News from Tallahassee for 5/25/15

Legislature sets special session posted on 5/7/15

by lloyd dunkelberger | Herald-Tribune

FL Capitol rotundaTALLAHASSEE -- Florida lawmakers have tentatively agreed to return in a June 1-20 special session to pass a new state budget.

Lawmakers said they haven’t worked out the full details of the agenda for the special session but their paramount duty will be to pass a state budget to replace the current $77 billion spending plan by July 1 or otherwise state government would face a shutdown.

House and Senate members had a $4 billion divide in their earlier budget plans caused chiefly by the Senate’s support for using Medicaid funding to provide private insurance for 800,000 low-income Floridians. The regular 60-day session ended bitterly May 1 without a budget deal and with the House leaving the session three days early, killing dozens of bills.

It is significant that lawmakers, despite their differences, decided to call the special session, rather than rely on Gov. Rick Scott, who was also considering calling lawmakers back to finish the budget. Scott still has the authority to add issues to the Legislature’s special session agenda if he desires.

The next key step will be an agreement from Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, on what other issues will be on special session agenda in addition to the budget. Senate leaders have made it clear that a discussion of Medicaid expansion should be part of the session debate, although House leaders, as well as Scott, firmly oppose any expansion.

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Local Lawmakers Hope Regional Projects Will Get Through When Budget Talks Resume posted on 5/7/15

by Lynn Hatter | WFSU

Florida lawmakers are heading back to Tallahassee June first to pick up where they left off on budget negotiations. The Big Bend’s regional delegation is banking on the special session to get some local projects funded.

A key feature of Florida’s budget is the local and regional projects that go into it. That includes plans that fund the construction of schools, local roads and water systems. North Florida Sen. Bill Montford says he’s confident they’ll be included when the legislature reconvenes in June. One of his projects included funding a new elementary school in Jefferson County—the project is on a waiting list for state funding, but it’s a priority or the small, cash-strapped district that lies just west of Leon County.

“You have to show a need, you have to show good fiscal management of your school district," Montford said. "Then the state will step in and pay a good portion of the construction cost of the school. Jefferson is a good example, Taylor is an example, Liberty is another one."

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Florida legislators push bills tied to their private jobs posted on 5/4/15

by GARY FINEOUT | AP

FL Capitol BldgDuring the recently-concluded legislative session, Senate President Andy Gardiner constantly warned about the threat to the state's hospitals if they were to lose more than $1 billion that now comes from the federal government.

There's a good reason Gardiner understands hospitals: he works for one.

Gardiner's employment is legal, but it highlights a common practice in the Florida Legislature. Many legislators have places where their professional lives and legislative work overlap. The Florida Legislature is a "part-time" job that pays slightly less than $30,000 and most legislators have outside jobs that allow them to spend two months a year at the state Capitol...

Other Florida legislators whose professional and political careers have collided include:

— Republican Sen. John Legg, who works at a Pasco County charter school, has the lead role in shaping education laws including those that deal with charter schools. Charter schools are privately run but receive public money.

—Rep. Eric Fresen, a Miami Republican, sponsored a measure this year that could result in millions of local school district taxes being shifted to charter schools. Fresen works for an architectural and design firm that gets contracts to build charter schools. His sister is married to the head of one of the state's leading charter school management companies.

—Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat, is deeply involved in education legislation. Montford's day job? He earns nearly $200,000 a year from the association that represents school superintendents. During one committee meeting this session, Montford intervened to make sure a school superintendent could testify.

—Rep. Randolph Bracy, an Orlando Democrat, was hired in mid-February as an economic development consultant by the city of Ocoee. Emails obtained by The Associated Press show that on March 13 Bracy's office submitted requests to obtain state money for the city, including a request for more than $800,000 to pay for a sidewalk trail.

The forms show that the name included as a contact for the project was the assistant city manager for Ocoee who recommended hiring Bracy.

When asked about it, Bracy said that he had put in budget requests for all the cities in his legislative district. He noted he had not started his new job yet. Bracy added that he has asked the House general counsel for an opinion about any conflict between his city contract and his legislative post.

"If they tell me that from now on I can't, I won't do it anymore," Bracy said.

The rules guiding conflict of interests for legislators aren't strict. They are allowed to vote on nearly all measures, with the exception of those that provide a special benefit to them directly. They can still vote on measures that benefit their employer, provided that they disclose it.

Florida's ethics laws are loose enough that legislators rarely get in trouble over them. Former House Speaker Ray Sansom was charged in 2009 over a budget item he pushed that appeared to benefit a GOP donor in his district. But the charges were later dropped after a judge would not allow a key witness to testify.

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Gov. Rick Scott reappoints 14 agency heads; 2 others in limbo posted on 5/4/15

by Steve Bousquet | Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

Gov. Rick Scott on Monday reappointed the heads of 14 state agencies after the Senate adjourned sine die without confirming any of them, and the status of two others was not immediately clear.

Scott's office issued a statement announcing the reappointments of state technology officer Jason Allison; surgeon general John Armstrong; transportation secretary James Boxold; children and families secretary Mike Carroll; juvenile justice secretary Christy Daly; AHCA secretary Liz Dudek; Secretary of State Ken Detzner; corrections secretary Julie Jones; business and professional regulation secretary Ken Lawson; lottery secretary Cynthia O'Connell; director Barbara Palmer of the Agency for Persons with Disabilities; employment opportunity secretary Jesse Panuccio; management services director Barbara Palmer; and elder affairs secretary Samuel Verghese.

Two other agency heads were not reappointed Monday and both require approval of the Cabinet as well. They are Jon Steverson, executive director of the Department of Environmental Protection, and Rick Swearingen, executive director of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

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Rep. Matt Gaetz tweet about black lawmakers widely criticized posted on 5/1/15

by Tia mitchell | Politijax

Rep. Matt Gaetz is known for his sarcastic and sometimes biting Twitter posts. He is an equal opportunity offender, known to criticize Republican and Democratic colleagues alike when they do something he considers ill-advised.

But one tweet earlier today has some people branding Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican, a racist, and there could soon be demands for public apology. House Speaker Crisafulli came to Gaetz's defense, but the Legislative Black Caucus is buzzing and not in a good way.

It all goes back to the petition Senate Democrats filed Thursday in the Florida Supreme Court, asking for a ruling on the constitutionality of the House's early adjournment of session over a dispute about Medicaid expansion. That filing had a couple of typos, and House Republicans' staff had fun Thursday afternoon pointing out these errors and making jokes.

Gaetz took it a step further, tweeting a jab at House Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner, an attorney by trade, and Sen. Dwight Bullard, a high school teacher was among 13 Democratic senators who are co-plaintiffs in the filing.

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