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:
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.
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.
Throughout his term as Senate president, Stuart Republican JoeNegron has made a top priority of revamping the higher-education system. Gov. RickScott 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.
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.
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.
House Speaker RichardCorcoran 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.
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.
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.
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.
Americans for Prosperity-Florida, the free market fighters, are celebrating a long list of legislative accomplishments as the 2018 Legislative Session comes to an end.
Among their top priorities this year was a bill to allow direct primary care contracts, SB 80, and the House education package which includes a requirement that teacher unions to have at least 50 percent of eligible members pay dues.
“As Floridians continue to suffer under the restrictions of Obamacare, the passage of Direct Primary Care will expand access to quality care by removing third parties from the doctor-patient relationship. This will ensure Floridians receive the care they need from the providers of their choice,” said AFP-FL state director Chris Hudson.
“And the passage of HB 7055 makes Florida the third state in the country to embrace common sense labor reforms and further expands our state’s reputation as a leader in education choice. Ensuring that teachers have a greater say in who represents them is a paramount right that all workers deserve; and our kids deserve every chance possible to achieve their educational goals.”
The group also celebrated the lack of a funding increase for state economic incentives arm Enterprise Florida and the the defeat of “corporate welfare” proposals, such as the bills to create a new film and television program funding pool (HB 341/SB 1606).
“We commend Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron for delivering common sense solutions to issues that continue to make the Sunshine State the best place to live, work and raise a family,” Hudson said.
“We hope that Governor [Rick] Scott acts quickly to make these key policies law and we will work diligently to communicate across the state for citizens to contact their elected officials as we begin our annual accountability efforts.”
Other bills the group praised were SB 4, which included language from the campus “free speech” bills, and SB 1392, “which includes the most robust and transparent data collection in order to promote and guide common sense criminal justice policy.”
Nobody expected a tragedy like Parkland to suck all the oxygen out of the Legislature’s 2018 Regular Session. Lobbyists were left scrambling to save their clients’ priorities as lawmakers hustled to rejigger the budget to accommodate hundreds of millions of dollars for school safety and mental health initiatives.
Some survived, many did not; although that’s no different from any other 60-day tumble in the Capitol.
So who enjoyed the thrill of victory in 2018? Who suffered the agony of defeat? And who got out by the skin of their teeth to try again next year?
Without further ado, here are this Session’s Winners and Losers, with an additional section below for our friends and frenemies in the news media.
Oh, one more note, we’re going to reserve judgment on Gov. Rick Scott, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, and Senate President Joe Negron until the end of the gubernatorial bill signing period.
The kids from Douglas High — Much hay has been made over the teens, how they go to a school in a “white, affluent community,” and were able to get way more of a response than that to the Pulse shooting in Orlando. Did it make a difference that the MSD tragedy happened in the middle of a legislative session? Sure. But these teens and their parents forced real conversations and action when many would rather have run and hide.
BillGalvano — Maybe you want to admit it. Maybe you don’t. But the Senate President-designate has displayed great poise and gravitas, i.e., leadership, while purposely not overshadowing President Negron. He may not have gotten gambling legislation over the finish line before the gambling control amendment this November, but don’t be surprised if the Bradenton lawyer — president of the National Council of Legislators fromGaming States — has a trick up his sleeve in 2019.
Wilton Simpson — Who woulda thunk a quiet egg farmer from Trilby would rise to become Senate President in waiting. As Majority Leader, he’s never lost a floor vote Negron needed him to win. He stood by his chief aide, Rachel Perrin Rogers, as she weathered the Jack Latvala sexual harassment saga. And he’s a genuinely nice guy: He paid for the Parkland’s pizza and breakfastwhen they were in Tallahassee.
AaronBean — The northeast Florida Republican has three bills on their way to the Governor: the “Pro Bono Matters” Act, which pays pro bono attorneys to represent special needs children; a bill to continue the Guardian ad Litem Foundation; and a measure to help children of parents in prison.
JeffBrandes — The senator from St. Petersburg continues the legacy of late Senate President Jim King by pushing through a fix to the Merlot-to-go law (aka “Take away Chardonnay” for you white wine drinkers). Before, you had to have ordered a whole meal; the 2018 change removes that requirement. King‘s 2005 measure first legalized carryout wine.
Lauren Book — She has displayed to everyone why Lauren’s Kids has been a success. The way she has been instrumental in organizing and advising the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School cannot and should not be ignored. Remember, she’s only a freshman. Imagine a world with “Book for Governor 2022” yard signs. It could happen.
DeniseGrimsley — She concluded her legislative career with quiet and thoughtful effectiveness, passing an important Call Blocking Billthat will work to protect everyone in Florida with a phone from crooks, scammers and spammers. She’ll never admit it, but her behind the scenes efforts moved the agriculture disaster relief package, getting it out of the Senate ditch. And her speech on the floor during the SB 7026 debate was a thoughtful reminder that Florida has broken children being raised by broken people, and that is the root cause of societal breakdown. Well done, Nurse Grimsley.
DebbieMayfield — Along with Reps. Erin Grall and MaryLynn Magar, she stood up to political heavyweight All Aboard Florida and shined a light on the lack of high-speed rail safety measures in Florida. They took this on before and after Brightline related deaths and injuries and grabbed major headlines.
Kathleen Passidomo — As a 2nd-year Senator, she steered the largest portion of the budget (education), and, even before the tragic massacre in Parkland, had been championing for additional mental health dollars. She was tasked with maneuvering HB 7055 through the Senate. All of this, while handling her own appropriations requests and the 28 bills she filed this year. That’s a pretty impressive resume for a Senate President candidate.
Bobby Dubose — He can be seen walking the floor, helping members with their bills, serving as a de facto floor leader and chief negotiator for both the Black Caucus and, at times, the House Democrats. You can see him moving from a private conversation with Speaker-designate Jose Oliva and over to a group of Democrats. Insiders credit Dubose with stand-your-ground language in the MSD school safety/gun bill. That alone is a BFD in our book.
Katie Edwards-Walpole — Leaving her seat early to focus on her new priorities of a new family, Katie Edwards-Walpole leaves a smart legacy of bipartisan legislation and real accomplishment. She’s whip-smart, and more than one Republican consultant would tell you she would have been the Democrats most formidable nominee for Agriculture Commissioner. Let’s hope Katie stays engaged in a process that needs her intellect, passion and reason.
Randy Fine — His second session was a coming out for this freshman. He went six-for-six in bringing his bills to the House floor and six-for-six with his appropriations requests. Fine literally received a terrorist threat while presenting his pro-Israel bill to committee, and successfully battled for both a tourist development tax transformation and utility accountability bill against more than 100 lobbyists. And he rendered CNN’s Alison Camerota speechless in his first-ever live national interview. He’ll be a force of nature in the next session.
Kristin Jacobs — She authored the sexual harassment bill that passed unanimously, got all her projects funded, was lead House sponsor on the coral reefs conservation area, took over the top CERP project and quietly got it passed (the C-51 bill), got DEP to include $3.6 million for her resilient coastline initiative and didn’t even have to fight it in the budget. Scott took that fight for her and, to boot, got another million to remove tires from the Broward coastline.
Scott Plakon — He may not feel like it, considering the daily fight he’s watching wife Susie endure, but many are now reading, researching, listening, and desiring to help in the fight against Alzheimer’s. His trademark dry sense of humor has not abated. And nice tattoo by the way.
Holly Raschein — She’s been serving her district for nearly 14 years, as an aide to Republican Ken Sorensen and Democrat Ron Saunders, and as the rep in 120 since 2012. There was no bigger challenge for Holly in all those years than the devastation that Irma did to the Keys, and she’s fought long and hard first to recover, and this session for dollars — and probably when the final totals are up, no one will take more home than Holly did to help continue to recover and rebuild our Florida Keys.
Paul Renner — With a determined style of ‘3 yards and a cloud of dust,’ Renner effectively managed the House tax packages and worked in support of D-1 Oliva and D-2 Sprowls. He managed to unify members in his class in his first session since becoming Speaker-D3 after that bruising election just last summer. Renner is the fullback that gains the yards you need and makes vital first downs, and now he transitions to campaign for his teammates in the elections this fall.
Carlos G. Smith — The progressive Orlando Democrat did not accomplish by way of legislation, but he is one of the fiercest advocates for gun control, among many other issues. He also wasn’t shy about asking why more wasn’t done after the shooting at the Pulse nightclub. He’s young, he’s media savvy, he’s got a heart three times the size of his body. All eyes on Rep. Smith going forward.
Chris Sprowls — He was Mister “Behind the Scenes” this Session. When many bills found success, his name was quietly mentioned as the reason. He’s a steadying force among many in his party. But with a divide growing between the controlling R’s and a more radicalized Democratic caucus, and with an ever more conservative worldview among his fellow Republicans, his leadership will be tested in the next couple of years.
Jimmy Patronis — After the Equifax data breach, and other data breaches at major companies, the CFO found that in Florida, credit reporting agencies could charge a fee of up to $10 to freeze your credit, and those who were victims of a data breach were required to submitted tons of paperwork just to get this fee waived. Considering that recent reports indicate that Florida is the top state for consumer fraud and ranks second for identity theft reports, it’s ridiculous that a fee would be imposed on Floridians. This bill passed both the House and Senate unanimously and made it easier for Floridians to protect themselves from fraud.
Noah Valenstein — The DEP boss proved you could demonstrate a commitment to the environment, while also actively serving Florida’s communities. DEP’s budget includes just over $100M for Florida Forever, increased funding for state parks, and support for the Everglades and the EAA reservoir. The Department’s leadership was also on display this Session as they led discussions around enhancing Florida’s wetlands protection program through the assumption of the federal “404” permitting program.
Mat Bahl — Mat should get the award for the person least likely to ever lobby to be on this list. Anyone who knows Mat knows that he is the master strategist and ardent negotiator, all of which have benefited the House and Speaker as the gavel comes down on Corcoran’s final session. But what many people may not know is that Mat has every proposed move, turn and counter-turn planned out months in advance for his principal and leadership to consider. If you have wondered why the House has consistently been one step ahead of the Senate for the last two years — Bahl is the reason. A loyal adviser who stays behind the curtain, never seeking or wanting the spotlight is a rare animal in politics — but even more unusual is how many speakers Mat has advised and how many futures ones he undoubtedly will.
Katie Betta and Fred Piccolo — The chief spokespeople for the Senate and House deserve a medal dealing with an irascible Capitol Press Corps. They’ve done an admirable job distilling complicated policy to readable text in a hurricane of news releases, and defended their principals when needed. We don’t know what the future holds as leadership changes after this session, but their stars are bright.
KevinReilly — Scott’s legislative affairs guru batted them out and over this Session, with hits and home runs on opioids, guns, supermajority tax requirement, Venezuela, budget-related items, nursing home rule.
Airlines – Flying into Florida have come in for a smooth landing via the tax package, with a reduction in the state’s airline fuel tax. Lower fueling taxes will mean more airlines will assign more planes to come to Florida, bringing more flights, passengers and economic growth to the state. Legislative leaders have signaled a desire for a complete phase-out of the fuel tax in the coming years, making airlines and airline passengers big winners for sessions to come.
Americans For Prosperity-Florida — The Koch brothers-backed pro-free market organization couldn’t quite finish the job on Enterprise Florida, but Chris Hudson and his high-powered team did outmuscle a former Senate President and passed the “union-busting bill,” which notched a sweet victory for them. Also, an effort to create a funding source for Hollywood it opposed had a quiet death.
Anti-drug community — Kudos to substance abuse providers, county sheriffs, the Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association for recommending and working to protect funding for medication-assisted treatment and mental health counseling programs. They’re vital in addressing the opioid epidemic (remember that?).
Associated Industries of Florida — Led by Tom Feeney and Brewster Bevis, the AIF team was successful in delivering several pro-business and pro-consumer measures in their fight to protect Florida’s business community. From helping to pass branded glassware, deferred presentment transactions, out-of-country foreign money judgments, state assumption of federal 404 dredges and fill permitting authority to defeat retroactive claim denial and defeating efforts to repeal PIP, AIF was instrumental in the halls of the Capitol on behalf of Florida employers and employees. As eyes turn toward election season, I look forward to seeing what’s to come from their political operations.
Babies — It was touch and go, but efforts to reduce infant mortality were able to keep funding at last year’s level, instead of a 30 percent haircut. The Senate receded on a plan to shave $19 million from the programs; they said providers were duplicating help elsewhere. The House came to the rescue. New moms and moms-to-be will benefit.
Beekeepers — They didn’t get a new license plate, but they did get enhanced penalties for the theft of a beehive. The legislation will double the fine from $5,000 to $10,000 for the felony theft of a bee colony of a registered beekeeper. This stuff actually happens: The Miami Herald recently reported the charging of a Miami Lakes pastor (!) for the heist of thousands of bees.
Booze delivery — Dana Young pushed through a bill, on its way to Scott, that would expressly authorize alcohol delivery services accessed via a smartphone app. Delivery through apps such as Drizly and Shipt is already available in the state, but “current law does not address orders received via the internet or other electronic forms of communication.” Guess who else supported the measure? Yep, Uber.
Bail bond agents — The industry lobbied hard against a sweeping criminal justice reform would have cost taxpayers $10 million to fund and would have authorized counties to create supervised bond release programs. It would have allowed qualifying inmates to be moved from prison to county jails in cases when they are terminally ill and given less than a year to live. Guess what? Rob Bradley, the Senate budget chair who was behind it, killed his own bill in light of all the late-Session priorities. But he said he’ll address it next year. As Bob Marley sang, “He who fights and runs away lives to fight another day …”
Beer drinkers — Bars and restaurants are now allowed to accept branded glassware from vendors for free which will reduce costs for retailers. Studies have shown having the appropriate style of glass available to consumers enhances the overall image of beer. This legislation will help retailers provide the best beer drinking experience to customers.
Businesses that rent — The reduction of the commercial lease tax is another cost-saving win for thousands of retailers across the state. Florida remains the only state in the nation that charges this burdensome tax.
College kids — Students with excess credits (over 120) are catching a break. The bill by Amber Mariano and Aaron Bean will alleviate certain surcharges currently charged to students. The measure will provide refunds of excess charges for students that finish their degree within four years. Carrot, instead of a stick.
Community college presidents — Take Sarasota-Manatee president Carol Probstfeld. She appeared to have fended off a bill which would provide for enrollment caps for baccalaureate degrees and a new state board. While funding for state colleges decreased, protecting their kingdoms from greater oversight won out over allocations.
Corcoran & Johnston — Although the lobbying firm’s business indeed did not suffer over the last two years, won’t it be nice for Michael Corcoran to stop being asked, “Excuse me, is Richard your brother?” (We kid. Everyone knows they’re related.)
Crusade against childmarriages — An issue that many in The Process were unaware was even happening in Florida jumped to the forefront. But the bill that passed was watered down, some said, from an outright ban on minors getting married to an exception for 17-year-olds. Still, this should help the extreme examples from happening, such as very young teens getting hitched to older men. Nice work Sen. Benacqusto. And a shoutout to Gus Corbella and Ryan Wiggins for their work behind the scenes.
FHCA — It was yet another successful year for the Florida Health Care Association. Representing more than 80 percent of Florida’s nursing homes, FHCA’s highest priority focused on the health, well-being and comfort of the residents under their care. With strong support from President Negron, the Legislature provided nursing home residents with their first Medicaid funding increase in many years, $138 million that will help maintain quality care for some of our state’s most frail residents. Those residents will also see their personal needs allowance increased to $130; that’s an additional $25 per month to help them pay for personal items that will improve their quality of life. The association also worked closely with leaders to ensure that new generator rules stayed focused on what’s best for long-term care residents during disasters.
First responders — Those who serve selflessly and are in need of help got a boost from lawmakers, in no small part due to CFO Patronis. He carried the flag for police, firefighters, paramedics and others who seek treatment for job-related PTSD through their workers’ comp benefit. The League of Cities initially fought it tooth and nail, saying their members would suffer the burden of added costs. They backed down; the heroes won.
Firefighters — Bills passed that would create a public records exemption for fire plans (SB 738); make it a crime to bribe a fire marshal (SB 820), and another was killed that would have gutted a high-rise sprinkler retrofit bill (SB 1432). Also, the “trash valet” bill (SB 746) was amended to ensure compliance with national regulations and sunset provision in 2021.
Farm Share — It’s always nice when a good-guy organization comes out ahead in the legislative process, and there aren’t many causes better than Farm Share. Thanks to a partnership with the Legislature, Farm Share reclaims fresh, healthy produce that’s not pretty enough for stores and provides it, free of charge, to needy Floridians. Farm Share recently surpassed 500 million pounds of food donated to Floridians, and last year was an indispensable part of Florida’s recovery from Hurricane Irma — distributing more than 2 million pounds of food and supplies in just the first 10 days after the storm devastated the state. Given Farm Share’s nimble disaster responseand return on investment, the nonprofit saw an increase of nearly $1 million in its state funding.
Florida Gulf Coast U. — The school got $13.7 million for operational funding, $10 million for a coastal studies building, $500,000 for an academic achievement initiative. Shoutout to Floridian Partners for shepherding all that through The Process.
Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association — Carol Dover’s organization can claim major victories on navigating the state’s regulation of the hospitality industry. When legislation was filed to support short-term rentals, FRLA was the leader in those negotiations. Additionally, FRLA was a key player in ensuring that the franchise legislation did not pass. Furthermore, the association claimed a significant victory in the tourism development tax reform by requiring a minimum of 40 percent of that tax revenue is used for marketing before any expanded use — for many counties, it will equal an increase in tourism marketing expenditures.
Shawn Frost, Florida Coalition of School Board Members — Took wins as education policy in HB 7055 and HB 1279 had most of the issues identified by the FCSBM, including sustainable fix and funding for charter school capital outlay, district transparency and accountability, funding and expansion of parental choice, such as the Hope Scholarship, Struggling Reader Scholarship, and $25 million to address the waitlist for Gardiner Scholarships. Frost, of MVP Strategy and Policy, was a constant presence this session and was instrumental in delivering for his client.
Governors Club — The morning breakfast during the committee weeks and Legislative Session has been tastefully understated winners. The addition of the custom omelet station the final week packed the joint. The outdoor patio is enchanting. Winner, winner … but hey, could you do it every morning during Session and not just Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday?
Glades Communities south of Lake Okeechobee — The Florida Legislature is putting $50 million toward speeding up repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike for the second straight year. Gov. Scott has personally made the pitch for this funding, and has made four trips to the Glades to discuss the financing over the past year. Coupled with South Florida lawmakers delivering on a promise for additional workforce training dollars for the Glades communities, the people from “Muck City” fared well this year.
HCA — After nearly a decade of close legislative calls and legal wrangling, HCA scored a huge victory when the Legislature unanimously passed an overhaul of rules governing trauma centers, with the result allowing HCA to continue operating several trauma centers previously in dispute. Lawmakers also corrected the company’s EAPG reimbursement rates moving forward and will provide retroactive payments from last year. Finally, even though the agreed-upon state budget used the House’s rate enhancement framework, which favored the so-called “Safety Net” hospitals, legislators are now asking tough questions about public hospitals’ profits and acknowledging how Medicaid dollars should reimburse hospitals for the care they provide, rather than their corporate status. That alone is a huge win for HCA moving forward.
Institutes for Commercialization — The last bill passed by the House. It overhauled the Institute for the Commercialization of Public Research and replaced it with the Institute for Commercialization of Florida Technology, a privately managed investment arm focusing on tech and startups in this state and leveraging seed and angel investment from the private sector. It’s being called a game-changer for Florida’s innovation economy.
Insurance industry — They successfully prevented policy they didn’t like from seeing daylight, blocked the trial bar, tackled Uber, you name it. PIP repeal? Nope. But one low point: there was no movement on AOB reform, a signature issue for the industry. It will be front and center next year, as the companies are fed up and ready for a change.
Lennar — The largest homebuilder in the U.S. did pretty good in Florida this Session. An obscure, technical provision made it that extends the statute of limitations to sue on a “construction defect” to allow counterclaims, cross-claims, and third-party claims up to one year after a pleading is filed. It also specifies that “punch list” items and warranty work do not extend the statute of repose. A mini-law lesson from Lawyers.com: “A statute of limitations sets a lawsuit-filing time limit based on when the potential plaintiff suffered harm, while a statute of repose sets a deadline based on the mere passage of time or the occurrence of a certain event that doesn’t itself cause harm or give rise to a potential lawsuit.”
Mary Brogan Early Detection Program —There’s actually a program everyone can get behind — and they did. All of us have been affected by cancer in one way or another, and there are more than 19,000 breast cancer stories in Florida every year. The Mary Brogan Early Detection Programprovides cancer screenings to medically underserved women, and this dedicated program won strong support in the form of a switch to recurring dollars to continue its important quest to save lives. The Early Detection Program treats patients like they’re family, with a network of doctors and advocates who have helped women get the attention and care they need. Recurring dollars make planning so much easier for crucial programs like this so kudos to the admirable Mary Brogan Early Detection Program — and you can bet I’ll be rocking my pink shirt.
Mental health advocates — It’s a shame that a tragedy like Parkland has to occur to cause winners in the legislative process. That said, mental health advocates are finally counting a big win after years of spotty, unpredictable funding. Schools and increased safety measures will also come out as big winners. “Winner” is a difficult designation to assign to this sad chapter in our history, however. Maybe the win will be the change and good that comes from it all.
Alisa LaPolt — A former Gannett news reporter and nurses’ lobbyist, now leading NAMI-Florida, she gained new visibility at the Capitol in the face of a statewide tragedy as the voice of individuals and families affected by mental illness. NAMI-Florida under her leadership was instrumental in getting provisions in legislation requiring schools to have mental health public awareness programs for teachers and students, for one. She’s sure to press the issue in 2019 as well.
Newspapers — The digital powers couldn’t force a change in public notice laws, meaning legacy “print” media gets another reprieve from losing their monopoly. Florida law ensures Old Media an in by requiring meeting notices and other legal notices, to be in print. Under state law, such ads must run in a newspaper published at least once a week and considered a county’s publication of record. So Gannett and others can count on that revenue stream for at least another year.
Northeast Florida — The last year has been an eventful one for the area: Rob Bradley became Appropriations Chairman and performed like a seasoned professional. Future House Speaker Paul Renner capably handled his chamber’s tax package. Sen. Travis Hutson took some major steps toward becoming a future presiding officer. And don’t forget Senator Audrey Gibson, who ascended to the role of Leader-designate of the Senate Democrats. If only there were a Jacksonville-based lobbying firm that works with them all … oh wait, there are: The Fiorentino Group, as well as Southern Strategy Group’s Matt Brockelman and Deno Hicks.
Nurses — A piece of legislation brings Florida Advanced Practice Nurses in closer alignment with the National Council of State Boards of Nursing Consensus Model. It changes the title from Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner (ARNP) to Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) and adding Clinical Nurse Specialists to the APRN role, as well as clarifying certification. Credit lobbyist Allison Carvajal on this one.
Orlando — Lawmakers approved a measure allowing smaller restaurants downtown to serve liquor. If signed, eateries with smaller floor space and fewer seats could get special licenses to offer booze. Mayor Buddy Dyer pushed the legislation, saying it’d be a boost to business and would increase foot traffic. Hoist one for us.
Physicians — The Florida Academy of Family Physicians picked up a win with legislation that allows doctors to sign direct-primary care agreements with patients. This is sometimes referred to as “concierge care” for the masses. It’s a new patient-centered model that allows doctors to contract directly with small businesses and patients without involving insurance companies. (Not that insurers are happy about this movement.)
“Pre-eminent” universities — Gobs of money were thrown at Florida State and UF for construction projects, including atmospheric sciences, an interdisciplinary research commercialization building and College of Business. Not to focus on FSU, but how much did it also help to have the heft of John Thrasher and Kathy Mears? Just a little? Sure. And credit assists to The Mayernick Group and Paul Hawkes.
Residents of the not-so Sunshine State —With the passage of the disaster preparedness sales-tax holiday, citizens of Florida are winners because they have more time to get prepared for all of Florida’s natural disasters while also saving money. Thanks to the Florida Retail Federation’s advocacy efforts, this year’s holiday was extended from three days to seven days. With more time to purchase generators and other vital supplies, residents and visitors in our state will already be prepared when the storm comes, rather than last-minute rushing to the store.
Red light cameras — Efforts to get rid of them failed again this year, as they have in recent years. Who wins? American Traffic Solutions, the vendor that supplies and maintains many of the systems, and makes a pretty penny from them. Supporters say the cameras save lives and allow law enforcement to get a grip on more serious crime. Opponents counter that red-light cameras are just a way to shake down motorists for money through fines.
Retailers and consumers — Every year, there are attempts to raise the felony threshold for retail theft. This year was no different — the proposed new threshold was $1,000. After a Session-long fight, the Florida Retail Federation was successful in making sure criminals didn’t get a cost-of-living increase on the back of retailers. By keeping the threshold as is at $300, the group says it will help deter retail theft and organized retail crime, which the FRF says will keep small businesses from raising their prices to compensate for stolen merchandise.
“Safety net” hospitals — Shouts out to Tony Carvalho and Lindy Kennedy of the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida. The Legislature agreed to fund another $319 million — including the federal share — in the upcoming year’s budget, as they did for this year (2017-18). They honestly need the help: “Safety net hospitals ensure the highest level of care to all Floridians, regardless of their ability to pay,” they say. Here, here.
Short-term lenders — Critics have had a field day blasting payday lenders, but the industry worked relentlessly to show legislators how valuable their products are to Floridians who need quick funds but can’t walk into a bank or credit union and leave with cash. Energized by a heavy-handed federal regulation that would have hammered their industry, short-term lenders pushed harder than ever to ensure that Floridians have access to the credit options they need. Sponsored by Reps. Janet Cruz and Jamie Grant in the House with Sens. Rob Bradley and Oscar Braynon in the Senate, HB 857 and SB 920 made winners of companies like Amscot and Advance America, which were absolutely relentless in their work to retain important consumer protections. Overwhelmingly passing through all committee meetings and on the floor, the legislation is a huge win for consumers who use these services and the companies that provide them.
Supreme Court justices — It’s good to be a top jurist. The budget includes pay boosts for all seven justices, hiking their paychecks 36 percent to $220,000 a year. They’re not alone. Other state judges get a raise, as do prosecutors and public defenders. And state law enforcement officers will get more, either 7 or 10 percent, depending. Even state-employed firefighters get a $2,500 raise. Finally, some respect. Let’s see Gov. Scott try to line-item veto these.
Techindustry — Major wins: The adoption of proviso language that shows a preference for cloud solutions in procurement; state data and information will have increased protection, security and analytic capabilities. Moreover, with the passage of HB 495, Florida students will have greater access to computer science and coding. Studying these disciplines gives students computational thinking, critical thinking and problem-solving skills, advocates say.
TeyeReeves — Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum! The “sea piracy” bill, also known as “vessel salvage” (HB 469), foundered this year thanks to a mutiny led by Reeves, of Floridian Partners. The oh-so-heavily-lobbied bill successfully passed seven committees of reference, but never walked the plank all the way to the Senate floor. (We have mixed some metaphors here …)
Volusia County’s beach access — A measure by Katie Edwards-Walpole now creates requirements for “customary use” ordinances, including court approval. It was drafted based on and around Volusia County. The bill, if signed, will leave intact Volusia’s beach access ordinance. The issue was lobbied by GrayRobinson’s Chris Carmody and Robert Stuart.
Greg Evers’ legacy — A measure to create a road in the late state senator’s name passed the Legislature. SB 382 will designate a “Greg Evers Memorial Highway” in the Panhandle, where Evers was from. He died in single-car accident near his home last year.
Joe Abruzzo — The state Senator-turned-state Representative has suffered a lot of ignominies seeing his private life dragged out in the press in recent years. Now he’s leaving the House early. It seems to us like he could have done more as a lawmaker, but we never begrudge anyone exiting the Legislature for personal reasons. Good luck, Joe.
Janet Cruz — What legislative issue did she carry across the line this Session? Well, there was that vote-by-mail fix. But when it came to the gun debate, she spoke loudly but said nothing. She couldn’t keep her caucus in order during meetings, and couldn’t hold caucus votes in line when it mattered most. Maybe she was saving her powder for her county commission race.
Boaters — You hear the word “pirates,” and you immediately think of Johnny Depp movies, Gasparilla marauders, or Tampa Bay’s football team. Despite those cuddly images, an organization of Florida boaters used pirate images to brand maritime salvage and towing services as cutthroat brigands. In just its first year, the bill cleared seven separate committees and was passed overwhelmingly by the House, but got caught up in the end-of-session crunch and died in the Senate amid effective lobbying on both sides. Supporters shrewdly branded the salvage companies as “modern-day pirates” taking advantage of innocent boat owners, while the salvors pushed back by pointing out that they were saving lives and preventing loss. Rough seas ahead for any pirates looking for a bigger paycheck, because there may be no stopping the power of unyielding Florida boaters.
Drug addicts —An FRF-backed proposal would’ve required doctors to use e-prescribing software when doling out prescriptions instead of the old-fashioned and easily-manipulated paper tablets, making it much tougher for patients to forge a prescription. Since the Governor’s office wouldn’t accept it in the opioid package, the forging will remain, and addicts will continue to gain access to dangerous drugs helping to fuel our state’s opiate epidemic.
Dunkin’ Donuts, 7-Eleven, et al. — Corporate brands scored a victory but had to beat back a determined effort by Florida entrepreneurs who own franchise operations and wanted to level the playing field. The Florida Retail Federation and others, representing brands from McDonald’s to UPS, helped fight off the franchise operators for the second year, as they worked for greater legal protections in the business relationship. Franchise owners wanted protections to stop the corporations from dominating their activities, and the corporations like things the way they are. This effort is likely to come up again, so we’ll see how that plays out.
Environmental funding — Lawmakers couldn’t agree on the broad outlines of a deal to pay for future purchases of land for conservation. Part of the reason: Activists fought each other’s interests by backing competing bills this year. Remember that the Florida Forever program got zero money in the current state budget. That means, yep, gird your loins for next year. Even though Rob Bradley otherwise called this Session “a home run for the environment.”
Florida Chamber of Commerce — Got a hit with elements of tax cut package, but struck out on AOB and ‘bad faith’ reform, workers’ comp changes, etc. Hard to put them in the mixed bag with more losses than wins this year, but they’re still pushing the cost of living reductions for Floridians, and they haven’t forgotten the importance of infrastructure investment.
Florida Justice Association — The trial lawyers land in the mixed bag again this year. It’s a tad surprising Jeff Porter’s team did not see many bills pass, including a priority PIP insurance redo. But give ‘em credit for beating back AOB, bad faith and workers’ comp changes. They also helped shed new light on human trafficking and, like their AIF counterparts, quietly embedded amendments throughout legislation. Plus, Kevin Sweeny continued an unprecedented political winning-streak throughout Session for the trial bar — even if his hand was sometimes unseen.
Fracking — This is another one of this issues that seems like a no-brainer, yet it fails to cross the finish line every year. A ban on fracking, the pumping of water and chemicals into the ground to flush out oil and gas deposits, was carried by Dana Young this year. It got some hearings but ultimately didn’t go anywhere in the House. But fracking’s not gonna happen in Florida anytime soon anyway, so …
Hospitals — Another Session draws to a conclusion and the House’s attempts at reform the “certificate of need” process, ambulatory recovery centers, and the other priorities of the current leadership. The celebration, however, shouldn’t last long because all should expect the pursuit to continue under Speaker Jose Oliva’s tenure. They got whacked on rural hospitals and funding formula, but they won the priority bills by the fails of CON repeal, Recovery Care Centers/Ambulatory Surgical Center Overnight Stays, PIP, workers comp payment cuts and advanced birthing centers. All passed the House, then died in the Senate … even without Latvala there.
Hotelindustry — OK, so they won the vacation rental battle. But they looked ugly “winning” on human trafficking. A provision that would have allowed young victims of prostitution rings to sue hotels where they were forced to “work” failed this Session. And it would have created a trust fund from civil penalties. But the lodging lobby made sure it went down.
League of Cities — We’re starting to think they’re not the “white hats” everyone thinks they are. The group opposed helping first responders with PTSD (though it later backed away from that opposition). Then they opposed a bill that would block lawsuits against people who request public records. Then they pitched a fit over another bill to require uniform elections to increase turnout. We get it: They’re advocating for cities and being able to keep cities’ costs down. But their negativity is starting to be a bad look.
PatRoberts — The Tallahassee-based TV producer took a win when a judge quashed subpoenas for his financial and tax records related to shows he made featuring star chef Emeril Lagasse for VISIT FLORIDA. But even though Speaker Corcoran, who pursued this case, is headed out the door, don’t assume Speaker-in-waiting Jose Oliva and the GOP House is just going to drop this.
Policyholders — While PIP was put to the test this session, it ended up getting TP’d and was never brought up again. Lobbyists say that’s a win for Florida motorists: A measure being pushed by the trial bar would have wiped away years of cost-saving reforms. But policyholders will have to wait to see savings from Assignment of Benefits (AOB) reform.
The Seminole Tribe — As gambling bill dies, one wonders how much more money will they have to contribute to state coffers before they finally get some respect? The failure of a bill to pass means no renewed deal for blackjack, though they still have it at least through 2030. Still, with the jet gassed and ready Friday, another year of nothing has to grind Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen’s gears.
Trees — Greg Steube’s tree-trimming bill itself got pruned this Session, after it aimed initially at pre-empting all tree regulation to the state, bypassing locals. It would have required utilities to get permits to work on the right of way if interfered with power lines. Then an amendment freed the utilities to perform trimming as they please. Oh well.
GaryFarmer — He filed more than half a dozen bills to unpin the insurance industry, and none of them were heard in committee. Farmer also appears headed for defeat in his race to become the Senate Democratic Leader. How tin-eared do you have to be to tell a woman that “small children” would hamper her duty to be a leader? Tell it to Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo. Or Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. Or Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors.
Randolph Bracy — He was given a chance to be chairman of a prominent policy committee as a freshman Democrat. What does he do? Flagrantly denied requests by those on his own committee to hear their bills. Don’t fool yourself that Bill Galvano wasn’t paying attention. Bracy’s heavy-handedness will make it that much harder for his colleagues to secure chairmanships under future GOP leadership in the Senate.
Anitere Flores — Where do we begin? She couldn’t get her committees to successfully pass PIP repeal for Tom Lee, the trial bar, even President Joe Negron. The high-priority bill could not even make it through a confused and sloppy meeting of the committee she chairs. Let’s not forget the painfully awkward disclosure and acknowledgment of her marital infidelity at Session’s beginning.
Jose Javier Rodriguez — The Herald put it nicely: If Scott approves this, it “forces nearly a half-dozen local and state lawmakers to choosebetween holding onto a sure thing and taking the risk of running for the congressional seat that Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is giving up in order to retire.” State Sen. Rodriguez is among them. Sorry, JJR. On a side note, who really wants to pay for all those special elections?
Matt Caldwell — Nobody told him running to the cameras immediately after Parkland to say why he was pro-gun was just too craven. When MSD students were at the Capitol, he tried too hard, pointing to his lapel ribbon to support them, while he continually Politifact’ed himself into false talking points. A string of legislative failures preceded that: Don’t get us started on “Florida ForNever” under his watch. Then the odd zoning amendments in the HB 883 meltdown.
Kim Daniels — She pushed an unneeded bill to require that “In God We Trust” be posted in all public schools. In the wake of Hurricane Irma, she distinguished herself by asserting that “prophets” saw the storm coming. Then she used the storm as an excuse to hold off her foreclosure. She’s faced ethics and elections complaints. In the name of the Lord, indeed.
ChristianBax — The state’s top medical marijuana regulator, who got his job through his rich dad, arguably took Jesse Panuccio’s place (remember him?) as the Legislature’s favorite punching bag. As one lawmaker privately told a reporter, “I would not be surprised if this guy were unable to find his (orifice) with a funnel.” He has taken drubbing after drubbing for delays in getting medicinal cannabis to more qualified patients, all the while blaming an admittedly large number of lawsuits and administrative challenges. With Scott out of office early next year, MMJ advocates say they can hardly wait for a change.
MarionHammer — Parkland made both her and the NRA run for cover, cowering under criticism for what many believe has been grossly undue influence over the process. The fact Republican leadership has stepped forward with packages they both deem unacceptable shows how far they may have fallen in the process.
#MeToo — Real sexual harassment and ethical behavior — no one should assume things have gotten better just because the articles have ceased and the hallway conversations have changed. It is how the process goes. Something more significant has occurred, and all attention is focused elsewhere. Until the root is plucked, branches will continue to grow.
Airbnb — The vacation rental website really wanted the state to pre-empt local regulation of their services. The Legislature tried but didn’t pass anything. Casey Cook from the League of Cities led the fight and herded the cats. Even in the pre-emption loving House, the first committee approval took two meetings and a lot of whipping to get a narrow victory. Later efforts to put VR friendly amendments on the condo bills was also thwarted.
Affordablehousing — As Rep. Bob Cortestweeted Friday: “After a very long session and many hours of work, HB 987 on Affordable Housing died because @FLSenate would not take it up and no reason why. #disappointed”
Auburn fans — That license plate bill finally died, bringing agony to proponents Rep. Jamie Grant and Kevin Cate. As Grant tweeted Friday:“So much good stuff in that bill that was the product of colleagues working across the aisle to empower some really great nonprofits and causes in FL Reforms to the program died too …”
Bicyclists — Chris Moya of Jones Walker successfully killed bicycle “ride share” legislation that would pre-empt cities’ and counties’ ability to prevent companies from putting a bunch of bikes in their communities. Moya represents several bike companies that opposed the legislation: Decco Bike and Cycle Hop. Too bad: We had our helmets and skin-hugging bike pants ready to go.
Fantasy sports fans — Also dying with gaming legislation this year were efforts to clarify that fantasy sports play is not gamblingand should not be regulated as such. It really isn’t a loss per se, but means fantasy players in Florida will continue their hobby in a legal gray area. Not that we expect police to start breaking down doors over this.
Flu sufferers — Had a tough time getting in to see your primary care doctor for your flu symptoms? Unable to get your hands on a box of Tamiflu? Having pharmacists around the state test and treat for the flu would’ve made life a lot easier for thousands of Floridians. But this bill was denied by the Legislature, forcing sick patients and their children to suffer instead of receiving treatment.
Fight against distracted driving — A bill that would have made texting while driving a primary enforcement lawwent all the way through the House and three committees in the Senate but stalled on the Senate Appropriations desk after a hard push by Florida families and organizations to pass this lifesaving measure and protect Florida families. It will be back next year if Emily Slosberg has anything to do with it.
Felons’ voting rights — Despite a federal judge saying the state clemency process is unconstitutional, legislators didn’t pony up money to handle the backlog of ex-cons who just want to vote. Black lawmakers called foul, but the zero line didn’t budge. And Gov. Scott and the Cabinet are declining to hear dozens of cases as they appeal the ruling.
Greyhounds — The Senate passed a ban on using steroids in racing greyhounds, only to see it sit untouched in the House. The language isn’t getting any play in the gaming conference, either. Dog trainers say small amounts of steroids are used only for birth control, not to enhance performance. But dog-racing opponents, including Dana Young, call it “doping.”
Home rule — Cities and counties have been under constant barrage by legislative leadership, raising the question as to whether the Republican principle of “the government closest to the people is best” is being traded for “do as I say, not as I do.”
Injured immigrants — A bill intended to stop companies from dodging workers’ compensation benefit payouts to undocumented workerswho are injured on the job died. The effort was born in the wake of two news investigations last year that showed how a change in the law enabled some companies to deny benefits to undocumented workers after they were hired and injured at work. The injured workers would be reported to state law enforcement for using fake IDs or Social Security numbers.
New World School of the Arts — The Miami performing arts school, whose grads include Oscar-winning Tarrell Alvin McCraney of “Moonlight” fame, lost added state funding. The school gives teens the opportunity to train in music, theater, dance and visual arts. The reduction means programs may be cut. So goes showbiz.
Panhandledrivers — The controversial bridge known as Bo’s Bridge was named after former House Speaker Bolley “Bo” Johnson. Sadly, the bridge ended up in default because not enough motorists use it. An effort to get money for it went nowhere. Can you blame them?
Rural cities — Rural cities and counties in the Big Bend and Panhandle got hosed. Once again, the budget priorities, especially water projects, appear to be going South.
Sanctuary cities — The Corcoran-Gillum debate, substantial statewide media buy, and it still didn’t go anywhere. Plenty of pushback, including IMPAC Fund’s Mike Fernandez letter signed by more than 120 bipartisan leaders calling on the Governor, Corcoran and Negron to kill the bill. Well, it made for a terrifying (and somewhat disingenuous) ad, anyway.
St. Pete Chamber of Commerce — No longer able to depend on Jack Latvala, the group lost the USF consolidation battle. President Chris Steinocher and Advocacy Manager Matt Lettelier badly misplayed their hand on this issue.
Themeparks — The combined team of Florida Brewers Guild, the state’s craft beer group; Beer Industry of Florida, the Miller and craft beer distributors; and Miller-Coors itself won this year’s fight against the “theme park” legislation, which would have allowed Universal Orlando, SeaWorld and others to start pumping alcohol beverage manufacturers for an additional revenue stream, or was it called “cooperative advertising?”
TIKD — The Florida Supreme Court ordered the Miami-Dade firm that helps customers fight traffic tickets to show why it isn’t practicing law without a license.
Waterprojects — Another area that became a funding casualty because of the late-Session focus on responding to the Parkland tragedy and redirecting money to school safety and mental health programs. So, things like better treating stormwater and improving sewer lines will be on hold again.
EXTRA EDITION — The media’s winners and losers (by Peter Schorsch alone so don’t blame anyone else.)
POLITICO Florida — Even if Matt Dixon’s bureau had not written a single story during the past 60 days, PF would still be in the winners’ column because of its coverage of the sexual harassment scandals. However, with its strong-throughout-the-lineup roster of silo’ed reporters, it’s clearly the top outfit in Tally.
Florida Politics — I’ll spare you the false humility and just state that I think this was #FlaPol’s best Session to date. From first thing in the morning with “Sunburn” until “60 Days” hits inboxes in the evening, this, um, bureau covers more ground than any other outlet.
News Service of Florida — The revitalized NSF, now under the helm of Will Galloway, had one of its best Sessions this decade. Christine Sexton is still the best-specialized reporter in the Capitol, and we really dig Dara Kam’s blog.
Matt Dixon – Forget about how many scoops he scores or about how accessible he is as a reporter and just think about how much solid content he pumps out. If you are a Pro subscriber you know that he often bylines four or five stories a day. And now he’s co-writing Playbook!
Marc Caputo – I like complimenting Caputo as much as I enjoy splashing lemon juice in my eye, but when he’s focused and not engaging with the trolls on Twitter, he’s one of the best. His recent coverage of the politics of Parkland was superb.
Mary Ellen Klas — The Miami Herald veteran wore her heart — and her disdain for much of The Process — on her sleeve this Session, especially during the last few weeks when the gun control debate took over the narrative. The quality of her writing is almost unrivaled.
Brian Burgess – A welcome addition to the new media column, Burgess is already expanding his micro-empire by hiring reporters and producing a TV show. My only complaint with Burgess is that he doesn’t write enough. And when he does write (like for his occasionally brilliant Monday Mailbag) it feels like an afterthought. Slow down, buddy, Rome was not built in a day.
Ana Ceballos — The newest addition to Extensive Enterprises is a star in the making. She undoubtedly will be working in D.C. or NYC soon enough. Until then, she will have worked tirelessly for Florida Politics and will soon join the Naples Daily News, where she’ll work the big stories that are the strong suit of traditional media.
Bill Day – They say editorial cartooning is so last century, but the gifted talent that is Bill Day turned out one masterpiece after another during Session. This is how you know he’s doing it right: when the lawmakers he zings end up requesting an original copy of one of his cartoons.
Jim DeFede – There is no hotter seat than the one opposite the South Florida TV man during one of his interviews. No, he’s not a presence in Tallahassee, but he’s a force to be reckoned with nonetheless when he’s reporting on a statewide issue.
John Kennedy — One of the best developments in the Capitol Press Corps was this veteran newspaperman’s return to print media. He instantly improved the coverage at GateHouse’s many Florida properties.
Tia Mitchell – I can’t believe I am writing this, but I genuinely missed the former Times-Union reporter’s coverage of Session. You know who else missed it? Many black lawmakers who looked to Mitchell as their go-to to get their already-buried stories into the press. Her absence is a reminder that it is the #PressCorpsSoWhite.
The newcomers – There’s been so much turnover in the Capitol Press Corps that one needs a scorecard to keep all the names straight. Yet the rookies, like Elizabeth Koh of the T/H and Dan McAuliffe of #FlaPol offer hope for the future.
Brad Swanson – He’s an association president, not a journalist, so how is he on this list? Because he’s built Florida Internet & Television into a force with its interviews of the key players and those who cover them.
Dan Sweeney – The Sun Sentinel’s man in Tallahassee was already one of the hardest working scribes in The Process. Then Parkland happened and he found a sixth gear. His Twitter feed has been essential reading as the gun control debate has unfolded. How soon until he gets scooped up by the T/H or POLITICO?
Mike Vasilinda – To paraphrase Paul Simon, Vasalinda is still great after all these years … still great after all these years. Of all the talking heads in front of a camera, he still has the best presence.
Gary Fineout – It seems like every year I write the same thing: There’s reporter more knowledgeable about the process than Fine(d)out, yet so much of that institutional knowledge is wasted because the AP doesn’t have a use for it. The only difference this year was Fineout seemed more cranky than usual, especially when he was deriding the “influence media.”
Alexandra Glorioso — Don’t get me wrong, Glorioso is a star in the making, as exemplified by her dogged reporting of the Jack Latvala scandal. But her coverage of health care politics was not at the same level. It didn’t help that it was a quiet year for that issue.
Arek Sarkissian — Again, here’s a POLITICO reporter who is part of its strong team, but his coverage of the vice beat was mostly good, but not great, especially on gambling issues (where Jim Rosica set the pace). The Pat Roberts story also slipped off the line.
Florida Channel — Hey, we really appreciate the wall-to-wall coverage of Session, including the press avails and conference meeting (thereby allowing some reporters to, you know, spend a moment or two with their kid(s) while watching the action from home. But the drops! Oh, my goodness, is it frustrating how often the signal from FC drops.
Tallahassee Democrat — You can’t even put the local paper in the losers’ category because it doesn’t really compete, although James Call’s reporting was the best its been in some time. If only the Democrat paid attention to the Capitol as much as it did the local beat, which it is crushing.
Times/Herald — The one-time leader of the pack entered Session with a slew of holes in its roster. As capable as the new folks are — especially Lawrence Mower — it was too much of a rebuilding year for the T/H.
Jason Garcia — Don’t get me wrong, when Garcia is engaged, the Florida Trend writer is — surprisingly given his platform — one of the best in the game. But he was mostly absent this Session. Come back to the Twitters, Jason!
Florida Times-Union — The Jacksonville daily did not replace Tia Mitchell going into Session, leaving one of the state’s most essential communities (represented by a powerful delegation) with wire coverage the past two months.
Sunshine State News — Allison Nielsen leaving for a job in D.C. left the conservative site without a day-to-day reporter, rendering the site all but irrelevant during one of the most critical times of the year. Nancy Smith needs to reload quickly.
Adam Smith – What is a column from me about the media without a dig at the political editor at the Tampa Bay Times. He does realize that the Legislature is about politics and, therefore, he should be writing about what happens in Tallahassee? Yet he can barely get his Winner/Loser of the Week column straight (only a week ago he mixed up whether or not Paul Renner was backing a tax break). Why the Times has not made a change at this position is beyond me.
Just as it always does in recent years, a legislative effort to revisit the state’s gambling laws tanked in the last week of this year’s Legislative Session.
Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran released a joint statement Friday night: “Despite the good faith efforts of both the House and Senate, a gaming bill will not pass the Legislature this session,” they said.
“The amendment could have a big effect,” Senate-President-designate BillGalvano told reporters late Friday, mentioning the initiative was polling in the low 70 percent-range. It needs 60 percent approval to be added to the state constitution.
Failing again was an attempt to get a proposed new “Compact” – the gambling agreement between the state and the Seminole Tribe.
Then again, Florida has a history of failure when it comes to addressing gambling. The state’s inaction even caused the Las Vegas Sands Corp. to give up its efforts to build a destination casino resort in Florida.
The inertia is largely because of the fractured vote when it comes to gambling issues, split among anti-gambling-expansion lawmakers, those with a Seminole casino in their district, and those with other pari-mutuel interests among their constituency (i.e., dog or horse tracks).
The Sands, for example, had wanted to get into the Florida market with an “integrated resort.” That meant luxury rooms, convention space, high-end retail and celebrity-chef restaurants, along with Las Vegas-style gambling action.
In 2016, Nick Iarossi, the Sands’ Florida lobbyist, said he “understand(s) their perspective … We’ve been pushing this for six years with no success.”
Four years before that, former state Sen. Ellyn Setnor Bogdanoff pushed a measure to permit three destination hotel-casinos in South Florida. That effort died.
“Nobody wants to address a comprehensive approach to gambling in this state,” she said then. “It’s taboo but it still needs to be fixed.”
The next year, realizing they had likely bungled it, lawmakers hastily moved to ban Internet gambling cafés – only after a multistate investigation that netted dozens of arrests threw egg on the Legislature’s collective face.
Two years later, House Republican Leader Dana Young of Tampa sponsored her own sweeping legislation to permit two destination resort casinos in South Florida and allow dog tracks to stop live racing but continue to offer slot machines, among many other provisions.
It, too, died during the Legislative Session.
Last year, Rep. JoseFelixDiaz, then the House’s point man on gambling, said an impossibility of compromise over slot machines killed a gambling bill.
“We were too far apart and the Senate wanted to bring it in for a landing during budget conference, and we were not going to be able to do that,” he said. “The timing was off.”
Slot machines killed the 2018 attempt as well. A conference committee melting down over an impasse related to expanding slots to eight counties that approved them in local referendums: Brevard, Duval, Gadsden, Hamilton, Lee, Palm Beach, St. Lucie and Washington.
The House’s final proposal — five new “limited gaming” licenses for either 500 slot machines or the ability to offer a certain type of card game, but not both — was deemed “too cute” by Negron, according to one person in the industry.
“He was willing to extend gaming conference over the weekend, but the last House offer killed it. So we’re done,” that person said privately.
Negron, a Stuart Republican who leaves the presidency after this year, had long pushed to expand slots to referendum counties, including St. Lucie, which he represents.
And the House was intransigent on designated player games, a hybrid of poker and blackjack that’s proved lucrative to pari-mutuel cardrooms, being banned everywhere else besides those areas.
But, as another gaming lobbyist said late Friday, “The status quo isn’t all that bad.”
The 2018 Legislative Session came and went, and Brian Pitts of the advocacy group Justice 2 Jesus was nowhere to be found.
One of the last times he was spotted was November at the Oversight, Transparency & Administration Subcommittee. It was the last meeting for former state Rep. Neil Combee and after he said farewell, Pitts came to the podium to scrutinize the Venezuela divestment bill.
“This really makes my day because this is my last committee,” Combee told Pitts. “I would have been heartbroken if Brian Pitts did not want to talk about a bill before the committee.”
“I love you too,” Pitts told Combee before hammering on the proposal.
Since that meeting though, the 46-year-old gadfly, who has long been a staple of the legislative process has been absent.
His last Twitter rant, in its usual all-caps matter, was sent out Jan. 2, a week before Session started.
He was disheartened, to say the least, and tweeted: “UNLESS MIRACLES OCCUR, THERES SIMPLY NO, OR VERY LITTLE, GOOD NEWS TO REPORT ON PRESENT FL LEG DEALINGS, THAT ITS NOT EVEN WORTH REPORTING IT.”
And as reporters and lobbyists inquired about the disappearance act, he favorited tweets of those who speculated that he might be out because of a “long flu” or “influenza.” Pitts, however, never confirmed why he’s been out.
After multiple attempts by Florida Politics to reach him, calls went unanswered and straight to voicemail.
“Our Lord is here, Jesus Christ … good day and God bless,” he says before the beep.
Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Ana Ceballos, Jim Rosica, Danny McAuliffe, Andrew Wilson and Peter Schorsch.
But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:
Stoneman Douglas Act signed — Gov. Rick Scott signed the “Marjory Stoneman Douglas Act” Friday while parents who lost their children in the school shooting stood by him. The $400 million proposal creates unprecedented gun-control measures in the state, gives more funding to schools for security and mental health services and allows school staff to participate in a program that trains them to shoot active shooters. The bill defies the National Rifle Association, which is opposed to banning the sale of bump stocks, raising the legal age to buy assault weapons from 18 to 21 and a three-day waiting period for all firearms. The legislation does not include a ban on assault weapons despite outcry from Parkland shooting survivors.
Leaders close out budget — Legislative leaders reached a deal on a roughly $89 billion state budget early Thursday morning, setting in motion the 72-hour “cooling-off” period before lawmakers can vote on it. The spending plan for the 2018-19 fiscal year has nearly $90 million in last-minute funding including hurricane-related items that are contingent on federal reimbursements. The budget also has $67 million for arming school staff, $8 million in pay raises for juvenile detention and probation officers and a 36 percent pay increase for Florida Supreme Court justices who will now make more than $220,000 annually. Nursing homes will also get a $130 million bump in Medicaid payments.
Gambling conference surprise — Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran released a joint statement Friday night: “Despite the good faith efforts of both the House and Senate, a gaming bill will not pass the Legislature this session.” At last look, the House had offered five ‘limited gaming’ licenses in response to the Senate position for six new slots licenses in the state for counties that had OK’d slots expansion in local referendums. “Limited gaming” had meant slots or designated player games — a poker-blackjack hybrid — but not both. Another proviso from the House: Any new slots facility would have to be at least 100 miles away from the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa, and at least 25 miles away from any other Seminole casino, including the one in Hollywood. It’s not clear when lawmakers will get another shot.
Member projects janked for votes — Before the gun and school safety bill passed the House, rank-and-file members who strongly opposed the measure had project funding for their districts removed from the budget. A POLITICO Florida analysis found that at least $10 million in House member projects the House and Senate had agreed to were pulled. As legislative leaders wrapped up the 2018 session, the budget came in late, and according to the analysis it was “increasingly clear that the budget [was] used to whip members on the gun bill.”
Child marriage ban pushed through — Gov. Scott’s office said the governor intends to sign a measure that would ban all marriages under the age of 17. The “child marriage bill” was among the most-debated issues in the 2018 legislative session. Republican state Rep. George Moraitis was one of the toughest critics of the bill, saying that some minors should be allowed to marry with parental consent. He was the lone ‘no’ vote against SB 140. The bill would give Florida the strictest marriage law in the country in terms of age limits.
Scott talks school security with police chiefs
Gov. Scott headed to Orange Park this week to talk about his school security plans with police chiefs from South and Northeast Florida.
Scott’s proposals following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas massacre last month include raising the minimum age to buy a gun in Florida to 21, increasing funding for school security and mental health, and giving law enforcement the ability to temporarily confiscate guns from people deemed a threat to themselves or others.
Scott said after the meeting that it was one of the things he didn’t propose — arming school employees — that ended up dominating the discussion.
Lawmakers added to the school safety plan a provision that would allow school employees who are not solely classroom teachers, such as coaches or support staff, to carry concealed weapons on campus after completing a training program.
Scott cheers bill blocking Venezuela investment
The Legislature got some praise from Gov. Scott this week for passing a bill that would bar the state from investing in any company that is doing business with the Venezuelan government.
Scott said the move would hold the Nicolas Maduro regime accountable and the bill was one of his announced priorities ahead of the 2018 Legislative Session.
“With the passage of this landmark legislation, Florida continues its commitment to the people of Venezuela who are fighting for freedom and democracy. This legislation will prohibit all state agencies from investing in the Venezuelan government and puts even more financial pressure on the Maduro regime by stopping any future state investment with them,” Scott said.
“I want to thank Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, as well as sponsors Senator Rene Garcia and Speaker Pro Tempore Jeanette Nunez, for their great work on this important bill.”
HB 359 cleared both the House and Senate with a unanimous vote.
Putnam names 2017 Forestry Firefighter of the Year
During a Wednesday Cabinet meeting, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and the Florida Forest Service presented Senior Forest Ranger John DeWolfe with the Forestry Firefighter of the Year award.
“Our wildland firefighters risk their lives daily to protect Florida’s wildlife and residents from wildfire, and last year they courageously battled one of the most severe wildfire seasons in recent history,” Putnam said. “I congratulate John on being named the 2017 Forestry Firefighter of the Year and thank him for his selfless service.”
DeWolfe has been on the job for 20 years and has worked nearly every job in the field, from training to emergency response to land management. He also mentors the next generation of wildland firefighters.
“John is a crucial asset to our agency as a wildland firefighter, instructor and leader. He repeatedly demonstrates his commitment to his job and the safety of Floridians,” said Florida State Forester Jim Karels.
Florida Commission on Human Relations — Maryam Laguna Borrego will succeed Clyde Daniel on the commission. The 30-year-old is the assistant vice president of public affairs at the University of Miami, Coral Gables.
Borrego received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Florida. Her term ends Sept. 30, 2021.
Samantha Hoare is the executive director of Teach for America, Miami-Dade. She received her bachelor’s degree from Duke University and her MBA from Florida International University.
Hoare, 36, will succeed Sandra Turner for a term ending Sept. 30, 2021.
Both appointments are subject to Senate confirmation.
St. Lucie County Board of County Commissioners — Anthony Bonna is a 30-year-old director of advertising and digital strategy for The Stoneridge Group LLC. He is also the founder of The Good Help Group LLC.
Bonna received his bachelor’s degree in finance from Georgetown University. He is appointed to a term ending Nov. 13, 2018.
Board of Employee Leasing Companies — Ron Hodge is the president and chief executive officer of Cornerstone Capital Group.
The 62-year-old fills a vacant seat on the board and will serve a term ending Oct. 31, 2019. His appointment is subject to confirmation by the Senate.
Southwest Florida CRC stop draws 300
More than 300 Floridians attended a March 5 public hearing held by the Constitution Revision Commission in Cape Coral.
More than 180 individuals filled out speaker cards to comment on proposals being considered by commissioners. All Floridians who attended the public hearing and wanted to speak were given an opportunity to be heard by the CRC.
The meeting was part of the CRC’s “Road to the Ballot” public hearing tour, which has already stopped in Fort Lauderdale, Melbourne, Jacksonville and Pensacola.
PIP repeal crashes
On Wednesday, Gov. Scott killed any hope for the newest attempt to repeal the state’s no-fault auto insurance system.
The PIP repeal bill, SB 150 by Thonotosassa Republican Sen. Tom Lee, had already stalled out at its most recent committee stop in the Senate, with Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier among those speaking out against the measure.
During a Wednesday Cabinet meeting, Scott praised Altmaier for his testimony, telling him he “did a good job on PIP.”
Lee intimated that Scott and CFO Jimmy Patronis weren’t behind his bill when it was in committee last week, pointing to Altmaier’s presence as evidence.
Tampa tweens take home Champion of Service Award
During a Wednesday Cabinet meeting, Gov. Scott and Volunteer Florida presented a Champion of Service Award to 12-year-olds Chase Hartman and Vance Tomasi.
The duo from Tampa founded read. repeat.,” an organization that collects gently used books from companies and individuals and distributes them to those in need. So far, they have collected more than 40,000 books and given more than 13,000 of them to public schools with high poverty rates.
“At such a young age, Chase and Vance have devoted their time to giving back and making a difference in their community. Their incredible work to deliver books to students across the state makes them worthy recipients of the Champion of Service Award today.”
Volunteer Florida CEO Vivian Myrtetus said it was “inspiring to see their commitment and dedication to helping others at only 12 years old.”
Legislature passes generator rule sans funding
A bill that would make Gov. Scott’s executive order requiring assisted living facilities to have power generators cleared the Legislature Friday, but it doesn’t carry an appropriation to help such facilities pay for upgrades.
Scott handed down the rule in the wake of a prolonged power outage at The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills led to more than a dozen heat-related deaths after Hurricane Irma.
The rule would require such facilities to have 96 hours of emergency generator capacity to make it through power outages.
Lawmakers were never planning to cover the whole cost of the measure — experts estimate it will cost $280 million — but there were talks in the Senate of some funds to help smaller facilities make the change without a large capital outlay.
But that plan was not favored by the House, which passed SB 7028 with a 108-1 vote Friday.
Lawmakers back bill to incorporate Hobe Sound
The Legislature passed a bill this week to incorporate Martin County community Hobe Sound as a town.
HB 395 cleared the Senate with a unanimous vote Thursday and is now ready for a signature from Gov. Scott. If approved the residents of Hobe Sound would vote on whether or not to incorporate.
“This legislation includes the opportunity for the citizens of Hobe Sound to vote on whether or not they would like for their town to become incorporated,” said Senate President Negron, a native of Hobe Sound. “The people of this community have waited years for this legislation, and I am pleased to see it earn the favorable support of both the House and Senate, and move to the Governor’s desk for his consideration.”
The U.S. Census includes Hobe Sound in the Port St. Lucie Metropolitan Statistical Area and estimated the community had 11,521 residents in 2010.
Sexual assault victims bring shoes to Capitol
Hundreds of shoes were on display in the Capitol Monday, and each pair carried a message to lawmakers from survivors of sexual assault.
Pairs came in from women, men and children aging in range from 3 to 89. The event was coordinated by Lauren’s Kids and the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence.
The rotunda display was part of the annual “Walk in My Shoes” events hosted around the state by Lauren’s Kids, a charity started by South Florida Sen. Lauren Book.
The first of 15 planned walks all over Florida this month was held in Panama City Friday. A listing of the other walks is available online.
Identity theft bill gets NFIB stamp of approval
The National Federation of Independent Businesses cheered lawmakers for passing a bill that would alert business owners whenever their corporate filing information is changed and allow them to fix incorrect changes free of charge.
“NFIB applauds the passage of HB 661, which will protect small-business owners from becoming the victims of fraud,” said NFIB Florida director Bill Herrle.
“This bill requires the Division of Corporations to notify business owners when changes have been made to their corporate filings without their knowledge or approval. This will provide significant protections for small-business owners against fraudulent activities and will go a long way toward thwarting the rising problem of business identify theft.”
HB 661, sponsored by Orlando Republican Rep. Mike Miller, cleared the House with a unanimous vote and was approved by the Senate Tuesday.
Bill amendment sparks giggles
One of the more entertaining amendments of the 2018 Legislative Session was introduced last week, courtesy of St. Petersburg Sen. Jeff Brandes.
The one-line amendment to SB 1042 reads: “Where are you? Name everyone you know in the room with you.”
No, the bill is not about narcs, confidential informants or anything of the like. And no, even though this amendment came from Brandes, an unabashed technophile, it has nothing to do with his proposed regulations keeping Alexa or Siri from being creepy.
The amendment — which was approved — belongs to SB 1042, Brandes’ bill regulating online notaries public. It’s one of seven essential questions a notary would have to ask a customer when witnessing an electronic signature.
A couple of the others, which would be equally appropriate to ask before someone gets a tattoo or a marriage license: Are you of sound mind? Are you under the influence of any drugs or alcohol that impairs your ability to make decisions?
Registration open for 2018 Insurance Summit
Registration is now open for the 2018 Florida Chamber Insurance, set for Nov. 27 through Nov. 29 at the JW Marriott in Miami.
A ticket to attend the summit costs $325 for members of the Florida Chamber, while non-members can pick one up for $375.
The annual event features speakers from top companies in the insurance industry as well as question and answer panels on the most pressing insurance issues faced by the Sunshine State.
The Florida Chamber also said sponsorship opportunities for the 2018 summit are still available.
The Florida Legislature’s last best chance to pass comprehensive legislation on gambling came up a bad beat on Friday, with a conference committee calling it quits.
Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran released a joint statement Friday night.
“Despite the good faith efforts of both the House and Senate, a gaming bill will not pass the Legislature this session,” they said.
That means the status quo abides, and no renewed deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida that would have guaranteed $3 billion into state coffers over seven years. Tribe spokesman GaryBitner declined comment.
It’s not clear when lawmakers will get another shot: A proposed “voter control of gambling” constitutional amendment will be on November’s ballot. If that’s approved by 60 percent, it would give statewide voters sole power to approve future expansions of gambling in Florida.
“We appreciate the tireless efforts of Chair (Travis) Hutson and Chair (Mike) LaRosa, as well as the many members of the House and Senate, and the professional staff, who worked diligently during these final days and hours of session,” the two legislative leaders said.
Sen. Hutson, a St. Augustine Republican, and Rep. La Rosa, a St. Cloud Republican, led their respective Senate and House contingents in the Conference Committee on Gaming.
“Gaming remains one of the most difficult issues we face as a Legislature,” Negron and Corcoran said. “We are pleased with the progress made over the last week and know that our colleagues will continue to work on this important issue.”
The House had made the last offer: Five new “limited gaming” licenses for either 500 slot machines or the ability to offer a certain type of card game—but not both.
Those licenses would be for any of the eight counties that approved slot machines through a local referendum: Brevard, Duval, Gadsden, Hamilton, Lee, Palm Beach, St. Lucie and Washington.
“We were going to get creative, think outside the box,” La Rosa told reporters earlier Friday, explaining the offer.
It was too creative, however, for Negron. He’s long pushed to expand slots to referendum counties, including St. Lucie, which he represents.
As a gaming industry source privately explained: “The House offer was too cute. Joe (Negron) wasn’t having it. He was willing to extend gaming conference over the weekend, but the last House offer killed it. So we’re done.”
Negron put it a little differently late Friday as regards the slots referendum counties.
“When we got to the details of what would be required to take advantage of those slots, it was just a bridge too far,” he said. “I think we just ran out of time … The positions ultimately weren’t reconcilable.”
The House also was intransigent on designated player games, a hybrid of poker and blackjack that’s proved lucrative to pari-mutuel cardrooms, being banned everywhere else.
Saved by the collapse of talks are pre-reveal machines, video games that look and play like slot machines that the House sought to explicitly outlaw.
Supporters say they’re for entertainment only, though they do pay out winning plays. Opponents, including the Tribe, say they’re illegal and violate its exclusive rights to offer slots outside South Florida.
A Tallahassee judge’s ruling that they constitute illegal gambling is on appeal.
TheTribe pays between $200 million and $300 million a year into state coffers as part of a deal that guarantees it exclusivity to offer certain games, particularly blackjack.
Though the Tribe and the state settled a lawsuit over blackjack, allowing them to offer the game till 2030, the Tribe’s ongoing payments to the state are contingent on state gambling regulators promising “aggressive enforcement” against games that threaten their exclusivity.
That has included pre-reveal, some kinds of designated player games, and even fantasy sports.
The sides are now in a “forbearance period” that ends March 31. But most gambling industry insiders don’t believe the Tribe would ever stop paying.
“That would just give the Legislature the excuse they need to finally do a deal with the pari-mutuels that would pass,” said one person, who asked not to be named.
Lawmakers got praise from the Florida Health Care Association Thursday for upping funds to nursing homes in the 2018-19 state budget.
“FHCA applauds the Legislature for making the quality care of our frailest elders a priority. We want to especially thank Senate President Joe Negron, who has long been a champion for nursing home residents. Under his leadership, this year’s budget includes almost $130 million in increased Medicaid funding for nursing homes,” said FHCA Executive Director Emmett Reed.
“With those added dollars, facilities will have more resources to retain and recruit higher-quality staff to be directly involved in the care of residents. The funding increase will also support facilities as they continue making measurable improvements to residents’ health and well-being.”
Reed also approved of lawmakers adding in $10 million to help support nursing centers as they transition to the Prospective Payment System in October, and cheered an increase in nursing home residents’ allowances.
“The additional $25 per month this increase provides will allow greater choices for residents who rely on Medicaid as their long term care safety net, helping them to pay for personal items that improve their quality of life – things like beauty services, clothing, and other personal items,” Reed said.
In addition to Negron, the FHCA chief lauded Senate budget chief Rob Bradley and House Speaker Richard Corcoran.
Reed said lawmakers who backed the increased funding “will be remembered for their effective, meaningful, and thoughtful actions for the state’s long-term care residents.”
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.
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.
Lawmakers continued to negotiate the terms of opioid legislation Wednesday, with the Senate standing firm in its position that insurance companies should not put obstacles in the way of medication-assisted therapy.
The Senate passed a House opioids bill (HB 21) but tagged on an amendment that includes appropriating $54.5 million for such things as outpatient and residential treatment. It also would ban insurers and HMOs from using prior authorization or “step therapy” or making other requirements as a prerequisite to the use of medication-assisted therapy in treating substance abuse.
Senate President JoeNegron, a Stuart Republican, said Wednesday night that the bill tackles the state’s growing opioid problem like the public health crisis that it is.
“For men and women who come forward and have an addiction who want help, they want to turn their lives around, they want to go back to work and be with their families … that should be treated as a public health issue, and I think this bill goes a long way toward that,” Negron said.
The original House bill did not have the medication-assisted treatment language, and it remains an issue the two chambers must hammer out before the 2018 Legislative Session ends in the coming days.
The centerpiece of the bill, however, may be a three-day limit on prescriptions for treatment of acute pain. Physicians could prescribe up to seven-day supplies of controlled substances if deemed medically necessary.
The Senate agreed with the House to exempt from the prescription limits cancer patients, people who are terminally ill, palliative care patients and those who suffer from major trauma. The bill also would require physicians or their staff members to check with a statewide database before prescribing or dispensing drugs.
As amended, the bill would earmark $991,000 for improvements to the database, known as the prescription drug monitoring program, so that it can interface with physicians’ offices and electronic health records used by doctors.
The bill, proponents of opioid limits say, will go a long way toward helping the state curb the use of opioids, which are narcotic painkillers that have caused widespread overdoses.
In 2016, heroin caused 952 deaths in Florida, fentanyl caused 1,390 deaths, oxycodone caused 723 deaths, and hydrocodone caused 245 deaths. Those statistics led Gov. RickScott in May 2017 to declare a state of emergency.
The $54.5 million in funding is a slight increase from an original Senate proposal of $53 million. Negron said the chambers haven’t finalized the opioid funding and that the amount of money could still increase. That would be good, said Florida Attorney General PamBondi.
“My thoughts are $53 million is a great start for this year, but we need much more to combat that crisis overall,” she said.
The Florida Senate took the better part of eight hours during a rare Saturday session to work through 128 amendments — only one of which passed the floor — on a single bill.
And even with the amendment’s approval, partisan spirits haven’t changed on the proposal designed to address issues unearthed in the wake of the recent school shooting in Broward County.
Dubbed the “Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act,” or SB 7026, the sweeping proposal provides for stricter gun control laws, including a three-day waiting period to buy any firearm, and a new age limit — 21 (up from 18) — for firearms purchases, along with an all-out ban on bump stocks.
It also creates a commission to make recommendations on school safety and invests millions in mental-health and school safety initiatives, which include a program that would train and arm teachers on a voluntary basis.
Of course, not everyone is happy.
Democrats, along with Parkland survivors and victims’ families have criticized the proposal for its lack of an assault-weapons ban. The charged Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter, NikolasCruz, was equipped with an assault rifle when he killed 17 people at the school on Feb. 14. Gov. RickScott also has come out strongly against the idea of arming teachers.
These points of criticism set the stage for the Senate’s eight-hour floor session on Saturday. Members of both parties filed hundreds of amendments, withdrawing some and heavily debating others. Arguments over an outright ban on assault weapons took an entire hour in the chamber. Other Democratic-backed amendments lent to lengthy discussions, but the Senate refrained from adopting anything that would fundamentally change the legislation.
At one point, Democrats experienced something particularly Sisyphean. Senate President JoeNegron had approved through a voice vote the adoption of an amendment providing a two-year moratorium on assault weapons sales. After a few minutes, a motion to reconsider brought the language to a failing board vote.
Pro-gun Republicans filed their fair share of amendments, too.
Sen. DavidSimmons of Altamonte Springs argued for an amendment that would’ve changed the firearms age requirement to only apply to assault weapons sales. In other words, the age limit for purchasing rifles would remain at its current level, 18.
“It’s a rational solution to a significant problem,” Simmons said. He said he feared that raising the age limit on gun purchases could bring constitutional challenges in court.
Galvano, who sponsored the strike-all amendment approved by the chamber on Saturday, often had to explain to members that law enforcement would iron out the details of the plan to arm teachers. At one point it was asked whether teachers would be able to carry assault rifles and display them in classrooms, to which Galvano said would be up to the sheriff’s design of the plan.
“The sheriffs will describe the protocols,” Galvano said. Referencing the possibility of teachers having assault rifles, he added: “That’s, in my opinion, a far-fetched hypothetical.” He said someone from the Office of School Safety likely would not approve such a policy, as they can exert judgment on program designs.