2017 Session - Week 8

April 24-28

This next to last week of the 2017 session began with a game of “Deal or No Deal” on the budget.  It appeared there was a stalemate and harsh words were exchanged.  The House Appropriations Committee passed a continuation budget as a fall back plan in case an agreement could not be reached.  The Senate balked at that approach.  The Speaker and President then began closed door meetings to try to hammer a basic compromise so a budget conference could begin.

Rumors of a deal began surfacing on Tuesday, along with contrary reports, and the specter of a special session rose.  Finally, on Thursday morning leaders announce they had agreed on allocations and some major issues.  Conference meetings began Thursday evening.

The budget is expected to be approximately $83 million, about halfway between the House and Senate proposals.  Some of the major issues settled were the House will get the Speaker Corcoran’s priorities--Schools of Hope, lower school property taxes, and pension reform.  The Senate would get President Negron’s priorities—the Lake Okeechobee reservoir, increased university spending and a state employee pay raise.

Spending for Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida (EFI) will be reduced, but EFI will survive.

The conference subcommittees are scheduled to finish their work by noon on Saturday.  Remaining issues will be bumped to the budget chairs and anything not agreed to by noon on Sunday will go to the Speaker and President.  A conference agreement must be reached and the budget must be printed by Tuesday in order for the session to finish on time.

With no more regular committee meetings (except for a Senate Appropriations meeting on Monday), prospects for bills that have not already made it the floor are bleak. 

For more information on these and other bills, please see below. And stay tuned for weekly updates all through the session.

Taxes

PASSED BOTH CHAMBERS

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.  This proposed amendment is very important.  If the cap is allowed to expire, non-homestead property will see very substantial tax increases (as much as $700 million at current millage rates).    For more information on the potential repeal of the cap, see the Florida TaxWatch blog. 

HJR 21 was approved by the full House last week and the Senate this week.

Fee Reductions – Bills containing fee reductions recommended by Governor Scott have been approved by the Legislature.  One of these (HB 741), would create a flat $25 fee on delinquent professional license renewals. Currently, the fee can go as high as $260.  The bill would also cut the Florida Building Code surcharge on building permits from 1.5 percent to 1.0 percent.  These two fee cuts are worth $3.6 million annually.  SB 164 would waive the $70 fee for retitling a vehicle in the case of a spouse’s death, saving surviving spouses $350,000 annually.  All these fee reductions, along with a host of others, are included in SB 1442 and HB 1123, which may also pass.  A list of these fee reductions is here.

HB 741 was approved by the full House last week and the Senate this week.

SB 164 was approved by the full Senate earlier this session and the House this week.

PASSED ONE CHAMBER

House Tax Cut Package – The House passed its tax cut proposal (HB 7109), the cornerstone being a reduction in the Business Rent Tax (BRT) as recommended by Florida TaxWatch.   Total state and local tax reduction in the first year would be $382.5 million, $129.8 million of which are one-time cuts.  The recurring amount is $275.9 million.  Because the BRT rate cut is 1.5 percent (from 6.0 percent to 4.5) percent for two years and then the rate will go up to 5.5 percent, there is $513.3 million in non-recurring cuts for two years.  The tax package also contains three sales tax holidays, new sales tax exemptions, extended/increased tax credits, and a few other smaller tax changes.   The Senate does not have a tax package yet, but has advanced some individual tax cut bills. More information on the House tax cut package and related Senate bills is here.  Information on the Governor’s tax relief recommendations is here.

HB 7109 passed the full House this week and is on the Appropriations Committee agenda for 5/1.

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 House passed its tax cut package (HB 7109) that includes a reduction in the BRT (see above).  It would reduce the rate from 6% to 4.5% for two years, beginning January 1, 2018.  The rate would then go to 5.5% permanently.  SB 484 has been approved by the Community Affairs Committee. It provides a one percent reduction in the rate (from 6 percent to 5 percent).  At the request of the sponsor, Florida TaxWatch presented its research findings to the committee. We are encouraged to see the Senate moving a bill that only contains the BRT reduction because earlier this session, because Finance and Tax passed SB 378, coupling the BRT cut with the repeal of an insurance premium tax credit. Florida TaxWatch research shows this is unwise (see report).  The Senate has also advanced SB 704, which would exempt separately stated property tax payments from the BRT.  This would reduce taxes by $176 million annually (as opposed to $302 million annually from reducing the rate to 5 percent).  SB 704 passed the Community Affairs last week with support from Florida TaxWatch.  

HB 7109 passed the full House this week and is on the Appropriations Committee agenda for 5/1.

SB 484 is in the Appropriations Subcommittee on Finance and Tax.

SB 704 is in the Appropriations Subcommittee on Finance and Tax.

Increased Homestead Exemption – SJR 1774 and HJR 7105 propose a constitutional amendment to provide an additional $25,000 homestead exemption.  Currently, homeowners get the original $25,000 exemption plus an exemption for the value between $50,000 and $75,000.  The amendment would exempt the value between $50,000 and $100,000 (does not apply to school property tax levies).  While Florida TaxWatch supports the concept of holding down property taxes, homestead exemptions do not provide all the expected tax savings, since millage rates can be adjusted.  When large exemptions are granted, the rolled-back rate may be a “rolled-up rate” to make up for lost revenue.  The result of this is a shift of tax burden to non-homestead property, something our property tax system does regularly due to Save Our Homes.  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.  This situation would not bode well for non-homestead properties.    The implementing bill for HJR 7015 (HB 7107) has led to considerable local government opposition. 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.  

HJR 7105 and HB 7107 passed the full House this week and is on 3rd reading in the Senate on 5/1.

SJR 1774 is in the Appropriations Subcommittee on Finance and Tax.

Back to School Sales Tax Holiday – In addition to being in the House tax package (HB 7109), the Senate Commerce & Tourism Committee approved SB 490 to create 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 $100 or less, school supplies at $15 or less, and personal computers and related accessories that have a sales price of $1,000 or less that are purchased for noncommercial use.  Read Florida TaxWatch’s recent report on sales tax holidays.

HB 7109 passed the full House this week and is on the Appropriations Committee agenda for 5/1.

Property Tax Exemption for First Responders - HB 455 and SB 764 implements a constitutional amendment that was passed last November.  It would provide a 100 percent homestead tax exemption to first responders who became totally and permanently disabled in the line of duty. The bills also extend a 100 percent exemption to the surviving spouse of a totally and permanently disabled first responder.  

HB 455 was approved by the full House this week. 

SB 764 is in Appropriations.

Property Tax Exemption for Renewable Energy Devices – SB 90 and HB 1351 implement Amendment 4, passed by the voters last November.  The bills expand the current property tax exemption for renewable energy devices from only residential property to all property.  They also exempt these devices from tangible personal property taxes (TPP).  The new language expires in 20 years – meaning no non-residential or TPP exemptions.  The residential exemption would remain.  HB 1351 has additional language that the sponsor says are for consumer protection but that critics contend create barriers for solar power development.  The Commerce Committee amended the bill to mitigate some of the opposition from solar advocates. SB 90 does not have that language.  However, SB 90 was amended on the floor this week to reduce both exemptions to 80 percent of the device’s value.

SB 90 passed the full Senate this week.

HB 1351 is on 2nd reading in House.

More Fee Reductions – The fee reductions in HB 741 and SB 164 (already passed), along with a host of others, are included in SB 1442 and HB 1123.  The revenue loss from the fee reductions is approximately $6 million.  A list of the fee reductions is here

HB 1123 was passed by the full House this week.

SB 1442 is in on the Appropriations agenda for next week.

Local Government Fiscal Restraint and Transparency – HB 7065 would add 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 requires 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 be required.   There is no Senate companion.

HB 7065 was approved by the full House this week.

Local Tax Referenda – HB 139 and SB 278 would require that referenda to impose a local option sales tax can 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. Otherwise, approval of 60 percent of those voting would be required.  SB 278 requires such a referendum to be held during a general election (majority vote), unless the proposal is revenue neutral. In that case, the referendum may be held during a special election or by mail.  The HB would be effective January 1, 2018, but the SB would be effective July 1, 2019.  The delayed effective date was done to avoid a crowded general election ballot due to expected multiple proposed constitutional amendments from the Constitutional Revision Commission in 2018.

HB 139 passed the full House this week.

SB 278 is in Appropriations.

Tax Relief from Natural Disasters – HB 49 would create 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.  The Senate companion (SB 272) did not get a committee hearing.

HB 49 passed the full House this week.

READY FOR THE FLOOR

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 have now been scaled back.  They now only contain the exemption for veterans, spouses of veterans and active service members and low-income persons.  

SB 330 was on the Appropriations Committee agenda this week but was not heard.

HB 487 passed its last committee this week.

STILL IN COMMITTEE

Insurance Premium Tax (IPT) – SB 378 would repeal 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.  The report finds that repeal of the credit is not in the best interests of Florida.  It is a very large ($315 million - 40 percent) tax increase that will 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 contains a reduction in the business rent tax, which is strongly supported by Florida TaxWatch.  Florida TaxWatch urges the Legislature to take up the two tax changes separately.  SB 378 has passed Finance & Tax, where Florida TaxWatch presented its research findings to the committee.

SB 378 is in Appropriations.

Local Government Fiscal Restraint – HB 7063 puts 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 also prohibit 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 also be required.

HB 7063 is in the Government Accountability Committee.

Homestead Exemption Fraud – HB 903 creates 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 may request to contract for services to conduct a full examination and audit. The contractor may be paid up to 25 percent of the taxes, penalties, and interest found to be due. The bill sets 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.  SB 135 which provides authorization for all property appraisers to contract for these services.

HB 903 is in the Government Accountability Committee.

SB 1350 was on the Community Affairs agenda but was not heard.

Taxing Streaming Video – SB 1636 amends the Communications Service Tax law to “exempt internet video service from the definition of ‘communications services,’ and therefore from the communications services tax.”  This would 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 has passed the Senate Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committee.  The House companion (HB 1377) has not been heard.

SJR 1636 is in the Appropriations Subcommittee on Finance and Tax.

 

Economic Development

 

IN CONFERENCE

Economic Development Programs – The House has passed HB 7005 to eliminate Enterprise Florida (EFI) and 23 economic development programs.  This controversial bill is fiercely opposed by the Governor and looks to be one of the major battlefronts of the 2017 Session.  Florida TaxWatch believes the elimination of Enterprise Florida would be detrimental to the state.  The Senate is not on board with the House. The Senate budget contains $23.5 million for EFI, $59.1 million for the Quick Action Closing Fund and $23.4 for economic development tools.

HB 7005 has passed the full House but has not been taken up by the Senate.  The Senate’s first offer in conference has $16 million for EFI.

Visit Florida – Also against the Governor’s objections, the state’s tourism marketing agency was also targeted for elimination by the House. It now looks like Visit Florida (VF) will survive, but the House still wants it scaled back and more closely controlled by the Legislature.  HB 9 would place more requirements on VF, limiting its expenses, compensation and travel.  More of its information would have to be publicly available.  Contracts over $750,000 would have to be approved by the Legislature.  The House budget provides $25 million for VF.  HB 9 provides that 25 percent of its operating budget would be released on July 1st, with the remainder released in accordance with a detailed operating budget submitted to the Legislative Budget Commission each year by August 15th, if approved.  The Senate passed its budget this week and it contains $76 million for Visit Florida.  Many of the accountability reforms are needed, but Florida TaxWatch research has shown how valuable funding for tourism marketing is to the state.  Visit Florida must not be crippled to the extent it cannot be successful. See Florida TaxWatch’s statement on this legislation. 

HB 9 has passed the full House but has not been taken up by the Senate.  The Senate has agreed in conference to $25 million for Visit Florida.

Gambling – SB 8 offered a significant expansion of gambling in Florida, in stark contrast to HB 7037 which basically maintained the status quo.  But the two chambers have been moving towards the middle of those different views during a gambling conference committee process.  Both bills would ratify a compact with the Seminoles.  The House offered to allow blackjack, craps and roulette at all seven Seminole Tribe gambling facilities. Now, they offer blackjack at five casinos, and do not offer craps and roulette.  The House also offered to allow decoupling—where pari-mutuels can continue to offer card rooms and slots—without holding a certain amount 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 no 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 gambling conference is expected to continue. 

PASSED ONE CHAMBER

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 attorney.  These rulings led to the Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR) ordering a 14.5 increase in premiums, effective December 1, 2017.  Reducing premiums has become a top priority for the business community this session, focusing on reducing attorney fees.  The Legislature has been working on addressing this problem, trying to balance the need to address the court rulings, protect injured workers and reducing premiums.  Both HB 7085 and SB 1582 address the court ruling, but have 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 go further in reducing rates.

HB 7085 was approved by the full House this week.

SB 1582 is on the Special Order Calendar for 5/1.

Sports Franchise Facilities HB 77 would prevent sports franchises from building or renovating stadiums on public land. It would also require sports franchises to pay any outstanding debt the state incurred on the facilities if the sports franchise permanently leaves the facility.   A similar bill in the Senate (SB 122) has not been heard.  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 has been approved by the full House.

SB 236 was voted down on a 3-3 tie in the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee.

STILL IN COMMITTEE

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 will be shifted in FY 2019-20 and 100 percent will 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 is in Appropriations.

High Speed Passenger Rail Service --- HB 269 and SB 386 would, 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 also provide 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 issues.

HB 269 was temporarily postponed in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee. 

SB 386 is now in the Senate Community Affairs Committee.

Rural Economic Development – SB 600 would restructure the Rural Economic Development Initiative (REDI), a program to promote the expansion of economic development projects in rural areas. The bill changes the membership of REDI, changes its scope to include encouraging job creation, improved community infrastructure, the development and expansion of workforce, and improved access to healthcare. It expands the definition of a qualifying rural area and increases reporting and accountability requirementsThe House companion (HB 333) has been approved by the Agriculture & Property Rights Subcommittee. Not surprising, given the House stance on Enterprise Florida (EFI), the bills was amended to remove the President of EFI from the REDI membership.

SB 600 is in the Rules Committee.

HB 333 is in the Transportation & Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee.

Education

 

IN CONFERENCE

“College Competitiveness Act of 2017” – SB 374 is the Senate’s Community College overhaul.  It changes the name of the Florida College System back to the Florida Community College System and reinstates a statewide coordinating board for the System, tightens the bachelor degree approval process, expands 2+2 college-to-university partnerships, and attempts to maximize programmatic offerings and resources already available at state universities, community colleges, and technical centers.   It caps the number of bachelor degrees the system can offer at 15 percent of enrollment. HB 929 differs from the Senate bill, including a 20 percent cap on upper-level enrollment and, instead of creating a governing board, creating a committee to study college system governance.    The full Senate passed SB 374 and the House took it up and substituted a bill dealing with college and university direct support organizations (HB 5601).  

SB 374 and HB 5601 are part of the budget conference negotiations.

“Schools of Hope” -  A priority of the House Speaker, HB 5105 would create a program to attract top charter schools to Florida to open schools near perpetually failing public schools to give parents an option.  The House budget provides $200 million for this program. There are 115 “D” or “F” schools in Florida, 3 percent of all public schools.  The controversial bill has passed the full House. The Senate refused to pass the bill and it will be part of the budget conference.  It appears the Senate has agreed to this as part of the budget negotiations between the Speaker and President.

HB 5105 is part of the budget conference negotiations.

Charter School Funding - SB 376 and HB 5103 require each school district to share its discretionary millage capital outlay revenue with eligible charter schools. Approximately $150 million of the $2.3 billion raised by the up to 1.5 mill discretionary property tax levy would go to charters.  Currently, at least three school districts share these funds with charter schools.  Both bills have been passed by their respective chambers and since there are differences, this will be part of the budget conference.

SB 376 and HB 5103 are part of the budget conference negotiations.

Best and Brightest Teachers and PrincipalsHB 7069 would greatly expand the number of teachers that could qualify for the Best and Brightest bonus and adds principals to the program.  Teachers could also begin using graduate school entrance exams—such as the GRE and LSAT—to qualify.  The bill would quadruple the amount available for bonuses to $200 million. The bill has passed the full House, the Senate refused, so it will be included in the budget conference.  The proposed Senate budget has no funding for the program but the Senate could be open to some expansion.  

HB 7069 is part of the budget conference negotiations.

PASSED ONE CHAMBER

“Excellence in Higher Education” – One of Senate President Joe Negron’s priorities, SB 2 expands financial assistance for students, including restoring Bright Futures to funding 100% of tuition and fees, plus $300 for textbooks and other expenses.  It requires universities to implement a block tuition policy by the Fall 2018 semester.  It attempts to strengthen Florida’s 2+2 articulation system to promote student retention and on-time graduation.  It upgrades performance metrics for Preeminent Universities, Distinguished Colleges and Performance Funding programs.  It also establishes a World Class Faculty Scholar Program to fund university efforts to recruit, recognize, and retain star facultyIt passed the full Senate with only one “no” vote.  The prospects for SB 2 in the House were uncertain as it believes too much money has been put into the system in recent years.  

SB 2 has passed the full Senate.

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 reduce 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 this week and Florida TaxWatch was on hand to testify in support.

HB 591 has passed the full House.  

SB 808 was on the Appropriations Committee agenda this week but was not heard.

Fewer, Better Tests – Prior to the beginning of session, TaxWatch stood with legislative sponsors at press conference at which legislation addressing the need for fewer and better tests was unveiled. Florida TaxWatch supports the concept of ‘fewer and better tests,’ as well as other measures that afford school districts greater flexibility and control over how student achievement is measured.   SB 926 eliminates four end-of-course (EOC) exams, including three needed for high school graduation--geometry, algebra II, and U.S. History. The civics EOC needed for middle school promotion would also be eliminated.  It also provides that the language arts and mathematics EOCs can only be administered in the last three weeks of the school year. In addition to providing more time for instruction, the bill would also provide teachers and parents with more useable and timely information regarding student performance.  The bill also requires the Commissioner of Education to contract for a study of nationally recognized high school assessment alternatives for the remaining tests. HB 773 did not go as far. It does not eliminate any tests, but it does shorten the testing window, make improvements to the timeliness and usefulness of results and allow for the consideration of alternative tests.  The winner of Florida TaxWatch’s Principal Leadership Award as the most outstanding high school principal—Carlos Alvarez—spoke in support of HB 773 at the House PreK – 12 Quality Subcommittee meeting.    Another bill, HB 549, was amended to bring it closer to the Senate position.  The bill would eliminate the Algebra II EOC, move the testing window to later in the spring and shorten it, return to paper-based testing for third through sixth grades and change the method of evaluating teachers.  This week, the House Education Committee amended those provisions onto HB 773.  Both HB 773 and SB 926 have become “trains” as many different education issues have been added to them

HB 773 passed the Education Committee this week and is on 3rd reading on 5/1.

HB 549 was approved by the House this week and is in messages in the Senate. 

SB 926 is on 2nd reading.  

Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program – 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.  

HB 15 was approved by the full House this week.

SB 1314 is on the Appropriations Committee agenda for 5/1.

Teacher Bonuses – HB 827 removes the annual limits 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.  

HB 827 has passed the full House but there is no Senate companion.

STILL IN COMMITTEE

Reading Instruction – The percentage of 3rd grade students performing below grade level in reading has exceeded 40 percent over the past several years.  In an attempt to address decreasing reading scores, HB 79 aims to help schools identify struggling readers sooner and implement effective interventions and provide increased training for teachers.  The bill has been approved by the PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee.   SB 468 and HB 757 wants to do the same thing in the Voluntary Pre-K system.  The bills appropriate $10 million for training of VPK through grade 3 teachers, reading coaches and school principals on research-based reading instructional strategies and interventionsWhile these bills appear stuck in committee, some of the reading language was amended onto an education “train”—HB 773.

HB 79 is in the PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee.

HB 757 is in the PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee.

SB 468 was on the Appropriations Committee agenda this week but was not heard.

 

 

Smart Justice

PASSED ONE CHAMBER

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. 

SB 118 has passed the full Senate.

HB 857 passed its last committee this week.

ON THE FLOOR

Juvenile Civil Citations – SB 196 requires 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. Florida TaxWatch supports the increase use of juvenile civil citations, but law enforcement officers need to have some discretion in their use.  HB 205 was nearly identical to SB 196 until it was amended to remove the mandatory civil citation provision and allow a minor’s record of a first-time misdemeanor crime to be expunged upon completing one of four diversion programs.  The juvenile would be able to deny that they were ever arrested for the misdemeanor.  HB 205 was approved by the House Judiciary Committee this week with an amendment allowing adults arrested for certain crimes to go into a pre-arrest diversion program.

SB 196 is on 2nd reading. 

HB 205 was approved by its last committee this week.

STILL IN COMMITTEE

Adult Prearrest Diversion Programs - SB 448 and HB 367 encourage communities to implement a prearrest diversion programs and offer a model program that local communities may adopt. The model program allows 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. HB 367 appears stuck in committee, but this week the sponsor amended another bill (see HB 205 above), adding adult diversion language.

SB 448 is now in its last committee-Appropriations.

HB 367 is in the Justice Appropriations Committee.  

Diversion of Non-Violent Drug Offenders – SB 150 makes several changes to sentencing for controlled substances. It increases and creates new penalties for synthetic opioid drugs.  However, it also provides for prison diversion of certain nonviolent offenders who are convicted of drug possession or whose criminal behavior is related to substance abuse and who are amenable to treatment.  It also allows the court to deviate from mandatory minimum sentences in drug trafficking cases in certain circumstances.  It is estimates the prison diversion provisions would save $132 million in prison costs over five years HB 641 requires that certain simple possession convictions result in a nonstate prison sanction unless such sentence could present a danger to the public. 

SB 150 passed the Judiciary Committee this week and is up in Appropriations on 4/25.

HB 641 passed the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee this week and is no in Judiciary. 

Florida Criminal Justice Reform Task Force – SB 458 would 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.  The task force members will include 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 will submit proposed reform legislation to the 2018 Legislature.  Such a task force is a recommendation of Florida TaxWatch and the Government Efficiency Task Force.  SB 458 was approved by the Appropriations Committee with a committee substitute to prohibits representatives or organizations that provide criminal justice services to government from being on the Task Force.  The House companion (HB 387) has not been heard.

SB 458 is now in the Rules Committee.

Elderly Inmates -  HB 535 would create 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 requires 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 is in the Criminal Justice Subcommittee. 

Sentencing of Youthful Offenders – SB 892 would allow 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.  The bill has been approved by the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice.

SB 892 is on the Appropriations Committee agenda for 4/25.


Health & Aging

 

LIP Funding – The federal government has committed to contributing $1.5 billion annually to 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 $1.5 billion federal commitment will allow for the perpetuation of the LIP fund, help avoid significant budget cuts to hospital and likely free up state money for other budget uses.  The House budget does not contain any LIP funding, but the Senate included $600 million although funding was not assured.  In total, the House budget cuts hospital funding by $622 million and the Senate reduces funding by $259 million.

Hospital funding is just one of the major differences between the two chambers’ spending plans, which are effectively $4 billion apart.  It is too early to tell how the federal LIP money will impact other areas in budget, but it should certainly help upcoming budget negotiations.  For more on LIP and the new federal commitment, see the Florida TaxWatch blog.

PASSED ONE CHAMBER

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 is moving this year as well.  HB 129 authorizes 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 provides 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 document.  HB 7011 allows 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 also be authorized to act as a patient’s primary care provider and perform additional services. The bill also authorizes 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. This bill narrowly passed (10-8) the House Health and Human Services Committee last week. 

HB 129 has been approved by the full House.   

HB 7011 has passed all its committees.

State Employees Prescription Drug Program – HB 993 directs 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 $55 million. The bill provides 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 Health & Human Services Committee earlier this session with an amendment that allows water management districts to participate in the drug program.  

HB 993 has passed the full House.

 

ON THE FLOOR

Telehealth – HB 7011 promotes the use of telehealth in Florida, as recommended by Florida TaxWatch.  The bill authorizes Florida health care professionals to use telehealth and articulates a standard of care. It authorizes out-of-state providers to use telehealth for Florida patients if they register, meet certain requirements, and pay a fee.  It further allows health care professionals who prescribe controlled substances to use telehealth to do so, with certain limited circumstances.  The bill also creates 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. This bill narrowly passed (10-8) the House Health and Human Services Committee last week and is now ready for the floor.

HB 7011 has passed all its committees.

STILL IN COMMITTEE

Food Deserts – HB 1083 and SB 1592 create 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 be 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.

HB 1083 is in the Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee.

SB 1592 is in the Appropriations Committee.

 

 

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 BOTH CHAMBERS

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. 

SB 80 was passed by the full House this week and will now go to the Governor.

IN CONFERENCE

Florida Retirement System --- HB 5007 would 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 six 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 is part of the budget conference.  It is expected this will be accepted by the Senate in return for the state employee pay raise the Senate recommended.

HB 5007 has passed the full House.

Florida Criminal Justice Reform Task Force – SB 2502, the budget implementing bill, would 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.  The task force members will include 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 will submit proposed reform legislation to the 2018 Legislature.  Such a task force is a recommendation of Florida TaxWatch and the Government Efficiency Task Force.  

SB 2502 passed the Senate is part of the budget conference negotiations.

State Employee Health Insurance Options - HB 7007 would 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.  

HB 7007 was approved by the full House and is scheduled for a Senate committee hearing next week.

PASSED ONE CHAMBER

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 reduce 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 this week and Florida TaxWatch was on hand to testify in support.

HB 591 has passed the full House.  

SB 808 was on the Appropriations Committee agenda this week but was not heard.

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 is moving this year as well.  HB 129 authorizes 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 provides 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 document.  HB 7011 allows 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 also be authorized to act as a patient’s primary care provider and perform additional services. The bill also authorizes 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. This bill narrowly passed (10-8) the House Health and Human Services Committee last week. 

HB 129 has been approved by the full House.   

HB 7011 has passed all its committees.

State Employees Prescription Drug Program – HB 993 directs 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 $55 million. The bill provides 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 Health & Human Services Committee earlier this session with an amendment that allows water management districts to participate in the drug program.  

HB 993 has passed the full House.

ON THE FLOOR

Telehealth – HB 7011 promotes the use of telehealth in Florida, as recommended by Florida TaxWatch.  The bill authorizes Florida health care professionals to use telehealth and articulates a standard of care. It authorizes out-of-state providers to use telehealth for Florida patients if they register, meet certain requirements, and pay a fee.  It further allows health care professionals who prescribe controlled substances to use telehealth to do so, with certain limited circumstances.  The bill also creates 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. This bill narrowly passed (10-8) the House Health and Human Services Committee last week and is now ready for the floor.

HB 7011 has passed all its committees.

Juvenile Civil Citations – SB 196 requires 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. Florida TaxWatch supports the increase use of juvenile civil citations, but law enforcement officers need to have some discretion in their use.  HB 205 was nearly identical to SB 196 until it was amended to remove the mandatory civil citation provision and allow a minor’s record of a first-time misdemeanor crime to be expunged upon completing one of four diversion programs.  The juvenile would be able to deny that they were ever arrested for the misdemeanor.  HB 205 was amended to add the substance of HB 365 (see below), including allowing adults arrested for certain crimes to go into a pre-arrest diversion program.

SB 196 was replaced by HB 301 that does not have the civil citation language. SB 196 is dead.

HB 205 in on 2nd reading.

STILL IN COMMITTEE

Adult Prearrest Diversion Programs - SB 448 and HB 367 encourage communities to implement a prearrest diversion programs and offer a model program that local communities may adopt. The model program allows 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. HB 367 appears stuck in committee, but the substance of the bill was amended onto another bill (HB 205 above), adding adult diversion language.

SB 448 is now in its last committee-Appropriations.

HB 367 is in the Justice Appropriations Committee.  

Diversion of Non-Violent Drug Offenders – SB 150 makes several changes to sentencing for controlled substances. It increases and creates new penalties for synthetic opioid drugs 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.  Unfortunately, the latest committee substitute removed provisions from the bill that 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 save $132 million in prison costs over five years.  HB 641 requires that certain simple possession convictions result in a non-state prison sanction unless such sentence could present a danger to the public.  

SB 150 was amended in Appropriations this week and is ready for the floor.

HB 641 is in the Judiciary Committee.

Elderly Inmates -  HB 535 would create 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 requires 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 is in the Criminal Justice Subcommittee.

Maximizing Federal Funds - SB 612 would require every agency’s legislative budget request to include information on available federal funds. Specifically, they would be 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 requires 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 passed the Judiciary Committee and is now in Appropriations.

Local Pension Plans - SB 428 closes 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 may 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 has passed Community Affairs and is in Governmental Oversight and Accountability.

Not Yet 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.

 


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Media Inquiries:  Contact Josh Gabel by Email or Phone: 850.222.5052

Media Inquiries:
Contact Josh Gabel by Email
or Phone: 850.222.5052