This week two priorities of the Speaker of the House and President of the Senate were passed and sent to the Governor.  SB 2, a comprehensive ethics reform package which was heralded as the President’s top priority, was passed by both chambers.  Among other things, the bill prohibits legislators from lobbying the executive branch for a period of 2 years after leaving office, it strengthens the Commission on Ethics’ ability to collect fines from public officials, provides for the creation of blind trusts, and addresses voting conflicts.

In exchange for the speedy passage of SB 2, HB 569 pertaining to campaign finance reform also passed both chambers.  This was one of the Speaker’s priorities and substantially changes the way campaigns will be run in Florida.  The bill eliminates Committees of Continuing Existence but allows unlimited contributions to Political Committees, raises individual donation limits to candidates from $500 to $3,000 for statewide office seekers and to $1,000 for local candidates, allows an elected official to retain up to $20,000 in their campaign office account for use on their next campaign for the same office and requires more frequent reporting requirements.

HB 655 dealing with the preemption of employment benefits and living wage issues was amended in the Senate to include a workgroup to study the effects of the preemption and allows counties to mandate benefits and wages for persons contracting with them.

Read more on Administration bills...

Elections
HB 7013 (House Ethics & Elections Subcommittee)

  • Summary: An omnibus election administration bill that contains  several major provisions:
  • Early Voting Days/Hours: Extends period from 8 days minimum up to 14 days at the discretion of the Supervisor of Elections; increases hours from 96 to a maximum of 168 hours
  • Early Voting Sites: Expands authorized sites to include civic and convention centers, fairgrounds, stadiums, courthouses and commission buildings
  • Ballot Length: Applies 75-word limit on ballot summaries to constitutional amendments passed by the Legislature but not those rewritten by Attorney General
    • Status:  The Senate removed a controversial provision that limited the number of persons a volunteer can help at a polling site and added a provision that gives the Secretary of State the authority to find a Supervisor of Elections in noncompliant status. It also requires all Supervisors to submit an election preparation report at least 3 months before a general election.  While Democrats in the Senate were pleased the restriction on volunteers was removed, they continue to advocate for a mandatory 14 days of early voting and allowing persons to vote the Sunday before the election.  The bill is now in the House.

SB 600 (S. Latvala)

  • Summary: An omnibus election administration bill that contains several major provisions:
  • Supervisors of Elections: Requires Supervisors to submit an election preparation report to the Secretary of State at least 3 months prior to election.
  • Primary: changes primary from 12 to 10 weeks before the general election.
  • Voting Equipment: Establishes a process by which the Dept. of State can approve/disapprove electronic or electromechanical voting equipment.
  • Early Voting Days/Hours/Sites: Makes changes consistent with HB 7013.
  • Ballot Length: Applies 75-word limit on ballot summaries to constitutional amendments passed by the Legislature but not those rewritten by the Attorney General.
  • Absentee Ballots:  Requires a witness to swear or affirm a voter’s signature; allows overseas ballots to be counted in any race in a general election (not just federal race); specifies that a Supervisor can use signature on precinct registry to verify signature on a Voter’s Certificate; provides for additional instructions on such ballots, and makes it a third degree felony for any person to possess more than two absentee ballots that do not belong to the person or an immediate family member.
  • Solicitation at the Polls: Prohibits a Supervisor from designating a no-solicitation zone or otherwise restricting access outside of the 100 ft. no-solicitation zone to any person, PC, CCE, candidate or other group or organization for the purpose of soliciting voters.
    • Status:  The bill passed its first committee of reference by a party line vote.  Despite the unanimous approval of the early voting changes in the House in HB7013, some Senate members feel the changes do not go far enough. The bill passed out of Community Affairs on a party line 5-3 vote, and again in the Rules committee in week six by a 10-5 vote.
    • Outlook: HB 7013 was substituted for SB 600.

Ethics
SB 2 (Senate Ethics and Elections Committee)

  • SummaryComprehensive bill impacting public officials, elected and appointed, at the state and local level:
  • Ethics Training:  Mandatory annual 4 hours of ethics training (Sunshine Law, Public Records, Code of Ethics) for “constitutional officers” 
  • Dual Public Employment: Prohibits an elected official from accepting public employment that he or she knows, or reasonably should know, was established or offered to gain influence or advantage based on the elected official’s status; similar restrictions for accepting promotions in existing public employment.
  • Financial Disclosure Filings: Gives Commission on Ethics (COE) greater ability to collect financial disclosure fines, including garnishment of wages and increasing statute of limitations from 5 to 20 years.
  • Complaints and Investigative Proceedings: Authorizes the COE to initiate investigations based on a referral from the Governor, FDLE, or a State/US Attorney.
    • Status:  This bill passed both chambers this week, with a final vote 37-0 vote in the Senate. The bill is headed to the Governor for signature.

HB 7131 (House Ethics & Elections)

  • Summary: Comprehensive bill impacting public officials, elected and appointed, at the state and local level. The bill incorporates most of provisions summarized in SB2 above with the following differences:
    • Financial Disclosure Filings: Does not allow the COE to levy on property in order to collect financial disclosure fines.
    • Complaints and Investigative Proceedings: Gives COE discretion to dismiss complaints due to “de minimis” violations (SB2 mandates their dismissal)
    • Lobbying Ban: Limits the 2 year lobbying ban for legislators to just the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate (SB2 places the restriction on all former legislators)
  • Status:  Committee bill approved and filed as HB 7131 on 3/26 and passed out of its last committee, State Affairs, in week seven.  SB 2 was substituted for 7131.

Campaign Finance Activities
HB 569 (R. Schenck)

  • Summary:
  • Committees of Continuous Existence (CCEs): Eliminates CCEs by September 30, 2013 and requires submission of any outstanding reports after revocation
  • Campaign Contributions: Increases limits to candidates from $500 to $3,000 for candidates for statewide office and $1,000 for candidates for local offices effective 7/1/13 and allows unlimited contributions to Political Committees.  Candidates allowed to retain up to $20,000 in surplus campaign funds for use in next election for same office; $25,000 per year aggregate contribution to a party or PC.
  • Disclosures to DOE, Supervisor of Elections or Clerk: Submission of monthly contribution and expenditure reports until 60th day before primary (7 days after qualifying ends); Submission of weekly reports thereafter with last report due on the 4th day before the general election
  • For statewide candidates, submission of monthly contribution and expenditure reports until 60th day before primary (7 days after qualifying ends), then weekly reports thereafter with last report due on the 4th day before the general election and on beginning on the 10th day before the election, daily reports with the last daily report due on the 5th. For all other candidates (local), monthly contribution and expenditure reports until 60th day before primary (7 days after qualifying ends), and then bi-weekly reports every other Friday through the 4th day before the general, with additional reports due on the 25th and 11th days before primary  and general.
  • Office Accounts: Doubles the current amounts of surplus funds candidates can transfer to office accounts except for Supreme and DCA judges.
  • Creation of a Statewide Campaign Finance Database
    • Status: A strike all was adopted in State Affairs this week that: lowered the proposed $10,000 limit on campaign contributions to candidates for statewide office seekers to $5,000 and $3,000 to candidates for judge and local government; increases the amounts of surplus funds that may be transferred to office accounts; lowered the proposed limit of $100,000 an elected could retain for campaign funds for the next election cycle to $50,000; eliminates the requirement that state or local candidate who qualified by petition process pay an election assessment out of surplus funds; and limits surplus funds given to an affiliated party committee or political party to $50,000. The bill was amended on the floor to reduce the surplus campaign roll-over amount from $50,000 to $20,000 with the approval of the Speaker in an attempt to alleviate Democratic opposition.  Despite the amendment, the bill still passed along party lines with a 75-39 vote.  After being amended and passed by the Senate, the final vote in the House was 79-34. The bill is headed to the Governor for signature.

SB 1382 (S. Latvala)

  • Summary: A multi-purpose campaign finance bill that does the following:
  • Committees of Continuous Existence (CCEs): Eliminates CCEs
  • Campaign Contributions: Increases limits up to $3,000 for candidates for statewide office and Supreme Court justices, up to $2,000 for DCA judges, up to $500 for all other candidates (local). Unlimited contributions to PCs for statewide candidates, allows county PCs to contribute an aggregate of $50,000 to non-statewide candidates, in addition to the current $50,000 aggregate which all other PCs may collectively contribute.
  • Surplus Campaign Funds: Allows a candidate to retain up to $20,000 in campaign account for reelection for same office.  Eliminates requirement that candidates qualifying by petition pay back the election assessment before making certain disposition of surplus funds. 
  • Office Accounts: Doubles the current amounts of surplus funds candidates can transfer to office accounts except for Supreme and DCA judges.
  • Disclosures to DOE, Supervisor of Elections or Clerk: For statewide candidates, submission of monthly contribution and expenditure reports until 60th day before primary (7 days after qualifying ends) and then weekly reports thereafter with last report due on the 11th day before the general election. For all other candidates (local), monthly contribution and expenditure reports until 60th day before primary (7 days after qualifying ends), and then bi-weekly reports every other Friday through the 4th day before the general, with an additional report due on the 25th and 11th days before primary  and general.
    • Status: The bill was re-referred to Appropriations because it included funding for the Florida Ethics Commission and Division of Ethics for increased workload.  The bill unanimously passed its last committee of reference this week and is headed to the floor.  HB 569 was substituted for SB 1382.   

Regulation of Family or Medical Leave Benefits
SB 726 (S. Simmons)

  • Summary: Mandates employers provide certain medical and sick leave benefits to eligible employees not presently covered by the FMLA; seeks to prohibit counties from requiring benefits that go beyond those outlined in the bill. 
  • Status: After being temporarily passed in its first committee, the bill was amended in Community Affairs to remove the mandatory benefit language and create a workgroup to study the issue of statewide medical and sick leave benefits. The bill passed out of Health Policy this week on a party line vote 6-3.  SB 726 passed out of Judiciary by a 6-3 vote and passed out of Appropriations in week seven.  It is now going to the floor.  HB 655 was substituted for SB 726 and passed the Senate (25 yeas/13 nays).
  • Outlook:  See HB 655.

Political Subdivisions
HB 655 (R. Precourt)

  • Summary:
  • Seeks to prohibit counties from requiring or otherwise regulating employee benefits (defined as family and medical leave benefits and wages).
    • Status: In State Affairs on Thursday, March 7 the bill was amended to repeal all local ordinances mandating a living wage in June 2016. The bill passed the House by a 75-43 vote on 4/4. This week, the Senate took up HB 655, which was then amended to create a workgroup and allow counties to mandate employment benefits and wages for their own employees, as well as for those persons who contract with them or receive a tax abatement or subsidy. The bill passed the Senate (25 yeas/13 nays).

Florida Retirement System
HB 7011 (R. Brodeur)

  • Summary:
  • FRS is the primary retirement plan for employees of the state, county, district school boards, community colleges and universities (county employees comprise approx. 22% of FRS). Currently there are two plan options: Defined Benefit (pension) or Defined Contribution (investment).
  • Legislation seeks to close the Defined Benefit plan to new hires with Proposed Changes to FRS Effective January 1, 2014:
    • Closes the DB plan (pension) to new enrollees
    • Requires all new enrollees to participate in the DC plan (investment)
    • Closes Senior Management Service Optional Annuity Program to new participants
    • Prohibits elected officials from joining the Senior Management Service Class in lieu of participation in the Elected Officers’ Class
    • Does not impact the ability of any current FRS enrollee to select participation in the DB (pension) or the DC (investment) plan.
  • Status:  The bill passed the House Appropriations committee 13-9 on 3/8/13. The bill was then heard in State Affairs on 3/14/13 with an amendment to reinstate current law with regard to availability of disability benefits. The bill now requires employers to purchase term life insurance for all Special Risk Class employees equal to ten times a person’s salary.  According to House staff, the proposed reforms will save counties $3.1 billion by 2042. This estimate does not include the costs associated with disability and death benefits, which are still outstanding. The bill was fully debated on the House floor and passed on a 74-42 votes.
  • The Senate received the bill on 4/3/13 and referred to three committees.

SB 1392 (S. Simpson)

  • Summary: Unlike HB 7011, the bill does not close the DB plan entirely to new employees but rather changes the default election from the DB to the DC plan.  The DB will however be closed to newly enrolled (on or after January 1, 2014) Elected Officers Class and Senior Management Service Class members, the bill increases service disability retirement vesting in DB from 8 to 10 years; reduces employee contribution to DC plan from 3 to 2% to incentivize enrollment in DC plan (but increases employer contributions to make up difference) and closes the Senior Management Service Optional Annuity Program.
  • Status: This bill takes a more conservative approach to FRS reform than HB 7011. Although the overall actuarial impact of the legislation is not yet known, it passed Governmental Oversight & Accountability on 3/14 and Community Affairs on 3/20.  After defeating several amendments filed by the Democratic opponents, the bill passed out of Appropriations committee on 3/28 and is now on second reading. The actuarial study on the impacts of the bill is due on April 12, 2013. On special order calendar and temporarily postponed on second reading on 4/24, 4/25 and 4/26/13.

SB 1810 (PCB Governmental Oversight and Accountability)

  • Summary: The annual bill that revises the employer contribution rates for FRS.
  • Increases the employer contribution rates for retiree health insurance subsidy from 1.1 to 1.25%.
  • Changes employer contribution rates for each membership class of FRS as follows:
    • Regular – 3.53 % from 3.55%
    • Special Risk – 11% from 11.01%
    • Special Risk Administrative Support – 4.17% from 3.94%
    • Elected Officers (legislators) – 6.52% from 6.51%
    • Elected Officers (judges) – 10.05% from 10.02%
    • Elected Officers (county officers) – 8.44% from 8.36%
    • Senior Management – 4.81% from 4.84%
    • DROP – 4.63 from 4.33%
    • To address unfunded actuarial liabilities of the system, amends the current 2013 employer contribution rates for each membership class of FRS as follows:
      • Regular – 2.19% from 2.02 (*2012 rate was 0.49%)
      • Special Risk – 6.83% from 7.03% (*2012 rate was 2.75%)
      • Special Risk Administrative Support – 30.56% from 27.04% (*2012 rate was 0.83%)
      • Elected Officers (legislators) – 24.85% from 27.18% (*2012 rate was 0.88%)
      • Elected Officers (judges) – 17% from 16.38% (*2012 rate was 0.77%)
      • Elected Officers (county officers) – 23.36% from 23.01% (*2012 rate was 0.73%)
      • Senior Management – 12.27% from 11.25% (*2012 rate was 0.32%)
      • DROP – 7.01% from 6.21% (*2012 rate was 0.00%)
  • Status: A committee billed was filed on 3/25 renumbering the bill as SB 1810 and was referred to Appropriations where it passed unanimously.  The bill was passed by the Senate on 4/10/13, amended and passed by the full House on 4/12/13. The bill will go to conference, with committees appointed by the Senate and House on 4/10 and 4/18 respectively. 

Public Meetings
SB 50 (S. Negron)/HB 23 (R. Rodrigues)

  • Summary:
  • Requires members of the public be given an opportunity to be heard at public meetings
  • Provides rules for allowing public testimony
  • Provides remedies for violation of statute
    • Status: Both bills were amended to add definition of a “ministerial act” in committee the week of March 4, 2013.  SB 50 passed the full Senate this week by a unanimous vote and is in House Messages.  HB 23 passed 9-2 out of Rulemaking Oversight on 3/27, passed out of State Affairs on 4/16/13 and is now on the House calendar for second reading.

Wage Theft
HB 1125 (R. Goodson), SB 1216 (S. Bradley)

  • Summary:
  • Creates civil cause of action for wage theft
  • Prohibits counties from adopting or maintaining ordinances and rules for the purposes of adjudicating unpaid wage claims. 
  • Permits counties to set up administrative, voluntary mediation programs to assist with such claims should both parties choose to settle outside court system.
    • Status:
    • Three committee referrals in House; passed favorably out of H. Civil Justice on 3/13 with testimony by FAC in opposition.  HB 1125 was heard in Local and Federal Affairs in week six where it was amended to allow Broward County to keep its Wage Recovery Program in place. Even with the amendment the bill faced substantial opposition and was voted out on a 10-8 vote.  The bill passed out of Judiciary in week seven on a party line vote and is headed to the floor.   The House passed this bill this week with a 71-45 vote and is in Senate Messages.
    • Four committee referrals in Senate. In Senate Criminal Justice, Senator Smith offered an amendment to SB 1216 to address an existing ordinance in Broward County but the bill was temporarily postponed for a second time for lack of time. The bill was finally heard in Criminal Justice on 4/1/13 where the amendment for Broward County was not adopted and the bill ultimately passed by a 5-1 vote. It is now in its second stop in the Judiciary Committee.   

Claims Bills
Select Committee on Claims Bills

  • Summary:  Among other things, the proposed committee bill provides as follows: 
  • Lobbyists
    • Must disclose interest and the principal to the President and Speaker
    • Cannot represent more than one client without written consent from each client
    • Cannot argue adverse to previous client without consent from each client
    • Claim bills
      • Removes the four year statute of limitations
      • Actions
        • Must be trial by jury as to liability, with judge determining damages
        • Past damages awarded must be made in 30 days (after appeals exhausted)
        • Future damages paid into trust and distributed annually. 
        • Local government can fund trust through annuity.  
        • Unspent funds revert back (except lost wages).
        • Local government can make periodic payments (if no hardship)
        • Applies caps of $3-$4.5M to counties and $200K/300K to state; limits are adjusted annually.
        • Florida Fair Claims Act
          • If Insurance purchased to cover statutory caps, local government liable only for deductible.  Injured party can only seek amount of insurance coverage and may not file claim bill
          • Injured party can pursue judgment beyond cap if insurer “acts in bad faith” 
  • Status:  On March 21, the Select Committee passed a revised PCB, SCCB 13-01, as well as amendments.  The PCB provides changes as follows:
  • Defines “political subdivisions” as counties, municipalities, special tax school districts, special road and bridge districts, hospital districts, all other districts in this state, and corporations primarily acting as instrumentalities or agencies of political subdivisions, including Space Florida
  • Insurance protections afforded only if sovereign purchases insurance to cover three times the cap levels. Self insurers must deposit lesser of amount claimant is willing to accept and policy limits within 45 days of claim.
  • Caps placed at $1 million per person/ $1.5 million per event.
  • Amendments were also adopted which provide:
    • Any attorney lobbying on behalf of a client, a law firm or for themselves, any of which has a pecuniary interest in the claim bill, shall be deemed a lobbyist.
    • Interest on the amount sought begins to accrue once claim bill is filed in the Legislature, and claim bill must be sponsored by a member of the local legislative delegation.  However, such claim bill does not require consideration by the delegation as a whole as would a local bill.   Where the local legislative delegation consists of only a single member of either the House of Representatives or the Senate, a claim bill may be sponsored by a member in an adjoining district.  
    • Jury trial on liability includes issues of breach of duty, causation and comparative fault.
    • A political subdivision that purchases insurance or self-insures at three times the cap levels is only liable for its deductible and not for any judgments in excess of the policy limits.  A party injured by a tort covered by such a policy may not seek payment from beyond the insurance coverage, and any claim for relief submitted to the Legislature shall be treated as a claim bill against the state, and paid from state funds.
    • The Select Committee on Claims Bills has no upcoming events on the calendar.