On Monday May 8th, the Florida Legislature formally ended the 2017 legislative session. The session was scheduled to end on Friday May 5th, but because the House and the Senate could not agree on the final budget in time, the session was extended to the following Monday. The budget was approved by the House and Senate and now will be sent to the Governor for approval, veto or line item vetoes. Tallahassee insiders are predicting that Governor Scott may veto the entire budget which would mean a special session would be called to start the budget negotiations all over again. The state constitution requires the Legislature complete a budget by July 1st to begin the 2017-18 fiscal year.
The reason Governor Scott may veto the entire budget bill is because the legislature did not include several of Governor Scott’s priorities. Governor Scott requested $100 million for tourism marketing under Visit Florida and only got $25 million. Governor Scott requested $85 million for incentives to bring businesses to Florida and the legislature gave him zero.
The final budget came in at $82.4 billion, which is only an increase of $100 million over last year’s budget. This budget increase is the smallest since the great recession when the legislature had no choice but to reduce spending. The Legislature actually had to make significant spending cuts, when you factor inflation, increased enrollment in Medicaid recipients as well the increase in students attending public schools.
We consider this a huge victory, we have been fighting every year to reduce spending and after years of record spending and last year’s budget that was increased by $3 billion, the Legislature finally is listening. Also the Florida legislature passed the fewest number of bills in 20 years, we believe we have too many laws on the books and we need to repeal more laws.
This session was a success in scaling back corporate welfare. Incentive programs in Enterprise Florida were totally defunded and received zero money in the budget and Visit Florida only received $25 million. Visit Florida had come under scrutiny for questionable spending of our tax money, like the controversial $1 million deal with recording artist Pitbull or $2.8 million advertising deal with a racing car team.
Florida Forever, the state program for purchasing conservation land received no funding, keeping with our position that before any additional properties are purchased for conservation purposes, existing waterways, estuaries, rivers and other water bodies presently endangered must be restored.
HB 221 passed the Florida Legislature and is now waiting for the Governor to approve. HB 221 will prevent local governments from regulating "transportation network companies" such as Uber and Lyft and would adopt uniform, common sense guidelines that focus on safety and access to the new technology. This legislation allows people in Florida to continue benefiting from ride-share companies like Uber and Lyft and allow affordable, reliable rides.
We supported many more bills this session than last year and unfortunately many bills did not pass. The House did pass several of the bills we supported and all but the Uber/Lyft bill died in the Senate. Our biggest disappointments were not passing the repeal of Red Light Cameras and not even getting a committee hearing on Campaign Finance Reform legislation. The Direct Care bill died in the Senate and was a victim of the traditional horse trading between the House and Senate. Every session House and Senate leadership hold legislation hostage as a negotiating tool to get one their priorities passed. This is an ugly side of the legislative process, the Direct Care bill would have served Floridians well in receiving affordable health care and should not been used for political gamesmanship.
SB 554/HB 679 would have allowed small craft breweries to self-distribute and not be mandated by law to use a distributor. HB 141/SB 166 dealt with craft distilleries and would have removed restrictions on how much distilleries can sell directly to customers. Unfortunately the big Distributor Companies used their political muscle to make sure SB 554/HB 679 failed and HB 141/SB 166 was watered down to increase the 2 bottle limit to 6 bottles.
Several good gun bills were filed in the Senate this year, mainly dealing with state mandated “gun free zones”. Senator Greg Steube filed multiple bills that eliminated many “gun free zones” such as airports and college campuses. Unfortunately all the bills were referred to Senator Greg Steube’s Senate Judiciary Committee which included Senator Anitere Flores and Senator Rene Garcia, both stated their opposition to the gun bills. Without their support, Senator Steube did not have the votes to get out of the Judiciary Committee. Their opposition effectively killed the gun bills for the session.
All things considered, the session was successful, despite many bills that we supported failed. The process to pass legislation in Tallahassee moves very slowly, and that probably is a good thing. The Founders set up a system of checks and balances to make sure bills are not rushed through the process on a Federal level and there is time to thoroughly vet each bill. We know in Washington DC, Obamacare was rushed through the process and has been a disaster. But, that also means good legislation will not pass any given session. The secret is to never give up, and keep coming back every session to pass good legislation. Because all of you made the phone calls and e-mails to legislators, our chances to pass good legislation next session are significantly increased.
Liberty First Network will continue to make the case and fight for the good legislation that failed this session. Our chance will start soon, Legislators will be filing bills starting in June for the 2018 Session and will begin voting on bills in committee as early as September.
We will be sending out reports on the specific legislation the Liberty First Network was tracking this session with our new Action Alerts E-Mail service. CLICK HERE to sign up.