A proposal to redistribute hundreds of millions of dollars away from safety-net hospitals and toward increasing base Medicaid payments at all hospitals drew opposition Wednesday in the Florida Senate.
But Senate Republican leaders were able to beat back a proposed amendment by Sen. JoseJavierRodriguez, a Miami Democrat, that would have scrapped the plan and maintained current law, which directs upward of $318 million in enhanced Medicaid payments to 28 hospitals with Medicaid caseloads of 25 percent or greater.
Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Chairwoman AnitereFlores, a Miami Republican, said the budget plan is a fair redistribution of what she called “special project funds” and said it’s something the Legislature should have done years ago.
“I am very hopeful that this is the year we pass a budget that actually does this,” Flores said of the Senate’s plan. “Where we actually say, “Hospitals thank you for opening your doors, for not asking questions.”
Flores said every hospital in the state provides Medicaid care and charity care.
“The fact remains that under today’s system that there are hospitals across the entire state that we represent that don’t ask (about ability to pay), that don’t get any of that money and still provide the care,” she said.
Specifically, the Senate plan would eliminate automatic rate enhancements paid to the 28 hospitals and use the money, instead, to beef up base Medicaid rates for all hospitals.
The Senate budget plan also would provide $50 million in general revenue, which, when matched with federal Medicaid dollars, would total $130 million. The plan would redirect that funding to base rates. As a result, the Senate plan would increase Medicaid base rates from $3,426 to $4,049 for each hospital admission.
Because the base rates would be increased, the Senate plan would benefit any system that owns more than one hospital, such as HCA, Tenet, Community Health Systems, BayCare, and Adventist Health System. HCA, which owns 43 facilities in the state, could see nearly $40.5 million in Medicaid increases under the Senate plan.
Conversely, Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami faces more than a $59 million reduction, UF Health Shands in Gainesville faces more than a $20 million hit and Tampa General Hospital could lose nearly $14.7 million.
The Senate is expected Thursday to approve its proposed budget, setting the stage for negotiations with the House in the coming weeks on a final spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The Senate’s proposed changes in hospital funding could be a key issue in negotiations.
House budget chairman Rep. CarlosTrujillo, a Miami Republican, already has indicated that the Senate’s proposal could face an uphill battle in the House, telling reporters last week that Jackson Memorial and other facilities are “essential to the well-being of our residents. As for some of the for-profits, we’re much less sympathetic.’’
Before the floor debate Wednesday, staff members from the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Floridamet with members of the Senate Democratic caucus to discuss the impact of the redistribution plan on its members. The alliance represents public, teaching and children’s hospitals.
LindyKennedy, executive vice president of the alliance, told Senate Democrats that it’s been long-standing policy to give additional payments to hospitals that provide large amounts of charity care. The policy, she said, is a recognition that Medicaid pays just 60 cents of every dollar hospitals spend caring for Medicaid patients and that hospitals treating large numbers of Medicaid patients can’t afford the loss.
Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida President TonyCarvalho said three of the four largest teaching hospitals would be cut $94 million under the Senate plan.
But Senate Minority Leader Sen. OscarBraynon, a Miami Gardens Democrat, reminded his members and the Safety Net Hospital of Florida lobbyists that the Senate has stood behind the industry for the last four years.
In 2015, for example, the Senate championed a Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, which would have increased the amount of federal funding flowing to the state. The Senate also was able to secure additional state funding for hospitals after the federal government reduced the amount of supplemental Medicaid dollars coming to the state.
“It’s amazing now that all of a sudden the House is a hero after they cut you all for almost half a decade,” Braynon said during the meeting. “I want to keep it in that frame of mind. That the people that we seem to have a slight problem with … are the people that have been for the most part trying to fight to keep hospitals” from getting cut.
His comments may have resonated with some Democratic members. Sen. KevinRader, a Delray Beach Democrat, and Sen. DarrylRouson, D-St Petersburg, opposed Rodriguez’s amendment.
The hospital financing issue isn’t the only difference between the Senate and House budgets, but it is one of the larger differences. During debate on the Rodriguez amendment, Senate Appropriations Chairman Sen. RobBradley, an Orange Park Republican, told senators that it was “is an important issue as we move into conference.”
Among other health-care spending differences, the Senate has included $130 million in additional funding for nursing homes and it also has proposed cuts to Medicaid HMOs, reducing the amount of premiums paid to the health plans from $312 per member per month to $304 per member per month.
In an effort that would comply with voters’ wishes, the Florida Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved a proposal that would direct $100 million to the Florida Forever land-buying program every year.
“This is one of the things we can be proud of not just when we go back home, but for many years to come,” said Sen. Rob Bradley, the sponsor of the bill.
The measure is a top priority for Bradley this legislative session and said lawmakers have a responsibility to make sure the state’s “amazing ecosystems” are preserved for future generations. The measure passed on a 37-0 vote.
Now that the measure has been pushed through the Senate, all eyes are on the House, which has yet to hear its companion bill in committee. The measure has three stops before it can head to the House floor for a vote.
Bradley’s proposal would comply with the wishes of voters who approved a constitutional amendment back in 2014 that would set money aside for land and water conservation efforts. The Fleming Island Republican says his bill will ensure the constitutional amendment money is used for conservation efforts and not administrative and technical costs at agencies.
Sen. Rene Garcia, a Hialeah Republican, questioned how the state would make sure the land is maintained and not just acquired.
“How are we going to keep our commitment to those amendment 1 dollars to keep the environment pristine?” Garcia said. “At the end of the day, for all of us in the chamber, it is not just about purchasing land, but maintaining it.”
Bradley agreed with Garcia and assured him the money for the program should also go toward land maintenance.
The environmental appropriations committee chaired by Bradley has also proposed an additional one-time $50 million for the Florida Forever Trust Fund, which would be a $150 million total for the 2018-19 budget.
The Legislature last session approved $0 in funding for the trust fund.
A trio of alcoholic beverage-related bills moved through a House panel Tuesday:
— Beer advertisements in theme parks would be allowed under a bill approved by the Careers and Competition Subcommittee.
That measure (HB 669) was approved 13-2, with chair HalseyBeshears, a Monticello Republican, and Rep. Larry Ahern, a Seminole Republican, casting ‘no’ votes.
This is the second year the bill’s been up before lawmakers. It stoked controversy last year: Critics said it would allow theme parks to “extort” ad dollars from beer companies and ultimately favor Big Beer manufacturers who can pay to put up the biggest and most ads.
They also could sponsor concerts. other events or attractions at parks. It’s supported by SeaWorld and Universal Orlandoand opposed by beer distributors and the state’s craft beer industry.
The House bill heads to the Commerce Committee; a Senate companion (SB 822) has cleared one of its three committees.
— Legislation that would allow beer distributors to give away for free glasses imprinted with product names and logos to bars and restaurants was narrowly OK’d. Under current law, glasses must be sold.
The subcommittee cleared that bill (HB 961) on an 8-7 vote. This also is the second year this bill has been before lawmakers.
Those in favor, including small businesses, say it’ll be a help to them to cut down on glasses lost from theft and breakage. Opponents, including many craft brewers, counter that they won’t be able to afford to keep up with the stream of free glasses from Anheuser-Busch InBev, the makers of Bud Light and Stella Artois.
JoshAubuchon, general counsel for the Florida Brewers Guild, the craft beer industry’s trade group, told panel members many of his members sell their product only in kegs, not bottles or cans. Because branded glasses effectively act as passive advertisements for a particular label, he worried that bars would push out craft beers on tap in favor of Big Beer’s offerings.
This year’s House bill, carried by Sarasota Republican JoeGruters, would limit “the total pieces of glassware, per licensed premises, (to) 15 cases per calendar year.” That’s about 360 glasses.
“Branded glassware … is intended to be used only to serve consumers the brand advertised on the glassware,” the bill summary says. The measure also would expire in June 2021 unless renewed by legislators.
The bill now moves to the Commerce Committee; a Senate companion (SB 1224) by Appropriations chair RobBradley has cleared two panels and will next be considered by his committee.
— A bill that would expressly allow Floridians to use a smartphone app to order alcoholic beverages to be delivered also cleared the subcommittee.
The panel OK’d the measure (HB 667) on a 13-2 vote. Republican Reps. BenAlbritton of Wauchula and Julio Gonzalez of Venice opposed it.
Services with apps such as Drizly and Shipt already deliver in the state, but “current law does not address orders received via the internet or other electronic forms of communication,” a staff analysis says.
The bill, carried by Miami Republican DanielPerez, is supported by retail and restaurant groups, and by Target. The House measure now heads to the Commerce Committee; a Senate companion (SB 1020) sponsored by Tampa Republican DanaYoung has cleared two of its three committees unanimously.
Here’s the staff analysis: “If fantasy contests permitted under the bill constitute gaming, are considered Class III (i.e., Vegas-style) gaming under federal law, and constitute, under the Compact, new Class III gaming in Florida, (then) the payments due to the State under the Compact could end when fantasy contests begin to be offered for public or private use.”
It’s not spare change: More than $382 million to the state from Seminole casino gambling is predicted for next fiscal year. Around 3 million Floridians play some sort of fantasy sports, advocates say.
Sen. TomLee, a Thonotosassa Republican, brought up those worries at the bill’s (SB 374) Rules Committee hearing Thursday, mentioning gaming concerns’ continual efforts to find loopholes in state gambling law.
“It gets you focused in on what you’re doing is written tightly enough that someone can’t drive a truck through it,” he told bill sponsor DanaYoung of Tampa. “Because this industry owns a lot of trucks.”
Young had an easy answer: Fantasy sports play isn’t the kind of game—like slots and table games—that violates the Compact’s exclusivity provision.
She’s previously provided a legal memo contending fantasy play doesn’t “constitute an online bet or gamble.” Fantasy players pick teams of real-life athletes and vie for cash and other prizes based on how those athletes do in actual games.
The Tribe, however, sent a letter warning lawmakers that fantasy sports bills filed for the 2018 Legislative Session, if approved, would violate the Seminole Compact. An identical House measure (HB 223) by Sanford Republican JasonBrodeur has cleared one of its three committees so far.
A 2006 federal law banned online gambling but specifically exempted fantasy sports, paving the way for the creation of the niche industry that’s exploded in popularity. DraftKings and FanDuel are the two biggest in the field.
Opponents have pointed to a 27-year-old opinion by then-Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth. It 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.
“You feel comfortable we’re on safe ground here?” Lee asked. “Yes,” Young said.
She added that the state’s fantasy sports players “are in a gray area where they potentially could be engaging in a criminal enterprise … I don’t see any risk to” the legislation.
Lee, along with Senate Appropriations Chairman RobBradley, eventually voted against the bill.
A plan to place a statue of civil-rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune at the U.S. Capitol as a representative of Florida and a measure to set aside $100 million a year for land preservation moved a step closer Wednesday to Senate approval.
With little comment, the Senate positioned the bills for votes next week. One of the measures (SB 472) seeks to have a statue of Bethune replace a likeness of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith at the National Statuary Hall in Washington.
“We’re one step closer. We’re going to get there this year,” said Sen. PerryThurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat who is sponsoring the measure.
An identical House bill (HB 139) also has started moving and is next slated to go the House Appropriations Committee.
Smith, born in St. Augustine but with few adult ties to the state, has been one of Florida’s two representatives in the National Statuary Hall since 1922. The other representative is JohnGorrie, widely considered the father of air conditioning.
The Legislature voted in 2016 to replace the Smith statue during a nationwide backlash against Confederate symbols in the wake of the 2015 shooting deaths of nine African-American worshippers at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C.
Despite agreeing to remove Smith, lawmakers were unable to come up with a replacement during the 2017 Session, as the House did not move forward with any of the suggestions from the Great Floridians Program within the state Division of Historic Resources.
Bethune, whose resume included serving as an adviser to President FranklinRoosevelt, founded what became known as Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach. The university has offered to pay for the new statute.
Sen. TomLee, a Thonotosassa republican, attached an amendment to the bill Wednesday to require the Smith statue be acquired and displayed by the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs.
“I think it should be back in the state of Florida,” Lee said. “I think we have a Division of Cultural Affairs, within the secretary of state’s office, that can receive that important piece of Florida’s history and place it appropriately somewhere in a museum.”
Meanwhile, the Senate also is on the verge of approving a plan to spend $100 million a year on the Florida Forever land-preservation program. The bill (SB 370), sponsored by Appropriations Chairman RobBradley, a Fleming Island Republican, would use money from a 2014 voter-approved constitutional amendment aimed at increasing land and water conservation.
“The ($100 million) number is not a magic number, but it is commensurate with when you look at how funds have been appropriated, via statute, whether it be (for) springs or the Everglades,” Bradley said.
In past years, lawmakers directed at least $200 million a year to the Everglades; $64 million for a reservoir in the Everglades Agricultural Area; $50 million for the state’s natural springs; and $5 million for Lake Apopka.
The constitutional amendment directed that a portion of money from a real-estate documentary tax go into the land-acquisition trust fund. That is expected to generate $862.2 million next year.
As part of Bradley’s proposal, lawmakers would not be able to use the trust fund money for agency overhead, which has been a point on contention with backers of the 2014 amendment.
Bradley also has a separate measure (SB 204) to increase annual funding for the state’s natural springs to $75 million and to set aside $50 million a year for the restoration of the St. Johns River, its tributaries and the Keystone Heights lake region in North Florida. The bill is also ready to go before the Senate.
Meanwhile, Sen. DebbieMayfield, a Rockledge Republican, Rep. GayleHarrell, a Stuart Republican, and Rep. RenePlasencia, an Orlando Republican, are seeking another $50 million from the trust fund (SB 786 and HB 339) to help restore the condition of the Indian River Lagoon.
Port Orange Republican Sen. DorothyHukill has taken over legislation (SB 174), initially filed by former Sen. JackLatvala, that seeks $50 million a year for beach projects.
A 135-year-old law that makes it a first-degree misdemeanor to defame a woman for being unchaste would be repealed under a bill that cleared its first of three Senate committee stops on Monday.
“In our modern society these penalties are too severe for an issue that has mostly been handled among two private citizens in private proceedings,” said Sen. Daphne Campbell, a Miami Democrat sponsoring SB 1060.
A first-degree misdemeanor could be punishable for up to a year in jail or a $1,000 fine.
The measure would also repeal a provision that makes it a crime to make derogatory statements about a bank, building or loan association.
Members in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee praised Campbell for championing the effort to repeal these defamation laws and advanced it with a unanimous panel vote. Chairman Rob Bradley said Campbell’s bill is one of his favorite proposals this session, and joked that he wished he would have thought of it first.
“We should clear our state statute of these archaic and silly crimes,” Bradley tweeted after the committee vote.
While Campbell’s bill has two more stop before it can head to the full Senate floor for consideration, the trek for an identical bill in the House has proven more difficult.
State Rep. Al Jacquet, a Lantana Democrat, filed HB 6019 last October and it has yet to gain momentum in his chamber. His proposal has two committee assignments, but has yet to be heard in one.
Following the presentation, Appropriations Chair and Senate Bill 10 sponsor Rob Bradley expressed confidence in the district’s plans. But following the meeting, Senate President Joe Negron told reporters he is still planning to seek another 4,000 to 5,000 acres of land before the end of Session.
Why would the Senate president make these comments when the district says it has the land it needs, the chair is happy, and the project appears to be on schedule?
Negron’s comments come following a picture coming into focus that leaves little room for land buying, particularly taking more agricultural land out of production, which is a pillar of Florida’s economy.
It didn’t take long for questions to arise about how the state of Florida would buy this private farmland, warning it would adversely affect those living the region.
Among the first sounding the alarm about “eminent domain” was Marco Rubio.
“What about the people that live in those communities? What about Pahokee, what about those cities in the Glades communities that are going to get wiped out,” Florida’s junior senator told a blogger in April 2017. “If you buy up all that farmland, that means there’s no farming, that means these cities collapse, they basically turning ghost towns. Shouldn’t they be at the table? Shouldn’t they be part of this conversation as well?”
Soon afterward, an overwhelming bipartisan Senate majority revised SB 10, stripping the controversial provision that would have bought the 60K acres of privately-held farmland.
The last version of SB 10 — which Gov. Rick Scottsigned into law that May, and was applauded by environmentalists such as the Everglades Foundation — prohibited the use of eminent domain.
And there’s also the fact that this Florida Senate has little appetite for another bruising debate over land buying in an election year.
Finally, any deviation from the district’s schedule could delay the reservoir project — possibly for years.
Bottom line: this ship has sailed.
I have always maintained that President Negron is a true statesman, and this may be a moment showing the Stuart Republican cares more about the people in his district rather than the people in the Florida Senate — an admirable trait in any elected official.
But if Negron has any intentions of squeezing an acre of private land out under these circumstances, he’s more than a statesman. He’s a magician.
Insurers could demand car windshields be checked for damage before they are replaced under a Senate proposal that started moving forward Tuesday to combat reported increasing cases of repair-shop fraud.
But the inspections would have to be done quickly.
The bill (SB 396), sponsored by Port Orange Republican Sen. Dorothy Hukill was approved by the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee after being amended to require inspections occur within 24 hours in most cases and by adjusters employed by the insurers.
Hukill, who expressed concern about the attached timelines, said she will continue to work on the proposal, which has support from Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America and business-lobbying groups Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
“There are some bad actors out there, lots of bad actors, it’s more than just a couple of people,” Hukill said. “I thought this didn’t affect my county. But we see them now hanging out in the car wash, the normal car wash on the main drag in my town, coming over to people and saying, ‘Do you want us to fix that?’”
Sen. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican, said his amendment Tuesday was intended to prevent motorists from getting tickets for driving unsafe vehicles while waiting for repairs.
“The spirit of this amendment for me is ensuring that these repairs are done in a reasonable amount of time, because it actually violates a traffic law if they are driving around with a broken windshield,” Steube said.
Fleming Republican Sen. Rob Bradley added a provision that would allow repairs to proceed without inspections if the damage has “demonstrably impacted” vehicles or continued use of the vehicles. He said his proposal is focused on rural communities, where an insurance inspector may not be readily available within a single day.
Ashley Kalifeh, representing the American Insurance Association and Associated Industries of Florida, said glass experts should also be able to conduct the inspections while expressing concern about the timelines. Kalifeh said people are already being encouraged by some glass shops to avoid inspections for windshield replacements that may not be needed.
“When it comes to a time limitation, we would just urge a lot of caution,” Kalifeh said. “It is in everyone’s interest to quickly get a truly broken windshield repaired. But we don’t want people being coached to just avoid the time limitation so they cannot get an inspection.”
Florida law currently doesn’t prevent an insurer from requiring the inspections. The proposal would clearly state that an insurer may require the inspection before authorizing any windshield repair or replacement.
The proposed is tied to a practice known as “assignment of benefits” which is part of a larger legislative battle regarding property insurance and is being blamed for the rise in insurance costs.
Assignment of benefits has been a controversial issue in recent years, primarily because of residential water-damage claims. But it also has become an issue in claims for windshield damage.
In assignment of benefits, policyholders sign over claims to contractors, who perform work and then pursue payment from insurers. The insurance industry contends that the practice leads to fraud and increased litigation, while contractors and plaintiffs’ attorneys argue it can help make sure insurance claims get handled properly.
Hukill said windshield repairs and replacements have become a growing field for fraudulent insurance claims.
“It drives up costs for all of us,” Hukill said.
The Department of Financial Services reported that the number of auto glass lawsuits has increased from 397 in 2006 to 19,513 last year.
A House version (HB 811), sponsored by Orlando Republican Rep. Rene Plasencia has not been heard in committees. Hukill’s proposal must still go before the Senate Commerce and Tourism and Rules committees.
Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.
Florida counties will have to contribute an additional $66 million to the state pension fund in the new budget year, according to legislation that has started moving in the Senate.
As a result of a decrease in the assumed rate of investment return on the $160 billion pension fund, counties, school boards, state agencies, universities, state colleges and other government entities will have to increase their contributions in the 2018-2019 budget year to make sure there is enough money to pay retirement benefits in the long term.
The increased payments total $178.5 million, including $66.4 million for county governments, according to legislation (SB 7014) approved by the Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee last week.
School districts, whose employees represent about half of the 627,000 active pension participants, will have to contribute an additional $54.4 million.
State agencies will have to contribute another $31 million. Universities will have to contribute $11.8 million and state colleges an additional $4.8 million.
A handful of cities and special districts that participate in the state retirement system will face a $10 million contribution increase.
County governments, which face the largest contribution increase, will have to accommodate the added expense as they shape their 2018-2019 budgets.
“Counties are closely monitoring the FRS (Florida Retirement System) contribution but remain committed to a program that provides retirement security to our dedicated public servants,” said Cragin Mosteller, a spokeswoman for the Florida Association of Counties.
The bulk of the other contribution increases are part of overall budget challenges facing House and Senate members as they craft the 2018-2019 state budget, which takes effect July 1.
The $54 million increase for school districts, for example, will be in the mix as lawmakers address overall public-school funding. Lawmakers are already having to accommodate an increase of more than 27,000 new students next academic year, and the House and Senate remain at odds over using increased local property tax collections to boost school spending
Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, a Republican from Fleming Island, said the state pension fund in the Senate budget bill will be “fully funded with the new assumptions.”
“It’s an obligation of the state,” Bradley said. “And we are comfortable with the current level of (pension) benefits in the Senate, with the understanding that when you change the assumptions, that requires more money to go to that area.”
The Florida Retirement System Actuarial Assumption Conference lowered the projected rate of return on the pension fund’s collection of stocks, bonds, real estate and other assets from 7.6 percent to 7.5 percent last fall.
It was the fourth year in a row that analysts have lowered the assumed rate of return on the fund.
The decision came after new evaluations from independent financial consultants projected a 30-year rate of return for the pension assets in the range of 6.6 percent to 6.81 percent.
With a 7.5 percent assumed rate of return, the Florida pension fund is expected to be able to pay 84.4 percent of its future obligations, with a $27.9 billion long-term unfunded actuarial liability, according to the consultants.
Public employees who participate in the pension plan have been required to contribute 3 percent of their annual salaries to the fund since 2011.
Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.
EverBank Field was lit Sunday, as the Jacksonville Jaguars laid a smackdown on the Buffalo Bills, in a 10-3 defensive struggle that was best watched live and in the stands.
Jacksonville hadn’t hosted a playoff game this century; the crowd was hyped. And mostly Jaguar fans.
The media derided the win — but for those who saw the end, when Jalen Ramsey picked off the Bills’ QB, it was a moment of triumph.
People stayed in the stadium — a few Bills fans aside — until it was over.
It was Jacksonville’s moment.
As we enter what will be a bruising political year, it’s useful to remember that community is what brings us together.
It’s the teal, yes. But it’s more than that.
It’s the realization that it’s Duval against the world.
There are those who bet on the world.
But Sunday showed that it feels better to bet on Duval.
Especially when the Jags go over.
Doctor, heal thyself
Problems with your marriage?
Is it unhealthy?
The Florida Legislature is willing to help future couples avoid such troubles as they traipse into connubial bliss.
The solution: a “guide to a healthy marriage.”
The version filed in the House is a guide that would contain resources addressing “conflict management, communication skills, family expectations, financial responsibilities and management, domestic violence resources and parenting responsibilities.”
Monday saw Jacksonville Republican state Rep. Clay Yarborough file the House version of the legislation (HB 1323).
The Legislature wouldn’t write this guide on its own (probably for the best given that philandering ended the careers of two Senators in recent months, with another former Senator and current state Representative going through a prolonged high-profile and messy divorce).
Instead, the guide would be written by the Marriage Education Committee: a panel of six marriage education and family advocates, two picked by the Governor, two by the Senate President, and two more by the House Speaker.
In other words, the same formula that has led to a smooth-running Constitutional Revision Commission could be brought to bear on Florida marriages.
Private funds would pay for the guide w, and reading it would be a prerequisite for a marriage license.
Jay Fant files monument protection bill
Rep. Fant, a Jacksonville Republican running for Attorney General, presented the latest in a series of base-pleasing bills for the 2018 Legislative Session Monday.
Fant’s HB 1359 (the “Soldiers’ and Heroes’ Monuments and Memorials Protection Act”) contends that any wartime monument erected after 1822 on public property may only be moved for its repair or the repair of the property containing it.
The bill’s primary imports: forestalling removal of Confederate monuments, as happened most recently in Memphis. And establishing criminal penalties for tampering — penalties that would supersede the ordinance code or enforcement inclinations of rogue municipalities.
Fant’s hometown Jacksonville dealt with a Confederate monument removal debate in 2017; Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche took a position in favor of moving monuments to museums, as they divided the community
Fant’s legislative docket is serving up more red meat than the butcher at Avondale’s renowned Pinegrove market.
If enacted, his “Free Enterprise Protection Act” will “ensure that Florida business owners are protected from government sanctions and penalties when they are exercising their First Amendment rights.”
Fant was inspired to file FEPA by the case of a Colorado baker who balked at making a wedding cake for a gay couple, as said baker saw the act of baking as lending sanction to their choice to marry. FEPA would protect the free speech rights of businesses.
Fant also is carrying the House version of a Senate bill that would allow people to carry guns to, from, and during events in Florida’s great outdoors; if it clears the governor’s desk, everyone from crabbers to dog-walkers will be protected while packing heat.
Aaron Bean talks Rob Bradley, sanctuary cities
Sen. Bean spent some time giving his thoughts on the Legislative Session — including the benefits of an appropriations chair from Northeast Florida (Fleming Island Republican Sen. Bradley), and potential pitfalls for a bill he is carrying.
Bean was voluble on what Bradley means, both for the Senate and the region.
“I have known Sen. Bradley for almost 30 years,” Bean asserted, “and he is going to be outstanding as Appropriations Chair. He makes it look easy, but he is always the most prepared member in the room from his constant reading and research.
“As a sub-chair for the criminal justice and environmental appropriations committees,” Bean added, “members could be sure that Senator Bradley was going to know why funds were being spent, and he would be sure it was a good use of taxpayer dollars.”
“He is going to be great for Florida. It is a bonus that he is from North Florida. North Florida Legislators are still going to have to work for any requests, because Bradley is not going to give anyone a pass just because they are from our area, but he is going to deliver a budget we can all be proud of,” Bean said.
Bean is carrying 23 bills — but the most high-profile measure (a ban on sanctuary cities that should clear the House easily) may not get through the Senate.
“Our Sanctuary City bill faces a tough opening as it has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. We don’t have the votes to get it passed — yet — so we are working hard to get that done,” Bean said.
Big month for Bradley committee
Fleming Island Republican Sen. Bradley saw his political committee raise more money in November than in any other single month.
And in December, Bradley’s Working for Florida’s Families exceeded that sum, setting an internal record level of fundraising for the second straight month.
The committee hauled in $173,000, with significant buy-in from U.S. Sugar, Walmart, Florida Blue, Associated Industries of Florida and the associated Florida Prosperity Fund.
All told, the committee has over $720,000 on hand.
Bradley became the Appropriations Chair after the removal of now-resigned Sen. Jack Latvala, his predecessor in the role.
Northeast Florida legislators expect that he will be in a position to ensure that the oft-neglected region gets its fair share in the budget process.
Bradley backs Wyman Duggan
A key endorsement in the House District 15 race, as Sen. Bradley backs Duggan — thus far, the sole Republican candidate.
Bradley described Duggan as “a respected community leader who will serve with honor, integrity, and commitment to our shared conservative values.”
Duggan, meanwhile, is “honored to have the support of Sen. Bradley who has served as a conservative leader in the Florida Senate. I look forward to working with Sen. Bradley throughout my campaign and in the Florida legislature fighting for a more prosperous and brighter future for Florida.”
Duggan has scored a swath of endorsements from Republican electeds, setting up the “Your leaders trust Duggan … shouldn’t you?” mailpieces.
Jacksonville City Councilmen Danny Becton, Matt Schellenberg, Greg Anderson, Aaron Bowman, Scott Wilson, Doyle Carter, Jim Love and Sam Newby are on board. So are former Councilmen Jim Overton and Kevin Hyde. And Rep. John Rutherford, State Sen. Aaron Bean, State Rep. Jason Fischer, Duval Clerk of Courts Ronnie Fussell, Duval Tax Collector Michael Corrigan also back Duggan.
$142K haul for Lenny Curry committee
It was a December to remember for Build Something That Lasts, the political committee of Jacksonville Mayor Curry.
The Curry committee cleaned up to end the year, raking in $142,000, pushing the committee up to $603,000 on hand.
The strong month comes at a pivotal time for the Mayor’s policy and political operations. The Mayor’s Office aligns with a proposal to privatize JEA, a pitch which has floated periodically over the years but returned at the end of last year, via a proposal from a key political supporter and outgoing board member Tom Petway.
Additionally, Curry likely will face at least a nominal opponent for re-election. Whether he does or not, however, his committee likely will play in Jacksonville City Council races — supporting candidates who align with his vision, and working against less cooperative Council incumbents.
Danny Becton, Sam Newby launch Jax Council VP runs
An annual tradition in Jacksonville City Council is beginning anew: the race for Jacksonville City Council VP.
Often — but not always — the VP slot is a springboard to the presidency the next year.
Two Republican Councilmen — Becton and Newby — are in the race already.
Two more — Republican Scott Wilson and Democrat Tommy Hazouri — are giving the race a close look.
All are first-termers.
Wilson finished second in the VP race in 2017; Hazouri, meanwhile, is a former mayor and the only Democrat in the mix.
One Jacksonville City Council member who doesn’t need to wonder about Curry targeting him in 2019: Gaffney.
Democrat Gaffney is a strong supporter of Jacksonville’s Republican Mayor, standing by Curry even when many other Council members cast aspersions, and the Councilman hopes that a record of tangible achievements in his district outweighs negative press.
A recent video, cut with an unseen interviewer, reveals more about Gaffney’s platform.
“District 7 is a very large district,” Gaffney said. “I like to think of District 7 as three different communities all with different needs.”
While there are many “priority projects” he could cite, Gaffney says that Amazon — “because it’s about jobs” — is No. 1.
Meanwhile, Gaffney takes credit for fixing the collapsed Liberty Street Bridge, calling it his “first project.”
Gaffney also takes credit for compelling Curry to address drainage issues in the flood-prone Lower Eastside.
Gaffney then asserted his key role in getting money for the stadium improvement projects (amphitheater, covered practice field and club seat renovations) approved in his term.
“The mayor said, ‘I need your help,’” Gaffney said, and he was willing to — as it meant “jobs” for his district.
“I said ‘let’s make it happen,’” Gaffney related.
Honors for HRO sponsors, as theocons challenge bill
Last February, Jacksonville expanded its Human Rights Ordinance, giving protections to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in the workplace, public accommodations and housing markets.
It is Feb. 3 at the Florida Yacht Club; EqualityFlorida will honor the three sponsors of the legislation: City Council VP Aaron Bowman and Councilman Jim Love (two Republicans), and Councilman Tommy Hazouri (a Democrat).
Unsurprisingly, Equality Florida gives itself credit for passage.
“After a nearly 10-year campaign, Jacksonville ended its reign as the only major city in Florida without an LGBT-inclusive Human Rights Ordinance. In February 2017, we saw unprecedented leadership and investment in this battle by Equality Florida, the citizens of Jacksonville, and these three elected leaders — resulting in the updated HRO on Valentine’s Day.”
Props for FPL, JEA from environmental groups
St. Johns River Power Park, the largest operating coal power plant in Florida, has been shut down, co-owners Florida Power & Light and JEA announced Tuesday.
The utilities said the historic Jacksonville plant was aging and no longer economical as one of the highest-cost facilities among both FPL’s and JEA’s generating systems.
At nearly the same time, FPL lit up four new solar power plants — some of the largest ever built — and says it is nearing completion on four more new solar farms in a matter of weeks.
The ambitious moves earned kudos from leading environmental groups.
“FPL has a forward-looking strategy of making smart, innovative, long-term investments, including solar, to reduce emissions while providing affordable, clean energy for its customers,” said Julie Wraithmell, Audubon Florida’s interim executive director.
“Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is critical to addressing climate change,” said Greg Knecht, deputy executive director of The Nature Conservancy in Florida. “Anytime we can replace less-efficient sources of energy with cleaner fuels or solar it’s a benefit for people and nature. Investments such as FPL’s in clean-energy technologies are key to Florida’s future health and prosperity.”
JAXPORT adds direct New Zealand, Australia service
Beginning March, JAXPORT will offer direct service to New Zealand and Australia for roll-on/roll-off (Ro/Ro) cargo through Höegh Autoliners’ new U.S. to Oceania direct express Ro/Ro service.
JAXPORT’s Blount Island Marine Terminal will serve as the last East Coast port of call in the rotation.
The monthly service will start with the first vessel, the 6,500-CEU (car capacity) Höegh Jeddah, sailing out of Jacksonville. Vessel rotation will include Auckland in New Zealand as well as Brisbane, Port Kembla, Melbourne and Fremantle in Australia.
Horizon Terminal Services, Höegh Autoliners’ fully owned terminal owning and operating company headquartered in Jacksonville, will provide fumigation and wash down services at Blount Island.
Additional information on Höegh’s trade route to Oceania is available at icptrack.com.
UNF tops in U.S. News & World Report’s ‘Best Online’ bachelor’s programs
The University of North Florida earned a top spot in U.S. News & World Report’s 2018 Best Online Programs rankings.
Released this week, UNF is among the Top 40 colleges and universities in the country for “Best Online Bachelor’s Programs,” ranking included data from nearly 1,500 distance-education degree programs nationwide.
At No. 31, UNF jumped 17 spots from last year’s ranking, and is the only higher education institution from the Jacksonville area listed among the rankings in this category. The University also landed on the “Best Online Education Programs” list, a graduate-level ranking. Only degree-granting programs offering classes entirely online were considered.
“It’s very rewarding to have U.S. News & World Report rank our bachelor’s and our graduate education online programs among the best in the nation,” said UNF President John Delaney. “Faculty in our online programs are committed to this form of program delivery and have developed course materials and teaching methods that are second to none.”