The beginning of June was full of news about our state and local governments — so much so that I’ve split this Month in Review into two separate posts. In this one, I’ll share top stories about state government; in the next, I’ll report what happened in county and city government and the Collier County School District.
The big news at the state level relates to the final outcome of the 2017 Legislative Session. You’ll recall that it ended in May after House Speaker Corcoran and Senate President Negron struck a closed-door deal on a balanced budget that would pass both Chambers. They each got what they wanted, but the Governor’s priorities were ignored. It was clear something would have to be done to get the Governor to sign off on their budget before the June 30 end-of-fiscal-year deadline, and that played out in the early part of June.
There was another round of backstage negotiations, this time largely between Corcoran and Governor Scott, and another deal was struck. Scott and Corcoran got what they wanted, and Negron was left out in the cold. I described all the political maneuvering in Recapping Florida’s 2017 Legislative Session – Part 3.
In addition to the education law changes I wrote about in Part 1, below are highlights and lowlights of the rest of what our elected leaders did for the people of Florida. Following that is an update on candidates who have filed or are rumored to be running for governor and other key offices in 2018.
Top stories: State Government
- Legislature adjourns sometimes-bumpy Special Session after voting to improve funding for public schools, colleges, and universities, and revamping the way the state encourages economic growth. They also passed an implementing bill for the medical marijuana constitutional amendment the voters approved last year. (Florida Politics, 6/10/17)
- 125 new Florida laws effective July 1. They include Florida’s $82 billion budget, along with $91.6 million in tax breaks and new rules regarding public notification of toxic spills. (The Ledger, 6/29/17)
- Scott signs controversial HB 7069, shifting education from ‘traditional public schools.’ While the education omnibus bill offers changes for all kinds of schools in Florida, from requiring recess to reducing mandatory testing, it accelerates state tax dollar funding for profit and nonprofit charter and private schools, expands parents’ abilities to chose schools, and tightens Tallahassee’s controls over what local school boards can and cannot do. (FloridaPolitics.com, 6/15/17)
- Florida’s 650 charter schools will see an extra $96.3 million, thanks to a controversial provision in a sweeping education bill Gov. Scott signed into law that forces school districts to hand over some of their local tax dollars. (Tampa Bay Times, 06/30/17)
- Governor signed Religious Liberties bill into law. The bill requires public schools to let students lead prayers during the school day and at school-sanctioned events, such as assemblies. Students also cannot be punished for including religious materials in their course work, and may pray at school during non-course time. (Tampa Bay Times, 6/9/17); Miami Herald, 6/10/17)
- New Florida law lets any resident challenge what kids learn in public schools, thanks to a new law that science education advocates worry will make it harder to teach evolution and climate change. Any parent or county resident can file a complaint, regardless of whether they have a student in the school system. (Washington Post, 7/1/17)
- Florida law shifts burden of proof in ‘stand your ground’. Florida is now the first state with a law that spells out that prosecutors, and not defendants, have the burden of proof in pretrial “stand your ground” hearings. (AP, 6/9/17)
- Bill expanding renewable energy tax break to commercial and industrial properties in Florida becomes law, after nearly 73 percent of voters approved the constitutional amendment during last August’s primary elections. The bill also makes renewable-energy equipment exempt from state tangible personal property taxes. (PalmBeachPost, 6/19/17)
- Southwest Florida gets $35.9 million in funding for local projects in FY2018 state budget. Collier’s Sen. Kathleen Passidomo brought home $750,000 for local mental health funding through the David Lawrence Center and $400,000 for a food bank that helps feed poor seniors in Collier and Lee. Rep. Bob Rommel got $500,000 for the Goodland Drive Rehabilitation program for Marco Island. (NDN 6/23/17)
- Local post-secondary programs take big hits. Gov. Scott vetoed $15 million for FGCU’s School of Integrated Watershed and Coastal Studies, $1 million for its Academic Career and Attainment Program, and $1 million for its Honors College. He also vetoed $1.2 million for the Naples Accelerator innovation center and Immokalee Culinary Technology Campus, and $175,000 for the Hodges University Identity Fraud Institute. See complete list of Scott’s $410 million line item vetoes here. (NDN, 6/3/17)
- Passidomo Pleased With Result Of Special Session. Regarding the controversial omnibus education HB 7069, the senator thought the bill contained mostly positive measures. (Naples Herald, 06/14/17)
- Collier legislators score poorly in the Florida Society of News Editors’ Sunshine Scorecard documenting support for open government. Sen. Passidomo received an essentially neutral C-, Rep. Carlos Trujillo earned a D+, and Reps. Byron Donalds and Bob Rommel received two of the only three F grades given (here and here). (First Amendment Foundation)
Now that you know how the 2017 Legislative Session ended, take a few minutes to email your representatives (find them here) and let them know you were watching and are holding them accountable. Thank them for their votes, or express your disapproval:
- Gov. Rick Scott – Rick.Scott@eog.myflorida.com
- Sen. Kathleen Passidomo – firstname.lastname@example.org
- Rep. Byron Donalds – email@example.com
- Rep. Bob Rommel – firstname.lastname@example.org
- Rep. Carlos Trujillo – email@example.com
In other state news:
- Scott appointee Jimmy Patronis was sworn in as Florida’s new chief financial officer to serve through the November 2018 election, succeeding Jeff Atwater, who resigned to take a position at Florida Atlantic University. The CFO is one of three members of the elected Florida Cabinet and is paid about $129,000 a year. He oversees a staff of about 2,000 employees and a $300 million budget. (Tampa Bay Times, 06/30/17)
In the race for Congress:
- Democrat Dr. Alina Valdes is running for Congressional District 25. As an unknown first-timer challenging popular incumbent Mario Diaz-Balart in 2016, she garnered 38 percent of the vote. (Letter, Alina Valdes, NDN 6/22/17)
In the race for Florida Governor:
- Potential rivals to current Agricultural Commissioner and Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam gear up. Since the state’s legislative session ended, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate budget chief Jack Latvala, both Republicans, have become increasingly politically active, spurring speculation that it’s only a matter of time before each enters the race. (Politico, 6/27/17)
- Fresh off big talk-radio endorsement, Congressman Ron DeSantis makes moves to run for governor. First elected in 2012 with strong tea party backing, he was a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus and, during his U.S. Senate bid, received the backing of anti-establishment conservative groups. (Politico, 6/5/17)
- Democrat John Morgan ramps up ‘living wage’ campaign as he eyes governor’s race. The father of Florida’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment, possible wild-card candidate for governor, outspoken trial lawyer and big Democratic donor wants a $14 hourly “living wage” for voters to decide in 2020.” (Politico, 6/26/17)
In the race for Attorney General (Florida Cabinet member):
- Former Hillsborough Judge Ashley Moody files to replace incumbent Pam Bondi who will have to leave office in 2018 because of term limits. The Attorney General is one of three members of Florida’s elected Cabinet. Moody, a Republican, joins a field that already includes Republican state Rep. Jay Fant of Jacksonville and Democrat Ryan Torrens of Tampa. (Tampa Bay Times, 6/1/17)
In case you missed it: Sparker’s Soapbox in June:
Thanks for your interest. Stay tuned for Sparker’s Soapbox June in Review Part 2, soon!
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