It’s hard to imagine, but prior to the last couple weeks, the Florida Legislature was focused on many issues other than the Chinese coronavirus, or the “China virus” as President Trump calls it. For the most part, Republican legislators delivered on many issues facing Florida, from healthcare, guns, insurance, the environment, and school choice.
Here’s a look at The Floridian’s “champs” and “chumps” in Tallahassee this year.
Pharmacists: Arguably the biggest winners this session were the pharmacists, which saw changes that will increase their “scope of practice” to include diagnosis and treating of flu, strep, and other chronic diseases.
Ron DeSantis: Of the governor’s major policy priorities, environmental policy, E-Verify, and teacher pay raises, he went three for three. Good for you, Governor. Beyond that, Florida’s governor fought and put the necessary funding in place to start Florida’s fight against Covid-19
Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioners: Along with pharmacists, Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioners (ANRP) won a “scope of practice” victory allowing nurse practitioners to have their own practices.
Seminole Tribe of Florida: In what has become a tradition in Tallahassee this time of year, the Legislature failed to adopt a new compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida. While there’s no compact, the Tribe is not required to make payments to the state while also retaining exclusivity for banked card games at their Florida casinos.
Florida Charter Schools: This session, Florida charter schools received their full share of public funds, providing parents and students with choice in education and the option to attend schools of their choice.
Florida Teachers: A priority of Governor DeSantis, plans to increase teacher pay passed with bipartisan support. Thanks to the Florida Legislature, teachers can expect $500 million more for their pay, which will be split evenly.
Restaurant, Hotel and Tourism Industry: The Legislature passed a common-sense E-Verify plan that addressed concerns raised by Governor DeSantis prior to the Legislative Session. The bill was a win-win for Trump Republicans who want to see more crackdowns on illegals and the tourism industry, which is Florida’s largest industry.
Lawyers: Despite a push from Florida’s business groups, Florida lawyers avoided a new tort reform that would have likely cost them millions in their lawsuit revenues.
Nikki Fried: After all of that debate, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried was able to keep the Department of Energy under her purview and there ultimately was no provision adopted that would force the removal of her smiling face on gas pump stickers.
Florida’s Constitution: The left-wing Everglades Foundation threw up a Hail Mary that would have removed Cabinet approval of Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection Secretary. Much to the delight of Florida’s business community, and those who support Florida’s strong constitution, the Foundation’s attempt to circumvent the Cabinet was thwarted by CFO Jimmy Patronis, Attorney General Ashley Moody, and Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried.
Florida School Board Members: Florida’s school board members fought off a push to assign term limits to their offices. Despite concerns raised by members who want to inject new blood into school board around the state, the plan ultimately didn’t make it across the finish line.
Florida’s Hospitals: While Florida physicians didn’t fare well, hospitals did. Here’s a status of all the legislation that passed or failed to the benefit of Florida hospitals:
• Creation of Stand-Alone, Single Service Specialty Hospitals – DEFEATED
• Creation of Recovery Care Centers – DEFEATED
• Hospital Mergers and Acquisitions Regulation – DEFEATED
• Personal Injury Protection Repeal – DEFEATED
• Medical Billing – “Binding Estimates” – DEFEATED
• Non-opioid Alternatives – PASSED
• Patient Safety Culture Surveys – PASSED with FHA compromise language
• Advanced Practice Registered Nurses – Autonomous Practice – PASSED
• Hospital Property Tax Exemptions Regulation – PASSED in tax package
• The final budget contains no funding cuts to hospitals base rates, maintains automatic rate enhancements and corrects the diagnosis-related group (DRG) neonate claims issue for FY 19/20.
People Who Want More License Plate Options: Florida’s ever-expanding license plate choices continued to expand with the adoption of license plates for the University of Auburn (a priority for Representative Jamie Grant), University of Alabama, University of Georgia, and the “the Devine Nine” (black Greek-letter fraternities) among others.
Marijuana: There was a spirited discussion of adding caps to the amount of THC in marijuana grown in Florida, but at the end of the session, there were no caps added.
Lt. Governor Janette Nunez: Recognizing the importance of having a stronger presence in South Florida, the Legislature funded the creation of an office outside of Tallahassee that will locate Lt. Governor Nunez in Miami Dade County. Esta muy bueno.
College Athletes: Following the recommendation by Governor DeSantis, starting soon, college athletes will be able to get compensated in the state of Florida.
Florida Polytechnic and New College: These small, but mighty state universities avoided being swallowed up by the University of Florida and Florida State University.
Florida Agriculture: Florida’s farmers had a good session in Florida’s Capitol. In multiple policy debates, including Senator Debbie Mayfield’s water bill, farmers were seen as an important part of Florida’s business community doing their part to help solve problems.
Governor DeSantis’ Blue-Green Algae Task Force: In 2018, Governor DeSantis made a name for himself as a candidate committed to clean water. Once in office, the Governor delivered on this promise by creating a Blue-Green Algae Task Force that included some of the smartest scientists in the state. This session, the recommendations of that task force formed the basis of Senator Mayfield and Representative Payne’s water bill, which was passed in both the House and the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support.
Supporters for Stopping Lake Okeechobee Discharges: The Legislature approved $50 million for storage and treatment north of Lake Okeechobee, which according to some estimates, will help reduce Lake Okeechobee’s discharges to the coasts by up to 80%.
Local Governments: Tallahassee’s power grab and assault on local government powers continued, but governments won on one of the most controversial issues: Vacation Rentals (AirBnB). Whether this will increase consumer choice or not remains to be seen.
Florida’s Hemp Industry: The Hemp Bill died which had a lot of items that would have been helpful to the industry. The big fight was over whether to certify hemp seeds. Once thing is for sure: this fight is far from over.
Florida Physicians: Florida physicians are usually a force to be reckoned with in Tallahassee, but not this year. Due to a well-timed push to expand certain types of healthcare providers’ “scope of practice,” pharmacists can now diagnose and treat flu, strep and other chronic diseases.
Florida Pari-mutuels and Horse Tracks: Once again, the Legislature jerks the chain on Pari-mutuels horse tracks and in the end, gave them nothing.
Gun Grabbers: Thankfully, the Republicans in the Florida Legislature held the line on proposals that would increase government intervention in possession of firearms. As a result, efforts requiring background checks did not pass.
Radical environmental groups: What happens when groups funded by billionaire, left-leaning environmental activists like Paul Tudor Jones, Tom Steyer and George Soros go to Tallahassee asking for their anti-business wish list? Conservatives in the Legislature fight back and these groups lose big. For starters, the Everglades Foundation-connected Sierra Club gave Governor DeSantis a “D” this year and called President Trump the “worst president in history.” Then there’s the fact that the Everglades Foundation attempted to derail the Governor’s Blue Green Algae Task Force bill (Clean Waterways Act).These green groups complained that the Legislature didn’t give enough money for springs and land buying. If we have learned anything, it’s that they will never be happy, even under one of the most “environmentally-friendly” Republican Governors in Florida history. That makes them one of the biggest losers this session.
Eric Eikenberg: Charlie Crist’s former chief of staff who now runs the Everglades Foundation walked away from Florida’s Capitol empty-handed as the Republican Legislature rejected nearly every one of the Foundation’s radical, anti-business agenda items. Better luck next year.
Everglades Coalition: This group of radical environmental activists held a rally at the Capitol, which included the anti-Trump Center for Biological Diversity, a group that has sued the Trump Administration 187 times. The coalition attempted to say it supports a “a strong economy,” but its membership includes some of the strongest radical anti-business groups including the Center for Biological Diversity (suing the Trump Administration), Sierra Club (opposing Florida’s future toll road), and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (suing Florida’s utilities). As President Trump would say, “total losers.”
Insurance Industry: Despite the promise of tackling Personal Injury Protection reforms, which according to insurance groups is costing policyholders millions due to fraud, the Florida Legislature failed to reach agreement on reforms to the program once again. Also this session, lawmakers failed to address a repeal of Florida’s “no fault” insurance laws. According to the bill’s backers, it would have helped eliminate at least 25% of litigated cases in the state. The proposal died in the Florida Senate. That leaves insurers (and customers) holding the bag for at least another year.
Women’s rights activists: While it’s not uncommon for Tallahassee to tackle abortion issues, this year, abortion rights activists (including many women’s rights activists) failed to prevent Republicans from passing further protections for the unborn. A bill that requires parental consent for minors seeking abortion was passed. Interestingly, the bill was opposed by Republican Representative Heather Fitzenhagen (R-Fort Myers) crossed party lines to join Democrats in opposing the bill.
Senator Tom Lee: Senator Lee was the wrong side of issues including e-verify, teacher pay raises, and school safety. Pretty much everything Lee tried to do failed.
Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s Best and Brightest Program: With Corcoran now as DOE Commissioner and out of the Florida Legislature, his power is apparently in check with his “Best and Brightest” teacher bonus program failing to get funding. Adding insult to injury, Florida teachers threw cold water on the proposal. According to the Tampa Bay Times, “Teachers blasted the criteria as unfair, and the underlying concept of one-time pay boosts as unhelpful when seeking stability in their finances.”
Business Groups Pushing Tort Reform: Tort reform did not get done. That’s bad news for the business groups who have been pushing this measure for decades.