When the Florida Legislature kicks off the 2017 session on March 7, a full plate will greet them at the Statehouse.
Hall of Fame baseball manager Casey Stengel once said: “Never make predictions, especially about the future.”
But, here we go anyway.
“There are a handful that kind of jump out,” said Brandon Larrabee, a journalist with the News Service of Florida. One of the top issues of this and any session is the budget – the lone constitutionally-mandated action that must be taken before lawmakers can go home. Larrabee says it’s important to distinguish between Tallahassee and the “normal world.”
“In the normal world, there’s going to be more money for the Legislature to spend this year than there was last year,” Larrabee said. “Where things get a little more complicated, is that the expenses are also going to go up on things like education and Medicaid.”
Along those lines, another question is whether the state should continue to spend tens of millions of dollars to attract tourism and business investment to Florida. Governor Rick Scott is proposing $85 million dollars. House Speaker Richard Corcoran opposes it.
“We’re going to fight for limited government, which means less spending, less regulations and more tax cuts,” Corcoran said. “We’re going to fight for free-market health care, for free-market education. We’re going to fight for ethics reforms.”
Senate President Joe Negron said there is a role for government to create a level playing field, and to make sure Florida is business-friendly.
“I think it’s appropriate for the governor, in the competitive environment that we’re in, to have tools available to try to draw businesses to Florida,” said Negron.
Another top priority is how to implement Amendment-2, which legalizes medical marijuana with 71% voter approval.
Both Joe Negron and Richard Corcoran provide a change at the top of both chambers for the next two years. Larrabee says the wild card is the House Speaker, and his proposed overhaul of how the House does business.
“[Corcoran] is someone who is very willing to sort of push the boundaries on how to achieve or not achieve things in the Legislature,” said Larrabee. “He’s going to be the person to kind of watch, over the next couple of years.”
Negron, on the other hand, is a little more in the traditional mold of senate presidents.
“He’s certainly a very wonkish personality,” said Larrabee. “He’s very interested in the policies. It will be very interesting to see how those two approaches interact.”
By the time Florida lawmakers kick off the session, President Donald Trump will have taken office. Some of the talk from Washington deals with funding Medicaid with block grants. Larrabee says theoretically, that could give states more say in how that money is spent on lower-income residents.
“A lot of the federal rules would then fall away, and that would be a big focus on what we’re already hearing,” Larrabee said.
Changes in federal trade policy could have impacts on Florida’s 14 ports, and stronger immigration enforcement could also have unpredictable effects, in a state where even the Republican Party is sometimes divided on how to treat those who are undocumented.