While all eyes focused on Washington with the Trump Inauguration, the Florida Legislature and Governor are busy gearing up for the 2017 Legislative Session, which begins March 7. Following the Legislature’s organizational session in November, the House and Senate jumped into action holding committee meetings and commencing the process of airing out bills. Governor Rick Scott also released his 2017 budget request. Although Republicans control both the Governor’s Mansion and the State Legislature, there are some policy differences between the legislative and executive branches that will dominate headlines over the coming months. But the branches agree on more areas than they disagree (especially on keeping taxes low and reducing regulatory burdens), so some business-friendly legislation will become law this year.
DEBATE OVER JOB INCENTIVES
With new leadership in the House and Senate come new priorities in the Capitol. Some of these priorities are set to clash with Gov. Scott’s priorities, especially in the area of using tax and cash incentives to recruit businesses to Florida. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has vowed to zero out funding for incentives. Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala has expressed support for the Governor’s $85 million budget request, including funds for the state’s Quick Action Closing Fund, which bore the brunt of criticism. This difference of opinion is unlikely to be resolved until the House and Senate pass their respective budget bills and enter into budget conferences.
The state’s public-private partnership, Enterprise Florida, which plays a large role in business recruitment, is also in the cross-hairs of some legislators, who question the failure of Enterprise Florida to obtain half its funding from the private sector as contemplated in its enabling legislation, as well as the low return on investment (ROI) of many of the state’s incentive deals. At the same time, Democratic Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez, from Miami, has filed a bill to restructure Enterprise Florida. Senate Bill 216 would, among other things, require Senate confirmation of the President of Enterprise Florida, who currently is appointed by the Governor. There is currently no House companion bill, so it is questionable that it will go anywhere.
RIDESHARING TO GET AN UBER LYFT
The House and Senate also will consider rideshare legislation to adopt a statewide policy on popular rideshare businesses. HB 340 and SB 221 will require minimum insurance requirements and background screening of drivers. Up to now, local governments throughout the state have passed their own ordinances regarding services such as Uber and Lyft, or fined their drivers for violating local ordinances regarding cars for hire. It is a near certainty the taxi industry will be working the halls of the Capitol to minimize damage to its vanishing monopoly. Despite the opposition’s best efforts, the rideshare bills are likely to pass given the Republican majority’s belief in the free market and less regulation.
SALVAGING WORKER’S COMPENSATION REFORM
The Legislature will have to wrestle with the fallout from the state Supreme Court’s striking of parts of the worker’s compensation reforms enacted over a decade ago under Governor Jeb Bush. Those reforms sought to reduce worker’s compensation premiums by, among other things, limiting attorney’s fees awarded to claimants’ attorneys and capping the amount of temporary benefits available to claimants. In separate 5-2 decisions, the Court found these limits unconstitutional, but left in place other aspects of the legislation. No bills have been filed yet, but business groups have been working for months on proposals that could become legislation, setting up a battle with the plaintiffs’ bar. In the meantime, workers’ compensation premiums paid by Florida employers were set to increase as of the New Year.
“YOU GOTTA KNOW WHEN TO HOLD ‘EM...”
Gambling continues to be the gift that keeps on giving for lobbyists on all sides of the issue. The state and Seminole Tribe have been litigating the question of whether the state violated the gaming compact by authorizing pari-mutuels to offer certain slot games that mimic blackjack and certain other banked card games, which the compact awarded exclusively to the Tribe. A district judge has ruled in favor of the Tribe, and the state has appealed while also continuing to negotiate a new compact. Pari-mutuels and other gaming interests continue to push for expansion of the slots legislation. Senate President-Designate Bill Galvano filed a comprehensive gambling bill to try to bridge these positions. As in all things gambling, there are bound to be “winners and losers,” so all the interest groups will be haggling to the very end.
MEDICAL POT EXPANDS
Medical marijuana will continue to be an issue. The voters’ overwhelming approval of Amendment 2, expanding the availability of full strength marijuana to persons with “debilitating conditions,” requires implementing regulations by July 3, 2017. The cannabis industry and some patient advocacy groups are pushing for immediate availability, notwithstanding the lack of legislation, but medical group legal experts are urging doctors to wait for the rules. In the meantime, local governments throughout the state have enacted moratoria suspending any licensure of cannabis dispensaries for several months until they see how the state plans to regulate distribution. Attorney General-nominee Jeff Sessions’ testimony at his confirmation hearings allowed the cannabis industry to exhale a big sigh of relief, when he stated that enforcing federal drug laws in states that have legalized use of cannabis would not be a priority of the Justice Department at this time. The amendment authorizes doctors to prescribe full strength marijuana for patients with:
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
- Crohn's disease
- Parkinson's disease
- multiple sclerosis
In the first round of rule-making for the previous medical marijuana law, numerous challenges to rules and license awards resulted in lengthy litigation that delayed delivery of Charlotte’s Web oil to patients. Amendment 2 seeks to avoid this delay by permitting anyone affected by the amendment to seek an order compelling the Department of Health to issue regulations.