March 10, 2017
Week One - 2017 Session
"The outcome of battle is never in a warrior's control. What is in their control is how they choose to fight and what they choose to fight for." -- Shatrujeet Nath, The Conspiracy at Meru

On Tuesday March 7, the 2017 legislative session officially kicked off. As a sign of what we can expect, House Speaker Richard Corcoran reminded representatives that they are to be change makers and urged them to "joyfully and proudly go crashing against the special interests and the status quo." Corcoran also said that a special session "isn't necessarily a bad thing," in that it gives legislators more time to fully vet important budget matters.
Governor Rick Scott also seemed to be in a fighting mood during his opening day State of the State address. He declared that Floridians are fighters and come back stronger and better each time we are knocked down. In fact, he has dubbed his proposed tax cut package the "Fighting for Florida's Future" proposal. Among other proposals in his speech, Scott specifically called for a repeal of the sales tax on commercial leases, a sales tax holiday for veterans and new money for counterterrorism efforts.
The governor also did not back away from his ongoing fight with the House regarding Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida funding. This feud will likely last until the budget is resolved and will frame much of the landscape for the interactions between the governor and the Florida House.
Meanwhile, Senate President Joe Negron was more conciliatory in his opening day remarks. Negron focused on his fight to reform Florida's higher education system, to make Florida's university system one of the best in the nation and more accessible to all students. Another priority for Negron is using Amendment One environmental money to address discharges from Lake Okeechobee that impact water bodies throughout the state.
Speaking of fights, the Florida League of Cities will have its hands full this session, fending off a wide range of preemptions and unfunded mandates. From legislation that would allow telecommunications companies to place small cell towers and refrigerator-sized equipment along municipal rights of way without local government approval, to legislation that preempts all local regulations on businesses and effectively repeals Home Rule authority, to legislation dictating how and when municipalities can issue bonds or raise property or other taxes, to a full repeal of authority to regulate vacation rentals - there seems to be an all-out assault on Home Rule.
In the coming weeks you will be receiving LEGISLATIVE ALERTS from the League's Advocacy Team. It is vital that you take the time to respond to them. The best way to do this is by picking up the phone and calling your legislator. Tell them how legislation will directly impact your city. Let them know you are paying attention to what is happening in Tallahassee and how they are voting on issues that impact your city and your ability to make decisions locally.
Some battles are won through subterfuge (as the Greeks proved in their capture of the city of Troy with the aid of the Trojan Horse), some are won by the elements of surprise and deception (as demonstrated by the great Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu), some by lulling the opponent into a sense of complacency (think Muhammad Ali and the "rope-a-dope"). Regardless of the strategies deployed, one thing is clear, no battle or war was ever won by not engaging in the fight. As Home Rule comes under attack, it is vital that each of you heeds the call to arms and commits to defending local control. 


Join us this Monday (March 13) at 9:00 a.m. ET for our Monday Morning Call-In. The call-in number is (888) 419-5570, code: 735-594-461.
During the call-in, we will discuss the big issues that will be heard by the Legislature for the upcoming week and provide you with direction to take as advocates for Home Rule. To view what issues will be discussed, check out both the Senate and House calendars.
You can also access the Leagues website to view the Issue Briefs in which we provide comprehensive background information and timely updates on the status of the key legislative issues we are tracking.

When you come to Tallahassee during session, please visit us here at the League office and staff will discuss the important issues of the day and provide you with all the information you need to be a successful advocate here in Tallahassee.

Be sure to check out our social media feeds on Facebook and Twitter to see our members in action. In addition, we hope to see you in Tallahassee for the League's Legislative Action Days on March 21-22, 2017. 

Thanks to each of you for all you do on behalf of your city and the citizens of Florida.

C. Scott Dudley
Legislative Director
The following is a brief summary of the key activities from Week One of the 2017 Session.  For summaries of all priority bills & bills that moved this week, visit the Legislative Bulletin.


Fix to Florida's Public Records Law Moves
Two bills seeking to curb abuses associated with the state's public record laws moved through the House and Senate this week.  CS/SB 80 (Steube), the more aggressive of the two proposals, passed through the Senate Community Affairs Committee by a 6-1 vote. The current version of Senator Steube's bill would allow a judge to decide whether attorney fees should be awarded in a public record lawsuit.  New language was added allowing a judge to award attorney fees to the city if the court finds the action was filed in bad faith or was frivolous. The House companion measure,  HB 163 (Burgess) unanimously passed through its first committee of reference, the House Oversight, Transparency and Administration Subcommittee. The bill changes current law to provide guidelines for when attorney fees should and should not be awarded in public record lawsuits. HB 163 now heads to the House Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee.
House and Senate Sober Homes Legislation Pass First Committee Unanimously
CS/HB 807 (Hager) and  CS/SB 788 (Clemens), bills targeting deceptive marketing practices used by sober home operators, unanimously passed through their first committees of reference this week.  The bills create new criminal offenses related to patient brokering and certain marketing practices used by operators and treatment facilities as well as increasing fines for these offenses. These two bills are based on recommendations provided by the Sober Home Taskforce in Palm Beach County. 

Telecomm Corporate Welfare Bill Passes First Committee
CS/SB 596 (Hutson), which preempts local control over placement of telecommunications infrastructure passed the Senate Communications, Energy, and Public Utilities Committee by a vote of 7-1. CS/SB 596 eviscerates local control for Florida cities with respect to taxpayer owned public structures and rights-of-way (generally roadway and sidewalk areas) for placement of "small" or "micro" wireless antennas and equipment by the multi-billion dollar wireless communications industry. The bills prohibit local governments from regulating anything except applicable building codes for this wireless infrastructure. Wireless communications providers and speculators will be able to ignore land development regulations, pedestrian movement, traffic view zones, traffic circulation as well as safety and aesthetic considerations. By unreasonably capping the permit application and attachment fees as well as limiting the permit review timeframe, the bills require taxpayers to subsidize the business interests of wireless communications providers. The bills require a city, at its taxpayers' expense, to develop engineering and other structural reports on the city's own structures that a wireless company may or may not decide to use for an antenna. Should this legislation pass, there WILL be a proliferation of wireless infrastructure, in some cases the size of a refrigerator, in areas where such equipment and infrastructure is unsightly, unsafe and inappropriate for that particular community.  Please take time to thank Sen Daphne Campbell for her "NO" vote on this measure.
The House companion, HB 687 by Representative La Rosa will be heard in the House Energy and Utilities Subcommittee on Wednesday, March 15, 2017 at 8:00 AM. Please reach out to members of the committee and urge them to oppose this bad legislation.
Delivery Drones Move in Committee
CS/HB 601  (Williamson) passed the House Transportation and Infrastructure unanimously on Tuesday. The Florida League of Cities supports this legislation as it authorizes local government regulation of the operation of personal delivery devices primarily on sidewalks and crosswalks (much like local governments regulate golf carts). The bill requires a personal delivery device operator to maintain an insurance policy that provides general liability coverage of at least $100,000 for damages arising from the operation of a personal delivery device.   
Ethics/Local Government
HB 7021  (Metz and House Public Integrity and Ethics Committee) requires elected city governing body members to file full public financial disclosure if the city has total revenues over $5 million, states that it is a conflict of interest for local elected officials to participate in a matter that would result in a special gain or loss for the official, and establishes a local government lobbyists registration process. The League is working with the bill sponsor to address various concerns. HB 7021 passed the House Appropriations Committee. 


Governmental Transparency and Accountability Measures
On Wednesday, the House Ways and Means Committee introduced two committee bills that significantly intrude on local government authority. The first, HB 7063, dealing with Local Government Fiscal Responsibility, would restrict cities' ability to issue new, tax-supported debt and increase taxes, including property taxes. For example, local governments, cannot adopt millage over the rolled-back rate unless they spend down certain reserves. In effect, this prohibits property tax increases unless excess fund balances are spent down. The bill also requires voter approval for certain new, tax-supported debt. This voter approval, as well as local-option taxes that currently require voter approval, must be at a general election with a 60% threshold for approval. Additionally, the bill prohibits cities and counties from enacting, extending or increasing local option taxes other than property taxes, if they had adopted a millage rate in excess of the rolled-back rate in any of the three previous years.
The other bill, HB 7065, dealing with Local Government Fiscal Transparency, imposes new transparency measures such as additional public notice and public hearings for cities that are issuing new, tax-supported debt or increasing local option taxes other than property taxes. In public testimony, the League stressed the importance of weighing the cost to tax payers of these additional requirements versus the value it adds to citizens.
Increase in Homestead Exemption Proposed
Speaker Corcoran mentioned a new, additional $25,000 homestead exemption in his opening day comments. There is not yet a house bill, but Senator Lee had filed SJR 1774, which is a proposed constitutional amendment that creates that new exemption. At this time, the fiscal impact of this bill is not known.
Florida Retirement System/Local Government Participation
SB 428 (Brandes) prevents a city from joining the FRS defined benefit pension plan for any membership class after 1/1/2017. Cities could continue to join the FRS defined contribution plan. The League opposes this bill as it restricts current law authority to join the FRS pension plan, if desired by a city. SB 428 passed the Senate Community Affairs Committee. 


Community Redevelopment Agencies Come Under Scrutiny
This week the House Local, Federal and Veteran Affairs Subcommittee passed  HB 13 (Raburn) by a vote of 9-6. Of primary concern to cities, the bill outlines a process by which CRAs will be terminated. Under this legislation, CRAs may not initiate any new projects or issue any new debt on or after October 1, 2017. No new CRAs may be created after October 1, 2017. All existing CRAs in Florida will terminate by September 30, 2037 at the latest. The bill also addresses additional accountability, audit and transparency measures. The Senate companion bill,  SB 1770 (Lee), was also filed this week and is awaiting committee references.
Economic Development Incentives Being Phased Out
One of the most controversial and highly publicized issues of the 2017 session will be the fight between Governor Scott and the Florida House over the issue of economic development incentives. This week the House moved off their original position which would have abolished Visit Florida, the agency in charge of marketing the state to tourists. However,  HB 7005 (House Careers & Competition Subcommittee) still includes language that repeals Enterprise Florida (EFI), the public-private partnership that is Florida's primary economic development recruitment mechanism. With the demise of EFI, the following incentives and economic development programs would also be abolished: The Office of Film and Entertainment and the Entertainment Industry Incentive and Tax Exemption Programs; the Urban High-Crime Area Job Tax Credit Program; the Qualified Target Industry Tax Refund Program; the Brownfield Redevelopment Bonus Tax Refund Program; the Quick Action Closing Fund Program; and the Professional Sports Franchises, Spring Training Franchises and Sports Development Programs.
Visit Florida became the subject of a standalone bill,  HB 9 (Renner) that modifies current law to provide greater accountability and oversight over the agency. The bill makes VISIT Florida a direct-support organization of Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) and allows VISIT Florida to enter into an agreement with DEO to continue any existing program, activity, duty or function necessary for its operation. HB 9 does not provide any funding for VISIT Florida.
More Flexibility for Public Meeting Being Considered
This week the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee passed  SB 914 (Baxley). The bill eases some public meetings law by codifying case law that specifies conditions under which members of a board or commission, including municipal officials, may participate in certain fact-finding exercises or excursions without violating the state's open meetings law. The bills redefine a "meeting" as any discussion of public business between two or more members of the same board or commission. Current law defines a meeting as any discussion between two members of the same board.


Senate Lake O Plan Moving Forward
CS/SB 10, Senate President Negron's plan for accelerating construction of a reservoir on farmland south of Lake Okeechobee, cleared its second stop on a 5-1 vote, amid passionate public testimony both for and against the proposal.  The bill was substantially amended, and now creates the Florida Coast-to-Coast Water Resources Initiative, a broad funding mechanism for the reservoir as well as other water projects throughout the state.  Additional water projects addressed in the Initiative include a new revolving loan program for water storage facilities, a water reuse grant program, and dedicated funding for projects to benefit the St. Johns River region, the Florida Keys, the Indian River Lagoon, and the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie River estuaries.  Importantly, the amended bill transfers the remaining $3.3 million of existing bond capacity in the Florida Forever Program to the newly created Initiative, presumably to address House Speaker Corcoran's adamant opposition to bonding for water projects. 

Fracking Ban Sails Through First Senate Committee
The Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee voted unanimously to support SB 442 (Young), which proposes a statewide ban on fracking.  Similar proposals filed in the House have not moved.
Pollution Notice Bill Clears First Hurdle
The Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee voted unanimously in favor of CS/SB 532 (Galvano), which provides process for the public to be notified of certain pollution spills and releases.  The bill resolves many shortcomings associated with a recent and unsuccessful effort by the Department of Environmental Protection to adopt an administrative rule on the issue.  It provides clear triggers for the notice requirement and it makes DEP responsible for notifying the public after the incident is report to the agency.  A companion measure in the House, HB 1065 (Peters), could get its first hearing next week.