Top stories: Gov. DeSantis announces 2020 environmental priorities; state efforts to weaken local control continue; gun safety will again be a legislative priority; and senators introduce “Canadian Snowbirds Act.” For this and other news for Florida voters, read on.
2020 Legislative Session
Florida’s Legislature won’t officially meet until January 14, but House and Senate committees began work last month because there’s simply too much to accomplish in its regular 60-day session. Read more at Florida’s ‘broken’ Legislature: ‘Session too quick, term limits too short and lawmakers paid too little’, Orlando Sentinel, 8/12/19.
In the Senate’s first “interim committee week,” members began reviewing implementation of recently passed legislation and discussed the budget and other topics of interest. Read more at First Interim Committee Week, by Senator Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, 9/20/19.
In the House, importantly, members designated their next Speaker. Read more at Chris Sprowls is about to become one of Florida’s most powerful politicians. Who is he?, Tampa Bay Times, 9/17/19.
Environment & Growth
Speaking about his 2020 environmental priorities and repeating a request of the last session, Governor DeSantis wants the Legislature to commit $625 million a year for the next three years for environmental projects. He also wants to double fines for sewage spills, to eliminate what he calls the current “slap me on the wrist” approach to penalties for local governments. Read more at DeSantis rolls out environmental proposals, News Service of Florida, 9/11/19.
Meanwhile, growth management advocates are challenging a law passed last session. They say it will have a “chilling” effect on citizens who oppose new development by making a legal challenge too onerous because of the threat of having to pay costly legal fees. Read more at Growth-management advocates challenge new state law that could limit citizen lawsuits against developers, Florida Phoenix, 9/13/19.
September saw a significant development in another environment-related lawsuit. In 2014, voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment requiring that 33 percent of real-estate documentary stamp taxes go to the state’s Land Acquisition Trust Fund to “acquire, restore, improve, and manage conservation lands.” Environmental groups subsequently challenged how lawmakers were spending the money, with initial success. Last month, in a blow to the environmental groups, an appeals court said the Legislature’s actions were legal. Read more at Court backs lawmakers in conservation fight, Sayfie Review, 9/9/19.
In a trend that began under former governor Jeb Bush, state actions that weaken local control of public schools continue. Now the State Board of Education “is poised to take its control over staffing decisions at turnaround schools to a new level.” The president of the state school superintendent’s association questioned the further tightening of the state’s grip on the process. The past two years have already seen a reduction in turnaround options and a shortening of the time allowed to show gains. Read more at Turnaround schools would need state approval to change principals under
Meanwhile, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran cleaned house at the Florida Virtual School, hiring four new chiefs from outside the troubled online public school’s traditional interviewing process to help “stabilize” it. Critics say the school, which ran on $180 million in state money last year, needs accountability, not more political appointees with little education experience. Read more at Under state control, Florida Virtual School hires new executives with ties to GOP leaders, Orlando Sentinel, 9/19/19.
On another long-controversial topic, Governor DeSantis signaled “a new direction” for the state’s Best and Brightest teacher bonus program. He wants to replace what was dramatically redone in the 2019 legislative session with his own plan to raise teacher pay and increase retention. Read more at Florida’s Best and Brightest teacher bonus too confusing to survive, Gov. DeSantis says, Tampa Bay Times, 9/24/19.
Reflecting state- and nation-wide pressure on lawmakers, gun safety will be a legislative priority in the coming session as it was the past two years following the February 2018 shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High school in Broward County, FL. In August, Senate President Bill Galvano urged members to focus on the causes of gun violence in their legislative committee meetings. Read more at Florida GOP senator says better gun background checks could be needed, Orlando Sentinel/NSF, 9/16/19.
Meanwhile, while permitted under last session’s controversial school safety law, only seven of the state’s 67 school districts allow or are considering letting teachers have guns. Read more at Florida decided to let teachers carry guns but few are,Wall Street Journal, 9/9/19.
Separately, a previous successful challenge to Florida’s ‘red flag’ law that allows guns to be removed from people found to pose a threat to themselves or others was overturned on appeal. The ruling said the law was not vague or overly broad and quoted a legislative explanation that found a “need to comprehensively address the crisis of gun violence, including but not limited to, gun violence on school campuses.” Read more at Appeals court upholds ‘red flag’ law, Sayfie Review, 9/25/19.
The Budget, Business & the Economy
Florida added 213,000 private-sector jobs over the year in August and the unemployment rate is a low 3.3 percent. Read more at DeSantis: Florida’s economy is still strong, growing and diversifying, Sunshine State News, 9/20/19.
The state has spent more than $1 billion in hurricane response and recovery the last three years but, as of August 30, had only received $211.9 million in FEMA reimbursements. In a new call for funds, the state’s leading fiscal analyst said Florida needs a reserve dedicated to stockpiling FEMA reimbursements for state expenses in responding to hurricanes. Read more at Analyst: ‘Buttress’ Florida’s storm-sapped budget reserve fund with a new reserve fund, The Center Square | Florida, 9/13/19.
When budgets must be balanced, spending must be paid for. State health officials may soon recommend rationing specialized care to some of the state’s most vulnerable people to meet the Legislature’s demands to cut costs. Read more at Told to rein in
A recent Harris Poll survey for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said Florida is the fifth worst state for having courtrooms unfriendly to businesses. Gov. Ron DeSantis is firmly behind a renewed Chamber of Commerce campaign against lawyers who sue companies on behalf of consumers and said the need for a more business-friendly court system is guiding his appointments to the Florida judiciary. Gov. DeSantis and the war against trial lawyers. Florida Phoenix – 9/19/19
And speaking of being business-friendly, “From day one, we’ve made it a priority to create a regulatory environment that provides opportunities for businesses in the financial technology and banking sectors to thrive without being impeded by high taxes and burdensome regulation,” Governor DeSantis said. Read more at Ron DeSantis launches efforts to bring financial technology companies to Florida,Florida Daily, 9/17/19.
Law & Justice
The use of solitary confinement in Florida’s juvenile detention facilities violates the U.S. Constitution and discriminates against children with disabilities, alleges a new lawsuit against the state. Department of Juvenile Justice officials knew about the damaging effects of solitary but failed to address them, the suit also claims. Read more at Civil rights groups sue FL for using solitary confinement for juveniles, Florida Phoenix, 9/5/19.
Seniors no longer able to care for themselves are not being served as well as possible by the Department of Elder Affairs’ Guardians Program. Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, said the problem with isn’t a lack of competence, but the risk for abuse, so standards and monitoring of guardians need to be increased. Read more at DeSantis, Florida lawmakers consider changes in troubled guardianship program for the elderly, Orlando Sentinel – 9/16/19
Gov. Ron DeSantis has already reshaped the Florida Supreme Court, replacing – in his first year in office – all Democratic appointees with his own. Now he’s moving on to one of the most obscure, but powerful, group of judges in the state. Read more at DeSantis wants this Florida lawyer for a powerful new job. Former judges say he’s unqualified. Florida Politics, 9/26/19
Rules implementing the constitutional amendment restoring voting rights to former felons continue to be litigated. Meanwhile, the state Board of Executive Clemency, which is made up of the Governor and members of the Cabinet, continues to hear clemency requests. Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the lone Democrat in the Cabinet, wants the Clemency Board’s rules to be changed to mirror rules in effect before Rick Scott was governor. Read more at State official seeks meeting on rules for restoring felon voting rights, Panama City News Herald, 9/28/19, and Delay on Amendment 4’s felon voting lawsuit sought by Ron DeSantis, Tampa Bay Times, 9/11/19.
Governor DeSantis got high marks for his leadership during his first weather-related test. He said his approach is to treat storm response as a “bottom up effort and it really starts with the counties.” Read more at The Dorian test: DeSantis impresses local officials with his preparation, Tampa Bay Times, 9/3/19.
While the White House had historically been reluctant to agree to cover shelter costs before a hurricane makes landfall, DeSantis asked them to defray 75 percent of them. “They did what we asked them to do,” DeSantis said of the local governments that took in evacuees. Read more at DeSantis presses Trump to cover shelters costs for near-miss Dorian, Politico Florida, 9/5/19.
But aiding the hurricane’s victims? ‘That’s not what Florida’s set up for,’ DeSantis said. Read more at GOP Governor Ron DeSantis wants Bahamians fleeing Hurricane Dorian destruction to stop coming to his state, Newsweek, 9/13/19.
Health, Safety & Welfare
Following a report that his predecessor’s administration turned down $70 million in federal money to fight HIV and AIDS, Governor DeSantis said he has already met with federal officials to boost the support for HIV prevention and treatment. Read more at FL Gov. DeSantis pushing for a ‘robust program’ to reduce HIV and AIDS, Florida Phoenix – 9/11/19
While the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation regulates tobacco, and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Division of Food Safety regulates ingested products like CBD food and drink, the state is left with a major question. Read more at Florida’s vaping ‘hole’: Nobody has authority amid health crisis, Tampa Bay Times – 9/20/19
in June 2019, Florida had more than 8,000 backlogged sexual assault kits. Last month, the Department of Law Enforcement announced that the backlog had been cleared. To avoid another, Florida law now mandates that agencies submit kits within 30 days, and the state has 120 days to process them. Read more at FDLE processes more than 8,000 backlogged sexual assault kits in 3-year project, WINKNews.com – 9/20/19
Rick Scott … says he won’t back assault weapons ban, Orlando Sentinel – 09/01/19.
Florida’s Rubio, Scott push for tax law changes to boost Dorian donations, Florida Phoenix – 9/13/19.
Let Florida snowbirds from Canada stay longer, Rubio and Scott urge, Orlando Sentinel – 9/19/19.
Opinion: China is showing its true nature in Hong Kong. The U.S. must not watch from the sidelines, by Marco Rubio via Washington Post – 9/3/19.
Marco Rubio urges Trump to press Bahrain on human rights issues, Florida Daily – 9/17/19.
Rick Scott tries and fails to overhaul TPS in exchange for granting it to Venezuelans, Miami-Herald, 9/25/19.
That’s it for my recap of government news for Florida voters of what happened in September. Next up: my review of government news specifically for Collier County voters.