Florida Legislature Archives - Page 3 of 42 - Florida Politics

Martin Dyckman: Who needs strong, independent courts? We do.

It’s a paradox in America’s ongoing experiment with self-government that we depend on the weakest branch of government to defend us from the more powerful ones.

The Founders gave a lot of thought and ink to this. Writing in the Federalist, Alexander Hamilton pointed out that the judiciary would always be “least dangerous” to the public’s freedoms because it would be “least in a capacity to annoy or injure them.”

The courts have no police or troops of their own, no power to make laws but only to review them, no control over even their own budgets.

It would be their job, though, to protect against abuses of power by the president or the Congress.

When you see one of those branches going after the courts, like the hotheads in the Florida Legislature at the moment, consider whose ox they’re really trying to gore: yours.

Three pending acts reek of political revenge against the Supreme Court for its decisions to enforce the “Fair Districts” initiatives that voters approved, overwhelmingly, in 2010.

You voted to put a stop to political gerrymandering. You wanted to choose your legislators rather than have them choose you.

The Legislature largely ignored you, to put it politely, and tried to hide the evidence of its skullduggery by hiding behind such phony excuses as “legislative privilege” and “trade secrets.” All that took time, nearly three years in fact, but the court eventually, and rightly, ordered up new maps for the state Senate and the congressional districts.

Now look what’s happening:

— HJR 1, Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s top priority, would impose 12-year term limits on Supreme Court justices and judges of the district courts of appeal. Nearly everyone who doesn’t have a grudge against the courts thinks that’s a bad idea and unnecessary as well, The House passed this with one vote to spare. The Senate appears to be holding on to it as a bargaining chip.

— HB 301, also now in the Senate, nitpicks at the court by calling on it to submit annual reports detailing how many cases are awaiting decision and for how long. That’s a blatant invasion of the court’s constitutional power to make its own rules.

— S for SB 352, a transparent erosion of the “Fair Districts” initiatives, provides for challenged districts to go on the ballot if the cases are still pending in court by the campaign filing deadlines. In the event a map is found unconstitutional afterward, the remedial districts would not go on the ballot until the subsequent election.

In practical terms, it’s impossible to complete any complicated case in the few months between a legislative session and the filing deadlines. What if the politicians whose seats are at stake might again be the culprits behind prolonging the litigation? That would not matter.

This particular act of legislative arrogance also tries to tell the court how to conduct its hearings, although it couches this as encouragement rather than a command. And it cheekily maintains that none of this is meant to “supersede or impair” the Fair Districts amendments. There’s an “alternative fact” for you.

Lord Acton‘s famous maxim that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” is on almost daily display in Congress and the state legislatures. The perks and emoluments—doorkeepers, pages and messengers, reserved parking places, and, not least, the fawning lobbyists—are intoxicating. One can quickly forget to whom that House or Senate seat actually belongs.

Without the courts—the federal courts, in this instance—the people of Florida might still be the servants of a legislature so malapportioned that fewer than 15 percent of the people, residents of the smallest counties, could elect a majority in both houses.

It was that Legislature, in 1957, which had passed an “interposition” resolution declaring that U.S. Supreme Court desegregation decisions were null and void in Florida. But of course they were not null or void, and the same fate awaits the present legislation that attempts to tell the Florida Supreme Court how to do its business.

Some other incidents are worth recall.

In 1982, the Legislature put on the ballot a constitutional amendment purporting to require financial disclosure by former legislators and Cabinet members who intended to lobby. The title and summary neglected to mention that this would nullify an absolute two-year cooling-off period, directly subverting former Gov. Reubin Askew‘s ethics in government initiative of 1976.

Askew sued, and the Florida Supreme Court threw the deceptive amendment off the ballot. The Legislature did not like that.

In 2000, the court invalidated a constitutional amendment after it had been approved in an election because it had been misrepresented as preserving the death penalty when the intended result was actually to have more executions. Again, the Legislature was unhappy.

In 2010, it bounced two legislatively proposed amendments for misleading language: one dealing with health care, and another that could have weakened the pending “Fair Districts” initiatives.

As for term limits, the way they have dumbed down the Legislature since they took effect there in 2000 hardly makes a case for doing the same to the appellate courts.

Florida needs nothing less than to discourage lawyers in mid-career from devoting themselves to their profession’s highest calling.

It was four such young lawyers who redeemed the Supreme Court from a slough of ethical scandals in the 1970s. Of the four, Ben Overton was the only one who stayed longer than seven years. Arthur J. England and Alan C. Sundberg returned voluntarily to private practice. Joseph Hatchett was appointed to a federal appeals court. Among 22 justices who came and went after 1968, the typical tenure was approximately 10 years. Overton’s, at 24, was the longest.

Florida already requires judges to retire upon reaching 70 or soon after, and that is enough.

Remember who needs strong, independent courts. You do.

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Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

Divided over dollars: Florida legislators split on spending

With about a month left in the regular session, Florida’s Republican-controlled Legislature is on a major collision course over spending.

This past week the House and Senate released rival budgets for the coming year that reveal a wide divide between the two chambers on everything from taxes to schools to state worker pay raises.

The two sides don’t even have the same bottom line: The Senate’s overall budget is more than $85 billion, or roughly $4 billion more than the House proposed. The current state budget is nearly $82.3 billion.

Part of the reason for the disparity is that House Republicans sought aggressive budget cuts, aimed largely at hospitals and state universities. But the House budget also sets aside money for roughly $300 million in tax cuts, including a reduction in the tax charged on rent paid by businesses.

House leaders say they pushed ahead with deep spending cuts to help the state avoid possible shortfalls that are projected over the next two to three years by state economists. In describing the need for cuts, House Republicans have referred to a budget “deficit” even though state tax collections are actually growing.

“We have to make informed decisions, and we have to make tough decisions,” said Rep. Carlos Trujillo, a Miami Republican and the House budget chairman. “We can’t be all things to all people.”

A big sticking point between the House and Senate will be over money for public schools.

The Senate is recommending a nearly $800 million increase for day-to-day operations that would boost the amount spent on each student by close to 3 percent. That contrasts with the House’s proposal that would increase the per-student amount by 1.25 percent.

“The budget meets the needs of our growing state in a manner that reflects the priorities of the constituents who elected us,” said Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican.

But a large portion of the Senate plan relies on an increase in local property taxes triggered by rising property values. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has vowed to block any proposal that relies on higher taxes.

Corcoran and other House Republicans have proposed steering large amounts of money into contentious programs, including an ambitious $200 million “Schools of Hope” plan that would offer money to charter school operators that set up schools near failing public schools.

Another wide area of disagreement: Money for economic development programs and tourism promotion that has already pitted House leaders against Gov. Rick Scott. The Senate has kept intact the state’s economic development agency known as Enterprise Florida and agreed to keep spending on tourism marketing close to current levels. The House is proposing to shutter Enterprise Florida, while slashing the state’s tourism ad budget by roughly $50 million.

“Over and over again, politicians in the House have failed to understand that Florida is competing for job creation projects against other states and countries across the globe,” Scott said this week about the House proposal.

The House and Senate also differ on the need for across-the-board raises for state workers. The Senate is offering a raise of $1,400 to all employees making $40,000 or less, and $1,000 to those who earn more than $40,000. The House is recommending targeted pay raises to corrections officers and state law-enforcement agents.

The Senate is also proposing to borrow up to $1.2 billion to acquire 60,000 acres of land and build a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to reduce discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries that have been blamed for toxic algae blooms. House leaders have said they are opposed to borrowing money this year but have not rejected the Senate plan.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Franchise group tweets tone-deaf opposition to ‘Florida Small Business Act’

A pro tip for anyone seeking to curry favor with the Florida Legislature: get your facts straight — or at least know which state you’re trying to lobby.

A couple of months ago, state Sen. Jack Latvala and Rep. Jason Brodeur announced supporting the “Protect Florida Small Business Act” (SB 750), which seeks to “promote fair business relations between franchisees and franchisors and to protect franchisees against unfair treatment by franchisors.”

“I want to be sure that there is a level playing field for all business owners in Florida,” Brodeur said. “Whether they are a small independent shop or a franchisee.”

For some reason, that hasn’t set well with the International Franchise Association, the industry’s leading trade group.

IFA has been a vocal opponent of the act, calling it “unnecessary government overreach and intrusion into private contract negotiations.”

So, like any good trade organization, the IFA took to social media to make its case, seeking to pressure a growing number of state lawmakers — including Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, Sens. Greg Steube and Lizbeth Benacquisto and others — into opposing the bill.

But something was not quite right.

A series of tweets on the group’s page (@Franchising411) blasted several lawmakers, calling on them to reject SB 750 and its House companion (HB 1069). The tweets asked followers — nearly 12,000 of them — to tell the legislators to “protect franchising.”

Behind each image of a Florida legislator was a map of California, not Florida.

Oops.

Now, IFA is no bush-league organization; the group claims to represent more than 700,000 franchise establishments, 7.6 million direct jobs, billions in economic output for what they say is nearly 3 percent of U.S. gross domestic product. That’s not small potatoes.

In addition, IFA boasts members in more than 300 different occupations including marketing, law and business development.

Apparently, that list doesn’t include cartography.

With such a vast reach, it would be reasonable to assume IFA could spring for a staffer with some basic geographic knowledge, or at least hire a person (anyone) who knows the difference between Florida and California.

Say, someone who lives in either of those states. That should narrow it down to only 56 million people.

Ironically, the worst of these misguided tweets is one the few that got it right — with Florida in the background, that is.

Sent March 30, the tweet in question asked supporters to contact Port Orange Republican Sen. Dorothy Hukill.

Double oops.

You see, even a cursory Google search would show Hukill is not even in Tallahassee this Session. She is contending with a more pressing issue — radiation treatments for cervical cancer.

Mistaking California for Florida is ridiculous enough; going after a cancer patient in active treatment is not only tone deaf, but also insensitive and mind-numbingly stupid.

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Mark Wilson, Dominic Calabro: Strangling Enterprise Florida, VISIT FLORIDA costly to Sunshine State future

Right now, jobs and the future of Florida’s economy are in jeopardy. That’s because some politicians in Tallahassee want to eliminate Florida’s economic development programs and slash the state’s tourism marketing efforts.

Enterprise Florida and VISIT FLORIDA, Florida’s economic development and tourism marketing programs, are essential to the economic well-being of our state. Eliminating Florida’s targeted and proven economic development programs is not the way forward, and will slam the brakes on the amazing job creation success Florida has seen since the end of the Great Recession.

While incentives paid for by hardworking taxpayers are rarely if ever used and are almost always inappropriate, Enterprise Florida has safeguards in place to ensure taxpayer dollars are not used as corporate welfare to skimp on contractual obligations. As Gov. Rick Scott, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Florida TaxWatch, have often said, programs offered by Enterprise Florida are not paid until the business achieves what is outlined in the contract.

If the Florida House has its way, VISIT FLORIDA will see its budget slashed by $50 million — a move that would cut two-thirds funding. Tourism is still one of Florida’s top industries for jobs and economic growth, despite Florida having a more diverse economic portfolio than at any other time in state history.

Florida has advantages, but the Sunshine State also has a major lawsuit abuse problem, we’re the only state that taxes small business rent, and our unfunded pensions cost eight times what we invest in economic development. The point is that until the Florida Legislature puts jobs and families first, now is the worst possible time to make Florida less competitive.

Taking economic development strategies that work off the table is short sighted, and without question, harms Florida’s ability to continue to lead the nation in job creation. Enterprise Florida and VISIT FLORIDA are important pieces to Florida’s economic puzzle and strangling their resources will hurt our state, our taxpayers, job creators and 20-plus million residents for years to come.

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Mark Wilson is the president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Dominic Calabro is the president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch.

Patient groups abound in formulary debate, but who funds them?

Legislation introduced this Session – HB 95 and SB 182 – seeks to change the current drug formulary system utilized by health insurers and pharmacy benefit managers.

Both bills have received significant support from “patient advocacy groups” during the course of the debate.

But who are these so-called patient groups, and how are they funded?

Well, a recent New England Journal of Medicine paper titled, “Conflicts of Interest for Patient-Advocacy Organizations,” which has been widely reported on, including in a recent Kaiser Health News report, indicates that many “patient advocacy groups” may be funded by the pharmaceutical industry.

That’s right, the same industry that gave consumers the EpiPen, which cost so much that parents could no longer afford them for their kids, and featuring characters like pharma bro Martin Shkreli, who raised the price of an AIDS-related drug by 500 percent, are creating “patient advocacy groups” to push for legislative changes across the U.S., likely including right here in Florida.

Some important points from the study to consider:

– At least 83 percent of the nation’s 104 largest patient advocacy groups take contributions from the drug, medical device and biotech industries, raising questions about whether they consistently put patients first. . .

– “If you’re a policymaker and you want to hear from patients, there’s a danger if there’s an undisclosed or underdisclosed conflict of interest,” said Matthew McCoy, the paper’s primary author. “The ‘patient’ voice is speaking with a pharma accent.”

– Of the 18 nonprofits not reporting pharmaceutical money, all but five failed to disclose donors at all. Just one of the 104 nonprofits stated explicitly that it does not accept industry money.

– Executives or former executives in the pharmaceutical industry serve on a third of the organizations’ boards, the researchers found.

– About one-fifth of the patient advocacy groups studied accepted $1 million or more from drug makers, but exactly how much those groups accepted is fuzzy. Half of the organizations disclosed their donations in ranges rather than precise amounts, and most of those reported their highest donations with an unbounded upper range, the study says.

So, who is really behind the formulary change in the Florida Legislature?  Is it patients or is it really big pharma?

Beyond that debate, however, formularies have also been proven to be effective at controlling costs, especially at a time when the price of drugs continues to escalate.

Moreover, effective drug formulary management also helps to identify drug therapies that will benefit patients and, similarly, helps to detect drug therapies that may have a negative interaction with other medications a patient is taking.

As Florida lawmakers continue the debate over drug formularies, they should be wary of potentially shady patient groups and take into account what really matters in this debate, positive health outcomes balanced with affordable prescription drugs for Florida patients.

Don’t throw decoupling out with the proverbial gaming bath water

It seems like every year the Florida Legislature revisits the idea of decoupling, which is not a term to describe modern romance, but rather a gaming term. It’s what happens when venues operate a casino without the requirement to also run live horse or dog racing.

Seems simple enough; but every year, decoupling doesn’t pass because, inevitably, the gaming bill turns into a gambling train, and decoupling has to go along for the ride.

Ultimately, the two chambers can’t agree, and nothing passes at all.

Decoupling, though, has something for everyone, so it should be something all parties agree on — except for my friend Jack Cory — even during a contentious session.

 For the pro-growth crowd, it would have a positive economic impact on the communities where there is a casino that is forced to continue to run live dog or horse races because of this archaic law.

Look no further than the City of Miami Gardens for example.

The mayor there, Oliver Gilbert, has made the trek up to Tallahassee to implore legislators to seriously consider decoupling this Session, because, as he puts it, his city has “only one sit-down restaurant, virtually no shopping and little in the way of regular entertainment.” Yet, there is a parcel of land positioned on a major commercial thoroughfare that cannot be redeveloped because a horse track, mostly unused, occupies it.

He thinks that if the facility, Calder Race Course, had the ability to sell its land, but continue to operate its casino, the city could redevelop the land, infusing needed capital and adding jobs to a community that has a suppressed economy.

And, for the No Casinos crowd — with which I typically sympathize — who want to see reduced gaming in the state, decoupling may be the best to get rid of gaming.

Yes, these venues would still be able to operate their casinos, but decoupling would get rid of some horse and dog racing. And, oh by the way, while you have to be 21 years old to get into casinos across the state, you can go gamble at dog and horse tracks at just 18. So not only would decoupling reduce gaming, it would reduce exposing gambling to those under 21.

Beyond these positive benefits, while many gaming issues come with plenty of controversy, decoupling just isn’t one of them.

Aside from the thoroughbred industry claiming that it will be detrimental to Florida families — a red herring argument because the consolidation of thoroughbred racing has actually had a positive effect on the industry in South Florida — there simply isn’t much opposition to decoupling.

I get it, the reality is a lot of gaming policy won’t see the light of day this session — especially in the Florida House which remains staunchly opposed to the expansion of gaming — but, I would just say: Don’t throw decoupling out with the proverbial gaming bath water.

It’s just too simple and too much to agree on not to finally allow decoupling.

Michael Carlson: Don’t trade a tax cut for a tax increase – preserve the salary tax credits for insurers

Michael Carlson

For three decades, Florida has offered insurance companies a highly effective, performance-based tax credit that has resulted in tens of thousands of good jobs being created or imported to our state. Not only does this credit bolster our state’s economy in a transparent, accountable way, it also helps ensure insurance rates for Floridians stay as affordable as possible.

Senate Bill 378 by Sen. Anitere Flores would bring that to an unfortunate end. It would repeal tax credits available to insurers as a way to lower the communications services tax currently levied on telecommunications, video, cable and satellite television and other related services.

Cutting one tax but increasing another is a bad trade that would do more harm than good. It would eliminate tax credits that have been working exactly as intended and sets a bad precedent for other businesses considering a move to Florida based on the availability of similar tax credits. Importantly to consumers and businesses, it would amount to a $300 million tax increase that could translate to higher insurance rates for everyone.

The insurance premium tax credits allow insurers to deduct 15 percent of the employee salary for each job they create or import to Florida from the premium tax they pay each year to the state. For taxpayers, the essential fact is this: Insurers only get the credit if they actually create or import a job. They don’t get a credit for a mere promise of creating jobs. And if the insurance company eliminates the job, they lose the credit.

An independent evaluation of the tax credit in 2013 found it had led to the creation of 40,000 insurance industry-related jobs since 2008 – a tremendous return on the state’s investment. In other words, while many industries were being hit hard and laying off workers during the Great Recession, the insurance industry in Florida was able to create good-paying jobs for Floridians.

Since the recession, Governor Scott and the Florida Legislature have strongly focused on job creation and strategies that promote economic growth in the state. Unquestionably, this credit has contributed to the insurance industry’s considerable investment in Florida. In fact, the insurance industry today touts more than 200,000 jobs that collectively pay about $12 billion in total salaries to workers in Florida.

It’s important to consider that if this successful tax credit is repealed, Florida will be sending a conflicting message to all industries that are thinking about relocating to Florida under the promise of a tax credit like this one, only to watch it get repealed years later. Even worse, eliminating it could send companies out of Florida to a competing state to plant their headquarters or call centers and, quite possibly, to a location that offers the tax credits they thought they would be able to maintain here in Florida.

While periodic review of corporate incentives is reasonable, it would be a mistake to repeal tax credits that have created jobs in Florida and contributed to the economy. We urge lawmakers to reject SB 378 as a shortsighted move that would swap one tax for another and result in higher premiums for all purchasers of insurance.

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Michael Carlson is the president of the Personal Insurance Federation of Florida, a trade association of insurance companies that provide automobile and homeowners’ property insurance.

Lauren Book, Joe Geller file bills seeking higher penalties for guns at school, boost firearm safety

Two bills introduced in the Florida Legislature this week seek to bolster gun safety when children are involved.

Cosponsored by Plantation Democratic state Sen. Lauren Book, SB 648 would establish a perimeter of safety for students around schools, as well as strengthen penalties for careless storage of firearms which then fall into the hands of minors.

Aventura Democratic Rep. Joseph Geller filed the companion House Bill (HB 957).

If passed, the bills would increase penalties on individuals who brandish a firearm on or near school property, on the unlawful firing of a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school, and for those who do not properly store their firearms, allowing access to minors

“All children deserve to be kept safe,” Book said in a statement Monday. “One of the most basic and straightforward ways we can ensure child safety is by keeping firearms out of the hands of children and away from school property.”

According to the American Bar Association, in 47 states, a parent can leave a loaded, unlocked gun on a dining room table, nightstand or other easily accessed location and face no legal consequences for having the gun within a child’s reach.

“The safety of Florida’s students, both while at school and at home, is paramount to their success in the classroom and in life,” Geller said in a statement. “There’s no excuse for brandishing a firearm at a school. Neither is there any reason for allowing a minor access to a firearm because it isn’t stored in a secure manner. These commonsense gun safety reforms ensure that our students are protected and that those who threaten their safety are punished.”

Under the bill, if a minor gets ahold of an improperly stored gun, the owner would be charged with a first degree misdemeanor instead of a second degree misdemeanor as current law allows. The bill would also tack on a felony charge if the gun is fired.

The bill would also ratchet up charges on adults if a minor brandishes a gun in public or if a minor violates the same rules with a BB gun or air gun.

 

Florida doesn’t need an elected Secretary of State, or Agriculture Commissioner

It would tax the imagination to come up with anything that Florida needs less than to elect a secretary of state once again. Why would the Legislature even consider that?

Sen. Aaron Bean, the sponsor, explained it the other day. As reported by FloridaPolitics.com, the Fernandina Beach Republican told the Senate ethics committee that in the main he wants a fifth position on the Cabinet to avoid tie votes that require the governor to be on the prevailing side or the motion fails.

Actually, he and nearly everyone else are incorrect when they refer to that group of four as “the Cabinet.” Article IV Section 4 of the Constitution provides for the Cabinet to consist of an attorney general, a chief financial officer, and a commissioner of agriculture. The governor is NOT — I repeat, NOT — a member of the Cabinet.

And because they are elected, it’s not “his” Cabinet even though the members too often vote as if it were. They oversee 12 agencies in their collective role as — to put it accurately — “the governor and Cabinet.”

To the extent that the tie vote issue is a problem, there’s a simpler and less expensive way to deal with it than the creation of yet another statewide pooh-bah with yet another six-figure salary.

That’s to get rid of the elected agriculture commissioner. Let the governor appoint the position, as does now with the secretary of state. Or have the governor and the remaining two Cabinet members jointly select someone in the same manner as the head of the office of financial regulation.

But avoiding a tie vote situation strikes me as the lamest possible pretext to elect the secretary, which Florida last did in 1998.

The more important issue is how best to oversee elections, which is the function of the office that the public cares most about. The record-keeping, the corporations’ division, the arts, library and archives are less about policy than professional management. You don’t need to elect anyone for those.

But electing a secretary of state doesn’t guarantee that the duty will be carried out in a bipartisan, nonpolitical and professional manner. The present secretary, Ken Detzner, has been accused of doing what the governor wants to discourage rather than encourage voting. The last elected secretary, Katherine Harris, is best remembered for the infamous 2000 campaign in which she was first a co-chair of George W. Bush’s campaign and then made critical decisions in his favor.

Harris’s predecessor, Sandra Mortham, spoke at the committee hearing and referred to the dicey position of governor-appointed secretaries as “very, very, very difficult” for them. She also noted that local elected supervisors of election would be better off with a popularly elected state leader than with one named by the governor.

Those are better points, to be sure, than the tie vote issue. Harris’ tenure, though, was hardly a shining example of political independence.

Though nearly half the states have elected sectaries to state to manage elections, nine have appointed boards or commissions that are bipartisan, at least in theory. One of them is in North Carolina, where despite fierce efforts by a Republican and legislature to suppress voting, the GOP-dominated board acted respectably last year. Florida should consider that method of governance.

“I think there is no magic bullet,” says Ion Sancho, Leon County’s recently retired election supervisor, who is a nationally recognized figure in the field. “It doesn’t matter a darn bit if you elect the person if they have to follow the rigged election laws passed by the Florida Legislature.

He sees no point, however, in enlarging the elected Cabinet.

There used to be six Cabinet members, plus the governor, each with their own departments, in charge of an array of agencies they governed collectively. That system was created in the aftermath of post-Civil War Reconstruction to deliberately keep the governors weak. Trouble was, with everyone supposedly watching the store no one actually did. In modern times, two of Florida’s best governors, LeRoy Collins and Reubin Askew, tried unsuccessfully to be rid of the system.

Twenty years ago, the Constitution Revision Commission set out to trim the Cabinet to the only two offices that truly need to be independently elected: the attorney general and the chief financial officer. But agricultural lobbies threatened to defeat the entire reform at the polls if it didn’t retain the agriculture commissioner. Finding themselves with four voting officers instead of the intended three, the Commission came up with the curious tie-breaking rule. Eliminating the elected agriculture commissioner would dispose of that.

Agriculture is still one of the pillars of Florida’s economy, but it’s difficult to see why it needs its own surrogate governor any more than tourism or construction do. Rick Scott’s well-advertised faults as governor don’t mean that his successor shouldn’t be trusted with agriculture to the same extent as education, which once had its own elected Cabinet member too.

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Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

Guns, gambling and taxes: Legislators return to work

Once the Florida Legislature kicks off its 60-day Session March 7, legislators are expected to pass, or kill, dozens of measures dealing with everything from abortion to gambling and the environment.

So far, more than 2,000 bills have been filed, but in the end, legislators usually pass fewer than 300 pieces of legislation each year.

Here’s a look at some of the top issues this Session:

DEATH PENALTY: Florida legislators are expected to quickly pass a measure that would require a unanimous jury recommendation before the death penalty can be imposed. Last year, the state Supreme Court declared a new law requiring a 10-2 jury vote to impose the death penalty unconstitutional.

MEDICAL MARIJUANA: Voters last November overwhelmingly approved Amendment 2, which allows higher-strength marijuana to be used for a wider list of medical ailments than had been allowed under state law. Legislators will consider bills to implement the amendment, including possibly expanding who can grow and sell medical marijuana.

GUNS: There are about two dozen gun-related bills that already have been filed and the vast majority would expand gun rights so they can be carried in places that they are now not allowed including university campuses and non-secure areas of airports. Democrats have proposed more restrictions, but they have virtually no chance of passing.

GAMBLING: Top legislative leaders say they would like to come up with a comprehensive overhaul of gambling laws. But so far, the House and Senate are divided on what should be done.

The Senate is considering a bill that would allow slot machines at dog and horse tracks in eight counties outside South Florida. The Senate gambling bill would also allow the Seminole Tribe to offer craps and roulette at its casinos.

The House version would allow the Seminoles to keep blackjack and slot machines at its casinos for 20 years. But it would not allow gambling to expand to other parts of the state.

WATER: Senate President Joe Negron wants to borrow up to $1.2 billion to acquire 60,000 acres of land and build a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to reduce discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries that have been blamed for toxic algae blooms.

JUDICIAL TERM LIMITS: House Speaker Richard Corcoran wants to impose a 12-year term limit on Supreme Court justices and appeals court judges. The House is backing a constitutional amendment for the 2018 ballot that would ask voters to make the change. But it’s unclear if the Senate will consider the proposal.

BUDGET: Florida legislators are required to annually pass a new budget. Gov. Rick Scott has recommended an $83.5 billion budget that includes money for tax cuts, steep reductions for hospitals and uses local tax dollars to boost school spending.

House Republicans are opposed to Scott’s use of local property taxes and they are expected to call for large budget cuts while also increasing spending on education. Senate President Joe Negron wants to eliminate a tax break for the insurance industry and use the money to cut taxes charged on cellphone service and cable television. Negron also wants to boost spending on universities and colleges.

EDUCATION: Legislators are considering several bills dealing with schools, including one that would require elementary schools to set aside 20 minutes each day for “free-play recess.” Another bill would allow high school students to earn foreign language credits if they take courses in computer coding. Legislators are also considering changes to Florida’s high-stakes standardized tests, including pushing back the testing date to the end of the school year.

HIGHER EDUCATION: Negron has called for an overhaul of the state’s colleges and universities that requires the state to cover 100 percent of tuition costs for top performing high school students who attend a university or college. The Senate plan also calls for boosting efforts to recruit and retain university faculty.

ABORTION: Several abortion bills have been filed including one that would make it easier for women to sue physicians for physical or emotional injuries stemming from abortions.

ECONOMIC INCENTIVES: Corcoran wants to scuttle the state’s economic development agency and trim back spending at the state’s tourism marketing outfit. The move is strongly opposed by Gov. Scott who says they help the economy, but Corcoran has criticized the efforts as a form of “corporate welfare.”

HEALTH CARE: Legislators are considering several proposals that would eliminate limits on certain types of health care facilities. They may also overhaul the state worker health insurance program and expand the use of direct primary care agreements between physicians and patients.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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