by Jeremiah Tattersall
Florida’s House, Senate, and Governor are all Republicans and thank God they don’t get along. This last session had both losses and defensive victories for working families. The overarching theme of the session was that of disunity and political bickering. House Speaker Richard Corcoran (R, Land O’Lakes) held many bills and the budget hostage, while Senate President Joe Negron (R, Palm City) and Governor Rick Scott did their best to save face.
House Republicans wanted to the tap into the Trump xenophobic wave and attempted to push through nine anti-immigrant bills this year, the most onerous of which threatened to punish sanctuary counties, which Alachua County is considered, with fines while deputizing all police as ICE agents. These bills were defeated because of the hard work from human rights activists all over the state and through the leadership of the Florida Immigrant Coalition (FLIC).
Santa Fe College got $5.4 million to expand the Blount Center downtown, a controversial project under fire for gentrification. This is on top of $2.6 million it got last year from the legislature and over $6 million in private donations. They also got $5 million to hire and retain faculty and staff. UF will receive $120 million more this year which includes funding for long overdue renovations at Norman Hall and design work for a new music building.
Bright Futures Academic Scholars Award will cover 100 percent of tuition for the first time since the recession. The catch is that all students will be forced into the block tuition program in which everyone is charged for 15 credit hours a semester regardless of how many classes they take.
A slew of pro-gun bills were filed, but most failed. Some of the worse ones were open carry, allowing guns in airports, and the elimination of gun free zones at universities and colleges. What did pass was an expansion the state’s Stand Your Ground Law. It will now be harder to bring someone claiming self-defense to trial by shifting the burden of proof to the prosecutor.
We received $250,000 to help filter water going into Newnans Lake and $500,000 for a rails to trails path connecting High Springs to Newberry. Meanwhile SB 10, which sought to stop the algae blooms in Southwest Florida by creating a recharge south of Lake Okeechobee, was scaled back. Instead of fully funding the project, we will now spend $1.25 billion to buy polluted land from big sugar while simultaneously relieving them from liability to clean up their mess.
This is part of a larger story that includes Florida Forever, passed in 2014 by more than 70 percent of voters, which forced the government to buy environmentally sensitive land. This year the legislature spent $0 to do so and, instead, voted to spend money cleaning up polluted farmland and eroded beaches.
The Florida Legislature wasn’t able to decide on how much lawyers should be allowed to collect from workers’ compensation. The Florida Supreme Court ruled that the current law with its low caps makes legal representation all but unattainable for workers. A special session to deal with this might be called.
Senator Keith Perry was finally able to pass his anti living wage bill SB 534. This bill nullifies local ordinances that mandate local hiring, higher safety standards, and certified apprenticeships. After a lot of pushback, this bill was hamstrung so that it only kicks in when 50 percent or more of the funds are coming from state-allocated money, which will affect very few projects in Alachua County.
State workers will now default into a 401k style plan as opposed to the state’s pension. This is part of a strategy to weaken the pension system so that they have an excuse to do away with it in the future. Currently nearly 60 percent of state workers default into the pension plan and only 18 percent choose the 401k-style plan. The bill passed in part because it was lumped together with a $1,400 raise for more state workers.
The Alachua County School Board will see a decrease of $27 per student in funding. This will put us at $492 less funding per student than the highwater mark in 2007–2008. But some students are getting more funding. Charter Schools will have more money diverted into their coffers for buildings, and students who get vouchers to go to private school will get a 14 percent increase in their funding. And the new “Schools of Hope” program has $140 million allocated, which will allow charter schools to take over low performing public schools.
The good news is that there will now be 20 minutes of required daily recess and elimination of some standardized tests. And HB989 passed, which allows parents to question materials used to educate their children. This will most likely be abused by reactionary parents who regularly attend School Board meetings to decry the teaching of Islam in history class.
Legal medical marijuana, passed by voters in 2016, required that Florida institute a medical marijuana program. However, the state legislature couldn’t agree on how to do it. The House wanted to ban smokable marijuana, and the Senate wouldn’t agree. Now the Department of Health will put in place policies, but the Florida Legislature might call a special session to deal with this issue.
The good news is that the seven anti-choice bills filed this last year all failed.
Odds and Ends:
Rep. Chuck Clemons (R, Newberry) carried water for Sen. Keith Perry and got a GRU governance bill passed. The bill forces GRU residents to vote on a bill that would wrestle control of our utility away from the elected commissioners to an appointment board.
A proposed Constitutional Amendment would increase the non-school homestead exemption by $25,000. If passed by 60 percent of voters in November, it would punch a $9 million hole in the County coffers, which would mean lowering of services. It is expected to pass, and cities/countries are already implementing hiring freezes in anticipation.
The liquor wall is down. HB 423/SB 1040 passed and will allow liquor to be bought in grocery stores.
The Competitive workforce act (HB623/SB666), which would have added sexual orientation and gender identity to the protected class prohibits their discrimination. In Alachua County we have the Human Rights Ordinance, which seeks to accomplish this goal.
HB305 passed, which allows cops to review body cam footage before writing a report.
To conform with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, SB280 was passed. It requires a unanimous jury vote to sentence someone to death.
Sen. Baxley stopped a slavery memorial from being created in the Florida Capitol (HB27/SB1722). The proud descendant of confederate soldiers has complained in the past about “cultural cleansing” of confederate symbols and said “it just seems in this age of multiculturalism we can celebrate everyone’s culture but mine.”
Some $75 million in tax cuts, mostly to businesses, passed. Also feminine hygiene products will now be tax-free.
HB 221 preempts local ordinances that have to do with Uber/Lyft.