Florida Legislative Wrap-Up

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran. (Unmodified photo by Scott Keeler used under a creative commons license. http://bit.ly/1E6HPMf)

From legislative debate to bill signings, Floridians across the state have watched and expressed a wide range of emotion over the state’s major legislative session.

The five big issues that were publicly followed during the 60-day session and made the journey to Governor Scott’s desk include:

Budget

At the start of the legislative session, Governor Scott had proposed an $83.5 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts on July 1, encouraging legislators to increase education spending while calling for $618 million in tax cuts.

On June 2, Governor Scott signed the budget for the 2017-2018 fiscal year while vetoing $410 million in legislative projects that were deemed ineffective for Floridians.

A special three-day session in Tallahassee to reconsider the proposed budget took place started on June 7 and largely focused on appropriations, tourism and commerce, and education.

Education

A major priority in the Senate was to revisit Florida’s higher education system and it was expected to expand Bright Future scholarships to include full tuition coverage for the top students.

In the House, a major priority was to focus on the K-12 public school system and expand school choice programs while reducing the amount of time spent on standardized testing.

Despite the stated goals by both house leaders, teachers and public school advocates erupted in confusion and anger with the signing of HB7069, a $419 million public education bill for grades K-12.

The bill provides money for the expansion of charter schools in low-performing school districts and allows more teachers to be eligible for the Best and Brightest Scholarship program by including the GRE, GMAT, LSAT, and MCAT. It also removes end of year standardized testing.

Outrage came because of the charter school expansion language. A contingent of teachers, parents and school staff believe the charter school program is not the answer to students who struggle and are now advocating for elected officials to fix the problem in the next legislative session.

Environment

Steps toward protecting the environment and restoring the Everglades was a major success during the legislative session with the signing of SB10.

This $2.4 billion plan will buy land south of Lake Okeechobee to create a reservoir to store water south of the lake and reduce the amount of polluted discharge for clean water.

This bill not only proved the Senate and the House’s best interest for the people of Florida and its environment but also a shift away from the benefiting corporations.

Economic Development

Governor Scott originally wanted to provide $85 million to Enterprise Florida and $76 million to Visit Florida for business incentives to increase tourism, however, he received a surprise when the legislature’s proposed budget called for a 60 percent decrease in funding for Visit Florida.

Legislators revisited tourism during the three-day special session and increased Visit Florida’s funding from $25 million to $76 million and created an $85 million incentive fund that’ll be used for infrastructure.

Fentanyl and Opioid Drugs

In 2016, Florida faced the growing problem of fentanyl, a highly powerful synthetic painkiller. Drug dealers have illegally been mixing fentanyl with other drugs such as heroin which has led to an increase in overdoses, resulting in nearly a thousand deaths in the state.

Signed into law, HB 477 poses stricter penalties for drug dealers involved with fentanyl and other opioid drugs, including murder charges if the customer dies from an overdose.

This bill is expected to help combat the fentanyl abuse and related deaths in Florida’s communities and legislators argue it served as a major achievement during this legislative session.

Florida’s legislative session was full of success and failure from both the legislative and executive branches, however, some would say state government succeeded in moving towards a brighter future for Floridians.

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