After two days of brewing standoff, Florida lawmakers reached agreement across the board on the key issues at this week’s special legislative session: more money for public schools, establishment of the state’s new medical marijuana program and an economic-development package.
They also fit in compromises on two new items: extra money for the Herbert Hoover Dike that surrounds Lake Okeechobee and more construction money for colleges and universities.
The final votes finished up by about 4:30 p.m., an early finish and abrupt turnaround from the previous day, when sniping between the two chambers had raised speculation that the entire session would collapse with nothing to show.
Extra money for the dike and extra higher education money were added onto the Legislature’s plate this afternoon via a proclamation by Gov. Rick Scott expanding this week’s special legislative session. The move appeared to be part of a deal brokered between the Senate, House and the governor to resolve differences between their rival legislative aims.
The extra $50 million could be committed to help shore up the dike that protects the Glades towns of Belle Glade, Pahokee and South Bay. Scott had called this year for $200 million for repairs but was rebuked by lawmakers.
Scott said in a statement that his move to expand the special session was intended “to help the communities surrounding Lake Okeechobee.”
“For six years, I asked the Obama Administration to fund these important repairs with no results,” he wrote. “During this legislative session, I called on the Florida Legislature to provide funding to kick start these repairs. I have also received a commitment from President Trump that the federal government will fix the dike.”
The move to reconsider the money for higher education was a particular priority of Senate President Joe Negron, who was angered when Scott last week vetoed money for construction projects at several of the state’s colleges and universities.
The agreement restores $60 million of $114 million that had been cut from college and university projects, The Miami Herald reported.
The resolution came as lawmakers convened today amid anxiety about whether the House and Senate could come to agreement on the final day of the special legislative session.
Among the issues resolved today: setting up the use of medical marijuana throughout the state, resolving a key piece of unfinished business from this year’s regular legislative session.
Both chambers gave approval to the compromise bill Friday. The bill will now be sent to Gov. Rick Scott for his signature.
The bill implements a state constitutional amendment passed in November that legalized marijuana’s medical use.
The bill calls for the state to grant licenses to 10 medical marijuana treatment centers, along with the seven that already hold licenses to cultivate low-THC marijuana for the state’s current, more limited cannabis program.
Under the bill, dispensaries would be allowed to advertise their products, but state officials would have to approve all advertisements, and no cartoon characters or marketing techniques aimed at children are permitted.
Counties and cities would be allowed to ban dispensaries, and none could be located within 500 feet of a school.
Doctors who certify patients to receive medical marijuana without “reasonable belief” that they suffer from a medical condition eligible for treatment would be guilty of first-degree misdemeanor.
The bill would not allow medical marijuana to be consumed by smoking it. A smoking ban had been a key point of debate during the regular session.
The House gave final approval this morning to an economic-incentives bill and to a measure that would raise public school spending by $100 per-student over current levels, leaving it to the Senate to consider the measures this afternoon.
Meanwhile, the Senate today approved a bill that would implement the state’s medical marijuana program. Senate President Joe Negron said that senators would take up the education-spending bill and economic incentives later today.
“I expect those two issues to be before us later today,” he told senators. “An amendment is being prepared based on current developments.”
The two chambers have agreed generally on a $100 boost in per-student spending since Gov. Rick Scott vetoed the state’s K-12 budget last week.
But the Senate and the House started this week’s three-day special legislative session with different ways of paying for the extra school money: the House through money from vetoed projects and the Senate by an upwards adjustment in the property taxes statewide.
And complaints by Senate leaders about other legislative priorities and the terms of this week’s special session had threatened to derail comprise on all three measures.
On Thursday, the Senate abandoned its push to pay for the increase through more property taxes but still used a different method to gather the money, relying in part on an override of Scott’s veto.
The House has rejected that tactic and this morning gave final approval to its version of the K-12 budget.
Several Democrats objected that the increase was not high enough to properly fund public schools, but the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, called it the “highest per student funding in the history of Florida.”
The proposal would raise spending to its highest per-student level, but when adjusted for inflation the proposal is lower than per-student spending before the Great Recession, according to PolitiFact Florida.
To match the state’s education spending levels during the 2007-08 school year in inflation-adjusted terms, per-student spending in the state’s main school-funding formula would have to rise to $8,358 next year, PolitiFact estimated.
The House and Senate proposals this week would raise per-student spending to $7,296,
House and Senate leaders say they are still in talks to iron out a deal and say they believe there is time today to reach an agreement.
“I don’t sense anybody taking their ball and going home,” House Speaker Richard Corcoran told reporters Thursday.
But Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, raised the stakes Thursday evening with complaints that the governor and the House speaker had struck their own bargain without taking into account the Senate’s priorities.
Negron wants the House to override Scott’s vetoes of money for several college building projects, but Corcoran has rejected the possibility.
“We’re glad that they’re coming together and that they’re reaching common ground,” Negron said, according to The News Service of Florida, “but we’re not just going to rubber-stamp an agreement that two parties made without our priorities being taken into account.”
Rep. Lori Berman, D-Boynton Beach, said today that she believed that both chambers had reached agreement on education spending and medical marijuana legislation but that questions remained over the chamber’s rival economic incentives packages.
The House is expected to take a final vote on the medical marijuana regulations later today.
The Senate and House “seem to be working out an agreement,” she said. “Supposedly that’s moving forward, too.”
If no agreement is reached on all the pending issues today, she said, she expected the session would be extended until Monday.
“We’re all wondering if we’re going to make it home tonight or not,” she said.