Welcome to Becker’s Weekly Spotlight! As your trusted lobbyists, we are proud to provide you with the latest developments in politics and policy in Tallahassee. Here is what happened in Tallahassee during Week 8 (February 28 – March 4) of the 2022 Legislative Session.
- Additional Homestead Property Tax Exemption for Specified Critical Public Service Workforce. HJR 1 and CS/CS/HB 1563, both by Representative Josie Tomkow, authorize the legislature to grant an additional homestead property tax exemption of $50,000 of the assessed value of homestead property owned by classroom teachers, law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, child welfare professionals, and service members. HJR 1 provides that, at the beginning of the 2023-24 fiscal year, the Florida legislature will appropriate funds to offset the reductions in ad valerom tax revenue and will be distributed in January of each fiscal year. This bill will take effect on January 1, 2023. The House companion, CS/CS/HB 1563, includes a provision that allows the bill to take effect on the effective date of the amendment proposed by HJR 1 to have the same specific intent and purpose. HJR 1 received 16 Yeas and 4 Nays in the Appropriations committee on Monday, February 28. Both pieces of legislation have been placed on the calendar for a second reading.
- Sovereign Immunity. CS/CS/HB 985 by Representative Mike Beltran and CS/CS/CS/SB 974 by Senator Joe Gruters seek to increase the limits of the state’s waiver of sovereign immunity for individual and collective suits. Current law for sovereign immunity provides $200,000 per injured person and $300,000 per incident. However, under CS/CS/HB 985, claim limits would increase to a minimum of $400,000 per individual, and $600,000 per incidence. The Senate version, SB 974, provides for a minimum of $1 million per injured person and $3 million per incident. Under SB 974, insurance policies are not applicable for conditions of payment. State and local governments are expected to face a significant negative fiscal impact; however, this will be contingent upon the number of claims filed that are significantly greater than the current limits but lower than the limits proposed in the legislation. The bill also includes a provision to create a tiered system that would adjust claim amounts according to the size of a county’s population. This bill will take effect on July 1, 2022. CS/CS/HB 985 was placed on the calendar for a second reading but has not yet been scheduled.
- Student Assessments Accountability. CS/SB 1048 by Senator Manny Diaz and CS/CS/HB 1193 by Representative Rene Plasencia significantly modify the Florida Statewide Assessment Program to remove the Florida Standardized Assessment (FSA) and establish a comprehensive coordinated screening and progress monitoring system (CSPM) tool to monitor student progress in subject areas of English, Language Arts, and Math beginning in the 2022-23 school year. To create a more adaptive testing system, the bill deletes the paper-based administration requirement except in cases where a student requires paper-based testing. School districts will be required to provide teachers with results within one week and provide parents with their child’s performance results within two weeks after the assessment. CS/SB 1048 also modifies the VPK to Grade 3 CSPM to instead target VPK to Grade 2, and focuses on student performance in oral language development, knowledge of letters, vocabulary and comprehension, etc. Furthermore, the bill requires that the State Board of Education adopt a new schedule for screening and progress, and develop and adopt rules to have a uniform assessment calendar. The commissioner of the Board of Education must provide recommendations by January 31, 2025, to the Governor, the President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House. This bill will take effect on July 1, 2022. CS/SB 1048 was debated on the Senate floor and received 38 Yeas and 0 Nays. It is now in Messages. Its House companion, CS/CS/HB 1193, was placed on the calendar for its second reading but has not received a date.
- Public Records and Meetings/Postsecondary Education Executive Search. CS/SB 520 by Senator Jeff Brandes and CS/CS/HB 703 by Representative Sam Garrison provide that an individual who is an applicant for the position of president of a state university or Florida College System (FCS) institution held by a state university be exempt from public records and open meeting requirements required under current Florida statutes. The bills’ sponsors argue that these exemptions are necessary to ensure that search committees can fill the position with the best candidate possible. Opponents argue that CS/CS/HB 703 will significantly reduce transparency between students and their institutions, as well as the public. Proponents, however, argue that a failure to provide these safeguards will place a “chilling effect” on the number and quality of the applicants. This bill will take effect upon becoming law. CS/SB 520 was substituted for CS/CS/HB 703 and was heard for a third time on Friday, March 4, where it passed favorably with a vote of 86 Yeas and 26 Nays. The bill has been ordered enrolled.
- Municipal Solid Waste-to-Energy Program and Financial Assistance for Municipal Solid Waste-to-Energy Facilities. CS/SB 1764 by Senator Ben Albritton and CS/CS/HB 1419 by Representative Amber Mariano create the Municipal Solid Waste-to-Energy Program within the Department of Agriculture to provide financial assistance grants to incentivize the production and sale of energy from municipal solid waste-to-energy facilities. The DOA will provide grants to these facilities that entered into a power purchase agreement before January 1, 2022. Funds will be distributed to all qualifying applicants at a rate of 2 cents per kilowatt-hour of electric power purchased. The incentive program is expected to assist in the planning and designing for the construction, upgrade, and/or expansion of a solid waste-to-energy facility. The DOA will be required to adopt rules with consideration for the Department of Environmental Protection. CS/SB 1764 will take effect on July 1, 2022. It was read a third time and passed with 38 Yeas and 0 Nays on Tuesday, March 1. The House companion, CS/CS/HB 1419, was placed on the calendar for a second reading but has not yet been scheduled.
- Inventories of Critical Wetlands. HB 761 by Representative Keith L. Truenow and CS/CS/SB 882 by Senator Jason Brodeur require that each water management district’s governing board, in cooperation with local governments, develop a list of critical wetlands to be acquired using designated funds from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund. When considering the designation of a wetland, governing members will be asked to consider the ecological value of the wetland, the effect of the wetland on water quality and flood mitigation, the ecosystem restoration value, and the inherent susceptibility of the wetland development. HB 761 was placed on the special-order calendar for March 4 and will go into effect on July 1, 2022. Having been read a second time, HB 761 was substituted for its Senate companion, CS/CS/SB 882, which is placed on the calendar for third reading on Monday.
- Soil and Water Conservation Districts. CS/CS/CS/SB 1078 by Senator Travis Hutson and CS/HB 783 by Representative Keith L. Truenow relate to the mandatory meeting requirements as specified per Florida statutes for soil and water conservation districts throughout the state. CS/CS/CS/SB 1078 provides provisions to automatically dissolve a district by January 1, 2023, if the governing body fails to meet once a year. Once a district is dissolved, all assets and liabilities will be transferred to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The bill was significantly amended as the previous version dissolved all soil and water conservation districts. The bill has an effective start date of July 1, 2022. CS/CS/CS/SB 1078 passed favorably with a vote of 21 Yeas and 16 Nays. It is now in Messages. CS/HB 783 was placed on the calendar for second reading but has not been scheduled.
- Independent Hospital Districts. CS/SB 1260 by Senator Joe Gruters and CS/CS/HB 897 by Representative Adam Botana authorize a governing body of an independent hospital district to elect to evaluate the potential conversion of the hospital district to a nonprofit entity. As of January 2022, the legislature determined that there are thirty-one active independent special districts, ultimately allowing governing members to serve independently from the other governmental agencies. CS/SB 1260 provides that, if a governing body chooses to convert to a private, nonprofit entity, the benefits of the conversion that residents will reap must be considered. Consideration for this conversion includes hosting a public hearing and contracting an independent industry with five or more years of experience, among other things. Evaluations for the conversion must be completed, and a final report presented to the district, within 180 days after the vote was taken. Agreements must be made within 120 days, and upon completion of the agreement, the governing body must hold a public hearing to approve the conversion. Upon final approval by all involved entities including, but not limited to, the Board of Commissioners, the agreement will go into effect, and the district will be converted. This bill has an effective start date of July 1, 2022. CS/CS/HB 897 was substituted for CS/SB 1260, which was placed on the calendar for its third reading for Friday, March 4. It passed favorably with 112 Yeas and 0 Nays and is now in returning messages.