2011 Florida Legislative Session Recap
The Florida Legislature concluded the 2011 Legislative Session at 3:35 am on Saturday, May 7. Lawmakers approved a frugal $69.7 billion state budget, closing a $3.8 billion revenue gap. The budget includes a 3% pension contribution from public employees who participate in the Florida Retirement System, the loss of approximately 4,000 state jobs, corporate tax cuts (though much smaller than what Governor Rick Scott wanted), a $1.3 billion reduction in public school funding, a 12% reduction in Medicaid support for public hospitals and a 6.5% funding cut to nursing homes. The budget was described by Senate Budget Chief Senator J.D. Alexander as “one of the most difficult budgets in the history of Florida.” Governor Rick Scott signed the budget into law on May 26, but vetoed a record $615 million of legislative appropriations.
The Legislature passed substantive legislation tying teacher pay to student performance, prohibiting doctors from asking patients whether they own guns, requiring women seeking an abortion to obtain an ultrasound, reforming Medicaid, overhauling growth management laws and further regulating “pill mills.” Notable legislation that did not pass included splitting the Florida Supreme Court into two divisions, Arizona-styled immigration reform, and elimination of paycheck deduction for public employee union dues.
On the horizon, the Legislature will begin the process of redrawing Florida’s political districts. The redistricting process occurs every ten years and is perhaps one of the most political initiatives the Legislature undertakes. To accommodate the near-certain legal challenges that will follow the Legislature’s redistricting efforts, the 60-day 2012 Legislative Session will begin in January rather than in March.
Despite the dismal economic circumstances that faced the 2011 Legislature, LLW’s legislative team (Lori Killinger, Terry Lewis and Chris Lyon) had a very successful Session on behalf of its clients. The team was involved in an array of issues before the Legislature ranging from Medicaid reform to retrofitting of swimming pools. Some of the more prominent accomplishments this Session involved passage of the following initiatives:
Port Expansion (HB 869) and Streamlining of Environmental Regulations
On behalf of its client, the Manatee County Port Authority (Port Manatee), the LLW legislative team helped pass legislation that will position the Port to capitalize on the soon-to-be completed Panama Canal expansion. HB 869 eliminates the need for Port Manatee to seek Cabinet approval before undertaking improvements impacting sovereign submerged lands by transferring ownership of 523 acres of such lands to the Port. HB 399 streamlines environmental regulations as they relate to ports.
Funding for Public Libraries
Working with our client, the Florida Library Association, the LLW legislative team was able to secure funding of $21.3 million to support public libraries in Florida. Assisted by a strong grassroots effort, legislative leaders were convinced of the need to continue funding libraries during these tough economic times so that the public will have access to books, computers, internet and other educational resources.
Growth Management (HB 7207)
The LLW legislative team was heavily involved in the 349-page rewrite of Florida’s growth management laws. HB 7207 largely removes state government oversight from the comprehensive planning process. On behalf of its clients, LLW influenced portions of the bill relating to concurrency, need and additional permit extensions.
Public Lodging Establishments (HB 883)
The LLW legislative team was also instrumental in passing legislation to assist the vacation rental industry in Florida. On behalf of the Florida Vacation Rental Managers Association, the LLW legislative team drafted, secured sponsorship of and helped pass HB 883 which will help this exploding hospitality industry continue to grow.
Alternative Water Supply (HB 741)
The LLW legislative team helped pass HB 741 on behalf of its client the Lake Worth Drainage District. The bill attempts to address the coming shortfall in potable water for southeast Florida by giving the District the authority to finance and construct a reservoir to capture fresh water from the Everglades currently being sent to sea. The District will utilize new and existing infrastructure to distribute the new water supply to utilities in Palm Beach and possibly Broward counties.
Mobile Home Park Tenancies (SB 650)
On behalf of its client the Florida Manufactured Housing Association, the LLW legislative team helped draft and pass legislation representing a compromise between mobile home park owners and tenants. The bill clarifies that code violations committed by a tenant are to be assessed against the tenant and not the park owner and gives tenants additional rights in the event a park owner wishes to sell the park.
For more information, contact any of our Legislative Team attorneys:
Terry Lewis, Lori Killinger and Chris Lyon (850) 222-5702.