Thursday, March 15, 2018

2017-18 Legislative Session Summary

Florida Capitol
The 2017–18 Legislative Session ended on Sunday with the passage of a record $88.7 billion budget.

I wanted to share some of the session’s highlights with you before I publish my end-of-month post, so with their permission, below are extended excerpts from the League of Women Voters of Florida’s final Capitol Report of the season. I commend Stephanie Owens, LWVF Legislative Advocate, for a job well done in representing the League and fighting for its priorities this past session, and for the excellent, informative Capitol Reports she prepared each week (archive here).

Below are excerpts from Ms. Owens' Session Summary:

It’s a wrap! The 2018 Florida Legislative Session, extended for three days, ended Sunday March 11, 2018 at 4:16 PM when the Legislature passed an $88.7 billion state budget.

Stephanie Owens
LWVF Legislative Advocate
Together we have witnessed what is sure to be a session long remembered in Florida history for the fastest, most sweeping gun safety legislation developed, passed, and signed by the Governor in the past 20 years — as a response to the February 14, 2018 assault weapon tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

….My greatest thanks go to each of you for the tremendous effort each of you put forward advocating for the League’s positions on all of 2018 legislative priorities. My work resonates when you amplify our positions by responding to action alerts. My best meetings start when a legislator or staff says “League members are lighting up my phone!” Please know that your phone calls make a difference. Your support and engagement are key to our legislative triumphs. The session has ended, but our advocacy continues.

In total, the 2018 regular session included:
  • 3,250 Bills/PCBs filed
  • 2,721 Amendments filed
  • 527 Committee meetings
  • 2,853 Bills seen in committee
  • 40 Floor Sessions
  • 200 Bills passed both chambers

We started the Legislative Session tracking over 135 bills that addressed our 2018 Legislative Priorities. Here is the summary of the most significant winners and losers in our legislative priorities.


HB 7055 – We started with over 15 bills, but in week five, they were all combined into a “train” bill in HB 7055, reminiscent of the same process of the last session. This year however, there were a few bright spots:
  • Providing Reading Scholarships for students failing the FSA in grades 3–5 to give parents money to cover costs for tutors or other materials.
  • Allowing districts to receive 100% of the 1.5 mills capital outlay and district flexibility to have schools that did not meet State K–12 building code standards.
  • Permitting a broader range of dual enrollment courses.
  • Expanding the voucher program to allow students who face bullying or harassment in public school’s transfer to private schools using tax-funded vouchers.
  • The vouchers will be paid for by car buyers, who in registering their cars will be able to select the option of donating a portion of their sales tax to the “hope scholarship” program. It is expected to generate $41.5 million for the vouchers in the next year.
  • Expansion of charter schools with independent governing boards.

Election Law

Winner: HB 0085 Voter Registration List Maintenance
  • Establishes requirements and processes for Florida to become member of a nongovernmental entity, designed to help states improve the accuracy of their voter rolls through data match identification of problematic registrations and to increase access to voter registration for all eligible citizens.
  • The Supervisors of Elections supported this effort and will most likely join the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC)
Loser: HJR 7001 Super Majority Vote for State Taxes or Fees
  • House Joint Resolution 7001 places an amendment to Florida’s Constitution on the 2018 ballot requiring that a state tax or fee imposed, authorized, or raised by the Legislature be approved by two-thirds of the membership of each house of the Legislature.
  • The voters have defeated this concept twice already. Hopefully, the third time is truly the charm. This amendment will negatively impact the legislatures ability to raise money for various citizen’s needs, such as hurricane response and recovery funding.

Gun Safety

SB 7026 – The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act was created in the weeks after the February 14th mass shooting in Parkland. The bill, albeit controversial, ushered in the most significant gun safety measures in Florida over the last 20 years — so sweeping that the NRA has already filed a lawsuit challenging the measures.
  • Raises the age from 18 to 21 to purchase any gun.
  • Imposes a three-day waiting period for the purchase of rifles and other long guns.
  • Bans the sale or possession of “bump stocks” which allow semi-automatic rifles to mimic fully automatic weapons.
  • Establishes the Risk Protection Order Act, which allows police to petition a court to temporarily seize ammunition and guns for up to a year from a person who “poses a significant danger to himself or others.”
  • Creates allocations to assist school districts in establishing or expanding school-based mental health care.
  • Fails to ban the purchase of assault weapons, the weapon of choice for most mass shootings.
  • Allows specially trained teachers and other (more than 200K) school personnel to be deputized by sheriffs and bring guns to school. School boards and sheriffs would have to agree to implement the program for it to go into effect. Teachers who work “exclusively” in the classroom would be excluded from the program, but those who have additional duties such as drama coaches would be eligible.

Natural Resources

Winner: Florida Forever Fund
  • The Florida Forever conservation program will receive $100.8 million, which includes $5.8 million for the Rural and Family Lands Protection program, $6 million for recreational park development, $77 million for acquisition of unique lands, and $10 for the Florida Communities Trust program, which also includes land buying.
Loser: HB 7043 – Wetlands Protection
  • Allows the state DEP to assume Federal Section 404 Dredge and Fill Permitting Authority upon approval of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The state gains power and authority to adopt rules to assume & implement permitting program pursuant to federal Clean Water Act for dredge & fill activities in certain state waters.
  • There is not a strong track record of success for states that have tried to self-administer this program, resulting in diminished wetland protection. Florida is expected to suffer a similar impact.

Health Care

Winner: SB 1890 – Method Ban
  • The Senate withdrew this bill on March 10th, a companion bill to HB 1429 passed by the House to ban the abortion procedure called Dilation and Evacuation (D&E). D&E is the most common and safest method of abortion in the second trimester. The bill would have prevented women from having access to a safe abortion with a trusted physician. By dictating what medical procedures doctors can perform, this bill would have prohibited doctors from exercising their best medical judgment and providing their patients with the appropriate medical care they need.
Loser: HB 0041 – Pregnancy Support and Wellness Services (Crisis Pregnancy Centers)
  • Permanent contract between Department of Health and the Florida Pregnancy Care Network which runs more than 100 faith-based pregnancy centers. It requires that at least 90 percent of the funding for the centers be used on pregnancy support and wellness.
  • These centers are known for known in part for their pro-life billboards on state highways, providing medically inaccurate information, and religious material. We anticipate that the centers will be emboldened by this legislation and will require greater advocacy diligence to ensure they adhere to the law.
Read Ms. Owen’s full report for bill actions and an update on the Constitution Revision Commission.

If you appreciate their work, you can learn more and support the League of Women Voters of Florida at


Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can read Sparker’s Soapbox online at or subscribe to posts by email at

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Wednesday, March 7, 2018

State News in Review - February 2018 + a week

Since my last post on state news, the Legislature has been in session and 17 people were killed in a shooting at the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School. That terrible incident and how to respond to it captured the nation’s attention for weeks, and moved the Legislature finally — after Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Orlando, Las Vegas and so many others — to take action against gun violence.

On Monday, after weeks of deliberations, the Senate passed a gun-safety bill (SB 7026; press release) and the House, after similar deliberations, is now considering it for what could be the final vote. Ultimately, whatever the two chambers agree on will head to Governor Scott for final action.

In other news, the Legislature failed to finalize a budget in time to end session this Friday as scheduled; a judge found Florida’s rights restoration process unconstitutional; and 37 proposed constitutional amendments remain under consideration by the Constitution Revision Commission.

Read more on those and other stories of interest from the past five weeks:

Legislative reaction to the Parkland shootings

While not as much as many hoped for, and more than others wanted, it looks like something will happen.

  • Governor Scott touts $500 million school safety plan. He proposed $450 million to provide sheriff’s departments the authority to train additional school personnel or reserve law enforcement officers to protect students if requested by the local school board. An additional $50 million would expand mental health service teams and require every sheriff’s office to have a Florida Department of Children and Families officer embedded in their department.

Money, money, money

On March 7, House Speaker Corcoran said there will not be a budget agreement on time, requiring members to stay later or come back for a special session. What’s the hold-up? Corcoran wouldn’t say, but “hundreds of millions of dollars in hospital funding is widely considered to be the problem.

Here’s some of how they got here:
Bills headed to the governor

Bills have been moving fast and furiously in the last days of session. When session ends, I’ll report on ones of particular interest or concern that pass both chambers. But here’s one that’s too good not to report now:
As a result, Florida can join the 22 other states plus DC that are already members of the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), whose mission is to help states improve the accuracy of America’s voter rolls.

In the courts
The Constitution Revision Commission

Thirty-seven proposed amendments to the Florida Constitution remain under consideration by the Constitution Revision Commission, from among the 103 that made it out of the committee process in the fall.

The last of six public hearings will be on March 13 in St. Petersburg; the CRC then has until May 10 to decide which amendments to put on voters’ ballots in November.

Other state news
It’s been a whirlwind month, and with the Legislature still in session, it’s been hard to decide what to include in this post. So that’s it for now. In my next post, there will be much more definitive news to report. Stay tuned!


Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can read Sparker’s Soapbox online at or subscribe to posts by email at

News happens daily! Stay current with Sparker’s Soapbox on Facebook at or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Local News in Review - February 2018

The region’s growth, development and infrastructure needs continued to occupy county government in February. In city government, Terry Hutchison, Linda Penniman and Gary Price won seats on the Naples City Council; Naples City Manager Bill Moss announced his retirement; and Marco City Manager Lee Niblock was placed on leave after being accused of battery.

In the Collier County Public Schools, the District collaborated closely with the Sheriff’s Office following the Parkland shootings; a record four-year graduation rate was announced; Kelly Lichter and Erika Donalds won’t run for re-election to the School Board; and another candidate filed to challenge Board chairman Roy Terry.

Board of County Commissioners

Managing growth and development
Maintaining and repairing infrastructure
Other BCC news
City of Naples

Council elections
Other City news
City of Marco Island
Collier County Public Schools

Response to the Parkland shootings
Other CCPS news
That does it for February’s local news. Stay tuned for my state news round-up in my next post.


Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can read Sparker’s Soapbox online at or subscribe to posts by email at

News happens daily! Stay current with Sparker’s Soapbox on Facebook at or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Local News in Review - January 2018

Again in January, the Board of County Commissioners remained focused on how to plan for and manage the county’s exploding growth, pay for years of backlogged infrastructure repairs, and maintain our quality of life.

Its 4–1 vote to approve a tentative sales-tax plan was the most significant local news this month, so in this post, I’ll begin my review of local news with that.

Then, I’ll share news from the Naples and Marco Island City Councils and the Collier County schools and School Board.

But first, I’ll review some of the local government offices that will be on our ballot this year and the candidates running to-date.

As always, my hope is that by reading these monthly posts, you’ll be a more informed voter come Election Day.

The 2018 elections

Two seats on the Board of Collier County Commissioners will be on the ballot this year: District 2, currently held by Andy Solis, and District 4, currently held by Penny Taylor. Find your Commission District here. At this time, neither candidate has a challenger.

Three seats on the Collier County School Board will be on the ballot on August 28: District 1, currently held by Kelly Lichter; District 3, currently held by Erika Donalds, and District 5, currently held by Roy Terry. School Board elections are non-partisan and at-large, meaning all Collier voters vote for all Board seats, regardless of their party affiliation or where they live.

Of the School Board incumbents, only Roy Terry has filed to run for re-election. He is being challenged by Mary Ellen Cash. Cash is aligned with the Florida Citizens’ Alliance, last year objecting to “objectionable materials in curriculum,” claiming to have “witnessed students being taught evolution as a fact of creation rather than a theory.”

One School Board candidate has filed to run in District 1. As reported this month:

As reported previously, two candidates have filed to run in District 3: Jen Mitchell and Kathy Ryan.

Naples City Council elections are February 6. See my endorsements here. In the news this month:
The proposed one-cent county sales tax

It is now likely that a sales tax referendum will be on our November ballot. What projects will be funded with the revenue stream and what provisions will exist to convince the necessary 60 percent of Collier voters to vote for it must be finalized by June.
If you have views on the tax itself or how the funds should be prioritized, be sure to let your Commissioner know!

Other county news

Collier Schools and the School Board

Naples City Council
Marco Island City Council
That does it for January. Thanks for your interest in being an informed voter. See you next month!

Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can read Sparker’s Soapbox online at or subscribe to posts by email at

News happens daily! Stay current with Sparker’s Soapbox on Facebook at or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

State News in Review - January 2018

The Florida Legislature convened its 2018 session on January 9th, and much of this month’s state news concerned proposed bills and budget priorities. Since most proposals won’t make it to the finish line and the budget won’t be finalized until March, this month’s post focuses on non-legislative news Collier voters should be aware of.

But first, an update on the state of play regarding the candidates running for the offices that will be on our ballots this year! Primary elections will be on August 28; the General Election will be on November 6.

As a reminder, Florida is a closed primary state where only registered members of a party may vote in that party’s primary. I have been writing since 2011 about my “unorthodox suggestion” when it comes to party affiliation. See my posts herehere and, most recently, here. I continue to feel as I did then, and I hope you will consider it. Check and/or change your party affiliation with the Supervisor of Elections here.

U.S. Senate

Democrat Bill Nelson is seeking re-election to his fourth term as one of our U.S. senators. Gov. Rick Scott is widely expected to challenge him and if he does, the race is expected to be close. But “the increasingly grim outlook facing Republicans in the midterms has raised new questions about his political future,” as Scott faces GOP headwinds ahead of a potential Senate bid. The Hill


Collier County voters live in Congressional District 19 or 25. Find your District here.

In District 19, which includes western Collier County, Republican Francis Rooney is seeking a second term, and he is currently unchallenged. There won’t be a Republican primary unless another Republican files to run in the coming months. Democrats David Holden and Todd James Truax will face off in August.

In District 25, Republican Mario Diaz-Balart is seeking a ninth term. To-date, he has just one challenger, Democrat Alina Valdes. Unless that changes, there will be no primaries and the two will face off in a general election in November.


Rick Scott is term-limited so the governor’s race is wide-open.

The leading Republican candidate is Florida’s current, term-limited Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, but Congressman Ron DeSantis is rising in the polls since receiving endorsements from Donald Trump and Sean Hannity. Fifty percent of likely voters are undecided, according to a recent Florida Chamber poll.
Democratic frontrunners are former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, former Miami Beach Mayor Phil Levine, and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. Sixty-four percent are undecided. Florida Chamber
August primary elections will decide the Republican and Democrat who will face off in November.

State Cabinet

Unlike the federal government, where the President appoints his Cabinet, Florida’s three Cabinet members — Attorney General, Commissioner of Agriculture and Chief Financial Officer — are independently elected. In recent news:

State Senate

Incumbent Republican Sen. Kathleen Passidomo is so far without a challenger to represent District 28, which includes all of Collier County. In 2016, Passidomo beat Matt Hudson in a Republican primary that was closed by the “write-in loophole.” There were no Democrat challengers.

State House

Collier County voters live in Florida House District 80, 106 or 105. Find your District here.

In District 80, Republican Byron Donalds is running for a second term. To-date, he has one challenger running with no party affiliation (NPA).

In District 106, Republican Bob Rommel is also running for a second term. To-date, he is challenged by Democrat Sara McFadden and an NPA.

In District 105, Carlos Trujillo is term-limited, so that seat is wide-open. To-date, Democrat Javier Estevez and Republicans David Rivera (who is being sued by the FEC) and Ana Maria Rodriguez have filed to run for the seat.

And now, some state news of note:

The 2017-18 Constitution Revision Commission

This month, CRC committees have been meeting to determine which proposed constitutional amendments to the Florida Constitution to put forward to the full Commission for a vote. The CRC’s work must be completed by May 10, after which I’ll share which amendments they have placed on our November ballot. My November and December 2017 posts explained the role of this important and powerful group that only meets every twenty years.

Collier School Board and CRC member Erika Donalds was mentioned several times in a Politico Florida article this month titled Secret talks among CRC members ‘just part of the process,' says Commissioner. The article described the CRC Education Committee’s failure to follow open meetings requirements that almost every commission in the state must meet. According to Donalds, “It’s just like the Legislature; we’re operating in a very similar manner.” But “It’s stunning they’re doing it … without even answering questions or providing any basis in law for (it),” said the First Amendment Foundation’s Barbara Petersen.


The environment

In the courts

Other state news

In my next post, I’ll report on January’s top stories in local government.


Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can read Sparker’s Soapbox online at or subscribe to posts by email at

News happens daily! Stay current with Sparker’s Soapbox on Facebook at or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.