Sixty Days — A prime-time look at the 2019 Legislative Session
The Last 24
Good Monday evening. The Legislature did not meet Monday (everybody there busy filing their taxes, we guess?), so we’re again stretching our wings to cover the other news out of the capital, including Gov. Ron DeSantis’ push to let free speech bloom on the state’s public college and university campuses. Also, the latest Bar exam results came out — and they’re as bad as we’ve come to expect in recent years. Sixty Days says to all Bar flunkees: Try, try again. Here’s your nightly rundown.
Let freedom (and school bells) ring: DeSantis says the state will recommit to “foster and protect student speech and the open exchange of ideas on our campuses.”
‘Head out on the highway’: A toll-road package — a priority of Senate President Bill Galvano — advances in that chamber but faces gridlock in the House.
Gambling times: What’s being put on the table for a last-minute gambling bill this year? How about sports betting, designated player games — and bingo?
Storm chaos: Disasters that rocked Florida last year are now complicating efforts to finalize a new state spending plan.
Share and share alike? A tax package moving through the House could force traditional public schools to share more money with charter schools.
More ‘first steps’: Sen. Jeff Brandes amended his “Florida First Step Act” proposal, bolstering the criminal justice package.
All hail hemp: A Senate bill to create a state hemp program, carried by top Republican Rob Bradley, is now available for the floor.
Speaking of free speech …: Republican state Rep. Randy Fine is calling for the ouster of a Brevard County talk show host he accuses of anti-Semitism, racism, and white nationalism.
A prize Pulitzer: The Sun Sentinel was awarded journalism’s top honor for its coverage of last year’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School tragedy.
Bar exam blues: Like a bad roller coaster, the passage rate for first-time takers of the Florida Bar winter exam has dipped again.
It’s bad all over: Florida Bar exam results reflect a national trend blamed on drops in applicants, changes in legal education and the declining quality of K-12 public education.
Quote of the Day
“People who gravitate toward academia tend to be more liberal than the country as a whole; I think that’s pretty undisputed. And I think people who tend to be more conservative just gravitate to other areas.” — Gov. Ron DeSantis, speaking at FSU.
Your Metz Husband Daughton-sponsored question of the day is:
Who became Speaker of the House when Republicans took power in 1996?
As always, click here to tweet your answer to @MHDFirm. The first person with the correct answer will get a shout-out in tomorrow’s 60 Days!
Last time, we asked: Who was the first African-American member of the Florida Cabinet after Reconstruction?
Answer: “Jesse McCrary Jr. served as Secretary of State for five months from 1978-1979. He was appointed by Gov. Reubin Askew to fill an unexpired term in the then-elected post.”
Congrats to Jeremy Smith (@JeremySmith850) who was again the first to tweet the correct answer!
Bill Day’s Latest
Following remarks delivered at Tampa Christian Academy, DeSantis took questions from reporters regarding his education agenda, which includes a plan to eliminate the waitlist for a tax-credit scholarship available to lower-income families seeking school choice options.
Q: Are you anticipating a legal challenge to the expansion of the tax-credit scholarship?
DeSantis: When the parent is making the decision, we’re providing support to the parent and letting them make the decision. We’re not just giving money to churches or religious institutions. It’s the parents’ decision. How that works out in the courts, I think we’ll be fine. The U.S. Supreme Court has already said that a parent making a decision is not an Establishment Clause issue.
We have a decision from Jeb Bush’s days which has been heavily criticized — and rightfully so — but if you look at Bush’s program versus what we’ve come out with, there are differences. … I don’t think that decision is right, but what we’re doing is distinguishable from that decision.
Q: Why not use the money to fix underperforming traditional public schools?
DeSantis: The vast majority of my education policies are actually focused on school districts. We’re asking for $420 million in teacher bonuses — those are public school teachers. The vocational training and technical education is going to be through the school districts primarily.
Q: There have been reports that offshore oil drilling is a possibility in Florida. What’s your position on that?
DeSantis: I’m opposed to that and I’ve led efforts in the Congress. In the Gulf in particular, [drilling] impinges on our military mission. The Department of Defense has said that’s not something that would be good if we wanted to continue to have operations out of Northwest Florida.
We’re just not a state for [drilling]. In other states, there may be a different calculation. But for us, our entire state is coastline … The President is an oceanfront property homeowner in Florida. He understands where Floridians are on this. I think we’re in good shape there.
Florida bills itself as the most veteran-friendly state in the union, a claim that’s been backed up by independent groups from Florida TaxWatch. State lawmakers have passed several laws, such as the “Florida G.I. Bill,” over the past five years to help hold on to that title.
In the 2019 Legislative Session they’re considering some more, including a “camo alert” system to prevent veteran suicides and a future ballot amendment to extend the disabled veterans property tax exemption.
But the state government didn’t earn the “most-friendly” designation on its lonesome. There are dozens of nonprofit groups across the state aimed at improving veteran well-being. One such organization wants to provide dozens of services and activities on a proposed 150-acre campus in North Florida.
Veterans Lodge would house an assortment of recreational and mental therapy facilities, job retraining programs, a research center and cabins so veterans and their families can stay on-site. The ambitious project isn’t a complete pipe dream — the people behind it boast connections to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital and the Florida State University Medical School and University Medical Center.
And now, Veterans Lodge has brought on Bill Rubin, Heather Turnbull, Melissa Akeson, Amy Bisceglia, Erica Chanti, Christopher Finkbeiner, Allison Kinney and Matthew Sacco of Rubin Turnbull & Associates to help make their plans come to life.
The Next 24
The Senate Agriculture, Environment and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee will take up a bill that would eliminate the Agency for State Technology. That’s at 9 a.m., 110 Senate Office Building.
The Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee will consider a proposal that would lead to county courts handling more lawsuits. That’s at 9 a.m., 37 Senate Office Building.
The Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee will take up a bill that would allow high-school students to substitute one computer-science credit for a science credit needed to graduate. That’s at 9 a.m., 412 Knott Building.
Students and participating partners “will have the opportunity to showcase their passion and knowledge in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) with Florida legislators, while demonstrating the advantages that STEM programming can have on economic development across the state,” a news release said. Technology displays and science demonstrations will be featured throughout the Capitol and “will reinforce how science centers and museums light the spark of curiosity, promoting STEM careers and instill important 21st century skills through engaging hands-on programs.” That’s 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Capitol courtyard and Rotunda.
The House Appropriations Committee will consider a tax-cut package reducing a tax rate on commercial leases and holding back-to-school and disaster-preparedness tax “holidays.” That’s at 10 a.m., 212 Knott Building.
Sen. Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, will hold a news conference on the “Florida First Step Act” (SB 642) and the strike-all amendment filed to it that will serve as the Senate’s criminal justice package for the 2019 Legislative Session. That’s at noon, in front of the Florida Senate Chamber, 4th-floor Rotunda.
The state Public Service Commission will hold a hearing on the impacts of a 2017 federal tax overhaul on Florida Power & Light. The tax overhaul, in part, included lowering the corporate income tax rate, providing large savings for companies such as FPL. That’s at 1 p.m., Betty Easley Conference Center, 4075 Esplanade Way, Tallahassee.
The Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee will consider a proposal to create a regulatory framework for “telehealth” in Florida. That’s at 1 p.m., 412 Knott Building.
The Senate Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee will take up a bill that would provide $300 million for a loan program that would help counties, cities and school districts cover repair costs from Hurricane Michael. It also would provide $15 million for an agricultural loan program. That’s at 1 p.m., 110 Senate Office Building.
The Senate Finance and Tax Committee will consider a proposal that would place restrictions on local sales-tax referendums. That’s at 1 p.m., 401 Senate Office Building.
The House Education Committee will take up a bill that would create a public-records exemption for information about applicants to become presidents or provosts of state universities or colleges. That’s at 1:30 p.m., Reed Hall, House Office Building.
The House Judiciary Committee will consider a proposal to prevent so-called sanctuary cities in Florida, requiring the state, local governments and law-enforcement agencies to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement. That’s at 1:30 p.m., 404 House Office Building.
The House Health & Human Services Committee will take up a bill that would revamp regulations for office surgery centers after news reports highlighted patient deaths at two Southeast Florida plastic surgery centers. That’s at 2 p.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building.
The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee will hold confirmation hearings for several officials, including Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew and Public Service Commission members Julie Brown and Gary Clark. That’s at 4:30 p.m., 412 Knott Building.