January 28, 2020

2020 Legislative Preview

The Issues: Florida's 2020 legislative preview

Amy Keller | 12/26/2019

Criminal Justice

Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) is making another push for criminal justice reform with bills that run a gamut from allowing the early release of terminally ill, geriatric prisoners to raising the threshold for sending nonviolent felony offenders to prison. Another proposal (SB 468) by Brandes would eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders in certain drug trafficking cases where the offender hadn’t engaged in a “continuing criminal enterprise.” The changes in SB 468 alone would free up a “significant” number of prison beds and cut incarceration costs by at least $8.6 million over the next five years, according to an estimate from the 2019 Criminal Justice Impact Conference.

Tourism Advertising

It’s been a bumpy couple of years for Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing agency. Last year, the Legislature slashed its annual funding from $76 million to $50 million, and the organization laid off about a third of its staff. The public-private agency will shut down in July unless lawmakers authorize funding. Speaking before the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee last October, Visit Florida CEO and President Dana Young acknowledged that tourism is strong but cautioned that a 2% decline in tourism-related tax revenue would cost the state more than $64 million. “Our job is to make sure that the Florida tourism industry, which supports such a huge portion of our budget, remains strong and can continue to support Florida jobs and the tax revenue that it brings in,” she said. Sen. Ed Hooper (R-Clearwater) filed a bill (SB 362) to keep the agency’s lights on through Oct. 1, 2028. It sailed through a Senate committee last fall, and Rep. Mel Ponder (R-Destin) has filed companion legislation (HB 213), but the proposal faces a tough sell in the House. DeSantis has requested $50 million for the agency.

Gambling

Sen. Bill Galvano wants to see a comprehensive gambling bill pass before he’s term-limited out of office but says that it’s become “more difficult” to reach an agreement for a number of reasons, ranging from legal skirmishes to a constitutional amendment that requires voter approval of gambling expansions. Last session, GOP leaders came close to striking a deal in which the Seminole Indians would have paid the state about $500 million in exchange for exclusive rights to certain card games — but time ran out on the negotiations. Not long after, the tribe stopped making revenue-sharing payments to the state, arguing that the state had not held up its end of the bargain of shutting down “illegal banked card games” offered by pari-mutuels. Without payments from the tribe and “no obligation” to provide them exclusivity, Galvano says he’s interested in exploring modifications in the private gaming world. That could include authorizing pari-mutuels to operate designated player games, expand their operating hours, relocate their permits and offer sports betting.

Tags: Government/Politics & Law, Feature, 2020 Legislative Preview

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