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Jacksonville Bold for 3.5.20 — Homestretch

Jacksonville leaders are making their cases for appropriations.

Homestretch

The Legislative Session is nearing its end, and Jacksonville leaders made their cases for appropriations.

Last week, Mayor Lenny Curry was out in Tallahassee lobbying for money to help with crosswalks, the Fire Watch initiative to fight veteran suicide, and increased public safety funding.

Curry met with Senate President Bill Galvano and House Speaker José Oliva.

Additionally, he met with the two budget chairs from Clay County, Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Travis Cummings.

Cynics, even in the press, wonder why Jacksonville lobbies in Tallahassee, especially when the money involved pales in comparison to Jacksonville’s general fund budget.

Well, when you’re as connected as Curry is to most of these players, why not?

The real question was, why did he wait so long?

Jacksonville has benefited particularly from the Bradley/Cummings era.

If it hadn’t been for Cummings, it’s entirely possible that Jacksonville’s pension reform solution — reamortizing billions of dollars of debt from defined benefit plans — would never have passed. 

The likelihood of Jacksonville having a direct line to appropriations chairs anytime soon: unknown.

While Rep. Paul Renner will be Speaker in 2022, that is still a long way off. Curry will be a lame-duck by then. And a new generation of City Hall leaders will try their hand at Jacksonville’s familiar problems. 

Disabled rights protected

When it comes to organ transplants, disabled Floridians will no longer be at the back of the line.

Organ transplants … for all.

Sen. Aaron Bean’s bill to allow disabled donors to receive organs is ready for the Senate floor.

SB 1556 cleared the Appropriations Committee Thursday 17-0, the final committee stop for the legislation that would allow disabled donors to receive organs.

The goal: to “protect” access to medical procedures regardless of disability status, ensuring universal access to organ transplants under the aegis of “lifesaving treatment.”

The legislation would prevent health care facilities, insurers (HMOs and group insurance policies included), and other entities from denying organ transplant services to people with developmental or intellectual disabilities solely on that basis.

The Americans with Disabilities Act prevents discrimination based on disability, but transplant facilitators often are unaware.

People denied transplants often don’t know that they can find out the reason for refusal, as the National Council on Disability noted in a report last year.

A common complaint among advocates for those with various disabilities is the opaqueness of the decision making process by transplant centers.

The measure is noncontroversial for legislators. Rep. Jason Fischer’s bill in the House passed 117-0.

E-Verify’s wild ride

Time is running out on the 2020 Legislative Session, and it’s by no means certain that the mechanism will be set up to address a 2018 political promise from the Governor.

The good news for supporters: E-Verify requirements were approved by a Florida House panel for the first time Thursday.

Legislature trying again in 2020 with E-Verify.

“This really mirrors what federal law is doing,” said Rep. Cord Byrd, a Neptune Beach Republican, said during the Commerce Committee meeting.

This marks the first movement for E-Verify legislation in the House, while the Senate has advanced a bill through two committees.

Byrd’s bill (HB 1265) would require private employers to verify the employment eligibility for workers. But E-Verify isn’t the only vehicle. Byrd noted employers already using the required I-9 verification system could continue doing so.

The Senate bill and its proposed process are different, however.

An alternative verification system for employees put on the Senate bill in its last committee stop left sponsor Sen. Tom Lee upset enough to say the language loosening enforcement measures for employers deserved a veto.

Clay days

Though lacking the headlines of the E-Verify push, Rep. Clay Yarborough has quietly put together a strong Session, moving several bills that proved to be multiyear lifts.

HB 177, a bill that allows for a prescription drug donation program allowing unused-but-usable meds to be recycled, passed the Senate and the House unanimously.

Pill party: Clay Yarborough bill keeps drugs out of the trash.

Another Yarborough bill poised to become law: HB 1439.

The legislation protects access to bank accounts by family members of the deceased, as long as there’s less than $1,000 is in them. Higher amounts would be swept into the probate process. 

And another Yarborough bill will achieve the effect of law even if it doesn’t pass.

The Florida Bar last week signaled its intention to add language from a “Guide to a Healthy Marriage,” fulfilling a yearslong quest by two conservative Republican lawmakers to make guidance available to avoid family fragmentation.

“This is a great victory for soon-to-be-married couples in Florida, and we believe it can help reduce the very high percentage of divorce in our State, which is at 49%. Family fragmentation burdens Florida’s budget by billions of dollars annually,” Yarborough said.

Discrimination targeted

Jacksonville Democratic Rep. Tracie Davis looks poised to get an essential piece of legislation through the House after the smoothest of all imaginable committee stops this week in House Judiciary.

HB 175 would, as POLITICO Florida reports, bring the Florida Fair Housing Act in line with the federal Fair Housing Act.

Housing discrimination is not a new fight.

“The measure moves to make the Florida Fair Housing Act consistent with the federal Fair Housing Act. Florida courts have interpreted the state law as requiring discrimination claimants to exhaust their administrative options before pursuing a civil lawsuit,” POLITICO reported.

Courts have said federal and state laws don’t line up.

The Senate also has an appetite for the concept. The bill, carried by Sen. Darryl Rouson, is on the calendar.

Going her own way

Rep. Kim Daniels cut her own swath in Tallahassee in 2020, battling with members of her party on high-profile social legislation.

Daniels, a minister by trade, was a prime co-sponsor of HB 265, a bill requiring parental consent for minors seeking an abortion except for certain exceptions where a court order can override that requirement.

The conservative Democrat made enough noise to keep the caucus from taking a position.

Daniels also was a staunch defender of a “parental rights” bill, which has passed the House but not the Senate. 

Rep. Kim Daniels with Republican Rep. Erin Grall, Sen. Kelli Stargel.

For Daniels, these issues are personal.

A recent debate on the House floor saw her describe a horrific abortion she suffered as a teen.

She described being humiliated by medical staff during the procedure, and the horrific aftermath, where parts of her unborn child fell out of her during school. 

Many in Northeast Florida discount Daniels because of wild quotes on all manner of subjects. Still, in doing so, they miss the connection she has with voters, who know deprivation in ways that are theoretical to many of her critics. 

Disruption

Of all the legislators in the Duval delegation, Fischer is the most likely to file disruptive, paradigm-challenging bills.

2020 was no exception.

Thus far, he’s gotten two through the House: the organ transplant bill, and a bill expanding drones into wildlife management.

Drones on: Expect invasive species management to have new tools.

Fischer’s HB 859 would allow state agencies, such as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, to use the uncrewed aircraft over swamps and other people-free places where invasive species and other nuisances have proved problematic.

Beyond these bills, Fischer faces a few more open questions.

A bill he filed that would move the preemption of Airbnb-style vacation rentals to the state is on the House second reading calendar, but the Governor has distanced himself from it.

And a “local bill” the Duval County legislative delegation agreed to, that would create a pathway for an elected school superintendent, died in committee this year.

Random audit

Earlier this month, the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee “randomly selected” lobbying firms for compensation report audits.

Some big names are among them: Schale Communications, Greenberg Traurig and Crisafulli Consulting.

Some names are more obscure, such as Yosher Strategies, LLC, the firm of Jacksonville consultant Ben Marcus.

Marcus, a Democrat in House District 16, is running in the 2020 general election against Fischer, a Republican and JLAC alternating chair.

The audit could begin Mar. 16, three days after Session is supposed to end. The hope is to complete all examinations by the end of June.

“I think it’s a pretty big coincidence I was selected. If Rep. Fischer did, in fact, handpick my firm, that means he’s using taxpayer dollars to try and dig up dirt on a political opponent, which is obviously highly unethical,” Marcus added.

Fischer says Marcus is off.

While the selection of Mr. Marcus’s lobbying firm makes for good conspiracy theory, the truth is these audits are at regular intervals with firms being randomly selected by the Auditor General,” Fischer said.

“Mr. Marcus might be a good lobbyist and tell a good story, but the one he is telling here is simply fiction. This audit is, as a matter of fact, so easy to take out of context that if staff — either official or political — had even suggested it to me, I would have fired that person on the spot. The reality is, I had nothing to do with the audit selection, at all,” he continued. 

Mixed bag

Rep. Wyman Duggan didn’t get everything he wanted this Session, but a couple of his bills are in a position to become law.

HB 883, which sets up a “disqualification list” to ensure that sketchy educators and support personnel are not hired, is on the House Second Reading calendar.

Likewise, on Second Reading: HB 589, a bill that enhances felony threshold offenses against firefighters.

Those are the bills most likely to become law. 

There is also a technical change to real estate conveyances, such as leases, that are also in play. 

Flying high

The Federal Transit Administration awarded $6.775 million to the Jacksonville Transportation Authority for safety improvements to the First Coast Flyer Bus Rapid Transit system.

The Capital Investment Grant (CIG) funding, coming from the U.S. Department of Transportation, comes from a portion of $13.6 million the JTA saved during construction of the First Coast Flyer Red Line at the new Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center at LaVilla, which the Authority completed in December 2018, more than two years ahead of schedule.

Federal money keeps the First Coast Flyer flyin’ high.

“We are thankful that we can utilize these funds, which otherwise would’ve been returned to the FTA, to enhance our BRT network in Downtown Jacksonville,” said JTA CEO Nathaniel Ford. “This is another example of the trust our federal partners have in the JTA to complete projects under budget and ahead of schedule.”

These funds will be sued for a 1,200-foot extension of a bus-only lane from the JRTC at LaVilla to Lee Street along West Forsyth Street. The extension will connect to the existing bus lane along West Forsyth Street. It will significantly mitigate safety concerns and conditions for JTA bus operators exiting the bus terminal and merging into oncoming traffic from Interstate 95.

Funding will also go toward the continued construction of a new pedestrian bridge connecting the JRTC at LaVilla to the Intercity Bus Terminal over West Forsyth Street, along with Americans with Disabilities Act signage and other safety improvements.

The JTA is currently building the largest BRT network in the Southeast at 57 miles. The first three routes, the First Coast Flyer Blue, Green and Red lines are now open. The final phase, the 12.9-mile Orange Line, is currently under construction and will connect the JRTC at LaVilla to the Orange Park Mall. The Orange Line is scheduled to open in February 2021.

More disappointment

It has been a rough couple of years for Jaguars’ fans. From a critical blown call to bad contracts, running off key players and extra trips to London, there has been precious little to be happy about.

There is a starting point for recent misery. In the AFC Championship game Jan. 21, 2018, Myles Jack picked up a fourth-quarter fumble that would have, should have, been a touchdown and a two-score Jaguars lead over the New England Patriots.

Myles Jack was only the start of the Jags recent misery. Image via AP.

The Super Bowl was in sight, but the officials blew the play dead, giving the Patriots a reprieve, which helped them go on to win the game. The chant “Myles Jack was not down,” became the cry of DUUUVAL.

Quarterback Blake Bortles played his best football in the postseason that year, prompting the Jaguars to sign him to a three-year, $54 million contract. The 2018 season was a disaster, so the Jaguars cut their losses and signed free-agent quarterback Nick Foles for a four-year $88-million deal.

Foles was injured in the first game and while sixth-round draft pick Gardner Minshew showed promise, the losses still piles up, even after Foles returned. While management spent millions on failed quarterback experiments, the team would not do what it took to sign rising star defensive end Yannick Ngakoue to a contract extension before the season.

In the meantime, all-pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey forced a trade to the Los Angeles Rams after refusing to play for the Jaguars any longer. Blame was focused on former player personnel chief Tom Coughlin for the bad feelings.

Ngakoue recently announced he would not sign a new contract with the Jaguars, a huge disappointment to the fan base and, of course, the organization.

“The Jaguars are aware I no longer have interest in signing a long-term contract in Jacksonville,” Ngakoue said via Twitter. “Duval, I love you and gave you guys everything I got. I’m thankful for the journey and look forward to continuing my career elsewhere. -91”

The Jaguars had little choice but to place the franchise tag on him, which will enable them to try and work out a trade. Their latest transaction was trading away cornerback A.J. Bouye to the Denver Broncos for a fourth-round draft pick, freeing up millions in salary cap space, but losing a quality player.

While Jaguars’ fans have suffered through many disappointments, including all of these and the new reality of only six home games with two in London, there is a bright side.

Their expectations are lower this year.

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