Capitol Report for Week Ending March 10, 2017

Written by Ben Wilcox on March 11, 2017


Capitol Report 2017

Week ending March 10, 2017

Filed by: Ben Wilcox, Governmental Consultant

Overview

The Florida legislature has completed its first week of the 2017 legislative session. Common Cause Florida has a number of priority issues that are already seeing action in legislative committees and in the full House of Representatives.

The week included Governor Rick Scott’s state of the state speech which featured a call for more tax cuts and more spending for economic development programs.

Also on opening day, the House and Senate agreed on a new rule designed to increase transparency in the upcoming budget process.  One provision requires detailed information on budget projects, which could be filed either as separate bills or amendments.  The rule also requires details such as lobbyist involvement, whether entities seeking funding are for-profit or non-profit organizations and what benefits can be expected from the projects.

Senate President Joe Negron addressed his chamber on opening day and spoke about his priorities that include expanding funding for higher education and his plan to build a 60,000 acre reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to help prevent algae blooms on the east and west coasts.  House Speaker Richard Corcoran spoke to his chamber calling for budget cuts and vowing to fight special interests.

Ethics Reform

The full House of Representatives on Friday passed Speaker Richard Corcoran’s first push for ethics reform taking up a bill that would impose a six-year lobbying ban on legislators and statewide elected officials after they leave office.  The bills, HJR 7001 and HB 7003, would extend the so-called revolving door prohibition from the current two-year ban to six years and would be the longest in the country. HB 7003 was passed by a 110 to 3 vote and is now on its way to the Senate.  HJR 7001 is still on the calendar awaiting action by the full House.

Another ethics bill, HB 7021, also advanced in the House this week. The bill, approved Wednesday by a unanimous vote in the Appropriations Committee, would require local elected officials in cities with more than $5 million in annual revenues to fill out more-detailed personal financial disclosure information, known as a Form 6.  Currently, city government officials are required to file a less-detailed Form 1. The Form 6 is also required for state and county officials.

The bill also creates a statewide lobbyist registry for people looking to influence local government.  Some local governments already have lobby registries, but the legislation would require the Florida Commission on Ethics to register lobbyists for about 2,400 local governments and special districts.

The committee also approved another bill, HB 7023, that would create a trust fund that would use the $40 lobbyist registration fees to pay for increased Commission on Ethics staff to handle the new registration requirements.

Redistricting

Common Cause Florida voiced its opposition this week to a bad bill, SB 352.  The bill by Senator Travis Hutson was heard in the Senate Rules Committee. The bill sets up a timetable that allows legislators to run in their current districts while a legislatively drawn map is being challenged.  It goes on to “encourage” the court to hold public hearings on remedial maps and allow public testimony on any proposed map the court is considering. Common Cause Florida opposes the bill as a violation of the separation of powers and an attack on the independence of the judicial branch.  The bill passed by a seven to three vote. Its next stop will be the full Senate. The bill also has a House companion, HB 953.  Common Cause members should contact their Senators and ask them to vote “No” on SB 352.

Public Records

SB 80 is a bad public records bill that has been filed by Senator Greg Steube. The bill would weaken Florida’s public records laws by stripping out a guarantee that people can recover legal fees if they win a court fight to obtain records.  Florida law now allows people to sue agencies for records and guarantees payment of legal fees if a lawsuit is successful.  The bill would give a judge the option of awarding legal fees.

Steube argues the bill is necessary because the public records law is being abused by people who aren’t really interested in public records, but are only interested in the fees they generate.  Common Cause Florida and open government coalition partners including the First Amendment Foundation argue that the guarantee of attorney’s fees is the only tool there is to enforce our public records laws when a public official or government agency refuses to comply.  The coalition is supporting SB 246, a compromise measure by Senator Rene Garcia which would retain the guarantee of legal fees, but would allow fees to be denied if a judge determines the records request was made primarily to harass the agency. 

This week, the Senate Community Affairs Committee adopted an amendment to the bill that requires attorneys fees be awarded if a complainant can show by a preponderance of evidence that “an agency willfully or intentionally violated the public records act.” The coalition remains opposed to the bill because it will still have a chilling effect on the public’s right to access records.”  The committee passed Senator Steube’s bill by a six to one vote.  The bill will be heard next in the Judiciary CommitteeCommon Cause Florida is urging its members to contact the committee members and urge them to vote “no” on SB 80.

Elections

A bill that would allow Florida voters to fix signatures on vote-by-mail ballots cleared the House Government Accountability Committee this week.  HB 105 by Representative Janet Cruz is a fix to an election law that was struck down in federal court. The bill brings Florida in line with the court’s decision and requires Supervisors of Elections to contact voters if their signature on their vote-by-mail ballot doesn’t match. It allows the voter to fix the problem by signing an affidavit and updating their signature.  Sponsors of the bill say diseases such as Parkinson’s or vision loss can cause signatures to change.  The bill now goes to the full House.

Legislation

Common Cause Florida is currently tracking a number of bills that have already been filed for the coming legislative session. They include:

  • HJR 1 and SJR 482 – Proposes a constitutional amendment to place a 12-year term limit on Supreme Court Justices and District Court Judges. 
  • HB 41 and SB 774 – This bill would create an independent commission responsible for legislative and congressional redistricting.  
  • HJR 51 and SJR 74 – These joint resolutions would propose a constitutional amendment that, if passed by voters, would automatically restore the voting rights of non-violent ex-felons, once they have completed the terms of their sentences. Common Cause Florida supports these bills.
  • HB 53 and SB 270 and SB 934 – These bills would statutorily provide for the automatic restoration of voting rights and some other civil rights to former felons.
  • SB 72 – This bill would allow driver license applications and identification card applications to serve as voter registration applications.  Common Cause Florida supports this bill.
  • SB 80 – This is a bad public records bill that would make attorney’s fees “discretionary” in successful public records lawsuits.  Common Cause Florida opposes this bill.
  • HB 105 and SB 544 and SB 954 – These bills require Supervisors of Elections to allow submission of an affidavit to cure signature discrepancies on vote-by-mail ballots.  Common Cause Florida supports these bills.
  • HB 117 and SB 426 – Requires an independent audit of voting systems in random precincts before certification of an election rather than after.
  • HJR 121 and SJR 1098 – Provides for legislative review of judicial rulings declaring a legislative act void.  Common Cause Florida opposes this bill.
  • SJR 130, SJR 132, SJR 134, SJR136, HJR 187, HJR 271, HJR 571, HJR 721 – Dealing with the selection and duties of county officers.
  • SJR 138 – Proposed constitutional amendment requiring Supervisors of Elections be elected.
  • HB 159 and SB 758 – Gives a candidate an additional 48 hours to pay a qualifying fee if for some reason a check is returned.
  • HB 207 and SB 1470 – These bills would prohibit agency Inspector Generals from receiving a bonus for work performance.
  • SB 224 – Related to voting assistance, poll watching and voter solicitation.
  • HB 231 and SB 366 – Provides for nonpartisan elections for state attorneys and public defenders.
  • SB 242 and HB 311 – Providing for the election of the president by popular vote.
  • SB 246 and HB 163 – This is the compromise public records bill that was agreed to last year as an alternative to Senator Steube’s bad public records bill.
  • SB 306 – This bill would raise the conflict of interest bar for the legislature and prohibit legislators from voting on issues that benefit themselves. 
  • SB 352 and HB 953 – These are bad redistricting bills that attempt to set a timetable where legislators can run for election in their current districts even while those districts are being challenged in court. The bills also “encourage” the court to adopt certain procedures.  Common Cause Florida opposes these bills.
  • HB 409 – requires Supervisors of Election to establish an election alert system informing voters of changes in polling.  
  • HB 445 – Provides public records exemption for certain voter registration information.
  • HB 479 and SB 880 – These bills provide clear definitions of government abuse, fraud and waste and require all government agencies to establish internal controls aimed at preventing those problems.
  • SB 508 and HB 519 – Relating to automatic tabulating equipment and recounts.
  • HB 521 and SB 726 – Allows an absent elector to vote by personally delivering a vote by mail ballot to an early voting site.
  • HJR 565 – Provides a constitutional amendment to automatically restore a felon’s right to vote three years after completion of sentence.
  • SB 598 – Relating to provisional ballots.
  • SB 602 and HB 817 – Allows preregistered voters to vote in the presidential preference primary if they turn 18 before the general election.
  • HB 707 and HB 709 and SB 1070 and SB 1072 – These bills direct the Secretary of State to enter into agreements with other states to maintain the statewide voter registration system.
  • HB 733 – Revises provisions for “curing” provisional and mail-in ballots.
  • HJR 811 and HJR 882 – Constitutional amendment that would make the Secretary of State an elected office.
  • SB 862 – Provides for a public records exemption for preregistered voters who are minors.
  • HB 897 – Allows local governments to post legal notices on their websites.
  • SB 914 and HB 919 – Allows two or more local officials to meet as long as no action is taken and no public business is discussed.
  • SM 944 and HM 825 – Memorial urging Congress to remove obstacles that prevent states from ensuring that noncitizens are not allowed to vote.
  • SB 952 – Revises the resign-to-run law to require an officer who qualifies for federal public office to resign from the office he or she presently holds if the terms, or any part thereof, run concurrently.
  • SB 990 – requires local governments to hold elections in odd or even years on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.
  • HB 1057 and SB 1178 – Campaign finance bills that prohibit transfers from political committee or ECO to another and requires quarterly reporting instead of monthly reporting.
  • SB 1160 – Specifies what payment can be used to qualify for election.
  • HJR 7001 and HB 7003 – This joint resolution and bill propose a six-year ban on former legislators, elected officials and appointed officials from lobbying state government after leaving office.

Capitol Report will be filed weekly when the legislature holds committee meetings and during the legislative session.  We will let you know if there is any recommended action that can be taken by Common Cause members that would be helpful to our lobbying efforts.

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Office: Common Cause Florida

Issues: Accountability, Ethics, Money in Politics, More Democracy Reforms, Voting and Elections

Tags: State Ethics, Redistricting, Registration and Voting Systems

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