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Florida's Legislative Preview

TAXES

» Corporate Tax Cut — Gov. Rick Scott has proposed raising the exemption on corporate income taxes from $50,000 to $75,000, a move that he says would help cut taxes for another 2,000 businesses. The cut, which would cost the state about $8 million in forgone revenue, would be another step toward Scott’s pledge of eliminating the state’s corporate income tax altogether.

QUICK LINKS
Florida's 2013 Legislature will consider these topics:
Affordable Housing
Banking
Biotech
Education
Energy/Environment
Ethics/Elections
Gambling/Entertainment
Insurance
Legal
Manufacturing
Medical
Pension/Education Reform
Ports/Trade
Red Tape
Safety/Law Enforcement
Space
Taxes

» Manufacturing — The governor has also pledged to eliminate taxes on manufacturers’ purchases of equipment. The Manufacturers Association of Florida and a number of other business groups including the Florida Chamber are supporting the tax cut.

» Online Sales — The Florida Retail Federation and the Florida Chamber of Commerce will continue their push for legislation that would require online sellers like Amazon and Overstock to collect Florida’s 6% state sales tax and local sales taxes. Leading the fight on the issue is Sen. Gwen Margolis (D-Miami), who has introduced a “mail order sales” bill. Jeff Branch, a legislative assistant to Margolis, says the state could collect $800 million and $1 billion in sales taxes.

» Back to School — The Florida Retail Federation’s other main legislative priority is to reauthorize the back-to-school tax holiday for clothing, footwear, accessories, books and school supplies.

MANUFACTURING

» Worker Training — Gov. Scott wants the Legislature to double funding for the Quick Response Training program to $12 million to help train workers to transition from sectors such as construction into manufacturing. According to Workforce Florida, a worker’s wages increase by an average of more than 47% within a year of completing the QRT program.

BANKING

» Public Deposits — The League of Southeastern Credit Unions wants state law changed so credit unions in Florida can accept deposits from municipalities. League CEO Patrick La Pine says the law dates to a time when credit unions were not federally insured and weren’t perceived to be as safe as FDIC-insured banks. Today, however, credit union deposits are insured by the National Credit Union Administration and are just as safe as banks, La Pine says. The credit unions’ bid will face opposition from banks that say the credit unions shouldn’t be allowed to hold tax-generated public funds because they don’t pay sales tax, corporate income tax or intangibles tax like banks.

EDUCATION

» Presidential Priority — Senate President Don Gaetz (R-Destin) is pushing reforms aimed at improving job prospects for students.

» Higher Ed — The Board of Governors is seeking $118 million — equivalent to a 15% tuition increase — that will be tied to performance goals for the state’s 12 public universities. The schools say the funding would help them avoid raising tuition, something the governor opposes. The board is also asking for $50 million for maintenance and wants the Legislature to deregulate university construction to allow greater flexibility in funding, including the promotion of public-private partnerships. The board is also promoting an expansion of higher education online.

» Private College Funding — The Independent Colleges & Universities of Florida (ICUF), is looking for a boost in the Florida Resident Access Grant (FRAG), state aid available to Florida residents who attend private schools. ICUF President Ed Moore says a decline in funding for the grant, from a high of $3,000 per student to the current $2,150, has caused a drop in enrollments of Florida-based students and put more pressure on public institutions.

» Easier Access — Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater) has penned legislation that would grant in-state tuition to veterans stationed in Florida. Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami) has introduced a bill that would allow dependent children of undocumented parents to pay in-state rates as long as they attended a Florida high school for four years and apply to a state college or university within a year of graduating.

» K-12 — Gov. Rick Scott’s budget calls for $100 million for digital learning, $75 million for school safety and $2,500 teacher raises. Meanwhile, the Florida Chamber of Commerce is calling for an expansion of virtual and charter schools along with legislation that would provide employment options and legal representation for teachers who don’t want to join a union, and funding to implement the teacher merit pay program, which gives additional compensation or bonuses to high-performing teachers.

» State Board — The state Board of Education is requesting $891 million in new funding, which includes $198 million to address growing enrollment in the state’s preK-12 schools and state colleges and $442 million for an “education technology modernization effort.” The funds (part of a total budget request of $15.2 billion) would go toward upgrading internet bandwidth and wireless access at the state’s 3,000-plus public schools. The board’s other priorities include:

Adding a financial literacy requirement for high school graduation and adding “entrepreneurship skills” to a required middle school career and education planning course;

Stronger language requiring districts to make unused facilities available to charter schools;

Revisions to teacher preparation programs so they’re better aligned with current expectations in classrooms and schools and include accountability measures.

RED TAPE

» Regulations — Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam wants legislators to remove some inspection and regulation requirements on businesses that pose “less (of a) threat to consumers than others.” He also wants to remove notary requirements on business registrations; reduce the security from $50,000 to $25,000 for fitness clubs; and exempt charities that receive less than $25,000 from registration and financial disclosure requirements.

ETHICS / ELECTIONS

» Election Reform — GOP leaders and Gov. Scott are looking to revise the state’s election laws following the long lines and slow vote count that plagued the 2012 elections. Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater), chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, has been gathering testimony from supervisors of elections from around the state, examining whether the reduction in early voting days from 14 to eight and the restrictions of early voting sites played a part in the delays. Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla (R-Miami) has already filed a bill to add one more day of early voting on the Sunday before Election Day and to extend early voting hours from 12 to 14 each voting day.

» Ethics Reform — Senate President Don Gaetz (R-Destin) and House Speaker Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel) are looking to overhaul a number of ethics and campaign finance rules, starting with imposing stronger conflict-of-interest rules on elected officials. Gaetz convinced his fellow senators to strengthen the Senate’s rules on disclosing a conflict of interest. Previously, senators did not have to disclose a conflict of interest until after voting on a bill. Now, they must disclose the conflict and abstain from voting.

Other changes the chambers’ two leaders say they plan to pursue, including:

Making public officials’ financial statements more readily available to the public;

Prohibiting lawmakers from using funds in their political committees to pay for personal expenses;

Limiting “co-employment” of public officials — “when a person with no background in particular is hired as a consultant or employee by some entity that lives off government money — that kind of employment, I believe, is unethical,” Gaetz says;

Giving the Florida Ethics Commission the authority to collect fines against candidates who violate ethics and election laws. Gaetz says the state wrote off “almost $800,000 in fines” this year.

LEGAL

» Fast-Track Foreclosures — The Florida Bankers Association wants lawmakers to help speed up the foreclosure process. Leading the charge is Rep. Kathleen Passidomo (R-Naples). A bill she recently filed would give banks only one year, rather than five, to seek a deficiency judgment. Condo associations would have the ability to speed up foreclosures if a lender is moving too slowly.

» State Contracts — State CFO Jeff Atwater is urging the Legislature to pass contract legislation that would require pre-audits of contracts as well as audits at the conclusion of a contract to ensure the state is is getting the best prices for goods and services.

» Tort Reform — The Florida Medical Association is pushing for a law that allows a health provider in a medical liability suit to discuss the case with the plaintiff’s other medical providers. The measure will increase the burden of proof for negligence.

» Wrongful Death — The Florida Justice Association, the association for civil trial attorneys, wants the Legislature to repeal the wrongful death medical malpractice exemption. Under current law, if a deceased Floridian has no spouse or dependent children, then there are no survivors who can hold the medical community accountable for negligent acts. The association wants the exemption eliminated so that families of victims, such as adult children of a victim of medical negligence, can recover damages for their loss, just as they are able to in non-medical situations.

MEDICAL

» Health Care Reform — As House and Senate lawmakers look at how they will implement the 2010 Affordable Care Act that expands coverage for the poor and uninsured, key players in the health care industry are weighing in:

The Florida Medical Association opposes expansion of Florida’s Medicaid Pilot Project, backed by Gov. Scott, which would move patients into managed-care insurance plans.

The FMA also opposes mandating Medicaid participation as a condition of physician licensure. The physicians advocacy group says it will continue its efforts to try to raise Medicaid reimbursement rates to the Medicare level.

The Florida Hospital Association is supporting implementation of a health insurance exchange for Floridians above 133% of the federal poverty level and below 400% and “access to health care coverage” for Floridians above 22% of the federal poverty level and below 133%. The FHA opposes any further cuts to Medicaid hospital payments — Gov. Scott has proposed a 2% reduction to most hospitals — and opposes legislation mandating that hospitals contract with Medicaid HMOs. The FHA opposes any preset or mandatory reporting of mandated nurse-to-patient ratios and supports legislation that allows advanced registered nurse practitioners to prescribe controlled substances.

The Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida, which advocates on behalf of Florida’s 14 safety net hospital systems, is concerned about an Agency for Health Care Administration proposal that calls for moving away from a per diem system to a “diagnosis-related group” payment model based on the type and severity of a patient’s illness. While the change will actually send more Medicaid dollars to many hospitals, it will negatively impact hospitals like Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami and Tampa General Hospital, which serve some of the state’s neediest populations. Advocates for the “safety net” hospitals say the payment proposal needs tweaking. The Florida Hospital Association, meanwhile, says it supports a transition period to the new payment model but suggests the state allow for continuation of per diem payments for at least one year while the new model is tested and validated.

Scott wants the Legislature to set aside $80 million for 700 new medical residency positions.

The Florida Optometric Association is supporting legislation that allows optometrists to prescribe oral medication for the treatment of eye disease and ailments. The group says the change would ensure access to quality, affordable eye care for all Floridians, particularly those living in rural counties.

ENERGY / ENVIRONMENT

» Amendment Push — A coalition of environmental groups is working to put a Water and Land Conservation Amendment on the 2014 ballot to counteract steep budget cuts and create a dedicated funding source for acquiring and restoring conservation and recreation lands. The proposed trust would dedicate 33% of net revenue from the existing excise tax on documents for 20 years to the acquisition, restoration, improvement and management of wetlands and forests, fish and wildlife habitats, water resources and drinking water sources, including the Everglades and a variety of other lands.

» Renewables/Fertilizer — The Florida League of Cities wants a law that encourages the development and implementation of renewable and alternative energy sources. The league also supports the authority of local governments to adopt and implement fertilizer ordinances. Landscapers and others in the fertilizer, pest control and turf grass industry have been fighting the growing patchwork of local ordinances over the past several years and favor a statewide rule.

» Everglades — The Everglades Coalition is asking the Legislature to allocate $100 million for the state’s recently approved Everglades water quality plan and advance construction of “vital” Everglades projects. The Everglades Foundation, meanwhile, is seeking funding for restoration projects in excess of $28 million. Gov. Scott has requested $60 million for Everglades restoration.

» Florida Forever — The Florida Forever Coalition wants $100 million for Florida Forever, the state’s land-buying program. The program received $8.4 million last year. In its budget request in October, the Florida DEP asked for $50 million for Florida Forever from the sale of surplus lands. Scott has proposed $75 million.

INSURANCE

» Citizens — Gov. Scott, insurance regulators, the state’s business lobby and others are pushing for major changes to help shrink the state-run Citizens Property Insurance, which has been issuing policies at a rate of 8,000 per week and now insures almost 1.5 million Floridians. Ideas being floated include raising the current 10% cap on rate hikes and separating Citizens’ coastal business, which insures high-risk properties along the coast, from its inland policies. Citizens President Barry Gilway has suggested setting up a “clearinghouse” program that would automatically provide Citizens’ customers with premium quotes and coverage comparisons from other potential private market insurers. Gilway believes that 641,000 Citizens’ customers would be able to find reasonable coverage in the private market.

» CAT Fund — Lawmakers may also look at ways to shore up the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund, the state-run reinsurance fund that helps insurers pay homeowners if a large storm causes widespread damages. Jack Nicholson, COO for the CAT Fund, has expressed concerns about a potential shortfall. Nicholson has also stressed the importance of making sure that the fund will not run out of money after a single hurricane season, forcing insurers to scramble for private reinsurance.

» Drug Repackaging — Workers’ comp carriers and business groups, including the Florida Chamber of Commerce, are renewing their effort to try to cap what doctors can charge for dispensing drugs to workers treated under workers’ comp insurance. These physician-dispensed drugs, also known as “repackaged drugs,” have become a lucrative income stream for physicians in recent years but are also a cost driver in workers’ compensation insurance rates [see related article "Bitter Pills"]. The National Council on Compensation Insurance, which wants a cap, says the move could decrease workers’ compensation rates. The FMA, however, disputes claims that repackaged drugs are driving up workers’ comp costs and says in-office dispensing improves patient care by encouraging better compliance. Automated HealthCare Solutions, a politically powerful firm that provides dispensing technology to doctors, also opposes caps.

» Bodily Injury — The Florida Justice Association is pushing for legislation that would require bodily injury liability coverage on Florida car insurance. Debra Henley, the association’s executive director, says recent changes to personal injury protection law have reduced the value of that coverage and that Florida would be better off requiring drivers at fault to pay the damages of the parties who are injured via mandatory bodily injury coverage.

PORTS / TRADE

» Infrastructure — The Florida Chamber wants an initiative to provide recurring funding for investments in infrastructure in Florida ports. The group also supports the development of an inland port to help increase the flow of goods through Florida ports and an increase in Enterprise Florida’s budget for international trade and marketing activities.

PENSION / EDUCATION REFORM

House Speaker Will Weatherford wants to eliminate the state’s defined benefit pension plan for new government employees and offer them instead a defined contribution, 401(k)-like investment plan. Pension reform, to the chagrin of employee unions, is also a top priority for many cash-strapped cities and counties that are finding it difficult to keep pace with their growing benefit obligations for police officers, firefighters and other public employees. The Florida Chamber of Commerce, which supports a hybrid system for public-sector pensions that incorporates both a defined benefit and defined contribution plan, has a long laundry list of public-sector pension and benefits reforms, including:

Establishing uniform health care premium contribution amounts for all state employees and implementing a defined contribution model for state employee pension health insurance benefits;

Eliminating the ability of public employees to cash in large amounts of vacation and sick time they’ve accrued;

Placing caps on the average salary used for calculating pension benefits.

GAMBLING / ENTERTAINMENT

» Gaming — Lawmakers will launch a review of gambling issues, with the goal of introducing a comprehensive gaming bill in 2014. Garrett Richter (R-Naples), chairman of the Senate Gaming Committee, says the review will examine everything from destination gaming to the proliferation of internet sweepstakes parlors, tribal casinos, pari-mutuels and the state lottery.

» Restricted Ticket Resales — Fan Freedom, a national advocate for sports and entertainment fans funded by StubHub, is supporting legislation by Rep. Jimmie Smith (R-Inverness) and Sen. Alan Hays (R-Umatilla) to make it illegal for ticket vendors to restrict the resale of tickets, including paperless tickets. Recent years have seen an uptick in paperless tickets, which require the individual using the ticket to present the original purchaser’s credit card when showing up at the event. Such tickets can only be resold on designated online marketplaces and not in secondary markets such as StubHub. Supporters of paperless tickets say it helps prevent ticket loss, but consumer rights groups say it restricts fans’ property rights by making it difficult for them to resell or give away their tickets if they are unable to attend an event.

BIOTECH

» Drug Discovery — Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies is seeking $3 million to expand its research and support its drug discovery program, which can lead to new therapies. Torrey Pines says the funds would help keep its library of compounds available to more than 20 other institutions that use them in their research.

» New Campus — Moffitt Cancer Center is asking for restoration of the 4.88% cigarette tax revenue that it received prior to budget cuts. The funding will allow the research hospital to go to the bond market to obtain funding to begin construction on a new campus in Tampa. Moffitt is also seeking $12.9 million in higher education funding to train medical students and residents — a $2-million boost over what it received last year.

» Trust Fund — Moffitt and other members of BioFlorida, the state’s bioscience industry association, want lawmakers to transfer 10% of the revenue from the cigarette surcharge enacted in 2009 into the state’s Biomedical Research Trust Fund.

SPACE

» Incentive Funding — Space Florida is requesting $10 million for its annual budget plus another $10 million dedicated for a financing fund to help attract and grow space-related businesses in the state. Frank DiBello, president of Space Florida, says the group would like the Legislature to remove the $7-million-per-company caps on the Qualified Target Industry Tax Refund program and the Qualified Defense and Space Contractor Tax Refund program. The group is also seeking the creation of a Space Exploration Research Institute in collaboration with the Florida Institute of Technology, additional funding from the Florida Department of Transportation for Spaceport infrastructure and the institutionalizing of spaceports in the Transportation Department’s budget to ensure minimum annual funding levels.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING

» Trust Funds — The Sadowski Housing Coalition is urging the Legislature not to divert money in state and local housing trust funds for other purposes. The appropriation should be approximately $193.8 million.

SAFETY / LAW ENFORCEMENT

» Stand Your Ground — In the wake of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin last year, Rep. Alan Williams (D-Tallahassee) and Sen. Dwight Bullard (D-Miami) have filed legislation to repeal Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows people to use deadly force if necessary to defend themselves. The repeal has slim odds of passage in the Republican-led Legislature and is unlikely to see its way out of the House Judiciary Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala), an original co-sponsor of the law.

» Distracted Drivers — The Florida Police Chiefs, AAA and others are making a push for a ban on texting while driving this year. Legislation by Sen. Nancy Detert (R-Venice) and Rep. Doug Holder (R-Sarasota) would outlaw texting, emailing and instant messaging but still permit the use of hands-free texting and navigation devices. The bill would make texting while driving a secondary offense. First-time offenders would be fined $30, plus court costs. The issue could face formidable roadblocks. House Speaker Will Weatherford has said that “individual rights” must also be weighed when considering a ban on texting while driving. Thirty-nine other states currently prohibit the practice, and former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has urged lawmakers to adopt a ban.

» Synthetic Drugs — Last December, Attorney General Pam Bondi issued an emergency order banning 22 substances used to make synthetic drugs commonly referred to as “bath salts,” “K2” or “spice” and making it a third-degree felony to “sell, manufacture, deliver or possess with intent to sell, manufacture or deliver the chemicals.” Bondi has asked the Legislature to codify her emergency order into legislation. The Legislature has previously outlawed 98 other substances used to manufacture the synthetic drugs.