Influence Archives - Page 2 of 311 - Florida Politics

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.

Budget deal struck, House and Senate leaders appoint conferees

There is a deal.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron announced a settlement Thursday on the major points of difference between their chambers on an $83 million budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, and appointed conference committee members to work out the details.

The conferees were to begin work at 1:30. They have until noon Sunday — any differences remaining at that point would go to Corcoran and Negron to settle.

“I am confident we can produce a final, balanced budget that incorporates the priorities of our constituents,” Negron said in a written statement.

“Over the next few days, we can and we will complete our work in a timely manner that appropriately meets the needs of our growing state and responsibly plans for Florida’s future,” he said.

“The reports of the demise of session have been greatly exaggerated,” Corcoran said.

“We look forward to working with our friends in the Senate to produce a budget that is balanced, provides tax relief, funds critical needs, and preserves the fiscal security of future generations.”

The news of a budget deal came after days of will-they-or-won’t-they over the state’s multi-billion dollar spending plan.

The two chambers appeared to reach a stalemate early this week, after a weekend of negotiations. The House has approved a “standard operating budget,” or contingency budget, adhering mostly to the budget the Legislature approved last year for the existing fiscal year.

But as the week progressed, there was word of movement, with many expecting the House and Senate to unveil an $83 billion budget Tuesday. That afternoon Corcoran said the House was “very, very, very close to having allocations agreed to with the Senate,” and even predicted budget conference would begin that evening. But that proved to be overly optimistic, by late evening Katie Betta, a spokeswoman for Senate President Joe Negron Negron, said there would be no conference.

Budget breakdowns appeared to stall again Wednesday, when another day passed without budget allocations or conference meetings.

The budget framework could give Corcoran and Negron their top priorities while delivering a likely-fatal blow to Enterprise Florida, the public-private economic development organization Gov. Rick Scott wants full funding for.


Interests for and against ‘liquor wall’ legislation react to passage

The reaction to the Florida Legislature’s repeal of the state’s “booze wall” law continued long after Wednesday’s vote.

The House, on a close vote of 58-57, passed the Senate’s bill (SB 106) to allow retailers to remove the ‘wall of separation’ between hard liquor and other goods. (Full story here.)

The legislation now heads to Gov. Rick Scott. If signed into law, the state will end 82 years of mandating that retailers sell distilled spirits in a separate store from other items.

Floridians for Fair Business Practices, a business coalition that included Wal-Mart, Target, Whole Foods Markets and others who favored the measure, issued a statement saying “the legislation finally removes an archaic regulation which has no basis in today’s modern society.”

“We are pleased both chambers recognized the importance of free market principles, increased consumer choice and healthy competition,” the group said. “We encourage Gov. Scott to sign this common sense, pro-business bill into law.”

The Distilled Spirits Council, a national trade association, praised lawmakers for “taking down the wall.” 

“Florida consumers want a modern marketplace where they can purchase spirits, wine and beer at the same time and same place – like in most states,” Distilled Spirits Council Vice President Jay Hibbard said in a statement. “We applaud the Florida legislature for listening to its constituents and urge Gov. Scott to sign this pro-consumer legislation.”

Skylar Zander, deputy state director of Americans for Prosperity-Florida, the state’s pro-free market organization, called the separation requirement “outdated.”

“Small businesses and consumers should have the ability to choose what products go on the shelves and what products come off of them,” Zander said. “Rep. Bryan Avila and Sen. Anitere Flores did a great job managing this contentious issue.”

But ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, which has long opposed the legislation, said the Prohibition-era law still “prevent(ed) minors from unlawful access to liquor.”

“The protection of minors and small businesses lost by a single vote in the House today because of members who bowed to enormous political pressure and financial influence from Wal-Mart and Target,” said Charles Bailes III, chairman and CEO of the Orlando-based chain.

“The wall, which has separated minors from hard liquor for decades, has never hurt competition in Florida but it has kept young people from stealing bottles or drinking them in stores,” he said. “We are grateful for the 57 members who voted to fight for that protection and respect their political courage to do the right thing.”

medical marijuana

Amendment moves House closer to Senate on medical marijuana, but differences remain

The Florida House is moving closer to the Senate’s position when it comes to medical marijuana, but conflicts over several big issues, including the number of licenses, remain in conflict.

Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues filed an 86-page, delete-all amendment Wednesday to his medical marijuana implementing bill (HB 1397). The amendment was one of more than two dozen amendments filed Wednesday, ahead of an expected discussion on the measure on the House floor Friday.

The Estero Republican has long said he was in negotiations with the Senate over the bill. He said he had hoped to present a so-called reconciliation bill during the Health & Human Services Committee meeting Monday, but told committee members that he and the Senate had “not gotten there yet.”

The amendment moves the House version closer to the Senate bill, allowing edible forms of marijuana, so long as they are not “attractive to children.” The bill calls on edibles to be, among other things, individually sealed in “plain, opaque wrapping marked only with marijuana universal symbol.” The amendment also allows vaping, something the original House bill did not allow.

The amendment also removes a controversial provision that requires patients to have a three-month relationship with a physician before they can get access to marijuana. A holdover from the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014, dozens of advocates have call for the House to remove the provision.

The Senate bill allows edibles and vaping, and does not include the 90-day wait period.

While the House has moved closer to the Senate on some positions, it appears to be standing firm — at least right now — in others. The proposed amendment does not lower the threshold for licensing new medical marijuana treatment centers.

Under the House proposal, current license holders would be grandfathered in, and a member of the Florida chapter of the Black Farmers and Agriculturists Association, which was shut out under the existing system, would be issued a license. The Department of Health would then issue five new licenses to once there are 150,000 qualified patients registered with the compassionate use registry.

The Senate bill quickens the pace, issuing five more licenses by October and then adding four medical marijuana treatment centers for every 75,000 people who patients who register.

The Senate bill, however, caps the number of retail facilities a license-holder can have, something the House amendment is silent on.

The House could begin discussions its bill on Friday. The Senate bill (SB 406), sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, has not yet been placed on the calendar.

House approves Everglades python hunting bill

The Florida House voted to enter into competitive bid contracts with private individuals who want to hunt down pythons, lionfish and other invasive species in the Everglades.

The measure (HB 587) unanimously passed by the Florida House on Wednesday would establish a pilot program, which would track data on each nonnative animal’s capture on state-managed land and water. Florida currently spends $1.2 million in several statewide efforts to boost python removals. Some of the current incentives for hunters include an $8.10 hourly pay and monthly prize winnings.

Under the bill, pet dealers would also need to tag certain invasive species before putting them up for sale.

A similar bill in the Senate has moved ahead in two committee stops.

House votes to shield college official searches from sunshine

Job searches for the top officials of the state’s public universities would be shrouded in secrecy under a bill passed Wednesday by the Florida House.

House members OK’d the measure (HB 351) 103-11.

But its reception in the Senate is unclear: With less than two weeks left in session, a companion bill (SB 478) has not had a hearing.

The legislation would maintain the privacy of candidates who apply for positions of “president, vice president, provost, or dean of a state university or Florida College System institution.”

The bill makes their identifying information “confidential and exempt,” the highest level of secrecy under the state’s public records law.

It also would close meetings for “identifying or vetting” of candidates. Lists of finalists, however, would be public.

“Many, if not most, applicants for such a position are currently employed at another job at the time they apply and could jeopardize their current positions if it were to become known that they were seeking employment elsewhere,” the bill’s legislative intent section says.

Taxing question: House OKs bill forcing county tax votes only in primary, general elections

Legislation limiting placement of local sales tax referendum to primary or general election ballots and requiring passage with 60 percent support was approved Wednesday by the Florida House.

The same bill by Spring Hill Republican Blaise Ingoglia (HB 139) passed in that chamber a year ago, but died in the Senate. Legislation sponsored by Sarasota Republican Greg Steube this year (SB 278) currently sits in the Appropriations Committee.

The final vote in the House on Wednesday was 93-23.

One of those who voted no was Dania Beach Democrat Steven Geller, who said it would result in another case of the state telling local governments how to behave. He specifically disliked the idea of a referenda item not being held when many local municipalities hold their elections in spring time.

“One of the problems we have with local tax referenda, is that right now currently counties can place that question anywhere on the ballot, ” Ingoglia responded, adding that to a certain degree, many counties have been “abusing that process.”

Citing turnout numbers hovering at 22 percent in some municipal elections, Ingoglia said he believed that “if you’re going to ask people to tax themselves, you should have the maximum participation possible.”

The original bill said counties could only hold tax referenda questions on the date of a general election to maximize the voting potential.

A problem with holding a vote in a primary is, Ingoglia said, depending on the county, participation is often much higher in number in primaries by the dominant political party in that county.

In Steube’s bill, language has been added in committee that would  allow local governments to hold a tax referendum on an off-year election cycle (such as 2017), as long as the tax increase was “revenue neutral.”

“Transparency in local tax increase referendums is critical. We commend Representative Ingoglia for passing HB 139 to strengthen local tax referendum processes to ensure more voter participation in local taxing decisions,” said Skylar Zander, deputy director of Americans for Prosperity Florida. “This is a good transparency measure and will make local tax increases more accountableWe call on the Florida Senate to pass this bill.”

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.”

Craft distillery bill put on hold, then passed

A bill to allow craft distillers to sell more product directly to customers was set for a final vote Wednesday, was instead “temporarily postponed,” then finally voted out later in the day.

The House eventually passed the measure (HB 141) by a 114-2 vote.

Its sponsor, state Rep. Cyndi Stevenson, a St. Johns Republican, was one of five House members earlier in the floor session who did not vote on a contentious bill allowing Florida retailers to sell distilled spirits with other goods instead of in a separate store. 

The “whiskey and Wheaties” bill passed by a razor-thin 58-57 margin.

Her measure would let distillers sell up to six bottles of spirits per customer in a given year.

Until 2013, distillers couldn’t sell any of their product to customers. That year, lawmakers approved a change to state law allowing two bottles to be sold to an individual customer yearly.

The law was changed again to two bottles annually per customer of each brand of liquor that a distiller makes. If a craft distiller produces only one type of liquor, however, four can be sold.

Distributors and liquor stores have opposed similar measures, saying it would cut into their business.

The legislation allows distillers to bypass the three-tier system of separate alcoholic beverage manufacturers, distributors and retailers set in place after Prohibition.

A Senate companion (SB 166) has cleared all its committees and is ready for the floor.

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