Call it a Good Friday news dump: House Appropriations Chair Travis Cummings said there was a chance an extended or Special Session may be needed this year to finish the 2019-20 state budget.
“I could see a scenario where we extend Session past Sine Die … if we do not make the necessary progress with our Senate partners in budget negotiations,” Cummings, a Fleming Island Republican, told Florida Politics.
“That would occur if we do not begin budget conference shortly after the Easter holiday.”
Cummings made similar points a few weeks ago, amid multiple differences between the House and Senate budgets. That included VISIT FLORIDA, which the Senate authorized at $50 million — short of the $76 million level sought by DeSantis — while the House once again seeks to sunset the program.
That said, there still may be, Cummings allowed, room to move.
“I am a lifelong Floridian. And being a legislator has increased the importance I place on tourism for our state. But the question remains on how much in taxpayer resources are used to promote our state,” Cummings said.
“There has been heavily publicized misuse of funds in prior years, but we are past that with new leadership and more accountability,” he said.
Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this year appointed former lawmaker Dana Young, a Tampa Republican, to take the reins of the state’s tourism marketing arm. “I can’t tell you how honored I am to have this opportunity and I won’t let you down,” she told tourism leaders then.
Negotiation, said Cummings, is the key for projects that are prioritized by the Senate, such as Senate President Bill Galvano’s ambitious roads bill.
Galvano wants to extend the Suncoast Parkway and the Florida Turnpike and finally build the Heartland Parkway between Polk and Collier counties. The House wants to devote roughly $75 million to the projects.
That’s doable, said Cummings, albeit conditionally.
“If House priorities are met with great success this Session, then I would say yes. I think it is always very important in this process to be open minded to what is important to each presiding officer,” Cummings said.
Another issue of note was controversial in Cummings’ own committee this month: A proposal to cap the amount of THC in smokable medical marijuana to 10 percent. Advocates railed against the idea.
Cummings, who has gotten committee level contributions from medical cannabis companies, sees a balancing act in play between “providing relief and treatment for Floridians coping with very difficult and sometimes terminal medical conditions … without harming children or having other negative societal impacts.”
Overall, the House budget chair is optimistic, including about a path to Certificate of Need (CON) reform. The priority of Speaker José Oliva on Thursday surged through the Senate’s budget committee.
Certificates of Need are a process by which the Department of Health reviews and approves (or denies) applications to open certain new health care facilities.
The House wants to open up competition in sectors that are profitable for hospitals, and the Senate (as of this writing) seeks somewhat more conditional competition.
“Whether it be CON or other health care reform bills, major progress occurred (Thursday) in the Senate,” Cummings said. “There will likely still be a few tweaks but we are optimistic for a successful outcome.
“ … It is shaping up to be a Session in which the Florida Legislature and Gov. DeSantis made very bold progress in the environment and health care through budget and policy actions. Equally important, hopefully we will have provided much needed help and funding to the communities impacted by Hurricane Michael.”
Ultimately, it’s a shared sense of priorities, including with his Senate negotiating partner Rob Bradley, giving Cummings confidence that whatever differences loom are not intractable in Session’s final days.
“I would say that whenever you have two people in very challenging negotiations that have great respect and trust for another, it is a different dynamic. But this goes for President Galvano and Speaker Oliva as well,” Cummings said.
“We are going to have our differences but all four of us have business backgrounds that prepared us for these roles. Hopefully our approach can demonstrate that both the House and Senate can have success this session. Politics can be ugly but the importance of relationships cannot be understated.”