As Florida legislators wind down their 60-day session, this is a good time to look at a few items of interest to our readers that they may have missed in the deal -making and horse-trading that fills the last couple weeks of the session.
Hitting a Deadline
Most of us learn how to hit a deadline in high school, or on our first job. A lot of the folks Floridians send to Tallahassee have still not learned that particular lesson. The Florida Legislature will, for the second time in the last three years, fail to complete a budget on time, extending the 60-day legislative session. The Florida constitution requires the budget be completed 72 hours before the session wraps up, meaning it had to be completed by Tuesday evening. Budget negotiators reached an agreement that was announced Wednesday morning and lawmakers should have the budget in hand by Friday, May 5th, with a planned Monday afternoon session to vote on it. The bill for this extended session, like all the other ones before it, will be paid by Florida taxpayers. Again.
Lake O Reservoir
We applaud the passage in both the Florida House and Senate of Senate Bill 10, establishing a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee, creating what is expected to be 240,000 acre feet of storage or 78 billion gallons by using 14,000 acres of state land to build a deep water reservoir all while using land owned by the state and willing sellers. At press time the bill sits on Governor Rick Scott’s desk awaiting his signature.
The legislature has approved a constitutional amendment for the 2018 ballot that would give homeowners an additional $25,000 exemption from most property taxes. School taxes would be excluded. If 60% of voters approve it, the increased exemption would take effect in 2019. While this works out to a $200-$300 average annual savings for homeowners, it means a loss of revenue for local governments – a loss of $645 million across the state. Everybody loves a tax cut, until the services they expect from local government disappear. We predict an increase in tax rates to compensate for this exemption if it passes.
The effort by Naples House representative Byron Donalds to gut the Sunshine Law by allowing any two elected officials of a governing body of five or more to meet to discuss public business in private without notice, failed in the House this week. The legislature is already allowed to do this. The vote was 68-48, short of the required two-thirds required. Why do 68 members of the house want to gut the Sunshine Law? Local representatives Fitzenhagen (Dist. 78) and Eagle (Dist. 77) both voted for it. Rodrigues (Dist. 76) voted against it.
The two houses of the Florida Legislature killed a gambling bill for yet another year as they failed to compromise on expanding slots to referendum counties, like Lee. Their lack of action sets the stage for exactly what they say they most hate – having the courts decide gambling policy. The Supreme Court of Florida is due to release its Gretna decision in the next few weeks. That case challenges the state’s ability to block slots in the eight counties where voters have passed slots referendums including Lee, Brevard, Duval, Gadsden Hamilton, Palm Beach, St. Lucie and Washington. The lack of any cohesive gambling legislation also leaves millions on the table from Seminole casinos. Part of a compact with the tribe expired in 2010. A new compact negotiated by Governor Rick Scott in 2015 would have increased state gambling revenue but to no one’s surprise, the Florida Legislature failed to ratify it. So, while the state takes in millions from the parts of the compact still in effect, it’s considerably less than it would under either the 2010 or proposed 2015 compact.
Governor Scott has a bill on his desk approved by both chambers that would require election officials to notify voters if their signature on their vote-by-mail ballot doesn’t match their registration signature. Currently that is not required.
It may surprise some to learn that when a “reportable pollution release” occurs there is no requirement that the public be notified. Under SB 1018, now sitting on the Governor’s desk any unauthorized release or discharge of pollution must be reported to a State Watch Office and posted on a publicly accessible website within 24 hours.
Wonder if that will apply to Lake O releases.