We are just beyond the halfway point of the 2019 Legislative Session. This year 3,442 bills were filed by both the House and the Senate. Under the leadership of Senate President Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton) and House Speaker Jose Oliva (R-Hialeah), the appropriations bills and various policy bills have been moving through committees these past few weeks and new agency secretaries are being vetted in Senate committees. Here is an update on some of the latest actions of legislation, the budget, court cases and other items of interest.
The Senate and House passed their respective budget proposals for Fiscal Year 2019-20 last week. Both budgets are approximately $1.4 billion over the current year’s total and are close to the same amounts, at $90.3 billion in the Senate and $89.9 billion in the House. While only $400 million apart, there are significant differences in priorities.
Education, as always, is one of the major differences with the Senate seeking an annual increase of $1.1 billion while the House is proposing an increase of $579.3 million. In healthcare, the Senate wants to redirect $319 million in healthcare funding to overall Medicaid rates while the House is looking for a 3 percent reduction of hospital reimbursement rates. The state’s marketing agency VISIT Florida is under scrutiny, with the House wanting to fund it for only the first three months of the fiscal year and the Senate recommending $50 million for the entire fiscal year. Higher education funding will also need to be negotiated as the Senate is looking to maintain the current funding while the House is seeking $100 million of cuts across the board. The numbers are closer together regarding environmental and water projects with the Senate proposing $656 million in funding and the House is at $607 million. With less than a month left in the 2019 Session, negotiations to find resolutions during budget conference will need to happen if the Legislature intends to finish the session in a timely manner. Arguably the most contested impact on the forthcoming budget is addressing the devastation wrought by Hurricane Michael in October 2018. In addition to appropriations projects, several pieces of legislation have been filed in both chambers in an effort to aid Panhandle counties affected by last fall’s hurricane. Senator George Gainer (R-Panama City) and Representative Jay Trumbull (R-Panama City) would like to waive out-of-state fees for area college students to encourage increased enrollment. The Senate Agriculture Committee passed a bill that would provide low interest bridge loans to farmers impacted by Hurricane Michael. And, Senator Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota) would like to prohibit a person from restraining a dog outside and unattended during a man-made or natural disaster