2018 Florida Legislative Session

Week 6 - February 12-16, 2018

During the sixth week of the 2018 Legislative Session, the House unveiled its tax package that contains $400 million in one-time and recurring tax cuts.   This includes a reduction in the Business Rent Tax from 5.8 percent to 5.5 percent.  The reduction/elimination of this tax is a Florida TaxWatch priority.

Several bills addressing other Florida TaxWatch priorities advanced this week, including increasing the independence and effectiveness of the Taxpayers' Rights Advocate, increasing computer science and coding instruction opportunities in schools, and several Smart Justice bills.

No word yet on the beginning of official budget conference meetings.  Legislative leadership, buoyed by $461.8 million in increased revenue estimates, are first trying to privately agree on a basic budget agreement.

Stay tuned for weekly updates all through the session.

Budget

The House and Senate have both passed their respective budgets.  Both spending plans top $87 billion, exceeding current spending by more than $2.2 billion (2.7 percent).  The House increases current General Revenue spending by $530 million (1.7 percent), while the Senate increases GR by $249 million (0.8 percent).

The budgets’ bottom lines are relatively close, with the Senate’s coming in at $100 million more than the House.  While the totals are similar, some big differences exist, particularly in education, hospital funding, environmental funding, and affordable housing.  See below for some of the major differences.

For more information on the two versions of the next state budget, see this Florida TaxWatch Budget Watch.  For more information on the new revenue estimates, which added $461.8 million to state coffers, see this Budget Watch.

Some of the major differences that must be resolved through the budget conference:

Public School Funding – The level of funding proposed by the House and Senate for the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP) are relatively close, but how they get there is quite different.  The Senate is proposing to use rising property values to require local school property taxpayers to contribute $518 million more to the FEFP than in the current year.  The House says this is a tax increase (it is right) and recommends a reduction in the millage rate to produce only $192 million more, making up most of the difference with additional state funds.

School Policy – The House budget makes the FEFP funding contingent on the passage of HB 7055-a huge education bill with many provisions, many of which increase school choice.  This indicates that if the Senate will not go along, education funding negotiations will start from scratch.

Schools of Hope and Teacher and Principal Bonuses – The Senate does not directly fund two House priorities--a program to attract proven charter schools to areas served by chronically failing public schools the Best and Brightest Teacher and Principal Scholarship Program.

Higher Education –  The Senate proposes a $187 million increase for universities and a $60 million reduction in college funding.  The House wants to cut universities by $304 million while increasing colleges by $86 million.  The Senate does have another $101.5 million in a bill that would overhaul the college system.

Education Capital Outlay – The House would spend much more on charter schools while the Senate would spend much more on college and university construction projects.

Environment – The House proposes more spending for the Everglades and beach restoration.  The Senate provides more for Florida Forever, spring restoration, and the St. Johns River.  The House appropriates $107 million for to settle claims by homeowners whose citrus trees were cut down in a failed attempt to eradicate canker.

Hospital Funding – The House would keep the current formula, while the Senate wants to eliminate automatic increases for hospitals that have high Medicaid utilization and redistribute that money into the base allocations. 

Tourism Marketing – The House funds VISIT Florida at $76 million, while the Senate reduces funding to $50 million, much to the consternation of the Governor.

Affordable Housing – The Senate provides $322.1 million; the House provides only $123.6 million and sweeps $182.0 million from housing trust funds. 

Trust Funds Sweeps – The Senate “sweeps” $122.5 million from various trust funds, transferring the money into Genera Revenue.  The House sweeps $397.4 million. 

Governor’s Priorities- The House funds the Florida Job Growth Fund ($85 million) and repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike ($50.0 million).  The Senate does not fund these directly so they are not included in the budget totals, but makes them contingent on receiving $135 million in reimbursement from the federal government for 2017 declared states of emergency.

Member Projects -  The 120-member House has approximately 315 local member projects worth $260 million in its budget, while the 40-member Senate proposes funding approximately 580 projects worth $590 million.

Taxes

House Tax Package – This week, the House Ways & Means Committee unveiled and passed its proposed tax cut package (PCB WMC 3).  The bill contains numerous tax relief provisions, covering sales taxes, property taxes, corporate income taxes, documentary stamp taxes and traffic fines.  Several exemptions to provide tax relief for agriculture and homeowners impacted by hurricanes are included.

The package provides $141.2 million in one-time cuts ($47.5 million of which is local) and $262.2 million in recurring cuts ($10.7 million of which is local).  The General Revenue impact to the 2018-19 budget is $291.8 million.

Click here for detail on the House tax package and the status of Senate tax cut legislation.

TaxWatch Research Priorities

Business Rent Tax (BRT) – The House tax package includes a reduction in the sales tax on leases of commercial property from 5.8 percent to 5.5 percent, beginning January 1, 2019.  The 2017 Legislature reduced the tax from 6.0 percent to 5.8 percent.  The reduction/elimination of the BRT is a top Florida TaxWatch priority.  Florida is only state that levies this tax, creating a government-mandated increase in occupancy costs of up to 7.5 percent, which does not exist in other states.  For more information see our BRT report and our 2017 follow up.  This would provide $92.4 million in annual savings.

Taxpayers’ Right Advocate – SB 826, recommended by Florida TaxWatch, would increase the independence of the Advocate by having her or him appointed by state Chief Inspector General (CIG) instead of the Executive Director of the Department of Revenue (DOR).  The Advocate could only be removed from office by the CIG.  In addition to increasing independence, the bill would improve the transparency, accountability and effectiveness of this important taxpayer safeguard.  An annual report from the Taxpayers’ Rights Advocate would contain information including the number and nature of taxpayer complaints, an examination of the most serious problems, and recommendations to improve taxpayer services and DOR responsiveness.  This very good bill passed the Rules Committee this week—its last committee stop.  Florida TaxWatch was on hand to testify on the bill.  The House companion is HB 1345 which has not been heard.

Supermajority Vote for State Tax Increases or Fees – SJR 1724 proposes a constitutional amendment to require a three-fifths-thirds vote of both legislative chambers to increase a state tax. This long-time Florida TaxWatch recommendation has been approved by the Senate Finance & Tax Committee.  This would ensure that a broad consensus is reached before Floridians are required to contribute more of their hard-earned money to state government. A thoughtful, non-draconian supermajority vote requirement not only protects taxpayers, it can also help avoid a more severe tax or revenue limit that could improperly and imprudently constrain state government.  The full House has already passed HJR 7001, which would require a two-thirds vote and would also apply to fee increases.  Florida TaxWatch has recommended the three-fifths standard in the Senate bill, but also recommends that the supermajority requirement should apply to the repeal of tax exemptions and credits. The Senate does not would include this requirement, the House does. For more information on how we recommend a supermajority amendment be crafted, see our report.

Manufacturing Equipment - SB 136 proposes a constitutional amendment to authorize the Legislature to exempt manufacturing equipment from the tangible personal property tax or allow the equipment to be assessed at less than its just value. Florida TaxWatch has done extensive research on both the benefits of promoting manufacturing in Florida and reducing/eliminating TPP taxes.  SB 136 has been approved by the Judiciary Committee.

Sales Tax Holidays - SB 686 would create a 10-day period “back to school” sales tax holiday from July 27-August 5, 2018.  The exempt items would be clothing costing $100 or less, school supplies costing $15 or less, and personal computers and accessories costing $1,000 or less.  Read Florida TaxWatch’s report on value of sales tax holidays.   SB 620 would create two 7-day (June 1-7 and July 6-12, 2018) sales tax holiday for disaster preparedness items including flashlights, radios, tarps, batteries, cell phone chargers, food storage coolers, portable generators, storm shutter devices, and other items.  SB 620 has been approved by the Finance & Tax Subcommittee and Florida TaxWatch Communications Coordinator Leah Courtney was on hand to support the proposal.  The House tax package contains slightly different versions of both sales tax holidays.

Tourist Development Taxes - HB 585 and SB 658 would expand the permissible uses of local option tourist development taxes to include transportation, sewer, solid waste, drainage and other public service facilities, as well as estuary and lagoon improvements. It is supposed to be determined that the project is necessary to increase tourist-related business activity and must be recommended by the tourist development council.  This controversial bill has been moving through committee, despite the testimony of many opponents, mostly from local tourism development councils and tourism-related businesses and organizations.  Although nothing new is mandated by the bill, the concern is that local governing boards will use the funds more like general revenue at the expenses of tourism promotion.  Florida TaxWatch has done much researchon the value of tourism marketing to the state, and shares the concern that this increases the likelihood that these tourism-dedicated dollars will be spent on projects with dubious ties to tourism, leaving less money available for marketing.  SB 658 was made much better in Finance and Tax this week, with a committee substitute that adds requirements for these new uses of tourism tax dollars.  Only counties that received at least $20 million in revenues from this source may use it for public infrastructure; the county governing board must approve the use by at least a two-thirds vote; this revenue source may pay no more than 70 percent of the cost of the infrastructure; and an independent professional analysis must show the positive impact of the infrastructure on tourist-related businesses.  HB 585, without all the added requirements, is ready for a floor vote.

 

Action on other tax bills this week:

HB 725 and SB 1144 require local governments to post permit and inspection fee schedules and building permit and inspection utilization reports on-line. Building permit and inspection utilization reports must be updated before making any adjustments to the fee schedule.  HB 725 was passed by the full House this week.

HB 243 and SB 688 would require Miami-Dade County to use the proceeds of its 0.5 percent Charter County and Regional Transportation System Surtax only on a fixed guideway rapid transit system or paying bonds for bus systems.  SB 688 would also allow for the purchase of buses or other bus capital costs and HB 243 would allow for the development of dedicated facilities for autonomous vehicles.  HB 243 was amended in the Government Accountability Committee this week to require that for a referendum to adopt or amend a local option sales tax, an independent CPA must perform a performance audit of the county or school district.

 

Other tax bills that have passed committees earlier this session include:

SALES TAX EXEMPTIONS

SB 1448 provides a sales tax exemption to persons age 60 or older for the purchase of items that would assist the person to live independently in their home, such as handrails, hospital beds, and walkers.  Florida TaxWatch supports ways to help the elderly age in place. It has been approved by Finance & Tax.

SB 56 would create a sales tax exemption for diapers and incontinence products.

SB 76 would create a one-day Small Business Saturday Sales Tax Holiday, exempting sales by small businesses of items with a sales price of $1,000 or less.  

SB 1592 clarifies that the current sales tax exemption for generators applies to all farms and creates a new exemption for emergency generators use by nursing homes and assisted living facilities.  It has cleared the Agriculture Committee.

SB 766 would exempt all sales or leases or aircraft from the sales and use tax.  Currently, only certain aircraft are exempt, such as common carrier planes weighing more than 15,000 pounds.  The bill was approved by the Commerce and Tourism Committee this week.

HB 1231 and SB 1540 both provide a 10 percent sales tax refund (up to $2 million total on a first-come, first served basis) to non-profit job training organizations that train persons with low-incomes or other barriers to employment.  Both bills have passes a committee.

SB 236 would provide a sales tax credit for restaurants that install baby changing stations.

PROPERTY TAXES

SB 934 increases the existing property tax exemption for Florida residents who are widows, widowers, blind, or totally and permanently disabled from $500 to $5,000.  This would result in annually tax savings of approximately $40 million.

SJR 452 proposes a constitutional amendment to extend from 2 to 3 years the “portability” period during which a Florida citizen may transfer up to $500,000 of accumulated Save our Homes benefits to a new homestead property.

OTHER TAXES

HB 1245 would exempt Internet video services (such as Netflix) from the state and local communications services tax and the gross receipts tax.  It has been approved by the Energy & Utilities Subcommittee.

SB 840, in addition to making other changes to gaming in Florida, reduces the tax on slot machines from 35 percent to 30 percent in 2019 and to 25 percent in 2020.

SB 926 and HB 647 provide for a 5-year delay of the imposition of natural gas fuel taxes that would otherwise go into effect January 1, 2019.  HB 647 was approved by the Energy & Utilities Subcommittee.

SB 672 and HB 819 would increase the number of trucks that qualify for a lower-cost agricultural restricted license plate, by removing the restriction that the truck only be operated with 150 miles of its home address.  The House bill has cleared all its committees.

LOCAL TAXES

HB 317 and SB 272 require local option sales tax referenda to be held during general only.  HB 317 will be taken up on the House floor next week. HB 317 was approved by the full House this week.

HB 603 and SB 910 create an exemption from local business taxes for honorably discharged veterans and their spouses, un-remarried surviving spouses of such veterans, spouses of certain active duty military service members, and low-income persons.  HB 603 was approved by the Ways & Means Committee this week.

Economic Development

PASSED THE FULL HOUSE

Local Economic and Tourism Development Agencies – After imposing additional transparency and accountability requirements on Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida last year, the House turned its attention to local agencies.  HB 3 contains many of the same requirements, including the requirement for the approval of county boards for contracts of more than $250,000 and to post online any contract of more than $5,000. The state Auditor General would also be required to audit at least two tourism development organizations and two economic development agencies annually.  HB 3 has been approved by the full House.  A similar Senate bill (SB 1714) has passed the Commerce & Tourism Committee.

Worker Compensation – A House priority, HB 7009 has already been approved by the full House. The bill addresses Florida court rulings that parts of workers' compensation law are unconstitutional. Injured workers would now be allowed to pay for their own attorney under the bill. The temporary wage replacement benefit would be increased from 104 to 260 weeks. Attorney fees would remain as a percentage of what they obtained for a client, but the bill allows a judge to award hourly fees as an alternative. The bill also allows insurers to decrease premiums uniformly up to five percent. There is no Senate companion.    The bill does little to control attorney fees and a business coalition that supports reform says the changes would be "premature and ultimately, inadequate." In November, the Office of Insurance Regulation’s announced a 9.5 percent rate decrease for 2018.

Professional Sports Stadium – HB 13 prohibits a sports franchise from constructing or improving a facility on public land leased from the state or a local government. It also requires leases of a facility and sale of public land between government and a sports franchise to be at fair market value. Contracts between governments and a sports franchise to fund the construction of a facility must include a provision requiring the sports franchise to pay any outstanding debt if the sports franchise permanently discontinues use of the facility.  This bill has already passed the full House.

Other bills that have cleared committees:

Institute for Commercialization of Florida Technology - SB 1314 creates the institute to increase the availability of seed and early stage investment capital in Florida without requiring an ongoing state expenditure for such support.  It would be operated by a private fund manager who will be paid from fees based on the institute’s investment activities.  The institute will replace the Institute for Commercialization of Public Research and would no longer partner with universities or research institutes to support their commercialization efforts.  The institute would partner with innovation and target industry businesses to foster investment funding, advise companies about successful management, operations, and development processes, and provide opportunities to attract further investment.  The bill has passed the Commerce and Tourism Committee.  Read Florida TaxWatch’s report on second-stage business development in Florida.

Regulatory Reform – HB 791 creates a Red Tape Reduction Advisory Council within the Executive Office of the Governor. The Council is required to annually review the Florida Administrative Code (FAC) to determine whether any rules are duplicative, obsolete, especially burdensome to business, or disproportionally affect businesses with fewer than 100 employees or revenue below $5 million. A regulatory baseline in the FAC would be established. After January 1, 2019, a proposed rule may not cause the total number of rules to exceed the regulatory baseline. Each agency’s annual regulatory plan would have to identify existing rules that may be appropriate for future repeal to maintain the regulatory baseline.   HB 791 has passed the Appropriations Committee.

Small Business Roadway Construction Mitigation Grant Program – SB 192 and HB 567 create this program to provide grants to businesses negatively impacted by state road construction projects to help maintain the business during construction.  It is limited to businesses that employ up to 40 full-time or part-time employees. SB 192 has passed the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development.

Impact Fees - SB 324 and HB 697 would prohibit local governments from collecting impact fees before the building permit is issued and require funds to be specifically earmarked for use in acquiring capital facilities to benefit the new residents. The bills codify the requirement for impact fees to bear a rational nexus both to the need for additional capital facilities and to the expenditure of funds collected and the benefits accruing to the new construction. Local governments will be required to designate the funds collected by the impact fees for acquiring, constructing, or improving the capital facilities to benefit the new users. Impact fees collected by a local government may not be used to pay existing debt or pay for prior approved projects unless such expenditure has a rational nexus to the impact generated by the new construction. SB 324 is in Appropriations and HB 697 is ready for the floor, after being amended to exempt water and sewer connection fees from these changes.

Developments of Regional Impact (DRIs) – HB 1151 and SB 1244 eliminate state and regional review of DRIs and the Florida Quality Development (FQD) program and transfers the responsibility for DRI and FQD development orders to the local governments in which the developments are located.  HB 1151 is ready for the floor.

High-Speed Passenger Rail - The Senate Transportation Committee approved SB 572, which shifts the responsibility for costs associated with railroad-highway grade crossing construction, maintenance and repairs from local governments to the railroad companies. This is ostensibly part of Martin, St. Lucie, and Indian River County’s ongoing efforts to derail All Aboard Florida’s proposed “Brightline” service, which would provide high-speed passenger rail service between Miami and Orlando with no planned stops in any of the three counties. For more on this Brightline, please read Florida TaxWatch’s recent report.   Having passed one committee, the bill was workshopped in the Commerce Committee.


Education

ACTION THIS WEEK

Computer Coding Instruction – HB 1213 aims to increase computer science and coding learning opportunities for Florida students. The bill requires the Department of Education to identify computer science courses in the Course Code Directory and on its website by July 1, 2018. It requires Florida Virtual School to offer computer science courses so students enrolled in a school without a computer science course can receive this instruction.  It also establishes a grant program to help teachers earn a computer science educator certificate and a bonus program to award teachers who teach computer science courses. Florida TaxWatch supports these computer instructional enhancements. The bill passed the PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee this week with amendments that removed provisions to require at least 10 percent of a school district’s middle and high schools to offer a computer science course by 2020-2021and a needs-based technology grant for school districts whose Digital Classrooms Allocation funds are insufficient to meet costs, The Senate companion (SB 1056), which still has those provisions, is in its last committee--Appropriations.

PASSED THE FULL HOUSE

Omnibus Education Bill – HB 7055, the controversial, major House education initiative was deemed a budget conforming bill so it was passed last week by the full House along with the budget. This 198-page bill contains a myriad of provisions including the Hope Scholarship Program (see HB 1 below).  For a complete list of its provisions see this document.  The bill also appropriates $20.2 million to implement its provisions. The staff analysis states that since the House budget has language that makes $16 billion in education funding contingent on passage of HB 7055, the bill is a conforming bill.  That is sort of backward logic.   Notwithstanding the merits of any of these proposals, Florida TaxWatch has long-recommended that budget conforming bills be limited to provisions that are necessary to implement the budget and not include separate substantive changes that should stand on their own.

PASSED THE FULL SENATE

Florida Excellence in Higher Education Act The full Senate has passed SB 4, a priority of the Senate President.  The bill modifies university performance metrics to promote graduation in four years. The bill also establishes the World Class Faculty and Scholar Program and the State University Professional and Graduate Degree Excellence Program and requires state universities to identify internship opportunities in high-demand fields.  The bill would also spend $124 million to expand the Bright Futures, Benacquisto, and Farmworker Student scholarship programs.  A comparable House bill (HB 423) has passed two committees and is now in the Committee.

Financial Literacy – The Senate has also passed SB 88, which would revise the required credits for a standard high school diploma to include one-half credit of instruction in personal financial literacy and money management.  Florida TaxWatch appeared in committee in support of this good bill.  The House companion (HB 323) has passed the PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee with amendment requiring schools to provide an elective course in financial literacy, but not requiring it for graduation.

OTHER BILLS THAT HAVE PASSED COMMITTEE

Community College Competitiveness Act of 2018 - SB 540 would establish a State Board of Colleges to oversee the college system and would reinforce the primary mission of community colleges as awarding associate degrees and workforce credentials.  The bill places a 20 percent cap on upper-level, undergraduate enrollment at each community college, and a 10 percent system-wide cap. It establishes the “2+2” targeted pathway program to provide students guaranteed access to baccalaureate degree programs at state universities.  It also establishes the Supporting Students for Academic Success program to fund the efforts of community colleges in assisting students enrolled in an associate in arts (AA) degree program to complete college-credit courses, graduate with an AA degree and transfer to a baccalaureate degree program.  The bill was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee with an amendment deleting a provision that would have added “Community” back into the description of these colleges.  The bill is now awaiting a floor vote.   A similar House bill (HB 831) has not been heard.

Hope Scholarship Program - HB 1 establishes the Hope Scholarship Program, which would allow a public school student who was subject to an incident of battery, harassment, hazing, bullying, kidnapping, physical attack, robbery, sexual offense, harassment, assault, battery, threat, intimidation or fighting at school to transfer the student to another public school or to receive a scholarship for the student to attend a private school. If the student enrolls in a public school outside the district, the student is eligible for a transportation scholarship limited to $750.   The program would be funded by taxpayer contributions of up to $105 to be paid at the time of the purchase or registration of a motor vehicle.  The taxpayer would get an equal credit against taxes owed that vehicle acquisition.  HB 1 is ready for a floor vote.  The program is also created in HB 7055 (see above). The Senate companion (SB 1172) has passed two committees.

Smart Justice

Action This Week

Judicial Safety Valve –SB 694 would authorize courts to depart from mandatory minimum sentences in certain controlled substance trafficking convictions. The departure is authorized if the court finds that the person did not engage in a continuing criminal enterprise; use or threaten violence or use a weapon; and cause a death or serious bodily injury. Florida TaxWatch research has found that mandatory minimums have led Florida prisons to incarcerate low-level offenders for unnecessarily lengthy sentences when many could be better served through alternative treatments and sanctions. This approach to sentencing results in the waste of valuable resources, at great expense to Florida taxpayers.   

SB 694 passed the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice this week. 

Adult Civil Citation/Diversion – Several counties have developed pilot civil citation or other prearrest diversion programs as an alternative to referring the case to the court for disposition. If the person successfully completes the requirements of the civil citation or prearrest diversion program, the offense is never referred to the court and does not appear on the individual’s criminal record.  Florida TaxWatch has recommended the establishment of adult civil citation programs because they can save taxpayers a significant amount of money, allow the offender to continue education, vocation, and life development opportunities, and help avoid the progression of an individual into a life of crime.  HB 1197 establishes a model prearrest diversion program that local entities may, but are not mandated to, adopt. The diversion programs would be required to submit data regarding participants and nonparticipants to the Department of Juvenile Justice in order to evaluate the programs’ effectiveness. The bill also makes participants in all types of juvenile diversion programs eligible for expunction from their record.  HB 1197 has passed the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee.   SB 1392 passed the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice this week. 

Other bills supported by Florida TaxWatch research that have cleared committees earlier this session:

Florida Correctional Operations Oversight Council SB 1208 and HB 1169 would create the council with the purpose of overseeing matters relating to corrections and juvenile justice with an emphasis on the safe and effective operations of major institutions and facilities under the purview of the DOC and the DJJ. The council would make recommendations and findings on correctional policies.  The council would be made up of nine members, three appointed by the Governor, the House Speaker and the Senate President.   These bills are supported by Florida TaxWatch.  SB 1208 has passed the Criminal Justice Committee.

Electronic Monitoring – SB 484 authorizes counties to establish a program that would allow eligible defendants to be released on active electronic monitoring, continuous alcohol monitoring or both.  A risk assessment instrument would be used to determine an appropriate level of supervision. It also allows an inmate to participate in a supervised community release program that includes electronic monitoring and community control for up to 90 days before the inmate’s release. The bill also authorizes a court to sentence some offenders to a county jail for up to 24 months and allows the state to transfer an inmate to a county jail if the inmate has less than 24 months or is terminally ill with less than 12 months to live.  SB 484 has passed all its committees.  SB 1206, which also promotes the use of electronic monitoring, has passed the Criminal Justice Committee.

Re-Entry Services - SB 226 specifies that the prison release orientation program begin at least 360 days prior to the inmate’s release, rather than the current 240 days. The bill also adds instruction topics to the orientation and increases the comprehensive transition course from 100 hours to at least 200 hours.

The Department of Corrections (DOC) would be required to assist inmates in securing the identified basic support services and notify every inmate of opportunities for industry certifications and job placement in the community in which the inmate will be released.  SB 226 has passed the Criminal Justice Committee.

Juvenile Civil Citation/Diversion – SB 644 requires each county to establish at least one juvenile civil citation or similar diversion program.  An officer would be required to issue a citation or require the juvenile’s participation in a diversion program when the juvenile admits to committing certain first-time misdemeanors.  This would be at the officer’s discretion for non-listed misdemeanors or if it is a second or third-time offense.  Florida TaxWatch supports the increased use of juvenile civil citations and other diversion programs but understands the concern with limiting officer discretion.  SB has 644 passed the Criminal Justice Committee.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Offenders - SB 1222 creates a probationary split sentence for nonviolent offenders that need substance use or mental health treatment and does not pose a danger to the community. The sentence would include term of imprisonment, which must include an in-prison treatment program, and a 24-month term of probation that consists of either drug offender or mental health probation, any special conditions of probation ordered by the sentencing court, and any recommendations made by DOC in the post-release treatment plan.  SB 1222 has passed the Criminal Justice Committee.

Health & Aging

TelehealthHB 280 promotes the use of telehealth in Florida, as recommended by Florida TaxWatch.  Telehealth allows health providers to work with patients remotely. Telehealth can be used to increase access to quality care and can be used as an innovative tool to reduce costly medical interventions such as emergency room utilization and length of hospital stay. If telehealth could reduce these interventions by even 1%, the state would realize a cost-savings of more than $1 billion. The bill authorizes Florida health care professionals to use telehealth and articulates a standard of care. Providers may be reimbursed through Medicaid for video conferencing, store and forward services, and remote patient monitoring.  It allows health care professionals who prescribe controlled substances to use telehealth to do so, with certain limited circumstances.  The bill also encourages the State Group Insurance program and workers compensation insurers to include telehealth in their plans.  The bill passed the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services this week.  The House companion is HB 793.

Scope of Practice for ARNP and PAsFlorida 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 is advancing this year as well.  HB 973 and SB 112 authorize ARNPs and PAs, within the framework of established protocol and supervision, to sign or otherwise endorse a document that currently requires a doctor’s endorsement.  HB 573 and SB 706 authorize ARNPs and PAs to execute a certificate under certain conditions stating that they have examined a person and find the person appears to meet the criteria for involuntary examination under the Baker Act.  HB 973 has been unanimously approved by the full House.  SB 112 has passed the Health Policy Committee.

Pharmacist Scope of Practice: Test and Treat the Flu and Strep - HB 431 and SB 524 authorize pharmacists to test for and treat the influenza virus (flu) and streptococcal bacteria (strep) within the framework of an established written protocol with a physician licensed in this state.  Requirements to be eligible to provide such services include: completing an approved certification program; maintaining at least $200,000 of professional liability insurance; maintaining patient records for at least five years after the provision of services; using a test that integrates with electronic health record technology; and reporting the diagnosis or suspected existence of a disease as required by the Department of Health.  These illnesses are infectious, and if not diagnosed and treated timely, could lead to serious and even fatal health conditions. Rapid diagnostic tests are available for both the flu and strep, providing results within minutes.  Florida TaxWatch supports increasing the access to these valuable tests and treatments than can help slow the spread of an epidemic.  SB 524 was temporarily postponed by Health Policy this week.

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

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