In the wake of the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, some lawmakers plan to exempt photos and videos of school shootings from public records laws.
The plan has yet to be codified into a bill, but legislators reached a verbal agreement on Tuesday at the final Senate Criminal Justice Committee meeting of the Legislative Session to attempt to tack the exemption onto an existing proposal, SB 1178.
That bill, sponsored by Chair RandolphBracy, an Orlando Democrat, as drafted would prevent visual or audio recordings of human killings from being obtained via Florida’s public records laws. Under current laws, members of the media and the general public can request access to a recorded killing if it is held by an agency unless it depicts the death of a law enforcement officer.
Bracy’s sweeping exemption, however, was not favored by the committee and after being postponed twice before in earlier meetings, members failed the bill on an initial vote.
But then Sen. JeffBrandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, motioned to reconsider the bill. Bracy then called for a recess.
Upon returning, Bracy gave his word that an amendment would be drafted to “balance” the public’s right to obtaining records with a respect for the incidents that have “been happening across our country and across our state,” an allusion to mass shootings.
“We need to figure out a way to make sure that these photos and depictions are protected,” Bracy said.
Bracy later told Florida Politics that the amendment would “narrow” the public records exemptions provided in his bill to only apply to visual and audio recordings of school shootings. He acknowledged that the provision addresses an aspect of the recent mass shooting in Parkland.
With Bracy’s promise, the bill cleared the committee unanimously. It now heads to Government Oversight and Accountability and later Rules — although Bracy said the same provision could likely be added onto existing legislation on the Senate floor.
Republican state Sen. Dennis Baxley recently withdrew a bill to allow designated people to carry concealed firearms on school grounds.
Nevertheless, it didn’t slow down a Democratic congressman from California from tearing into the idea Saturday during a national radio program.
Baxley sponsored SB 1236, a proposal to allow school principals or superintendents to designate individuals who could carry guns during school hours. Those receiving the designation would have to meet training and background requirements.
SB 1236 would also require schools to receive “active shooter situation training” conducted by a law enforcement agency and to undergo safety and emergency reviews every three years by law enforcement.
The legislation is on the agenda of a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting next week.
“I’ve actually pulled this bill back, because I want to look at every option,” Baxley told NPR’s Weekend Edition host Scott Simon Saturday morning. “What we’re dealing with is the fact that with a gun free zone we have made inadvertently these students a sterile target, and the (shooters) enter this campus knowing that no one is prepared to stop them.
“And I’m very interested in that first five minutes so that we can prevent an incident from becoming a massacre, and we have security people, we have a lot of trained military people and with some additional training, they’re embedded in these faculties, they already have responsibility for security, and we can have a concealed weapon on these people so that they can immediately act to change the directive.”
Explaining why he’s withdrawn his bill, Baxley said, “I think we should look at every option on how to surgically place an armed resistance in that first minutes so that we don’t have an incident turned into a massacre.”
Simon, who introduced Baxley to the show by saying the NRA endorsed him, then interjected, asking if that was a practical solution to cut down on school shootings? Wouldn’t it just add more firepower?
Baxley responded it would not, repeating that there needs to be a way to address the situation in the first five minutes of a shooter entering a school campus.
After Simon concluded his interview with Baxley, he pivoted to speaking with California U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, about the indictment Friday of 13 Russian nationals by the Department of Justice. However, Speier said she couldn’t allow Baxley’s comments to go unaddressed.
“I’m just furious that the NRA has so infiltrated every state Legislature, the Congress of the US, so we can’t even have a sane conversation,” said Speier. “The reason why 17 kids are dead today and their parents are screaming and crying on TV and there’s another 15 injured is because that young man had an assault weapon and he was able to discharge as many bullets as he did. We have got to start by putting back in place that assault-weapon ban.
“No kid needs an assault weapon. No adult needs an assault weapon. And we’ve got to do a whole lot more than that, but to somehow think this is just a mental health issue is just fundamentally ignorant.”
A day after the Parkland shooting massacre, Fleming Island Republican Senator Rob Bradley, the Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman, said he was not going to take up any gun-rights bills during the rest of Session unless the proposals dealt with mental health issues.
Material from the News Service of Florida was used in this post.
With only three weeks left in the 2018 Legislative Session, the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is dominating the conversation in Tallahassee.
Democrats have started making noise about Republicans obstructing their long-stalled gun control bills, while GOP-leaders have focused on the need for changes to mental health laws, and needed funding boosts.
Gov. Rick Scott, Senate President Joe Negron and Senate budget chief Rob Bradley all spoke about the shooting through that lens. The Senate is also considering school “hardening” and providing funding to destroy the building where the massacre occurred, the Miami Herald reports.
But the clock is ticking for the Republican-controlled Legislature to make meaningful change in response to 17 people being gunned down at the suburban Broward County school. So far, a push for mental health funding is gaining the most momentum, but concrete proposals have yet to emerge.
With that said, here are 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:
Parkland’s legislative aftermath — The mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Broward County shook the entire country and the state Capitol this week, reviving the political debate on what can be done to put an end to gun violence. Senate leadership says the focus will be on boosting funding for mental health services and more security on campuses across Florida — not gun control. House members have sent a letter to House Speaker Richard Corcoran — who has mostly been mum since the shooting — asking him to match the Senate’s funding proposal for mental health services. Broward County legislators flew back home upon hearing the news of the shooting to attend Thursday’s vigil and be with the community.
Putnam pulls gun proposal — A proposal tucked into an agriculture-related bill that would have allowed applicants to get concealed weapon permits if Florida officials don’t complete their complete background checks in time was pulled from consideration due to “timing” and “sensitivity.” The hearing was set a day after the shooting. Senate President Negron said it would be up to the bill sponsor to see if the proposal would get another hearing this session, but Senate Budget ChairmanBradleysaid it will not be coming back this session and that mental health will be a priority.
Underage marriages still in play — A clash between the House and the Senate is putting legislation that aims to end forced child marriages in a tough spot. While the bill is very much alive, legislators that led the effort in their chambers are working together to see what the next step will be. The Florida House voted this week to allow a court to issue a marriage license to 16- and 17-year-olds in cases when there is a pregnancy. Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto and the entire Senate want a ban on all underage marriages. Benacquisto said she is “concerned” that the House proposal may not close all loopholes that could lead to forced child marriages in the state. She said she will continue to work with Rep. Jeanette Nunez to weigh all options for the bill.
Fixing voter-restoration process — After a federal judge said the state’s current voter-restoration system is unconstitutional, the state fought back and said Gov. Scott and the Cabinet should be tasked with fixing its flaws — not the courts. But a national voting rights advocacy group that convinced the judge to strike down the current process said the court should restore voting rights to all felons who complete any “waiting period” set by the state. Currently, the state has a five-year waiting period before a former felon can apply to have their voting rights restored.
A hyped-up immigration debate — After days of tweeting back and forth, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum and House SpeakerCorcoranmet face-to-face to debate the sanctuary city issue that has taken over the governor’s race. The 45-minute debate centered on Corcoran’s $1.4 million television ad that portraying immigrants who entered the country illegally as a danger to Floridians and HB 9, a proposal that threatens local officials who do not fully comply with federal immigration authorities with removal from office and fines. Corcoran and Gillum advocated for polar opposite sides on the issue — as expected. But both fed their base supporters, which would make it a win for both try to boost their name recognition statewide.
Scott gives update on response to Parkland school shooting
The day after 17 died in a mass shooting at Marjory Douglas High School, Gov. Scott listed off what state agencies are doing to help the survivors.
The Florida Department of Education and the Florida Department of Children and Families through its local managing entity, Broward Behavioral Health Coalition, are providing grief counseling in the area. DOE has also put the Florida Association of School Psychologists on standby if more counselors are needed.
Attorney General Pam Bondi is also on the scene with her director of victim services and approximately a dozen victim advocates. The office is also offering counseling services and funeral, burial and medical expenses for victims and their families.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Florida Highway Patrol are assisting the Broward County Sheriff’s Office with the investigation.
The state Department of Health is also on call to help the Broward County medical examiner, while OneBlood is working to meet the blood donation needs of the victims. The agency said O negative blood is needed to replenish the area’s supply.
Senators ask Negron to convene school safety task force
Sens. Rene Garcia and Anitere Flores sent a letter Friday to Senate President Negron asking him to “immediately convene” a task force that would find comprehensive solutions to “protect our students and teacher from violence.”
“The task force should consider reviewing the following issues, mental health, access to care, funding and treatment options,” they write.
Both Miami Republicans want a task force to explore review issues of mental health treatment options as well as options for hiring former military and police officers to secure schools.
The findings collected by the task force would provide a “framework for action” by the governor and the Legislature.
“We should not allow the inaction of our Federal partners to be the cause of our inaction in addressing the issues of violence in our schools and our community,” the letter states. “The time for action is now.”
Senators visit Floridians affected by school shooting
Senate President Negron, Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon and Sens. Lauren Book and Gary Farmer went to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Wednesday to meet with those affected by the tragedy.
The senators visited Broward Health where they met with medical personnel responsible for treating shooting victims. They also met with Broward County School Superintendent Robert Runcie and the Broward County Sheriff’s Office.
The pictures and video I viewed previously did not prepare us for the horrendous sight we viewed today at Stoneman Douglas,” Negron said. That horrific scene of one person’s destruction was a stark contrast to the heroism and hope we encountered during our meeting with the doctors and other medical personnel.”
Negron said he is committed to pushing legislation that will give $100 million in funding for mental health services, improve the safety and security of state schools and ensure that a person suffering from a mental health issue does not have the ability to purchase a firearm.
“I look forward to visiting Parkland again to share with the community the progress we have made toward preventing a tragedy like this from ever happening again,” Negron said.
Gibson, Berman want gun bills heard in 2018 Legislative Session
In the wake of the Parkland school shooting Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to Senate President Negron and House Speaker Corcoran imploring them to consider a proposal that would allow guns to be temporarily confiscated from owners who pose a threat to themselves or others.
HB 231 and SB 530, sponsored by Lantana Rep. Lori Berman and Jacksonville Sen. Audrey Gibson, would allow family, friends, teachers or law enforcement officers to get a court order to temporarily remove a firearm if there is evidence that a person poses a significant danger to themselves or others because of a mental health crisis or violent behavior.
“Now more than ever, these bills must be heard. The most recent shooting is unacceptable and too tragic to comprehend. It is time we step up and come together to act on meaningful gun safety reform,” Berman said. “As a mother, my heart breaks for these families. There are no words to describe the horror of a child not returning home from school. Florida needs to set an example for the rest of the nation by not just demanding action but taking action.”
The bills are based off a Washington state law. Similar measures have passed in California, Oregon, Indiana, and Connecticut.
Florida picks up another $10 million in Israeli bonds
CFO Jimmy Patronis announced this week that Florida is increasing its stake in Israeli bonds by $10 million this year, bringing the Sunshine State’s total investment to $50 million.
“During a time when our nation is criticized and attacked for moving our embassy to Jerusalem, it’s incredibly important to signal to the world that we stand firmly with the State of Israel,” Patronis said.
“Israel’s economy has seen significant growth over the years including expanded development in the high-tech industry. Increasing our investment in Israel by $10 million this year not only provides a good return on investment but strengthens our relationship. The interests of Israel will always be the interests of the United States, and this unprecedented investment further cements us as friends, allies and economic partners.”
Patronis decided to increase Florida’s investment after discussions with Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and other representatives, including Israel Bonds President Israel Maimon. The move gives Florida the third largest stake in the State of Israel among U.S. states.
Conservative activist seeks constitutional fix to abortion issue
John Stemberger is telling supporters their “voice is needed at one of the four upcoming historic hearings of the 2017-2018 Florida Constitution Revision Commission (CRC).”
The commission, in the process of rewriting parts of the state constitution, announced the second round of public hearings on their work, in Melbourne on Feb. 19, Jacksonville on Feb. 20, Pensacola on Feb. 27, and St. Petersburg on March 13.
The panel now has 37 proposals under review for possible addition to the state’s governing document. That doesn’t include one favored by Stemberger, an Orlando attorney who sits on the commission and leads the conservative Florida Family Policy Council. Proposal 22 was voted down by other commissioners.
It’s “designed to fix our state constitution’s privacy clause and require the Florida Supreme Court to interpret it in accordance with the original intent of the Legislature (which placed it on the ballot) and the people who adopted it,” he told supporters in an email this week. “Florida’s privacy clause was intended for informational privacy and not for abortion.”
Stemberger and others have urged the commission to amend the constitution to undo a 1989 Florida Supreme Court decision striking down as unconstitutional a state law that required parental consent before a minor can get an abortion. Opponents complain that the constitutional provision at issue, the right to privacy, was misconstrued to apply to abortion rights instead of a right to “informational privacy” against the government.
“If 15 CRC members vote to revive the proposal, the matter can still be heard and voted on by the entire commission,” Stemberger said.
“The first public hearing in this second round of CRC hearings occurred this past week in Fort Lauderdale, one of the most liberal cities in the state,” he added. “The forum was packed with what appeared to be 500-600 people who were very hostile to life, parental rights and school choice.
“During the hearing, opponents were very rude, disruptive and did not respect the Chairman’s repeated requests to be civil and not cheer, clap, or otherwise disrupt the forum or another speaker’s time. Citizens who support life, parental rights, life and school choice need to attend these upcoming hearings and present better, respectful, more persuasive (not to mention truthful) arguments to this historic commission.”
The 37-member panel convenes every 20 years. Any changes it ultimately approves still must go on the 2018 statewide ballot and gain 60 percent approval to be added to the constitution.
DOH wants Floridians to show their heart some love
The Florida Department of Health said this week that Floridians should treat Valentine’s Day as a reminder to live a heart-healthy life.
DOH and the American Heart Association recognize February as a time to help Americans focus on making changes to their lifestyle in order to combat heart disease, the leading cause of death in Florida and the country.
“This month, take some time to show your heart extra love — if you take care of your heart, your heart will take care of you,” DOH Secretary Celeste Philip said. “Heart disease remains a threat to too many Floridians, and almost half of adults in America have high blood pressure. But there are many ways to reduce your risk for high blood pressure and heart disease, such as making smart food choices, staying active and getting 7-9 hours of sleep a night.”
DOH’s recommendations for keeping hearts fit are 150 minutes of exercise a week, regular visits to the doctor for preventive screenings, and a healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Smokers can also greatly decrease their risk of heart disease by quitting, and Tobacco Free Florida is willing to lend a helping hand for those ready to make the change.
Child Safety Alarm Act clears first committee
A bill by Orlando Democratic Sen. Linda Stewart that aims to crack down on children being left in hot daycare vehicles cleared its first committee this week with a unanimous vote.
“This is a bipartisan effort to keep our children safe,” Stewart said. “We need to be doing everything we can to try to prevent our most precious cargo from being left in hot vans and I look forward to the same vote outcome at the Transportation Committee.”
Stewart filed the bill after the 2017 death of 3-year-old Myles Hill, who was left unattended in a daycare van for 12 hours in the scorching summer heat.
SB 486 would require vehicles used by day care facilities to be outfitted with an alarm system that reminds drivers to check the car for children before leaving the vehicle. The bill is expected to be taken up next for a vote in the Senate Transportation Committee, followed by the Rules Committee before it’s ready for the Senate floor.
A similar bill in the House, HB 305, has been filed by Orlando Democratic Rep. Bruce Antone but has not yet been heard in committee.
Plakon gives the ultimate Valentine’s Day present
Some give flowers, others give chocolates. But state Rep. Scott Plakon gets tattoos for Valentine’s Day.
“I just got a tattoo. Really. I’m not kidding. A real one,” Plakon wrote in a Facebook post.
Plakon got a tattoo with the purple Alzheimer’s Awareness ribbon and a daisy in honor of his wife Susie, whose favorite flower is the daisy and was diagnosed with Alzheimer.
“As I’ve shared before,” he said, “my new life’s mission is to help bring more awareness to the reality of Alzheimer’s disease. What better way to make it permanent than to get a tattoo?”
The Seminole County Republican said he went to the tattoo parlor on his way home from Tallahassee. He stopped at Infamous Tattoos in Leesburg.
“Sort of an unusual gift but Happy Valentine’s Day, Susie Plakon!” he wrote.
COA group praises Senate for ‘Condo Cleanup Bill’ vote
A bill by Sen. Kathleen Passidomo that would patch up a number of cracks in 2017 legislation aimed at reforming condominium owners association rules cleared its second Senate panel this week, much to the delight of association group Chief Executive Officers of Management Companies.
“Last year, the Florida Legislature passed a number of needed reforms that instructed Associations what to do but not how to implement those reforms,” said CEOMC Executive Director and Lobbyist Mark Anderson.
“SB 1274 is essentially the instruction manual of how to properly implement those important reforms while protecting our Associations and homeowners from unintended higher costs. We are pleased to see this legislation moving quickly and appreciate the leadership of Senator Passidomo.”
The “Condo Cleanup Bill,” makes clear how long COAs must keep official records, such as vote tallies or contract bids, on hand for unit owners. It also requires larger complexes to post certain records online and clarifies financial reporting requirements for complexes based on their annual revenues.
The bill now moves on to the Rules Committee, its final stop before it’s ready for the chamber floor.
Rhodes Roberts named 2017 Woman of the Year in Agriculture
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam announced this week that has been picked as the “Woman of the Year in Agriculture” for 2017.
“Florida’s robust agriculture industry would not be as bright as it is today without the dedication and service of individuals such as Dr. Roberts,” Putnam said. “I’m honored to present Dr. Roberts with the 2017 Woman of the Year in Agriculture award.”
Roberts spent 35 years working for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, beginning in 1968, where she championed policy changes for the advancement of Florida’s agriculture industry, trade and production practices.
In 1984, Roberts became the first woman in the United States to serve as an Assistant Commissioner of Agriculture.
After leaving DACS, Roberts spent 13 years as Director of Industry Relations and then as Special Assistant for Government Affairs for the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
FSU dedicates memorial honoring Navy hero
Florida State University dedicated a memorial this week to Lt. Cmdr. Scott Speicher, a Navy pilot and FSU alumnus who was killed during the Persian Gulf War.
FSU President John Thrasher and a member of the Speicher family spoke at the dedication, which was part of Military Appreciation Weekend at the university.
The memorial features a bronze helmet similar to what Speicher would have worn and included a black granite pedestal, bronze plaque and his name. The memorial is part of an exterior face-lift to the Scott Speicher Tennis Center, located at the intersection of Chieftain Way and Spirit Way.
The center, completed in 2003, was named after Speicher due to his love of the sport.
FSU women’s tennis coach Jennifer Hyde said she and members of the team were excited and proud to be a part of the dedication.
“I think it’s very important for our student-athletes to pause and appreciate the namesake behind this facility,” Hyde said. “This new memorial honoring Scott Speicher and his family recognizes that we would not be able to live the lives we have without the commitment of our military members, who protect our freedoms and way of life.”
Speicher was shot down over Iraq in 1991 on the first night of Operation Desert Storm. He was listed as missing for nearly two decades until United States Marines discovered the crash site and his remains in 2009. He was the first American combat casualty in the Persian Gulf War.
New cruise line to build headquarters in Florida
The Sunshine State is once again proving to be an ideal location for businesses.
Virgin Voyages, a new cruise company by the global Virgin brands, announced this week that it will house its headquarters in Plantation. The move is expected to bring 300 new jobs to Broward County and an investment of $15.9 million into the local economy.
The state played an integral role in securing Virgin Voyages’ headquarters, coordinating with local ordinances and articulating the strength of Broward County’s diverse, educated and multicultural workforce, infrastructure, quality of life, proximity to major seaports and a competitive tax and business environment — all of which were cited by the new cruise line as reasons for placing its headquarters in Plantation.
“As a top tourism destination, the gateway to Latin America and one of the most business-friendly states, Florida is the best place for Virgin Voyages’ new headquarters,” said Gov. Scott, who has made it a priority to bring jobs to the state during his tenure.
The news capped a great week for Florida’s economy. On the same day of the Virgin Voyages announcement, aerospace powerhouse Lockheed Martin told Floridians it would be expanding in the Orlando area, creating 500 new jobs.
Now for this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:
The Florida Supreme Court won’t take up a dispute about whether homeowners can be barred from growing vegetable gardens in their front yards.
Hermine Ricketts and Laurence Carroll asked the high court to resolve a long-running dispute with the Village of Miami Shores, which passed an ordinance four years ago banning front-yard vegetable gardens like the one the couple had maintained for nearly two decades. The ordinance also allowed the village to impose fines of up to $50 per day for noncompliance. Ricketts and Carroll — who, fearing hefty fines, uprooted their vegetables — turned to the Supreme Court, after two lower courts sided with Miami Shores and upheld the regulation.
But on Friday, justices issued a brief order saying they would not hear the case.
Meanwhile, a powerful state lawmaker has taken on the couple’s crusade. A Senate committee Tuesday backed a proposal sponsored by Senate budget chief Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican who said the gardeners should be allowed to grow their own food wherever they want.
“Thomas Jefferson would roll over in his grave if he knew that code enforcement officers would one day require Americans to dig up and throw away vegetables grown on their own property,” Bradley told The News Service of Florida in a text message.
Working for Florida’s Families, the political committee of Senate Appropriations Chair Rob Bradley, raised more than $100,000 for the third straight month in January.
The first month of 2018 saw $114,050 of new money come into committee coffers off 37 contributions, bringing it up to $1.650 million raised, with roughly $795,000 on hand.
Among those who donated $5,000 and over in January: Florida CUPAC; June Simpson, the wife of Tom Simpson, who the U.K. Daily Mail calls a “pharmaceutical billionaire”; Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association; Chief Executive Officers of Management Companies; United Health Group PAC; Floridian’s United for Our Children’s Future, a political committee seeded by Florida Crystals, Florida Power & Light, U.S. Sugar, and Sheldon Adelson; shopping mall magnate Syd Ghermezian; and Comprehensive Health Management.
Bradley’s two Republican Senate colleagues from Northeast Florida saw quieter January committee fundraising.
Florida Conservative Alliance, the committee of Fernandina Beach Senator Aaron Bean, brought in $19,000 in January, pushing the total to $105,000 on hand. That number was paced by $5,000 contributions from Comcast and TECO Energy.
Sunshine State Conservatives, the primary committee of St. Johns County’s Travis Hutson, brought in just $6,500 in January; it has $105,000 on hand. Hutson’s secondary committee, First Coast Business Foundation, brought in no January money and has just under $9,000 on hand.
Lawmakers are continuing to work on restocking Florida Forever, the state’s once-prized land preservation program.
However, Florida Forever spending is shaping up to be a big part of the environmental budget differences the House and Senate will have to settle in the coming weeks.
The House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee on Tuesday unanimously backed a wide-ranging proposal (HB 7063) that would gradually raise the annual allocation to Florida Forever, starting at $57 million in the 2019-2020 fiscal year.
The move came less than a week after the Senate voted to set aside $100 million a year for Florida Forever starting in the 2018-2019 fiscal year, which begins July 1.
“We’re going to get together and try to make our case the best we can for the policy that’s in there. I think it’s all a good policy,” said Rep. MattCaldwell, a North Fort Myers Republican who is sponsoring the House proposal.
Despite the $57 million figure, Caldwell’s bill would allocate $200 million a year toward Florida Forever. However, until 2029, chunks of that allocation would go to reducing existing debt payments.
The money going into Florida Forever would be directed toward land acquisition and would gradually increase to $110 million in the 2023-2024 fiscal year and $200 million starting with the 2029-2030 budget.
Caldwell’s proposal also would keep in place bonding approved during the 2017 Legislative Session for a reservoir in the Everglades Agricultural Area and allow local governments to administer rural-lands protection easement programs with assistance from the state Department of Environmental Protection.
AlikiMoncrief, executive director of the Florida Conservation Voters, said she was “most excited” about the part of the bill regarding land acquisition.
“Land acquisition is a really important and unfortunately an under-used tool sometimes in Florida,” said Moncrief, who backed a 2014 voter-approved amendment that directs one-third of an existing real-estate tax toward the land and water conservation.
“When you buy land around springs, for example, and you make sure that those lands stay in conservation, instead of being turned into gas stations or developments, you’re actually protecting the springs and you’re protecting our underground resources,” Moncrief said.
But Caldwell’s policy changes have drawn some concern.
JulieWraithmell, interim executive director with Audubon Florida, said language in the proposal expands when attorney fees can be awarded in outside challenges, which she said could have a “chilling effect” of keeping people from questioning agency actions.
“The little guy who is challenging an agency, yes currently they can be assigned attorney costs from the agencies, but only if their challenge is decided to be an improper purpose, the equivalent of a frivolous lawsuit but at the administrative law level,” Wraithmell said.
Caldwell said after the meeting he will continue to work to address concerns with the proposal, which must still go before the House Appropriations Committee.
Caldwell also said he expects any talks between the House and Senate about Florida Forever to include discussions of funding for the St. Johns River.
Senate Appropriations Chairman RobBradley, a Fleming Island Republican, is sponsoring the Senate proposal to spend $100 million a year on Florida Forever. He also has a separate proposal (SB 204) to use the voter-approved money to bump funding to $75 million a year for the state’s springs and to put an additional $50 million toward restoration of the St. Johns River, its tributaries and the Keystone Heights lake region in North Florida. The Senate could pass that bill Wednesday.
Caldwell’s proposal also includes a five-year beach management plan, which doesn’t include funding.
Sen. DorothyHukill, a Port Orange Republican, has advanced to the Senate floor a measure (SB 174) that would provide $50 million a year for beach projects.
“Nothing is insurmountable,” Caldwell said. “It puts us again in play on a number of issues where we both have interest.”
Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) was created to foster an economic climate in Florida conducive to the growth, development and welfare of industry, business and the people of the state, which is why we are proud to be one of the 30 statewide organizations that make up the Sadowski Coalition.
Fully funding our affordable housing programs is good for all Florida businesses and our economy. Affordable housing generates jobs in home construction, which is a major economic driver in the state. This industry also fosters growth in local businesses when they draw upon and use local resources.
Florida’s housing market and available affordable housing stock are key factors in attracting new businesses to the state. Fully funding affordable housing goes a long way toward enhancing our workforce and business climate.
If we can ensure Florida’s employees at all income levels can find a safe, reliable and affordable home near their job, our state can continue to be one of the best places to do business in the nation.
Recently, the state Senate and House released their respective budget proposals. We truly appreciate the Senate and Senate leadership, including Appropriations Chair Rob Bradley of Fleming Island and President Joe Negron of Stuart, for their commitment to affordable housing.
The Senate continues to be a strong advocate for affordable housing in Florida, and we ask they remain resolute in their recommendation of fully allocating these funds as they move through budget negotiations.
On the other hand, the House’s funding proposal only appropriates affordable housing money for areas impacted by the hurricane, which means the bulk of the state will not receive any affordable housing funding with this proposal.
We hope they will move to the Senate’s funding position. We ask they remember just how important affordable housing is to our economy, Floridians and our entire State of Florida.
If lawmakers fully fund affordable housing programs during Fiscal Year 2018-19, we can generate more than 30,000 Florida jobs and have a positive economic impact of $4 billion in the State of Florida.
We ask lawmakers to keep this in mind as their focus shifts to finalizing the FY 2018-19 budget.
Brewster Bevis is the senior vice president of state and federal affairs for AIF, which is a member of the Sadowski Coalition.
The House and Senate on Wednesday advanced separate versions of an $87 billion-plus state budget, with the two chambers taking different courses on health-care spending and a plan to link education policy to the budget process.
After initial debate on the bills, the Senate is poised to pass its $87.3 billion bill (SB 2500) on Thursday, and the House is expected to pass its $87.2 billion spending plan (HB 5001). After the floor votes, the chambers will be able to begin negotiating the 2018-2019 budget, facing a March 9 end-of-Session deadline.
Although the two bills are only $100 million apart overall, details differ. One major hurdle facing negotiators is a House plan to directly link the $21 billion public-school portion of the budget to passage of a separate 198-page “conforming” bill (HB 7055), which contains dozens of education policy changes, including voucher-like scholarships to let bullied students transfer to private schools.
Rep. MannyDiaz Jr., a Hialeah Republican who leads the House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee, acknowledged that if the House budget bill passed, but the separate policy bill failed, lawmakers would have to return to Tallahassee to pass a budget to fund Florida’s 67 school districts for next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Rep. DavidRichardson, a Miami Beach Democrat, offered an amendment seeking to sever the link between the education-policy bill and the budget.
“I think this is a bad precedent,” he said, saying there has not been enough public review of the massive education conforming bill, which was only heard by one committee.
But his proposal was defeated in a 72-39 vote, along party lines, with the Republican majority opposing the effort.
Senate Appropriations Chairman RobBradley, a Fleming Island Republican, said the Senate is taking the position that major policy bills should be handled through the normal committee process and not included in a budget-linked bill. A conforming bill cannot be amended and would only be subject to an up-or-down vote if it is approved in the House-Senate negotiating process.
“Our conforming bills this year are skinny, for the lack of a better word,” Bradley said. “They do only what is a bare necessity to make sure the budget is done in a legal manner.”
But Bradley also said many House education proposals would likely receive Senate support if the measures are handled through the normal bill process.
“Our objections are on procedure, not policy,” Bradley said. “I think as those issues move through the Senate process that they will be receiving favorable votes because there are many of us who are supporters of the parental-empowerment, school-choice movement.”
Another potential sticking point in budget negotiations is a Senate plan revamping the way Medicaid payments are distributed to Florida hospitals. It would replace an existing system that favors facilities that serve a greater percentage of poor and disabled patients with a plan that would increase base Medicaid payments for all hospitals.
House leaders say they favor the current system, noting major hospitals like Jackson Memorial in Miami would face a funding cut in excess of $59 million. House Appropriations Chairman CarlosTrujillo, a Miami Republican, said he supports helping major not-for-profit hospitals, like Jackson, while he is more skeptical of for-profit hospitals.
Bradley acknowledged the Senate and House plans “are wildly opposite,” but the Senate proposal is designed to spur a policy debate.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Bradley said. “But this is a debate that is long overdue in this building. Don’t fear the debate, we look forward to the debate over how we handle Medicaid payments for our medical providers moving forward.”
In floor action Wednesday, the Senate adopted dozens of amendments to its budget bill, most related to funding local projects across the state.
One of the amendments, sponsored by Sen. PerryThurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, and several other senators, would boost operational funding for Florida A&M University by $6 million. FAMU lost some $11.5 million in state performance funding this year because it finished near the bottom of annual rankings for the 12 state universities.
The House and Senate budgets would boost state and local funding for public schools by more than $500 million. The House has a $100 increase in per-student funding, while the Senate has a $110 increase.
Neither budget has a general pay raise for state workers. But the Senate bill would increase pay for state law enforcement officers by at least 7 percent, if the officers have 10 or more years of experience. The Senate also would provide a $2,500 pay raise for state firefighters.
The Senate bill would increase salaries for state Supreme Court justices and appellate court judges by 10 percent.
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.