2017 Florida Legislative Special Session Wrap-Up

Hey, they're back!

The Legislature wrapped up a hectic three-day Special Session today. Last week, the Governor called the Legislature back to do three things – increase funding to public schools, Enterprise Florida and VISIT Florida. He announced the special session in a press conference the same day he vetoed the Florida Education Finance Program funding (FEFP) and $409 million worth of member projects. The press conference was also attended by Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, suggesting that an agreement on these issues had been reached.

It soon became apparent that was not the case.

President Negron sent a memo to Senators saying they would add two issues that were outside of the Special Session call – an additional $100 million in funding to reduce cuts to hospitals and an override of the Governor’s vetoes on some higher education projects.  He also indicated that instead of state funds being used to fund the $215 million increase for schools, the Senate would propose that most of the increase come from local school property taxes.

Reaction from the House was swift. In a strongly worded statement, Speaker Corcoran said the House would not entertain any of these Senate issues and accusing the President of breaking the deal. The President maintained he had never agreed to the outcome of the Special Session.

The Special Session began Wednesday with another announcement—the Governor would add the implementation of the medical marijuana constitutional amendment to the call.  It appeared an agreement had been reached on this issue.

The Senate also voted to override the veto of the FEFP with a promise of adding more money. This was done as an “insurance policy” in case the Legislature failed to increase FEFP funding. The Senate also voted (by the necessary two-thirds majority) to override $75 million in project vetoes in higher education—mostly construction projects.

In the end, these extra issues fell by the wayside and the following issues made it out of the Special Session:

Medical Marijuana – A bill to implement the constitutional amendment was passed.

Public School Funding – Additional funding of $215 million was provided, with no changes to FEFP implantation language passed during the regular session. All the added money will come from state funds, no added property taxes. Under the bill agreed to by the Legislature, total per-student funding will be increased to $7,296.13, exactly $100.00 (1.4%) more than the current year and $75.51 more than the original budget passed in the 2017 Legislative Session. The $100 increase is made up of $94.65 of state funds and $5.35 from local Required Local Effort.

VISIT FLORIDA – House Bill 1A (HB 1A) increased funding of VISIT FLORIDA (VF) by $50 million ($76 million, the same level as this year.)  A new program--the Targeted Marketing Assistance Program--was created to enhance the tourism business marketing of small, minority, rural, and agritourism businesses.  No funding for the program is specified.

Enterprise Florida – HB1A allocates $16 million for the state’s economic development arm, Enterprise Florida (EFI). The EFI dollars cannot be used for incentive tools and programs not specified in the act.  EFI must allocate $3.55 million to international programs, $2.05 million to maintain international offices and $1.0 million to continue the Florida Export Diversification and Expansion Programs.  The increased funding for EFI and VF comes with increased oversight and transparency measures—covering salaries, contracts, travel expenses and other provisions,

The Florida Job Growth Grant Fund – An $85 million fund to allow the Governor to approve funds for public infrastructure and workforce training projects that improve economic development was included in HB1A. The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and EFI may recommend projects to the Governor under this.

The Governor also added higher education funding and the Herbert Hoover dike to the call late in the session.  The Senate amended HB1A to include $60 million in higher education projects vetoed by the Governor last week in return for $50 million for the dike, a priority of the Governor.

Taxes

PASSED

Tax Cut Package – The Legislature decided on a final tax package (HB 7109) that includes $134.7 million in recurring tax cuts and $42.4 million in one-time reductions. The bill reduces the Business Rent Tax (BRT), creates two sales tax holidays, creates several new, mostly small, sales tax exemptions, increases three tax credits and provides some limited, targeted property tax relief. For more information on the new tax package, and what was changed, see this Florida TaxWatch Session Spotlight.   The final package was significantly scaled back from the original House version which cut taxes by $275.9 million on a recurring basis and an additional $158.7 million in one-time cuts. The original House package also had a two-year, 1.5 percent cut in the BRT, which would have provided $640 million in additional nonrecurring cuts over two years.  After the House passed HB 7109, behind the scenes negotiations--tied up in the budget negotiations-- resulted in a Senate amendment that kept or changed many of the House provisions, eliminated some and added some minor tax reductions.  The fiscal impact (tax savings) of the new bill is significantly less than the original bill mostly due to the scaled back reduction in the Business Rent Tax (BRT)—by far the largest cut in HB 7109 (see below).  The scaled-back bill allows for $167.3 million more general revenue to be available for the new state budget than the original bill did.

Business Rent Tax (BRT) – Florida TaxWatch strongly supports the reduction/elimination of the sales tax on commercial leases and rents (see our new report here).  Florida is only state in the nation that levies the tax comprehensively.  The original House tax cut package (HB 7109) included a reduction in the BRT rate from 6% to 4.5% for two years, beginning January 1, 2018.  The rate would then go to 5.5% permanently.  The final version will only reduce the tax rate from 6 percent to 5.8 percent, beginning January 1, 2018.   This small 0.2 percent reduction would save businesses $61.0 million annually, $7.0 million of which would be local revenue.  This compares to the House proposal that would reduce taxes by approximately $900 million over the first two years, and then $152.6 million annually thereafter.  The small size of the cut is disappointing, but Florida TaxWatch hopes the Legislature will make a more significant reduction in the BRT next session.

Back to School Sales Tax Holiday – The tax package (HB 7109) also created another of the popular “back to school” holidays which would run from August 4-13, 2017. The 10-day sales tax holiday would exempt clothing priced at $60 or less, school supplies at $15 or less, and the first $750 of the sales price of personal computers and related accessories. The original House package had a 10-day holiday and higher limits for clothing ($100) and computers (a sales price of $1,000 or less).  The final version reduced the tax savings from $70.3 million to $34.8 million.   Read Florida TaxWatch’s recent report on sales tax holidays.

Extension of the Property Tax Assessment Cap for Non-Homestead Property –  Voters will have a chance to extend the current constitutional 10 percent assessment cap, which is slated to sunset in 2019.  HJR 21 contains a very important proposed constitutional amendment which would abrogate the repeal.  If the cap is allowed to expire, non-homestead property will see very substantial tax increases (approximately $700 million annually at current millage rates).  This cap has also slowed the tax shift cause by Save Our Homes.  Its repeal would increase the inequities of Florida’s property tax system. The proposed amendment will be on the November 2018 ballot.   For more information on the potential repeal of the cap, see the Florida TaxWatch blog

Increased Homestead Exemption - Floridians will also be voting on a proposed constitutional amendment (contained in HJR 7105) to provide an additional $25,000 homestead property tax exemption.  Currently, homeowners get the original $25,000 exemption plus an exemption for the value between $50,000 and $75,000.  The amendment would mean the first $25,000 and the value between $50,000 and $100,000 would be exempt (does not apply to school property tax levies).  While Florida TaxWatch supports the concept of holding down property taxes, homestead exemptions generally shift tax burden to non-homestead property, something our property tax system does regularly due to Save Our Homes and other preferences.  Florida TaxWatch is concerned the new homestead exemption could be approved by voters while the proposed amendment to abrogate the repeal of the 10 percent assessment cap for non-homestead property (see above) could fail.  That situation would not bode well for non-homestead properties.  The House bill implementing the amendment (HB 7107) ensures the opposition of local governments. The bill provides that the rolled back rate used by local governments in FY 2019-2018 must be calculated as if the tax base not had been reduced by the increased homestead exemption. This would make it much more difficult to make up for the lost value by adjusting the millage rate.  This would help avoid the tax shift mentioned above, but, at current millage rates, this would cost local governments $750 million.  The bill does direct the Legislature to reimburse “fiscally constrained” counties for revenue losses from the new exemption.  It is estimated this would cost $15 million. The proposed amendment will be on the November 2018 ballot.

Property Tax Exemption for Renewable Energy Devices – SB 90 implements Amendment 4, passed by the voters last November.  It expands the current property tax exemption for renewable energy devices from only residential property to all property.  These devices will also be exempt from tangible personal property taxes (TPP).  The new language expires in 20 years – meaning the residential exemption would remain but there would not be non-residential or TPP exemptions.  There was debate over language proposed by the house (HB 1351) that the sponsor said was for consumer protection but that critics contended created barriers for solar power development.  A compromise was reached to mitigate some of the opposition from solar advocates.  SB 90 was amended on the Senate floor to reduce both exemptions to 80 percent of the device’s value. 

Property Tax Exemption for First Responders - HB 455 implements a constitutional amendment that was passed last November.  The bill provides a 100 percent homestead tax exemption to first responders who became totally and permanently disabled in the line of duty. The bill also extends a 100 percent exemption to the surviving spouse of a totally and permanently disabled first responder.  

Fee Reductions – Bills containing fee reductions recommended by Governor Scott were approved by the Legislature.  One of these (HB 741), cuts the Florida Building Code surcharge on building permits from 1.5 percent to 1.0 percent. The bill also creates a flat $25 fee on delinquent professional license renewals. Currently, the fee can go as high as $260.   These two fee cuts are worth $3.6 million annually.  SB 164 waives the $70 fee for retitling a vehicle in the case of a spouse’s death, saving surviving spouses $350,000 annually.  These fee reductions, along with a host of others, were included in SB 1442 and HB 1123, which ultimately did not pass.  A list of those fee reductions is here.

   

DID NOT PASS

Insurance Premium Tax (IPT) Credit Repeal – SB 378 would have repealed a provision that allows insurers to take a credit of 15 percent of the salary paid to Florida employees against their IPT liability.  Florida TaxWatch has researched this issue since the credit was enacted in 1987 and recently released a new report that finds  repeal of the credit is not in the best interests of Florida.  It would be a very large ($315 million - 40 percent) tax increase that would be passed on to consumers in higher premiums.  The credit provides a valuable incentive for the insurance industry—a “targeted industry' in the state’s economic development efforts—to invest in Florida.  Most states provide such incentives and repealing the credit will make Florida a less attractive place for insurers.  The bill also contained a reduction in the business rent tax (BRT), which is strongly supported by Florida TaxWatch.  Florida TaxWatch presented its research findings to the Senate Finance & Tax Committee and urged the Legislature to take up the two tax changes separately.  This ultimately is what happened as this bill went no further and a BRT cut did pass as part of the tax package.

More Fee Reductions – The fee reductions in HB 741 and SB 164 (which passed), along with a host of others, were included in SB 1442 and HB 1123.  This legislation would have cut fees by approximately $6 million.  A list of the fee reductions is hereHB 1123 passed the full House.   SB 1442 died on the Senate  floor.

Local Government Fiscal Restraint and Transparency – Two House bills drew considerable opposition from local governments over home rule concerns and ultimately did not pass.  HB 7065 would have added a number of requirements for local governments, including making more data publicly available—such as property tax history at the parcel level and voting records on tax and debt issues. The bill required additional public meetings and expands public notice requirements for local option tax increases, other than property taxes, and new long-term, tax-supported debt issuances. A debt affordability study prior to new bond issues would also be required.   HB 7065 passed the full House but there was no Senate companion.  HB 7063 put increased fiscal limitations and requirements on local governments.  It would not allow property tax increases when a local government has excess special revenue fund balances.  It would have also prohibited local option tax increases if the local government has adopted a millage rate that exceeded the rolled-back rate in the last three years.  Voter approval of new debt issues that pledge revenues beyond five years would have also been required.  This bill never picked up steam.  After being approved as a proposed committee bill, it went no further.

Local Tax Referenda – HB 139 would have required that referenda to impose a local option sales tax could only be held during general or primary elections.  A referendum at a general election would require a majority vote to pass.  A referendum at a primary election would only need a majority vote if the proposal was revenue neutral – meaning another tax is reduced by at least the same amout. Otherwise, approval of 60 percent of those voting would be required.  SB 278 would have required such a referendum to be held during a general election (majority vote), unless the proposal is revenue neutral. In that case, the referendum could be held during a special election or by mail.  The HB would have been effective January 1, 2018, but the SB would have been effective July 1, 2019.  The  effective date was delayed to avoid a crowded general election ballot due to expected multiple proposed constitutional amendments from the Constitutional Revision Commission in 2018.  HB 139 has passed the full House.  SB 278 died in Appropriations.

Tax Relief from Natural Disasters – HB 49 would have created a natural disaster property tax credit for residential property rendered uninhabitable by an event for which the Governor has declared a state of emergency and sinkholes. The credit would be based on the percentage of the year during which the property was uninhabitable.  HB 49 has passed the full House but was not taken up by the Senate. The Senate companion (SB 272) did not get a committee hearing.

Local Business Taxes – HB 487 and SB 330 originally prohibited cities and counties from levying a local business tax after January 1, 2017, limited taxes already in effect to $25 per taxpayer, lowered the transfer fee from $25 to $10, and exempted veterans, spouses of veterans and active service members, and low-income persons from paying local business taxes. The bills would have reduced local revenue by $152.8 million annually.  Not surprising, there was considerable local government opposition.  Both bills were significantly scaled back to only contain the exemption for veterans, spouses of veterans and active service members and low-income persons.  Still, both bills died.  

Homestead Exemption Fraud – HB 903 would have created a two-year pilot program in Orange, Osceola, and Seminole Counties authorizing the property appraisers to determine if more than 5 percent of property owners were claiming a homestead exemption to which the owner is not entitled.  If so, the property appraiser could request to contract for services to conduct a full examination and audit. The contractor could be paid up to 25 percent of the taxes, penalties, and interest found to be due. The bill set parameters on how the contract may conduct the investigation and how they interact with taxpayers.  A taxpayer found to be improperly receiving a homestead exemption may challenge the decision before the Value Adjustment Board.  The bill originally would have provided authorization for all property appraisers to contract for these services.  The bill died in committee.

Taxing Streaming Video – SB 1636 proposed to amend the Communications Service Tax law to “exempt internet video service from the definition of ‘communications services,’ and therefore from the communications services tax.”  The bill sought to prevent future interpretation of CST statutes that would treat internet video providers—such as Netflix, Hulu and YouTube—the same as cable companies.  This is beginning to occur in other states as more and more people switch to these services and tax collections decrease.  The bill passed one committee.  The House companion (HB 1377) was not heard.

Economic Development

 

Economic Development Programs and Visit Florida – Early in the session, the House  passed HB 7005 to eliminate Enterprise Florida (EFI), Visit Florida (VF) and 23 economic development programs .  This controversial change is fiercely opposed by the Governor and was one of the major battlefronts of the 2017 Session. It still is, with the possibility of a Governor's veto of the budget.  The Senate fully funded the Governor's recommendations for these programs in its first budget.  In the budget conference, a compromise was reached to keep EFI and VF but significantly reduce their funding, place more restrictions on them and provide more oversight.  Many of the accountability reforms are needed, but Florida TaxWatch research has shown how valuable funding for economic development and tourism marketing is to the state.   See this Op-Ed by Florida TaxWatch and the Florida Chamber of Commerce on this issue.  Also, see this report detailing the importance of funding tourism marketing.

The conference agreed to fund Visit Florida and EFI in the appropriations bill, without the added requirements. Despite this, late on Friday the House Speaker got the funding pulled out of the budget and placed in an unrelated conforming bill (HB 5501) along with the restrictions, added oversight and accountability measures. This maneuver was not in the best interest of budget transparency and was not received warmly by the Senate Appropriations Chair.  Still, the conference agreed to include $25 million for Visit Florida and $16 million for EFI in the bill, down from $76 million and $23.5 million, respectively.

 

DID NOT PASS

Gambling and the Seminole Compact – Once again, the Legislature could not come to an agreement on the future of gambling in Florida. A major casualty is the Seminole Compact.  Failure to ratify a compact puts the revenue the tribe shares with the state in jeopardy (the last negotiated compact would have provided the state with for $3 billion over seven years).   SB 8 offered a significant expansion of gaming, in stark contrast to HB 7037 which basically maintained the status quo.  But the two chambers were moving towards the middle of those different views during a gambling conference committee process.  The House last offered to allow blackjack at five Seminole casinos, but not craps and roulette.  The House also offered to allow decoupling—where pari-mutuels can continue to offer card rooms and slot without holding a certain number of live races.  However, it would require a referendum in the affected county.  A referendum could also be used to allow certain “designated-player” card games.  The Senate accepted some of the House offer, but not the decoupling referendum.  The Senate also maintained its position of allowing slot machines at pari-mutuels in eight counties where voters have approved them, as well as limited blackjack at South Florida "racinos," and two new casinos --- with slots and cardrooms --- in Broward and/or Miami-Dade counties.  The slots issue appears to have been the major sticking point.  The gaming conference negotiations broke down and the bill has been withdrawn from further consideration, meaning the courts will likely have a big say on the future of gaming in Florida..

Workers Compensation - Florida’s workers’ compensation law has been ruled unconstitutional by four different recent court rulings.  The offending provisions are Florida’s statutory attorney fee schedule, the 104-week limit on temporary wage replacement benefits and the prohibition against injured workers paying for their own attorneys.  These rulings led to the Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR) ordering a 14.5 increase in premiums, effective December 1, 2017.  Reducing premiums was a top priority for the business community this session, focusing on reducing attorney fees.  The Legislature attempted to address this problem, trying to balance the need to address the court rulings, protect injured workers and reduce premiums.  Both HB 7085 and SB 1582 addressed the court rulings, but had significant differences, such as a $250 per hour cap on attorney fees in the Senate and a $150 cap in the House.  Coupled with other changes, Florida TaxWatch concludes the House bill would have gone further in reducing rates. HB 7085 was approved by the full House.   A compromise was offered but after some back and forth between the two chambers, the bill died in messages.  For more information see the Florida TaxWatch blog.

As a small consolation, HB 1007 did pass.  This bill makes a relatively minor change, but has the potential to help curb rising rates.   HB 1007 exempts the personal identifying information of injured or deceased workers contained in reports filed with the Division of Workers Compensation from the public records law.  It is thought this will reduce attorney involvement as it is contended some attorneys use these reports to "fish" for clients.. 

Transportation Funding – SB 654 would shift $125 million in motor vehicle license tax revenue that is currently deposited in the General Revenue Fund to the State Transportation Trust Fund to provide more funding for the state transportation work program. Fifty percent of the revenue would be shifted in FY 2019-20 and 100 percent would be shifted annually beginning in FY 2020-21.  A Florida TaxWatch report, Meeting Florida’s Transportation Investment Need, highlighted the value of transportation projects to Florida and concluded available revenue was insufficient.  This was one of the options proposed by the report.  SB 654 died in Appropriations.

High Speed Passenger Rail Service --- HB 269 and SB 386 would have, despite federal preemption, give state and local governments additional authority to impose additional safety standards and regulate intrastate “high-speed” passenger rail systems in Florida. These bills would have also provided that a railroad company operating a high-speed passenger rail system is solely responsible for all rail corridor improvements or upgrades relating to its operation and safety. A “Session Spotlight” report by TaxWatch raised several personal property rights issues in addition to the federal preemption issuesBoth bills died in committee.

Sports Franchise Facilities – HB 77 would have prevented sports franchises from building or renovating stadiums on public land. It would have also required sports franchises to pay any outstanding debt the state incurred on the facilities if the sports franchise permanently leaves the facility.  SB 236 would have repealed the program that is authorized to pay sports team up to $13.0 million annually, although no payments have been made.  HB 77 passed the full House but was not taken up by the Senate.  SB 236 was one of those rare bills to voted down in committee (on a 3-3 tie in the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee).

Rural Economic Development – SB 600 would have restructured the Rural Economic Development Initiative (REDI), a program to promote the expansion of economic development projects in rural areas. The bill changed the membership of REDI, changed its scope to include encouraging job creation, improved community infrastructure, the development and expansion of workforce, and improved access to healthcare. It expanded the definition of a qualifying rural area and increases reporting and accountability requirementsThe House companion (HB 333) was amended--not surprisingly, given the House stance on Enterprise Florida (EFI)--to remove the President of EFI from the REDI membership. Both bills died in committee.

Education

PASSED

“Florida Excellence in Higher Education Act 2017” – SB 374, a budget conforming bill, contained two Senate priorities--a community college overhaul and an enhancement of the state university system. It transfers the responsibility for colleges from the State Board of Education to a new State Board of Community Colleges.  It strengthens public college-to-university articulation by establishing the “2+2” targeted pathway program to provide to students guaranteed access to baccalaureate degree programs at state universities.  It caps upper-level, undergraduate enrollment at community colleges, but provides flexibility for growth of baccalaureate degree programs if certain conditions are met.  It modifies university and college institution performance metrics and standards to promote on-time student graduation.  The bill expands financial assistance for students, including restoring Bright Futures to funding 100% of tuition and fees, plus $300 for textbooks and other expenses, expanding the Benacquisto scholarships to include students graduating from out-of-state, and creates the Florida Farmworker Student Scholarship Program..  It requires universities to implement a block tuition policy by the Fall 2018 semester. It also establishes a World Class Faculty Scholar Program to fund university efforts to recruit, recognize, and retain star faculty. 

Education “Train” – As is usually the case late in the session, measures from disparate education bills were amended onto other bills—creating “trains.”  It happened this session, but the 2017 Legislature outdid itself with a massive budget conforming bill (HB 7069) that was unveiled late on the last day of session.  Many education issues that were in other bills had been rolled into this 278-page bill. The bill appropriates $414 million to implement the provisions, mostly for the House priorities Schools of Hope and the Best and Brightest Teacher and Principal Scholarship Programs.  While there are some good provisions in the bill, some supported by Florida TaxWatch, bringing issues that were not originally in the budget conference into a new conforming bill raises concerns. This puts issues that had not yet passed into a "must pass" bill.  A conforming bill cannot be amended and if it were to be voted down, the whole budget deal would fall apart.  It addition to it containing controversial provisions, the way the bill was developed angered some legislators. After vigorous debate and a challenge in the Senate that the bill was out of order, it barely passed the Senate 20-18.  Descriptions of the bill from lawmakers ranged from “the greatest education bill ever” to “a piece of junk.”  Provisions in the bill include:

  • Schools of Hope - A priority of the House Speaker, a program will be created to attract top charter schools to Florida to open schools near perpetually failing public schools to give parents options; 
  • Charter Schools – Numerous charter school provisions are changed, including requiring each school district to share its discretionary millage capital outlay revenue with eligible charter schools. The proliferation of “high-performing charter schools” is also promoted;
  • Best and Brightest Teachers and Principals – The number of teachers that qualify for the Best and Brightest bonus is expanded and principals are added to the program; 
  • Testing – The Algebra II end of course exam is eliminated.  Completion of a blended learning course can now satisfy the online course requirement.  Paper-pencil ELA and math assessments for grades 3-6 are required no later than 2018-2019 school year. Reporting of assessment results to students, parents, and teachers is improved and DOE is required to publish statewide assessments. An independent study of ACT/SAT as an alternative for grade 10 ELA assessment and Algebra I EOC assessment is required;
  • School Improvement – The early warning system is modified and an “educational emergency” exists when a district has schools with grade of “D” or “F” and requires a memorandum of understanding addressing instructional personnel and principal autonomy;
  • Schools of Excellence – Creates a program to give the state’s highest performing schools administrative flexibility;
  • Early Learning - Establishes the Committee on Early Grade Success to develop a coordinated child assessment system for the School Readiness Program, Voluntary Prekindergarten Education Program, and the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment;
  • Music Education - Creates a three-year Early Childhood Music Education Incentive Pilot Program;
  • Recess - 20 minutes of consecutive free-play recess per day is required for kindergarten through grade 5 students in traditional public schools (charter schools are exempted); and
  • Teacher Bonuses – The annual limits are removed for bonuses to teachers of International Baccalaureate (IB), Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE), Advanced Placement (AP) and Career and Professional Education (CAPE) courses.  School districts that provide these courses receive additional funding based on student achievement in the specific course and teachers of IB, AICE, AP and CAPE courses are awarded bonuses those funds.  

Scholarships for Education Options – HB 15 makes several changes to the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program (FTC).  This includes increasing the base scholarship amount (differs by grade level), increasing the amount of a transportation scholarship for a student who chooses a public school outside their district from $500 to $750, and providing that a private school that has consecutive years of material exceptions listed in their annual financial reports may be ineligible to participate in the FTC.  The bill also expands the Gardiner Scholarship Program (GSP) by expanding eligibility and authorized use of scholarship funds.  The GSP was established to give parents of students with disabilities more flexibility in customizing their child’s education.

DID NOT PASS

Financial Literacy – SB 392 and HB 955 would have changed high school graduation requirements to require a one-half credit in personal financial literacy.  The number of required elective course would have been reduced from eight to seven and one-half.  This new requirement would have applied to students entering grade 9 beginning in the 2017-18 school year.  The Senate bill was been named the “Dorothy L. Hukill Financial Literacy Education Act” after the bill’s sponsor who has championed this idea for several years.   Florida TaxWatch supports this requirement and is currently reviewing best practices in other states to help Florida implement the best program possible. SB 392 passed the full Senate.  HB 955 died on the House floor. 

Maximum Class Size – Schools that are not in compliance with class size requirements have their class size categorical funding reduced. HB 591 and SB 808 would have reduced that penalty by calculating it at the school average, repealing an increase in the penalty and providing a district may not have its allocation reduced during the next two years if it meets certain requirements.  The change is supported by Florida TaxWatch research.  SB 808 passed the Appropriations Subcommittee on Pre-K - 12 Education agenda and Florida TaxWatch was on hand to testify in support.  HB 591 passed the full House.  SB 808 died in the Appropriations Committee. 

 

Smart Justice

PASSED 

Criminal Justice Reform Research - The final budget includes $300,000 for "Criminal Justice Reform Research."  Language drafted to implement this appropriations did not make it into the budget implementing bill but the draft language promoted one of the basic tenets of the Florida TaxWatch Center for Smart Justice.  The language created a legislative workgroup, who could contract with a private research entity, to develop proposed legislation to reduce prison populations and spending by focusing capacity on serious offenses and violent criminals, expanded research-based supervision and sentencing practices, and reinvest savings into strategies shown to decrease recidivism, including reentry programs.

Sealing of Criminal Records - Currently, criminal history records for charges that go to trial are ineligible for expunction, regardless of the verdict in the case. SB 118 and HB 857 would require a criminal history record to be sealed when all the charges were declined to be filed by the state attorney or statewide prosecutor, dismissed, or resulted in a judgment of acquittal or verdict of not guilty at trial. The bills also require that booking photos be removed within ten days if the person in the photo requests its removal. 

 

DID NOT PASS

Florida Criminal Justice Reform Task Force – Language and funding to create a 28-member joint legislative task force to do a comprehensive review of the state’s criminal justice system, court system, and corrections system was removed from the budget and implementing bill during conference.  The task force members would have included legislators, judges, county commissioners, a victim’s advocate, a former incarcerated person, faith-based organizations, the Attorney General, the Secretaries of Corrections and Juvenile Justice, lawyers, and law enforcement.  The task force was directed to submit proposed reform legislation to the 2018 Legislature.  Such a task force is a recommendation of Florida TaxWatch and the Government Efficiency Task Force. In effect, the task force was replaced by a $300,000 appropriation for "criminal justice reform research" (see above)..

Juvenile Civil Citations – Several bills (HB 301, SB 196, HB 205 and HB 365) all addressed increasing the use of juvenile civil citations.  Florida TaxWatch supports the increase use of juvenile civil citations, but law enforcement officers need to have some discretion in their use.  Some legislation required civil citations and some allowed discretion.  The language that advanced the furthest would have required a law enforcement officer to issue a civil citation or direct the juvenile to a similar diversion program when the juvenile admits to committing one of 12 first-time misdemeanor offenses.  The officer would have the discretion to issue a civil citation for non-listed or multiple misdemeanors. A civil citation or similar diversion program would be required to be established in every county. That language was amended onto HB 301 by the Senate and the bill was sent back to the House but the House did not take it back up.

Diversion of Non-Violent Drug Offenders – HB 477, which passed, increases and creates new penalties for synthetic opioid drugs (such as fentanyl) and classifies the unlawful distribution of specific controlled substances to be classified as felony murder if their consumption is proven to contribute to the user’s death.  At one point the bill also contained Senate language that allowed for deviation from drug trafficking mandatory minimums and required prison diversion for certain drug possession/nonviolent offenders with substance abuse problems were removed. would have allowed for deviation from drug trafficking mandatory minimums and required prison diversion for certain drug possession/nonviolent offenders with substance abuse problems.  It is estimated that the prison diversion provision would have saved $132 million in prison costs over five years.  Unfortunately, that did not make the final bill. Another bill--HB 641-would have required that certain simple possession convictions would result in a non-state prison sanction unless such sentence could present a danger to the public.  That bill died in committee.

Adult Pre-arrest Diversion Programs - SB 448 and HB 367 encouraged communities to implement a pre-arrest diversion programs and offered a model program that local communities could adopt. The model program allowed a law enforcement officer, at the officer’s sole discretion, to issue a civil citation to an adult who commits a nonviolent misdemeanor offense, admits to committing the offense, has not previously been arrested, and has not previously received an adult civil citation. An adult is ineligible for a civil citation if the misdemeanor involves a victim and the victim objects to the issuance of the citation.  If the adult completes a program that includes interventions and community service hours, there would not be an arrest record. This issue is supported by Florida TaxWatch research. These bills died in committee. The language was also amended onto SB 205, which died on the calendar.   

Elderly Inmates -  HB 535 would have created a program for supervised conditional release of certain elderly inmates if they meet standards regarding their age, the nature of their conviction, percentage of sentence already served, parole eligibility, and behavior while incarcerated. Release must be approved by the Florida Commission of Offender Review.  The bill also required implementation of healthcare standards that specifically consider the needs of inmates older than fifty years of age.  This is a recommendation of both Florida TaxWatch and the Government Efficiency Task Force.  Our research has found that despite only making up roughly 20% of the population, the elderly prisoner population accounts for $200 million of the $400 million healthcare budget for the Department of Corrections. The release of just 750 elderly prisoners would save Floridians up to $40 million annually.  HB 535 died in the Criminal Justice Subcommittee. 

Sentencing of Youthful Offenders SB 892 would have allowed the court to sentence as a youthful offender someone who commits a felony before they turned 21.  Current law requires the person to be under 21 at the time of sentencing.  SB 892 passed the full Senate but there was no House companion.

Health & Aging

PASSED

LIP Funding – The federal government has committed to a $1.5 billion annual funding level for Florida’s Low Income Pool (LIP) program.  LIP helps reimburse hospitals for uncompensated care for Florida’s low-income, uninsured population.  LIP was at one time a $2 billion federal/state program, but funding has been reduced and termination of the funding was possible this year.  The federal commitment will allow for the perpetuation of the LIP fund and is good news to hospitals facing cuts of $521 million in the new state budget,.  Full details on the agreement will not be available until later this summer. Budget conforming bill SB 2514 was approved to provide funding authorization for $1.5 billion, contingent on receipt of sufficient local contributions.  It is now thought that the $579 million in required local revenue is probably not achievable and the final amount of LIP funding will be closer to $1.0 billion.  For more on LIP and the new federal commitment, see the Florida TaxWatch blog.

 

DID NOT PASS

Scope of Practice for ARNP and PAs – Florida TaxWatch research has long supported increasing the scope of practice for Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioners (ARNPs) and Physicians Assistants (PA). Recent sessions have seen improvement in this area and legislation advanced this year as well, but did not pass.  HB 129 authorized an ARNP or a PA to serve as the medical director of a health care clinic.  Under current law, health care clinics must appoint a medical director that agrees to accept legal responsibility for performing certain administrative activities.  The bill also provided that if an ARNP or PA provides the health care services for which a document requires a physician’s signature, the ARNP or PA may sign the documentHB 7011 allowed APRNs who meet certain criteria to practice advanced or specialized nursing without physician supervision or a protocol by registering with the Board of Nursing. These “independent advanced practice registered nurses” would have also been authorized to act as a patient’s primary care provider and perform additional services. The bill also authorized PAs to perform certain examinations that APRNs are now authorized to perform, file death registrations and certify a cause of death, and participate in the Public School Volunteer Health Care Practitioner Program. HB 129 was approved by the full House but was not taken up by the Senate.   HB 7011 died on the House calendar.

Telehealth – HB 7011 also promoted the use of telehealth in Florida, as recommended by Florida TaxWatch.  The bill authorized Florida health care professionals to use telehealth and articulates a standard of care. It authorized out-of-state providers to use telehealth for Florida patients if they register, meet certain requirements, and pay a fee.  It further allowed health care professionals who prescribe controlled substances to use telehealth to do so, with certain limited circumstances.  The bill also created a tax credit for health insurers and HMOs that cover services provided by telehealth.  One tenth of one percent of total insurance premiums received on certain accident or health insurance policies issued or delivered in Florida may be applied against corporate income or insurance premium taxes due. HB 7011 died on the House Calendar.

Medicaid Restructuring - HB 7117 would have consolidated Florida's Medicaid managed care system from 11 regions to eight and direct officials to contract for additional health plans in each region.  The House and Senate agreed on consolidation but, as happen often this session, amendments dealing with other issues were added that scuttled agreement.  The state will be re-procuring health plans later this year for the first time since 2013,  Since the contracts are for five years, the window to consolidate may have closed.

Food Deserts – HB 1083 and SB 1592 created the Healthy Food Assistance Programs to increase the availability of healthy foods in underserved communities—often referred to a ‘food deserts.”  Assistance to small food retailers would have been available for projects that increase the availability and sales of fresh and nutritious food.  Approved projects could receive funds for refrigeration, display shelving, or other equipment (up to $7,500 per retailer); materials and supplies for nutrition education and healthy food promotion; and initial purchases of healthy foods, including dairy products, and fresh produce (up to $2,000 per year).   Florida TaxWatch recently released a report that discusses the issue of food deserts and how they can affect a community. TaxWatch Economist Kyle Baltuch and Health Policy Analyst Allison Wiman, along with the Department of Agriculture, appeared at the Venice Farmers market to speak with taxpayers about the importance of access to healthy foods. TaxWatch experts educated hundreds of market patrons, answering their questions about food deserts, as well as a number of other policy issues. Both bills passed committees but did not make it to the floor.

State Employees Prescription Drug Program – HB 993 directed the Department of Management Services to implement cost-saving measures in the Prescription Drug Program.  It is estimated that drug formulary management techniques that regulate which drugs are included could save the prescription plan $29 million. The bill provided that these techniques cannot restrict a plan participant’s access to the most clinically appropriate, clinically effective, and lowest net-cost prescription drugs. HB 993 passed the full House.

 

 

 


Government Efficiency & Cost Savings

These bills are consistent with recommendations made by Florida TaxWatch and its Center for Government Efficiency and the Government Efficiency Task Force.

PASSED

Public Records Lawsuits – SB 80 requires a court to award attorney fees and enforcement costs if the court determines that a state agency unlawfully refused access to a public record and the plaintiff provided written notice identifying the public records request to an agency records custodian at least 5 business days before filing the court action. However, if the court determines that a plaintiff made the request for an improper or frivolous purpose, the court must award reasonable costs and attorney fees against the plaintiff.   These changes are directly in line with Florida TaxWatch research concerning predatory public records requests.  In a research report Florida TaxWatch released in January 2016, TaxWatch recommended that the Public Records Act be amended to more equitably share risks of attorney fees and other related court costs depending on the validity of the lawsuit to better protect the use of taxpayer dollars. 

Florida Retirement System --- SB 7022 will place newly-hired public employees in the defined contribution retirement plan (a 401(k) styled retirement plan) if they fail to choose their retirement plan within nine months of being hired. Currently, when no decision is made, employees are placed in a traditional defined-benefit pension plan. The bill would also prohibit officials elected after July 1, 2018 from participating in the traditional pension plan.  This is consistent with recommendations made by TaxWatch’s Center for Government Efficiency and by the constitutionally-established Government Efficiency Task Force. This issue was part of the budget conference and this House proposal was accepted in return for a Senate priority of providing an overdue across the board pay increase for state employees,  The conference agreed to this change although the Special Risk Class was removed from the default requirement.

State Employee Health Insurance Options - SB 7022 will also give state employees four different health insurance “benefit levels” to choose from starting in 2020.  If the state’s contribution exceeds the cost of the selected plan selected, employees could put that money toward health savings accounts, purchase additional benefits or increase their salary.  The bill also requires the state to contract for online health care price and quality information.  Enrollees could shop for health care using the information provided to select higher quality, lower cost services and providers.  Savings would be shared with the enrollee. The bill directs DMS to recommend employee contribution rates for standard plans and high deductible health plans for the 2018 plan year reflecting the actual benefit difference between the HMO and the PPO plans for both self-insured and fully insured products.  

Criminal Justice Reform Research - The final budget includes $300,000 for "Criminal Justice Reform Research."  Language drafted to implement this appropriations did not make it into the budget implementing bill but the draft language promoted one of the basic tenets of the Florida TaxWatch Center for Smart Justice.  The language created a legislative workgroup, who could contract with a private research entity, to develop proposed legislation to reduce prison populations and spending by focusing capacity on serious offenses and violent criminals, expanded research-based supervision and sentencing practices, and reinvest savings into strategies shown to decrease recidivism, including reentry programs.

 

DID NOT PASS

Maximum Class Size – Schools that are not in compliance with class size requirements have their class size categorical funding reduced. HB 591 and SB 808 would have reduced that penalty by calculating it at the school average, repealing an increase in the penalty and providing a district may not have its allocation reduced during the next two years if it meets certain requirements.  The change is supported by Florida TaxWatch research.  HB 591 passed the full House.  SB 808 died in the Appropriations Committee.

Florida Criminal Justice Reform Task Force – Language and funding to create a 28-member joint legislative task force to do a comprehensive review of the state’s criminal justice system, court system, and corrections system was removed from the budget and implementing bill during conference.  The task force members would have included legislators, judges, county commissioners, a victim’s advocate, a former incarcerated person, faith-based organizations, the Attorney General, the Secretaries of Corrections and Juvenile Justice, lawyers, and law enforcement.  The task force was directed to submit proposed reform legislation to the 2018 Legislature.  Such a task force is a recommendation of Florida TaxWatch and the Government Efficiency Task Force. In effect, the task force was replaced by a $300,000 appropriation for "criminal justice reform research" (see above)..

Juvenile Civil Citations – Several bills (HB 301, SB 196, HB 205 and HB 365) all addressed increasing the use of juvenile civil citations.  Florida TaxWatch supports the increase use of juvenile civil citations, but law enforcement officers need to have some discretion in their use.  Some legislation required civil citations and some allowed discretion.  The language that advanced the furthest would have required a law enforcement officer to issue a civil citation or direct the juvenile to a similar diversion program when the juvenile admits to committing one of 12 first-time misdemeanor offenses.  The officer would have the discretion to issue a civil citation for non-listed or multiple misdemeanors. A civil citation or similar diversion program would be required to be established in every county. That language was amended onto HB 301 by the Senate and the bill was sent back to the House but the House did not take it back up.

Adult Pre-arrest Diversion Programs - SB 448 and HB 367 encouraged communities to implement a pre-arrest diversion programs and offered a model program that local communities could adopt. The model program allowed a law enforcement officer, at the officer’s sole discretion, to issue a civil citation to an adult who commits a nonviolent misdemeanor offense, admits to committing the offense, has not previously been arrested, and has not previously received an adult civil citation. An adult is ineligible for a civil citation if the misdemeanor involves a victim and the victim objects to the issuance of the citation.  If the adult completes a program that includes interventions and community service hours, there would not be an arrest record. This issue is supported by Florida TaxWatch research. These bills died in committee. The language was also amended onto SB 205, which died on the calendar.   

Diversion of Non-Violent Drug Offenders – HB 477, which passed, increases and creates new penalties for synthetic opioid drugs (such as fentanyl) and classifies the unlawful distribution of specific controlled substances to be classified as felony murder if their consumption is proven to contribute to the user’s death.  At one point the bill also contained Senate language that allowed for deviation from drug trafficking mandatory minimums and required prison diversion for certain drug possession/nonviolent offenders with substance abuse problems were removed. would have allowed for deviation from drug trafficking mandatory minimums and required prison diversion for certain drug possession/nonviolent offenders with substance abuse problems.  It is estimated that the prison diversion provision would have saved $132 million in prison costs over five years.  Unfortunately, that did not make the final bill. Another bill--HB 641-would have required that certain simple possession convictions would result in a non-state prison sanction unless such sentence could present a danger to the public.  That bill died in committee.

Elderly Inmates -  HB 535 would have created a program for supervised conditional release of certain elderly inmates if they meet standards regarding their age, the nature of their conviction, percentage of sentence already served, parole eligibility, and behavior while incarcerated. Release must be approved by the Florida Commission of Offender Review.  The bill also required implementation of healthcare standards that specifically consider the needs of inmates older than fifty years of age.  This is a recommendation of both Florida TaxWatch and the Government Efficiency Task Force.  Our research has found that despite only making up roughly 20% of the population, the elderly prisoner population accounts for $200 million of the $400 million healthcare budget for the Department of Corrections. The release of just 750 elderly prisoners would save Floridians up to $40 million annually.  HB 535 died in the Criminal Justice Subcommittee. 

Maximizing Federal Funds - SB 612 would have required every agency’s legislative budget request to include information on available federal funds. Specifically, they would have been required to identify each program that does not maximize available federal matching funding and the amount of state or local funds that would be required to maximize federal matching funds.  The bill also required a list of federal funding programs that the agency does not participate in and an estimate the amount of federal funds the agency or state does not draw down as a result of non-participation.  Florida TaxWatch has long reported on Florida being a “donor state” for federal grants and has recommended steps to maximize federal revenue. SB 612 has the Judiciary Committee but died in Appropriations.

Local Pension Plans - SB 428 would have closed the Florida Retirement System pension plan for employees of a governing body of a municipality, metropolitan planning organization, or special district that applies to the Florida Retirement System on or after January 1, 2017. Instead, they must be enrolled in the defined contribution program.  Existing employees could continue in the pension plan.  Florida TaxWatch has researched public retirement systems extensively and concludes this a tool that can help local governments get a handle on unsustainable retirement costs.  SB 428 passed Community Affairs but died in Governmental Oversight and Accountability.

Never Heard in Committee:

State Employee Wellness – HB 797 and SB 1380 would establish a state employee health and wellness clinic pilot program, as recommended by Florida TaxWatch and the Government Efficiency Task Force.

Centralized Fleet Management – SB 92 requires the Department of Management Services to prepare a plan regarding the centralized management of state-owned motor vehicles, as recommended by Florida TaxWatch and the Government Efficiency Task Force. 

 


Environment

 

PASSED

Lake Okeechobee Reservoir – The Legislature has agreed on one of Senate President Joe Negron’s biggest priorities, the construction of a large water storage reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee (SB 10).  It is expected this will stem the discharge of polluted water from the Lake, which has cause toxic algal blooms that threaten estuaries and the Everglades.  This has been a controversial issue all session.  The cost, originally $2.4 billion, was one problem.  It was hoped the cost could be split with the federal government.  Still, the plan would require $1.2 billion in state bonding, which created a big objection from the House.  The location of the reservoir was also debated—south or north of the Lake and on public or private land.  This issue was tied up in the budget conference negotiations, and the House relented in exchange for some of its priorities. The final compromise has reduced the cost to $1.5 billion - $1.6 billion and the House reluctantly agreed to $800 billion in future bonding, none this year.  President Negron had proposed building the reservoir on 60,000 acres of private land, a feature opposed by farmers and Glades residents who feared job losses. It will now be built on state-owned land and Glades workers will be given priority for jobs relating to the project’s construction.

Florida TaxWatch commends the Legislature for acting on this critical water issues.  A Florida TaxWatch report highlighted the economic and social costs of delaying action on the crisis.

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TEL: 850.222.5052     |     FAX: 850.222.7476

Media Inquiries:  Contact Leah Courtney by Email or Phone: 850.212.5052

Media Inquiries:
Contact Leah Courtney by Email
or Phone: 850.212.5052