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2017 Issues of Interest

 Last Updated: 03/8/2017 02:00 PM







Traffic Safety: THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, February 27, 2017......... Florida lawmakers are poised to return to Tallahassee for the March 7 start of the 2017 legislative session. They will grapple with hundreds of bills during the 60-day session, while also trying to reach agreement on a state budget that will top $80 billion. Here are 10 big issues to watch: ---

BUDGET: Gov. Rick Scott has proposed an $83.5 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, up about $1.2 billion from the current year. In the proposal, Scott called for $618 million in tax cuts, increased education spending and cuts in hospital funding. But the proposal has met skepticism from some lawmakers, who are concerned about projected budget shortfalls in the coming years. ---

DEATH PENALTY: Florida's death penalty has been on hold since January 2016, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that part of the death-penalty sentencing system was unconstitutional because it gave too much power to judges, instead of juries. The Florida Supreme Court struck down part of a legislative attempt to fix the system because the changes did not require unanimous jury recommendations before people could be sentenced to death. The House and Senate, however, appear to be ready to quickly pass a bill during the 2017 session that would require such unanimous jury recommendations. ---

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, have battled publicly for weeks about the economic-development agency Enterprise Florida and tourism-marketer Visit Florida. Scott wants to provide $85 million to Enterprise Florida for business incentives and $76 million to Visit Florida. But Corcoran opposes the funding and has gone so far as to back abolishing the public-private agencies. ---

EDUCATION: Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, has made a top priority of revamping the higher-education system. The Senate is expected to quickly pass a bill that, in part, would expand the use of Bright Futures scholarships and tighten graduation standards for universities and state colleges. In the kindergarten- through 12th-grade system, Corcoran has called for expanding school-choice programs, and lawmakers are expected to look at proposals to reduce the amount of time public-school students spend on standardized tests. ---

GAMBLING: The House and Senate have taken dramatically different positions in heavily lobbied bills that would make changes in the gambling industry. The House proposal focuses on reaching agreement on a gambling deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida that could lead to money going to the education system. The Senate, however, wants to take steps that could expand gambling, including allowing slot machines in eight counties where voters have approved the machines in referendums. ---

GUNS: The House and Senate could be moving toward passing a measure that would shift a key burden of proof from defendants to prosecutors in "stand your ground" self-defense cases, a change backed by the National Rifle Association. Several other high-profile gun bills have been filed, such as a proposal that would allow people with concealed-weapons licenses to carry guns on college and university campuses. The fate of such proposals likely will hinge on whether they can pass the Senate. ---

HEALTH CARE: As it has done in recent years, the House is pushing a series of bills that would scale back regulations in the health-care industry. A heavily lobbied issue focuses on whether to eliminate the "certificate of need" process, which requires approval from the Agency for Health Care Administration before new hospitals, nursing homes and hospice facilities can be built. Among other issues in the Legislature is a proposal that would help clear the way for "direct primary care" agreements, which involve patients contracting directly with doctors for care, cutting out the role of insurers. ---

MEDICAL MARIJUANA: Lawmakers will try to agree on a plan to carry out a voter-approved ballot initiative that broadly legalized medical marijuana in the state. The Legislature in recent years approved medical cannabis for limited types of patients, but the November ballot initiative will allow doctors to order medical marijuana for an array of conditions such as cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, post-traumatic stress disorder, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Crohn's disease, Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis. A closely watched legislative issue involves how many nurseries will be able to get licenses to grow, process and dispense medical marijuana. ---

WATER: Negron has proposed a controversial $2.4 billion plan that includes buying land south of Lake Okeechobee to try to ease polluted discharges from the lake into waterways on the east and west coasts of the state. The proposal, which involves creating a reservoir to store water moved south from the lake, is opposed by the powerful sugar industry and has received a cool reception in the House. Negron, however, represents parts of the state's Treasure Coast that have been hit hard by polluted discharges from the lake. ---

WORKERS' COMPENSATION INSURANCE: After the Florida Supreme Court last spring ruled that two parts of the workers' compensation insurance system were unconstitutional, regulators approved a 14.5 percent rate increase that started hitting businesses in December. Business groups are lobbying for changes that could help hold down rates. But the workers' compensation system is highly complex, and a major debate will focus on whether to limit fees paid to attorneys who represent injured workers.






Legislative Session Dates: THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, March 7, 2017......... Striking a combative note to kick off the 2017 legislative session, House Speaker Richard Corcoran lashed out Tuesday against the judiciary, state spending and one of Gov. Rick Scott's top priorities while vowing to keep up his crusade to upset the status quo inside the marbled halls of the Capitol.

The Land O'Lakes speaker's remarks were unusually antagonistic coming on the opening day, typically dominated by pageantry and conciliatory speeches in which leaders set the tone for the 60-day session by extending olive branches to one another.

Corcoran hauled out a laundry list of accomplishments achieved since taking up the gavel after the November elections: imposing tougher ethics requirements, making it harder for lawmakers to tuck special projects into the state budget, going after wayward judges and suing one of Scott's agencies over how it awarded a contract.

And Corcoran boasted of exposing "failures and abuses" at one agency and bragged that the House "forced another agency into the sunshine, sued a rapper and won, only to reveal more wasteful spending."

Corcoran was referring to the economic-development agency Enterprise Florida and tourism-marketer Visit Florida, the two agencies at the heart of a dispute between the governor and the speaker.

Scott has asked the Legislature for $85 million that would go to Enterprise Florida for business incentives, but Corcoran has proposed doing away with the public-private organization altogether, calling incentives "corporate welfare."

A defiant Corcoran on Tuesday warned "anyone waiting for us to slow down, to drop the big ideas, to stop trying to shake up the system, to cower in the face of attacks, or to cave to the demands of special interests, here's our message to you: We will not."

Corcoran also said he intends to push for an additional $25,000 homestead exemption for property owners, which would bring the total annual tax break for homeowners to $75,000, a tax cut that would amount to more than $700 million statewide, according to the speaker.

And Corcoran hit on one of his most controversial proposals --- a constitutional amendment that would restrict appellate judges to a maximum of 12 years on the bench.

In his "State of the State" address, Scott hammered back at Corcoran about the economic initiatives, saying it was wrong to call spending to lure businesses to the state "welfare" and calling on his own experiences growing up poor and eventually becoming the head of one of the country's largest health care companies.

"When most kids were playing little league or riding bikes, I had a job," Scott said. "It's easy to throw out catch phrases like 'picking winners and losers' and 'corporate welfare.' But that's not what we're doing."

Corcoran upset the Tallahassee establishment, and Scott's administration, long before the onset of the session, even apart from the duel over the economic incentives and tourism agencies.

The speaker sued the Florida Lottery over a long-term contract, alleging that the agreement is illegal. A Tallahassee judge heard arguments in the case Monday, the day before the legislative session began.

Corcoran also targeted two judges accused of wrongdoing. One of the judges, who was accused of making racial and sexist slurs, resigned the day before a House committee began an impeachment probe.

The contentious atmosphere between Corcoran, Scott and Senate President Joe Negron has led to speculation that lawmakers would be unable to complete work on the state budget before the end of the two-month session.

After the Senate considered suing the House over guidelines for the state budget process, leaders in the two chambers finally settled on a joint rule that could put state spending negotiations back on track.

But Corcoran on Tuesday may have stoked concerns about going into overtime, saying "even a special session is not a disaster --- it's just a more complicated, longer discussion."

While Corcoran's aggressive stance was a departure from the typical pomp and circumstance of opening day, it wasn't entirely a surprise.

"I have heard his speeches over and over," said Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens. "He doesn't like to use the word compromise, which is going to lead to stalemates. If you're not going to compromise and I'm not going to give you your way, then we're not going to come to an agreement."

Sen. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican slated to become Senate president after the 2018 elections, said he was "still optimistic" that lawmakers would complete their work on time. "

There's usually a lot of posturing that takes place early on in session, but eventually we all have a constitutional duty to uphold, and that's to pass a budget and sine die (end the session). So I think he'll come around," Galvano said.

Speaking to reporters later in the day, Corcoran called "spirited debate" and differences of opinion healthy for the process.

"Hopefully it's always civil. But when you have that right, that's when democracy is working," he said. "When you have calm ships and everyone's just walking step-in-step and line-in-line and we're not really fighting, and we're rubber-stamping bills, that's when people should be worried."





THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, March 7, 2017......... A proposal that would allow people with concealed-weapons licenses to store firearms with security officers at courthouses narrowly advanced Tuesday through the Senate Judiciary Committee --- a panel where high-profile Second Amendment measures stalled last year.

The committee might be a stumbling block again for broader gun-related bills during the 2017 legislative session, including bills that would allow people with concealed-weapons licenses to carry on university and college campuses (SB 622) and in airport terminals (SB 618).

The Judiciary Committee voted 5-4 along party lines to back what is called "courthouse carry" (SB 616), sponsored by committee Chairman Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican who has filed 10 firearm-related bills.

However, Sen. Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican and top lieutenant to Senate President Joe Negron, said she was backing the courthouse bill Tuesday after getting Steube's assurance that he would not expand the scope of the measure as it continues to move forward.

She also said she is not in favor of vastly expanding the state's gun laws, which could impact the outcome of future firearm-related votes.

“He and I do not see eye to eye on probably any of the other gun bills,” Flores said. “I do not support having guns on campus. I do not support having guns in airports. I don't support having guns in school zones. I don't support those things."

Steube, an attorney whose bills include the campus-carry proposal and a measure that would allow people with concealed-weapons licenses to openly carry handguns (SB 644), said he is working to move forward with his other proposals. But he acknowledged after the meeting that some of his other bills might have trouble advancing through his committee.

"All you have to do is count the votes on this committee and see where people are," Steube said. "The only way that something can move, as it relates to firearms, would be coming through this committee."

He maintained that Flores' stance isn't a setback for Second Amendment advocates, noting a measure (SB 128) from Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, to shift a burden of proof to prosecutors in "stand your ground" self-defense cases cleared the Judiciary Committee and will go before the entire Senate on Thursday.

"We've got a couple of other bills sent to Judiciary that relate to firearms and passed another bill today in a Senate committee that has refused to hear these bills the past two years," Steube said. "I certainly think we're moving in a direction that I would like to see us move."

Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, gave her support to the courthouse proposal, saying, "I am one of those that believe it is a God-given right for us to protect ourselves and to carry a gun, but we have to be responsible."

The measure would allow concealed-carry licensees to continue to carry up to the courthouse doors. The “dilemma,” according to the Second Amendment group Florida Carry, is gun owner to leave their firearms at home or store them in cars and be unarmed for a period outside the courthouses.