Legislature 2018: Agenda fest
With the governor's job up for grabs and two open Cabinet positions, a horde of legislators will be looking for angles to play.
The impact of the elections will be everywhere. Corcoran, for instance, will likely use the session as a way to burnish his anti-illegal immigration reputation against Putnam, who once supported a pathway to citizenship while a member of Congress. One of the first bills the House votes on this year will be a measure to crack down on so-called sanctuary cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials. Even before the session began, Corcoran was hammering the Senate to pass the bill, too. “While we push a bold conservative agenda through the House, the Senate all too often stymies our progress and reneges on their promises to voters,” he wrote in a November editorial in the Tampa Bay Times.
Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Scott will try to avoid getting bogged down in ideological battles in the Legislature this spring since he is expected to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. Focused entirely on the general election, Scott will pursue a modest agenda: A $180-million package of consumer-oriented tax cuts, an increase in K-12 spending, a constitutional amendment to make it harder for future Legislatures to raise taxes and a law requiring nursing homes to have emergency generators and adequate fuel to run air-conditioning following a hurricane.
Adding another wrinkle to this year’s session: The Constitution Revision Commission, the once-every-two-decades entity that is currently weighing potential constitutional amendments for the 2018 ballot. The Legislature has always been an arena for horse-trading, and the CRC adds another place for negotiation. Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron might agree to pass Scott’s nursing home bill, for instance, in exchange for Scott instructing his CRC appointees to support amendments they want to get through the CRC.
The assortment of sexual harassment and infidelity scandals in Tallahassee has provided a backdrop for an already-ingrained culture of suspicion and mistrust. For instance, many senators privately note that one of the first people to call for Latvala’s resignation was Rep. Matt Caldwell — the Lehigh Acres Republican running for agriculture commissioner. Latvala was a powerful supporter of Sen. Denise Grimsley, the Sebring Republican who is one of Caldwell’s opponents. As Senate appropriations chair, Latvala was in a position to legislatively punish other lawmakers who sided with Caldwell by blocking funding for their own priorities. (Sure enough, the same day Latvala was removed as Senate budget chair, more than half a dozen prominent House members — including three top Corcoran deputies — immediately endorsed Caldwell.)
“Legislators, lobbyists and citizens have all told me since I got in (the ag commissioner race) that they can’t be involved until after the session because Sen. Latvala will punish them,” Caldwell says.
Latvala calls Caldwell’s claim “ridiculous. I think Denise Grimsley is an exceptional public servant. But I haven’t really been involved in that race.”