Influence Archives - Page 3 of 263 - Florida Politics

Senate Finance & Tax Appropriations Committee OK’s ‘tampon tax’ exemption

A bill to repeal the so-called “tampon tax” cleared another hurdle, passing a key Senate appropriations committee Wednesday.

The Senate Finance and Tax Appropriations Subcommittee approved a proposal (SB 176) to make feminine hygiene products, like tampons, exempt from state sales and use tax. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, now heads to the full Appropriations Committee.

Only a handful — including Maryland, including Maryland, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania — have created a tax exemption for these products, according to a June report by the Council of State Governments. That report noted the national push to create a tax exemption comes “amid criticism the tax unfairly affects women.”

Supporters of the efforts have argued the products should “be treated like other medical necessities, which are currently tax exempt in most states.”

In December, Passidomo said she filed the bill because it was “a common sense issue.”

“Florida imposes a sales tax on luxury items,” the Naples Republican said in a statement at the time. “These products are certainly not a luxury but a basic necessity and as such, we should stop taxing them.”

That’s also what prompted Rep. Katie Edwards to file a bill (HB 63) to repeal the tax. The Plantation Democrat filed the bill in November, and said she decided to do it after listening to a debate about a wide-ranging tax cut package last year and receiving “periods are not luxury emails.”

“It’s not something you choose,” she told in December. “It’s just something that a lot of consumers and taxpayers need and purchase.”

If approved, the Revenue Estimating Conference estimates the exemption would reduce general revenue receipts by $3.8 million in fiscal 2017-18 and by $8.9 million on a recurring basis. It would reduce local revenue by $1 million in fiscal 2017-18, and then by $2.3 million each year after.

Passidomo’s bill now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee; Edwards’ bill has not yet been scheduled for its first committee hearing.

Lake O land buy plan a non-starter with likely Republican voters, poll shows

Likely Republican voters are against the Florida Senate proposal to buy land south of Lake Okeechobee, according to a new poll released by the Associated Industries of Florida obtained by

The survey asked Republican voters about a variety of issues on the table for the 2017 Legislative Session and no matter the wording, the South Florida land buy was a loser.

When asked whether the Legislature should use eminent domain to purchase the farmland for environmental purposes, a whopping 65 percent of those polled said they disagreed, with just 21 percent approving.

Voter opinion was just as harsh when the poll asked if the “state should continue to buy private farmland for environmental purposes and take it out of production, even if that means the state must borrow the money to purchase bonds.”

Voters said by a 64-23 margin that they disagreed with the proposition, with Panhandle Republicans supporting the idea slightly more than those living in the Jacksonville media market.

AIF also asked voters about the ongoing debate over whether to dismantle economic incentive programs and tourism marketing arm Visit Florida, but concluded the issue was too complicated for voters to comprehend.

“Overall awareness on these debates is low in this survey, regardless of how the question is tested,” said Ryan Tyson, AIF’s Vice President of Political Operations. “Furthermore, the nuances of the policy points used to better describe ‘incentives for job growth’ vs. ‘corporate welfare’ are far too complex for decisive support for either position in this survey.”

AIF said no matter the phrasing, the results for the incentives debate were contradictory “and talking points can easily get a voter to one side of the argument or the other.”

The survey did find that 55 percent of those polled said the Legislature is spending tax dollars wisely, though most of that support is soft, with 44 percent saying they only somewhat agree with that sentiment.

AIF surveyed 800 likely Republican voters who had voted in at least one of the last three Republican Primaries, but not the presidential preference in 2016. The group said 81 percent of those polled were over 50 years old and 90 percent were white.

Democratic lawmakers file bills to strengthen prescription drug reporting requirements

A pair of Democratic lawmakers announced Tuesday that they had filed bills to combat opioid abuse in Florida.

HB 557 and SB 840 would cut the reporting window for when controlled substance distributions are made to one day, and would require pharmacies or other drug dispensaries to submit the information online.

Current state law gives dispensers 7 days to report transactions to the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program.

Rehabilitative hospitals, assisted living facilities and nursing homes would be exempt from the new reporting requirements so long as the patient receiving the drugs is receiving care on site.

“Our state’s medical physicians and pharmacists don’t have the information they need to identify harmful drug use patterns, and it’s costing families their loved ones,” said Rep. Nick Duran, who is sponsoring the House version of the bill. “This bill gives health professionals actionable data to fight prescription drug abuse and save lives.”

Lake Worth Sen. Jeff Clemens, who is sponsoring the Senate bill, said the more stringent reporting requirements would give physicians “close to real-time data to help them identify patients who may be teetering on the edge of addiction or are doctor shopping.”

The Florida Behavioral Health Association, a group that lobbies on behalf of behavioral health groups, agreed with Clemens.

“Maximum use of the PDMP is a key factor in addressing Florida’s opioid epidemic,” Executive Director Mark Fontaine said. “The PDMP will work more effectively using near real-time data to identify attempts to abuse the system.”

HB 557 is scheduled to be heard by the House Health Quality Subcommittee Wednesday. SB 840 has not yet been assigned to any committees.

Economic incentives

Bill to kill business incentives, Enterprise Florida cleared for House floor

A House bill that would abolish the Enterprise Florida economic development organization, eliminate a throng of business incentive programs, and strip the VISIT FLORIDA tourism marketing agency down to a barebones $25 million budget cleared its second and final panel Tuesday.

That means the measure (HB 7005), OK’d by the House Appropriations Committee on an 18-12 vote, is ready to be considered by the full House when the 2017 Legislative Session begins March 7. 

The vote was another hit to Gov. Rick Scott, an advocate of both agencies and economic incentives, which he says create jobs for Floridians. In a statement, he again responded to the House with the “P” word.

“Today’s vote by politicians in the Florida House is a job killer,” the governor said. “I know some politicians … say they don’t necessarily want to abolish these programs but instead want to advance a ‘conversation.’

“This is completely hypocritical and the kind of games I came to Tallahassee to change,” he added. “Perhaps if these politicians would listen to their constituents, instead of playing politics, they would understand how hurtful this legislation will be to Florida families.”

Even if the House passes its bill as currently is, however, it could well be dead on arrival in the Senate. The House originally aimed to kill VISIT FLORIDA, then offered to keep it but with far less money.

State Sen. Jeff Brandes, the St. Petersburg Republican who chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development, on Tuesday filed his own economic development legislation. It would leave VISIT FLORIDA alone, and overhaul but not get rid of Enterprise Florida and incentive programs.

“The focus of economic development should be on Florida’s small businesses,” Brandes said. “Fostering a start-up culture in our state and encouraging small business development will create a better ecosystem where opportunity can thrive.”

But the House legislation is the star of GOP House Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s push for more government transparency and better stewardship of the public’s money.

Corcoran had threatened to sue VISIT FLORIDA after it refused to reveal a secret deal with Miami rap superstar Pitbull to promote Florida tourism, later revealed to be worth up to $1 million. The ensuing controversy cost former agency CEO Will Seccombe his job.

That’s what got the measure support from House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa: “We need to see (VISIT FLORIDA) on the front page when they’re helping us, not embarrassing us.”

She also noted that singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett has promoted the state for years. “He’s the loser here because he never earned a dime for that,” Cruz said.

As state Rep. Paul Renner, the Palm Coast Republican behind the 190-page bill, told the committee: “No more Pitbull contracts in secret …  no more money going to a privileged few.”

An array of local economic development interests, regional tourism groups, small business advocates and small business owners themselves opposed the bill, including hoteliers, restaurateurs, and even a co-operative of Panhandle oyster farmers. 

Chris Hart, Enterprise Florida’s CEO, told lawmakers his group is “fiscally responsible. We have integrity, we are stewards of public dollars … and we take the job very seriously.”

But state Rep. David Richardson, a Miami Beach Democrat who voted against the bill because of the VISIT FLORIDA reduction, said he had “nothing good to say about Enterprise Florida … I have grave concerns about the incentives paid and the return on investment.”

Give him a bill only on that organization, he added, “and I’ll kill that for you.”

After the hearing, committee chair Carlos Trujillo held a brief media availability, which can be seen in the Periscope video below:

Judicial term limits, death penalty bills clear final House committee votes

Bills that would require unanimous jury votes to impose the death penalty, and ask voters whether to impose term limits on appellate judges, were headed to the House floor following their approval Tuesday by the House Judiciary Committee.

The death penalty bill attracted a single “no” vote, and that was from Democrat Joe Geller, who said he would never again support any proposal that would “keep the horror of a death penalty.”

The judicial term limits bill passed on a vote of 11-8. The only Republicans to vote against it were Jay Fant and George Moraitis Jr.

The committee also approved HB 65, which would allow victims of terrorist acts to sue perpetrators and their enablers in state court; and HB 301, requiring the Florida Supreme Court to report each year to the the governor, attorney general, and legislative leaders the number of cases still pending 180 days after oral argument.

HB 527, the death penalty bill, answers qualms by the Florida Supreme Court about putting people to death absent unanimous jury recommendations. In October, the court struck down a law allowing executions upon 10-2 jury votes.

Only Monday, the court said executions could proceed in cases where that wasn’t a factor.

“We’ve had paralysis in our death penalty cases until yesterday,” said sponsor Chris Sprowls, who chairs the committee.

The Palm Harbor Republican said that, when he was a prosecutor, uncertainty regarding the penalty for murder was painful to victims’ families.

In sending the bill to the floor, “we would do just our small role for these families, in ensuring we have a death penalth statute that is constitutional, legal, and that these cases can move forward.”

The committee voted after death penalty opponents — including a man exonerated after serving on death row, and the mother of a murder victim — argued for abolition of capital punishment.

HJR 1, the term limits bill by Eustis Republican Jennifer Sullivan, would need approval by three-fifths of the House and Senate to appear on the ballot, where it would become a constitutional amendment upon approval by 60 percent of the voters.

It would limit judges of the district courts of appeal and justices of the Florida Supreme Court to 12 years in office.

Representatives of an array of legal groups — including the Florida Bar, the Florida Board of Trial Advocates and the Florida Justice Reform Institute — warned it would discourage bright lawyers from seeking the bench and interfere with judicial independence.

The latter argument struck a cord with Tallahassee Democrat Ramon Alexander.

“There was a time when people who look like me weren’t allowed to vote,” he said. “Because of the independent judiciary, I am afforded the opportunity to sit here today.”

Yalaha Republican Larry Metz said judges should be subject to term limits, the same as governors and legislators.

“With respect to the judiciary, one might argue, well, they’re not policymakers,” he said.

“But I would say that appellate judges in Florida — not all of them, but many of them — act as policymakers; they actually legislate from the bench.”

Supporters including Sullivan argued the bill would promote accountability — and noted that the proposal would merely place the question before the voters.

“At the end of the day, leave it to the voters of Florida decision,” she said.

Redistricting overhaul barely clears second Senate panel

The legislation (SB 352) was OK’d by the Senate Ethics and Election Committee, with all three Democrats on the panel voting no.

The bill is a response to court challenges over the state’s redrawn districts after the 2010 Census.

“The Florida Supreme Court issued eight separate apportionment opinions, the trial court issued additional opinions, and litigation spanned nearly 4 years in the state courts,” a staff analysis said.

“The litigation often proved confusing to candidates hoping to qualify and run for office because the candidates were uncertain where the district boundaries were located,” it added.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Travis Hutson of Elkton, will next be considered by the Rules Committee.

Legislators pass two bills on law enforcement training and exemptions to public records

Lawmakers passed two measures on Tuesday in a conference held by the Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs.

The meeting was chaired by the vice chair of the committee, State Sen. Victor Torres.

CS/SB 154, introduced by state Sen. Perry Thurston requires training for law enforcement on Autism awareness Training throughout the state, including with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which would establish a continued employment training component relating to autism spectrum disorder. It also specifies instruction to be included in the training component, providing completion of the training may count toward continued employment instruction requirements providing an effective date.

It passed 4-0.

SB 210, introduced by state Sen. Kathleen Passidomo allows for the exemption from public records requirements for certain identifying and location information of current or former public guardians and the spouses and children thereof, providing for future legislative review and repeal of the exemption.

It passed 4-0.

Red-light camera ban clears final House committee

A House bill to ban red-light cameras cleared its final committee Tuesday and is ready for a floor vote when the 2017 Legislative Session kicks off next month.

The House Government Accountability Committee approved HB 6007 with a 13-3 vote; the only no votes came from Democratic Reps. Joe AbruzzoCarlos Guillermo Smith and Clovis Watson.

Last month, the bill had made it through the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee and the House Appropriations Committee with similarly lopsided votes.

The bill would not take effect until July 1, 2020, though it would cause a substantial dip in revenue on the state and local levels. According to the Government Accountability Committee’s staff analysis, banning red-light cameras would cause the state to lose out on about $63 million in general revenue a year, while local governments would lose nearly $73 million.

Earlier this month, a Senate bill that would put an end to the cameras failed to make it through the Senate Transportation Committee, though Democratic Sen. Daphne Campbell filed an identical bill Feb. 1.

Lawmakers backing a total ban on red-light cameras have pointed to a study from the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles that showed crashes were up more than 10 percent at intersections with cameras.

While the data shows an increase in rear-end collisions and crashes involving injuries, it did show a 3 percent decline in crashes involving running red lights and a 20 percent reduction in accidents involving pedestrians or other non-motorists.

Detractors say that study is flawed, however, because it includes crashes up to 250 feet away from intersections.

Democrats announce bill to boost renewable energy incentives

Lake Worth Sen. Jeff Clemens and Lantana Rep. Lori Berman filed bills that would allow Florida cities to create incentive programs to attract sustainable energy jobs.

HB 887 and SB 1090 would expand a pilot program to create “Energy Economic Zones” in cities, a designation for areas that encourage renewable energy generation, manufacture products that contribute to energy conservation, and grow jobs in the renewable energy sector.

The bills also remove a provision from the pilot program that required the Department of Economic Opportunity to consult with the Florida Department of Transportation before approving projects.

“Advances in solar, wind, and hydroelectricity have made the attracting and locating of companies investing in the future of renewable energy a highly competitive market amongst states throughout the country,” Berman said. “Having as many tools in the tool chest as possible that are available to Florida’s communities is what we are trying to achieve.”

Under the bill, businesses would have to meet qualified target industry standards in order to get incentives money through the program, and each city would be limited to $300,000 in incentives a year. Any unused portion of that money, however, could be carried forward for 5 years.

The bill would also require cities to collaborate with a university or other research institution to be eligible to receive state incentive money.

“This is the perfect way to support innovation at our universities and provide entrepreneurs with an avenue to help secure our energy future,” Clemens said.

The pair also noted a benefit their districts would likely receive under the bill. The City of Lake Worth could partner FAU’s Southeast National Marine Renewable Energy Center, which is a leader in ocean current energy due to its proximity to the Gulf Stream a few miles off the coast.


Flood insurance, HMO liability legislation clear Senate committee

A Senate committee approved bills Tuesday that would encourage Florida insurers to write flood insurance as an alternative to expensive federal coverage, and would allow patients to sue HMOs for declining to cover doctors’ treatment recommendations in bad faith.

“Why shouldn’t the HMOs be held liable for the decisions they make and the doctors aren’t making, and people are dying? I just don’t think that’s equitable,” said Sen. Greg Steube, the Sarasota Republican behind SB 262, the HMO bill.

Existing law exempts HMOs from liability for treatment decisions by doctors with whom them contract to treat patients.

“What other businesses are prohibited by law from being sued from decisions they make that actually kill people?” Steube said following the committee’s 6-3 vote to approve his bill.

The measure would repeal legal protections for HMOs for vicarious liability for medical negligence unless the doctor is an employee. It also would create a cause of action for bad-faith refusal to provide a treatment recommended by a doctor.

Sen. Gary Farmer, a Democrat and a trial attorney from Broward County, said he entered the law after the mother of the best man at his wedding died after being denied a new treatment for the fatal side effects of chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

“I just do not believe a good-faith argument can be made that in a situation like that, an HMO cannot be held liable,” Farmer said.

Representatives of a number of medical professional organizations endorsed the bill, while insurance and business interests warned it would inflate coats for insurance companies and the state, through Medicaid and Medicare.

Sen. Rene Garcia, a Hialeah Republican, expressed sympathy with those qualms.

“It’s going to increase costs to the state and policyholders,” he said.

Sen. Jeff Brandes sponsored the flood insurance bill — SB 420.

Existing law allows insurers to offer flood policies through 2019 without having to wait for the Office of Insurance Regulation to review their rates. Brandes’ bill would extend that until 2025.

Farmer said he agreed with Brandes in theory, but worried the measure would encourage growth of unregulated surplus lines insurance — designed for “sophisticated” customers to protect against unique risks — “Liberace’s fingers. Dan Marino’s knees. Things of that nature.”

“We want more admitted carriers to write,” Brandes said following the 7-1 vote in favor his his bill. He referred to policies requiring pre-approval by regulators.

“But we also understand that surplus line carriers are writing, as well.”

And the bill encourages regulated insurers to enter the market.

“We’re offering them more flexibility in rates and forms. We’re making sure they are well-capitalized companies. But we want to create the right ecosystem for them to thrive in Florida.”


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