Trump nominates State Rep. Carlos Trujillo (R-Miami) to UN post, making the “powerful” Florida House budget chief one of UN Ambassador Nikki Haley’s four deputies. The district stretches from western Miami-Dade County into Collier County. Miami Herald
    • Related: Trujillo won’t resign from Florida Legislature for Trump administration post. Trujillo said he confirmed that the position would not require him to abandon his elected office, thereby avoiding a special election to replace him in House District 105, a Republican-leaning seat. Miami Herald

Top editorials and commentaries

  • Editorial: Voters may get chance to close loophole in law. Florida’s write-in provision has undermined hundreds of elections over the past 17 years. This could change in November 2018 if the state’s Constitution Revision Commission approves a proposed constitutional amendment offered by Dave Aronberg, state attorney for Palm Beach County. Treasure Coast Newspapers via Naples Daily News
  • Editorial: Whatever happened to home rule in Florida? Legislators chafe at federal regulations that come from Washington. Then they turn around and hand down their own edicts, handcuffing local officials who want to do what’s best for their constituents, but find they can’t because of the heavy-handedness from Tallahassee. Treasure Coast Newspapers via Naples Daily News
  • Commentary: Money is following for-profit schools, not students. Proposed constitutional amendments likely in 2018 will be designed to “give Republicans a free hand to privatize our public schools, increase public school tax funds going to for-profit charter corporations, legalize vouchers, and continue to siphon funds out of public school districts coffers.” Mark J. Castellano, President – Teachers Association of Lee County, News-Press

Election news

2018 Race for Governor 

  • Nine Republicans, 5 Democrats, 2 NPA, 1 LPF and 1 CPF have filed to run for governor in 2018. Florida Dept of State
  • Contributions totaling $6 million have been reported to date. Topping the list are Republicans Adam Putnam ($2.3 million) and Democrats Chris King ($1.7 million) and Gwen Graham ($1.1 million). Florida Dept of State
  • Florida Insider Poll: Who is the true conservative in the mix for governor? The “clear winner,” with 41 percent, was U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, followed by Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, with 29 percent, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam with 24 percent and state Sen. Jack Latvala with 6 percent. Tampa Bay Times

2018 Race for Agriculture Commissioner

  •  Four Republicans and 2 Democrats have filed to run for agriculture commissioner in 2018. Florida Dept of State
  • Contributions totaling $4 million have been reported so far by the six candidates. Republican former state Rep. Baxter Griffin Troutman reported a personal contribution $2.5 million, far surpassing all others. Florida Dept of State
  • Matt Caldwell, Denise Grimsley square off for Florida’s agriculture commissioner. Both top Republicans with Lee County ties, they are among those running in what “promises to be the first competitive GOP primary in 25 years” for Florida’s agriculture commissioner. And there is already a flood of contributions from special interests. Naples Daily News

Stay tuned for my next post, where I’ll report on August’s top local government and school district news.

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