Politics

Legislators to Focus on Health Care, Budget and the Three E's: Education, Elections and Ethics

By: Jim Turner | Posted: December 31, 2012 3:55 AM

Florida House and Senate Floors

Florida House Floor, left, Florida Senate Floor, right

How the state should cooperate with the federal health-care law, election reform and even some tweaking of ethics laws should dominate the legislative landscape in 2013.

Also, the stakes are expected to grow for the future of gaming in the gambling-rich state as the compact with the Florida Seminoles approaches its expiration date and global casino interests continue to dig their claws deeper into the sand on which the Sunshine State is built.

Legislators will continue to watch how internal reforms are imposed at Citizens Property Insurance Corp.

Oh, and jobs.

Through almost every issue that will involve the annual act of balancing the state's budget, expect there to be a call to expand job opportunities to Floridians.

And this is all before the major lobbying groups, such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Associated Industries of Florida and the Retail Federation of Florida, roll out their 2013 priority lists for legislators.

Budget

For the first time in years, state legislators aren’t looking down the barrel of a potential financial shortfall when they arrive in Tallahassee for the next session.

But even with the prospects of $70 million more in revenue next year than is expected to fuel the current year’s $70 billion budget, the fiscal outlook isn’t all roses and rainbows.

Still, the gradual, slow-but-steady growth is better than at least the prior six years. After four years in which the gaps could be seen in numbers that included the word "billion," successive sessions of cutting fat have placed the state in line for surpluses of $70 million in the next fiscal year (2013-2014), $53 million in fiscal year 2014-2015 and $600 million in fiscal year 2015-2016.

But, that's if nothing changes: if the euro doesn’t crash; the U.S. doesn’t run off the fiscal cliff as 2013 begins; Florida isn’t hit by a category 4 hurricane; or legislators see dollar signs and begin new undertakings.

Amy Baker, the state’s chief economist, cautioned that while consumer confidence has grown from record lows last summer, the above issues and more are on the table right now that could create pitfalls in the state’s budget.

“We’d say it’s definitely better than what they’ve seen in the last few years; we have more confidence, it’s more predictable moving forward, but there are still really big downside risks -- the big one being the fiscal cliff and how that plays out,” Baker said.

“We’re very dependent on consumer expenditures in Florida because of our sales tax. So if consumers get rattled, upset, worried, pull back on spending, we can see a pretty quick impact on sales tax collections."

Health care

Don’t expect the state’s stance on the Affordable Care Act to be quickly solved, even though Gov. Rick Scott is to finally have his requested meeting with Secretary Kathleen Sebelius of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Jan. 7.

With the law putting up to one-quarter of the state’s current 4 million uninsured on the Medicaid rolls, the federal government has offered Florida billions of dollars.

As with most of the leadership in the state, Scott remains a critic of the overhaul, and the former health care executive had his office release figures as 2012 was coming to a close. Those figures estimated the law, as it is written, would cost Florida $26 billion in the next decade.

Florida legislators will also have a chance to say where they want to drive the health-care issue later that same week when the business lobbying outfit Associated Industries of Florida hosts a two-day summit on health-care affordability at the World Center Marriott Resort & Convention Center in Orlando, Jan. 10-11. Among the featured speakers will be Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who has been one of the legislative leaders on health care issues.

Education

Scott, who in the coming weeks will lay out his vision for legislators, has already called for holding the line on educational funding, for the further expansion of charter schooling options for districts, creating debt cards to help defer costs incurred by teachers, and to block new testing from being offered that fails to meet Common Core State Standards that will be implemented in 2014.

Besides education, election reform, jobs and ethics were listed as high priorities on a joint 2013 agenda released in November by Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.

“Floridians shouldn’t be embarrassed that while most counties in our state run flawless elections, some counties keep running flawed elections,” Gaetz said in his acceptance speech during the Legislature’s organizational meeting.

“This isn’t a third-world country. America shouldn’t have to wait for five days after the polls close to find out how Florida voted.

“We’ll probe. We’ll listen. If we need to change laws, we’ll change them. But I won’t be satisfied and neither should you unless the 2014 elections in Florida are a model for America.”

Per the Tallahassee-based firm Bascom Communications & Consulting, some of the other undercard issues:

Internet Cafes

The Coalition of Florida’s Internet Cafes will be focused on educating decision-makers and the media on exactly how and why Internet cafes operate legally in Florida and the types of electronic sweepstakes that they offer in their establishments as a marketing tool to promote the sale of telephone minutes, Internet time or other related products. The coalition will be supporting any legislative proposals that would increase regulation overseeing these businesses so that good operators may be allowed to stay in business and clarify any misconceptions. The coalition will be actively opposing any legislation that seeks to outright ban these legal businesses.

Sadowski Coalition

The Sadowski Housing Coalition is urging the Florida Legislature to support using the monies in the state and local housing trust funds in fiscal year 2013-2014 for housing, and resist the temptation to divert those dedicated funds for other purposes. Using Florida’s housing trust fund monies solely for housing could help create more than 14,900 jobs and $1.485 BILLION in positive economic impact in Florida. Funding from the state and local housing trust funds allows for the operation of the State Housing Initiatives Partnership Program (SHIP) and the State Apartment Incentive Loan Program (SAIL), among others. State and local housing trust funds also support homeless housing programs, as well as provide an essential funding source needed to house persons with disabilities, veterans and the frail elderly.

Florida Optometric Association

FOA anticipates and supports legislation being filed that ensures access to quality, affordable eye care for all Floridians by allowing optometrists to prescribe oral medication.

Trade Winds Mutual Insurance

Trade Winds is a startup interested in seeing legislators consider adopting consumer-friendly public policy during the 2013 legislative session that depopulates Citizens by providing a path for private insurers to enter the marketplace and take over Citizens policies in order to reduce the risk of assessments for all Floridians. They would also like to see the Surplus Note Program (or something similar in its place) reconsidered in order for a company like themselves to take over Citizens policies, thus reducing the risk of assessments on policyholders.

Everglades Foundation

Look for the Everglades Foundation to be focused on acquiring appropriate funding for the Everglades Water Quality Plan, as well as running interference on legislation it perceives could threaten or jeopardize the future of the Everglades Forever Act.



Reach Jim Turner at jturner@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 215-9889.



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