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.
One of the most devastating impacts of Hurricane Irma was the death of more than a dozen residents of a south Florida nursing home that lost power — and, as a result, air-conditioning — and did not have a backup generator. The story ensnared Scott, after it turned out that staff from the nursing home called his cell phone four times to seek help. Scott, who says all of the messages were forwarded to the appropriate authorities, is now calling on the Legislature to pass a law requiring all nursing homes and senior-living facilities to have generators and fuel to cool their buildings for 96 hours. It’s likely the single top priority this spring for the governor, who is anxious to shore up his defense against political attacks on the issue this fall. But the industry is battling Scott — and Corcoran and Negron both know how badly Scott wants the bill. They’ll make sure to get something extra from him in exchange for it. Other ideas in play include a new north-south road to help alleviate evacuation traffic, statewide fuel reserves and incentives for utilities to bury more power lines.
One area Florida’s elected leaders are likely to rally around this session is the battle to combat opioid addiction and abuse. Scott, for instance, has proposed spending more than $50 million on things like substance-abuse treatment and counseling and legislation in order to more sharply limit opioid prescriptions. Some sort of package seems destined to pass, particularly in an election year where everybody is motivated to demonstrate accomplishments.
One Florida business betting big on Putnam’s gubernatorial campaign is Disney, which gave his political committee more than $225,000 in 2017. Perhaps not surprisingly, Corcoran is going hard after the tourism industry again this year. One of the first bills filed in the House this spring would impose a host of new financial and transparency restrictions on local tourism promotion and economic development agencies, such as Visit Orlando. Even more ominously for the industry, Corcoran has also expressed support for legislation to allow counties to begin spending their hotel-tax collections on local needs — such as transportation and water quality.
Momentum appears to be building to abandon Florida’s no-fault, personal injury protection system of auto insurance in favor of a market where every driver is required to buy bodily injury coverage. But there’s lots of money at stake and competing interests involved. Lawmakers will also spend more time debating assignment-of-benefits insurance reform. But that, too, is a fight among lawyers, insurers and home-repair vendors. But some lobbyists involved in the issues think there could be momentum toward deals this year, in part because trial lawyers — who have friendly ears in both Corcoran and Negron — may not enjoy such a strong position any time soon. Workers’ comp will once again be debated, though insiders say auto insurance changes and assignment of benefits reform are far more likely to happen.
With elections looming, look for legislators to boost spending on land acquisition in hope of blunting criticism that they have inadequately funded Amendment One, the environmental preservation amendment that Florida voters overwhelmingly approved in 2014. The big push will come out of the Senate, which is already moving forward on bills mandating $100 million a year for the Florida Forever land-buying program, boosting springs restoration spending from $50 million to $75 million, and earmarking $50 million for restoring the St. Johns River and its tributaries.