Michael Moline, Author at Florida Politics - Page 2 of 35

Michael Moline

Michael Moline is a former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal and managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal. Previously, he reported on politics and the courts in Tallahassee for United Press International. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as editor of the Florida Flambeau. His family’s roots in Jackson County date back many generations.

Budget conference committee gets down to work, with time running short

The House-Senate budget conference committee convened Thursday, exchanged pleasantries, and dispersed to begin working toward a compromise $83 billion spending plan for next fiscal year.

“Let the games begin,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, who’ll serve as chairman of the conference.

“We look forward to making quick and aggressive counter-offers, and we look forward to passing a budget on time,” said Carlos Trujillo, the House budget chairman and vice-chairman of the conference.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron attended the gathering. They’d appointed the members earlier in the day.

Members of the committee, including various subcommittees, were scheduled to work through the weekend to place a compromise budget before the House and Senate and adjourn on time on May 5.

“It’s Thursday, and so we’re hoping that the committees will move quickly with offers and counteroffers. But I think we have plenty of time for all the members to be engaged,” Negron said.

Getting here required resolving competing priorities, Negron told reporters. He mentioned House proposals to boost charter schools and Best and Brightest scholarships, and his own ambitions for higher education.

The House even accepted Negron’s Lake Okeechobee restoration plan, which would require floating bonds.

Under aggressive questioning by reporters, the presiding officers resisted giving a line-by-line account of the trade-offs.

“There are other issues that both sides care about, and I think it’s incumbent on me as the presiding officer in the Senate to make sure that priorities both of us share get passed in the last week,” he said.

“You’ve seen it all in the open, including amendments. We’ve traveled the state and talked about all those things that are priorities of the Senate and priorities of the House,” Corcoran said.

“I know all of you wrote that it was going to be a train wreck, we were going to go into 18 special sessions, we’re never going to get done. But now that we have come together, we’ve worked out our differences, and now we’re having a conference, I think it’s going to be a spectacular session,” Corcoran said.

“There’ll be no crashes, despite your reporting. And I think it’s going to be a good day for the state of Florida.”

Latvala spelled out some of the details. The Senate got a commitment for $50 million for beach restoration — “the magic number we’ve been looking for,” he said.

Visit Florida would receive $25 million, and Enterprise Florida would be kept alive with operating money but none for incentives. “That’s a long way from where the House was when they wanted to do away with both of them,” Latvala said.

He said he has been in contact with Gov. Rick Scott, who has pressed for his economic incentives programs this week via press releases. Scott has been meeting with House members and senators since returning from a trade mission to Argentina.

“The governor is very committed to the economy of the state of Florida. He’s committed to economic development. He’s committed to jobs. There’s nobody I know who pays more attention and focuses more on those issues than the governor,” Latvala said.

The Senate wins an across-the-board pay raise for state employees, with extra money earmarked for police and corrections officers, but has agreed to steer state workers — except for high-risk employees — who don’t express a preference into private-market retirement-savings plan rather than the traditional state pensions. They’d have nine months to choose.

The House gets its way with the required local effort — the minimum property tax rate for schools. The rate will be rolled back so that the amount paid will stay the same as it is now, notwithstanding rising property values.

House and Senate settle budget allotments, appoint conference committees

The House and Senate agreed upon the outlines of a state budget Thursday and appointed conferees to work out the details, beginning that afternoon.

Senate President Joe Negron said the deal would provide an across-the-board raise for state workers — their first in about nine years, according to Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, for whom the raise was a priority.

“This has not been the least difficult negotiation that either of us has ever been in,” Latvala told Negron from the floor.

“It’s been a long negotiation. We’ve had a lot of reports that we were done when we weren’t really done. But we’re here now to start the conference process,” Latvala said.

Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran together settled the major points of contention between the two chambers, Latvala said.

Conference subcommittees have until noon Saturday to complete their negotiations, he said. Anything they can’t settle will go to the full committee. Any controversies still unresolved will go to the presiding officers by noon Sunday.

The House-Senate budget conference has nearly $83 billion to spend. Hereis how the allocations break down.

The biggest pot is for health care — $34.2 billion. Next come PreK-12 education, at $15 billion; transportation, tourism, and economic development, at nearly $13 billion; higher education, at $7.8 billion; civil and criminal justice, at $5 billion; agriculture, environment and natural resources, $3.6 billion; and general government, at $2 billion.

There’s about $1.7 billion for “administered funds/statewide issues.”

Senate sends Groveland Four resolution to Governor and Cabinet

The Senate voted unanimously Tuesday to apologize to survivors of the Groveland Four — African-American men who were brutalized in 1949 following a false accusation of rape.

The senators first voted, 36-0, to sign on as cosponsors, then approved the resolution on a voice vote.

“This is a great miscarriage of justice,” sponsor Gary Farmer said.

“This is Florida’s version of the Scotsboro Boys. This is our To Kill a Mockingbird. We cannot change the hands of time. We cannot go back to this terrible event and undo it. But we can acknowledge our wrongs. And we can bring peace, and healing, and closure to the families who have suffered so long.”

Those family members traveled to Tallahassee to watch the House approve the resolution on April 18 and could not return for the Senate vote, Farmer said.

“But I have met with the survivors, and they have told me of the years of dealing with this, and the years of shame and injustice that they have had to endure.”

He credited former Sen. Geraldine Thomspon, who sponsored the apology legislation in past years. “I only picked up the torch that she lit,” he said.

The resolution, CS/HCR 631 declares that injustice was done toward Charles GreenleeWalter IrvinSamuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas, offers an official apology on behalf of the state of Florida, and urges Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet to exonerate them.

It urges Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet to pardon Irvin and Greenlee, the two who lived long enough to be convicted and imprisoned.

“(W)e hereby acknowledge that Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas, who came to be known as ‘the Groveland Four,’ were the victims of gross injustices and that their abhorrent treatment by the criminal justice system is a shameful chapter in this state’s history,” the resolution reads.

Continuing sales pitch for Visit Florida, Rick Scott warns of hit to state revenues

Gov. Rick Scott has issued another missive urging full financial support for Visit Florida.

This one is a memo written to Scott by Christian Weiss, in-house economist to the governor, who warns that cutting the tourism-development program by $50 million — as House and Senate budget negotiators are considering doing — would result in a $210 million decline in state revenues.

Two thirds of that would comprise sales tax receipts to the state, Weiss wrote; the rest, sales tax distributions to local governments and gas, rental car, and other taxes.

Earlier in the day, Scott issued a statement in support of economic incentives programs including Visit Florida. On Tuesday, his office distributed a letter from Division of Bond Finance director Ben Watkins to the House and Senate budget chairmen, warning that cutting Visit Florida could damage the state’s credit rating.

Nearly 113 million tourists visited the state in 2016, Weiss notes — a nearly 6 percent increase over 2015, and the sixth straight record-setting year. They spent $109 billion here.

“These expenditures are felt throughout the state economy, spurring economic growth and employment in all areas of the state,” Weiss wrote. “Promoting and marketing the Florida brand to potential visitors is crucial to not only maintaining but also increasing the number of visitors.”

More than of those visitors were lured by the state’s marketing, he wrote.

“Consequently, any decrease in advertising will negatively affect the state economy.”

State economists have estimated that Visit Florida’s efforts help create nearly 20,000 jobs annually.

Senate makes it the Dorothy L. Hukill Financial Literacy Education Act

Sen. Dorothy Hukill wasn’t there to defend herself, so her Senate colleagues plastered her name on legislation she long has sponsored to promote financial literacy education.

The vote to sign on as a co-sponsor of the amendment was 36-0. The vote to approve the bill was the same.

“This has been a bill that Sen. Hukill’s worked on since the day she came to the Florida Senate. I can’t even count the number of conversations that I have had with her about this bill since she’s been here with us,” Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala told the Senate.

“So, a couple of us came up with the idea that it would be a fitting recognition to name this the Dorothy L. Hukill Financial Literacy Education Act,” he said.

Actually, Rules chairwoman Lizbeth Benacquisto said, it was Latvala’s idea.

“We kept it under wraps because we know that Dorothy is watching right now. And she’s probably very angry at us for naming it after her,” Benacquisto said.

“But it is a fitting tribute to someone who, we all know, is facing a little bit of a tough time. She is cancer free, but is an amazing individual — and has texted, called, and pinged all of us throughout the process to make sure that her legislation is moving forward,” she continued.

“She is incredibly humble that this is a moment when we get to recognize her for her contribution, her commitment, her continued harassment of all us. We love you, Dorothy Hukill.”

CS/SB 392 would require students to learn to balance a checkbook and conduct other financial business to qualify for graduation.

Hukill, a Republican from Port Orange, has missed the Legislative Session while recovering from treatments for cervical cancer. She has monitored developments remotely, however, Senate President Joe Negron said.

“I am very optimistic that she will be returning to us shortly,” Negron said.

Sen. Dennis Baxley, a funeral director whose desk stands next to Hukill’s on the Senate floor, praised his colleague’s drive.

“I feel like we were having her funeral or something,” Baxley said. “Dorothy, I’ve missed you every day, just seeing you right by me.”

“This has been a passion of hers,” said Sen. Rene Garcia, carrying the bill in Hukill’s absence. “We love, you miss you, and look forward to your quick return.”

Florida Senate votes apology for abuse at Dozier School for Boys

The Senate voted, 35-0, Wednesday to apologize for decades of abuse at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys and Florida Schools for Boys at Okeechobee.

Addressing 14 middle-aged and elderly survivors viewing from the Senate gallery, Sen. Daryl Rouson said: “We say to you, we apologize. We are sorry.”

The House voted to apologize on April 18.

CS/SR 1440 details the history of physical, mental, and sexual abuse by school staff from the 1940s through the 1960s. A forensic examination conducted between 2013 and 2016 uncovered at least 55 burial sites at Dozier, 24 more than records indicated.

“(T)he Senate apologizes to the boys who were confined to Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys and the Okeechobee School and their family members for the wrongs committed against them by employees of the State of Florida,” the resolution reads.

“Be it further resolved that the Senate expresses its commitment to ensuring that children who have been placed in the State of Florida’s care are protected from abuse and violations of fundamental human decency.”

Dozier, in Marianna, closed in 2011.

Budget deal would include Lake O plan, lower property taxes for schools

House and Senate negotiators have agreed on the broad outlines of a new state budget, and were haggling over the details before appointing members to conference committees, Senate President Joe Negron said Wednesday.

“We’ve reached an agreement on the substance of the budget, and we’ve also reached agreement on a way that we can get to conference,” Negron told reporters.

“These are complicated issues, and so we’re in the process of completing a document that sets forth all of the terms and conditions. I feel very optimistic that we can, hopefully, start conference today.”

As of 6 p.m., that had yet to happen.

Negron indicated the bottom line would be $83 billion — more than the House had hoped to spend, and less than the Senate planned.

The Senate would accept the House position on K-12, including lowering the required local effort on property taxes for schools, letting homeowners rather than school districts pocket any rise in property values.

The House had wanted to spend roughly $7,224 per student — a modest increase over existing spending.

However, the House would accept Senate’s position on higher education spending. And Negron would get his $1.5 billion, multi-year Lake Okeechobee restoration plan, including $800 billion in bonding authority.

“The House would agree to accept SB 10 in exchange for some other House priorities that we’re in the process of delineating. That would include the House position on RLE and some of the other issues that are important to the speaker and to the House,” Negron said.

“Most importantly, we’re at a point where we are close to the final decisions on allocations in the seven subcommittees so we can start the process of conferencing.”

The budget is a competition between competing priorities, he said.

“I also think the House, and what they’ve done with the $200 for Best and Brightest, the $200 million for Schools of Hope, that directly benefits education. It would be a mistake to only count in the education budget what comes directly through the FEFP.

The deal didn’t involve project-for-project horse-trading, Negron said – say, Lake Okeechobee for school tax rates.

“There are a lot of House priorities that the Senate is prepared to agree to, and there are Senate priorities that the House has agreed to. They’re part of an overall package. It wouldn’t be exchanging one for the other.”

A reporter asked whether differences over proviso language was holding up a deal. “There are complicated issues related to many aspects of putting together an $83 billion budget, and all of the policy that comes with it. But it’s come down to just a few issues where we’re trying to clarify some language to the satisfaction of the House and Senate,” Negron said.

“Issues related to whether language is included in a bill; whether it’s included in a conforming bill. There are simple issues that we can work through — but they’re complicated.”

Top Senate Democrat says chambers will split the difference on state budget

There were competing accounts Wednesday of negotiations over the next state budget, with the Senate’s top Democrat saying a deal’s been struck.

The chambers have agreed to meet in the middle on the $4 billion that separates their respective proposed budgets, taking $2 billion from the Senate plan and adding $2 billion to the House version, Senate Democratic leader Oscar Braynon told his caucus Wednesday morning.

“There’s been a deal struck,” Braynon said.

“Remember, a deal struck is nothing final,” he cautioned. “My first year here, there was a deal struck and none of the things that were struck in the deal passed. That’s always a possibility.”

There still was no formal announcement from House or Senate leaders, although House Speaker Richard Corcoran announced to the House Tuesday that a deal was close.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala tweeted Wednesday morning that there was no deal yet — and that “when an agreement is reached on the budget it will be announced by the President and Speaker.”

Katie Betta, spokeswoman to Senate President Joe Negron, said she was not aware of any deal.

Braynon expected the leadership to name conferees during Wednesday’s floor session and for negotiations to begin that evening.

“The only thing that really is struck and that is set in stone is the allocations,” Braynon said.

“The Senate and the House have come to an agreement on the total number of our budget. Our budget was $4 billion bigger than theirs, so I think we met in the middle, so our budget is $2 billon more than the House had.”

Democrats have more clout in the Senate than in the House, he reminded his caucus — especially since the resignation of Hialeah Republican Frank Artiles.

“This isn’t like the House. There ain’t enough of us for them to not put people on the conference committee. Every single one of us will be on a conference committee of one of the Appropriations (sub)committees that you’re on,” he said.

“We have juice that we haven’t always had in the past,” Sen. Jeff Clemens said.

Braynon cautioned:

“There’s going to have to be $2 billion worth of cuts that they’re going to have to find as they move through the next week. Everybody watch out for everybody else’s projects, depending on where you get assigned.”

Richard Corcoran: House and Senate ‘very, very, very’ close to budget deal

The House and Senate were on the brink Tuesday evening of agreeing to a framework for negotiating s budget deal, House Speaker Richard Corcoran told the House.

“We are very, very, very close to having allocations agreed to with the Senate,” Corcoran announced from the speaker’s podium, drawing cheers from the members.

“And I mean close in the hand grenades sense, not the horseshoe sense,” he said.

“To the extent that happens imminently, we’ll appoint conferees and make announcements, and it’s very likely we’ll start (conference) tonight.”

“We made some headway, so we’re hoping on being able to get out of here. Hopefully, we’ll have a deal within the next hour,” House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo said. “It’s 4 o’clock right now. Hopefully, at 6, 6:30, we’ll have our welcome and start caucusing.”

He was over-optimistic — Katie Betta, Senate President Joe Negron‘s spokeswoman, said several hours later that there would be no conference that night.

Trujillo’s committee that morning had voted along party lines to approve a “standard operating budget,” or contingency budget, adhering mostly to the budget the Legislature approved last year for the existing fiscal year.

The plan then was to let the Rules Committee decide whether to calendar that budget.

“I think they meet in the next half-hour, so I don’t think they’re going to calendar it at this point,” Trujillo said.

Details, including the future of Senate President Joe Negron’s ambitious Lake Okeechobee plan, state worker pay raises, and the House ‘Schools of Hope’ bill, remain to be worked out, he said.

The Senate had ruled out passing a contingency budget over the weekend. By midafternoon Tuesday, the House had sent a new offer across the rotunda, which the Senate was reviewing, according to staffers in both chambers.

House sets up $300 million tax holiday package for final vote

Legislation extending $300 million in tax holidays and breaks for veterans, college students, farmers, young families, and more moved closer to a final House vote Tuesday, picking up an amendment expanding use of private contractors to collect auto tag fees.

The amendment, by Republican Jason Brodeur, would let tax collectors in 64 counties where they don’t answer to county commissions contract third parties to sell auto tags after hours and on weekends, and charge a “convenience” fee on top of the state fees.

”Any county that doesn’t want to do this, they don’t have to. Just do it the way they do it now,” Brodeur said.

HB 7109 provides for a range of sales tax breaks and holidays.

College textbooks and “instructional materials” would be exempt from July 1 through June 30 next year.

Diapers and incontinence products would become tax-exempt.

“Low-income families pay roughly twice as much for diapers than families that have access to bulk-buying options,” ranking Democrat Janet Cruz said.

Florida’s “tampon tax” on feminine hygiene products would be eliminated, as it was between 1977 and 1986, Democrat Katie Edwards said.

The bill contains nearly $14 million in tax cuts for agricultural products, including fencing and animal health products.

Floridians could stock up on emergency supplies during nine days in May and June, as hurricane season sets in, including generators and batteries.

Military veterans would win a nine-day annual sales tax holiday for clothing and shoes.

Finally, there’d be a back-to-school tax holiday.

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