The 2014 Legislative Session adjourned at 10:39 p.m. on Friday evening, May 2, 2014. The Legislature adopted a $77.1 billion budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year, the largest in Florida’s history. In total, there were 1,812 bills filed during the 2014 Session and only 264 bills passed, the fewest in over a decade.
The Legislature passed bills dealing with issues such as providing in-state tuition for children of undocumented immigrants, legalizing a non-euphoric strain of medical marijuana for epileptic children, providing tax subsidies to professional sports facilities, expanding eligibility for private-school vouchers, allowing for an increased interstate speed limit to 75 mph and changing the start of the 2016 Legislative Session from March to January.
Major issues that did not pass during the 2014 Session included raising the state’s minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, creating a statewide gaming commission, allowing casinos in South Florida, closing the state pension plan to newly elected officials and top employees, local government pension plan reform, repealing Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, expanding the scope of practice for advanced registered nurse practitioners, expanding Medicaid to include more Floridians and repealing the use of red-light cameras.
The rebounding economy resulted in a projected budget surplus allowing the Legislature to pass a $77.1 billion budget, about $2.5 billion larger than the previous year’s budget. The spending breakdown of the $77.1 billion budget includes:
- $3.1 billion in reserves within the Budget Stabilization Fund, often called the “Rainy Day Fund”;
- $500 million in tax and fee cuts;
- $575 million increase (2.6% per student) in public school funding;
- $170 million for projects to improve the Indian River Lagoon and other water bodies dealing with discharges from Lake Okeechobee;
- $232 million in water projects;
- $30 million for springs protection; and
- $25 million for beach restoration.
Of the roughly $500 million in election-year tax cuts, a priority of Governor Rick Scott, $400 million was associated with a rollback of motor vehicle registration fees which were increased in 2009 under then-Governor Charlie Crist. Another $105 million in tax cuts include a hurricane preparedness sales tax holiday (May 31-June 8), followed by a back to school tax holiday beginning in August on clothes, school supplies and some electronics, and a lifting of the sales tax on energy-saving appliances for three days in mid-September. The tax plan also includes tax exemptions for children’s car seats and bicycle helmets, college meal plans and specialty diet food for pets.
With the giant shadow being cast by the Florida Water and Land Amendment (now known as Amendment 1) November 2014 ballot, which will provide $19 billion over the next 20 years to acquire and restore conservation lands, the Legislature attempted to address the protection and restoration of Florida’s springs. The Senate’s original version of its springs legislation came with an annual price tag of nearly $400 million, for sewage hookups and septic tanks improvements in springs areas. The bill that ultimately passed the Senate reduced that cost to about $30 million per year and would have forced developers, farmers, local governments and septic tank owners to cut pollution flowing into the state’s most imperiled springs. Ultimately, the House did not take up the legislation but the stage has been set for that issue, and water issues in general, to be addressed during the next two years.
Other legislation of note that passed included:
- HB 7023 which extends by 2 years the expiration of permits issued by DEP, water management districts and local government building permits and development orders;
- HB 7171 which exempts DEP rules setting minimum flows and level for specified rivers from legislative ratification;
- SB 1632 which increases transparency and accountability of special districts; and
- SB 374 which grandfathers certain cities’ referendum and initiative language for comprehensive plan amendments in place prior to June 1, 2011.
Other legislation of note that died included:
- HB 703/SB 1464 which were omnibus environmental regulation bills;
- HB 813/SB 1248 relating to municipal water and wastewater utilities;
- HB 1241/SB 372 relating to developments of regional impact;
- HB 1077/SB 1310 relating to growth management and development exactions;
- HB 395/SB 1314 relating to growth management and private property rights; and
- HB 1129/SB 1518 and HB 793/SB 802 relating to community development districts.
Post-session, the focus now shifts to Governor Scott who will review the budget line items and all the bills passed this session to decide on whether to veto or approve the legislation. He should start to receive these bills in mid-May and early June and then has 15 days to act on the fate of the bills, once he receives them.
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