Florida Legislature Archives - Page 4 of 52 - Florida Politics

Six days after saying he was out, Larry Lee reconsiders re-election

In the midst of an emotional last week of Session, a tearful state Rep. Larry Lee Jr. told his colleagues in the Florida House in a 40-minute speech that he would not seek re-election.

Six days later, he is reconsidering that decision.

He is rethinking things because he says his phone has not stopped ringing. And now, his mother has recommended to “close his ears” to those talking to him, search for solitude and figure out what to do.

Lee told Florida Politics he was not in the “best frame of mind” when he decided to pull the plug on his political career last week.

The Port St. Lucie Democrat was emotional and frustrated with the legislative process in the wake of the Parkland school massacre that left 17 dead and several wounded. Lee was one of the lawmakers who wanted to vote down the controversial gun and school safety measure and have Gov. Rick Scott call for a special session to resolve the issue.

He told colleagues he was resigning on the day the House would vote on the contentious proposal.

“That morning it all culminated,” Lee said. “It took those kids from Parkland to push me. I felt like we let them down. Some of our members said we should give them something, but I wanted to give them more.”

Two days before he made the public decision on the House floor, House Speaker Richard Corcoran called him into his office and asked him to take some time to consider not leaving his post.

Corcoran also gave him homework: to read the Book of Romans and the Bible verse John 8:32, which reads: “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” But Lee never did his homework.

“I was afraid that it might touch me and that I might want to stay,” said Lee, a religious man.

He then took a couple of days to mull it over, and with a “heavy heart” he sent a letter to Corcoran and told colleagues it was time for him to leave. A move he said lifted “tremendous weight off his shoulders.”

Lee has served in the Legislature since 2012 and admits that he has never wanted to be a politician, and even says he was naive to believe he could spark change from Tallahassee. But here he is, debating whether he should stay in the game.

He expects to reach a final decision in a couple of weeks, but admits that he has read the verse Corcoran asked him to read and he “still does not know the truth.”

Florida Realtors laud lawmakers for cutting business rent tax

After the Legislature passed an $88.7 billion budget Sunday, Florida Realtors are heaping praise on lawmakers for including $31 million in cuts to the business rent tax and $110 million for affordable housing projects.

“I’m so proud of our membership for responding to our call for action to cut the business rent tax,” said Bill Martin, the chief executive officer of Florida Realtors. “They stayed engaged throughout the process on this and many other of our key issues,” Martin added, “realtors absolutely rock!”

Martin said thousands of letters were sent to lawmakers urging them to support additional cuts to the business rent tax and tax credits for businesses that pay that tax. And it did.

Other measures passed by the Legislature during the 2018 legislative session that will benefit realtors and property owners include House Bill 1011, which revises flood insurance notices. If signed into law, flood insurers may see more people purchasing flood insurance coverage.

The organization also lauded the Legislature for allocating about $500,000 to prevent unlicensed real estate activity.

Other issues the interest group was pushing but did not get were proposals that would have limited control over vacation rentals, like Airbnb, and would have brought Assignment of Benefits reform to the state.

An issue the organization wants to get next Session has to do with remote notaries, with the intent of allowing documents needed to close a sale to be notarized even when the notary or person signing the documents are not physically in the same room.

Ballard Partners snags last-minute tax package tweak to help web-based client

The lobbying powerhouse Ballard Partners swayed lawmakers to add a new section to the state’s labor law that mirrors the exact business model of one of its online-based clients.

Handy Technologies, Inc., which hired Ballard Partners, will directly benefit from a last-minute add on to the tax cut package championed by Senate Budget Chair Rob Bradley.

The amendment language clarifies that those hired to do work through an online-based or mobile-app company are treated as independent contractors and not employees, and lists the exact household and handyman work services offered by Handy Technologies.

The change will not change workers’ compensation or healthcare requirements for those who currently receive them. It would just clarify that if an online-company is not paying those now to a contract worker, it doesn’t have to pay them in the future.

“We are pleased the Legislature continued to support the emerging marketplace contractor economy,” said Chris Dorworth, who is representing Handy Technologies as a registered lobbyist for Ballard Partners.

Uber is also in support of the change.

Bradley said he did meet with the firm and that the intent of the amendment is meant to clarify a “disguise in existing law” and would encourage “free-flow economic activity” in the state.

“I spoke with that firm, but it is consistent with where I have stood in this issues, like I have with Uber,” Bradley said.

“It was a natural fit for me,” he added.

Legislature passes $88.7B state budget to close out extended session

The Florida Legislature during a rare Sunday session passed an $88.7 billion state budget — the largest one in the state’s history.

“This balanced budget includes unprecedented K-12 per student funding, targeted pay raises for state law enforcement, state firefighters, and Department of Juvenile Justice probation and detention officers, and $100 million for Florida Forever, while setting aside $3.3 billion in reserves,” said Senate President Joe Negron.

The Senate passed (HB 5001) on a 31-5 vote (the five opposed were Democrats) and the House pushed it through on a 95-12 vote (also all Democrats who voted ‘no’).

The upper chamber also passed a tax cut package with little debate and some last-minute changes.

Sen. Rob Bradley’s proposal that would treat certain workers who are hired to do a job through a mobile app or website was approved. The move would add a new section under the state’s labor law that would consider thousands of workers in the state independent contractors.

Gov. Rick Scott, at a press conference after the hanky drop, called the 2018 Legislative Session—his last as governor—”incredible,” saying “I couldn’t be more proud of this Session than all eight I have been a part of.” Scott is term-limited this year.

The Legislature also passed conforming bills to amend state law to provide for specific changes in the budget, or General Appropriations Act.

Much of the budget was already debated Friday, when the 60-day Legislative Session was supposed to end. Session had to be extended because legislative lawmakers could not reach a deal on time for the 2018-19 spending plan.

A constitutional provision requires a 72 hour “cooling off” period between a budget’s finalization and both chambers voting on it.

The budget takes effect July 1, the beginning of the state’s fiscal year. Now Scott will review the spending and no doubt issue a list of line-item vetoes, most likely of member projects. He has 15 days to complete his work.

The budget includes $400 million for the “Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act” that includes money for mental health services in schools, campus “hardening,” and demolition of the building on the Broward County school’s campus where a Valentine’s Day massacre left 17 dead.

“I’m going to fight for this bill,” Scott said, referring to a lawsuit the National Rifle Association has already filed against it in federal court. “I believe it does the right thing. We want to protect everybody’s rights but we also want to protect our kids and our grandkids at school … I want every child to be safe.”

Pay raises for juvenile officers, Supreme Court justices, state attorneys and public defenders are also part of the spending plan.

Other items that are expected to get final approval are $100 million for the Florida Forever program and $130 million to reimburse nursing homes.

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Reporting contributed by Capital correspondents Danny McAuliffe and Jim Rosica. 

Gary Farmer apologizes for taking ’emotional’ jab at Lauren Book

After state Sen. Gary Farmer came under fire for saying state Sen. Lauren Book’s family responsibilities may be too much to balance if she was chosen as the Senate Democratic Leader-designate, he apologized.

“I recognize that I failed to properly express my thoughts about the difficulties that a Caucus leadership role can play for any individual when it comes to family life,” Farmer said in a statement.

The comments were made Thursday night as the Senate Democrats tried to finalize a vote for the next Leader-designate. Sen. Randolph Bracy nominated Book for the role and that’s when Farmer said her responsibilities as a mother may come in the way. Farmer is also a father of two.

“In the heat of this private moment, I’ll admit that I got pretty emotional,” Farmer said in relation to his comments.

Sen. Kevin Rader called his comments “sexist” and “discriminatory” in a letter to Senate Democrats.

“I just can’t believe that we have a member in our caucus that would insult another member by using sexist and antiquated comments about her children being a hindrance for her to be the leader of our caucus,” Rader said.

After Rader sent the letter Thursday night, Senate Democrats held a meeting on caucus business Friday morning. They came out of it without a vote on who will be the next Leader-designate to succeed Sen. Audrey Gibson.

After that meeting, Farmer said he tried to reach out to Book but could not get in touch with her. He did not want to comment as to whether he was planning on apologizing. Hours later he did.

“I admire Senator Book, and her ability to balance being a parent while serving as a capable and effective legislator over the past two session,” Farmer said in a statement.

“I truly apologize for the way in which this came across, and want to be clear that it was in no way meant to be a broad statement on gender, or Senator Book.”

Legislature approves break for students with excess hours

Students who take too many classes while earning baccalaureate degrees could avoid a financial penalty if they graduate within four years, under a bill headed to Gov. Rick Scott.

The Senate on Friday voted 37-0 for the measure (HB 565), sponsored by Rep. Amber Mariano, a Hudson Republican.

The House earlier voted 115-0 for the bill. Since 2012, university students who take more than 132 credit hours of classes for a major that typically only needs 120 credit hours pay an excess-hour surcharge, which doubles the tuition rate. It means the normal per-hour rate of about $200 rises to $400 for those extra credit hours.

The bill would give first-time-in-college students up to 12 extra hours, penalty free, if they graduate within four years of enrollment. They would pay the penalty but would be reimbursed through a refund.

Analysts project it could help nearly 1,500 students avoid the surcharge annually, although it would result in a loss of $2.4 million for the universities. Mariano and Sen. Aaron Bean, a Fernandina Beach Republican who sponsored the Senate version (SB 844), acknowledged it is a modest step in seeking financial relief for students who take too many classes, but they said they would try to expand its scope next year if Scott signs the bill into law.

Senate kills human trafficking bill a day after it was revived

The last-ditch effort to revive a Senate human trafficking bill crashed Friday night after the House decided to strip language that would have created a trust fund for victims.

When it was up to the Senate to consider the changes to the bill, Republicans argued it should be killed because the House “did not do the right thing.”

“Our friends in the House stripped that out in an attempt to say that they did something in the face of these women, all for political glory,” said Sen. Rene Garcia, who was audibly out of breath after running to his desk to debate the proposal.

“Vote this down,” he asked senators.

Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, pleaded with senators to support the proposal because it would help women who are used as sex slaves in establishments across the state.

“We can bring that trust fund back next session,” Book said as she pointed to three trafficking victims in the gallery watching the debate.

After her closing, the bill was struck down in a voice vote.

The measure would have allowed victims of human trafficking to sue hotels and motels if the owners or employees turn a blind eye to the illicit activity. If victims won a suit, the court would assess a civil penalty against the accused in the amount of $50,000 in addition to any other damage reward. Those proceeds would then be deposited into the trust fund.

Book unexpectedly tabled the bill a few weeks ago after it sailed through committee assignments, but on Thursday, she successfully tacked her bill onto a House-backed bill that expands control and monitoring of sex offenders and predators in the state.

Once the human trafficking language was slashed from the sex offender bill (HB 1301), the Senate passed the measure unanimously, sending it back to the House.

House, Senate reach budget deal with $90m in last-minute spending

Legislative leaders closed out the largest proposed budget in state history Thursday that included nearly $90 million in last-minute spending for projects that largely have to do with education.

As the House and Senate finalized differences on the roughly $88 billion 2018-19 budget, the supplemental funding — informally known as the “sprinkle fund” — was unveiled in a 10 a.m. budget meeting.

The 21 last-minute spending list includes $30 million for charter school maintenance projects, $20 million for performance-based incentive in the state university system and $3.3 million for the University of South Florida.

From that list, a dozen items are hurricane-related costs and contingent on reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Another budget item negotiators agreed to pay in the end is a member project championed by state Rep. Mike La Rosa, a Republican whose district includes Polk County.

La Rosa wanted to get $1.3 million in funding to repair major damage caused to a Polk County charter school by Hurricane Irma last year. Lawmakers decided to give $1.2 million to the school to help with building repair costs and costs associated with school supplies and relocating students to an off campus location. From those funds, $700,000 are subject to federal reimbursement.

Throughout budget negotiations budget writers said members projects were cut and priorities were reshuffled to fund the $400 million “Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Act,” which included $67 million for a controversial program to arm school personnel and more funding for mental health services in schools across the state.

Lawmakers have yet to vote on the budget, which is the largest proposed budget in state history. They will have to wait until at least Sunday afternoon to give it final approval.

Early start approved for 2020 Session

Continuing a trend, the Florida Senate on Thursday gave final approval to a bill that would start the 2020 Legislative Session in January.

Under the state Constitution, Legislative Sessions typically start in March. But the Legislature can decide to start Sessions at other times during even-numbered years.

The Legislature voted to start the 2016 and 2018 Sessions in January.

The bill (HB 7045) approved Thursday in a 34-3 vote would start the 2020 Session on Jan. 14. The House has also approved the bill, which means it is now ready to go to Gov. Rick Scott.

Three South Florida Democrats — Minority Leader Oscar Braynon, a Miami Gardens Democrat, Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Miami Democrat, and Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat — opposed the bill Thursday.

“It’s too cold in Tallahassee during the winter so I cannot support this bill,” Braynon said.

That drew a reply from Senate bill sponsor Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican.

“It’s, frankly, too hot later, so I would ask you to support it,” Galvano said

Legislative leaders reach budget deal, Session extension looms

Florida lawmakers will extend their annual session for several days to pass a new $87 billion-plus state budget, which will include a $101.50 increase in per-student funding in public schools.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran announced early Wednesday afternoon that legislative leaders had reached agreement on the budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. One of the last issues to be resolved was funding for hospitals and nursing homes.

His announcement came after House and Senate negotiators failed to finalize a budget before a Tuesday deadline, forcing an extension of the 60-day legislative session, which had been scheduled to end Friday.

“We do believe that as of right now we have agreement on the budget,” Corcoran told the House, drawing applause from the members.

But Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron said they have not worked out the timing of the session extension, which will likely mean a final vote on the annual appropriations bill Sunday afternoon or Monday.

The budget bill must be published, and then lawmakers must wait 72 hours before the final vote under a constitutionally mandated “cooling off” period.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley said the last major issue settled was a deal securing $40 million in state funds, which can be matched with $60 million in federal funding, for nursing homes.

“It was very important to us in the Senate,” Bradley said. “We have a $100 million to help our elderly, our frail, vulnerable citizens who are in our nursing homes.”

Lawmakers also settled a dispute over a funding formula distributing Medicaid payments to Florida hospitals.

“I tell you I’ve spent the last 36 hours watching a lot of heavily lobbied special interests fight like hyenas over a static amount of money,” Bradley said. “At the end of the day, what is important to us is creating new money to help vulnerable Floridians rather than worrying about how these special interests work out their fights among themselves.”

Although the specific details had not been released early Wednesday evening, Bradley cited a number of accomplishments in the new budget, including $100 million for the Florida Forever environmental land-buying program and $400 million for a school-safety initiative, which will provide more mental health services and security officers for schools.

He said the budget will include a tax-cut package, which is expected to be in the range of $80 million, and will include more than $50 million to address the opioid crisis.

Although state workers will not receive a general pay raise, the budget includes pay hikes for state law enforcement officers, assistant state attorneys, state firefighters, assistant public defenders and probation and detention officers in the Department of Juvenile Justice, Bradley said.

He said there would be “record” funding for the state university system and public schools. The $21 billion public school budget will include a per-student funding increase of $101.50, Bradley said.

The budget includes a permanent expansion of Bright Futures scholarships for students at universities and state colleges, including allowing the merit aid to be used to attend summer classes.

However, without the appropriations bill actually being published, the budget deal technically remained “open” for adjustments on Wednesday, with some lawmakers speculating that it was being used as leverage to sway some reluctant House members as they debated a contentious school-safety bill (SB 7026). The House passed the bill 67-49 early Wednesday evening.

“In my opinion, it’s because they are wrangling votes over there” in the House, Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon said about the delay on finalizing the budget.

Bradley said he could not speculate on the House, while saying “there were no carrots or sticks with regards to the budget” in the Senate debate over the school-safety bill, which passed in a 20-18 vote earlier in the week. He said the budget delay was caused by differences over the health-care spending.

Sen. Tom Lee, a former budget chairman and Senate president, said he believed there were real budget differences between the two chambers “but maybe they weren’t working on it very hard — they weren’t in a big rush.”

He said using spending initiatives in the annual budget bill to motivate individual members is “a real management tool.”

“They’ve used every tool that I have ever seen used in this building to try to whip the votes for this (school-safety) bill,” Lee said.

Material from the News Service of Florida was used in this post.

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