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.


Education

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:
Winners:
  • 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.
Losers:
  • 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.
Winners:
  • 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.
Losers:
  • 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 www.lwvfl.org.

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