Working together in rare bipartisan harmony and without the infighting that often divided the Miami-Dade delegation, local lawmakers got pretty much all of their regional priorities passed this legislative session.
From legislation authorizing a pilot program to prevent the spread of blood-borne diseases with a needle exchange for drug addicts, to funding for projects vetoed last year by the governor, the group brought home most of their bills and all of their top budget requests.
“This was a superstar session,” said Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, chairman of the 24-member delegation.
“As a delegation we were working well together,” said Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach.
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For the first time in years, the Republican-dominated delegation broke partisan barriers and elected a Democrat — Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez — as its vice chairman.
It was a “respectful gesture,” Richardson said, as the Republican leaders of the delegation “see the handwriting on the wall.”
There are six senators in the delegation — three Republicans and three Democrats — and 18 House members — 10 Republicans and 8 Democrats. Democrats need to gain only one seat to bring the delegation to parity, Richardson said. “It’s time to treat us better since the Democrats will be chairing the delegation sometime in the future.”
The group voted to get behind 10 bills, six of which were passed. Among them was the Kidcare expansion plan, which had been a priority of Democrats and many Republicans in the delegation for the lsat seven years. It allows eligible children of legal immigrants to be eligible for the state and federal Kidcare program.
A bill revising the way the value adjustment board handles school district taxes, HB 499/ SB 766, also made it through, as did a constitutional amendment allowing seniors who get special homestead tax exemptions to keep the exemption even if the value of their property rises, HB 275/SB 492.
Projects that were vetoed last year — $1.5 million to complete the last piece of the Military Museum and $2 million for the Underline trail — were passed again and this time left alone by the governor.
Jackson Health System faced a $70 million loss in rates under the new reimbursement scheme, but budget adjustments offset that. Miami Dade College got $7 million for repairs and renovations, including the parking garage in Doral that had collapsed during construction.
And, in a last-minute decision by House and Senate budget leaders, the 3rd District Court of Appeal got $6.4 million for renovations and repairs, even though the money had not been included in either the House or Senate draft budgets.
It’s a marked change from the way the delegation often operated in the past, “when we weren’t able to conduct ourselves with unity and strength,” said Rep. Jeanette Nunez, R-Miami.
Career politicians “who had become entrenched” often formed factions within the delegation, she said. When the new generation got elected four to six years ago, they arrived with a “fresh approach.”
“We began to trust each other — primarily on issues of expertise and that just led to a really strong bond,” Nunez said.
Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, agreed. He commended members for playing to each others strengths and “staying away from grandstanding” on important issues.
“The delegation may not always agree but they work together, understanding each person has the right to have their own opinion,” he said.
The delegation now reflects the flip-side of term limits, as many of the young newcomers have now matured to be among the most veteran members of the the Legislature.
It also helps that Miami Republicans were essential to bringing Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, to power as the incoming House speaker. His closest deputy is Oliva, who is slated to replace him in 2018.
“There will be more members of the Miami-Dade delegation in the House leadership team than probably ever before in the history of Florida,” Diaz said.
Mary Ellen Klas: firstname.lastname@example.org and @MaryEllenKlas
2016 Delegation Priorities
▪ HB 499/SB 766, Ad Valorem Taxation: Revises provisions related to value adjustment board proceedings. (Governor has until 3/26 to act.)
▪ HB 89/ SB 248, Florida Kidcare Program: Provides eligibility for optional payments for medical assistance and related services for certain lawfully residing children. (Passed in Medicaid budget bill.)
▪ HB 601/SB 798, Promotion of Economic Recovery in Puerto Rico: Urges Congress to enact certain legislation to promote economic recovery in Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. (Passed.)
▪ HB 81/SB 242, Infectious Disease Elimination Pilot Program: Designates act as “Miami-Dade Infectious Disease Elimination Act (IDEA)”; authorizes University of Miami and its affiliates to establish sterile needle and syringe exchange pilot program in Miami-Dade County. (Governor has until 3/23 to act.)
▪ HB 693/SB 890, Creates State Seal of Biliteracy Program: Provides for administration of program and award of seal; revises eligibility for Florida Academic Scholars award. (Passed in SB 7029.)
▪ HB 737/SB 188, Unemployment Compensation: Clarifies application of provision relating to disqualification for benefits; provides that certain victims of domestic violence may not be disqualified for benefits for voluntarily leaving work. (Died.)
▪ HB 67/SB 1152, Classified Advertisement Website: Requires specified number of safe-haven facilities to be designated in each county based upon population size. (Died.)
▪ HB 323/SB 1020, Taxis: Authorizes certain counties to establish maximum rates that a permit holder may charge taxi driver to operate a taxi under the permit. (Died.)
▪ HB 275/SB 492, Homestead Tax Exemption/Senior, Low-Income, Long-Term Residents: Proposes amendment to State Constitution to specify calculation that county or municipality may use in determining just value for purposes of homestead tax exemption for certain persons age 65 or older; provides for retroactive applicability. (Signed by Officers and filed with Secretary of State for 2016 ballot.)
▪ HB 279/SB 538, Annual Sales Tax Holiday for Veterans of the United States Armed Forces: Creates annual sales tax holiday for veterans of U.S. Armed Forces; specifies items eligible for sales tax holiday. (Died.)
▪ Sadowski Trust Fund (affordable housing programs), $214 million.
▪ Jackson Health Systems, offset for loss of Low Income Pool funds, $70 million.
▪ Local service providers/senior centers, $64 million.
▪ University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, $16.5 million
▪ FIU satellite chiller plant expansion, $7 million.
▪ Miami Dade College remodeling and renovations, $7 million.
▪ 3rd District Court of Appeals Courthouse, $6.4 million.
▪ Florida Memorial University historical black college grant, $4 million.
▪ Ludlam Trail Corridor: $3 million.
▪ Farm Share, $2.2 million.
▪ Underline trail, $2 million.
▪ Miami Military Museum final funding, $1.5 million.
▪ NSCFF patient centered specialty practice at FIU, $1 million.
▪ The Florida Heiken Children’s Vision Program by the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind, $1 million.
▪ Dan Marino Foundation for autism and development disabilities, Transition Employment and Management Program, $750,000.
▪ Wagner Creek/Seybold Canal, $250,000.
▪ Kristi House, $200,000.
Source: Miami-Dade delegation