House projects might get chilly reception

By Jim Turner
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Heading into the 2018 legislative session, Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley says the House and Senate are not as far apart as casual observers, lobbyists and the media might believe.

“We agree on so much more than we disagree on,” the Fleming Island Republican told reporters after an Appropriations Committee meeting Wednesday that featured an overview of Gov. Rick Scott's proposed $87.4 billion budget. “We're all committed to having a fiscally conservative budget. We're all committed to tax cuts. We're all committed to the environment being pristine and education world class.”

But that “we're all” doesn't apparently extend to a plethora of budget projects proposed by House members. In the House, unlike the Senate, members are required to file individual bills for their spending proposals.

“I did notice that there is a high amount, the House members want to spend a lot on local member projects,” Bradley said. “I think we need to be very careful in this budget year to … be very judicious in these House requests for local projects, because they have requested a bunch.”

As of Thursday morning, House members had filed 1,099 different proposals --- collectively worth just under $1.8 billion --- since Sept. 29.

Included in those totals are 90 projects, worth $161.1 million, that were posted on Wednesday, including $450,000 for the Clermont South Lake Wi-Fi Trail (HB 4099), $1 million for the Land O' Lakes Boulevard Beautification plan (HB 4033) and $50 million for the Data Science and Information Technology program at the University of Florida (HB 4063).

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, has said priority for funding projects will go to proposals related to hurricane relief.

The House Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness also has received 141 recommendations to deal with storm-related issues, included extending north the Suncoast Parkway toll road as a new evacuation route, leasing a cruise ship to carry evacuees from the lower Keys or requiring utility lines to be placed underground.

The member budget proposals are separate from most of the recommendations before the select committee.

Asked during an appearance Wednesday on C-SPAN about how much Hurricane Irma will cost the state, Corcoran made the big-ticket items seem possible as he touted the state's fiscal health.

“The simple answer to that is we have the reserves. We've been fiscally prudent. We've been great protectors of the taxpayer money,” Corcoran said. “And so, because we have those reserves, what's more important is the lives of our citizens are protected.”

“The underground hardening of our infrastructure for power lines, that could cost some money,” he continued. “Extending our Suncoast Parkway all the way to Georgia and having that fourth arterial road, that will cost money but we have a transportation trust fund. It will just be more of a redirect, potentially.

“Obviously, putting the (proposed generator) regulations on the nursing homes and having them come into compliance, that will cost some money. But all of these things, including, we're even talking of having a gas reserve. There were issues of getting gas during the hurricane, so if we had a huge gas reserve that we could keep in the middle of the state in a protected area, that could cost some money.

“But all of these things will make it so the next storm we have we'll be better prepared, and our citizens will be able to get back to their lives as quickly as possible.”

NRA unloads on south Florida Republicans

National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer wasted little time opening up on a pair of South Florida Republicans who voted against gun-related measures during a Senate committee meeting Tuesday.

Hammer sent out an email Wednesday to NRA members that ripped into Sen. Rene Garcia of Hialeah and Sen. Anitere Flores of Miami. The two Republicans joined with four Democrats to likely kill measures that sought to allow Floridians with concealed-weapons licenses to carry guns up to the entrances of courthouses (SB 134) and to carry firearms at religious institutions that include private schools or day-care facilities (SB 274).

Flores also voted against a measure that would have reduced the penalty for concealed-weapons license holders who inadvertently display their firearms (SB 148). Her vote led to a 5-5 tie on the bill, effectively blocking it. The bills were filed for the 2018 legislative session, which starts Jan. 9.

Disagreements between the NRA and the two lawmakers aren't new, as Garcia and Flores were stumbling blocks for gun-related measures during the 2017 session. Their opposition to the gun bills does not appear to be as much of a make-or-break issue in Miami-Dade as it for Republican lawmakers in other parts of Florida.

Hammer's headline declared the “Antigun Republicans EXPOSED,” with the strongest shot focused on the “church property” bill.

“The defeat of this bill falls totally on the shoulders of Sen. Rene Garcia and Sen. Anitere Flores,” Hammer wrote. “Churches, synagogues, and other religious institutions can blame them for blocking their private property rights and their right to provide safety and security for church members and guests on church property.”

Garcia said during the meeting he couldn't support gun-related measures that fail to address mental-health issues. Also, he said the Senate should stick with the position it approved during the 2017 session on guns at religious institutions. The Senate position --- to allow concealed-carry during non-school hours --- was rejected by the House.

“It's not about the policy, but the process, and about what I think we as a Senate should be standing up for and holding our position,” Garcia said.

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