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Politics

Weekly Roundup: Florida -- a Dream of a State of the State

March 5, 2015 - 6:00pm

Gov. Rick Scott is downright dreamy.

About Florida, that is.
Scott shared his vision for the Sunshine State with lawmakers Tuesday during his fifth State of the State speech, repeatedly extolling Florida's "exceptionalism" and dreaminess.

Apart from the opening-day theatrics, there's another sure sign that the 2015 legislative session is in full swing. Simply ride an uncomfortably crowded elevator to the fifth floor of the Capitol to witness lobbyists sporting Louboutons or hand-tailored suits scrounging for free snacks.

Although the fun has just begun, forgive those whose thoughts have already turned to May, goaded perhaps by the remarks of the governor, whose focus on dreams brought to mind these ethereal lines penned by Shakespeare.

"Our revels now are ended. These our actors, as I foretold you, were all spirits, and are melted into air, into thin air," Prospero advises. "And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep."

FLORIDA EXCEPTIONALISM:

Widely known as one of the least camera-ready chiefs of state in Florida's recent history, Scott opened his 21-minute speech with some self-deprecating humor.

The annual address gave "a chance for me to show off my world-renowned oratorical skills," Scott said before launching into a litany of Florida's virtues, including an emphasis on the good things achieved during his first term.

Scott also used the opportunity to coax lawmakers to adopt his proposals to slash taxes, hold down the cost of higher education and boost public education spending to the highest per-student level in state history.

"Now that our economy is thriving, it's time to make major investments in education," Scott said. "Let's not squander our budget surpluses on special interests. Our budget should absolutely reflect the principles we campaigned on. Or in other words, we should do exactly what we told voters we would do."

Scott did not unveil new proposals in the speech which, after the introductions, was interrupted almost 40 times for applause. But as he has done in the past, the governor introduced an overarching theme to tie together his agenda. He used "dream" or some form of the word 19 times in the address.

"Florida's long been a place where dreams come true. But this is not just our past, it's our future. ... We want more people to chase their dreams in the great state of Florida," he said.

Floridians can expect to hear more about Scott's dream theme over the next four years.

Two days after his State of the State address, Scott's political committee released a statewide television ad echoing his Tuesday remarks.

"One place in America is adding jobs faster than ever -- Florida, where dreams come true," Scott says in the 30-second ad.

The governor plans to use the "Let's Get to Work" committee to "market his vision for the state to Floridians during his second term in office," Republican political consultant Brecht Heuchan, who's been hired as a senior adviser to the committee, said.

WATER FLOWS THROUGH THE HOUSE:

Indicating how important the issue is to House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, a wide-ranging water policy measure was the first piece of legislation approved by his chamber during the 2015 session.

The House on Thursday passed a plan that would make changes to the management of the state's natural springs and address drinking-water issues across Central Florida as well as the flow of pollution in and out of Lake Okeechobee.

The proposal (HB 7003), backed by the state's agriculture industry and influential business groups, must still get through the Senate, whose members have their own ideas about changing the state's water policies to meet the demands of a newly approved constitutional amendment about land and water conservation.

Environmentalists and a number of Democrats are pinning their hopes on the Senate damming up many of the House's proposals.

"This is a foundational place for us to begin on this bill," Crisafulli, a Merritt Island Republican whose family owns agricultural land, told reporters after the 109-6 vote. "We're going to continue to communicate with our Senate partners on it. But at the end of the day, we're very comfortable where we are starting."

The House plan would impose what are known as "best management practices" for natural springs, the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee. Also, water-management districts would be directed to implement a water-management plan across Central Florida.

Environmentalists contend that "best management practices" are simply guidelines that fail to mandate needed improvements.

The Senate version, which closely mirrors a proposal senators considered last year, is heavily focused on protecting the state's natural springs. It also would establish a method to prioritize various water projects and create a nonmotorized trail network, which is backed by Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando.

In contrast to the Senate proposal, the House measure does not include springs-protection zones, which would regulate the impact of septic tanks and the flow of stormwater and agricultural runoff into springs.

Speaking against the House bill, House Minority Leader Mark Pafford said he'd prefer legislation that directs money from the constitutional amendment, known as Amendment 1, to conserve land and water and questioned the speed in which the bill was rushed to the floor.

"There is very little conservation in (HB) 7003, there's very little land discussion," Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, said. "We're talking comprehensive water fixes. Couldn't they have taken more time?"

REDISTRICTING BATTLE ROLLS ON;

Across the street from the Capitol on Wednesday, the Florida Supreme Court was the setting for the latest chapter in a long-running battle between voting-rights organizations and lawmakers about whether a congressional map violates the anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts amendments, approved by voters in 2010.

Several GOP legislative leaders -- including future House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes; potential future Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton; and Senate Rules Chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs -- took time out from the session to attend the oral arguments, a rarity that highlighted the significance of the pending decision.

Attorneys for groups that have challenged the map asked the Supreme Court to order a third draft of the state's congressional districts to fully eliminate illegal gerrymandering.

But lawyers for the Legislature said Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis acted appropriately last year when he upheld lawmakers' second version of the map, drawn after Lewis found that political consultants managed to "taint the redistricting process and the resulting map with improper partisan intent" the first time around.

Wednesday's hearing dealt only with the new congressional map. A related case concerning a challenge to a Senate map -- drawn in 2012 after the Supreme Court struck down the first draft of that plan -- is ongoing.

Plaintiffs, including the League of Women Voters of Florida, initially hailed Lewis' decision to strike down the first draft of the congressional map based on two districts he thought were problematic. But the groups later appealed when the Tallahassee judge accepted a redrawn plan that made only as many changes as necessary to correct those districts.

"The entire map should be declared unlawful because the entire process was unlawful," attorney John Devaney told the justices Wednesday.

But at least one member of the Supreme Court's more-conservative minority was skeptical that Lewis' ruling supported that claim.

"Where is there a general finding that this whole map was the result of a partisan intent?" asked Justice Charles Canady.

Lewis struck down the first version of Congressional District 5, which winds from Jacksonville to Orlando and is represented by Democratic Congresswoman Corrine Brown, and Congressional District 10, which is in the Orlando area and is represented by Republican Congressman Dan Webster.

Those challenging the maps said the Legislature should have redrawn Brown's district to run from east to west, instead of continuing to run north to south. The NAACP, however, filed a brief backing the current configuration because the civil-rights group fears an east-west map could hurt the ability of African-Americans to elect a candidate of their choice in that district.

The plaintiffs also highlighted the configuration of two Tampa Bay districts, saying they closely tracked a map drawn by consultants that was submitted to the Legislature's public input system under the name of former Florida State University student Alex Posada, who later testified that he didn't draw the map.

But Raoul Cantero, a lawyer for the state, pointed out that other groups, including the NAACP, submitted maps with a similar configuration.

"If you infer that we're conspiring with Posada, then you also have to infer that we're conspiring with the NAACP," he said.

STORY OF THE WEEK: The 2015 legislative session began Tuesday with Gov. Rick Scott's State of the State address in which he called Florida a place where "dreams come true."

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "We chose not to appeal this case. The governor is continuing to protect Florida children any way he can and create an environment where families can get jobs so they are able to pursue their dreams in safe communities." -- Jackie Schutz, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Scott, on the governor's decision to let stand an appellate ruling striking down Florida's law requiring welfare applicants to undergo drug testing. Scott spent more than $300,000 on legal fees defending the law before abandoning appeals this week.

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