Shortly before 9:30 p.m. on Friday, May 5, the scheduled end of session, the Legislature adjourned without a final vote on the $82.4 billion budget. Agreement on the budget was reached on May 4; however, legislative rules require a 72 hour waiting period before a final vote can be taken. As such, legislators returned to the Capitol on the afternoon of Monday, May 8, to cast their votes on the budget agreement and a number of conforming bills. At around 8:50 p.m. on Monday evening, the House and Senate approved the budget compromise, accompanying conforming bills, and adjourned sine die.
Budget negotiations were particularly contentious this session due to differing personalities and priorities between the presiding officers, as well the appropriation chairs of each Chamber. Disagreement on health care spending, and more specifically Medicaid payments to hospitals, delayed the final agreement. In the end, these facilities will see a $250 million cut equaling seven percent in recurring funds beginning July 1. The final agreement also includes priorities of the presiding officers.
Senate President Negron’s priority to develop a reservoir for cleaning and diverting discharges from Lake Okeechobee will receive $800 million in funding. The budget also includes $200 million for students in struggling schools along with $213 million for teacher bonuses, a priority of House Speaker Corcoran. Most notably, Speaker Corcoran succeeded in cutting funds to Enterprise Florida (EFI), charged with economic development activities and VISIT Florida, the state’s tourism marketing arm.
Throughout the session, Speaker Corcoran sought to eliminate EFI altogether and drastically cut VISIT Florida. The final budget compromise cut the EFI operating budget from $25 to $16 million and did not provide any economic incentives funds. The governor had recommended $85 million for economic incentives and called for additional VISIT Florida funding. In the end, VISIT Florida saw a cut from $76 to $25 million. Both entities were also subjected to increased transparency measures.
The governor traveled to the home districts of legislators who supported the cuts during session in an attempt to turn the opposition. There is also speculation that he may use his veto pen. The funding for EFI and VISIT Florida, however, was placed in a conforming bill which includes the transparency measures. As such, the governor cannot veto the language without also vetoing the funding.
A total of 231 bills were approved this session and are heading to the governor for his action. A number of major policy bills fell victim to last-minute amendments, including workers’ compensation reform, a reworking of the Statewide Medicaid Managed Care program, and the medical marijuana bill that would have implemented the constitutional amendment approved in November 2016. As a result, none of those measures gained final approval.
The 2018 Session is scheduled to run from Jan. 9 to March 9 and we expect to see bills filed for the session almost immediately. Further, interim committee meetings will begin as early as September in preparation for the early start of session.
Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Jeff Atwater announced early in the session that he would vacate his Cabinet seat to assume the CFO position for Florida Atlantic University. Although his actual date of departure has not been announced, Governor Scott will appoint his successor. Names being floated for the CFO spot include former Commissioner of the Office of Financial Regulation (OFR) Tom Grady (R-Naples), a close friend of Scott and former Florida lawmaker Pat Neal (R-Sarasota). Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry was a favorite for the post; however, he recently announced that he did not want the position. Prior to Atwater’s early departure, current Senator Tom Lee (R-Brandon) and Lt. Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera were mentioned as considering running for the position in 2018.
The legislative off-season will bring a number of special elections due to the departure of a senator and representative. Governor Scott has called a special election to fill the seat vacated by Sen. Frank Artiles (R-Miami). Artiles resigned after he made inappropriate comments about fellow senators. The primary election is scheduled for Tuesday, July 25, with the general election set for Sept. 26. This election has already had a ripple effect on a number of House seats.
Already filed for the seat is freshman Rep. Daisy Baez (D-Coral Gables). Another new House member, Robert Ascencio (D-Miami) has also expressed interest. On the Republican side, Rep. Jose “Pepe” Diaz (R-Miami), chair of the powerful Commerce Committee, has expressed a strong interest and former Senator Alex Diaz de la Portilla has already filed for the seat. Historically, the seat has been held by a Democrat until Artiles beat current Democratic Senator Dwight Bullard in 2016. The race to fill this seat will be a priority for both Democrats and Republicans.
Another special election will be held to fill the seat currently held by Rep. Eric Eisnaugle (R-Orlando). Governor Scott appointed Eisnaugle to serve on the Fifth District Court of Appeal which has a vacancy due to the appointment of Judge Alan Lawson to the Florida Supreme Court. An election has not yet been set for this seat which is in a strong Republican district.