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Florida Weekend Recap – March 27

BUSINESS & INDUSTRY A House committee held a four hour workshop where major industry players commented on a several hundred page piece of gambling reform legislation by Rep. Dana Young. Despite hours of testimony where everyone from casino industry lobbyists to pari-mutuel owners laid down their cards, little progress was made on the bill and…

A House committee held a four hour workshop where major industry players commented on a several hundred page piece of gambling reform legislation by Rep. Dana Young. Despite hours of testimony where everyone from casino industry lobbyists to pari-mutuel owners laid down their cards, little progress was made on the bill and its chances of passing the House are still slim. ● The world of real estate law grew even more exciting after the House Business & Professions subcommittee approved a bill that would shift the cost of preparing estoppel letters (used by homeowners associations to let potential buyers know if there are any outstanding fees on the property they are considering) to homeowners associations instead of realtors. ● Wage theft is currently a civil offense, but a bill by Sen. Jack Latvala would make it a felony for businesses to withhold an employee’s rightfully earned wages. ● A new study found that housing prices would drop quickly and drastically along beachfront communities without federal beach nourishment funding — initiatives that have received as much as $787 million (about two-thirds of the total cost) from federal sources.

Unemployment dropped slightly in February, from 5.7 percent to 5.6 percent, after the economy generated 14,000 new jobs. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis further found that income in Florida grew faster than the national average, rising an estimated 4.6 percent in 2014, while the nation’s income rose 3.9 percent. Wages grew even faster than that, at an annual rate of 4.9 percent. Despite this growth per capita income remained below the national average ($46,120 in Florida versus $42,645 nationally). ● The House released its tax cut package, which features more than $690 million in tax reduction, but the Senate is waiting to make any moves on its tax breaks until the two chambers can come to an agreement on how to handle the expiration of a $2 billion pool for health care. ● Florida contained some of the fastest growing cities in the nation, according to the U.S. Census, which determined that retirement community The Villages (along with seven other metros) had the highest rate of population growth in the nation.

The Board of Governors that oversees the state’s 12 public universities admitted it made a scoring error that penalized the University of North Florida and Florida International University under the performance funding model. The additional point given to UNF means it now may be eligible for that pot of money. ● The Senate Appropriations Committee tweaked its testing bill so that the results of this year’s Florida Standards Assessments would not be used to determine whether third-graders can be promoted to the fourth grade or high school students can graduate until an independent review of the exam is conducted. If Florida lawmakers agree to the change it would mark a major departure from a policy pushed into law by then-Gov. Jeb Bush who decried “social promotion.” ● The Florida House passed a bill incentivizing school districts to adopt school uniform policies. The plan would give $10 per student in kindergarten through eighth grade. ● Legislation to expand a scholarship program for students with disabilities is on the floor of both chambers. An expansion of the PLSA program is a key component of the Work Plan 2015 joint agenda by Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli.

Proponents of a solar energy ballot initiative are beaming with glee after gleaning the 72,000 signatures required for Florida Supreme Court review. Attorney General Bondi will forward the petition to the Supreme Court for review within 30 days. ● A plan to create a rebate program for another type of energy — natural gas — was unanimously passed through its first panel. SB 1538, sponsored by Sen. Wilton Simpson would allow heavy transportation companies to participate in a natural gas rebate program to help cover “eligible costs.” ● The Senate Committee on Appropriations rejected attempts to amend its budget to steer more Amendment #1 funds toward land acquisition. Sen. Thad Altman offered an amendment that would have boosted Florida Forever funding to $350 million and Sen. Arthenia Joyner offered a similar proposal that would have taken $77 million from other programs to fund the state’s land buying program. ● The Senate version of a water policy bill channeled through its first committee, but not before the bill’s Lake Okeechobee provision was amended. The Senate’s version now includes the House policy changes to impose what are known as “best management practices” for the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee.

The House Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee unanimously passed a bill aimed at addressing lingering problems with the state’s child protection system. The measure (HB 7121), championed by Rep. Gayle Harrell builds upon 2014’s reform effort and takes into account recommendations from the Florida Institute for Child Welfare (FICW) at Florida State University. ● The same committee also approved a measure similar to one announced by the Senate (SB 7068) that would boost the roles of mental health and drug courts in judicial proceedings. Harrell said it was part of a coordinated effort with the House Judiciary Committee. ● Halfway into the 2015 legislative session, a House plan to eliminate a five-year waiting period for immigrant children to be insured under the state’s KidCare program is stalled. HB 829, sponsored by Rep. Mike La Rosa has yet to get a hearing. ● A Senate plan for a private-sector alternative to Medicaid expansion passed its final committee and now heads for a full floor vote. Meanwhile, a new Public Policy Polling survey shows that expanding health coverage is still “very popular” among Florida voters.

The House released its prison reform plan, which repeats many parts of the Senate’s bill word for word but strips out several of the most important provisions from the upper chamber’s proposal, including an independent oversight commission. ● A bill that would have provided police clearer guidelines about when it was reckless or negligent to discharge firearms in residential areas failed to pass its first committee over concerns that the bill was too broad. ● Another committee advanced a proposal to allow designated school officials to carry guns at K-12 schools. ● Reforms to the state’s direct file procedures, which allows prosecutors to decide whether to try children in adult courts, advanced through a house committee. ● The Senate’s version of alimony reform bill drew bipartisan support and unanimously passed its first Senate committee.

Democratic lawmakers along with voting and civil rights groups held a rally at the Capitol to push for legislation enshrining the right to vote in state statute. The right to vote is not explicitly provided by the U.S. Constitution though federal laws and constitutional amendments prevent discrimination based on race and gender. Groups in attendance like the Advancement Project and Florida New Majority contend that the absence of an explicit right allows states to adopt voting laws that legally discriminate. ● It’s not quite time to break out the wrapping paper, but House and Senate committees passed bills that would change the lobbyist gift ban. They allow local governments to offer meeting space to legislators. “Members, as legislators, from time to time in an effort to bring legislative updates to our community, we will hold public hearings in our district,” said Democratic Rep. Hazel Rogers. Some of those governments could be lobbying the state on issues. ● Let’s Get to Work is getting to work. The political committee affiliated with Gov. Rick Scott raised $710,000 in March.

The state workforce would shrink even further under a House plan for the 2016 fiscal year, though not as much as Gov. Rick Scott recommended. But under the Senate’s proposed budget, the workforce would actually grow by roughly several dozen positions. Scott recommended cutting 1,353 full-time positions, the House would have 851 fewer state positions and the Senate would actually grow the state workforce by 35. ● A bill preempting localities from regulating ridesharing companies like Uber passed through its final committee. The measure also institutes insurance requirements for drivers. Different Senate bills include insurance and background check requirements but don’t eliminate local regulations. But supporters of the House bill said a statewide structure makes sense. ● A bill limiting some of a locality’s power to restrict statewide competition for construction contracts passed through its final committee and heads to the floor. SB 778, sponsored by Sen. Alan Hays would mandate cities and counties open up construction project bidding to companies statewide if said project gets 50 percent or more of its money from the state.