//This Years Florida Legislature 2018

This Years Florida Legislature 2018

This Years Florida Legislature…………what’s on their plate.

BUDGET: Scott has proposed an $87.4 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The proposal includes politically popular ideas such as boosting education funding and providing tax cuts. But the proposal is only a starting point for lawmakers, who are expected to face a tight budget. A September analysis estimated a slim $52 million surplus for the coming year —- and that did not account for the state’s costs from Hurricane Irma.

ENVIRONMENT: Eyeing money from a 2014 constitutional amendment about land and water conservation, lawmakers will consider a series of proposals that could shield property from development and restore waterways. For example, Senate budget chief Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, has proposed spending $100 million a year on the Florida Forever program and wants to set aside $50 million a year for the restoration of the St. Johns River, its tributaries and the Keystone Heights lake region in North Florida.

HEALTH CARE: House Republican leaders likely will renew a push to ease health-care regulations, an effort they say would help increase access to care and lower costs. Examples include eliminating the “certificate of need” approval process for hospital building projects and ending a restriction on patients staying overnight at ambulatory surgical centers. Such proposals, however, have died in recent years in the Senate amid opposition from parts of the hospital industry.

HIGHER EDUCATION: Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, has made a top priority of revamping the higher-education system and will continue seeking changes during his final term. Senators are expected to quickly approve a bill that would make permanent an expansion of Bright Futures scholarships and take steps to further bolster need-based aid. Negron also wants changes such as holding universities to a four-year graduation standard in performance funding.

HURRICANE IRMA: When Hurricane Irma smashed into Florida on Sept. 10, it reset priorities for the 2018 legislative session. Lawmakers are considering dozens of ideas for responding to Irma and preparing for future storms. For instance, they are looking at possibly providing financial help to the agriculture industry, which took at least a $2.5 billion hit in Irma. They also will grapple with Scott’s push to require long-term care facilities to have generators and fuel to keep buildings cool when electricity goes out.

INSURANCE: Insurance lobbyists will try to persuade lawmakers to revamp laws dealing with a controversial practice known as “assignment of benefits,” which the industry blames for increased property-insurance costs. The practice involves policyholders signing over benefits to contractors, who then pursue payment from insurers —- often leading to disputes and lawsuits. Lawmakers also will consider renewed proposals to eliminate the state’s no-fault auto insurance system.

K-12 EDUCATION: House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, has made clear he wants to continue expanding school-choice programs, which draw opposition from Democrats and many public-school officials. The House has started moving forward with a bill that would offer voucher-like scholarships to students who are bullied in public schools. Meanwhile, the House and Senate face a key budget disagreement on the use of increased property-tax revenues in funding public schools.

OPIOID EPIDEMIC: With overdoses skyrocketing and families being torn apart, lawmakers will look for ways to address the state’s opioid epidemic. Scott wants to spend $53 million to address the issue, with much of the money going to substance-abuse treatment. Scott and lawmakers also could place limits on initial opioid prescriptions that doctors write for patients. The idea is to prevent patients from getting hooked on prescription painkillers and then moving onto potentially deadly street drugs.

 Since taking office in 2011, Scott has made cutting taxes a hallmark of his administration. As he enters his final legislative session, Scott has proposed $180 million in tax and fee cuts. The proposal, however, does not include major changes in the tax system. Instead, it includes a 10-day sales tax “holiday” for back-to-school shoppers and reductions in motorist-related fees, including fees for obtaining and renewing driver’s licenses.

TEXTING WHILE DRIVING: Lawmakers in recent years have repeatedly rejected efforts to toughen the state’s ban on texting while driving. But the issue has a better chance of passing during the 2018 session after Corcoran announced that he supports making texting while driving a “primary” offense. Currently, it is a “secondary” offense, meaning motorists can only be cited if they are pulled over for other reasons. But if it is a primary offense, police would be able to stop motorists for texting behind the wheel.

Credit: Orlando Weekly

Up to $50 million in Amendment 1 money annually would be dedicated to Indian River Lagoon restoration under House Bill 339.

The bill, filed by state Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, hasn’t been heard by any committees yet, but the bill has already drawn attention from the Florida Chamber of Commerce. 

One aspect of the bill would provide state funding for septic-to-sewer conversions. Local governments would match at least half the project cost.

A similar bill, Senate Bill 786, was filed by state Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Melbourne.

Florida Forever

Senate Bill 370 would dedicate $100 million each year from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to the Florida Forever Trust Fund. Florida Forever, a land acquisition program environmentalists wanted to boost when they pushed Amendment 1 on the ballot, received no state funding this year, upsetting environmentalists.

The bill unanimously passed the Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation committee and the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources.

It heads to its next and final committee stop, the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Beach erosion

Senate Bill 174 would permanently secure beach renourishment money and change how the state selects projects for funding.

The bill would dedicate $50 million of the state’s Land Acquisition Trust Fund for beach renourishment projects and require the Department of Environmental Protection to create a three-year beach management plan and develop a system for ranking and prioritizing projects for funding.

All three Treasure Coast counties support the bill.

The bill unanimously passed its first two committee hearings in October, but since the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, was accused of sexual harassment by six women in October, the bill has not received a hearing in its final committee.

Plastic bags

Senate Bill 348 would allow coastal towns and cities with a population of fewer than 100,000 to create and implement pilot programs to test banning or regulating disposable plastic bags. The bill would not allow local governments to place a tax or fees on the disposable plastic bags.

The bill has yet to receive any committee hearings.

If passed, the two-year pilot programs would take effect on or after Jan. 1, 2019, and would end on or before June 30, 2021.

Fracking ban

There are two bills tracking through the Legislature to ban “advanced well stimulation techniques,” which includes fracking.

  • Senate Bill 462 would ban fracking statewide. It’s backed by a coalition of Republicans in the Senate, including Mayfield.
  • Senate Bill 834 would ban fracking and fine anyone who violates the new law $50,000 per day.

Neither bill has been considered by Senate committees.

Tree trimming

Senate Bill 574 would prohibit local governments from regulating the “trimming, removal or harvesting of trees and timber on private property.” Instead, the Legislature would create the rules.

The Florida Association of Counties opposes the bill, saying it could harm tree canopies throughout the state.

It has yet to receive a committee hearing.