May 19, 2017
Capitol Report Wrap-Up

“Bringing Tallahassee to your Doorstep”

The 2017 Legislative Session officially ended on Monday the 8th after the final vote on the budget.
It has been an honor to represent the League of Women Voters in Tallahassee and a privilege to learn about Florida’s important issues from the Action Chairs.Governor Rick Scott is bound to make a decision on the budget within the next few days. The League has called for the veto of this year’s budget. Our President Pamela Goodman urged the Governor to veto the budget in a letter because of the reduced funding per student in our public schools, the zeroing out of the Florida Forever Fund that 75% of voters approved in 2014 and finally, the complete lack of transparency in the process enabled several last-minute bills and amendments without proper vetting. Goodman stated:

“Millions of Floridians are looking to you and the power of your veto to right these wrongs that will affect them. The education of our children and protection of our land and water are equally precious resources for Florida’s future.”

Click to see our President’s full letter. The Governor has given a few indicators that he’s looking to veto. Read more about his potential veto from the Miami Herald.

The bills highlighted within each priority are the ones that were seen most often throughout the session. For the complete list of what passed or failed from the bills we tracked, visit here. For an overview of the complete session, read more here from The Tampa Bay Times.

EDUCATION

Education has been a whirlwind issue this session! Every week there was a new bill relating to charter and public schools.

 

This hot topic issue started with SB 376 that shared district levied local capital outlay funds with charter schools. Districts strongly opposed this provision, and it was modified to allow discretion from the local school district. The bill also addressed financial enrichment concerns due to charter school management practices. The League sought to increase the local millage to soften the impact of sharing resources but failed. This bill subsequently died during the Education Conference.

 

SB 964 reduced testing for Algebra 2, Civics, Geometry, and U.S. history, revised the requirements for a high school diploma by allowing the ACT or SAT to be substituted for the 10th grade FSA, and requires a paper-and-pencil format to be available. The testing window was also moved to the end of the year. Unfortunately, this bill was not taken up but SB 926/HB 549 was amended to include many of its provisions. These bills were widely supported by education groups, including the League. Both bills died with only a few days left until the end of session.

 

Speaker Corcoran released his new emergency bill dubbed the “Schools of Hope” that were carried within HB 5101, HB 5103, HB 5105. The Speaker aimed to allocate $200 million for charter schools to take over low performing public schools. School districts throughout the state were against this bill. The Senate tried to compromised by allowing districts to compete for the turn around Hope grants.

 

At the end of the session HB 7069, an education train bill, emerged. The bill went to the conference committee and the Senate allowed an amended version of Schools of Hope to pass in return for higher education funding. A provision to create High Impact Charter Districts that take local control away from local school boards was included. The shared capital outlay funding with charter schools remained, and the testing provision only eliminated Algebra II.

 

The last minute budget for education shocked everyone. The increase in per student funds was so small that some districts would have less money next year due to growth in enrollment. Maintenance of school facilities is seriously jeopardized by the shared capital outlay with charters. Approximately $140 million was allocated to charter Schools of Hope. Anticipated raises for teachers were reduced to $234 million for Best and Brightest teachers and principals. The provision for daily recess for traditional public schools soaked up the remaining allocation. This bill was so bad that even the Chair of the Senate Education Appropriations committee voted against it. Nevertheless, it managed to pass both the House and the Senate and moved to the Governor’s desk where he faces a mounting veto campaign. Read more about it here from the Miami Herald.

 

Other significant bills await the Governor’s signature. One was the Freedom of Religious Expression bill SB 436, and SB 1314 that increases the Florida Tax Credit scholarships for private schools from 80% of the public school per student allocation to 88% for elementary, 92% for middle and 96% for high schools.

ELECTIONS & ETHICS

Before the 2017 Session started, Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran made Ethics one of his top priorities. We were able to see a few bills that addressed ethics on a municipal and state level with HJR 7001, HJR 7003, HJR 7021 and HJR 7023. Together, these bills addressed the creation of a lobbyist registration for municipalities and restrictions on former elected officials becoming lobbyist post-service. While the League did support these bills, they all died after passing the House. The Florida Senate was not interested in taking up Ethics this year.

The League partnered with the Florida Association of Supervisor of Elections this year for bills relating to voting such as, HB 707/SB 1070, HB 709/SB 1072 and HB 445/SB 862 which related to the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC). These bills allowed the state of Florida to enter into an interstate agreement to ensure voter registration did not overlap in more than one state. It would have also exempted voter information from other states for minors who pre-register. Unfortunately these bills did not make it to the Governor’s desk, but plan on seeing these bills again next year. Read more here.

Another bill relating to voting, the National Popular Vote Initiative (NPVI) would repeal the Electoral College and set the Popular vote count as the method of electing the President of the United States. SB 242/HB 311 died without a hearing this year.

However, we did see a victory this year with the passage of HB 105/SB 954 relating to mismatched signatures on vote-by-mail ballots. It requires Supervisors of Elections to allow a voter to cure the signatures with an affidavit up until the day before the election. The bill heads to the Governor’s desk now.

Lastly, the League has been a long time partner of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. This year, there were three different bills that addressed the restoration of rights: HJR 41/SJR 270, HB 53/SB 934 and HB 565/SB 1266. Unfortunately these bills died without being heard. However, during session the Florida Supreme Court approved the ballot question for 2018 relating to Voting Rights Restoration. Read more here.

GUN SAFETY
The Legislature kept the League busy with over 40 bills filed this session relating to guns. The vast majority of them did not get heard in committee but there were a few that were able to get through the entire process. Read more about how the Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence had a successful session.We started in January with an omnibus open carry bill, SB 140 that thankfully didn’t get heard after a canceled committee meeting. The substance of the bill was broken up into 6 other bills: SB 616, SB 618, SB 622, SB 626, and SB 644.Of those five bills mentioned, all but one died prior to being heard in committee. This is in large part because of the actions of Senator Anitere Flores. Senator Flores, who is second-in-charge of the Florida Senate, made a profound statement in the Senate Judiciary committee prior to the bills being presented. Her key vote to prevent these bills being heard meant that these bills were dead for the rest of session. SB 616 was the sole bill to pass the Florida Senate, but when it was present on the House floor without any prior committee hearings, the House Democrats leveraged their position with the Speaker of the House to kill this bill in exchange for their votes on the environmental bill, SB 10Read more about it here. The League was in opposition to all bills.Two bills relating to the Stand Your Ground law, SB 128/HB 245 and SB 1052/HB 677 both passed. SB 128 shifted the burden of proof to the state and makes it easier for Stand Your Ground to be used in a court of law. This will require pre-trial hearings where state attorneys now have to prove with “clear and convincing evidence” that they did not act in self-defense. SB 1052 changed the Stand Your Ground law that requires a person to first be attacked in their dwelling prior to using deadly force. The League was in opposition to both bills.There were a few bills that the League supported and sought to provide sensible gun control, universal background checks, and ban assault weapons. The League was in support of these bills: SB 142/HB 835, SB 254/HB 167, SB 1334/HB 1113, and HB 809/SB 1196.
HEALTHCARE

The 2017 Legislative Session did not discuss the expansion of Medicaid this year, but it did receive nearly $1 billion in LIP (low-income pool) funding from the Federal government. Follow the story here.
All bills relating to reproductive health did not move far this year. The League was in opposition to HB 19 that would have allowed patients who terminated a pregnancy to sue a doctor up to 10 years after the procedure.

NATURAL RESOURCES

Finally, but certainly not least, our natural resources priority had a busy year! We started off this legislative session with opposing SB 10 and later supporting it. This bill was Senate President Negron‘s top priority and has already been signed by Gov. Rick Scott. This bill allocates state owned land to construct a 14-foot storage reservoir for relief of Lake Okeechobee. This will cost approximately $1.5 billion and will help prevent the “guacamole” water we saw last year in the Indian River Lagoon.

In August 2016, the state of Florida passed Amendment 4 to provide tax exemptions for renewable energy. This session, SB 90 aimed to implement the amendment. This allows Floridians and businesses to install solar panels on their property without increasing their property taxes. The League is in support of this bill. Look for this to be signed by the Governor in the next few days.

Despite bipartisan support, the ban on fracking bill, SB 442, did not move past its first committee stop in the Senate or House. Expect this bill to come back year after year until it passes the Legislature. The League was in support of this bill.

One of the less controversial environmental bills this session was SB 198 that called for the appointment of members for the Environmental Regulation Commission within a certain time frame. While it passed the Senate, it died in Messages to the House. I anticipate seeing this bill come back again next year. The League was in support of this bill.

SB 1238 would have allowed electric companies that create a vast majority of their power using natural gas, like FPL, to charge their customers in Florida for their fracking in other states. The League was in opposition to this bill. It passed out of all its assigned committees but died in third reading on the Senate floor.

2014’s Amendment 1 addressed the growing lack of preserved land in the state of Florida. HB 7119 addressed the funding required by the Florida Forever Trust Fund created by the amendment. Unfortunately, neither chamber sought to provide funding for it and has been subsequently zeroed out. The League is in support of fully funding the Trust Fund.

Questions, comments or concerns? Don’t hesitate to send me an email at LWVFAdvocacy@gmail.com.

Sincerely,

Kelly Quintero

Legislative Advocate

LWV of Florida

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