State News in Review – August 2018

While much of the media attention in August was on the elections, two important statewide issues also received considerable press: the two-pronged environmental disaster of red tide and a massive, toxic algae bloom, and an increasing number of challenges to the “bundled” constitutional amendments headed to Florida voters’ November ballot.

Amendment 8, which would allow charter school organizers to bypass local school boards, received the most attention, following the filing last month of a lawsuit by the League of Women Voters of Florida that calls the amendment “intentionally misleading.” The proposal was sponsored by Erika Donalds, a member of the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) and charter school activist who serves on the Collier County School Board.

I’ll begin this post with those issues, then share some other news I think Florida voters should be aware of.

The environment

  • Governor Rick Scott declares state of emergency for red tide outbreak in Southwest Florida. The declaration comes a month after he declared a state of emergency for Lee and six other counties due to blue-green algae outbreaks caused by Lake Okeechobee water discharges. Naples Daily News, 8/14/18
  • Scott activates emergency bridge loan program to assist small businesses impacted by blue-green algae and red tide. The interest-free loans provide cash flow for up to 180 days until a business secures other financial resources. Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, 8/14/18
  • Congressman Francis Rooney asks SBA for disaster declaration, aid to businesses in Lee County. His appeal follows Gov. Scott’s request to the Small Business Association for an “economic injury disaster declaration” to help Florida businesses impacted by the algal blooms. News-Press, 8/24/18
  • Florida commits up to $1 million to Everglades Foundation algae removal prize. The state will provide technical expertise and funding for testing submissions to the competition seeking cost-effective solutions for preventing algal blooms. TCPalm via Naples Daily News, 8/25/18
  • State to give another $3 million to counties impacted by toxic algal bloom. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection earlier this month set aside a different $3 million for the counties impacted by red tide and another $3 million for counties impacted by the toxic blue-green algae that’s plaguing the historic Everglades drainage system. Naples Daily News, 8/31/18

Who’s to blame?

  • As bouts with killer algae rose, Florida gutted its water quality monitoring network. Over the last decade, the state fought federal efforts to protect water, shrunk its own environmental and water-management agencies, and cut funding to an algae task force. Miami-Herald, 8/7/18
  • Dead in the Water. In the last seven years under Gov. Rick Scott and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, the state hobbled water quality management mechanisms that had been helping Lake Okeechobee. Florida Sportsman, 8/22/18
  • Editorial: State Health Department is failing us. When it finally said something about the massive blue-green algae blooms and the spread of red tide, its best statement was there is no evidence that acute exposure to the toxins has long-term health impacts. Naples Daily News, 8/22/18

Challenges to proposed amendments

Several of the CRC’s proposed amendments are facing legal challenges stemming from the fact that they are really multiple, separate amendments rolled into one. The practice is alternatively referred to as “log-rolling” or “bundling. ”See Constitution Revision Commission proposes eight initiatives for voters in November. Tallahassee Democrat, 4/18/18

A number of prominent Florida figures have spoken out against the CRC’s amendments and/or publicly sided with the various legal challenges:

  • Save My Constitution launches to oppose proposed amendments in Florida. The group, including Republican former lieutenant governors Jeff Kottkamp and Jennifer Carroll, Republican former U.S. Reps. Sandy Adams and Connie Mack and a host of former state legislators will lead a movement to encourage Floridians to vote no on all CRC amendments and urge the Legislature to place an initiative on the 2020 ballot to either restructure or abolish the CRC. The Florida Daily, 8/21/18
  • Former Florida chief justice Anstead challenges Amendment 8, five others as unconstitutionally bundled. “This is logrolling and a form of issue gerrymandering that violates the First Amendment right of the voter to vote for or against specific independent and unrelated proposals to amend the constitution without paying the price of supporting a measure the voter opposes or opposing a measure the voter supports.” Tampa Bay Times, 8/13/18

The news stories linked below explain the challenged amendments and status of the challenges.

Amendment 6 – Rights of Crime Victims; Judges (here)

  • Leon County judge throws Amendment 6 off Florida ballot. Tampa Bay Times, 8/27/18

Amendment 8 – School Board Term Limits and Duties; Public Schools (here)

  • League of Women Voters sues over education amendment. Florida Politics, 7/12/18; see also LWVF, “Don’t Take the Bait” Website
  • Former Florida Supreme Court chief justice Wells: Amendment 8 ‘misleading,’ ‘deceptive’. Tampa Bay Times, 7/27/18
  • Charter schools oversight at heart of lawsuit against Amendment 8., 8/11/18
  • Florida Amendment 8 challenge stems from policy disagreement, not wording problems, secretary of state argues. Tampa Bay Times, 8/13/18
  • As fight over education amendment rages in court, its creator Erika Donalds says ‘8IsGreat’. WLRN Miami, 8/16/18
  • Judge orders Amendment 8 be removed from Florida ballot. Tampa Bay Times, 8/20/18
  • Supreme Court will weigh Amendment 8 case. News Service of Florida via Florida Politics, 8/22/18
  • Pro-Amendment 8 committee adds $100K as Florida Supreme Court considers its fate. Florida Politics, 8/25/18
  • Groups file legal briefs to support education measure under challenge. The Urban Leagues of both Miami and Central Florida, along with the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools and the Florida Charter School Alliance, have filed briefs in support of Amendment 8. Florida Politics, 8/28/18

Amendment 10 – State and Local Government Structure and Operation (here)

  • Judge denies challenge to Florida constitutional amendment. Miami Herald, 8/10/18

Amendment 13 – Ends Dog Racing (here)

  • Florida Supreme Court to decide whether dog racing ban will be on November ballot. News Service of Florida via Palm Beach Post, 8/8/18

Other state government news

  • Supreme Court should hold state responsible for high quality public schools, plaintiffs argue. Urging the Supreme Court not to fall for the state’s effort to evade constitutional responsibility for an “efficient” and “high quality” public school system, lawyers representing Citizens for Strong Schools argue that the constitutional terms are not vague, regardless of what lower courts have ruled. Tampa Bay Times, 8/9/18
  • Florida the only state that’s not in compliance with federal education standards. The current version of the state’s ESSA plan excludes critical protections for English learners, students with disabilities, students of color, and low-income students. Miami Herald, 8/27/18
  • Florida legislators, governor clash over school security. House Speaker-elect Jose Oliva and incoming Senate President-elect Bill Galvano, both Republicans, are rejecting Gov. Scott’s push to redirect $58 million so school districts can hire more campus police officers. Naples Herald via Naples Daily News, 8/24/18
  • Pam Bondi files 57-page brief supporting ban on smokable med pot. Pointing in part to smoking-related health effects, the Attorney General’s office argues that an appeals court should uphold a decision by the Legislature to ban smoking medical marijuana. News Service of Florida via Tampa Bay Times, 8/6/18
  • Florida promises to reimburse motorists after toll troubles. Gov. Rick Scott has come under fire for the problems, especially after it was reported he attended a fundraiser in Texas this year where one of the hosts was a major shareholder of the company. Naples Daily News, 8/16/18
  • Stand your ground law should be reviewed by Legislature, Florida’s black leaders say. The debate over the controversial law was reignited last month after a heated argument outside a Clearwater convenience store left a black man mortally wounded, his white killer free to go home and civil-rights activists up in arms. Miami-Herald, 8/27/18
  • Florida Influencers: Medicaid expansion should be top health care priority for Tallahassee. Florida is one of 17 states that has not expanded Medicaid, which provides health coverage for low-income Americans. According to the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 12.5 percent of Floridians lack health insurance, the third-highest rate in the nation. Miami-Herald, 8/27/18

That’s it for August top stories about state government. My next post will summarize local news of note. Stay tuned.

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