2019 session overviewLegislators wrapped up the annual 60 day Legislative Session Saturday afternoon.  Below are details on what passed and what did not, as well as details on the $91.1 billion budget.  The Session did not end Friday as the state Constitution requires, but instead concluded one day late, because the budget was not distributed to members until Wednesday afternoon, so the mandatory 72-hour “cooling off” period before legislators can vote on the budget did not run until Saturday at 1:32 p.m.  Legislative leaders agreed to extend the Regular Session for the limited purpose of voting on the state budget.

The 2019 Budget

The 2019 budget includes a $248 per-pupil increase for K-12 students and gives $158.2 million to charter schools for maintenance and repair.  Legislators also allocated $76 million for higher-education construction projects,  and agreed to give $1.5 million in recurring funds to the Department of Education to develop a two-year workforce program to assist individuals aged 22 or older to get a high school diploma and career technical skills.  In terms of environmental spending, $682.6 million was set aside for Lake Okeechobee and other water projects, including $322.6 million for Lake Okeechobee restoration and $100 million for Florida springs.  In health care funding, Lawmakers agreed to provide more than $28 million to increase wages paid to people who care for adults with developmental disabilities.  The budget also increases the total state investment in Hurricane Michael Recovery to more than $1.85 billion.  Legislators also agreed to fund an office for the Lieutenant Governor outside of Tallahassee and to continue funding Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing agency.

Health Care Reform Bills

HB 21 eliminates the certificate-of-need (CON) program.  The bill eliminates CON regulations for new general hospitals, as well as “tertiary” health care services and it eliminates CON for specialty hospitals in two years.  CON requirements for nursing homes and hospices and intermediate care facilities for the developmentally disabled are maintained under the bill.

HB 19 deals with drug importation programs and permits state officials to seek approval from the federal government to import pharmaceuticals.

HB 23 establishes a regulatory framework for “telehealth” in the state.  The bill clarifies insurance companies and HMOs can use out-of-state physicians as long as they register with the state.  It also allows HMOs and insurance companies to have voluntary contracts that allow telehealth services to be reimbursed at different levels than face to face services.

These bills were House Speaker Jose Oliva’s top priorities for the Session.

Sanctuary Cities Ban

SB 168 requires local law-enforcement agencies to share information with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement about undocumented immigrants who are in their custody. That would include campus police agencies and the Department of Children and Families.  The bill was a top priority for Governor DeSantis.

Criminal Justice Reform

HB 7125 raises the felony-theft threshold from $300 to $750, expands the availability of inmate reentry programs, and increases opportunities for felons to get occupational licenses.  The bill would also raise the base threshold amount for trafficking in hydrocodone from 14 grams to 28 grams, and non-violent drug offenders would have their driver’s licenses suspended for six months instead of one year.

Tax Package

HB 7123 provides $121 million in tax breaks.  Additional relief offered includes sales-tax holidays on back-to-school supplies and clothes, and hurricane supplies.  There is also a reduction in the sales-tax on commercial leases and fuel tax relief for farmers in their Hurricane Michael recovery efforts, in addition to repairs made to farm buildings and fences.  A controversial portion of the tax package is the requirement that local referendum money be shared with charter schools in the future.

Transportation Corridors

SB 7068 creates one new toll road and extend an existing toll road.  The bill extends the Suncoast Parkway to Georgia, extends Florida’s Turnpike to the Suncoast, and builds a new toll road from Naples toward Interstate 4 near Orlando.  Construction is expected to begin in 2022, with completion predicted to be by 2030.  The new roads will provide additional hurricane-evacuation options, expand bicycle and pedestrian trails, and help with new water and sewer lines and broadband installations.  This infrastructure package was the top priority for President Bill Galvano.

Business and Occupation Deregulation – DID NOT PASS

HB 27/SB 1640 would have overhauled the state’s occupational licensing regulations.  The bills also would have trimmed back or removed occupational licensing requirements for barbers, auctioneers, landscape architects, interior designers, and many more.  The bills failed to pass though they were priorities for Governor DeSantis and other Republican leaders.

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This publication is for general information only. It is not legal advice, and legal counsel should be contacted before any action is taken that might be influenced by this publication.

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