2019 End-of-Session Report
May 9, 2019
Richard Pinsky, Akerman
Solar Energy Issues
Unfortunately, there were no bills filed dealing with strengthening the solar contractor licensing statutory provisions. Issues dealing with renewable energy in general were ignored. The investor-owned utilities were successful in getting approval to pass the cost of undergrounding power lines on to the ratepayer, subject to PSC approval.
The PACE program was not expanded to include septic tanks, or retrofitting of fire sprinklers.
The revenue estimating conference had several meetings reviewing and hearing testimony on the Energy Choice referendum and concluded that the fiscal impact was indeterminable until the amendment passed and was implemented by the legislature.
Other issues that may of interest have been compiled below.
Sea Level Rise; Coastal Management; Algae Blooms and Red Tide
- HB 325 PASSED revising the criteria DEP uses in determining & assigning annual funding priorities for beach management & erosion control projects.
- SB 1552 PASSED establishing the Red Tide Mitigation & Technology Advisory Council. It will be a collaborative between the Fish & Wildlife Institute and Mote Marine Laboratory. The goal of the initiative is to develop, test, and implement innovative, effective, and environmentally sustainable technologies and approaches for controlling and mitigating the impacts of red tide.
Fracking Ban FAILED
Attempts to reinsert the type of well stimulation known as Matrix Acidizing were unsuccessful, and therefore, the Fracking ban in Florida will need to wait another year.
Private Property Rights PASSED
Local governments will be prohibited from requiring a permit, application, notice, fee, approval, or mitigation for the pruning, trimming, or removal of a dangerous tree on residential property upon documentation by a certified arborist or licensed landscape architect, and prohibits local governments from requiring a property owner to replant a tree that is maintained under the specified conditions.
The bill also allows a property owner adjacent to an electric utility right-of-way to request an electric utility perform vegetation maintenance in the right-of-way without approval from the local government.
Finally, the bill requires county property appraisers to post a Property Owner Bill of Rights on their websites, which lists a property owner’s right to acquire, possess, and protect property; use and enjoy property; exclude others from property; dispose of property; due process; just compensation for property taken for a public purpose; and relief when a new state or local government law, rule, regulation, or ordinance unfairly affects property.
Municipal Electric Public Meeting Exemption PASSED
From now on, there will be a public meeting exemption for that portion of a meeting held by a local government utility that would reveal information related to the security of a local government utility’s technology, processes, and practices designed to protect the utility’s networks, computers, programs, and data from attack, damage, or unauthorized access that, if disclosed, would facilitate the alteration, disclosure, or destruction of such data or information technology resources.
New Toll Roads PASSED
What was a top priority for Senate President Bill Galvano, the legislature adopted a plan to build three new toll roads in Florida. The three future toll-roads would extend the Suncoast Parkway from the Tampa Bay region to the Georgia border; extend the Florida Turnpike west to hook up with the Suncoast Parkway; and a toll road, from Polk County to Collier County.
Excluded was the offer to include SR 27 improvements for truck and eventual rail traffic from Miami-Dade County to the south of Lake Okeechobee, to alleviate truck and rail traffic in the I-95 corridor.
Texting While Driving PASSED
Texting while driving was made a primary offense, up from its current violation as a secondary offense, meaning, law enforcement can now stop a driver if the law enforcement officer has reason to believe the driver was texting on their mobile device. Current law only provides that the infraction can be cited while being pulled over for a primary infraction, such as no seat belt, or speeding, etc.
Added to the bill, is a provision that includes the use of any wireless device, not just texting, while in a construction or school zone.
Also, the bill was amended requiring a law enforcement officer to inform a driver suspected of texting while driving or distracted driving in a school or construction zone, that they are not required to allow the law enforcement officer to look at their phone.
Smokeable Medical Marijuana PASSED
Lawmakers passed a bill that allows patients to buy up to 2.5 ounces of whole flower marijuana every 35 days. But the drug can’t be smoked in public and patients under 18 can smoke medical marijuana only if they are terminally ill and have approval from two doctors.
Hemp Legalized PASSED
SB 1020 authorizes the creation of a state industrial hemp program to include the cultivation, handling, processing, and sale of hemp. Registration, background checks of the applicants along with actual GPS coordinates for the location will all be required by the Dpt. of Agriculture.
Distribution and retail sale of hemp and hemp products will be covered under new rules along with the creation of an Industrial Hemp Advisory Board.
Arming Teachers PASSED
Full-time classroom teachers will be permitted to carry guns in school under legislation approved this year. School districts can opt out of the “guardian” program, and Palm Beach County has. The bill makes Florida a test case for the controversial school safety idea.
School Vouchers PASSED
Former Gov. Jeb Bush appeared on the House floor this year to cheer on lawmakers who approved a taxpayer-financed voucher that will pay for children to attend private schools. The bill is the fulfillment of Bush’s efforts to make Florida a leader on vouchers and other school choice initiatives. Bush’s first-in-the-nation statewide voucher program was struck down by the Florida Supreme Court, but a more conservative court could look at the issue differently. That’s the bet GOP lawmakers are making with the Family Empowerment Scholarships program for Florida families earning $77,250 or less.
Felon Voting Rights Restored PASSED
In 2018, Floridians approved a constitutional amendment that automatically restores voting rights for most felons “who have completed all terms of their sentence, including parole or probation.” The legislature further defined “all terms of a sentence” to include all fees, fines and victim restitution that must be paid before felons can vote.
General Budget Issues PASSED
Areas of interest that were funded in the budget are:
- $2.8 million grant fund eligible to county supervisors of elections for cybersecurity improvements in advance of the 2020 presidential election.
- $5.5 million for the Florida Resilient Coastline Initiative to help local governments dealing with sea level rise and projects to maintain the health of coral reefs.
- $40 million to continue the Job & Economic Growth Fund. $85 million was requested from the Governor.
- $40 million to continue funding Visit Florida. $75 million was requested by the Governor.
- $220 million for Hurricane Michael recovery efforts in the panhandle communities.
- $683 million for water quality improvements, which fully funds what the Governor requested. Most of the funding will go to Lake Okeechobee and Everglades restoration projects.
2020 Session Dates
January 14, 2020 Regular Session begins
March 13, 2020 Regular Session ends