Legislative Session Starts Tuesday With Governor's State of the State

Florida’s 60-day legislative session kicks off Tuesday, and while what’s known as “the process” has evolved over the years, some things remain the same.

Flowers will festoon the House and Senate chambers, as part of Tuesday’s opening-day pageantry.

Gov. Ron DeSantis will be delivering his the State of the State address. WJCT will provide live coverage of the governor's speech on 89.9 FM and TV 7.4, beginning at 11 a.m.

Keeping with tradition, a cast of thousands over the next two months will flood the Capitol and its courtyard in an attempt to curry favor with the 120 House members, 40 senators, Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet --- all before the session wraps up on March 13.

The Florida Education Association ushered in the session with a march and rally on Monday, with the crowd including parents, teachers, students and national leaders, including the Rev. Al Sharpton.

People searching for sustenance will encounter some transformations inside the hallowed halls of state government.

After a decade, Sharkey’s Capitol Cafés on the 10th floor and the lower level of the Capitol are no longer.

Lobbyist Jeff Sharkey last month announced on Twitter that he was shuttering his eateries because the state had chosen a new vendor --- Earley’s Kitchen, a local soul-food spot.

In his tweet, Sharkey thanked his “great customers” and workers.

“Proud of our great staff and honored to have met, fed and caffeinated the fabulous capitol employees and visitors from every corner of Florida,” he said.

LAWYERS, GUNS AND MONEY

Legislators technically only have one job to complete during the 60-day session: passing a state spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has proposed a $91.4 billion budget, touting plans to set minimum teacher salaries at $47,500 a year and to continue addressing environmental issues.

The governor’s proposal is a starting point for the House and Senate, which will make changes as they negotiate a final version. Lawmakers also will consider potential election-year tax cuts, with DeSantis proposing sales-tax “holidays” for back-to-school shoppers and for hurricane preparations.

But the Republican-dominated Legislature will also debate myriad other issues.

For example, lawmakers are considering a controversial proposal that would require parental consent before minors could get abortions.

The state already requires parents to be notified if their daughters plan to have abortions, but a consent requirement would be more far-reaching. The full House could vote early in the session to approve the proposal, which also is moving forward in Senate committees.

Education will also be a major focus --- DeSantis has dubbed 2020 “the year of the teacher.”

The governor is pushing the $602 million plan to set minimum teacher salaries at $47,500, and he wants to establish a new $300 million bonus program for teachers and principals.

But legislative leaders have expressed concerns about the costs of the proposals and what Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, has described as “practical” issues. Those issues include the longstanding practice of teacher salaries being set at the local level rather than at the direction of the Legislature.

Meanwhile, House Speaker José Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, will continue his drive to revamp the state’s health-care industry. As an example, the House this year will pursue a measure that would allow advanced practice registered nurses to provide care independently of physicians, though the Senate has opposed such proposals in the past.

And the always-thorny issue of guns is also on the horizon, along with immigration, insurance and Visit Florida, the state’s tourism agency that Oliva and other GOP House leaders continue to target.

TURNING OFF THE LIGHTS

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have overhauled and deregulated the state’s electric-utility industry, saying part of the proposal’s wording would mislead voters.

The ruling was a victory for state leaders, business groups and utilities that fought the amendment, which was proposed for the November ballot by a political committee known as Citizens for Energy Choices.

The proposal called for creating a “competitive” electricity market that would have made dramatic changes in the heavily regulated industry in which much of the state receives electricity from Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy Florida, Tampa Electric Co. and Gulf Power.

Amendment supporters, including companies that want to supply electricity in Florida, pointed to a similar competitive structure that Texas has used for nearly two decades.

But the Supreme Court, which must sign off on proposed constitutional amendments, issued an 11-page ruling that focused on wording in the ballot summary. The summary, which is what voters would see when they go to the polls, said the amendment would grant “customers of investor-owned utilities the right to choose their electricity provider and to generate and sell electricity.”

Justices said the full proposal does not back up the summary’s claim that it would give customers the right to “sell electricity.”

“The question is not whether a person has the right to sell electricity if the initiative is adopted, but whether, as the ballot summary claims, the initiative grants that right,” the Supreme Court opinion said. “It does not, and the ballot summary is therefore affirmatively misleading.”