Influence Archives - Florida Politics

New tax law raises questions for state ‘piggyback’

Kelli Stargel

Florida lawmakers are dealing with the consequences of the new federal tax law, which sharply cuts the amount of taxes paid by corporations.

Lawmakers are trying to understand the impact of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which took effect Jan. 1 and cut the federal tax rate paid by major corporations and businesses from 35 percent to 21 percent. It also changed deductions and other accounting methods that can alter business’ tax liabilities.

Since Florida’s corporate income tax, which is 5.5 percent, is based on federal tax liability, changes in federal law can affect the amount of tax revenue the state collects from businesses. Last year, Florida collected nearly $2.2 billion in corporate taxes, making it one of the state’s most significant revenue sources, outside of the sales tax.

Senate Finance and Tax Appropriations Chairwoman Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican, is sponsoring an annual bill (SB 502) that conforms or “piggybacks” Florida’s corporate tax law with the federal tax code, adopting or modifying changes made at the federal level.

But the piggyback bill, which is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday, has taken on much greater significance this year because of the sweeping nature of the federal tax changes. It also must accommodate the new Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, which was signed into law this month and also includes some changes in federal tax law.

“This is a very complex issue for our corporations who look to this bill each year to try to clarify how they’re going to file their corporate income tax,” Stargel said before her subcommittee unanimously approved the piggyback bill last week.

“We’re trying to recognize that right now it’s just early for everybody, so we’re trying to give some accommodation to the parts that are the most significant swings from maybe what it was last year,” Stargel said.

State officials, businesses and others are waiting for clarification from the federal government and the Internal Revenue Service on how many aspects of the new tax law will be applied.

In fact, the uncertainty has left state analysts unable to say exactly what the fiscal impact of the piggyback bill could be on state revenue, although the assumption is it could have an undetermined “negative” impact through the end of this budget year and the new fiscal year, which begins July 1. In the long term, it is anticipated to have a more positive impact.

To offset the initial negative impact of the federal law, Stargel’s piggyback bill is “decoupled” from the new federal tax code on several key provisions, including a measure in the federal law that allows corporations to immediately deduct the cost of new equipment and other capital.

Under Stargel’s bill, Florida corporations would have to spread the “federal bonus depreciation” over seven years and lessen its impact on the state tax collections, rather than trying to claim it immediately.

The decoupling is a routine occurrence for Florida and other states, according to a Jan. 29 report from the National Conference of State Legislatures on the new federal tax law.

“The goal is to incentivize businesses to invest more and grow the economy, but states that conform would likely see a reduction in revenues in the short term,” the legislative policy group said about the depreciation measure. “Most states have already decoupled or modified the existing federal bonus depreciation provisions.”

But while some federal tax law changes could reduce state revenue, Florida officials and national analysts also say other provisions could increase tax collections for the states.

One issue still being analyzed is how state tax collections will be impacted as corporations bring back, or “repatriate,” overseas cash and assets to the United States.

“This would raise revenue for the states in the short run as businesses bring back monies held overseas, but tax experts seem divided on whether this will be a small amount or a windfall,” the NCSL report said.

In acknowledging the uncertainty and complexity of the federal tax changes, Stargel’s bill also would direct the state Department of Revenue to create a workgroup to continue to analyze the revamped tax code and offer recommendations.

The workgroup would begin offering periodic updates in May, with a final report to state lawmakers and the governor by next Feb. 1, about a month before the start of the 2019 legislative session.

Stargel said the work group will provide “the opportunity to give a little bit of time for us to figure out what this is doing and report back.”

As lawmakers tiptoe to budget negotiating starting line, state revenue estimate is cut by $167 million

With less than two weeks before the end of the 2018 Legislative Session, the pot of money lawmakers must work with in order to craft a state budget is shrinking rapidly.

At work are two factors: one is a revised estimate for state tax and revenue collections, the second is the estimated cost of the proposals crafted in response to the mass shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County

State analysts met Friday and reduced their previous estimate by $167 million, citing a continued decline in corporate income tax collections.

“While the data for February is still preliminary, it appears that only a small fraction of the expected total was actually received,” the new forecast said.

The analysis places the blame on the delayed payments on Hurricane Irma, which had prompted the Florida Department of Revenue to extend the due dates for corporate income tax filers.

The Revenue Estimating Conference cut its projection for corporate income tax collections in 2017-2018 by $94.3 million and by $73.1 million in 2018-2019, resulting in the $167 million decline in the overall estimate. Analysts projected the shortfall would be negated when the delayed payments began coming in, but that has yet to happen.

Analysts cut their projection for corporate income tax collections in 2017-2018 by $94.3 million and by $73.1 million in 2018-2019, resulting in the $167 million decline in the overall estimate.

Although lawmakers have not started formal negotiations on a new state budget, House leadership told Friday night that while allocations are not out, staff for the two appropriations committees have “opened up the columns,” a phrase used to describe when the House and Senate examine each other’s budget columns line by line so that they can match each other’s numbers. This is a necessary preliminary step in the budgeting process that allows legislative leaders to begin to formulate offers on allocations.

On Friday, Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders unveiled proposals to address school safety, gun laws and mental-health issues after the mass shooting in Parkland. House Speaker Richard Corcoran said at a news conference that lawmakers are expected to spend $400 million to $500 million on the issues, though details were still being worked out.

To bottom-line it: Friday was a very expensive day for the state of Florida. The downward revision of the revenue estimate ($167 million) plus the money for the school safety and gun laws ($400 to $500 million) means that lawmakers are working with half-a-billion dollars less than they were a week ago.

As one lobbyist who specializes in budgeting and appropriations described it to us, these new numbers are “game changers.”

The 2018 Session is set to conclude March 9.

Material from the News Service of Florida was used in this post.

Democrats react to Parkland reforms, criticize lack of assault weapons ban

Gun-reform measures released by Gov. Rick Scott and leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature are being hailed as the greatest proposed deviations from hard line pro-gun laws in the Sunshine State in recent history — but Democratic officials, groups and politicians have been quick to claim the proposals are inadequate.

The legislative initiatives released Friday are intended to address issues unearthed by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas massacre. Scott and the Legislature have proposed banning the sale of bump stocks and raising the minimum age to 21 for the purchase of all guns, with some exceptions for military and law enforcement personnel.

Both plans have hefty price tags. The Legislature wants to allocate $263 million for school safety improvements and $102 million for mental health services; respectively, Scott wants $450 million and $50 million.

The Legislature is backing the idea of the “Marshal Program,” in which school faculty members are trained to carry firearms on campuses. Scott does not support the idea.

State leadership announced the measures in the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, where 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz fatally shot 17 students and teachers with an assault rifle.

As expected, the Parkland-inspired proposals are not being lauded across party lines. At the crux of Democrats’ criticism is the absence of a proposed ban on assault weapons.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson:

Gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum: 

“The Governor’s proposal still falls well short on assault weapons, even though this is the time for a statewide ban and Marjory Stoneman Douglas students are demanding one,” Gillum’s campaign said in a written statement. “Republicans’ own polling shows a majority, including a majority of Florida gun owners, want a ban on these weapons of war.”

But, citing a Republican-commissioned poll that shows the majority of Floridians and state gun owners support a ban on assault weapons, the campaign criticized Scott for not attempting to halt assault rifle sales.

Gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham:

The proposals announced Friday were “too little, too late.”

“Investing in safer schools is long overdue — and must be prioritized and fully funded this year. … Raising the age for purchasing all firearms is long overdue — and must be passed this Legislative session,” Graham said in a statement. She also called for an assault weapons ban.

Gubernatorial candidate Phillip Levine:

Levine agreed with “making school safety a top priority in Florida,” along with providing for more intensive background checks, mental health screens and additional law enforcement resources at schools.

But, joining the battle cry of his Democratic colleagues, Levine ultimately criticized the Legislature and Scott for not banning assault rifles.

“The elephant in the room is still there: we must get assault rifles off the streets and away from our schools. Permanently,” Levine said in a prepared statement. “Freedom should not come with a warning label: ‘These guns may be harmful to children’s survival,’ but with a guarantee that these killing weapons remain on the battlefields, not in classrooms.”

Gubernatorial candidate Chris King:

“In 20 years of one-party rule, Florida’s leaders have utterly failed to take action to end the scourge of gun violence in our state and today’s proposals from Governor Scott and the GOP legislature are too little, too late. Governor Scott’s plan does nothing to ensure universal background checks and would not ban military-style assault weapons. Tallahassee has ignored our voices for far too long––their time to act was long before Parkland or Pulse. Now we must take up the cause ourselves and elect new leaders who offer fresh ideas, bold solutions.”

Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon:

“We can beef up mental health screenings, raise the age for gun purchases, and dream up other stopgap measures, but the threat to our children and our citizens will continue until we finally take bold action ban assault weapons designed for the battlefield from easy access in our communities. Without that, the voices of the students, and the will of the people, continue to be ignored.”

House Minority Leader Janet Cruz:

“These measures backed by the gun lobby are unacceptable. If leadership is truly willing to have a real and open discussion and debate on the merits of policies to save the lives of Floridians, then I am ready and fully committed to working hard to achieve a product that will keep our constituents safe. If this is the normal bait and switch that will leave Democrats shut-out of the “process” while they crow of bipartisanship, then I will call it like I see it; a sad attempt to cover their asses in the face of tragedy.”

State Rep. Shevrin Jones:

State Rep. Kionne McGhee:

State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith:

State Rep. David Richardson:

Florida Democratic Party:

On the Legislature-backed proposal to train and arm school faculty, the FDP called it a measure “to keep the gun lobby happy and advance Richard Corcoran‘s political ambitions at the expense of the lives of our children.”

“The only people who think that putting guns in the hands of teachers is a good idea are Richard Corcoran and Donald Trump,” claimed FDP spokesman Kevin Donohoe. “Both Republicans and Democrats have agreed that arming teachers is dangerous and will make our schools more unsafe, endanger the lives of students and teachers, and do very little to prevent mass shootings.”

State Attorney General candidate Ryan Torrens:

“As America is enveloped in our crisis of gun violence, I am reminded of President Franklin Roosevelt in his First Inaugural Address when he said: ‘Our nation asks for action and action now!’

“Sadly, our legislature, backed by the NRA, voted against even bringing an assault weapons ban up for a vote. It is clear that the Florida GOP is going to keep putting the NRA and their own reelection before the safety of our children and our families.

“Not only is our legislature refusing to act, but in 2011, the legislature actually passed a law prohibiting local governments from passing reasonable gun ordinances to protect their children and families. This is absurd.”

‘Game changer’: Lawmakers roll out post-Parkland response

House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron on Friday released what they called a “sweeping new school safety reform package.”

“I was moved by my conversations with some truly brave and remarkable students this week,” Corcoran, a Land o’ Lakes Republican, said in a statement. “Their commitment to ensuring no school ever endures another tragedy is inspirational.

“The school safety reform package we introduce today is a game changer. We bring consistency to firearms law, invest heavily in early detection and mental heath, bring common sense protections to our schools, and learn lessons from past mistakes to fix going forward.

“I want to thank the young people of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as well as many of our Democratic colleagues for their courage and good faith in this vital work.”

Added Negron, a Stuart Republican: “It has been one week since I visited Stoneman Douglas High School, but the scene of horror that we viewed was so troubling, it feels like we were there earlier today. I cannot imagine how those who survived the attack must feel as they face the vivid memories of that day.

“Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to celebrate the life of Peter Wang and to learn about his hopes and dreams to one day serve our country as a member of the United States Army,” he added. “Those dreams, and the hopes and dreams of each person senselessly murdered last week will never be realized because of the criminal acts of one person.

“Nothing we will do in the Legislature will fill the void created in the families of the victims, their school, or their community, but we can honor their memory by taking the appropriate steps at the federal, state and local levels to help reduce the chance that a tragedy like this could ever happen again.”

Here are highlights of the legislative response to the Parkland shooting:

School Safety

— Improve school security capabilities through additional school resource and security officers, school hardening, programs.

— Establish safe school and security standards, review school safety and security plans, implement a school safety specialist training program, and update risk assessment procedures.

— Require training for school safety specialists as well as students and faculty.

— Require emergency drills for active shooter and hostage situations involving students, school personnel, and law enforcement experts.

— A “marshal” program to enhance safety and security in schools through the use of law enforcement trained and screened school personnel who function as part of school security teams.

Firearm Safety

— Establish new restrictions on purchase and ownership of firearms (all types).

— Increase the minimum age for purchasing a firearm to 21 years except for persons in law enforcement and active military personnel.

— Establish a 3-day waiting period for purchase of firearms except for concealed weapons permit holders or persons who complete a 16-hour hunter safety course approved by the Fish and Wildlife Commission. Provides time for criminal history checks.

— Ban bump stocks.

— Enhance restrictions for persons subject to involuntary examination and commitment (Baker Act).

— Provide law enforcement and the court with the tools to enhance public safety by temporarily restricting firearm possession by person who is undergoing a mental health crisis and when there is evidence of a threat of violence.

— Prohibit a person adjudicated mentally defective or committed to a mental institution from owning or purchasing a firearm or obtaining concealed weapon license. (Current law prohibits purchase, but does not limit possession.)

Mental Health

— Improve responses to students presenting a danger to themselves or others.

— Codify and enhance the activities of the multiagency network for students with emotional and behavioral disabilities (SEDNET).

— Require each school district to designate a school safety specialist and each school to establish a threat assessment team to provide a coordinated approach to evaluating and responding to students who pose a threat of violence.

— Remove barriers preventing school district and law enforcement authorities from referring students appropriately to mental health services or law enforcement.

Colin Hackley

Rick Scott calls for $500M in response to school shooting

Gov. Rick Scott on Friday announced a “major action plan to keep Florida students safe following (the) tragic Parkland shooting,” according to a statement from his office.

That includes $500 million for school safety and mental health initiatives.

Here are his remarks as prepared for delivery:

Alyssa Alhadeff, Scott Beigel, Martin Duque Anguiano, Nicholas Dworet, Aaron Feis, Jamie Guttenberg, Chris Hixon, Luke Hoyer, Cara Loughran, Gina Montalto, Joaquin Oliver, Alaina Petty, Meadow Pollack, Helena Ramsay, Alexander Schachter, Carmen Schentrup, Peter Wang.

Unfortunately, none of the plans I’m announcing today will bring any of them back, but it’s important to remember them. The seventeen lives that were cut short and all the hopes and dreams that were ruined have changed our state forever. Florida will never be the same.

Today, I am announcing a major action plan. I will be working with the legislature aggressively over the next two weeks to get it done.

This week we asked law enforcement leaders, education leaders, and health leaders from all over the state to drop what they were doing, clear their schedules, and immediately get up to Tallahassee for urgent conversations about what we can – and must do – to make our schools and communities safer. We must take care of our kids.

I can tell you that everyone said yes, and they came, and they got to work.

I have also spent a lot of time in Parkland meeting with families and students. I’ve been there nearly every day since the shooting. I have listened to their ideas to make sure this never happens again.

I also met with students who courageously came to Tallahassee to have their voices heard. What we saw in this building on Wednesday is what our democracy is about and why we live in the greatest nation on earth.

My message to them has been very simple – you are not alone. Change is coming… and it will come fast.

This is a time when I believe we must all come together, and even cross party lines. Of course, we won’t all agree on every issue, but I do believe this is a moment when our state can come together around a common sense set of actions.

I also want to encourage people to listen to each other and keep listening to each other. I’ve done a lot more listening than talking this week. Sometimes leading involves more listening than talking.

I’ve listened to things that I agree with, and to things I don’t agree with. It’s important to consider all viewpoints.

I’ve broken my action plan down into three sections. Gun laws, school safety, and mental health. We must get this done in the next two weeks.

First, on guns:

I want to make it virtually impossible for anyone who has mental issues to use a gun. I want to make it virtually impossible for anyone who is a danger to themselves or others to use a gun.

I want to create a new program in Florida – I call it the Violent Threat Restraining Order. This concept is very simple, and very common sense in my view.

This will allow a court to prohibit a violent or mentally ill person from purchasing or possessing a firearm or any other weapon when either a family member, community welfare expert or law enforcement officer files a sworn request, and presents evidence to the court of a threat of violence involving firearms or other weapons. There would be speedy due process for the accused and any fraudulent or false statements would face criminal penalties.

Let’s take a moment to look at the case of this killer. This person was not stopped from legally purchasing a weapon, was not arrested, was not detained, and was never forced to turn in his weapons.

Let’s review the warning signs here… he had 39 visits from police, his mother called him in, DCF investigated, he was kicked out of school, he was known to students as a danger to shoot people, and he was reported to the FBI last month as a possible school shooter.

And yet, he was never put on the list to be denied the ability to buy a gun, and his guns were never removed from him.

We will also strengthen gun purchase and possession restrictions for mentally ill individuals under the Baker Act. If a court involuntarily commits someone because they are a risk to themselves or others, they would be required to surrender all firearms and not regain their right to purchase or possess a firearm until a court hearing. We are also proposing a minimum 60-day period before individuals can ask a court to restore access to firearms.

Also, we will require all individuals purchasing firearms to be 21 or older. Let me repeat – we will require all individuals purchasing firearms to be 21 or older.

There will be exceptions for active duty and reserve military and spouses, National Guard members, and law enforcement.

Next, we will prohibit a person from possessing or purchasing a firearm if they are subject to an injunction for protection against stalking, cyberstalking, dating violence, repeat violence, sexual violence, or domestic violence.

We will establish enhanced criminal penalties for threats to schools, like social media threats of shootings or bombings. We will also enhance penalties if any person possesses or purchases a gun after they have been deemed by state law to not have access to a gun.

And, we will completely ban the purchase or sale of bump stocks.

The second part of my action plan provides $450 million to keep students safe.

Today, I am calling for a mandatory law enforcement officer in every public school. These law enforcement officers must either be sworn sheriff’s deputies or police officers and be present during all hours students are on campus.

The size of the campus should be a factor in determining staffing levels by the county sheriff’s office, and I am proposing at least one law enforcement officer for every 1,000 students. This must be implemented by the start of the 2018 school year.

We will also provide sheriff’s departments the authority to train additional school personnel or reserve law enforcement officers to protect students if requested by the local school board.

And, we will require mandatory active shooter training as outlined by the Department of Homeland Security. All training and code red drills must be completed during the first week of each semester in all public schools. Both faculty and students must participate in active shooter drills and local sheriff’s offices must approve and be involved in training.

We are also increasing funding in the Safe Schools Allocation to address specific school safety needs within each school district. This includes school hardening measures like metal detectors, bullet-proof glass, steel doors, and upgraded locks. The Florida Department of Education, with FDLE, will also provide minimum school safety and security standards by July 1 to all school districts.

All school safety plans must be submitted to their county sheriff’s office by July 1 each year for approval. Once all plans and requests for school hardening have been approved by the county sheriff’s office, in consultation with local police, plans will be forwarded to the Department of Education by the school district to receive any state funds.

School districts must also take all capital outlay funds received from taxpayers and use it for school hardening before it can be spent on any other capital outlay. All safe school allocations must be spent in accordance with the sheriff approved plans.

We will also require each school district that receives a Safe Schools Allocation to enter into an agreement with the local sheriff’s office, the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Law Enforcement and any community behavioral health provider for the purpose of sharing information. That will allow us to better coordinate services in order to provide prevention or intervention strategies.

We will also establish a new, anonymous K-12 “See Something, Say Something” statewide, dedicated hotline, website and mobile app.

Next, we will establish funding to require access to dedicated mental health counselors to provide direct counseling services to students at every school. These counselors cannot serve dual roles, like teaching or academic advising. Every student must have the opportunity to meet one-on-one with a mental health professional, and receive ongoing counseling as needed.

Each school will be required to have a threat assessment team including a teacher, a local law enforcement officer, a human resource officer, a DCF employee, a DJJ employee, and the principal to meet monthly to review any potential threats to students and staff at the school.

Finally, we will require crisis intervention training for all school personnel. This training must be completed before the start of the 2018 school year.

The final part of my action plan includes $50 million in additional funding for mental health initiatives.

We must expand mental health service 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.

We are also requiring every sheriffs’ office to have a DCF case manager embedded in their department to solely work as a crisis welfare worker for repeat cases in the community. This will require 67 additional employees to be hired at DCF by July 15.

Finally, we will provide law enforcement and mental health coordination matching grants to allow sheriffs to establish special law enforcement teams to coordinate with DCF case managers.

Before I take your questions, I want to close with this.

The goal of this plan of action is to make massive changes in protecting our schools, provide significantly more resources for mental health, and do everything we can to keep guns out of the hands of those dealing with mental problems or threatening harm to themselves or others.

I know there are some who are advocating a mass takeaway of Second Amendment rights for all Americans. That is not the answer.

Keeping guns away from dangerous people and people with mental issues is what we need to do.

I do know that some are going to accuse me of unfairly stigmatizing those who struggle with mental illness. I reject that. I am not asking them to wear a scarlet letter, nor am I unsympathetic to their plight. I have a family member who has dealt with these issues. It is hard on them and it is hard on the family.

But, what I am saying is no one with mental issues should have access to guns.

It’s common sense, and it is in their own best interest, not to mention the interests of our communities.

And much of what I’m proposing involves giving law enforcement the ability to stop people from harming themselves and others, while giving them the tools to keep our schools safe.

We know for certain that we cannot simply rely on the current federal background check system.

This killer should not have been able to purchase or even possess a weapon.

And we know that the federal government can’t even be counted on to investigate or act on serious and credible threats as we saw with the FBI’s complete failure.

It’s obvious we can’t trust the federal process which is why we have to make these changes here in Florida.

I’m an NRA member, a supporter of the Second Amendment, and the First Amendment, and the entire bill of rights for that matter. I’m also a father, and a grandfather, and a Governor.

We all have a difficult task in front of us… balancing our individual rights with our obvious need for public safety.

But of course, some will say it’s too much, and some will say it is not enough. I respect everyone’s opinion, and I don’t ridicule those who disagree with me. An open dialogue is crucial.

But, I will not accept the old, tired political notion that we don’t have enough time to get anything done. Government does not have to be slow or lethargic. And when it comes to protecting our schools and our kids, we need to be swift and decisive.

I also understand that I am proposing half a billion dollars for school safety and mental health initiatives.

But let me be clear – there is nothing more important than the safety of our children. Our kids deserve nothing less. Fortunately, our economy is booming, and we have the resources to protect our schools and our students.

And, if providing this funding means we won’t be able to cut taxes this year – so be it.

And, if we have to give up some of the projects we all hold near and dear – so be it.

We are all elected to come to Tallahassee to represent the best interests of Floridians. And, today, there is nothing more important than to do all we can to make sure a horrific and evil act like the Parkland shooting never happens again.

To read Scott’s full action plan, click here.

Mike La Rosa calls gun bill vote ‘political stunt,’ and bill a ‘gun grab’

While saying he was impressed by the passion and delivery of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students who came to Tallahassee to ask for gun legislation, Republican state Rep. Mike La Rosa on Friday denounced the procedural vote taken in front of them as “a political stunt” and the bill itself “a gun grab” attempt.

“The vote that would have banned AR-15 type weapons that many media outlets have been reporting about was not only a political stunt but was in fact a gun grab that threatened our rights under the Second Amendment,” La Rosa, a St. Cloud Republican, said in a release issued by his office Friday.

La Rosa said Second Amendment rights assuring gun ownership are not just for the right of individual self-defense, but “in fact acts as a barrier to a tyrannical government.”

“House Bill 219 would have also banned hundreds of other weapons that are clearly listed if anyone spent time reading the proposed legislation,” La Rosa continued. “I think it a shame that gun control advocates have attempted to highjack the current situation for their own personal political agenda that they are attempting to energize from this recent event.”

HB 219 was introduced last fall by Orlando Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, who has made gun law reform, including the banning of semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, a political priority since the June 2016 massacre at the Pulse nightclub. Smith introduced a similar bill in the last Session, as did state Sen. Linda Stewart, an Orlando Democrat, in the house.

The vote that La Rosa called a political stunt took place Tuesday on the House floor, as Democrats sought to force the bill into debate. It came while Douglas High students, who had survived last week’s mass shooting in Parkland and come to Tallahassee to push for gun control, watched from the gallery. The image of students watching in sad disbelief ran nationally in media, as did reports that the Florida House voted down a gun bill in front of them, along strict party lines.

La Rosa’s statement Friday charged that the vote, the bill, the situation, and what the Florida Legislature should do all have been misconstrued. He said the Legislature needs to avoid taking a “kneejerk reaction” and pursue a comprehensive solution.

“Over the past several days in Tallahassee we have met hundreds, if not thousands, of students and advocates who have been impacted by the horrific events that occurred in Parkland last week. I couldn’t be more impressed by the passion and delivery of many of these young adults, it is hard not to be moved by them. The state of Florida has the attention of the entire country and the time to act is now,” La Rosa wrote.

But that action, he said, needs to be comprehensive, addressing mental health services, keeping “weapons out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them,” hardening security at schools, and investigating failures in justice and social systems that appeared to ignore warnings that Nikolas Cruz, the charged gunman, was dangerous.

But as the Legislature considers a comprehensive plan, La Rosa said it must be “protecting the firearm ownership rights given to law abiding citizens under the Second Amendment.”

“It is important to remember that the Second Amendment not only affords each firearm owner the right of self-defense, but in fact acts as a barrier to tyrannical government.”

His Democratic opponent in 2018 for the HD 42 contest in Osceola County, Barbara Cady of Kissimmee, said this will be a pivotal issue in this year’s campaigns and she predicted it also will be in the November election. She charged that La Rosa did not hear what the students were saying, but she asserted that they heard him.

“These students, they want anyone associated with the NRA, they want them voted out,” Cady said. “We are at a watershed moment. We are going to have to do something. Florida is one of the worst states for gun safety. Our children are being slaughtered. They [students] are not going to let it go. And we Democrats are not ready to let it go.

“This vote,” she said of Tuesday’s action on HB 219, “was about kicking the can down the road again. This vote was about not talking about gun safety.”

Rob Bradley not sold on texting and driving ban

Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley 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. Keith Perry, 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 Richard Corcoran, is ready to be heard on the House floor. The measure is sponsored by Reps. Emily Slosberg, a Boca Raton Democrat, and Jackie Toledo, a Tampa Republican.

Slosberg’s twin sister, Dori, died i

Money could go to trauma centers after mass shootings

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 Joe Negron 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 Rob Bradley, 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. Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat, and Sen. Anitere Flores, 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 Dana Young, 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.”

Local governments wary of House tax package

A $350 million tax package moved forward Thursday in the House, but local governments are fighting parts of the bill that they say could lift restrictions on “puppy mills” and adult entertainment establishments.

The House Appropriations Committee voted 18-7 to advance the wide-ranging package (HB 7087), which includes offering sales-tax “holidays,” providing some post-Hurricane Irma tax relief and reducing a commercial lease tax.

The package has run into controversy as city and county officials object to what they consider overly broad preemption language that would prohibit local bans on the sales of any goods subject to sales taxes.

Edward Labrador, a lobbyist for Broward County, said preemptions typically are designed to address a specific issue and noted the House proposal would have tied Broward’s hands in the past when it outlawed synthetic drugs called “bath salts.”

“We acted before the state did, and if this provision had been in place, we wouldn’t have been able to deal with that issue,” Labrador said.

Amber Hughes, a lobbyist for the Florida League of Cities, said the recently introduced preemption language raises too many questions, ranging from how it would impact local prohibitions on adult entertainment establishments to how scooters are rented.

“If we want to have an individual conversation about different preemptions, which I know we do pretty much every Session, we’d be happy to do that,” Hughes said. “But doing it in the tax package maybe is not the correct place.”

Kate MacFall, the Humane Society’s Florida state director, argued the measure would eliminate rules that about 60 governments have on pet-breeding facilities.

“If this were to pass, it would allow stores to source from inhumane breeders, puppy mills, that keep animals in conditions that pet-loving Floridians would find appalling and unacceptable,” MacFall said.

Some lawmakers said the package should be slowed until decisions are made about the Legislature’s intended response to the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, along with related costs.

“Until we know what we’re doing the next three weeks, I’m not doing anything,” said Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Coral Springs Democrat and a graduate of the school where 17 people were killed.

Rep. Jason Brodeur, a Sanford Republican, expressed concerns about aspects of the preemption. But he said he was willing to work with bill sponsor Rep. Paul Renner, a Palm Coast Republican, to tighten the language to address adult book stores and massage parlors.

“Being from a county in Central Florida, we’re very sensitive to the public-safety risks that come from human trafficking,” Brodeur said. “Our county has worked very hard to get these places out of our community. If this would blanket let them back in, I think it would undo about 15 years of work by our county.”

Renner, who is chairman of the Ways & Means Committee, defended the preemption language by saying the puppy mill issue illustrates the need for statewide regulations.

“If you have a situation where some cities have banned the sales of those types of puppies and others have not, you have not solved the problem,” Renner said. “You’ve not solved the problem for the puppies and you’ve not solve the problem for the residents of Florida. I think it, in fact, makes the case why in certain areas we need to look at statewide, and in some cases federal, preemption.”

Florida Retail Federation lobbyist Melissa Ramba also argued that local ordinances banning sales of select items create problems for business owners.

“Address the bigger problem, not the sale of cats and dogs. A retailer should be able to sell any legal retail product in Florida,” Ramba told the committee. “The ordinances that local governments pass only support online sales. They do not support your local business. You can still order a dog online and pick it up at the airport, even though you may have an ordinance that may ban the sale of cats and dogs.”

The overall tax package features a series of sales tax “holidays’ on back-to-school items and hurricane supplies and offers an 18 percent reduction in penalties for non-criminal traffic infractions — such as speeding within 30 mph over the posted limit — if motorists attend driver-improvement school.

Former State Rep. Irv Slosberg expressed concern that the 18 percent reduction in non-criminal traffic tickets would roll back some of the traffic-safety efforts he pushed while in the House.

“What we’re doing by lowering traffic fines by 18 percent, we’re really rewarding bad behavior,” said Slosberg, a Boca Raton Democrat.

Meanwhile, Democrats and public-school educators remain opposed to the largest part of the package, $154 million in sales-tax credits that businesses could take to fund voucher-like scholarships in the Gardiner Scholarship Program and the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program.

Critics contend the proposal would be a “giveaway” of public school dollars.

“For the first time, we’re going to give private schools a direct line to the sales tax, which makes up 78 percent of all general revenue,” said Rich Templin, legislative and political director of the Florida AFL-CIO.

Airport officials also continue to express displeasure with the package’s call to reduce the aviation fuel tax next year to 2.85 cents a gallon. Revenue from the tax is used to secure federal matching funds and helps pay for airport improvements.

The rate is currently scheduled to go down from 6.9 cents to 4.27 cents a gallon next year.

The package also includes a $6.7 million cut that would provide a sales-tax exemption for generator purchases by nursing homes and assisted living facilities. It also includes tax refunds on building materials, fencing and gas for farmers hit by Irma.

Another $34.1 million next year in the House package would come from reducing the commercial lease tax from 5.8 percent to 5.5 percent starting Jan. 1. That reduction would affect half of the state’s 2018-2019 fiscal year, and the savings to businesses would grow to $81.1 million when implemented for a full fiscal year.

Easing drug trafficking mandatory minimums headed to Senate floor

Someone caught with oxycodone pills weighing at least 7 grams can be sentenced to a mandatory three-year sentence and fined $50,000 under Florida drug trafficking state laws.

That could soon change for non-violent offenders who are not involved with a criminal organization under a Senate proposal that would allow judges to depart from mandatory minimum sentences, but not fines.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes and Democrat Sen. Randolph Bracy, cleared the Senate Appropriations Committee on a 15-5 vote and now heads to the Senate floor for consideration.

The proposal would impact those criminally charged under the drug trafficking statute, whether it be sale, delivery, importation, manufacturing or possession of large quantities of a controlled substance. That would include cocaine, marijuana and opioids such as fentanyl.

A Democrat-sponsored House effort that would seek to reduce sentences for certain drug offenses has not moved in the chamber though. This could show signs of trouble for the proposal with two weeks left in the 2018 legislative session.

The Senate and the House have pushed a series of criminal justice reforms this year, but those seeking to loosen mandatory minimum sentences requirements have not been too welcome in the House. Lobbyist Barney Bishop has also been critical of the measure, saying that it would not help drug addict, but instead aid those with “so much drugs” on them.

Brandes, however, has pushed back on that claim.

“Our point here is largely low level people who are addicts and get involved with heroin and they may purchase heroin that is mixed with fentanyl,” Brandes said.

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