Legislative budget writers met Friday evening to take up another pair of unreconciled budget areas – Transportation & Economic Development and Civil & Criminal Justice – and came to a final agreement, closing out millions in funding items in a multibillion dollar move when the House and Senate accepted each others’ offers.
Among the most notable changes that became closer to becoming law Friday was a Conference Chair Rep. Richard Corcoran-favored move to stop the Florida Department of Transportation from adding major projects to their annual budget request willy-nilly. A legislative oversight panel must now approve any projects costing over $5 million.
Under a plan included in the Senate plan OK’d by the House on Friday, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement will now investigate uses of force resulting in death or serious injury, though whether that would apply to all local police jurisdictions was not yet clear to Vice Chair Sen. Tom Lee. Lee said the item was included at the behest of Orlando Democratic Sen. Geraldine Thompson, who is running for Congress this November.
Significant budget items given the high sign by conferees include $24 million for Visit Florida to promote tourism. Both chambers originally planned to appropriate $30 million for the agency, but disagreed on whether some funding should be set aside specifically for film and entertainment promotion.
Conspicuously absent from the justice aspect of the budget proposals lawmakers adopted were 734 new positions for the Department of Corrections, a priority Secretary Julie Jones has actively stumped during the 2016 Session. Lee said conferees devoted “a lot of money” to the department, including $45 million in new funding. He added DOC has some 230 positions currently open that it could fill using existing dollars.
The budget did include $7 million for Space Florida, $2.5 million of which will go to a space shuttle landing facility in Brevard County as dictated by proviso language.
After the meeting, Corcoran was asked about an op-ed penned by Clearwater Sen. Jack Latvala in which he claimed the House was harming the state’s economic wellbeing by not including funding for Gov. Rick Scott‘s request for $250 million for a Florida Enterprise Fund to help lure businesses to the state.
Latvala wrote if the plan to nix the funding goes forward, Florida “may now have an economic development program that mirrors that of a Third World country” due to “a bunch of ideologues” that run the House.
“I think Chris Latvala is a wonderful kid,” replied Corcoran, referring to Jack’s state representative son. “I wouldn’t say that about him.”