Joe Negron Archives - Page 6 of 30 - Florida Politics

Carlos Guillermo Smith’s ‘Restore Our Bright Futures’ act aims to help more students go to college

Carlos Guillermo Smith, a UCF graduate himself, wants you to have more access to higher education – that’s why his new bill, HB 489, introduces sweeping expansions to the Bright Futures scholarship.

The bill, called the “Restore Our Bright Futures” act, will return the scholarship to the levels of the 2010-11 school year and make it easier for people to enroll in the program and go to college.

It comes after years of raising standards for the test scores required to get into the program, as well as raising the number of volunteer hours one needs to work.

In the 2010-2011 school year, the requirement was a 1270 SAT score or 28 ACT score for the Florida Academic Scholars award, the highest offered by Bright Futures.

Since then, the minimum scores required have gradually gone up – last year, one needed a 1290 on the SAT or a 29 on the ACT to get that award.

Smith said the practice of raising the scores needed for the scholarships had disproportionately affected and shut out minority students from reaping the benefits of higher education, because minority students were more often living in poverty and may not have access to the resources needed to score higher on tests.

“Starting in 2010, Republicans leaders hiked standards which slashed the number of Bright Futures recipients in half and shut out a disproportionate number of black and Latino students from the program,” Smith said. “We have seen enough cuts to higher education in this legislature. The time in now to reinvest and expand the Bright Futures scholarship to make good on Florida’s commitment to affordable college for everyone.”

Smith’s bill would lower the numbers for the 2018-19 school year to a 1275 on the SAT or a 27 on the ACT to get the Florida Academic Scholars award. Then, in the 2019-20 school year, the requirement would further go down to a 1270 needed on the SAT and a 26 on the ACT. That would make the standard actually lower than that of 2010-11.

Scores needed for the Florida Medallion Scholars award would also similarly be lowered.

The bill will also expand Bright Futures to include summer courses, offer $200 to $300 for textbooks and reinstate the 100 percent and 75 percent tuition reimbursements, which were previously phased out by Republican leaders.

Smith’s bill comes on the heels of other legislation to expand Bright Futures and increase access to education by Senators Joe Negron and Bill Galvano, both Republicans.

“The bipartisan work already happening in the Florida Senate to improve the Bright Futures scholarship should be applauded,” Smith said. “I urge my House colleagues to join me in working together to strengthen and expand Bright Futures, which has become out-of-reach for too many– especially for black, Latino and low income students.”

There will be companion legislation introduced in the Senate this week by Victor Torres, the press release states.

drone

Jeff Brandes bill would legalize delivery drones

A bill filed Tuesday would allow delivery drones to operate in Florida.

The legislation (SB 460), however, focuses on ground drones, or “personal delivery devices.”

Such a unit is defined as a “motorized device for use primarily on sidewalks and crosswalks at a maximum speed of 10 miles per hour, which weighs 50 pounds or less excluding cargo.”

Ground drones
Photo credit: Starship Technologies

London-based Starship Technologies makes a six-wheeled model that is beginning to make deliveries in California and Washington, D.C.

“With this legislation, Florida continues to lead in transportation policy,” said state Sen. Jeff Brandes, the St. Petersburg Republican who filed it.

He long has embraced “disruptive technologies,” such as ridebooking apps, for example.

“This technology could revolutionize home delivery and will usher in new business models,” Brandes said. “This type of innovative technology should be embraced by policymakers, and I am excited to focus Florida on the future.”

His bill also requires drone operators to carry insurance coverage, among other things, and prohibits drones on the state’s shared-use nonmotorized trail network, or SUNtrails.

Some of Brandes’ fellow lawmakers have not always been as receptive to drones.

In 2013, the Legislature limited Florida law enforcement’s use of flying drones, or remotely-controlled aircraft, in the “Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act.”

That measure was backed by Joe Negron, the Stuart Republican who is now the Senate President.

Group of north Florida pols takes on Joe Negron over Lake Okeechobee plan

Is North Florida losing the water wars again? “Stand Up for North Florida” says yes, and Monday they called a presser in Tallahassee to discuss it.

Their grievance is with Senate Majority Leader Joe Negron and his “plan to buy more than 60,000 acres of farmland in south Florida to build a another reservoir for water filtration.”

That plan: a proposed 50/50 match between Tallahassee and Washington, with the goal of buying the land south of the lake and then building a reservoir, to mitigate against issues like the algae blooms so prominent in last year’s political narrative.

While those blooms are a consideration, so is equity in resource allocation, “Stand Up for North Florida” asserts.

Water is one of our most precious resources, and it is vital that North and Central Florida are treated equitably when it comes to state dollars spent to protect our water,” said former Rep. Steve Southerland, who chairs the coalition.

Certainly there are very real issues regarding Lake Okeechobee that need to be addressed, but we plan to work hard to make sure that taxpayer money is not spent on a plan that is scientifically questionable and that unfairly benefits South Florida over the rest of the state,” Southerland added.

An issue the group has: despite North Florida containing 70 percent of the state’s river watersheds and what it calls the “vast majority” of the state’s springs, last year 94 percent of all Amendment 1 plans went to South Florida.\

Agitations against this proposal were made in 2016, and clearly are being made again, including from Negron’s own district.

Any spending decision we make must be wise and with the taxpayers’ interests fully in mind,” said Rep. Jay Fant, a Jacksonville Republican who comprises the eastern flank of this coalition.

Florida is facing a tight budget over the next two to three years, and it is important that we not unfairly penalize one part of the state over another,” Fant added.

And Rep. Brad Drake embodies the western flank of the coalition.

Those of us from the Panhandle and all across North Florida are united in our belief that making sure water resources in our part of the state is not just good for us, but for the entire state.  We look forward to working together to make sure Amendment 1 resources are spent in a way that protects all of us, not just South Florida,” Drake noted.

Floridians head to D.C. for Donald Trump inauguration

A hush has fallen on the state capital.

Sure, there’s plenty of work to do before the start of the 2017 Legislative Session. But some Florida politicos are using this week to flee Florida and head to Washington, D.C., for President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration.

Gov. Rick Scott will be there. An ardent supporter of the New York Republican, Scott was the chairman of the super PAC that backed Trump’s presidential bid. He was expected to head to D.C. on Tuesday, one day before the Florida Sunshine Ball, hosted by Scott and his wife, First Lady Ann Scott.

But don’t think the Naples Republican (and possible 2018 U.S. Senate hopeful) spent the day in his tuxedo and dancing shoes. According to his official schedule, Scott was scheduled to meet with General John Kelly, the incoming Secretary of Homeland Security; Republican Reps. Francis Rooney and Neal Dunn; and Mauricio Claver-Carone, a Trump transition official.

Susie Wiles, the Jacksonville political guru who helped lead Trump’s Florida campaign, traveled to D.C. on Wednesday. She’ll be on hand for all of the festivities; as will uber lobbyist Brian Ballard, the chairman of Trump’s Florida finance committee.

And it should come as no surprise that state Rep. Joe Gruters and his wife, Sydney, will be in town for the event. Gruters was one of the first big name Floridians to back Trump, and never wavered in his support throughout the campaign. The couple plans to head up to D.C. on Thursday, and plan to attend the swearing in and go to the Liberty Ball.

Christian Ziegler, a Sarasota County GOP state committeeman, also has a full dance card. He planned to attend several events hosted by the governor, as well as an event hosted by Rep. Vern Buchanan.

“With Florida being Trump’s second home, Washington, D.C., feels like it’s been invaded by the Great State of Florida,” he said in an email. “Incredibly excited to experience this event as one of just 304 Electors to have cast the votes necessary for him to become our next President.”

Former House Speaker Steve Crisafulli — joined by fundraisers Trey McCarley and Kris Money —will be there too. Crisafulli was another top Trump supporter, and played a key role in getting him to the Space Coast for rallies throughout the campaign. His name was floated as one of several Floridians who could land a gig within the Trump administration.

He won’t be the only Florida Speaker in attendance. House Speaker Richard Corcoran is will be there, even though he was a slow to warm to Trump. (He backed former Gov. Jeb Bush, then Sen. Marco Rubio, and then Sen. Ted Cruz before somewhat reluctantly backing Trump.) And look for Senate President Joe Negron, who as Republican elector helped Trump officially clinch the presidency, in the crowd.

Reps. Jose Felix Diaz and Carlos Trujillo are expected to be in town; the Miami Herald reported they’re sharing a two-bedroom apartment they snagged on Airbnb. The paper also reported Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez is making the trek north.

You’ll likely see Nick Iarossi and Scott Ross, along with their wives Debbie and Ashley, dancing the night away at one of the parties this week. Both supported Sen. Marco Rubio, but eventually joined Team Trump.

Jim Smith and Monte Stevens, both with Southern Strategy Group, are in D.C. for the inauguration. They’re in town with Ambrosia Treatment Centers, which provides care to people suffering from substance abuse, in hopes of raising awareness about the need to make top-notch care available to as many people who need it as possible.

Their trip isn’t just about business, though. Stevens is planning to tweet about all the action from the firm’s Twitter account, @SoStrategyFlorida.

Hayden Dempsey and Fred Karlinsky with Greenberg Traurig both have jam-packed schedules. Their calendar of events includes the Florida Sunshine Ball; the Republican National Lawyers Association Luncheon, which features a keynote address by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani; and an inaugural reception hosted by the Greenberg Traurig Washington, D.C. office for clients and friends.

Meredith O’Rourke, one of the state’s go-to Republican fundraisers, plans to spend the week in D.C. with “fellow Republicans and strong supporters of our clients, while looking forward to a new day for our country.”

You might spot David and Melissa Ramba, Michael Fischer, Andy Gonzalez, Evan Power (and his wife), Bill Helmich, and Todd Lewis, Nick DiCeglie, Jay Beyrouti, Justin Bean, Bob Fisher, Travis Horn and Matt Lettelleir as you flip through the channels for inauguration coverage.

Robert Hawken is turning the trip into a learning experience for his daughters. They’re planning to take an overnight train from Jacksonville to D.C. for the inauguration. Once there, they planned to attend the Florida ball and check out the parade.

Lake County Property Appraiser (and former state representative and state senator) Carey Baker be in the nation’s capital; so will Richard DeNapoli, the former chairman of the Broward Republican Party.

Even Rep. Charlie Crist, the state’s former Republican governor, will be on hand. The St. Petersburg Democrat said he was looking forward to attending the event.

“I didn’t support Mr. Trump, but I respect the fact that he’s been elected the president of the U.S.” said Crist last week.

He won’t be the only Florida Democrat in the bunch: Democrats Val Demings, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Al Lawson, Stephanie Murphy, Bill Nelson, Debbie Wasserman Schultz are also planning to attend the inauguration.

Bill Galvano files two key elements of Florida Excellence in Higher Education Act

State Sen. Bill Galvano filed two essential bills in the Senate’s Excellence in Higher Education Agenda, which seeks to improve Florida colleges and universities while keeping schools accountable to taxpayers.

The Bradenton Republican, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education, filed Senate Bills 2 and 4 Wednesday for the 2017 Legislative Session, which begins March 7.

Known collectively as the “Florida Excellence in Higher Education Act,” SB 2 promotes on-time graduation by expanding financial assistance and support for students, streamlining the “2+2 program” of articulation, student retention and on-time graduation in four years with a baccalaureate degree.

SB 4 also looks to expands policy and funding tools, which will help universities recruit and retain the best faculty, as well as boost professional and graduate schools. Part of the bill will be used to improve aging infrastructure and research laboratories.

“This package of policy enhancements and funding investments will elevate the prominence of our state universities and increase their ability to compete as national destination institutions while preserving access and increasing affordability for Floridians,” Galvano said of the act.

“These bills are key components of a comprehensive higher education agenda that will boost the strength and competitiveness of our state’s higher education system as our primary economic engine to drive vibrant, sustainable economic development and growth in high-paying jobs,” Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican, said in a statement.

“Florida taxpayers see a return worthy of their investment in our entire PreK-20 system,” Negron added, “when our top Florida students attend our own universities, complete degree programs on time, and then graduate with job opportunities in high-demand fields needed in our growing communities.”

Included among the initiatives in SB 2 is a reinstatement of the highest tier of Bright Futures Scholarship Program Award (Florida Academic Scholar), covering 100 percent of tuition and certain tuition-indexed fees, including the summer term, plus $300 for textbooks and college-related expenses during the fall and spring terms.

The bill expands the Benacquisto Scholar Program to provide awards for qualified out-of-state students, with funds allotted under the General Appropriations Act (GAA) In an amount equal to the highest cost of resident student attendance at a state university. The student must physically reside in the community of the school he or she is attending. Also, SB 2 revises the First-Generation Matching Grant Program to increase funds to two-to-one (state to local match versus one to one).

 

Senate readies this year’s gambling bill

A Senate spokeswoman on Tuesday said the chamber’s legislative package on gambling should be ready for hearing later this month.

A meeting of the Regulated Industries Committee, which oversees gambling policy, had been set for this Thursday but was cancelled.

“Based on conservations with Sen. (Bill) Galvano, President (Joe) Negron anticipates having a bill ready to be heard during the second committee week in January,” Katie Betta said in an email.

“Based on that timetable, President Negron felt that it would be more productive to cancel the workshop scheduled for this week and instead schedule a hearing when the bill is available later this month.”

The Miami Herald reported late Monday that lawmakers were close to a deal to get approval of a new agreement between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida granting them continued exclusivity to offer blackjack and “banked card games.”

That deal would “allow owners of declining pari-mutuels to sell their permits to others who want to install slot machines at newer facilities outside of South Florida,” the paper reported.

Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, has been hammering out a deal with state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, the Miami-Dade Republican who’s the House’s point man on gambling.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran has said “we’re a very conservative chamber, and if something is going to pass … it’s going to have to be a reduction in gambling.”

The deal satisfies that condition, the Herald reported, because it “lead(s) to a net reduction of live, active (dog and horse track) permits throughout the state.”

Don’t take that bet, said Paul Seago, executive director of No Casinos.

“Slots outside of Miami-Dade and Broward counties should be a non-starter,” he said. “It violates the constitution and the promise made to Florida voters when they very narrowly approved the amendment to allow them there in 2004.

“We will strongly oppose any new compact agreement that allows for slot machines at pari-mutuels outside of Miami-Dade and Broward counties.”

Fantasy sports bill filed again in Legislature

A bill to exempt fantasy sports play from state gambling regulation has again been filed in the Florida Legislature.

State Rep. Jason Brodeur, a Sanford Republican, filed a measure (HB 149) on Wednesday.

The bill would clarify that fantasy contests “reflect the relative knowledge and skill of the participants” and are not games of chance – and thus potentially illegal gambling.

The legislation specifically includes games based on “athletes in the case of sports events.” It doesn’t yet have a Senate companion.

It would exempt “fantasy contests” from regulation by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which oversees gambling in the state.

Last year, state Sen. Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican, and state Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican, unsuccessfully tried to move similar bills. Negron is now Senate President and Gaetz was elected to Congress.

The efforts, however, got caught up in a late session meltdown over a renewed blackjack agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida and connected bills that would have expanded gambling in the state.

Negron’s measure would have declared fantasy sports play, such as on websites like FanDuel and DraftKings, “games of skill” and not gambling. He also would have established a state “Office of Amusement” to keep tabs on such operators.

Gaetz’s bill similarly would have regulated fantasy sports by putting registration requirements, among other provisions, on fantasy operators who have customers here.

The fact that their attempts didn’t move motivated Brodeur to file his own bill this year, he said in a phone interview.

“The question was never answered,” he said. “The millions of Floridians who play fantasy games deserve to know that what they’re doing is not a crime.”

Brodeur added he’s dabbled in pro football fantasy leagues over the last couple of years but “not enough that I would call myself skillful at it.”

Marc La Vorgna, spokesman for DraftKings and FanDuel, said the companies “look forward to working with Rep. Brodeur during the upcoming legislative session and, on behalf of the 3 million Floridians who love fantasy sports and want to keep their favorite pastime legal, we thank him for his support of fantasy sports.”

Rob Bradley seeks Amendment 1 money for St. Johns River

On Tuesday, Sen. Rob Bradley introduced Senate Bill 234, which is intended to change the appropriations formula of 2014’s Water and Land Constitutional Amendment.

Specifically, Bradley wants to ensure that the St. Johns River Water Management District gets its share. And as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources, the Clay County Republican is well-positioned to get this bill through.

The bill would annually earmark $35 million, minus money for debt service, for projects related to the St. Johns, its tributaries, and the Keystone Lake region.

Included among those projects: land management and acquisition, and recreational opportunity and public access improvements.

For Bradley, this is personal.

“I grew up on the banks of the St. Johns River and visited the lakes of Keystone Heights as a child, and my family enjoys these incredible gifts from God today,” said Bradley in a press release. “This is very personal for me. These natural resources define the character of the northeast Florida region of our state.”

“As a conservative, I believe in absolute fidelity to the State Constitution,” Bradley continued.“The Constitution requires us to protect these natural resources, as we should, and this bill helps fulfill that constitutional obligation to the people of northeast Florida.”

In a conversation Tuesday afternoon with FloridaPolitics.com, Sen. Bradley noted that, in year 3 after Amendment 1 passed in 2014, he doesn’t think the state has done enough with those dollars, especially relative to water quality and access — and that holds especially true for the St. Johns River and its tributaries.

Bradley noted that his region offered “overwhelming support” for Amendment 1, which he framed as an attempt to address the “bipartisan issue” of water quality.

“We need to be more aggressive implementing Amendment 1,” Bradley said.

His bill offers avenues to do that with regard to the northeastern part of the state, and the language of the bill is “deliberately styled to leave options open” regarding uses of that money, even as ensuring public access to rivers and lakes is a priority of the senator.

Amendment 1 funds could conceivably be used to address issues ranging from algae blooms to  offering financial incentives for septic tank phaseouts and removal in properties abutting the water.

However, Bradley’s primary expectation is that infrastructure such as docks, as well as land improvement and acquisition, will be the major use of the funds.

As well, water restoration in the depleted Keystone Lakes is a focus of the legislation.

Bradley counts Senate President Joe Negron as an ally in this push.

“President Negron and I share a passion for implementing real solutions to the environmental challenges facing our state in the 21st century, from Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades to our springs to the St. Johns River. Not only do we need to insure that our water is clean, but we need to insure the public has reasonable access to these wonderful natural assets for all time,” Bradley noted.

Ballard Partners will continue repping daily fantasy sports sites

Ballard Partners will continue its representation of daily fantasy sports (DFS) companies into 2017, according to lobbying registration records reviewed Monday.

Brian Ballard and the lobbyists who work for him, including former state Rep. Chris Dorworth, have begun registering their representation for the 2017 Legislative Session, some effective as early as this week.

Chief among those interests are DraftKings and FanDuel, the DFS giants who announced their merger in November. It still requires federal approval.

In the online games, players pick teams of real-life athletes and vie for cash and other prizes based on how those athletes do in actual games.  

Florida struggled with fantasy sports last legislative session, ultimately letting die a measure that would have explicitly legalized online fantasy play.

A 2006 federal law banned online gambling but specifically exempted fantasy sports, paving the way for the creation of the niche industry that’s since exploded in popularity.

But several states continue to grapple with whether the games are mere entertainment or illegal sports betting.

1991 opinion by then-Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth says “operation of a fantasy sports league” violates state gambling law. Such opinions don’t have the force of law, but can be used to persuade judges.

In general, gambling promises to be a hot issue again in 2017, especially as lawmakers are expected to try again to pass some version of a new Seminole Compact.

It’s an agreement between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida to extend exclusive rights to offer “banked card games,” mainly blackjack.

A deal worth $3 billion over seven years died in the 2016 Legislative Session.

It contained provisions that would have allowed the tribe to also offer craps and roulette—that is, more games. And lawmakers tacked on bills that would have expanded gambling offerings for the dog and horse tracks in their districts.

A federal judge recently sided with the tribe, saying the Seminoles can keep dealing cards till 2030 – the end of the original agreement.

But as part of the 2016 legislative tangle, state Sen. Joe Negron, the Stuart Republican who is now Senate President, filed a bill that would have legalized and regulated fantasy sports play in Florida, including a provision to create a new “Office of Amusements.”

Background material from The Associated Press, reprinted with permission. 

Jim Rosica’s review of top state government stories in 2016

From algebra to Zika, 2016 brought a plethora of material to the Capitol Press Corps. Trying to pick the top state government stories is a subjective pursuit, to say the least, but here are the FloridaPolitics.com picks for the passing year. In (kind of) chronological order:

— Kevin McCarty ousted as state Insurance Commissioner, replaced by David Altmaier

McCarty gave himself the ax in early January, saying he was resigning to pursue “other career opportunities.” The then 56-year-old often took the blame for rising insurance rates in the state, especially when homeowners discovered they would have to pay more in premiums. Gov. Rick Scott had had it in for McCarty for a while; he was among a triumvirate of state officials that Scott forced out the door, including FDLE Commissioner Gerry Bailey and Department of Revenue head Marshall Stranburg. Then Scott and CFO Jeff Atwater deadlocked on McCarty’s replacement. (Under state law, Scott and Atwater first have to agree on one candidate.) Scott backed retired insurance executive Jeffrey Bragg, while Atwater was behind Bill Hager, a state representative and former Iowa Insurance Commissioner. The compromise candidate was David Altmaier, then the Office of Insurance Regulation’s deputy commissioner, who once was a high school algebra teacher. Altmaier was appointed in April.

— Pro-school vouchers rally in Tallahassee; school vouchers ruling

Martin Luther King III, the oldest son of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., led a march and rally in downtown Tallahassee during the Legislative Session in February, in support of Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship, attracting several thousand participants and spectators. Capitol Police director Chris Connell even sent an advisory to state workers that “organizers are busing in people from around the state and are planning for approximately 10,000 people to attend the rally.” The timing was apt: It was the day after the federal holiday memorializing his father, the slain civil-rights leader. Then in August, the 1st District Court of Appeal sided with a lower court to throw out the lawsuit filed by the Florida Education Association and others over the state’s largest private school voucher program. They had argued its method of funding private-school educations for more than 90,000 schoolchildren is unconstitutional. The vouchers are funded by companies, which in turn receive tax credits on money they owe to the state.

— Rick Scott’s $250 million in incentives nixed by lawmakers

Scott had proposed a “Florida Enterprise Fund,” $250 million for business incentives. “Everyone knows my priorities,” he said close to the end of session. “All of them are tied to getting more jobs in our state. The tax cut is important … along with the $250 million for (the Fund).” But, as Uncle Junior once said of Richie Aprile, “He couldn’t sell it.” An intransigent House, including current House Speaker Richard Corcoran, derided it as corporate welfare. Relentless criticism from groups like Americans for Prosperity-Florida didn’t help either. In the end, Scott’s business recruitment effort got “zero.” And Scott wound up vetoing $256.1 million from the final 2016-17 budget – eerily close to the $250 million he sought for economic development.

— Legislature punts on new Seminole Compact

The history of failure in dealing with gambling continued in the Legislature in 2016. A deal between the state and Seminole Tribe of Florida on exclusive rights to offer blackjack in Florida expired last year, and Scott negotiated a new “compact” guaranteeing blackjack exclusivity in exchange for $3 billion over seven years. The deal died in March when it couldn’t get to either floor for a vote. It contained provisions that would have allowed the tribe to also offer craps and roulette—that is, more games. And lawmakers tacked on bills that would have expanded gambling offerings for the dog and horse tracks in their districts. Legislative leaders say they support bringing the compact back in 2017. But a federal judge recently sided with the tribe in, saying no matter what the Seminoles can keep dealing cards till 2030 – the end of the original agreement – and don’t have to pay the state a dime. Nonetheless, the tribe is still paying to keep a fragile peace, depositing $19.5 million in state coffers this month.

— Rick Scott signs death penalty overhaul into law, which Supreme Court later invalidates 

In March, Scott signed a measure that overhauled Florida’s death penalty by requiring that at least 10 out of 12 jurors recommend an execution for it to be ordered. Florida previously only required that a majority of jurors recommend a death sentence but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the state’s sentencing law was unconstitutional. In 2013, Scott also signed “The Timely Justice Act,” which requires governors to sign death warrants within 30 days after a Death Row prisoner exhausts all appeals, among other provisions. This year’s fix was short-lived: By October, the Florida Supreme Court shot the law down, saying death sentences require a unanimous jury. The court added the new law can no longer be applied to pending prosecutions in the state. Still another decision opened the door to death-sentenced inmates getting their sentences reduced to life. And the opinions mean lawmakers will once again, in the words of Justice Harry Blackmun, have to “tinker with the machinery of death” in 2017.

— Supreme Court decisions punch holes in workers’ comp system

The state’s business lobby had a conniption after the Florida Supreme Court ruled on two cases this summer affecting the state’s workers’ comp system. One struck down a law that limited payments to injured workers to only two years. Another struck down a law that capped attorney fees in workers’ compensation cases. Soon, the National Council on Compensation Insurance, which submits rate filings on behalf of insurers, asked state regulators to OK a nearly 20 percent rate hike in workers’ comp premiums. That request was whittled down to 14.5 percent, which took effect Dec. 1. Opponents have criticized the 2003 changes put in place by Gov. Jeb Bush and the Legislature, saying they were draconian and favored employers at the cost of injured employees. Companies said the new system cut costs, which helps businesses grow jobs. And the changes also were intended to reduce lawsuits over benefits. Expect lawmakers to tackle this issue as well in 2017.

— Citrus Department gets smaller budget, staff cuts

The citrus greening epidemic, which is killing the state’s citrus trees, also hit the Department of Citrus this year. Normally, the department’s operations are paid for by a tax paid by growers on each box of citrus. But because the state’s citrus crop is shrinking, so are the department’s finances. The Florida Citrus Commission, which oversees the department, in June approved a $20.7 million spending plan for 2016-17, a 32 percent decrease from the prior budget year. That was after leading growers called for the Department to “be scaled back considerably,” saying they “do not believe current marketing programs are generating an economic return.” One bit of good news came by year’s end: Florida’s orange crop production will hold steady at 72 million boxes for the 2016-17 season, the U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasted.

— State economists say budget is heading into the red

In September, the state’s economists told lawmakers Florida is likely to basically break even next year in terms of its state budget. The Joint Legislative Budget Commission met in the Capitol to hear the latest financial outlook for 2017-18: Income and outgo estimates left Florida with a relatively scant $7.5 million left over out of about $32.2 billion in available revenue. And deficits were forecast for following years. The current year’s budget is roughly $82 billion, which includes federal dollars. (About two-thirds of the yearly budget goes toward health care and education.) By December, the outlook was a bit more sanguine, with nearly $142 million expected to be available. Within context, however, that amounts to a “very minor adjustment,” said Amy Baker, the Legislature’s chief economist.

— Scott tussles with Tallahassee over Hurricane Hermine response

Welcome to Tallahassee, where politics meets weather. Hurricane Hermine, the first to make landfall in Florida since Wilma in 2005, smacked the Panhandle on Sept. 2. Afterward, Democratic Mayor Andrew Gillum of Tallahassee and Republican Gov. Rick Scott had a testy faceoff over the speed of repair to the city’s electric system. Scott said in a press release that the city was declining help from other utilities and the Department of Transportation. He said he was “frustrated” over how long it was taking to get power back on. Gillum shot back that Scott’s “comments and press releases and tweets have been put out, in my opinion, to undermine our cooperative process … We owe it to (the people of Tallahassee) to not be about politics, but to be about getting power to them.” When Hurricane Matthew skimmed Florida’s Atlantic coast the next month, Scott was more solicitous in dealing with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, a former Republican Party of Florida chair.

— Voters pass medical cannabis amendment

The second time was the charm for a state constitutional amendment guaranteeing Floridians a right to medical cannabis. Florida voters approved the initiative by 71 percent, well over the required 60 percent needed. That was two years after it missed passage by roughly 2 ½ percent. The amendment creates a right for people with debilitating medical conditions, as determined by a licensed Florida physician, to use medical marijuana. It defines a debilitating condition as cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, and post-traumatic stress disorder, among other disorders. In Florida, the “non-euphoric” version is already approved for children with severe seizures and muscle spasms. The state later passed a law allowing terminally ill patients to use a stronger form of marijuana during their final days. Lawmakers already have begun dealing with how medical marijuana will work in Florida, holding the first of many workshops this month.

— Dozens begin applying for seats on Constitution Revision Commission

The Florida Constitution allows for a “revision commission” to meet every 20 years to “examine the constitution, hold public hearings and … file its proposal, if any, of a revision of this constitution or any part of it.” The next one is scheduled to convene in the 30 days before the beginning of the 2017 Legislative Session in March. The lead-up started in January. That’s when the LeRoy Collins Institute, a nonpartisan policy think tank, released a cartoon featuring an animated Sandy D’Alemberte, the legal legend and former Florida State University president who chaired the commission in 1977-78. Later in the year, scores of constitution-revising aspirants turned in applications to Scott, who gets to pick 15 of the 37 members and will choose its chair. Applications also rolled in to Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, who gets three picks, and Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who get nine choices each. The applicant lists read like a Who’s Who of Florida, old and new, including present and former lawmakers, lawyers and law professors, local officials and lobbyists.

— Richard Corcoran rolls out tough new House rules

The new Speaker, calling for a new culture of transparency in the Florida House, issued new rules in November that get tough with the capital’s lobbying corps. One increases the ban on former members lobbying their colleagues from two years to six years. Another prohibits state representatives from flying in aircraft owned, leased, or otherwise paid for by lobbyists. Still another requires lobbyists to file an individual disclosure for every bill, amendment, and individual appropriation they are trying to influence. And he created a new Committee on Public Integrity and Ethics, which will “consider legislation and exercise oversight on matters relating to the conduct and ethics standards of House members, state and local public officials, public employees, lobbyists, and candidates for public office, the regulation of political fundraising and the constitutional prerogatives of the Legislature.” Lobbyists publicly nodded in agreement – and privately expressed displeasure. “What I take major issue with is trashing ALL lobbyists and accusing us of being the reason legislators are out of control,” one said anonymously.

— Pitbull controversy ends with VISIT FLORIDA head’s ouster

In December, Scott called on CEO Will Seccombe to resign, the last casualty of a kerfuffle over a secret contract with Miami rapper Pitbull to promote Florida tourism. Corcoran filed suit for the agency to reveal how much it promised the rapper after it claimed the deal was a “trade secret.” Pitbull had the last laugh, disclosing his contract via Twitter and showing he stands to make up to $1 million. Scott wrote to agency board chair William Talbert, telling him he wanted an overhaul of how it does business, revealing more on how it spends money, including contracts. “The notion that Visit Florida spending would not be transparent to the taxpayers is just ridiculous,” Scott wrote. By that point, Seccombe already had fired two of his top executives, Chief Operating Officer Vangie McCorvey and Chief Marketing Officer Paul Phipps, but it wasn’t enough. Seccombe had been in charge of the agency since 2012.

— Department of Health beats Zika–for now

Florida declared its crisis with local transmission of Zika over for the season in December, ahead of peak tourism months. But health authorities warned that travelers would continue bringing the disease into the state. Starting in late July, state health officials had identified four zones in the Miami area where the virus was spreading through local mosquitoes – the first such transmissions in the continental U.S. – and launched aggressive efforts to control the insects. One by one, the zones were deemed clear of continuing infections, and Scott announced that the last one – a 1.5-square-mile area in touristy South Beach – also was cleared. About 250 people have contracted Zika in Florida, and over 980 more Zika infections in the state have been linked to travel, according to state health officials. Zika causes mild flu-like symptoms for most people, but it can cause severe brain-related birth defects when pregnant women become infected. “Hopefully, by next summer, we’ll have a federal government that has a vaccine,” said Scott.

Peter Schorsch, Michael Moline and The Associated Press contributed to this post (reprinted with permission). 

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