Published 12/27/17; updated 12/31/17
Perhaps the most stunning news in December was the resignation of Republican Senator Jack Latvala, a long-time Tampa Bay leader and candidate for governor, amid an ever-growing scandal involving sexual harassment charges by female staff and lobbyists. Unfortunately, I fear these are not the last harassment stories to come from our state capitol:
- Jack Latvala resigns from the Florida Senate. Naples Daily News
- Rick Scott issues executive order on sexual harassment reporting for state employees. Tampa Bay Times
Meanwhile, our elected officials continued preparing for the 2018 legislative session that begins on January 9. Committees have been meeting since September, hearing background presentations and considering proposed legislation. To-date, more than 2500 bills have been filed in the House and Senate. The filing deadline is the first day of session, and the last-minute flurry of activity is still to come.
Separately, the Florida Constitution Revision Commission continued holding committee meetings leading up to its ultimate decision on which of the 103 commissioner-proposed amendments to place before voters in November.
And some notable decisions were handed down by the courts this month as well.
In this post, I’ll share news stories, editorials and opinion pieces I’ve read about these and other activities. Consider what each bill, proposal or amendment says about its sponsor’s view of the role of government and public policy, or what an article tells you about state government as a whole. Let your representatives know if you do or don’t agree with what they’re doing and/or how you want them to vote. Now more than ever, it is important that informed voters let their voices be heard.
Top stories – state legislature
As in prior years, there continue to be efforts in Tallahassee to change how education is provided and paid for in Florida. These are some stories about activities to be aware of. I’ve provided a link when a proposed bill is involved.
- Florida could expand challenges to school textbooks. A controversial state law that made it easier for residents to challenge books used in public schools could get overhauled so those who dislike certain texts could suggest replacements they find more appropriate. Orlando Sentinel (HB 827)
- Editorial: State cash to send bullied students to private schools? Not so fast. The solution to bullying is NOT — as proposed by state Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples — facilitating the transfer of bullied students to other schools. Treasure Coast Newspapers via Naples Daily News (HB 1)
- Venture capitalist champions private-school scholarships. The number of children using a state scholarship to attend religious or other private schools in Florida soared by 21 percent last year. No one has been more central to that growth than Tampa venture capitalist John Kirtley. Orlando Sentinel
- Bill would create a fair system for Florida’s early learning funds. Attempts to establish a needs-based formula in the past have been stymied by legislators from areas enjoying the benefits of the outdated system. Herald-Tribune (SB 1150)
- Bill offering free college tuition to Florida residents moves ahead. After graduating, they would have to reside or work in Florida equivalent to the amount of time they received the scholarship, or reimburse the state. NBC Miami (HB 181)
- State legislators continue to battle with state colleges over local control. A proposed bill would shift oversight to a new 13-member, governor-appointed panel, “state” colleges could become “community” colleges again, and only 20 percent of their students could pursue four-year bachelor’s degrees. TCPalm (SB 540)
- Public union dues-or-recertification bill passes House panel. Democrats on the committee essentially charged the bill’s sponsor with pushing for union busting. Florida Politics
- Related: Republican legislation could reduce ranks of unionized teachers in Florida. The measure is being fast-tracked by House leaders. Bay9News (HB 25)
I’m also watching legislation that will affect the environment:
- Florida’s environment would benefit under several 2018 legislative session bills. One would dedicate $100 million each year from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to the Florida Forever land acquisition trust fund. TC Palm (SB 370)
How everything will be paid for is a third area I’m following. Like most states, Florida’s constitution requires a balanced budget, and every year its a challenge. For example:
- State needs local dollars to fund education increases. State Education Commissioner makes the case for increasing the Required Local Effort to fund Gov. Scott’s budget request. WFSU
- Legislators eye costs from Irma, ideas for dealing with next hurricane. As the state House plows through a long and potentially expensive menu of options, Senate President Joe Negron is confident the storm won’t blow a hole in the upcoming budget. Sun Sentinel
- Florida tourist-tax proposal for broader use of money gets committee OK. The bill would allow use for projects that “are needed to increase tourist-related business activities” and are recommended by county tourist-development councils. Orlando Sentinel (SB 658)
Top stories – the Constitution Revision Commission
- Proposals on school board term limits, elected superintendents move ahead. Collier School Board member Erika Donalds shepherded both recommendations through the Local Government Committee, which she chairs. Tampa Bay Times (P 43; P 33)
- School board pay question will return to Constitution Revision Commission. Erika Donalds barely saved her proposal to end Florida school board members’ salaries when it came before the Constitution Revision Commission education committee in November. Tampa Bay Times (P 32)
- Offshore drilling ban clears constitutional review panel, though not after opposition from petroleum industry interests. FloridaPolitics (P 91)
Top stories – the courts
Three justices on the Florida supreme court will reach mandatory retirement age in 2018, and Gov. Scott intends to appoint their replacements on his last day in office. See my July 2017 post “Florida League of Women Voters and Common Cause sue Rick Scott.” This month:
- Florida Supreme Court dismisses judicial appointments case. The decision could mean a constitutional crisis ahead. Orlando Sentinel
I am also watching the lawsuits that challenge the massive education bill signed into law last year. The courts ruled on two in December: one which challenged the law’s constitutionality in its entirety, and one which challenged the requirement that districts share property tax revenue with charters:
- Florida Supreme Court hands off HB 7069 logrolling complaint. Tampa Bay Times
- Judge refuses to dismiss Palm Beach challenge to new education law. Sun Sentinel
Both cases are now with the Leon County Circuit Court.
There was also a ruling on an appeal of a lower court ruling that claimed Florida public schools were not adequately funded and did not provide a solid education to all students in violation of the Florida Constitution.
- Appeals court upholds Florida education ‘adequacy’ ruling, sides with state in 8-year-old case. The Court’s ruling sided with the state and against education advocates and parents, saying the lawsuit dealt with “political questions not subject to judicial review.” Orlando Sentinel
In other state news…
- Voting experts urge Florida to join data-sharing partnership. County elections supervisors have repeatedly pushed for it, but the state has refused to join the Electronic Registration Information Center. Tampa Bay Times (HB 85; SB 276)
- Support for new texting-while-driving law grows. So do concerns it will lead to more racial profiling. Tampa Bay Times (HB 121; SB 90)
- Shot down: Three pro-gun bills defeated in Senate committee as one or two Republicans sided with Democrats to send the bills to the legislative scrap heap. Tampa Bay Times (SB 274; SB 148; SB 134)
- 7,500 complaints of price gouging during Irma. Just one business fined so far. “We’ve just gotten started,” Attorney General Pam Bondi said. Miami Herald
- Commentary: When branches of government go too far. Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, was upset he needed to acquire a permit to cut down some trees on his property. So he filed legislation that would wipe out local authority. By Michael Alfano, campaign manager – Campaign to Defend Local Solutions, via Naples Daily News (SB 574)
- Editorial: Drugging report shows time to end dog racing in Florida. Florida is one of just six states still allowing dog racing. Naples Daily News (SB 840)
Remember: it’s important to let your representatives know whether you agree or disagree with bills or proposals that will come before them and/or how you want them to vote. Find how to contact each of your representatives on the “Your Elected Officials” page of the Sparker’s Soapbox website.
In my next post, I’ll report on December’s top local government and school district news.
As originally published, the first paragraph of this post referred to “A shocking discovery by Naples Sen. Kathleen Passidomo” and included a link to an NBC-2 post titled “Resigned state senator kept list ranking female colleagues’ looks.” A reader made me aware of a series of tweets by Politico reporter Marc Captuo that revealed the NBC-2 story to be untrue. I have removed reference to that story from this post, and apologize for having unwittingly shared “fake news.”