Drew Wilson, Author at Florida Politics

Drew Wilson

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for SaintPetersBlog and FloridaPolitics.com. While at the University of Florida, Wilson was an editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and after graduation, he moved to Los Angeles to cover business deals for The Hollywood Reporter. Before joining Extensive Enterprises, Wilson covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools.

House committee sends pair of ethics bills to chamber floor

The House Government Accountability Committee approved a pair of bills Wednesday that would add a long list of ethics and reporting requirements into Florida law.

HB 479, sponsored by Republican Rep. Larry Metz, would require many agencies to establish internal controls to prevent “fraud, waste and abuse,” force cities and counties to post their proposed budgets online and would require local government auditors to determine whether a city’s or county’s annual financial report match financial statements, among other things.

The committee also voted unanimously in favor if HB 7021, also sponsored by Metz, which would require city and county elected officials be held to the same financial disclosure rules as state lawmakers if the local governments they represent bring in more than $10 million in revenue in three consecutive years.

Unlike lawmakers, however, the rule would only apply to officials once they are in office, instead of during a campaign. That change came about through an amendment put forward by Metz and approved by the committee.

That bill would also create a statewide registry of local government lobbyists.

Boca Raton Democrat Emily Slosberg also offered but ultimately withdrew an amendment to the bill that would make it a third-degree felony for candidates or their surrogates to enter the home of a vote-by-mail voter to intimidate them or solicit them to vote a certain way.

The amendment was inspired by a Palm Beach Post report that found Palm Beach County Commissioner Mack Bernard and state Rep. Al Jacquet had entered the home of voters and in some cases had their campaign staff hand-deliver completed mail-in ballots.

Both HB 479 and HB 7021 are now ready for a floor vote in the House.

Bill to create interagency workgroup on natural hazards clears final House panel

A bill that would help state agencies work together in preparation for natural hazards was approved by the House Government Accountability Committee Wednesday and is now ready for the House floor.

HB 181, by Coconut Creek Democratic Rep. Kristin Jacobs, would have all executive state agencies, water management districts and the Public Service Commission designate a liaison to serve on an interagency workgroup.

The head of the Division of Emergency Management, or a designee, would serve as the coordinator of the group.

The workgroup would share information about how hazards such as wildfire, sea-level change, high tides, or storm surge could effect their agency as well as what resources the agency has and its plans to combat the natural hazards.

“This bill will allow state agencies to come out of their silos and collaborate to leverage agency resources to prepare for the potential impacts of extreme weather events,” Jacobs said.

The bill cleared the House Government Accountability Committee with a unanimous vote and previously got approval from the Natural Resources and Public Lands Subcommittee and the Appropriations Committee.

The Senate companion, SB 464 by Lake Worth Democrat Jeff Clemens, has earned unanimous votes from the Military and Veterans Affairs, Space, and Domestic Security Committee, the Community Affairs Committee and the Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee.

It’s only remaining stop is the Senate Rules Committee.

Senate bill to increase Supreme Court reporting requirements clears second committee

A bill that would increase reporting requirements for Florida Supreme Court cases cleared the Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee with a unanimous vote Wednesday.

SB 878, sponsored by Republican Sen. Tom Lee, would require the court to write up an annual report on cases that the court did not issue a ruling on within 180 days of oral arguments.

“To the extent, the court is having challenges prosecuting its work, I’d like to try to find a way to help them,” Lee said.

Court rules put the 180-day benchmark on issuing a ruling, though there are instances when the Supreme Court is not able to beat the deadline.

Though he didn’t vote against the bill, Lake Worth Democratic Sen. Jeff Clemens said he was concerned that the law would interfere with the way the Supreme Court operates.

“To me, it’s potentially stepping over a line between the three branches of government for us to be looking at how the Supreme Court implements its own rule,” Clemens said.

The bill now moves on to the full Senate Appropriations Committee and must also pass the Rules Committee before it is ready for a vote on the Senate floor. Previously, the bill cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee with a unanimous vote.

The House version of the bill, HB 301, cleared all of its committee stops before the start of the 2017 Legislative Session and was approved by the full chamber with a 78-37 vote March 10.

House committee approves $1.8M claims bill for dead FSU player

The House Appropriations Committee approved a bill that would give $1.8 million to the family of Devaughn Darling, who died in a Florida State University football practice in 2001.

Darling’s family has been seeking legislative approval for the money since 2005, when they won a judgment of $2 million in a wrongful death suit.

State law limits the amount that can be paid out in such suits to $200,000, leaving Darling’s family to seek the remaining balance through the Legislature.

The bill, sponsored by West Park Democrat Shevrin Jones, cleared the committee with a unanimous vote and has one stop left before the House floor.

The Senate companion bill has two stops left before it is ready for a vote from the full chamber.

Jamie Grant picks up challenger in HD 64

Jamie Grant

A Hillsborough County school teacher announced this week that she will challenge incumbent Republican Rep. Jamie Grant for the District 64 seat in the Florida House.

Jessica Harrington originally planned to challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis in 2018, but said she decided to change course after a trip to Tallahassee.

“I realized that no one really knows me… nationally, but a lot of people know me locally,” she said.

Harrington believes public schools are underfunded and overcrowded, which she blames on funding cuts early in Gov. Rick Scott’s tenure.

“If you fund (schools) properly, they’ll be amazing,” Harrington said. “I’m the one working a second job… spending money out of my small paycheck to fund my classroom.”

The teacher also supports Medicaid expansion in Florida and believes transgender students should have the right to use the bathroom of their choosing, regardless of birth gender.


All Aboard Florida says Senate railroad bill ‘unconstitutionally targets one company’

The Senate Transportation Committee unanimously approved a bill Tuesday that would require private rail companies to add safety features along their tracks, a move maligned by officials at All Aboard Florida.

SB 386’s safety standards require passenger rail companies to install features such as positive train control, which helps prevent train-on-train collisions, and a remote health monitoring system capable of detecting malfunctions at signal crossings.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Debbie Mayfield, also requires rail companies to install fencing along their tracks in areas the Florida Department of Transportation expects to have a lot of foot traffic, such as near schools or parks.

The fences must be at least 4-and-a-half -feet tall and must be built inside the train company’s right of way. Additionally, the company must install ornamental fencing rather than chain link fencing in urban areas.

The bill also adds reporting requirements for accidents and insurance coverage, among other things, which would be part of an annual report from the Department of Transportation.

During the committee’s meeting, All Aboard Florida vice president of government affairs Rusty Roberts called out bill out because, as he sees it, it “unconstitutionally targets one company.”

All Aboard Florida expects to start running passengers between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale this summer, with service between Miami and Fort Lauderdale scheduled to come online shortly thereafter.

Further down the line, the company plans to offer service between South Florida and Orlando, a four-hour road trip the company says its trains will make in three hours.

Construction has not yet begun on the stretch of track connecting the South Florida line to Orlando, and the Senate bill conspicuously applies to passenger rail services that travel “in excess of 80 miles per hour on or after July 1, 2017.”

On the South Florida line, AAF’s trains are expected to run at 79 mph, but that speed ratchets up to 125 mph between Cocoa Beach and Orlando.

All Aboard Florida says the Senate bill is redundant given current federal oversight, and Roberts added that the bill would “create a climate for many years of legal and administrative challenges.”

Roberts said in a statement that the company already plans to install safety features along its line, but the added requirements could derail the Orlando-to-South Florida line before it even gets started — not to mention future service expansions to Jacksonville and Tampa.

“All Aboard Florida has committed for years that it would bear the financial burden of the significant upgrades and safety improvements being made in order to create the only railroad in full compliance with all the latest and highest applicable safety standards,” he said. “Despite the fact that these costs are rightfully the obligation of the public under the existing long-standing agreements, AAF will fully fund the capital improvements, continue to fund railroad maintenance, but expects that the public will continue to fund their obligations in the existing agreements. SB 386 would have AAF pay for all the financial obligations that currently reside with public entities.”

Despite Roberts’ concerns, Mayfield says the bill is not targeting All Aboard Florida and is simply “about setting a framework for Florida.”

SB 386 is currently pending review of its committee references, but after the Transportation Committee, the bill was set up to head to the Senate Community Affairs Committee, followed by the full Senate Appropriations Committee.

A similar bill filed in the House, HB 269 by Republican Reps. MaryLynn Magar and Erin Grall, has yet to be taken up in committee.

Retail Federation expects record-breaking St. Patrick’s Day spending in 2017

St. Patrick’s Day revelers won’t be the only one’s seeing green this year according to a survey conducted by the National Retail Federation.

The retail trade group estimates those celebrating the Irish holiday will spend $37.92 a piece this year, with total spending expected to top $5.3 billion — a significant jump from last year’s $4.4 billion and good enough for a record.

“We continue to see spending on holidays and celebrations reaching or exceeding record highs, which reinforces the strength of our economy and the confidence that consumers feel,” said Florida Retail Federation President & CEO Scott Shalley. “Even though St. Patrick’s Day isn’t one of the bigger spending holidays, we still expect Florida retailers to see a nice bump in sales, particularly those who offer additional discounts and sales to attract customers.”

The survey, conducted by Proper Insights & Analytics, predicts more than 139 million Americans will celebrate the holiday this year and that most spending will head toward food, followed by beverages, apparel, decorations and candy.

While the holiday is most popular among the green-beer-drinking 18- to 24-year-old crowd, 25- to 34-year-olds will be the biggest spenders, with the average person in that age range expected to drop $46.55.

Though St. Patrick is revered for driving all the snakes out of Ireland, his holiday is better known for bringing lots of people to bars. According to NRF, 27 percent of those polled will head to watering hole or restaurant, while 15 percent will head to a private party.

The most popular way to celebrate the occasion, however, is wearing green. More than four-fifths of those polled said they plan to dress accordingly, while 31 percent said they would make a special dinner, such as corned beef and cabbage.

The survey also found 15 percent of people plan to attend a parade, with that number buoyed by Northeasterners, 21 percent of whom said they would head to a parade.

The NRF survey contacted 7,609 consumers between Feb. 1 and Feb. 8. It has a margin of error of 1.1 percentage points.

Bills allowing overnight stays in ambulatory surgery centers, direct primary care agreements ready for House floor

The House Health and Human Services Committee sent bills that would allow direct primary care agreements and overnight stays in ambulatory surgery centers to the House floor Thursday

HB 161 would allow patients and their physicians to enter into direct primary care agreements, an alternative to traditional health care plans.

Under such agreements, patients pay a flat fee to have all their primary care needs taken care of by a primary care doctor.

The bill was filed by the Health Innovation Subcommittee, with Reps. Daniel Burgess and Mike Miller serving as sponsors.

The House Health and Human Services Committee cleared the bill during its Thursday meeting, making HB 161 ready for the House floor.

The bill previously had been referred to the Health Care Appropriations Committee, though that assignment was removed before the 2017 Legislative Session kicked off last week.

The Senate version of the bill, SB 240 by Sen. Tom Lee, still has two committee stops left before its ready for a vote by the full Senate.

That bill has already cleared the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee and the Health Policy Committee with unanimous votes

The House Health and Human Services Committee also cleared HB 145, by Republican Reps. Paul Renner and Heather Fitzenhagen, which would allow patients to stay up to 24 hours in ambulatory surgery centers, a type of medical facility dedicated to less complicated, generally elective surgeries.

Current law forbids overnight stays in ASCs.

The House bill would also allow for recovery care centers, a different type of non-hospital medical facility where patients would be allowed to stay up to 72 hours.

The bill previously passed through the chamber’s Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee and the Health Innovation Subcommittee.

The Senate version of the bill, SB 222 by Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Steube, has the same provision relating to ASCs, but the recovery care center portion of the bill was removed when it cleared the Health Policy Committee with a 4-1 vote earlier this week.

That bill must clear the Community Affairs Committee, the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services and the full Senate Appropriations Committee before it’s ready for the Senate floor.

Bill allowing overnight ambulatory surgery stay clears Senate committee

A bill allowing patients to stay overnight in ambulatory surgery centers cleared its first Senate committee Tuesday with a 4-1 vote.

SB 222 by Sarasota Republican Rep. Greg Steube would allow patients to stay up to 24 hours at ASCs, a type of medical facility dedicated to less complicated, generally elective surgeries.

ASCs don’t provide primary care or diagnostics and generally require patients to be referred in by a physician once they have decided that surgery is part of their treatment plan.

Current law explicitly forbids patients staying overnight in ASCs.

The bill also contained provisions that would allow “recovery care centers,” a different type of facility where patients can stay up to three days.

That section of the bill was removed through an amendment before pasing the Senate Health Policy Committee.

The bill’s next stop is in the Community Affairs Committtee.

The House version of the bill, HB 145 by Republican Reps. Paul Renner and Heather Fitzenhagen, contains the same provisions on ASCs and also still has the provision allowing recovery care centers.

It cleared the Health Innovation Subcommitttee last month and the Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee on the first day of the 2017 Legislative Session.

It now must clear the Human Services Committee to make it to the House floor.


House committee OK’s bill requiring septic tank inspection during home sales

A bill that would require septic tanks to be inspected when a home sells advanced through its first House committee Tuesday.

HB 285, sponsored by Brevard County Republican Rep. Randy Fine, originally applied to all home sales, but was amended during the House Agriculture & Property Rights Subcommittee to apply only to regions listed as impaired watershed areas by the Department of Environmental Protection.

Fine contends that 10 percent, or 200,000 to 300,000 homes, are leaking septic wasted into Florida’s waterways. Fine’s view is shared by parties opposed to the Lake Okeechobee land buy being pushed by Senate President Joe Negron.

The first-term Republican compared the proposed inspection to other procedures during a typical home sale, such as a roof inspection, but said more than just the homebuyer can get burned by a bad septic system.

“If your roof leaks and you choose to buy the house that only affects you. But if your septic tank leaks, that not only affects you, it affects your neighbors,” he said.

The bill does not require sellers to fix a septic issue if one is uncovered during the inspection.

HB 285 now moves on to the Natural Resources & Public Lands Subcommittee.

Orlando Democratic Sen. Linda Stewart has filed similar legislation in the Senate. Her bill, SB 1748, would require homebuyers to make the necessary repairs within six months of the sale.

That bill, filed March 3, has yet to receive committee references.

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