The House and Senate agreed upon the broad outlines of a state budget Monday night and will soon name conferees to work out the details.
Senate budget chief Rob Bradley confirmed late Monday that a deal between the House and the Senate on budget allocations had been reached. Budget conferencing could begin as soon as Tuesday.
Allocations are the big chunks of state money that go to each budget subcommittee to fund the various parts of state government. The panels will do the heavy lifting and fine-point negotiations that result in the state government’s spending plan.
No numbers have yet been released, but a top source offered these three nuggets: $400 million in school safety initiatives, record funding for K-12 and higher education, and close to $100 million in tax cuts.
General revenue is one of the sources of income used to build a multi-billion dollar budget. That’s combined with federal and state trust funds.
As House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s priority education bill is pushed through the Senate committee process, some watching this week were perplexed by the vote of one sometimes perplexing Republican lawmaker.
Sen. Tom Lee, who has helped carry Corcoran’s policy in a sometimes-hostile Senate, voted with Democrats to gut language from the omnibus bill that would decertify teachers’ unions if their membership does not stay above 50 percent of total eligible employees.
Versions of the language, deemed “union busting” by opponents, have been the subject of partisan slugfests all session.
Lee told Florida Politics he voted for Sen. Perry Thurston’s amendment out of an “abundance of caution.” But insiders said there may be another reason: former Gov. Jeb Bush endorsing Jimmy Patronis for chief financial officer, a role Lee says he is mulling a run for.
The connection is this: An education reform foundation founded by Bush has been a big supporter of the House measure, and by him voting down on that provision, it would be a jab at them.
Lee says he is not always in lockstep with the foundation, as many Republicans are, but his vote was based on needing more information on the impact of the issue, which critics say is a “spiteful way of taking rights away from workers.”
“I tend to be an ally of the Speaker and expect to continue to be so, but at the end of the day, you take your orders from the people who elected you,” Lee said, “and not the former governor or the House Speaker.”
Lee said he gives Senate President Joe Negron “a lot of credit” for sending HB 7055 through the Senate committee process. The bill will be heard next week the Appropriations Committee, according to Senate Budget Chairman Rob Bradley.
Whether the proposal will be a hiccup in budget talks remains to be seen.
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:
Arming teachers — A week after the worst school shooting in the state’s history, the Republican-controlled Legislature unveiled their proposals, which include training school employees to become armed “marshals.” It’s something President Donald Trump agrees with, but Gov. Rick Scott does not. House Speaker Corcoran said teachers who have the requisite hours to act as trained law enforcement officers would be allowed to carry guns in schools, adding that it is a “first of its kind proposal” in the nation. With two weeks left in the 2018 legislative session, state lawmakers and the governor are also pushing for more school resource officers and boosting funding for mental health services.
Unprecedented gun law proposals — After thousands of students, parents and teachers came to Tallahassee to speak to legislative leaders seeking more restrictions on the purchase of “war weapons,” both chambers and the governor all agreed to raise the minimum age of owning and possessing “all firearms” to 21 and banning the sale of bump stocks. Gov. Scott said a ban on assault weapons would “not fix the problem” and would hurt “law-abiding citizens.” The House and Senate plans also include a three-day waiting period for all gun purchases.
Scott on mental health services — Gov.Scott wants to expand mental health services teams statewide to serve youth and young adults with early or serious mental illness by providing counseling, crisis management and other critical mental health services. He also wants every Sheriff’s Office to have a crisis welfare worker embedded in their departments to work on repeat cases in the community. This would mean adding 67 more employees at the Department of Children and Families by July 15.
Budget slap fight — With less than three weeks to go in a legislative session, the direction of which has now been overcome by the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, budget negotiations between the House and the Senate aren’t just stalled, they’re not happening. The first indication that the annual back-and-forth between the two chambers is not on track surfaced Tuesday afternoon. The Associated Press’ Gary Fineoutreported that House budget chairman Carlos Trujillo said there has been “no progress” on allocations and, instead, that legislators are focused on responding to the tragedy in Parkland.
Criminal justice reforms move ahead — A sweeping criminal justice bill that would upend how the state collects data on offenders in an attempt to better determine who is incarcerated and for how long is moving in the Senate. The measure would require the Department of Corrections to use risk-assessment instruments that can identify the appropriate intervention and program for offenders in an effort to reduce recidivism. Sen. Jeff Brandes said his bill (SB 1218) could be used as the foundation for “meaningful” criminal justice reform in the future. Another measure that would ease mandatory minimums in certain drug trafficking cases also headed to the Senate floor this week.
Scott to sign bill replacing Confederate statue with McLeod Bethune
Gov. Scott will soon sign a bill that will make Florida the first state to commemorate an African-American historical figure in the U.S. Capitol.
The state House and Senate have approved legislation that will honor civil-rights leader MaryMcLeodBethune at National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol. Her statue will replace that of Confederate General EdmundKirbySmith. The Legislature agreed to remove Smith’s statue in 2016.
Daytona Beach Democratic Rep. PatrickHenry sponsored the initiative in the House, which cleared the measure Tuesday. PerryThurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, sponsored the Senate version.
“Bethune’s life and values illustrate the best of Florida,” Thurston said. “Choosing her likeness for the Hall sends a powerful signal to the world that Floridians recognize our state’s rich history and its present-day diversity.”
Bethune served as president of the National Association of Colored Women. She was an appointee of President HerbertHoover to the White House Conference on Child Health and was an adviser to President FranklinRoosevelt. Bethune also founded what is now Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach. The school has offered to cover the cost of Bethune’s statue.
Each state is allowed two representatives in Statuary Hall. The Sunshine State’s other statue commemorates JohnGorrie, widely considered the father of air conditioning.
The week in appointments
Greater Orlando Aviation Authority — Scott appointed Maggie Montalvo to fill a vacant seat in the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority.
Montalvo, 53, is the executive vice president and the chief operations officer of First Colony Bank of Florida. She received a degree in banking from the American Banking and Accounting Institute.
Her term ends April 16, 2020, and her appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.
St. Johns River Watch Management District — Scott appointed Allan Roberts, the owner and operator of First Coast Cattle, to the Governing Board of the St. Johns River Water Management District.
Roberts, 70, is currently a member of the Florida Cattleman’s Association and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
He will fill a vacant seat and is appointed for a term ending March 1, 2020. His appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.
Floridians flocked to CRC hearings in Melbourne, Jacksonville
The Constitution Revision Commission held two meetings in its “Road to the Ballot” public hearing tour this week, and much like the first stop in Ft. Lauderdale, turnout was healthy.
An estimated 600 people went to the Feb. 19 meeting at Eastern Florida State College in Melbourne. Among them were 240 individuals who filled out a speaker card.
The Jacksonville stop, held on the University of North Florida campus Feb. 20, more than 500 showed up, with 210 requesting a chance to speak before the commission.
The next tour stop is a Feb. 27 hearing at the University of West Florida in Pensacola, followed by a March 5 hearing at The Westin in Cape Coral and a March 13 stop at University of South Florida — St. Petersburg.
House Democrats still working on AR-15 ban
Among the state House’s most visible actions while Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting survivors were in Tallahassee was a no vote on advancing an assault weapons ban bill to the chamber floor for debate.
The 71-36 party-line defeat in the HB 219 vote was met with astonishment and tears by students in the gallery, but Miami Democratic Rep. Kionne McGhee isn’t giving up on getting a bill to ban semi-automatic rifles to the House floor before the end of the 2018 Legislative Session.
McGee said semi-automatic assault rifles, particularly the AR-15 model used in the Parkland shooting, are a “common denominator” in mass shootings and lawmakers need to discuss the issue before they can “move on.”
McGee didn’t reveal his strategy for getting such a ban through the GOP-controlled House, but Senate Democrats this week said they would attempt to attach gun legislation, including an AR-15 ban, to bills moving through the Legislature.
FDP chair calls out Republicans for AR-15 vote
The Florida Democratic Party chair said state House Republicans turned their backs on the survivors of the Parkland shooting this week when the chamber voted not to hear a bill banning semi-automatic assault weapons.
“[Tuesday’s] vote is just one more reminder that Gov. Scott,Corcoran and the GOP-led legislature continue to fail to provide the leadership needed to put an end to senseless mass shootings,” said FDP Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo.
“If tragedy strikes again and innocent children and citizens are gunned down in a classroom, a dance club or an airport, we can look to yesterday as another example of elected officials that care more about special interest money than keeping our kids safe from harm.”
The House voted 71-36 against hearing the bill, HB 219. No Republican voted in favor of the measure.
Car dealer bill stalls in House committee
A bill aimed at making changes to car dealership regulations stalled out in its second House committee this week over objections it was tailored to hand a single industry association a monopoly on dealer training.
The bill (HB 595) by Naples Republican Rep. Bob Rommel would make changes to various legal definitions relating to car dealers.
But a strike-all amendment also by Rommel would have required new car dealers to take a four-hour course each year to keep their license. That would put them in line with requirements set for used car dealers.
That training could only be offered by “a Florida-based, nonprofit, dealer-owned, statewide industry association of franchised motor vehicle dealers.”
Only one group in the state (probably not coincidentally) qualifies under that definition: the Florida Automobile Dealers Association.
FADA representative John Forehand testified that the cap isn’t necessarily indicative of the charge the group would levy but was there as a protection since the language would make it the sole source for the training.
“Why not $200? $300?” asked St. Petersburg Democrat Wengay Newton. No matter: The bill later was temporarily postponed.
FCUA names Jones ‘Lawmaker of the Year’
The Florida Credit Union Association this week named West Park Democratic Rep. Shevrin Jones as their “2017 State Lawmaker of the Year.”
FCUA recognized Jones as a longtime friend of credit unions, and for sponsoring a bill in the 2017 Legislative Session to exempt credit unions from regulation and lawsuits under the Florida Deceptive & Unfair Trades Practices Act.
“Representative Jones has served credit unions in Florida as a true champion,” said Patrick La Pine, who heads FCUA’s parent organization, the League of Southeastern Credit Unions & Affiliates.
“He has sponsored legislation to include credit unions in an exemption under the Florida Deceptive & Unfair Trade Practices Act and understands the critical role that credit unions play in Florida’s economy and in serving Floridians throughout the state.”
FCUA honored Jones in Tallahassee last month during the Florida Advocacy Conference, where the lawmaker addressed credit union leaders gathered to help promote the industry at the state capitol.
Senate fracking ban bill on life support
A fracking ban sponsored by Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young didn’t make the agenda for the Feb. 27 Senate Appropriations Committee, and anti-fracking groups are laying the blame on Appropriations Chair Bradley.
Floridians Against Fracking, a statewide coalition of anti-fracking groups and businesses, put out a statement this week blasting Bradley not allowing the bill to be heard.
“The fracking ban has broad, bipartisan support in both chambers because the people of Florida have been demanding it to protect our water, our tourism economy and our natural resources. If a fracking ban does not end up on the Governor’s desk to sign this session, it will be seen by the people of Florida as a failure of leadership,” said Brian Lee, the group’s legislative director.
Floridians Against Fracking suggested in the same release that Senate PresidentNegron bring the ban bill up for a vote directly on the Senate floor, or in a future, unscheduled Appropriations Committee.
The fracking ban was a major campaign pledge of Young’s in the 2016 cycle. The House companion has not yet been heard in any committee, though the House has said it would take up the Senate version of the bill should it pass.
Business rent tax debate flares up on Twitter
The National Federation of Independent Business/Florida and the Florida AFL/CIO’s Rich Templin had a little back and forth on Twitter this week about the business rent tax cut when the tax package was up in House Appropriations.
It’s the only state-sanctioned sales tax on commercial leases in the entire nation. Gov. Scott and trade groups have long called to lighten the load on commercial businesses, which pay more than $1.7 billion in rent taxes every year.
Shot by NFIB: “The small and independently owned businesses NFIB represents overwhelmingly support the biz rent tax cut; #smallbiz drives the economy, and saving them money creates jobs, improves benefits and keeps the dollars in our backyards.”
Chaser by Templin: “This bumper sticker sloganeering doesn’t equate to sound fiscal policy. The overwhelming bulk of this tax cut will go to larger retailers based out of state. The taxpayers shoulder the burden & services workers & small businesses need are hindered.”
Background: Supporters of tax cuts say Florida’s business rent tax puts the state at a distinct competitive disadvantage, one that is unique in the country. Commercial rent taxes makes Florida’s competitors more attractive to business since companies are naturally more resistant to move to the state if they can get similar benefits elsewhere without paying a tax on rents.
AOB reform ad hitting Florida airwaves
Radio stations across the state this week started playing an ad warning Floridians of the dangers of “Assignment of Benefits,” which allows insurance policy rights to be signed over to third-party contractors.
The Consumer Protection Coalition, one of the chief organizations pushing AOB reform is led in part by the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, a member of the coalition, is footing the bill for the ad.
Listen to the new ad here:
“On the heels of the Florida Justice Reform Institute releasing a new report showcasing the need for AOB reform, the Consumer Protection Coalition felt it was important to alert Florida home and auto owners on how the AOB scheme works and why it is important for them to engage in asking Florida lawmakers to support meaningful AOB reform,” said Florida Chamber VP Edie Ousley.
The ad goes over how AOB works — or at least how it can be abused by unscrupulous lawyers and vendors. The radio ad is available on CPC’s website.
FSU prof to help on Hamer doc
A Florida State University professor is teaming up with Tougaloo College in Mississippi and the Kellogg Foundation to produce a new documentary on civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer.
FSU’s Davis Houck, the current holder of an endowed chair named after Hamer, will serve in an advisory capacity on the film, “Fannie Lou Hamer’s America,” and the corresponding civil rights K-12 curriculum, “Find Your Voice.”
“Having Fannie Lou Hamer’s name attached to my work and Florida State University is inspiring and daunting,” said Houck, a professor at FSU’s School of Communication.
“The project is inspiring because of the life she led in pursuit of justice, and it is daunting because her fearlessness — often in the face of grinding and lethal adversity — sets an enormously high bar for anyone seeking to walk in her footsteps.”
Hamer was a leader in the civil rights movement known for her powerful speeches, songs and activism. The K-12 component focuses on youth empowerment and community engagement in the Mississippi Delta, and it intends to connect students and teachers to the region’s history during the civil rights movement.
Tallahassee a ‘Great Small Town for Big Vacations’
The Travel Channel listed Tallahassee as one of “10 Great Small Towns for Big Vacations” this week, much to the delight of the capital city’s officials and its tourism marketing arm.
“The uniqueness of our area continues to gain the attention of national media that recognize Leon County’s rich cultural heritage and natural beauty,” said Leon County Commission Chairman Nick Maddox. “We know that we live in an exceptional part of Florida and we think it’s time the rest of the nation, and the world, knows it, too.”
The slideshow article says what Tallahassee “lacks in beaches it more than makes up for in Florida culture and adventure.” Recommendations included Ernestine Fryson’s famous fried catfish at the Bradfordville Blues Club, and the abundant nature tourism in the area.
Article author Steve Larese’s visit resulted from an invitation by Leon County to give the area a look. He was one of many of travel writers who visited the Leon County area while researching stories for various publications.
“To be counted among the country’s small towns for big adventure demonstrates the hard work of Leon County Division of Tourism in elevating and promoting what our community has to offer both visitors and residents,” said Leon County Administrator Vincent S. Long.
Now for this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:
Senate Appropriations Chairman RobBradley says he and other senators have concerns about legislation that would make driving while texting a “primary” traffic offense.
The bill (SB 90), sponsored by Sen. KeithPerry, a Gainesville Republican, is awaiting a hearing in Bradley’s committee, which has its last scheduled meeting on Tuesday.
Proponents want to give law enforcement officers the right to pull over motorists when they see them texting behind the wheel of their vehicles.
Now, texting while driving is a “secondary” violation, which only comes into play if drivers are stopped for another reason. Bill supporters say it needs to be a primary offense, pointing to 50,000 distracted-driving crashes in Florida in 2016, resulting in 233 deaths.
But Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican and former prosecutor, said he’s hesitant to give police the right to pull a motorist over if they are looking at their phone because they need directions.
“I think that that in itself is increasing the likelihood of pretextual stops and certainly increases government-citizen involvement tenfold potentially, by that simple act of making it a primary offense versus a secondary offense,” he said.
He also said he was concerned that in order to determine if texting had taken place, law enforcement would review the contents of an individual’s cell phone.
“These are all things that are of concern to me as somebody who has consistently expressed, over my career, privacy concerns that are grounded in the Constitution,” Bradley said.
He also said a number of other senators share his concerns. “I listen to them. And so it’s not just me,” Bradley said.
The House bill (HB 33), which has the support of House Speaker RichardCorcoran, is ready to be heard on the House floor. The measure is sponsored by Reps. EmilySlosberg, a Boca Raton Democrat, and Jackie Toledo, a Tampa Republican.
Slosberg’s twin sister, Dori, died in a 1996 crash. Her father, former Rep. IrvSlosberg, long fought for mandatory seat belt laws and a texting-while-driving ban.
Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon wants to create a $10 million program that would reimburse trauma centers for care provided to victims of mass shootings, and Senate President JoeNegron said he will support the effort.
Braynon wants to create a fund in the Attorney General’s Office, with money coming from a portion of fees collected from new or renewed concealed-weapons licenses. The program would reimburse trauma centers that treat victims of mass shootings, such as the Feb. 14 attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that left 17 people dead.
Braynon, a Miami Gardens Democrat, initially wanted to attach the proposal to a bill (SB 1876) that is a carefully constructed deal that could end years of litigation between hospital systems about approval of trauma centers. But Braynon withdrew a proposed amendment to the bill Thursday, saying the proposal could be included in gun policies the Senate will consider in the coming weeks and that he didn’t want to affect what he called the “tenuous” trauma bill.
Negron, a Stuart Republican, said earlier in the day he supported Braynon’s efforts but didn’t want to include a funding request in a bill that focused on trauma center regulation.
The Legislature has wrangled for years over whether to continue with current trauma-system regulations or to allow a more competitive environment that would increase the number of trauma facilities.
The legislation moving ahead is a compromise between long-standing trauma providers and the for-profit HCA Healthcare, which has sought in recent years to open trauma centers at many of its hospitals. The House is advancing similar legislation.
Senate Appropriations Chairman RobBradley, an Orange Park Republican, thanked Braynon for understanding that the trauma compromise “deals with so many issues that all of us, Republicans and Democrats agree” should occur.
The Appropriations Committee voted 17-3 to approve the bill, with opposition from Braynon, Sen. LaurenBook, a Plantation Democrat, and Sen. AnitereFlores, a Miami Republican.
Negron told reporters earlier in the day he met with two Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students who sustained grievous injuries but had survived because of the quality of the care they received following the shooting.
“I am very impressed and gratified by the incredible quality of our trauma units, our surgeons, what they’ve been able to do to save lives, which they’ve done,” Negron said when asked whether he supports Braynon’s request.
“Those kinds of heroic efforts should certainly be rewarded because they are extremely expensive but worthwhile,” Negron said.
The school attack was the fourth mass shooting in Florida in the past 20 months where trauma centers were activated.
Following the June 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, for example, Orlando Regional Medical Center treated 35 patients at its trauma center.
Lee Memorial Hospital activated its mass-casualty trauma team in response to a shooting at Fort Myers’ Club Blu in July 2016, and Broward Medical Center activated its mass-casualty team in response to the January 2017 mass shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami is also home to South Florida’s only freestanding pediatric trauma center.
But bill sponsor DanaYoung, a Tampa Republican, said the bill provides “much-needed certainty that we need to make sure that excellent level of care is available as we move forward as a state as we grow.”
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.”