Florida Legislature Archives - Page 4 of 42 - Florida Politics

Keith Perry files bill to create 10-day back-to-school sales tax holiday

Sen. Keith Perry has filed a bill calling for a 10-day back-to-school tax holiday in August.

Under the proposed legislation (SB 490), certain school supplies would be tax exempt from Aug. 4 through 14.

“As I talk to folks across north central Florida, I hear the same thing over and over – people are working hard to do right by their children,” he said in a statement Thursday. “Any steps we can take legislatively to lessen the burden on Florida’s families is a step in the right direction.”

The proposal would include clothing, backpack and sneakers that cost $100 or less; pens, pencils, notebooks, markers, calculators, and lunchboxes that cost $15 or less; and laptops or desktop computers that cost $1,000 or less.

Perry’s decision to file the legislation coincided with Gov. Rick Scott’s announcement that he is proposed $618 million in tax cuts. The governor made his announcement in Jacksonville on Wednesday morning, kicking off a multi-city swing to promote his proposal.

Scott’s proposal includes a 10-day back-to-school sales tax holiday, which he estimates would save Floridians $72 million.

In 2016, the annual back-to-school sales tax holiday ran from Aug. 5 through Aug. 7. It was scaled back from the previous year, when lawmakers approved a 10-day holiday.

“For Florida’s hardworking families, every dollar counts at back-to-school time,” said Perry. “I am proud to sponsor this common sense plan to put money back in the pockets of parents across the state.”

 

Bill to ban hydraulic fracking attracts bipartisan support

A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers have endorsed proposed legislation to ban extraction of oil and gas via hydraulic fracturing in Florida.

“This bill is concise and straightforward. It bans fracking of all types in Florida,” Senate sponsor Dana Young said Tuesday during a news conference outside the Senate chamber.

“As a sixth generation Floridian and avid outdoorsman, I believe we must act quickly and decisively to to protect our fragile environment from incompatible practices.”

Present at the news conference  to discuss Young’s SB 442 were Democratic Sens. Gary Farmer and Linda Stewart, and Republican Sens. Jack Latvia and Keith Perry; House Minority Leader Janet Cruz, and Democratic House member Mike Miller, who is expected to introduce a House companion bill this week.

“Just this collection of folks, you can see that this is an issue that transcends politics,” Farmer said. We can all come together to protect something as critically important as our water supply.”

Legislation to study fracking in Florida died last year in the Senate Appropriations Committee. Lavala, who chairs that committee this year, helped to kill it. He said he didn’t buy assurance from the Department of Environmental Protection that fracking would be safe in Florida.

“We looked a the worst-case scenario, and if there was any possibility in anyone’s mind that a bill might have the effect that people thought it would, then we took the bill down,” Latvala said. “Now we’re all together to try to so something positive to make sure it doesn’t happen in the future.”

Young promised while campaigning last fall that she would introduce a fracking ban, after she was accused of supporting the controversial practice of extracting natural gas and oil during the 2016 legislative session.

The ban would be statewide, Young said.

“The aquifer in our state does not know county lines. It does not know city boundaries,” she said.

Aliki Moncrief, executive director of Florida Conservation Voters, issued a written statement praising Young and the bill.

“Fracking poses too big a risk for the millions of Florida families and visitors who rely on our groundwater for safe, clean, driving water,” Moncrief said. “We look forward to working with Sen. Young throughout the 2017 legislative session as we work to ban fracking in Florida once and for all.

Floridians Against Fracking, a coalition of anti-fracking organizations, noted that nearly 90 cities and counties have passed anti-fracking resolutions and nearly 20 counties have passed local fracking bans.

“We’re excited by the bi-partisan support for banning fracking in Florida. The citizens have long seen that fracking is a risk Florida cannot afford for its environment, its tourism-based economy, and its communities,” Kim Ross, president of Rethink Energy Florida, said in a written statement.

“We look forward to working with these senators to get a strong ban bill on Governor Scott’s desk,” Ross said.

Jennifer Rubiello, Environment Florida state director, also issued a written statement.

“We applaud Sen. Young for listening to her constituents and Floridians across the state who want a ban on fracking,” Rubiello said. “A ban on fracking will ensure our communities, our health, and our environment are better protected. Floridians should celebrate this bill, pick up their phones, and tell their state senators to support it.”

“Sen. Dana Young’s decision to introduce a fracking ban bill is an example of true leadership,” said Michelle Allen, Florida organizer for Food & Water Watch. “Florida residents have been fighting relentlessly for a fracking ban and with Young on board, the momentum will only continue to build.”

 

Kathleen Peters asks state for millions to help solve sewage problems in St. Pete, St. Pete Beach

State Rep. Kathleen Peters filed two bills Wednesday aimed at helping pay for sewer improvements in St. Petersburg and St. Pete Beach.

Peters, a Republican from Treasure Island, asked for $5.5 million in state funding.

Of that, $3 million in state funding would be earmarked for St. Petersburg to smoke test sewer pipes for leaks, install and seal manholes, among other work. The remaining $2.5 million would go to St. Pete Beach for the engineering, construction and permitting of the city’s sanitary sewer system.

Sewer systems in South Pinellas were the focus of much news last year after St. Petersburg and other cities either dumped or had overflows of raw and partially treated sewage into Tampa Bay, Clam Bayou and other waterways. The problems were blamed in part on aging infrastructure that allowed rain- and groundwater to seep into the systems and overburden them.

Heavy rains during two tropical storms overloaded the systems. And, in St. Pete Beach’s case, the system was already at capacity in good weather.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and the City Council pledged to spend millions to fix and upgrade the system. Work began this month in the Bahama Shores and Coquina Key neighborhoods.

The $3.2 million project is part of Kriseman‘s infrastructure plan, The work consists of lining the pipes, which is supposed to extend the life of sanitary sewer mains and prevent groundwater infiltration from entering the city’s sewage collection system. Depending on the weather, the project is expected to be completed by September.

Campaign against guns on campus adds lobbyist

The Campaign to Keep Guns off Campus has added Jacob Elpern, the former chief of its Florida State University chapter, to its lobbying team in Tallahassee.

Elpern, who graduated this year, joins the organization’s staff full time, state affairs director Kathryn Grant said.

His registration took effect on Dec. 14. Grant also lobbies for the group, which belongs to the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence.

Targets this year, Grant said, include SB 140, which would allow people to openly carry guns on college campuses, local government meetings, the Legislature, airport passenger terminals outside security screening areas, and elsewhere.

HB 6005, meanwhile, would allow concealed weapons on campus but not in the other places envisioned in the Senate bill.

EMTeLink hires David Bishop as legislative lobbyist

EMTeLINK, a leading medical information company, has enlisted the help of Solaris Consulting.

David Bishop, the president of Solaris Consulting, registered as a lobbyist to represent EMTeLink on Dec. 13

A technology company, EMTeLINK provides first responders with information patients medical conditions in the event of an emergency. The technology allows first responders and medical technicians to access a patient’s medical information with the patient’s driver’s license.

The company allows families and individuals to store emergency contacts and medical histories, including medications and allergies.

State records show Richard Watson with Richard Watson & Associates was also registered as a lobbyist to represent the firm before the Legislature in 2016. Watson’s registration went into effect Jan. 6, 2016.

Bill would qualify Ruth Eckerd Hall for tourism tax dollars

Legislation filed in the Florida Senate would allow Ruth Eckert Hall and similar auditoriums to benefit from taxes raised to promote tourism.

SB 68 by Sen. Denise Grimsley would clarify that tourist development tax dollars may flow to facilities, like Clearwater’s Eckerd Hall, that are publicly owned but managed by nonprofit organizations.

Existing law allows tourism tax money to be spent only on convention centers, sports stadiums or arenas, or coliseums that are publicly owned and operated.

“This measure offers clarity for communities on the appropriate uses of their local tourist dollars,” Grimsley, a Lake Placid Republican, said via email.

Pinellas County collected around $49 million through the tax last year, but Eckerd Hall has not qualified for any proceeds.

In 2013, declining corporate, state and federal support forced Eckerd Hall to lay off 13 employees, nearly one-third of its workforce. During the past two years, however, the Hall reportedly has posted record ticket sales.

The venue ranks No. 3 in the world for venues with fewer than 2,500 seats, chosen by leading industry trade magazines.

Panel: Amendment 2 firing up big bowl of who-knows-what

Medical marijuana champion John Morgan has said repeatedly recently that the “now-what?” questions regarding Amendment 2 are in the hands of lobbyists, lawyers, and legislators; but on Thursday a lobbyist, a lawyer and a legislator told told the Seminole County Chamber of Commerce they don’t really  know what’s next at this point.

Lobbyist Louis Rotundo who represents the Florida Medical Cannabis Association, lawyer Wade Vose who counsels several cities, and state Rep. Jason Bordeur, all agreed that the Florida Legislature, the Florida Department of Health, cities and counties, and businesses and entrepreneurs wanting to go into the medical marijuana industry, all have a lot of unanswered questions to sort through. And just saying no isn’t going to work in most cases.

In particular Brodeur, the Sanford Republican who has professional background in working with the Food and Drug Administration on drug approvals, outlined a long list of uncertainties from regulating where seeds can come from, to limitations on who can work in the industry, to disposal of unused parts of the plants, to how law enforcement deals with situations involving people with medical marijuana referrals.

All of that, he cautioned, is with a background of federal law that still make medical marijuana a Schedule 1 drug. That means if the federal government decided to enforce the laws, people could go to federal prisons for things authorized by the state legislature and Amendment 2.

“There are 100 decision points that we still need to do,” he said. “The answer is, I don’t know what we’re going to do.”

The same may be true with how local governments might consider regulating local facilities, particularly retail outlets, known as dispensaries in state regulations and as pot shops in opponents’ language. Rotundo cautioned that cities ought not try to zone them into industrial areas only. He drew an image of a woman taking a child to a dispensary in an industrial area – a dark and creepy location. And she’s carrying cash, because marijuana medicines can only be purchased with cash. If she’s robbed or worse, the city is going to look really bad, he cautioned. Another alternative to tough zoning restrictions – which is happening right now – involves marijuana medicine being delivered to homes in unmarked delivery vans and cars, a method he suggested most neighborhoods would found unacceptable if they knew it was happening.

Vose conceded the points, but said cities and counties still must receive, from the legislature, direction and authority to regulate where the shops can go.

“It was a big wake-up call for cities and counties that they need to get in gear to get ready for these organizations, particularly for the retail,” Vose said of Amendment 2’s passage. “That’s where the big focus is for local government. Getting in gear and getting in place appropriate regulations… so they can adequately regulate where these products are going to be sold.”

Rotundo said the growth of the industry remains unpredictable. So far, it’s small, and he expressed doubts about the high estimates some have cited, that it could grow to a billion dollar industry in Florida. As long as it’s small, with seven licensed marijuana medicine producers and a handful of others that may win court challenges to join them,  there won’t be much to regulate.

“You can’t suspend the laws of economics,” he said. “The patient base is very limited right now.”

 

New laws target cough-syrup abuse, opioid abuse, legal process

A law taking effect on New Year’s Day will make it more difficult for kids to abuse over-the-counter cough medicine to go “Robo-tripping.”

SB 938 makes it illegal for manufacturers, distributors, or retailers to supply medicines containing dextromethorphan, or DXM, to anyone under 18. Anyone who looks younger than 25 would have to supply proof of age.

The law forbids local governments from setting up their own restrictions.

The law is among a number approved during 2016 that take effect on Jan. 1. The others have to do with opioid prescriptions and the technical details of suing financial institutions.

Under the DXM law, anyone who possesses or receives a product containing the drug with the intent to distribute would face civil penalties of $100 for each violation.

An employee who makes the sale could receive a written warning, but the employer could have to pay $100 per violation. Employers could escape the penalty by showing a good-faith effort to comply with the law.

More than 120 products, including Robitussin, Coricidin, and Vicks 44, contain DXM, making it the most frequently used cough medicine in the United States. It is safe if used as intended, but its abuse via consumption in large doses or in combination with alcohol or other drugs can be deadly, according to a legislative analysis.

The kids call it “robo-tripping” or “skittling.”

Another new law, SB 422, is intended to increase the availability of “abuse deterrent” opioids. Addicts often crush opioids, such as Hydrocodone, so they can snort, smoke, or inject them. New manufacturing techniques deter abuse by making them very difficult to tamper with.

The new law would prevent health insurers from requiring pre-approval to substitute abuse-deterrent drugs for those more liable to abuse.

SB 1104 allows financial institutions to designate a central location or a person as the place or agent for the service of process — that is, for delivery of subpoenas, summonses or writs in lawsuits.

The law was a response to a 4th District Court of Appeal ruling invalidating a writ of garnishment on Bank of America. A process server had served a bank teller in West Palm Beach, but the court said that wasn’t good enough unless every superior officer in the bank was unavailable.

Finally, under a constitutional amendment the voters approved in 2004, Florida’s minimum wage will increase by a nickel — from $8.05 to $8.10 per hour.

The amendment requires the state to tie the minimum wage to the federal Consumer Price Index.

TaxWatch Christmas gift: 15 ways to save Florida taxpayers money

Florida TaxWatch chief Dominic Calabro conceded Thursday that legislators might balk at spending money next year to improve government efficiency, but pointed to 15 innovations that wouldn’t cost taxpayers a dime.

They include prison reforms and requiring the governor and Legislature to pass specific legislation every year directing agency chiefs to find ways to operate more efficiently.

“Revenue projections going into the 2017 legislative session suggest there will be just enough money to fund a continuation budget. A lot of it depends on the vagaries of the national economy and the like — particularly how tourism goes,” Calabro said during a news conference.

“If ever there was a time to have an efficiency gift to the taxpayers of Florida, this is it.”

Standing in front of a Christmas tree in the government watchdog organization’s Tallahassee headquarters, Calabro undid colorful wrapping paper containing a report the Government Efficiency Tax Force released in June, which included the recommendations he emphasized Thursday.

Together with ideas that would require some up-front investment, they would save a projected $2 billion annually.

State economist project taxes will just about pay for existing programs during the fiscal year that begins July 1, although Florida faces additional demands including fighting citrus canker and replenishing beaches scoured clean of sand by Hurricane Matthew.

And that’s before lawmakers consider state leaders’ spending priorities.

What’s more, the state faces deficits of at $1.3 billion one year from now and $1.9 billion the year after that.

The efficiency task force, on which Calabro served, proposes ways to streamline government every four years. Calabro said the group’s proposed Florida Government Efficiency Act would promote efficiency every year.

The law would require governors and lawmakers to identify cost savings when proposing and approving annual state budgets. State agency leaders would provide quarterly progress reports.

The law would have to pass each year before the state budget could.

“Let’s make use of this crisis” to create “something that’s structurally beneficial year after year after year,” Calabro said.

“What we need is a mechanism that prompts them to act and has consequences if they don’t. If they don’t implement it, that means we’re not able to do the kind of cleanup of Lake Okeechobee that we would like; we’re not able to make improvements to higher education we would like; we’re not able to make some of the reforms that the House likes or the governor likes.”

The freebie list includes a number of items involving criminal justice — including changing eligibility standards to allow the release of non-violent elderly inmates to save as much as $80 million annually.

Deploying risks and needs assessments during sentencing, to identify offenders who require less supervision, would save $2.8 million every year. And it might ease overcrowding that has contributed to scandals within the Department of Corrections, Calabro said.

“We’re trying to say, ‘Let’s make sure the sentence fits the crime, and that it will actually be beneficial to us. A lot of prisons are nothing more than crime colleges,” he said. “We can reduce crime, save money, and really improve people’s lives by helping to avoid it.”

You can download the task force report, containing a complete list of the recommendations, here. Appendix A features draft language for the proposed efficiency legislation.

Joe Negron envisions block grant system for Medicaid in Florida

Senate President Joe Negron wants to start preparing for a day when Congress turns the Medicaid system into a block-grant program administered by the states.

“What I’d like to see the Legislature do … is to start building the framework of what a block grant program would look like now that there is a reasonable chance that that could happen,” the Stuart Republican told reporters Tuesday during a briefing in his Capitol office.

“I don’t want to wait until the federal government acts and Congress acts and we go into the next session and try to build it. I would like to fill out the model of what a Florida-run Medicaid would look like, and then — if and when Washington acts — Florida would be ready to go.”

Republican President-Elect Donald Trump has proposed switching Medicaid, which mostly covers low-income people, from an entitlement program largely paid for by the federal government into block grants that would allow states to exercise more control. They could save money by providing care to fewer people.

Negron cast his proposal in more generous terms.

“Rather than treating Medicaid as a program where even the vocabulary that we use is disparaging, in my opinion — we say someone is on Medicaid, as if it’s an addiction; no one says, ‘I’m on health insurance’ — use an ownership adjective,” he said.

“I would like to see a system that empowered our friends and neighbors, millions of them, who get their health care from Medicaid.”

In other words, Medicaid no longer would represent “second-tier medical care,” Negron said.

“That’s what I aspire to. Part of that would come if the state is given the opportunity to build a program that looks like Florida and addresses our issues.”

Such a system also might address the “Medicaid gap” — a problem for people in states, like Florida, that passed on Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. Many people make too much to qualify for Medicaid but don’t quality for insurance subsidies through that law’s federal insurance exchange.

“I would hope that we would address that,” said Negron, who opposed expanding Medicaid under the ACA, which he would like to see repealed.

“If there’s a block grant program to the state, that opens an opportunity to a new discussion,” he said.

As for the loss of insurance subsidies if Republicans in Congress repeal the ACA, “that’s an issue we would have to address if and when that happens.”

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