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|Wednesday was officially the halfway mark of the 60-day session. During the fifth week of session, the House and Senate passed their budgets with unanimous votes, sending the Legislature to debate over key disparities in their $91 billion-plus spending plans.
The $1.4 billion gap in spending plans will be ironed out as the chambers are expected to begin conferencing by the end of the month.
Noteworthy key budget differences: the Senate is fully funding the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund with $387 million and $52.5 million for Visit Florida — two positions where the House diverges, offering $144 million and zero dollars respectively.
The Senate’s spending plan also sets aside $125 million for Florida Forever, well above the $20 million contemplated in the House and the $100 million by the Governor.
Additionally, House and Senate have each committed to meeting Governor DeSantis’ ask of raising starting teacher pay to $47,500, however their detailed metrics of the plan may not align until the final hours of session.
The Capitol Alliance Group remain actively engaged and committed to the League’s legislative agenda and high priority issues. We are currently tracking over 80 bills for the LWVFL.
NEWS AND KEY LEGISLATIVE ISSUES
|With Budgets Drafted and Voted Up, It’s Game Time
Florida lawmakers in the House and Senate passed their respective spending plans Thursday, with about a month left in this year’s legislative session to reconcile a $1.4 billion gap in policy and funding priorities over state employee pay raises, the environment, teacher salaries and other programs.The House adopted a $91.4 billion version that was slightly less than the spending proposed by Governor DeSantis. Meanwhile, the Senate proposed a budget totaling $92.8 billion.
In the coming weeks, negotiators from both chambers will head into budget conferences — with scalpels or machetes — to come up with a budget compromise that lawmakers will send to the governor for consideration.Major parts of the budget represented rare early agreement between Democrats and Republicans, particularly in the arena of pay for teachers and state employees.
Both plans include millions of dollars requested by the governor to raise the minimum salaries of the state’s lowest paid public school teachers, with the House proposing $650 million for the raises — more than the governor’s $603 million request to raise the minimum starting pay for teachers to $47,500 a year. The Senate proposed $500 million. But both chambers declined to fund the $300 million the governor has asked for teacher bonuses — which has been criticized by the teachers’ unions.In a surprising fashion, both chambers signaled sympathy for state workers, who have sought raises but have been at an impasse with the state since December. The Senate included in its budget 3% across-the-board raises to road crews, janitors, DMV clerks and office workers who answer the phones and work the counters at state agencies. In its budget version, the House included $1,800 salary increases to state employees making less than $50,000 annually.
Both chambers are giving more than $625 million for the Everglades, water quality and to address algal blooms that have tainted lakes, waterways and the Florida coast. The Florida Forever program has historically received about $300 million in annual funding. In recent years, however, Florida Forever has received much less. In fact, the House set aside $20 million — far below the $100 million the governor has requested.The Senate would grant $125 million for Florida Forever.
Local Voices’ Descend On Capitol To Advocate For Home Rule
More than 250 municipal officials traveled to Tallahassee for the Florida League of Cities’ annual Legislative Action Days. Their mission was to advocate for the right to local self-government. From short-term rentals, impact fees to balanced property rights, the group believes that local issues require local solutions. Municipal officials met with legislators and testified in committees to share real-world examples of regional impacts of proposed legislation.
Ballot Initiative Reform Bill Ready For Its Final Senate Stop
On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced Senator Hutson’s SB 1794 seeking to raise the threshold to trigger a Florida Supreme Court review of proposed ballot language. The measure would increase the potential cost to place a measure on the ballot. Neither version of the bill changes the number of petition signatures needed to make the ballot. But the original measure raised the review threshold to trigger judicial review of ballot language from 10% of the petitions gathered to 50%. Tuesday’s strike-all amendment by Sen. Hutson calls for a smaller increase, from 10% of petitions gathered to 33%. As for the cost increase, Hutson’s original language required a supervisor to charge the actual cost for verifying signature. Those costs are currently placed at 10 cents per signature. Costs can vary depending on how difficult it is to verify those signatures. Hutson’s strike all amendment would still raise costs, but would cap the price at $1 per signature.Representative Grant’s HB 7037 will be heard in its final stop, Judiciary Committee, on Tuesday. LWVFL’s Trish Neely testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in opposition to the bill.
School Board Term Limits Measure Clears Second Senate Committee
The Senate Education Committee passed SJR 1216 Monday that would put school board term limits on November’s ballot. The 5-3 vote was along party lines, with Democratic Sens. Montford, Berman and Cruz voting no. Republican Sens. Diaz, Perry, Simmons and Stargel supported the bill. Sen. Baxley, the bill’s sponsor, obviously also voted yes. If voters approve statewide term limits for school board members, the measure would amend the state Constitution to cap the amount of time people could serve to eight years consecutively. There’s currently no limit on how long a school board member can stay in office. It would only apply to terms that start on or after Nov. 3, 2020, so school board members re-elected to a consecutive term could serve another eight years. SJR 1216 heads next to Senate Rules, which is its final committee stop. The House companion (HJR 157) is ready for a floor vote.Trish Neely testified against this bill on behalf of the League.
Pushback Grows On E-Verify
This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a requirement for private sector businesses to verify workers’ employment eligibility using a federal database but carved out requirements for Agriculture and small businesses. Speaker Oliva, meanwhile, said he did not want to see legislation that treated individual companies differently from others. But he also expressed concerns about making employers act as a “policing arm” for the government at all. Passage of all requirements remains a priority of Governor DeSantis.
House Moves Forward With Stripping Office of Energy From Nikki Fried
The House in a party-line vote approved a proposal to move the Office of Energy out of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Agriculture Commissioner Fried slammed the move as a “partisan power grab” and “dangerous precedent.” The Energy Office had previously been part of the Department of Environmental Protection, which fell under the Governor’s auspices until 2011. The House is proposing to reinstate. The proposal has yet to find any traction in the Senate, which did not include any oversight shift in its budget.
Legislators Unveil Tax Package Worth $150 Million
This week in Tallahassee, the House introduced an 89-page piece of legislation would make more than three dozen changes to nearly every corner of Florida tax law. Among the most significant changes:
Counties would get more freedom over how they spend hotel taxes, which they must currently spend primarily on subsidizing more tourism — through things like advertising and convention centers. The package would let counties use their hotel tax money on water-quality improvement projects, which could include flood mitigation, seagrass or seaweed removal, algae cleanup and prevention, and septic-to-sewer conversions. More counties would also get the freedom to use hotel taxes on facilities like zoos, fishing piers and nature centers.
School districts that win referendums to raise a local sales tax to pay for school construction projects would have to share that money with charter schools. This change would come a year after the Legislature also required school districts to share extra sales tax raised for operations with charter schools.
The state’s communications services tax – which is charged on cell phones, cable television and streaming video, among other services – would be cut by 0.5 percentage points, or about $60 million a year. Disney, which recently launched its Disney Plus streaming service, has been lobbying lawmakers to cut the tax, as have other cable and telecom companies, including Charter Communications Inc., the parent company of Spectrum.
Sales tax charged on commercial leases would be reduced by 0.1 percentage points, or about $33 million a year. Reducing the sales tax on lease payments, which businesses pay on the rental of everything from land and buildings to retail space, convention rooms and airport tie-downs, has been a top priority of the business lobby for many years.
The tax on aviation fuel paid by commercial airlines would be cut by about $5 million a year, saving money primarily for a handful of big airlines. Delta, JetBlue Airways Corp. and Allegiant Travel Co. have been among the companies lobbying for that tax cut.
Another $8.2 million worth of tax breaks would be put into an environmental clean-up program that has been used by businesses across the state, including Universal Orlando on land around the site where it is building its Epic Universe theme park.
Restrictions would be added to the property-tax exemptions given to non-profit hospitals like AdventHealth and Orlando Health, who would have to better document that they deserve the tax breaks. This is a priority of Speaker Oliva who has criticized a hospital industrial complex that has contributed to high healthcare costs.
In 2 Years, Floria’s Red Flag Law Has Removed Hundreds Of Guns
Three weeks after the horrific Parkland massacre the Florida legislature passed bi-partisan legislation in creating the “red flag” law implemented more than 3,500 times since, according to a recent Associated Press analysis.The AP analysis shows that from March 2018, when the law was enacted, through December 2019, there was a wide disparity in its per capita usage in Florida’s 67 counties. Twenty issued at least one for every 5,500 residents during that time period, the statewide average. Three issued at least one for every 2,000 residents, including Chairman Sheriff Bob Gualtieri’s Pinellas County, which includes the Tampa Bay area, and has nearly 1 million people. Highlands County, near Lake Okeechobee, ranked No. 1, issuing one for every 850 residents. On the other extreme, 12 counties issued one for every 30,000 residents or less. Two neighboring Panhandle counties — Escambia and Santa Rosa — issued one for every 100,000 residents or more. Another nine small, rural counties issued none.
Hopes Dim For Gun Control Measures
On Valentine’s Day two years ago, tragedy struck Parkland, Florida and the nation. On Thursday, the Senate held a moment of silence for the victims of the mass shooting. Mid-way through the 2020 legislative session, legislation seeking to close the gun show loophole has stalled, with legislative leadership not too optimistic the bill will get another hearing – citing election year-politics having consumed the GOP controlled legislature.
Bipartisan Coalition Calls For Equal Rights Amendment Adoption
A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers hope Florida becomes the 39th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. This year marks the centennial of the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote, yet proponents of the ERA say women are still not protected in the U.S. Constitution. Democratic Reps. Driskell and Joseph are the primary co-sponsors of the House resolution (HCR 239) while Senate Minority Leader Gibson filed its companion (SCR 392). And Wednesday, Republican Rep. Fitzenhagen backed the measure to show bipartisan support during a press conference with ERA advocates. Sen. Brandes, of St. Petersburg, is the one official Republican co-sponsor of the Senate resolution. Democratic Reps. Eskamani, Stark, Fernandez, Webb and Slosberg joined Driskell, Fitzenhagen and Joseph with supporters Thursday.