The 2017 Legislative Session
2017 Legislative Session
As the 2017 gets underway please see a brief summary of the major issues that will be discussed, key dates and a brief explanation of the committee structure.
What do you need to know? Every session is different and every session has a storyline with issues that will dominate the narrative. This year even though Republican’s hold significant majorities in both the House and Senate, the Governor’s mansion, and every member of the Florida Cabinet, the lines will be drawn between a very conservative House and a less-so Senate, and the battle between the Governor and House Speaker on the elimination of Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida. Even without the daily stream of news out of Washington, this session is lining up to be one of the one of the more rancorous in recent memory.
The budget: This year’s total budget will reach $83.5 million representing a $1.2 billion increase from the 2016-2017 level. Unfortunately, despite a growing economy, a smaller than predicted growth in documentary stamp tax collections over the next few years is forecasted to result in a deficit of $3 billion by 2020. Rather than a three billion dollar cut to the state’s budget at that time, it has been suggested that lawmakers cut a billion out of the budget for each of the next three years in an effort to “mitigate the pain.” These cuts, combined with an aggressive budget submitted by the Governor, and new transparency rules suggested by the House, make this issue one of the most compelling of the session. Many believe a special session on the budget is likely to be necessary to resolve these issues.
Taxes: The governor has proposed $618 million in tax cuts mostly from rent on commercial property. With the decision by the House to cut a billion dollars out of the budget this year, large tax cuts like the one proposed by the Governor will have a difficult road ahead. Neither side seems willing to back down. The Senate President would like to see a tax break for Floridians on their cellphone and cable bills funded in part by the insurance industry.
Economic development: This is the most talked about issue of the session so far. Governor Scott wants to spend $76 million for Visit Florida and $85 million for economic incentives for Enterprise Florida. The House wants to abolish both agencies. Speaker Corcoran has referred to these tax incentives as “corporate welfare.” As the Sun Sentinel points out as it relates to Enterprise Florida: “the state's chief economist says the state is losing money on business incentives. Over the last three years, said Amy Baker, 18 of the state's 26 economic development programs have returned less than a dollar for every dollar invested. That includes the Quick Action Closing Fund that the governor uses to finalize deals. Yes, if Enterprise Florida is folded, Florida would face an unlevel playing field with states that continue to offer incentives.” Stay tuned.
Environmental Protection: The Senate President would like the state to invest in building a reservoir to reduce discharges from Lake Okeechobee, preventing the kind of toxic algae we see in the St. Lucie River estuary. Negron faces opposition from the sugar industry, and support from the growing list of Everglades restoration supporters.
Gaming: The House and Senate have very different approaches to the gaming “compact” that has dominated the legislative conversation over the past few years. The prior compact with the Seminole Tribe (which has expired) will need to be renewed in order for Florida to see the $3 billion in revenue generated over seven years for the tribe's exclusivity on certain casino games.
Session is only 60 days!!
March 7, 2017 Regular Session convenes
April 22, 2017 All bills are immediately certified
April 25, 2017 50th day -- last day for regularly scheduled committee meetings.
May 1, 2017 56th day – Last week of Session! Special Order Calendar may be taken up by House the day its published.
May 4, 2017 59th day -- House may on consider “Returning Messages” from the Senate.
May 5, 2017 60th day -- last day of Regular Session
How to Advocate
The legislative process in plain English
Advocating in the legislature can feel like going to court without a lawyer. The 60 day legislative session can be fast and furious, interspersed with so many deadlines and rules that it can be intimidating. These rules can often be used as “excuses” as to why a good thing can’t happen, or why certain requests can’t be entertained. Thousands of bills are filed and only a relatively few will pass. Here are some important things to remember:
Bills are drafted and then filed by Representatives or Senators. They will be assigned to Committees by the Speaker’s Office (in the case of the House of Representatives) or the Senate President (in the case of the Florida Senate).
Once bills are “referred” to Committee they must have a hearing in those committees. Both bodies will generally refer a bill to at least three or four committees.
Most bills will die because they do not get through all their committee references. Bills will often pass all of their committee stops in one body but not both. This bill is dead.
Once bills complete all committee stops they are placed on the House or Senate Calendar.
There are two stops for floor hearings in the House and Senate. First is the “Special Order” Calendar where bills are brought up, amended if necessary, and questions are asked. After the sponsor has explained the bill and all questions are asked and answered a bill is “rolled over” to “third reading.”
The following day a “third reading” calendar will be posted. This is where bills are debated and ultimately voted on. Once a bill is voted out of the Senate it is sent to the House and is placed in “messages.”
An identical bill will have to pass both the House and Senate for final passage to the Governor. This means that even if they are identical (which they must eventually be) the Senate will take up the House Bill in lieu of the Senate bill. or vice versa.
One of the most common ways bills die is that the House and Senate cannot agree on language in a bill. Bills often contain various provisions and any different language in any part of the bill will render it out of order.
Overriding truths and principles for successful advocacy
- There is no more effective advocate than a well-informed constituent. None. Personalize your communication.
- Tell your story. Putting a face or personal anecdote on an issue will mean all the difference in the world.
- A personal visit is the most effective means of communicating with a legislator. Don’t assume that this must take place in Tallahassee. Legislators have office hours in their district offices too.
- Legislative Aides are a critical cog in the wheel. They decide what a legislator sees and when. Get to know them and always be nice even if you know your legislator.
- It’s often a question of timing. On any given day a legislator will face dozens of important issues. With limited time before committee hearings a good aide will make sure the boss sees the most important items.
- People with the identical amount of integrity can come to opposite positions on an issue. Never forget that.
- Don’t ever take a “no” personally. This experience will prove helpful in future contacts even if your legislator can’t help on this particular occasion.
- Make an appointment in advance. Usually ask for 30 minutes but don’t be offended if you only get 15.
- Timing is everything. Visits prior to a vote by the committee in which your bill will be heard are particularly effective. Visits prior to a vote by either the full Senate or House are also helpful.
- Session is a moving target. Issues come fast and furious and if you are looking at an “alert” or a newspaper story from a week ago, it is highly likely that the issue has changed or evolved completely.
- Tell the truth even if it weakens your argument.
- Legislators are like Emergency Room doctors. They have heard it all.
- Organize your visit if you are seeing a legislator with multiple issues. Time will be limited. Decide in advance of the visit who will say what, and don’t repeat the same points.
- Whatever you do, do not burn bridges. Today’s supporter may be next week’s opponent, and vice versa.
- Develop a relationship. The information you know about these issues is legitimately helpful to legislators. Go back and visit and say thank you. Make it a point to schedule a visit to say thank you if appropriate.
- Write a thank you note.
- Make yourself familiar with the following websites: Myflorida.com http://www.myflorida.com/and Myfloridahouse.com http://www.myfloridahouse.com/will help you to monitor bills and look up committee agenda’s during session; Sayfiereview.com http://www.sayfiereview.com/ is an excellent source of news and blogs that monitors the legislative session. It is what most legislators and lobbyists will review first thing in the morning!