House and Senate appropriations committees begin deliberations on state budget.
Last week, House and Senate appropriations committees began finalizing their initial budget reduction proposals. In the House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee, Chair Marti Coley cautioned that she did not anticipate programs that received non-recurring funding in the current year being restored in the coming fiscal year. Chair Coley indicated that the cuts in the proposed K-12 education budget would result in a 7.7 percent reduction in per-student funding. In the Senate Education Pre-K-12 Appropriations Subcommittee, Chairman David Simmons unveiled much smaller reductions of approximately 2.3 percent. House and Senate health care appropriations committees have not yet produced a draft proposal, instead taking testimony this week from various stakeholders seeking to preserve their programs. State Revenue Estimating Conference reports reduced revenue growth.
On Friday afternoon, the Revenue Estimating Conference estimated that Florida's budget shortfall will increase by an additional $135 million. This increased shortfall is due to an approximately $215-million reduction of growth in general revenue from prior estimates for the upcoming fiscal year, offset by unspent funds and a $31-million increase in the current year estimate. The revised forecast means that the 2010 – 2011 fiscal year revenue estimate is about four percent above the final collections for the 2009 – 2010 fiscal year. For the 2011 – 2012 fiscal year, forecasted growth is 6.4 percent over the 2010 – 2011 fiscal year. Legislature
Automotive insurance fraud bill voted out favorably by House insurance committee.
On Wednesday, the House Insurance and Banking Committee voted out H.B. 967, which contains a number of policies designed to fight auto insurance personal injury protection (PIP) fraud. In particular, the bill expands the authority of an insurer to conduct examinations of potentially fraudulent claims, limits attorneys' fees to no more than $10,000 for individual disputes, or $50,000 for class action suits, and authorizes an insurer to require binding arbitration for PIP claim disputes. The bill now has three remaining references. The companion in the Senate, S.B. 1694 by Garrett Richter, has three references and has not yet been heard. “Smart cap” state revenue limitation amendment heads to the House.
The Senate passed its smart cap state revenue constitutional amendment on Tuesday. The amendment gradually reduces the state revenue limitation in the constitution through the 2018 – 2019 fiscal year, when, from that year forward, state revenues will be limited to an amount equal to the state revenue limitation for the previous fiscal year, multiplied by an adjustment for growth. Revenues that are collected in excess of the revenue limitation must be transferred to the budget stabilization (or “rainy day”) fund until it reaches its maximum balance. Thereafter, the excess revenues must be used to reduce the required local effort millage levy for public schools and ultimately, returned to the taxpayer. The existing revenue limitation was approved by the voters as an amendment in 1994 and is generally indexed to growth in personal income. In the years since the adoption of the amendment, state revenue has generally grown more slowly than personal income, thus negating the value of the amendment. Senate moves union payroll deduction bill, angering unions.
Sen. John Thrasher obtained a narrow victory last Monday, when S.B. 830 was approved by a 5-4 vote. The bill prohibits a state agency or local government entity from deducting from an employee’s wages dues, assessments, penalties, and fines of an employee organization, and prohibits labor organizations from collecting dues, assessments, or fines without written authorization. Representatives of various labor organizations, including those representing police and firefighters, testified against the bill. The companion in the House, H.B. 1021 by Rep. Chris Dorworth, is in its last committee of reference, the Appropriations Committee. Lengthy “Jobs Florida” agency consolidation bill proposed by the Senate.
The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee released a 625-page agency reorganization package on Wednesday. Among other provisions, the bill creates Jobs Florida as a new state agency. Transferred to Jobs Florida are the Governor’s Office of Tourism, Trade, and Economic Development; from the Agency for Workforce Innovation, the Offices of Unemployment Compensation and Workforce Services; and from the Department of Community Affairs, the Florida Housing Finance Corporation, the Division of Housing and Community Development, and the Division of Community Planning. In addition, the bill reduces the time frame for when the Jobs Florida commissioner will recommend to the governor a business project for the quick action closing fund from 22 days to seven days. The application process for businesses seeking economic incentives also is shortened from 34 days to 24 days, and the application is expanded to include an evaluation of the amount of state incentives that might be available to the business. Teacher quality bill heads to the governor.
After more than three hours of debate, the House passed S.B. 736, a comprehensive teacher and principal reform package. The bill passed on an 80-39 party-line vote, and now heads to the governor, who is expected to quickly sign the bill. The passage of the bill is the culmination of efforts by lawmakers for over a decade to reform teacher pay and eliminate teacher tenure contracts, and is largely similar to last year’s controversial S.B. 6. Florida now joins more than a dozen states that have enacted similar reforms throughout the country over the past two years. Seaport security and financing bills reported favorably by legislative committees.
H.B. 283, by Rep. Dana Young, which amends a number of provisions related to seaport security, received its first favorable vote last week. The bill repeals statewide minimum seaport security standards, authorizes seaports to implement security standards that are stronger than federal standards, and dissolves the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Access Eligibility Reporting System and Seaport Security Standards Advisory Council. The companion in the Senate, S.B. 524 by Sen. Jack Latvala, was reported favorably out of the Senate Transportation Committee on Wednesday, and is now in its last committee of reference, Budget. Meanwhile, S.B. 768 by Sen. Jeremy Ring, which creates the Seaport Infrastructure Bank, also was reported favorably on Wednesday by the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee. The bill raises to $50 million the minimum amount of state transportation funds allocated to projects of the Florida Seaport Transportation and Economic Development Council and authorizes the Florida Ports Financing Commission to refinance and extend two existing bond issues and use the additional principle to finance capital improvement projects. The companion in the House, H.B. 399 by Rep. Lake Ray, has not received a hearing. Business deregulation bill moves out of its first committee, deregulating more than 30 professions.
The House Subcommittee on Business and Consumer Affairs proposed a significant deregulation package on Tuesday. The proposed committee bill would deregulate more than 30 professions, including auctioneers, employee leasing companies, home inspectors, professional geologists, motor vehicle repair shops, and sellers of travel. A parade of representatives of professions slated for deregulation argued for the committee to exclude their profession from the bill. Many of the arguments against deregulation involved ensuring a minimal level of professional competence and protecting the public. Notwithstanding the significant opposition by various stakeholders, the bill was reported favorably by the committee on a party-line vote. Senate property insurance bill encounters further delays in committee.
S.B. 408, by Sen. Garrett Richter, was once again delayed from reaching a final vote in committee. On Tuesday, the Senate Budget Committee took up the bill, along with 12 amendments filed by Sen. Mike Fasano. While the committee disposed of the first four amendments, the committee voted 11-8 to adopt the fifth amendment, much to the surprise of the bill sponsor and various stakeholders. The fifth amendment permanently reinstates the “file and use” requirement for property insurance filings that seek to increase the rate most recently approved by the Office of Insurance Regulation; the bill repealed this section, which had already expired by on December 31, 2010. After the adoption of the amendment, Chairman J.D. Alexander moved to temporarily postpone the bill in order to take up other bills that remained on the committee agenda. The bill will be taken up again in the Budget Committee on Tuesday, March 22. Commercial lines insurance deregulation bills near consideration on the floor.
H.B. 99, by Rep. Brad Drake, and S.B. 178, by Sen. Steve Oelrich, exempt a wide number of commercial lines insurance risks from prior rate review. Testifying in support of the bills have been the Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, the Florida Insurance Council, Florida Association of Insurance Agents, the American Insurance Association, and the Florida Farm Bureau Insurance Company. The House bill was reported favorably on Thursday morning, and now will be placed on the Second Reading Calendar, and is available for floor consideration. The Senate bill is in its last committee of reference, the Budget Committee. House Medicaid reform proposals advance on a party-line vote.
On Thursday morning, the House Health and Human Services Committee voted out, on a party-line basis, two proposed committee bills that comprise the House’s Medicaid reform proposal. The reform proposal contained a few changes from the last published version, notably requiring the agency, in selecting managed care plans, to provide a preference for plans with a provider network in which more than 10 percent of providers use electronic health records, and allowing managed care plans to include providers located outside of their respective region. The companion in the Senate, S.B. 1972 by Sen. Joe Negron, was referred on Wednesday to the Health Regulation and Budget Committees. Renewable energy proposal comes to light in the House.
On Tuesday, the House Energy & Utilities Subcommittee workshopped a series of energy policies for a potential committee bill. Included in those policies is the promotion of renewable energy, by authorizing public utilities to recover the costs to produce or purchase renewable energy used to supply electrical energy to retail customers. In the Senate, the Communications, Energy, and Public Utilities Committee is scheduled to discuss a proposed committee bill on renewable energy on Monday morning at 10:15 a.m. The proposed bill is not yet available, but should be published Friday afternoon within the committee meeting packet.
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