2017 Florida Legislative Recap
Florida’s House, Senate, and Governor are all Republicans and thank God they don’t get along. This last session had some losses and a few defensive victories for working families. The overarching theme of the session was that of disunity and political bickering. House Speaker Corcoran (R, Land O’Lakes) held many bills and the budget hostage to succesfully push his own agenda while Senate President Negron (R, Palm City) and Governor Scott did their best to save face.
In an attempt to ride Trump xenophobic wave, house Republicans attempted to push 9 anti-immigrant bills this year. The most onerous of which threatened to punish sanctuary counties (such as Alachua County) with fines while deputizing all police as ICE agents. These bills were defeated because of the hard work from human rights activists all over the state and through the leadership of the Florida Immigrant Coalition (FLIC). (link)
Santa Fe College got $5.4 million to expand the Blount Center downtown, a controversial project under fire for causing gentrification. This is on top of $2.6 million it got last year from the legislature and over $6 million in private donations. They also got $5 million to hire and retain faculty and staff. UF will receive $120 million more this year which includes funding for the long overdue renovations at Norman Hall and design work for a new music building.
Bright futures Academic Scholars Award will cover 100% of tuition for the first time since the recession. The catch is that all students will be forced into the block tuition program in which everyone is charged for 15 credit hours a semester regardless of how many classes they take.
A slew of pro-gun bills were filed but most failed. Some of the worst ones were open carry, allowing guns in airports, and the elimination of gun-free zones at universities and colleges. What did pass was an expansion the the state’s Stand Your Ground Law. It will now be harder to bring someone claiming self-defense to trial by shifting the burden of proof to the prosecutor.
We received $250,000 to help filter water going into Newnans Lake and $500,000 for a rails to trails path connecting High Springs to Newberry. Meanwhile SB 10, which sought to stop the algae blooms in Southwest Florida by creating a recharge south of Lake Okeechobee, was scaled back. Instead of fully funding the project we will now spend $1.25 billion to buy polluted land from Big Sugar while simultaneously relieving them from liability to clean up their mess. (link)
This is part of a larger story related to Florida Forever, the constitutional referendum passed in 2014 with more than 75% of the vote which forced the government to buy environmentally sensitive land. This year the legislature spent $0 to buy new land and instead voted to spend money cleaning up polluted farmland and eroded beaches. (link)
The Florida Legislature wasn’t able to agree on the hourly rate lawyers should be allowed to collect from workers’ compensation cases after the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the current caps on lawyer fees were unconstitutional. Their reasoning was that low fee caps disuaded lawyers from taking workers comp cases making legal representation unattainable for many workers. A special session to deal with this issue might be called or it will be brought up again next year. (link)
Senator Keith Perry was finally able to pass his anti living wage bill SB 534. This bill nullifies local ordinances that mandate local hiring, higher safety standards, and require certified apprenticeships. After a lot of push back his bill was weakened significantly and will only apply if 50% or more of the funds are coming from state allocated money. Thankfully, this anti-worker bill will affect very few projects in Alachua County and throughout the state due to these added provisions.
State workers will now default into a 401k style plan as opposed to the state’s pension. This is part of a strategy to weaken the pension system so that the Legislature has an excuse to do away with it in the future. Currently nearly 60% of state workers default into the pension plan and only 18% choose the 401k style plan. The bill passed in part because it was lumped together with a $1,400 raise for most state workers. (link)
The Alachua County School Board will see a decrease of $27 per student in funding. This will put us at $492 less funding per student than the highwater mark in 2007-2008. But some students are getting more funding. Charter Schools will have more money diverted into their coffers for buildings. Additionally, students who get vouchers to go to private school will see a 14% increase in their funding. Finally, the Orwellian sounding “Schools of Hope” program received $140 million to promote the charter schools take over of low performing public schools.
The good news is that there will now be 20 minutes of required daily recess and the elimination of a few standardized tests. Also, HB 989 passed allowing parents to question materials used to educate their children. This will most likely be abused by conservative parents who regularly attend School Board meetings to decry the teaching of Islam in history classes.
The legalization of medical marijuana was passed by voters in 2016 requiring that Florida establishes protocols for a medical marijuana program but the state legislature couldn’t agree on how to do it. The House wanted to ban smokable marijuana and the Senate wouldn’t agree. The Florida Department of Health has now been tasked with creating these policies, however, the Legislature might call a special session to deal with this issue if they’re dissatisfied with the Department’s measures. (link)
The good news is that all seven anti-choice bills filed this year failed!
Odds and Ends:
- Rep. Clemons (R, Newberry) helped pass Sen Perry’s GRU governance bill. The bill forces GRU residents to vote this November on a referendum which would wrestle control of our utility away from the elected commissioners to an appointment board. (link)
- A proposed Constitutional Amendment would increase non-school homestead exemption by $25,000. If passed by 60% of voters in November it would punch a $9 million hole in the County coffers which would mean decreased services. It is expected to pass and cities/counties are already implementing hiring freezes in anticipation. (link)
- The liquor wall is down. HB 423/SB 1040 passed and will allow liquor to be bought in grocery stores.
- The Competitive Workforce Act (HB 623/SB 666) which would have added sexual orientation and gender identity to the protected class prohibiting discrimination in housing, banking, and employment failed to pass despite increased corporate backing. In Alachua County we have the Human Rights Ordinance which accomplishes this goal.
- HB305 passed allowing cops to review body cam footage before writing a report.
- To conform with US Supreme Court ruling, SB280 was passed which requires a unanimous jury vote to sentence someone to death.
- Sen. Baxley stopped a slavery memorial from being created in the Florida Capitol (HB 27/SB 1722). The proud descendant of confederate soldiers, he has complained in the past about “cultural cleansing” of confederate symbols and said “it just seems in this age of multiculturalism we can celebrate everyone’s culture but mine”. (link)
- Some $75 million in tax cuts, mostly to businesses passed. Also, feminine hygiene products will now be tax free.
- HB 221 preempts local ordinances that have to do with Uber/Lyft.