Florida Government News for October 2019

This month in Florida government news: Gun-violence debate planned for Senate; Blue-Green Algae Task Force recommendations released; DeSantis’ suspension of Broward sheriff affirmed; “replace Common Core” listening tour gets underway. For this news and more, read on…

Florida Government News

The Governor

Disregarding the recommendation of the special master appointed to make it, the Senate sided with Gov. DeSantis in affirming his removal of Sheriff Scott Israel from office. Israel was Broward County sheriff at the time of the 2018 Parkland school shootings in which 17 students and faculty died. The move followed months of debate over whether the governor overstepped his authority when he suspended the sheriff for incompetence and neglect of duty last January.

Gov. DeSantis has chosen conservative Federalist Society members to fill two vacancies on the 1st District Court of Appeal. This is arguably the second-most important state court after the Florida Supreme Court because it hears appeals involving Florida government, including constitutional challenges to state laws and administrative actions.

Pre-Session Activities

Florida’s 2020 Legislative session will begin on January 14. Florida Senate President Bill Galvano said he plans to have a robust debate on gun violence that includes the possibility of increased background checks and expanding Florida’s red flag law.

Ahead of the 2020 session, lawmakers heard alarming statistics showing a skyrocketing rate of violence, contraband being smuggled into state prisons, and high turnover rates among correctional officers. It will take millions of dollars to fix.

While tourism-related revenue is critical to state sales-tax collections, House Speaker Jose Oliva dismissed concerns that tourism would be hurt if Visit Florida, the state’s tourism-development arm, went away.

Wilton Simpson will succeed Bill Galvano as Senate president if Republicans retain control in the 2020 elections. “He’s been a reliable big-business conservative, but one who’s been willing to work across the aisle.”

Environment & Growth

Upon taking office, Gov. DeSantis charged the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and South Florida Water Management District with expediting critical Everglades restoration projects. To that end:

Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein said with the lease termination approved, the first of three phases of the stormwater management area could begin in late fall if the project is approved by the U.S. Army Corps.

Separately, the Blue-Green Algae Task Force appointed by DeSantis in January to study ways to prevent or reduce algae blooms presented its first recommendations to lawmakers.

Last session, the Legislature created task forces to study potential routes for three major new toll roads in mostly rural areas of the state. The project, a priority of Senate President Galvano, was backed by road builders and the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Critics noted that transportation officials had not identified a need for new toll roads in their long term plans; environmentalists also expressed concerns. Galvano said the state Department of Transportation’s planning process is too slow.

Public Education

Gov. DeSantis ran on a promise to get rid of “Common Core” and signed an executive order soon after taking office to make that happen. Since its initial adoption by 45 states in 2010 (the number is now lower), Common Core has remained under fire from those who call it a federal mandate for what to teach and test in schools. In fact, it sets benchmarks for student outcomes but does not set curriculum, which is the material and lessons teachers use to achieve the standards. In October, the state Department of Education began taking public comment on its proposed replacement for the current language arts and math standards.

“There’s a general sense of surprise about how much attention he has paid to K-12 education,” said Aubrey Jewett, an associate professor of political science at the University of Central Florida who studies Florida politics.

Florida’s newest school voucher program, the taxpayer-funded Family Empowerment Scholarship, has already run out of money. The program, designed to eliminate waiting lists for the 2001 Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program, is seen by critics as a blatant attempt to hurt the public school system.

In 2017, 14 Florida school boards sued the state over a contentious law (HB 7069) involving charter schools. They argued that several parts of the law were unconstitutional, including a provision that school districts share property taxes with charters. After losing twice already, nine of them are taking the case to Florida’s Supreme Court.

Members of the Florida Board of Education unanimously backed a new rule to have K-12 students instructed in child trafficking prevention. Florida is third in the nation for reported cases of human trafficking, and the average age of trafficked youth is 11 to 13 years old.

Florida schools are now required to collect, analyze and store data on students in the name of predicting a school shooting. The initiative comes at a time when social media companies and app developers have encountered withering criticism over their collection of children’s data and possible violations of students’ privacy.

The 15-member Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission says Florida’s mental health system is underfunded and needs better coordination between providers, law enforcement and educators. It is completing its second annual report aimed at preventing future school shootings.

Law & Justice

Following a statewide fact-gathering mission into the dramatic increase in teen vaping, Florida has launched a comprehensive state vaping investigation looking into the marketing and selling practices of e-cigarette products by more than 20 companies selling in Florida.

“When websites like Craigslist, eBay and Facebook allow alcohol sales on their platforms, state licensing laws and consumer protection efforts are often violated. This creates risk for consumers who could obtain fake or even tainted products, sometimes with deadly effects,” said Attorney General Moody in a statement.

Voting & Election Law

The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups are challenging a law passed last session specifying conditions for the restoration of voting rights to former felons, after voter approval of Amendment 4 last year. They asked U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle to temporarily stop the law until the case can be resolved.

“The Legislature could make it a whole lot easier,” Judge Hinkle said. He repeatedly demanded an explanation for the Legislature’s intent with a new “uniform statewide voter registration application,” saying he believed the three “affirmation statements” were meant to discourage potential voters from registering, and urged the Legislature to revamp the law. Hinkle blocked the law, but only as it applies to the 17 people named in the suit, saying some questions will be resolved by the Florida Supreme Court or in a future federal trial. The legal battle will churn on in the months ahead

Separately, Gov. DeSantis said that as leader of the state’s Board of Clemency, he’s willing to use his powers to expand nonviolent felons’ civil rights beyond the right to vote, to include the ability to serve on juries and run for office.

Health, Safety & Welfare

A gap in Florida law allowed a state-appointed guardian to regularly file Do-Not-Resuscitate orders on her senior clients. State Sen. Kathleen Passidomo and state Rep. Colleen Burton are drafting a bill to protect Florida’s most vulnerable seniors from “bad actors.”

Florida’s Statewide Task Force on Opioid Abuse is tasked with making legislative recommendations to help stem a crisis that is killing 17 Floridians every day. In its first meeting, the panel, chaired by Attorney General Ashley Moody, designated three committees: prevention, treatment and law enforcement.

Domestic Affairs

Foreign Affairs

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

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