Hurricane Irma – Page 2 – Florida Politics

Child marriage ban, year-round Daylight Saving time signed into law

A bill that would ban marriages for anyone under the age of 17 and legislation expressing the state’s intent to observe Daylight Saving time year-round were among 74 bills Gov. Rick Scott signed into law on Friday.

The marriage bill (SB 140) prevents minors from being granted nuptial licenses. With parental consent, 17-year-olds can wed under the new law to a partner within two years of age.

Bill sponsor Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto initially championed an all-out ban on minor marriages through her chamber, but the House held reservations and ultimately modified the legislation to allow exemptions for 17-year-olds.

Currently, Florida law allows 16- and 17-year-olds to marry and gives a county judge discretion in providing licenses to women, of any age, who are pregnant and wish to wed their partner.

The ban will repeal those provisions at the start of July.

The Daylight Saving time legislation (HB 1013), dubbed the “Sunshine Protection Act,” notifies Congress that the Sunshine State wishes to observe Daylight Saving, or ‘summertime,’ year-round.

No changes to time observance will be made unless Congress authorizes the U.S. Department of Transportation to exempt Florida from ‘falling back’ each year.

Scott also signed a $171 million tax package. Per the News Service of Florida, it includes homestead breaks for those affected by Hurricane Irma and a back-to-school tax holiday in August. It also includes tax exemptions for nursing homes that purchase generators.

The Legislature ratified a rule this Session mandating all nursing homes have generators for potential future hurricanes.

All of the bills signed on Friday can be found here.

Citrus farmers in waiting game for hurricane aid

Frustration is growing among Florida citrus farmers awaiting the distribution of $2.36 billion in federal disaster-relief money for agriculture losses sustained in Hurricane Irma.

“We’re still waiting, maybe not as patiently as we were to start with,” Florida Citrus Commission Chairman G. Ellis Hunt said Wednesday.

President Donald Trump signed the disaster-relief package in February, five months after Hurricane Irma slammed into Florida. The approval came after months of lobbying by Florida officials.

“We’ve got to get this money,” Hunt added Wednesday. “Growers are hanging by a thread, and it’s going to make a difference for a lot of people whether they survive or not.”

Florida’s agriculture industry suffered an estimated $2.5 billion in losses from Hurricane Irma, with the citrus industry — seeing record lows in production this growing season — accounting for $761 million of the total.

The loss estimates were released in October by the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Since then, citrus losses have been estimated by state lawmakers to have stretched over the $1 billion mark as the growing season progressed and as damage to trees from flooding has become more pronounced.

With losses at groves in parts of Southwest Florida reaching 70 percent to 90 percent from Irma, orange production across the state is forecast to be down 34.5 percent from a year ago, with grapefruit production off by 40 percent in the same time.

A request for comment from the U.S. Department of Agriculture was not immediately returned.

Mike Sparks, executive vice president of Florida Citrus Mutual, said “our frustration” is tied to getting the U.S. Department of Agriculture to release a draft on how or when the money will be distributed.

“It’s been over six, seven months since the hurricane, coming up on eight, and we are still on hold,” said Sparks, who was in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday. “We’ve just got to get something out of USDA.”

Sparks noted he’s been working with members of Florida’s congressional delegation to speed the distribution of funding.

Earlier this month, Florida’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson took to the Senate floor to call out the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Department of Agriculture for “foot dragging” on the distribution of the overall $90 billion disaster relief package.

Signed by Trump on Feb. 9, the relief package is aimed at recovery efforts from Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Harvey in Texas and other areas of the western Gulf Coast, Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and wildfires in California.

Nelson tweeted on March 6 that he was advised by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue that “help will arrive within weeks, not months.”

State officials have submitted recommendations on how the federal money could be distributed, Sparks said.

Florida lawmakers approved some short-term patches for the agriculture industry as part of a roughly $170 million tax package (HB 7087) approved March 11.

The package includes tax breaks for such things as materials used to repair nonresidential farm buildings and fences and for citrus packing houses that had their businesses interrupted by Hurricane Irma or by the deadly disease citrus greening. Also, tax breaks were included for fuel used to transport agricultural products after Irma.

Despite Irma, Florida sets another tourism record

Gov. Rick Scott vowed to ensure tourism stayed vibrant even after Hurricane Irma wreaked its havoc, and the numbers released Tuesday in Naples show that he pulled it off.

The 116.5 million visitors, per VISIT FLORIDA, mark a 3.6 percent increase over the 112.4 million visitors in 2016. This was despite a loss of 1.8 million visitors because of Hurricane Irma.

Governor Scott said, “Today, I am proud to announce that Florida has continued our record-breaking success by welcoming more than 116 million visitors in 2017. Because of VISIT FLORIDA’s aggressive marketing efforts to make sure families across the world knew that Florida was open to visitors following Hurricane Irma, we are able to celebrate another record-breaking year for tourism. This is especially great news for the 1.4 million jobs that rely on our growing tourism industry. We will continue to market our state as the number one global destination for tourism.”

Overall, the state recorded 102.3 million domestic travelers last year, up from 97.9 million in 2016 and 91.3 million 2015. Meanwhile, overseas travel dropped for the second consecutive year, from 11.4 million in 2015 to 11.1 million in 2016 and 10.7 million last year.

Canadian tourists, who have been a target of Visit Florida President and CEO Ken Lawson, grew from 3.3 million in 2016 to 3.5 million last year.

Airport visitors and hotel room stays were both up over 4 percent — despite huge September drops throughout most of the state in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. Hotel stays saw a pronounced drop in the Keys, which reported a 44 percent year-over-year decrease in room demand in September.

Lawson credited “the cutting-edge marketing programs at VISIT FLORIDA, particularly following Hurricane Irma” for the increases.

A report for Visit Florida by Tourism Economics, an Oxford Economics company, found that Irma cost the state 1.8 million visitors, based on tourism trends before the September storm swept through the state. Irma made landfall in the Florida Keys and Collier County before barreling north.

“The majority of these lost visits occurred during September,” the report stated. “By December, the number of actual out-of-state visitors was nearly equal to the number of expected visitors to the state.”

Outside of the Keys, the storm is credited with helping to boost hotel room demand in October — up 10 percent from a year earlier — and November — 7 percent — due to displaced residents and workers responding to the disaster.

As 2017 got underway, Scott had sought to push the annual tourism figure to 120 million.

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The News Service of Florida contributed to this post. 

Lawmakers pass some post-Irma proposals, ditch others

When legislative budget chiefs agreed during negotiations to spend $1.5 million on a study about extending a toll road north to Georgia, they started to lock into Florida’s new budget some of the 78 recommendations a House select committee created in the wake of last year’s deadly hurricane season.

Also crossing the finish line as the annual Legislative Session ended Sunday was storm-related money for farm repairs, nursing homes to buy generators, affordable housing in Monroe County and to help students displaced from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Still, many of the high-profile measures crafted in response to hurricanes Irma and Maria failed to win support. They included creating a strategic fuel-reserve task force, requiring the Division of Emergency Management to use certified sign-language interpreters during emergency broadcasts and using rail-tank cars to bring fuel into evacuation areas to avoid a repeat of runs on gas stations.

Rep. Jeanette Nunez, a Miami Republican who was chairwoman of the House Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness, said “a good amount” of the overall recommendations were approved by lawmakers. But she said the Senate failed to “step up to the plate” in matching the House in many of the policy changes sought by her committee.

“It was easier to address things on the budget side, even with our budget challenges at the last minute with the Parkland situation, than it was to really act on policy,” Nunez said, referring to the Feb. 14 school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that led to a $400 million school-safety package.

The select committee recommendations were approved as the regular session started in January.

“It’s a shame,” Nunez said. “We spent a lot of time, and we really did take that select committee seriously. We listened to countless hours of presentations. And I thought we had a really unique opportunity to address some significant gaps — given our exposure and our risks with all the things that come with hurricane season — which is now just three months away.”

In a news release after the budget was approved, Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican, said he was proud of the Senate, which conducted “a thorough review of these critical issues and pleased that the Legislature passed a comprehensive recovery and preparedness package.”

At least $272.45 million in hurricane-related spending is included in the budget (HB 5001) that awaits a trip to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk.

That includes a study of a northern extension of the 57-mile Suncoast Parkway, which now ends just south of Citrus County. The House had initially proposed $10 million for the parkway extension study, but the number came down $1.5 million as budget chairmen started negotiations.

“We think you can do a feasibility study for $1.5 million, that’s a lot of money to do a feasibility study,” said House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo, a Miami Republican.

Other storm-related budget projects, according to a Senate summary, include $15 million for affordable housing in the Keys, $11.2 million for beach repairs and $5.9 million for the Monroe County Emergency Operations Center. Also, spending includes $126 million for education services for students displaced by Hurricane Maria and $750,000 for the state Department of Transportation to conduct at least three exercises by May 1 using contraflow lanes — directing traffic on both sides of a highway to travel the same direction — to determine if such operations could speed evacuations.

During the evacuation for Irma, with 6.5 million people ordered to move inland and away from the storm path, motorists spent up to 12 hours on routes that typically are covered in six to seven hours.

The idea of contraflow hasn’t drawn support from transportation officials, who instead favor using road shoulders to provide additional lanes for fleeing motorists.

A month ago, Scott backed his agency leaders by including the expansion of “emergency shoulder use” when he issued a series of post-storm directives to the Department of Transportation. Those directives also included “dynamic” message signs along Interstate 75, completing certain turnpike projects on time, installing cameras and message signs along I-75 from Ocala north to the Georgia state line, and increasing the capacity of the state’s Florida 511 website, which provides real-time traffic information about major roads.

Separately during the Session, legislators approved a pair of bills (HB 7099 and SB 7028) that ratify rules requiring nursing homes and assisted living facilities to have generators and 72 hours of fuel.

The measures replace a pair of emergency rules that the Scott administration issued in September following the deaths of residents of The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, a Broward County nursing home that lost its air-conditioning system in Hurricane Irma.

Meanwhile, a roughly $170 million tax package (HB 7087) that passed Sunday includes tax breaks on agricultural fencing materials purchased for repairs after Hurricane Irma. Also, it includes tax breaks for citrus packing houses that had their businesses interrupted by Hurricane Irma or by the deadly disease citrus greening and for fuel used to transport agricultural products after the storm.

Nunez noted that most of the committee’s agricultural recommendations made it into bills approved by both chambers.

The tax package also includes a property-tax break for homeowners displaced by Irma and a break for nursing homes that purchase electric generators. It also offers, starting June 1, a seven-day tax “holiday” on hurricane-related gear, such as tarpaulins, batteries, weather-band radios and portable generators.

The 2018 hurricane season starts June 1 and will last six months. The term-limited Nunez said she hopes lawmakers try to tackle some of the recommendations that failed to advance this year rather than grow complacent.

Looking back at the 10 big issues of the 2018 Legislative Session

The Florida House and Senate ended the 2018 Legislative Session Sunday by passing a budget and a tax-cut package for the upcoming year. The Session became dominated in February by the aftermath of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County. That led to a massive debate about how to improve school safety and whether to revamp the state’s gun laws.

Here is a recap of 10 big issues from the 2018 Session:

Budget

Lawmakers passed an $88.7 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, though they were forced to extend the Session by two days to finish the spending plan. The budget includes increased funding for education, with per-student spending in the kindergarten through 12th-grade system going up $101.50. The Senate also pushed through increased funding for nursing homes, while the House blocked a Senate attempt to change the way some Medicaid money is distributed to hospitals.

Health care

After years of legal battles in the hospital industry, lawmakers approved a plan to revamp the approval of new trauma centers. They also approved a long-discussed proposal that could lead to the use of “direct primary care” agreements, which involve patients and doctors contracting directly for primary care, reducing the role of insurers. The House, however, was unable to convince the Senate to go along with eliminating the controversial “certificate of need” regulatory process for hospitals.

Higher education

Throughout his term as Senate president, Stuart Republican Joe Negron has made a top priority of revamping the higher-education system. Gov. Rick Scott on Sunday signed a wide-ranging bill that includes permanently expanding Bright Future scholarships. The bill also calls for expanding some need-based aid programs and would require the state university system to use a four-year graduation rate as part of its performance-funding formula, instead of the current six-year measure.

Hurricane Irma 

Lawmakers came into the Session still grappling with the effects of Hurricane Irma, which slammed into the state in September and caused billions of dollars in damage. The House and Senate took steps such as ratifying rules for nursing homes and assisted living facilities to have backup generators and fuel supplies to help keep the facilities cool. Scott’s administration issued the rules after residents of a sweltering Broward County nursing home died after Irma knocked out the building’s air-conditioning system.

Insurance

The two highest-profile insurance issues of the Session involved proposals to eliminate the no-fault auto insurance system and revamp a controversial practice known as “assignment of benefits.” In the end, however, both issues died. The House approved repealing no-fault, which includes a requirement that motorists carry personal-injury protection, or PIP, coverage. But the proposal couldn’t get through Senate committees. Similarly, the Senate did not approve changes sought by insurers in assignment of benefits.

K-12 education

House Speaker Richard Corcoran and other school-choice supporters got a victory Sunday when Scott signed a controversial bill that will expand voucher-like scholarship programs. The bill includes creating the “hope scholarships” program, which will help pay for children who have been bullied in public schools to transfer to private schools. The bill also includes a heavily debated change that targets teachers’ unions whose membership falls below 50 percent of the employees they represent.

Opioid epidemic

In one of the final issues decided during the Session, lawmakers late Friday approved a bill to stem the opioid epidemic that has caused a surge in overdoses across the state. A key part of the bill calls for placing limits on prescriptions for opioids. In most cases, the bill would place three- or seven-day limits on prescriptions, though it includes exemptions for people who are terminally ill, need palliative care or suffer from major trauma. The idea behind the limits is to prevent patients from getting addicted to painkillers.

Parkland aftermath

The Feb. 14 shooting deaths of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland forced lawmakers to quickly deal with school-safety issues and spurred a contentious debate about gun laws. Scott on Friday signed a $400 million package that includes improving mental-health services and allowing trained employees to bring guns to schools. The package also raises the minimum age to 21 and imposes a three-day waiting period for people buying rifles and other long guns. The National Rifle Association quickly filed a federal lawsuit challenging the age restriction.

Tax cuts

Getting ready to hit the campaign trail, lawmakers Sunday approved a bill that includes about $170 million in tax breaks. The measure includes holding a three-day tax “holiday” in early August to allow back-to-school shoppers to buy clothes and school supplies without paying sales taxes. A similar seven-day “holiday” will be held in early June for residents to buy hurricane supplies. The bill also includes tax breaks for farmers and ranchers who suffered damage in Hurricane Irma and would trim a lease tax paid by many businesses.

Texting while driving

With support from Corcoran, it appeared lawmakers this year could approve a long-discussed idea to toughen Florida’s ban on texting while driving. But the proposal did not make it through the Senate, at least in part because of concerns about racial profiling of minority drivers. Currently, texting while driving is a “secondary” offense, meaning motorists can only be cited if they are pulled over for other reasons. The proposal would have made it a primary offense, with police able to pull over motorists for texting behind the wheel.

Democrats hammer Rick Scott’s finances, statements with new digital ads

Republican Gov. Rick Scott still isn’t officially in the race for Florida’s U.S. Senate election this year but that’s not stopping Democrats from hammering him with two new digital ads being released Monday, raising questions about his financial blind trust and his missing nursing home voicemails.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is releasing the digital ads “Truth” and “Blind,” and both question whether Scott is using the governor’s office to enhance his own wealth.

“Rick Scott has only ever looked out for one person: himself,” David Bergstein of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee stated in a news release. “In order to advance his agenda, Scott’s shown he’ll mislead Floridians, abuse his position as governor to make himself richer, and help his political donors and cronies at Floridians’ expense. He’ll say and do anything to benefit himself, which is why Floridians just don’t trust Scott to look out for them.”

Scott is widely anticipated to be preparing a run for the U.S. Senate against Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson this year, and most polls have shown the race to be fairly close. However, he has not filed yet, leaving a little of a gray hole on if and how he might respond. The governor’s office was asked if it would respond but has not done so yet.

The “Blind” ad cites media reports including one from the Tampa Bay Times and FloridaBulldog.com that suggest that Scott’s has handled his finances in a way as governor that would not be permitted if and when he runs for federal office, and raising questions about potential conflicts of interest.

“Is Rick Scott using the governor’s office to enrich himself? He’s had a close business partner manage his so-called blind trust, something prohibited for federal officeholders,” a narrator inquires. “He’s a walking conflict of interest, taking actions as governor to help entities doing business in Florida that he’s owned stock in. One company he owned just sold for $825 million, but he won’t tell us how much he personally made — hiding behind a secretive blind trust. Rick Scott: is he in it for Florida, or for himself?”

The other ad, “Truth,” questions three different instances in which the narrator contends Scott cannot tell the truth, including an oldie used against Scott in his first election run in 2010: a deposition video in which he appears to be unwilling to even acknowledge his own signature in a suit alleging Medicare fraud against his former company. The ad also cites the missing cellphone voicemails dating from his conversations last September with nursing home executives about Hurricane Irma and finishes again with questioning the source of his personal wealth.

“He refused to tell the truth 75 times under oath when he led a company that was fined 1.7 billion for committing the largest Medicare fraud in history,” the narrator states. “He hid the truth by deleting voicemails on his cellphone during the recent nursing home tragedy. He has avoided telling the full truth about how he’s increased his personal wealth by 46 million dollars while governor. Let’s face it, Rick Scott just can’t tell the truth.”

House, Senate sign off on nursing home generators

Nursing homes will be required to have generators and 72-hour fuel supplies onsite by July 1, under a rule issued by Gov. Rick Scott’s administration and approved Monday by the Legislature.

The House unanimously approved a measure (HB 7099) that ratified the rule, and the Senate followed suit later in the day.

The chambers still differ, though, on whether to impose similar backup power mandates on assisted living facilities, which were included in a different rule. Ratifying the pair of rules has been a top priority for Scott’s administration during the 2018 Legislative Session.

“Our position has not changed — assisted living facilities need to be included,” said Lauren Schenone, a spokeswoman for the Governor, adding that “we are continuing to work with the Florida Legislature to make sure this gets done.”

The rule requires nursing homes to have backup power capability and adequate fuel supplies to maintain safety systems and equipment needed to maintain indoor air temperatures for 96 hours after a loss of electricity. According to the state, the rule will increase costs by more than $121 million in the next five years.

The Agency for Health Care Administration issued the rule after earlier imposing emergency rules that drew concerns from health-care facilities. The rules followed the deaths of residents of The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills in Broward County after Hurricane Irma. The storm knocked out the nursing home’s air-conditioning system, which led to sweltering conditions.

The emergency rules were challenged by a trio of long-term care associations and were subsequently invalidated by a state administrative law judge.

The state appealed the decision and continued to enforce the emergency rules, and Schenone said, “hundreds” of nursing homes and ALFs are complying.

The permanent rule ratified Monday came after negotiations between the Scott administration and long-term care facilities. The permanent rule does not require generators to be installed, which opens the possibility of portable units.

Steve Bahmer, president and CEO of the industry group LeadingAge Florida, said the nursing-home rule puts in place what his association and others had worked on with the Scott administration and Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Justin Senior since Hurricane Irma. Bahmer, whose association successfully challenged the emergency rules, said he was pleased with the legislative ratification.

“It achieves the goal we have pursued since last fall — helping to ensure that seniors are safe during and after an emergency, while providing the flexibility that is necessary for it to be effective in a state as large as Florida,” Bahmer said in an email.

Bahmer, whose association also represents assisted living facilities, said he hopes the House has a change of heart about ratifying the ALF rule.

House Health & Human Services Chairman Travis Cummings, a Fleming Island Republican, has repeatedly said he has concerns with ratifying the ALF rule because of the costs and said his concerns were “shared by others.” The backup generator mandate is expected to increase regulatory costs for roughly 3,000 assisted living facilities by about $243 million over the next five years.

To abate the House’s concerns with the regulatory increases for ALFs, the Senate during budget negotiations suggested creating a program that would allow facilities to get upward of $1,000 from the state to help offset the costs.

With the annual Legislative Session scheduled to end Friday, long-term care providers remained hopeful Monday that the House will agree to ratify the ALF rule.

LeadingAge Florida’s Bahmer said the ALF rule “offers clarity for providers, which is important in terms of helping ensure that the rule can be consistently implemented across the state.”

Senate, House remain split on generator rules

With less than a week left in the Legislative Session, the Senate and House continued to have differences Monday about ratifying a pair of high-profile rules that are a priority of Gov. Rick Scott.

The Senate on Monday voted 37-0 to pass a bill (SB 7028) that would ratify a rule requiring assisted living facilities to have backup electrical generators that can help keep buildings cool. The rule is projected to cost roughly $243 million for the 3,000 assisted living facilities in the state to comply. The Senate, however, deferred action on a bill (SB 7030) that would ratify a similar generator rule for nursing homes.

The House, meanwhile, voted 113-0 to pass a bill (HB 7099) that would ratify the proposed nursing home rule. The House has not introduced legislation to ratify the rule for assisted living facilities because of concerns about the steep price tag.

The 60-day Legislative Session is scheduled to end Friday.

Scott’s administration initially issued backup-power requirements through an emergency rule following the deaths of residents at The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, a Broward County nursing home whose air-conditioning system was knocked out by Hurricane Irma.

Lawmakers approve post-hurricane KidCare aid

Despite an earlier assertion from a top Medicaid official that the state could be giving a “freebie,” lawmakers have agreed to fund Florida KidCare health-insurance premiums for more than 6,000 children living in 48 counties that were impacted by Hurricane Irma.

Legislators this week agreed to spend $20,339 in state general revenue for Florida KidCare premiums to cover monthly co-payment requirements. Justin Senior, secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration, said the money will draw down $522,034 in federal matching funds and will cover the costs of about 6,000 children in the 48 counties who were disenrolled from the program for not paying premiums.

Following the hurricane, Gov. Rick Scott agreed to extend for 30 days the time frame to pay premiums for October coverage. The monthly premiums range from $15 to $20 based on family size and income.

The governor, though, never waived the requirement to pay premiums altogether, as some people had sought. Former Gov. Jeb Bush waived KidCare premiums for Florida families during the tumultuous 2005 hurricane season, and Texas received federal approval to waive premiums for families impacted last year by Hurricane Harvey.

House and Senate Democrats, as well as child health advocates, called on the Scott administration to cover the required premiums with tax dollars. But Beth Kidder, a deputy secretary at the Agency for Health Care Administration, told reporters in October that “tens of thousands” of families in the Florida Healthy Kids program paid their premiums on time and that waiving the requirements could reward people who dragged their heels.

 “Why would you give a freebie to those who did not act responsibly in the beginning?” she said at the time.

Senior said Friday that the Florida Healthy Kids Corp. board of directors told the agency in January to pursue a waiver from the federal government that would allow Florida to pay the premiums and draw down the federal funds.

State Rep. Bobby DuBose, of Fort Lauderdale, was one of five Democratic state representatives who sent a letter to the governor and Senior asking them to assist with the premiums. U.S. Sen Bill Nelson, health-care advocates and the Florida Senate Democratic caucus also called for the governor to act.

DuBose smiled Thursday night knowing the children didn’t lose their coverage for not timely paying the October premiums.

“The things you think are easy and make common sense are the things you work the hardest for,” DuBose said.

Affordable housing issues likely headed to budget chairs

The House and Senate in negotiations have seemingly agreed on funding for job and tourism incentives — but still are significantly apart on spends for hurricane-related affordable housing programs that are now expected to be ironed out by budget chairs Rep. Carlos Trujillo and Sen. Rob Bradley.

A recent Senate offer in the Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development Conference cuts previous $30 million and $60 million allotments to the Hurricane Housing Recovery Program (HHRP) and the Rental Recovery Loan Program (RRLP), respectively. The offer came after the two programs were nearly unanimously approved Thursday in the House through the passage of HB 987. A similar bill (SB 1328) spawning HHRP is up for consideration in the Senate and had widespread support in committee meetings.

At first glance, the Senate cut is alarming. But it is more than likely an acceptance that funds will be swept from the Sadowski Trust, the source for the state’s affordable housing programs.

When the Senate passed its budget it proposed a little more than $104 million each to two major affordable housing programs: the State Housing Initiatives Partnership Program (SHIP) and the State Apartment Incentive Loan Program (SAIL). Anticipating the creation of HHRP and LLRP, the Senate funded those programs at $30 million and $60 million, respectively. It did not include any sweeps to the Sadowski Trust Fund, which is expected to have an estimated $308 million to $322 million for the upcoming fiscal year.

The House’s budget, however, did not fund SHIP or SAIL when it passed last month. But it did propose $45 million and $64 million for HHRP and LLRP, respectively — numbers not too far off from the Senate’s initial budget.

The lack of initial House funding for SHIP and SAIL is explained by its $182 million sweep of the Sadowski Trust.

The Senate is now factoring a similar sweep into its affordable housing proposals and has offered to fund SAIL and SHIP at around $70 million $40 million, respectively — without any funding for HHRP and LLRP.

Trujillo and Bradley will be tasked with determining which programs they’d like to see funded, given that so much is expected to be swept from the Sadowski Trust and that legislation creating hurricane-related affordable housing programs has received plenty of support as it has traveled through both chambers.

Altamonte Springs Republican Rep. Bob Cortes, who sponsored HB 987, said that the issue will “more than likely” be bumped to budget chairs at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, and he’s confident that HHRP and LLRP will be brought into the fold.

Cortes said that HHRP is modeled after SHIP and LLRP after SAIL; both seek to lessen the burden of developing affordable housing, which includes addressing impact fees, cost of land and permit delays. The difference is that HHRP and LLRP can only be activated to address problems stemming from a hurricane.

The two hurricane-related affordable housing programs have the backing of Gov. Rick Scott, which is another element that Trujillo and Bradley — and even Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran  will have to keep in mind when finalizing the budget

Scott asked for $65 million for the Hurricane Housing Recovery Program and $25 million for the Rental Recovery Loan Program as part of a $100 million Hurricane Irma affordable housing relief package he announced last November. 

Regardless of how the programs are funded, Cortes said that their creation alone is an indication that the state is addressing affordable housing issues.

“All of us are in agreement that this will be a catalyst,” Cortes said.

With respect to VISIT Florida and the Job Growth Grant Fund, the House and Senate seem to be on the same page, but still short of Scott’s $100 million ask for the state’s premier tourism-marketing agency.

In their initial budgets, both chambers proposed $85 million for the Job Growth Grant Fund. The Senate proposed a $50 million expense on VISIT Florida and the House proposed $76 million. The Senate has since upped its allotment to $76 million.

Rep. Clay Ingram, chair of the House Transportation and Tourism Appropriations, pointed to last year’s funding at $76 million as a means of justification for not spending $100 million on VISIT Florida.

“It’s a little less than what [Scott] asked for, but it’s $25 million more than what the Senate had,” Ingram said. “So, hopefully [Scott] likes the place we kind of met in the middle … They are fully funded, that’s how I look at it.”

Pointing to more discrepancies, Ingram said the Senate has more projects funded in the Department of Economic Opportunity and the Department of State. He anticipates there will not be enough excess dollars to fund those projects. 

“There’s only so much money to go around,” Ingram said.

Ingram suggested the conference will next convene sometime early Friday morning.

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