Rob Bradley Archives - Page 3 of 38 - Florida Politics

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Where is Justice 2 Jesus?

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.

Brian Pitts and Justice 2 Jesus are MIA this Session.

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.


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.

On Friday, Rick Scott signed the “Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act.” Immediately afterward, the NRA filed an injunction to block the new law.

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.

Promises after Parkland: Gov. Rick Scott met with South and Northeast Florida police chiefs to discuss his action plan to help keep Florida students safe.

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.”

Adam Putnam names Senior Forest Ranger John DeWolfe  2017 Forestry Firefighter of the Year.

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.

Instagram of the week

The week in appointments

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 CompaniesRon 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.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting survivor addressing the CRC in Cape Coral.

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.

Rick Scott and Volunteer Florida presented a Champion of Service Award to 12-year-olds Chase Hartman and Vance Tomasi.

“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.

Lawmakers give the OK to incorporate Hobe Sound; now it’s up to voters.

“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.

One thousand shoes like these sit in the Florida Capitol — a reminder that survivors of sexual assault come from all walks of life.

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.

Bill Herrle gives his approval for a bill against identity theft.

“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.”

Jeff Brandes amendment on a bill elicited chuckles.

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.

Those looking to attend can register online.

Now for this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:


Lawmakers ready for Sunday vote on budget

Florida lawmakers are poised to end their annual Session on Sunday by passing an $88.7 billion state budget that increases funding for school safety, mental health, environmental land-buying and college scholarships.

Both the House and Senate discussed the budget bill (HB 5001) on Friday, which was the last scheduled day of the 2018 Session. But legislative leaders extended the Session through Sunday, after running out of time to complete work on the budget before the 60-day Session ended. Sunday’s vote on the final budget, which takes effect July 1, will largely be a formality.

Lawmakers came into the Session expecting to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, an opioid epidemic ravaging the state, the Senate’s higher-education package and a House initiative on public schools.

But those plans changed on Feb. 14, when 14 students and three staff members died in a mass shooting at a Broward County high school.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican, said the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School had “a real impact” on the budget process.

“We responded aggressively,” Bradley said. “If we don’t protect our kids, what are we here for? That’s job one.”

The kindergarten-through-high-school system will be the primary beneficiary of a $400 million school-safety initiative that includes $69 million for mental health programs and a $162 million “safe schools” program to hire more law enforcement officers to provide security at schools.

The package (SB 7026), signed by Gov. Rick Scott on Friday, also includes a $99 million grant program for schools to improve the physical security of campuses.

The $21.1 billion public school budget provides an average $101.50 increase in per-student funding across the state, a 1.39 percent increase over the current amount. But a handful of large school districts, including Miami-Dade, Broward, Duval and Pinellas counties, will see less than a 1 percent increase in per-student funding.

House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Manny Diaz, a Hialeah Republican, said the school budget avoids a potential $376 million increase in local property taxes. It does that by rolling back the tax rate to account for increased values on homes and businesses. The budget, however, includes $107 million in local property taxes reflecting new construction.

Several House Democrats said Florida needs to do more for its public schools. And they questioned $150 million in maintenance and renovation funding for charter schools, compared to $50 million for traditional public schools.

“We’re always at the bottom,” Rep. Lori Berman, a Lantana Democrat, said about Florida’s ranking among states in per-student funding.

Republicans defended the increase in charter school funding as part of an agreement included in a separate education bill (HB 7055) that will let school districts keep their local property taxes for maintenance and construction rather than share it with charter schools.

House Democrats also criticized a reduction in a $300 million affordable housing fund. House Tourism and Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Clay Ingram, a Pensacola Republican, said $185 million was shifted out of the fund for other spending priorities, leaving $109 million for affordable housing.

There were fewer questions about more than $100 million spent on the Florida Forever program, which allows the state to purchase environmentally critical land.

Bradley, who was a major proponent of the initiative, said it represents the largest financial commitment to the program since the state budget was undermined by the last recession.

“I think the Florida Forever funding puts us back on the right track,” said Rep. Ben Diamond, a St. Petersburg Democrat.

In health care, Sen. Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican, cited a $130 million increase in Medicaid funding for nursing home rates in the new budget. She said it also includes a $30 increase in the monthly allowance given to nursing home residents, providing them $135 for personal care items, like hair styling.

The budget includes 69 new investigators for the Department of Children and Families for child protective teams, which Flores said was a priority for the governor.

It also includes funding for staffing to reopen a veterans’ nursing home in Orlando and for a new veterans’ home in St. Lucie County.

Bradley also cited the permanent expansion of the Bright Futures scholarship program that will provide more financial aid to more than 90,000 students attending state universities and colleges. A $121 million increase in the program is included in a higher-education bill (SB 4) that is awaiting action by Scott.

Bradley urged bipartisan support for the spending plan.

“I ask that you not only vote yes but do so proudly because I think that this is a budget that has everyone in the chamber’s fingerprints on it,” he said.

House Minority Leader Janet Cruz said her caucus was not taking a position on the budget, with most Democrats saying Friday they remained undecided.

“I’m really vacillating. I’m not sure how I’m going to vote on this budget,” Cruz, a Tampa Democrat, said.

Cruz said she is happy about many of the initiatives but would like to see higher funding for health care, mental health and affordable housing.

“Sometimes I worry about whether those who are financially disadvantaged count enough in this state,” she said.

FHCA lauds lawmakers for nursing home budget increase

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.”

Earlier this week FHCA praised lawmakers for approving the nursing home generator rule, which was a priority of Gov. Rick Scott, after a prolonged power outage after Hurricane Irma led to a dozen heat-related deaths at The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills.

Legislative leaders increase funding for UF project

Dozens of member projects were zeroed out as legislative leaders reached a deal on an $87 billion budget deal, but one University of Florida project was not only salvaged, it got double of what the House and Senate had initially agreed to.

“It was about making sure that the projects that we chose had the greatest impact on the economy and greatest return on investments,” Senate Budget Chair Rob Bradley told reporters after budget conference Wednesday night.

The House and the Senate had initially agreed to fund the Data Science and Information center at the University of Florida at $25 million, but on Wednesday once the budget deal had been agreed to, it got $50 million in funds.

Throughout the budget process, legislators said a lot of member projects had to be cut to find money for the $400 million “Marjory Stoneman Douglas Act.”

Most of the money in the school safety package will go to “school hardening,” such as security upgrades to school buildings and bringing more school resource officer on staff.

DSR survived the belt-tightening without a loss of funds.

“Having this data science center is an important step into the 21st Century and UF is a leader in that cutting-edge technology,” Bradley said.

The UF Data Science Research Lab uses cutting edge technology to develop data management, data mining and data analysis strategies for everything from text-based databases to multimedia ones with images and video.

In addition to state funding, projects at DSR have received funding from federal sources, such as DARPA, and private industry, including Amazon, Pivotal and Google.

‘It’s silly’: Senate won’t punish Enterprise Rent-A-Car for NRA move

Senate Budget Chief Rob Bradley said it would set “bad precedent” to go along with a House plan that would have financially punished Enterprise Rent-A-Car for cutting ties with the National Rifle Association.

“I think that it’s silly to get involved in rebidding contracts … because you’re mad at a temporary moment in time about something that they have or haven’t done politically,” Bradley said.

House members,  mirroring what Georgia lawmakers were doing, tried to target an aviation fuel tax reduction benefitting Delta and a statewide rental car contract held by Enterprise after the companies severed ties with the NRA, according to a POLITICO Florida report. The rental cat company’s contract expires in 2020.

The House quietly proposed a plan that would have hurt Delta and Enterprise after the companies decided not to give NRA members discounts following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The decision came after Parkland students, teachers and parents organized massive protests urging for more gun-control measures.

The Fleming Island Republican said the state should not get involved in the fight because it would set “bad precedent” if they did.

Legislative leaders reach budget deal, Session extension looms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lawmakers will need overtime on budget

Florida lawmakers will need to go into overtime because of an impasse about hospital spending in final negotiations over a new state budget.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, told House members Tuesday night that lawmakers will have to extend the Session, scheduled to end Friday, or hold a Special Session.

“Make preparations because that’s kind of where we are headed,” Corcoran said after a day of behind-the-scenes negotiations with the Senate.

Corcoran said a “best-case scenario” would be finishing the Session Saturday. But he also said it was possible the Session would be extended to Monday or that Gov. Rick Scott could call a Special Session that might start as soon as Monday.

It will mark the second year in a row that the Legislature was unable to complete its annual Session in the allotted 60 days.

Last year, lawmakers extended the Session for three days to vote on the budget and then had to return for a Special Session after Scott vetoed the public-school portion of the budget, which he deemed inadequate.

Corcoran did not detail the reasons for being unable to reach agreement.

But earlier, Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican, said the House and Senate were continuing to negotiate payments to Florida’s hospitals and whether to scrap a long-standing system for a new one that would increase base Medicaid rates paid to every hospital, regardless of Medicaid patient load.

Late Tuesday morning, Bradley said it was “too early to tell” whether lawmakers would be able to reach agreement on an $87 billion-plus spending plan by midnight. Meeting the deadline would give lawmakers enough time to adhere to a mandated 72-hour cooling-off period before a final budget vote on Friday, the last scheduled day of the 2018 Session.

But when Corcoran spoke to House members about 8:15 p.m., he made clear the budget wouldn’t be done in time.

Hours later, there was still no signs of an agreement. If lawmakers fail to pass a budget by midnight Friday, it would mark the second year in a row that the Legislature was unable to complete its annual Session in the allotted 60 days.

The House’s proposed spending plan for hospitals in the upcoming year is essentially a continuation of the current year’s budget. But the Senate has proposed redistributing $318 million in Medicaid “automatic rate enhancements” currently paid to 28 hospitals with large Medicaid caseloads and use it to increase the rates paid for all hospitals.

The Senate budget also includes $50 million to offset the recurring effect of the current year’s budget cuts on hospitals. The Senate plan has been endorsed by some rural hospitals that say the additional $50 million in the Senate plan is what they need.

But the Senate proposal would reduce Medicaid payments to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami by as much as $58 million and Orlando Health by nearly $9 million. House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo, a Miami Republican, said the House would not let safety-net facilities such as those face steep reductions.

HCA Healthcare, a for-profit chain that owns 43 facilities in the state, could see nearly $40.5 million in Medicaid increases under the Senate plan. Tenet, which owns nine hospitals in Florida, would see a nearly $4 million increase in Medicaid payments under the Senate plan, and Community Health Systems, which owns 23 hospitals in Florida, would see as much as a $7.7 million bump in Medicaid payments.

The Senate budget also includes an additional $130 million increase in Medicaid payments for nursing homes that aren’t included in the House budget.

Bradley said Tuesday that once the chambers agree on the hospital spending they will discuss nursing homes.

Negotiations have been completed on a $21 billion public school budget and a $7.9 billion budget for state universities and colleges, including financial aid, Bradley said. But as of Tuesday evening, lawmakers had not released the details of the agreement.

Based on earlier public negotiations, lawmakers will not increase state performance funding for universities and state colleges. That funding would remain at $245 million for the universities and $30 million for the 28 state colleges.

Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican, said Monday night he expects the university system to receive an additional $20 million that would be shared by schools that have reached “pre-eminent” status, including the University of Florida and Florida State University. The University of South Florida is also expected to achieve that status in the coming year and would share those funds.

Negron also said he expects a $20 million increase in the “world class” program, which is money shared by all the universities to attract top-level professors and researchers. Another $10 million increase would go to rewarding high-performing medical, law and professional schools.

In the public-school system, lawmakers have agreed to roughly a $500 million increase in the funding formula for the 67 school districts, which should yield a per-student increase in the range of $100 in the new academic year.

School funding was impacted by the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, with lawmakers agreeing to spend an additional $400 million on school-safety and mental-health initiatives.

School-safety legislation (SB 7026) debated Tuesday in the House includes a $97.5 million increase for the “safe schools” program in the funding formula. It would boost the program, which helps the 67 school districts hire school resources officers, to $162 million in the 2018-2019 academic year.

The legislation also would provide $67 million to the school districts in a new mental-health category in the funding formula.

But one of the impacts of shifting more state funding to school safety may be Gov. Scott’s call for an $18 million increase in funding to help teachers buy classroom supplies. The increase sought by Scott would have boosted the annual support to $350 for each teacher, although it appears the program is likely to remain at its current level of $45.3 million, which provides $250 a year.

Hurricane housing programs axed from budget

State funding is absent for affordable housing programs tailored to those affected by last year’s hurricanes.

The reason? Unforeseen constraints created by a high-profile $400 million school safety and mental health proposal designed to prevent another school shooting.

Budget chiefs Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Carlos Trujillo told Florida Politics on Saturday evening that the Legislature’s budget will not fund the Hurricane Housing Recovery Program (HHRP) and the Rental Recovery Loan Program (RRLP). Instead, dollars dedicated to affordable housing will go to the State Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP) and the State Apartment Incentive Loan Program (SAIL).

“We have limited funds,” Bradley said. “Post-Parkland, everybody is taking a haircut. We agreed that SHIP and SAIL are going to be our focus when it comes to affordable housing.”

The cut to HHRP and LLRP walks back on the intentions of the House and Senate when they first passed their budgets — which happened weeks before the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

In its chamber-backed spending plan, the House appropriated $45 million and $64 million for HHRP and LLRP, respectively. The House initially did not fund SHIP and SAIL, instead sweeping $182 million from the affordable housing funding source, known as the Sadowski Trust.

The Senate had prioritized funding this year for all four affordable housing programs. Its first budget appropriated $30 million to HHRP and $60 million to LLRP, along with a little more than $104 million each to SHIP and SAIL. The Senate’s first spending plan did not propose any Sadowski sweeps.

The Legislature now intends to dole out just $109 million on affordable housing through SHIP and SAIL. The Sadowski Trust is expected to have an estimated $308 million to $322 million for the upcoming fiscal year. Close to $200 million from the trust will be spent on other projects.

HHRP and LLRP were spawned in the Legislature following the 2004 Hurricane season, when Gov. Jeb Bush and Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings requested $98 million for HHRP and $177 million for RRLP.

The two programs mimicked SHIP and SAIL, but specified that the money be spent on projects to house those who lost their homes in hurricanes. Both were never codified by statutes and eventually were removed from the budget.

Rep. Bob Cortes, an Altamonte Springs Republican, filed HB 987 this Session to breathe life back into the hurricane housing programs. The popular measure passed the House last week. A similar bill (SB 1328) is up for consideration in the Senate and had widespread support in committees.

The bills include a reactivating clause, meaning the programs could be funded when future hurricanes hit the state. According to Trujillo, that provision can still be signed into law — even if the hurricane housing programs aren’t funded this year. 

Gov. Rick Scott asked the Legislature in November to appropriate $65 million to HHRP and $25 to RRLP as part of a $100 million Hurricane Irma affordable housing relief package

But again, that was before Parkland.

The Legislature’s budget will be finalized Tuesday for a vote on Friday.

Budget negotiators face $7.8m gap over transportation, economic development issues

Florida budget leaders Saturday were still grappling with a $7.8 million funding difference on ‘bump’ issues that impact transportation, tourism and economic development.

The House and Senate met Saturday night in conference, revealing a $6 million funding gap on Department of Transportation-related items and a $9 million difference on economic opportunity projects.

The House and Senate have reached a compromise over funding for Visit Florida though, which has been an annual fight between Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature.

This year, the Legislature has agreed to fund it at $76 million even though Scott initially requested $100 million for the mostly taxpayer-funded tourism marketing agency.

When asked why it was not set at the amount the governor wants, Trujillo said money has been moved around to pay for school safety initiatives in wake of the Parkland mass school shooting.

“I think the governor will be the first to tell you that post-Parkland we have had to sacrifice priorities,” Trujillo said.

Budget leaders agree to more than $100M for Florida Forever

The state is one step closer to restoring funding to its premier land-purchasing fund.

On Friday night, budget chiefs Rep. Carlos Trujillo and Sen. Rob Bradley agreed to fund Florida Forever at $100.8 million for fiscal year 2018-2019 — a big jump from last year, when the Legislature did not appropriate anything to the trust.

The provision will be included in the Legislature’s budget, which is expected to be completed by its Tuesday deadline. Should the budget pass, the Department of Environmental Protection will have to distribute the funds to “state agencies and programs to purchase public lands in the form of parks, trails, forests, wildlife management areas and more,” according to the DEP website.

In negotiations, the House proposed about $36 million for programs funded by Florida Forever. The Senate offered $208 million ahead of Friday’s ‘bump’ deadline. Not a full day later, the House’s $100.8 million bump offer was accepted.

The budget appropriates $95 million to land acquisition subprograms overseen by DEP. The remaining $5.8 million is set aside for a land protection easement program administered by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The agreement marks a legislative success for Bradley, who in October filed a bill (SB 370) that provided for a $100 million yearly spend on Florida Forever.

Bradley’s other environmental initiatives, however, did not secure the funding the Fleming Island Republican originally wanted.

Bradley’s SB 204 sought up to $75 million for springs restoration projects and $50 million for restorations to the St. Johns River and Keystone Heights area lakes. The budget conferences agreed to fund springs restoration at $50 million. The St. Johns River and Keystone Heights area lakes are set to receive almost $5.9 million, which will be coupled with the $5.5 million in the program’s base.

Florida Conservation Voters commended Trujillo and Bradley for funding Florida Forever, and are pushing the chambers to pass measures, including Bradley’s SB 370, that would commit future Legislatures to funding the land-buying trust.

The other bill the group is backing is Rep. Matt Caldwell‘s HB 7063, which would each year increase funding to Florida Forever, appropriating $200 million to the trust by 2029.

“FCV remains hopeful these two good ideas can come together to put the ‘forever’ back into Florida Forever, so that our most treasured natural areas will be protected for future generations,” said Aliki Moncrief, executive director of the organization.

Lawmakers will vote on a unified budget on Friday.

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