As House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s priority education bill is pushed through the Senate committee process, some watching this week were perplexed by the vote of one sometimes perplexing Republican lawmaker.
Sen. Tom Lee, who has helped carry Corcoran’s policy in a sometimes-hostile Senate, voted with Democrats to gut language from the omnibus bill that would decertify teachers’ unions if their membership does not stay above 50 percent of total eligible employees.
Versions of the language, deemed “union busting” by opponents, have been the subject of partisan slugfests all session.
Lee told Florida Politics he voted for Sen. Perry Thurston’s amendment out of an “abundance of caution.” But insiders said there may be another reason: former Gov. Jeb Bush endorsing Jimmy Patronis for chief financial officer, a role Lee says he is mulling a run for.
The connection is this: An education reform foundation founded by Bush has been a big supporter of the House measure, and by him voting down on that provision, it would be a jab at them.
Lee says he is not always in lockstep with the foundation, as many Republicans are, but his vote was based on needing more information on the impact of the issue, which critics say is a “spiteful way of taking rights away from workers.”
“I tend to be an ally of the Speaker and expect to continue to be so, but at the end of the day, you take your orders from the people who elected you,” Lee said, “and not the former governor or the House Speaker.”
Lee said he gives Senate President Joe Negron “a lot of credit” for sending HB 7055 through the Senate committee process. The bill will be heard next week the Appropriations Committee, according to Senate Budget Chairman Rob Bradley.
Whether the proposal will be a hiccup in budget talks remains to be seen.
Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Ana Ceballos, Jim Rosica, Danny McAuliffe, Andrew Wilson and Peter Schorsch.
But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:
Arming teachers — A week after the worst school shooting in the state’s history, the Republican-controlled Legislature unveiled their proposals, which include training school employees to become armed “marshals.” It’s something President Donald Trump agrees with, but Gov. Rick Scott does not. House Speaker Corcoran said teachers who have the requisite hours to act as trained law enforcement officers would be allowed to carry guns in schools, adding that it is a “first of its kind proposal” in the nation. With two weeks left in the 2018 legislative session, state lawmakers and the governor are also pushing for more school resource officers and boosting funding for mental health services.
Unprecedented gun law proposals — After thousands of students, parents and teachers came to Tallahassee to speak to legislative leaders seeking more restrictions on the purchase of “war weapons,” both chambers and the governor all agreed to raise the minimum age of owning and possessing “all firearms” to 21 and banning the sale of bump stocks. Gov. Scott said a ban on assault weapons would “not fix the problem” and would hurt “law-abiding citizens.” The House and Senate plans also include a three-day waiting period for all gun purchases.
Scott on mental health services — Gov. Scott wants to expand mental health services teams statewide to serve youth and young adults with early or serious mental illness by providing counseling, crisis management and other critical mental health services. He also wants every Sheriff’s Office to have a crisis welfare worker embedded in their departments to work on repeat cases in the community. This would mean adding 67 more employees at the Department of Children and Families by July 15.
Budget slap fight — With less than three weeks to go in a legislative session, the direction of which has now been overcome by the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, budget negotiations between the House and the Senate aren’t just stalled, they’re not happening. The first indication that the annual back-and-forth between the two chambers is not on track surfaced Tuesday afternoon. The Associated Press’ Gary Fineout reported that House budget chairman Carlos Trujillo said there has been “no progress” on allocations and, instead, that legislators are focused on responding to the tragedy in Parkland.
Criminal justice reforms move ahead — A sweeping criminal justice bill that would upend how the state collects data on offenders in an attempt to better determine who is incarcerated and for how long is moving in the Senate. The measure would require the Department of Corrections to use risk-assessment instruments that can identify the appropriate intervention and program for offenders in an effort to reduce recidivism. Sen. Jeff Brandes said his bill (SB 1218) could be used as the foundation for “meaningful” criminal justice reform in the future. Another measure that would ease mandatory minimums in certain drug trafficking cases also headed to the Senate floor this week.
Instagram of the week
Scott to sign bill replacing Confederate statue with McLeod Bethune
Gov. Scott will soon sign a bill that will make Florida the first state to commemorate an African-American historical figure in the U.S. Capitol.
The state House and Senate have approved legislation that will honor civil-rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune at National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol. Her statue will replace that of Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith. The Legislature agreed to remove Smith’s statue in 2016.
Daytona Beach Democratic Rep. Patrick Henry sponsored the initiative in the House, which cleared the measure Tuesday. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, sponsored the Senate version.
“Bethune’s life and values illustrate the best of Florida,” Thurston said. “Choosing her likeness for the Hall sends a powerful signal to the world that Floridians recognize our state’s rich history and its present-day diversity.”
Bethune served as president of the National Association of Colored Women. She was an appointee of President Herbert Hoover to the White House Conference on Child Health and was an adviser to President Franklin Roosevelt. Bethune also founded what is now Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach. The school has offered to cover the cost of Bethune’s statue.
Each state is allowed two representatives in Statuary Hall. The Sunshine State’s other statue commemorates John Gorrie, widely considered the father of air conditioning.
The week in appointments
Greater Orlando Aviation Authority — Scott appointed Maggie Montalvo to fill a vacant seat in the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority.
Montalvo, 53, is the executive vice president and the chief operations officer of First Colony Bank of Florida. She received a degree in banking from the American Banking and Accounting Institute.
Her term ends April 16, 2020, and her appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.
St. Johns River Watch Management District — Scott appointed Allan Roberts, the owner and operator of First Coast Cattle, to the Governing Board of the St. Johns River Water Management District.
Roberts, 70, is currently a member of the Florida Cattleman’s Association and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
He will fill a vacant seat and is appointed for a term ending March 1, 2020. His appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.
Floridians flocked to CRC hearings in Melbourne, Jacksonville
The Constitution Revision Commission held two meetings in its “Road to the Ballot” public hearing tour this week, and much like the first stop in Ft. Lauderdale, turnout was healthy.
An estimated 600 people went to the Feb. 19 meeting at Eastern Florida State College in Melbourne. Among them were 240 individuals who filled out a speaker card.
The Jacksonville stop, held on the University of North Florida campus Feb. 20, more than 500 showed up, with 210 requesting a chance to speak before the commission.
Video of both hearings is available online through The Florida Channel.
The next tour stop is a Feb. 27 hearing at the University of West Florida in Pensacola, followed by a March 5 hearing at The Westin in Cape Coral and a March 13 stop at University of South Florida — St. Petersburg.
House Democrats still working on AR-15 ban
Among the state House’s most visible actions while Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting survivors were in Tallahassee was a no vote on advancing an assault weapons ban bill to the chamber floor for debate.
The 71-36 party-line defeat in the HB 219 vote was met with astonishment and tears by students in the gallery, but Miami Democratic Rep. Kionne McGhee isn’t giving up on getting a bill to ban semi-automatic rifles to the House floor before the end of the 2018 Legislative Session.
McGee said semi-automatic assault rifles, particularly the AR-15 model used in the Parkland shooting, are a “common denominator” in mass shootings and lawmakers need to discuss the issue before they can “move on.”
McGee didn’t reveal his strategy for getting such a ban through the GOP-controlled House, but Senate Democrats this week said they would attempt to attach gun legislation, including an AR-15 ban, to bills moving through the Legislature.
FDP chair calls out Republicans for AR-15 vote
The Florida Democratic Party chair said state House Republicans turned their backs on the survivors of the Parkland shooting this week when the chamber voted not to hear a bill banning semi-automatic assault weapons.
“[Tuesday’s] vote is just one more reminder that Gov. Scott, Corcoran and the GOP-led legislature continue to fail to provide the leadership needed to put an end to senseless mass shootings,” said FDP Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo.
“If tragedy strikes again and innocent children and citizens are gunned down in a classroom, a dance club or an airport, we can look to yesterday as another example of elected officials that care more about special interest money than keeping our kids safe from harm.”
The House voted 71-36 against hearing the bill, HB 219. No Republican voted in favor of the measure.
Car dealer bill stalls in House committee
A bill aimed at making changes to car dealership regulations stalled out in its second House committee this week over objections it was tailored to hand a single industry association a monopoly on dealer training.
The bill (HB 595) by Naples Republican Rep. Bob Rommel would make changes to various legal definitions relating to car dealers.
But a strike-all amendment also by Rommel would have required new car dealers to take a four-hour course each year to keep their license. That would put them in line with requirements set for used car dealers.
That training could only be offered by “a Florida-based, nonprofit, dealer-owned, statewide industry association of franchised motor vehicle dealers.”
Only one group in the state (probably not coincidentally) qualifies under that definition: the Florida Automobile Dealers Association.
FADA representative John Forehand testified that the cap isn’t necessarily indicative of the charge the group would levy but was there as a protection since the language would make it the sole source for the training.
“Why not $200? $300?” asked St. Petersburg Democrat Wengay Newton. No matter: The bill later was temporarily postponed.
FCUA names Jones ‘Lawmaker of the Year’
The Florida Credit Union Association this week named West Park Democratic Rep. Shevrin Jones as their “2017 State Lawmaker of the Year.”
FCUA recognized Jones as a longtime friend of credit unions, and for sponsoring a bill in the 2017 Legislative Session to exempt credit unions from regulation and lawsuits under the Florida Deceptive & Unfair Trades Practices Act.
“Representative Jones has served credit unions in Florida as a true champion,” said Patrick La Pine, who heads FCUA’s parent organization, the League of Southeastern Credit Unions & Affiliates.
“He has sponsored legislation to include credit unions in an exemption under the Florida Deceptive & Unfair Trade Practices Act and understands the critical role that credit unions play in Florida’s economy and in serving Floridians throughout the state.”
FCUA honored Jones in Tallahassee last month during the Florida Advocacy Conference, where the lawmaker addressed credit union leaders gathered to help promote the industry at the state capitol.
Senate fracking ban bill on life support
A fracking ban sponsored by Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young didn’t make the agenda for the Feb. 27 Senate Appropriations Committee, and anti-fracking groups are laying the blame on Appropriations Chair Bradley.
Floridians Against Fracking, a statewide coalition of anti-fracking groups and businesses, put out a statement this week blasting Bradley not allowing the bill to be heard.
“The fracking ban has broad, bipartisan support in both chambers because the people of Florida have been demanding it to protect our water, our tourism economy and our natural resources. If a fracking ban does not end up on the Governor’s desk to sign this session, it will be seen by the people of Florida as a failure of leadership,” said Brian Lee, the group’s legislative director.
Floridians Against Fracking suggested in the same release that Senate President Negron bring the ban bill up for a vote directly on the Senate floor, or in a future, unscheduled Appropriations Committee.
The fracking ban was a major campaign pledge of Young’s in the 2016 cycle. The House companion has not yet been heard in any committee, though the House has said it would take up the Senate version of the bill should it pass.
Business rent tax debate flares up on Twitter
The National Federation of Independent Business/Florida and the Florida AFL/CIO’s Rich Templin had a little back and forth on Twitter this week about the business rent tax cut when the tax package was up in House Appropriations.
It’s the only state-sanctioned sales tax on commercial leases in the entire nation. Gov. Scott and trade groups have long called to lighten the load on commercial businesses, which pay more than $1.7 billion in rent taxes every year.
Shot by NFIB: “The small and independently owned businesses NFIB represents overwhelmingly support the biz rent tax cut; #smallbiz drives the economy, and saving them money creates jobs, improves benefits and keeps the dollars in our backyards.”
Chaser by Templin: “This bumper sticker sloganeering doesn’t equate to sound fiscal policy. The overwhelming bulk of this tax cut will go to larger retailers based out of state. The taxpayers shoulder the burden & services workers & small businesses need are hindered.”
Background: Supporters of tax cuts say Florida’s business rent tax puts the state at a distinct competitive disadvantage, one that is unique in the country. Commercial rent taxes makes Florida’s competitors more attractive to business since companies are naturally more resistant to move to the state if they can get similar benefits elsewhere without paying a tax on rents.
AOB reform ad hitting Florida airwaves
Radio stations across the state this week started playing an ad warning Floridians of the dangers of “Assignment of Benefits,” which allows insurance policy rights to be signed over to third-party contractors.
The Consumer Protection Coalition, one of the chief organizations pushing AOB reform is led in part by the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, a member of the coalition, is footing the bill for the ad.
Listen to the new ad here:
“On the heels of the Florida Justice Reform Institute releasing a new report showcasing the need for AOB reform, the Consumer Protection Coalition felt it was important to alert Florida home and auto owners on how the AOB scheme works and why it is important for them to engage in asking Florida lawmakers to support meaningful AOB reform,” said Florida Chamber VP Edie Ousley.
The ad goes over how AOB works — or at least how it can be abused by unscrupulous lawyers and vendors. The radio ad is available on CPC’s website.
FSU prof to help on Hamer doc
A Florida State University professor is teaming up with Tougaloo College in Mississippi and the Kellogg Foundation to produce a new documentary on civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer.
FSU’s Davis Houck, the current holder of an endowed chair named after Hamer, will serve in an advisory capacity on the film, “Fannie Lou Hamer’s America,” and the corresponding civil rights K-12 curriculum, “Find Your Voice.”
“Having Fannie Lou Hamer’s name attached to my work and Florida State University is inspiring and daunting,” said Houck, a professor at FSU’s School of Communication.
“The project is inspiring because of the life she led in pursuit of justice, and it is daunting because her fearlessness — often in the face of grinding and lethal adversity — sets an enormously high bar for anyone seeking to walk in her footsteps.”
Hamer was a leader in the civil rights movement known for her powerful speeches, songs and activism. The K-12 component focuses on youth empowerment and community engagement in the Mississippi Delta, and it intends to connect students and teachers to the region’s history during the civil rights movement.
Tallahassee a ‘Great Small Town for Big Vacations’
The Travel Channel listed Tallahassee as one of “10 Great Small Towns for Big Vacations” this week, much to the delight of the capital city’s officials and its tourism marketing arm.
“The uniqueness of our area continues to gain the attention of national media that recognize Leon County’s rich cultural heritage and natural beauty,” said Leon County Commission Chairman Nick Maddox. “We know that we live in an exceptional part of Florida and we think it’s time the rest of the nation, and the world, knows it, too.”
The slideshow article says what Tallahassee “lacks in beaches it more than makes up for in Florida culture and adventure.” Recommendations included Ernestine Fryson’s famous fried catfish at the Bradfordville Blues Club, and the abundant nature tourism in the area.
Article author Steve Larese’s visit resulted from an invitation by Leon County to give the area a look. He was one of many of travel writers who visited the Leon County area while researching stories for various publications.
“To be counted among the country’s small towns for big adventure demonstrates the hard work of Leon County Division of Tourism in elevating and promoting what our community has to offer both visitors and residents,” said Leon County Administrator Vincent S. Long.
Now for this week’s edition of Capitol Directions: