The Capitol Report: January 2012

Anticipating the 2012 Legislative Session

The Legislative Session kicks off early this year, thanks to a constitutional amendment passed by voters during the 2010 elections. Passage of the amendment moved the start date for the sixty-day session for 2012 from March to January due to the redistricting.

With just three weeks left until the gavel falls on the 2012 session, a few key issues stand out and will drive much of the discussion and debate in the coming session. With that in mind, we've compiled a brief overview of the issues and their anticipated impact in the coming months.

State Budget

In early summer, there were significant indications that Florida had finally hit bottom from a revenue standpoint. State economists were hopeful that indeed a small but steady month-over-month revenue surplus would bode well for state budget writers during the coming session.

By late summer, the tides had changed and revenue again began to dip below budgeted levels. In the span of a few short months, hope of a budget surplus heading into session turned to a harsh realization that an additional $1.5 billion in cuts would need to be part of the 2012-2013 fiscal year budget.

In preparation for session, Governor Rick Scott released his budget recommendations last week. Those recommendations include reductions across most areas of the budget, but do result in an additional $1 billion in education spending. As is typical, the state legislature will begin the task of crafting a budget when session begins and will likely deliver a completed budget by the end of session in early March. It is still too early to tell where the Governor's recommendations and the Legislature's approach to the budget will dovetail and where there will be differences in opinion and approach.

Redistricting

Every ten years, following completion of the census, state legislatures begin the process of redrawing district lines for Congressional, State House and State Senate seats. Florida's Legislature has met all summer in public workshops across the state, listening to input from Floridians regarding the crafting of districts and the redrawing of district lines.

There are also a few new rules this year. Two new constitutional amendments passed during the 2010 elections, likely resulting in greater court oversight and the ability for the courts to modify and balance districts to ensure fair representation.

House and Senate leadership have already offered to take the other's plan for their chambers' districts. This means the House is likely to accept the Senate's proposal with respect to Senate seats, and the Senate is likely to accept the House's proposal with respect to House seats. What remains to be seen are how the two chambers will handle the crafting of Congressional districts and what impact the courts and the new constitutional requirements and oversight by the Department of Justice will have in the finished product. As a result, it is likely this will be the most debated and discussed issue this session.

Gambling - Destination Resorts and Internet Cafes

Early this summer, worldwide casino operators set their sights on the state of Florida in an effort to create destination casino resorts in Florida. Driving the discussion is the economic impact destination casinos could have on the state for years to come. Through the summer and fall, legislators have worked to craft legislation allowing destination casinos while balancing the constraints of the compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

As this issue has become one of the key issues of the upcoming session, many organizations and associations across Florida have taken positions on one side or the other of this issue. The engagement of myriad groups on both sides of the issue will cause this issue to be one of the most debated and will doubtless dominate a majority of the session.

Internet cafes have also sprung up across Florida in recent years. These cafes offer the opportunity to engage in games of chance in order to win prizes. The growth of these businesses and the way that they operate has led many law enforcement officials to question their legality.

The ambiguity in the law has fueled debate on both sides of the issue and the Legislature will consider clarification of this issue in the coming session. The issue will likely become linked to the destination casino debate and therefore may become a key issue this session.

Property Insurance

Property insurance continues to be an issue in Florida and this year will be no different. With significant and wide ranging property insurance legislation passed last session, look for "glitch" legislation that will clarify and "tweak" various property insurance issues which have arisen as a result of the changes last session or were issues that were left out of last year's property insurance legislation.

Medicaid Reform

Florida continues to embark on Medicaid reform efforts designed to rein in and control state spending for Medicaid services. Just this week, federal officials approved an extension to the existing Medicaid waiver allowing Florida's Medicaid Reform pilot program to continue in the five counties in which the pilot operates. Extension of this waiver paves the way for Florida to focus on waivers required by the federal government in order to expand the pilot program statewide. Last year, Florida's Legislature approved changes to the pilot and expansion of the program throughout the state. During the coming session, look for "tweaks" to the reform legislation passed last year as implementation is anticipated and contemplated in the 2012-2013 budget year.

Public Notice

The issue of public notice will again appear during the coming session. Already legislation is filed in both the House and Senate to transition public notice to certain Websites. This issue has significant potential to impact your industry and will likely be discussed and debated throughout session in both the House and Senate.

Without doubt, this Legislative Session is shaping up to be one filled with big issues carrying potentially huge impact for Floridians in coming years.

Whether it is redrawing of district boundaries, the potential for a large boost in education funding, the prospect of different gambling options available in Florida or changes to property insurance requirements and coverage, each of these issues affects most Floridians on an almost daily basis. With the backdrop of a looming presidential election year just around the corner, the session will be one to watch and one in which to be actively engaged.

As you would expect, we, along with your association staff, will be there communicating with you about the issues affecting your businesses and your industry. We appreciate the opportunity to serve you. As always, if you have specific questions, need specific information or just want a quick update on what's happening in Tallahassee, we are at the disposal of your association staff to serve you.

As we end the fourth quarter of 2011, we wish each of you and your families a Happy Holiday Season and a healthy and prosperous New Year.

– Matthew Blair 


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