BACKROOM BRIEFING: GUN CONTROL EFFORT MAY MISS MARK

As committees begin to wrap up their efforts just past the midway point in the legislative session, Sen. Tom Lee conceded the Senate’s effort to impose stricter gun regulations has stalled.

Senate President Bill Galvano earlier in the session called the gun legislation one of his chamber’s priorities. But with House Speaker José Oliva --- and Gov. Ron DeSantis ---balking at any perceived slights to the National Rifle Association and the Second Amendment, the proposal appears doomed.

The measure (SB 7028), sponsored by Lee, would close the gun-show “loophole,” create a record-keeping system for private gun sales and set aside $5 million to establish a “statewide strategy for violence prevention,” among other things.

The measure would also expand the state’s “red-flag law,” which was included in a wide-ranging package passed shortly after the Feb. 14, 2018, mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Criticizing the Senate plan last month as unnecessary, Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, warned “we have to be very careful when we once again look to trample on people's constitutional rights.”

With the bill facing a vetting by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has a final meeting scheduled next week, “all of the common-sense gun legislation is going to be very difficult to pass procedurally,” Lee told The News Service of Florida on Wednesday.

“There’s just not a lot of bills floating around that are germane to that subject area that you could amend by committees, by design,” the Thonotosassa Republican added. “This is not the kind of piece of legislation that you want to bring up on the (Senate) floor in a bizarre kind of twist.”

Galvano, R-Bradenton, “has got to make certain decisions about whether or not we have a dance partner” with the House, Lee, a former Senate president, said.

“And if not, do we want to fulfill our commitment to move something, pursuant to those early statements, or do we want to defer to the House or the governor. Nobody wants to hotbox the governor,” he said.

It’s still possible to include a provision in the budget that would cement the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s power to pursue a statewide threat assessment tool, Lee said. 

“We could land that,” he said. But as for the gun-control measures, he said, “I think it’s kind of starting to get late.”

INSURANCE IN THE SUMMERTIME?

Is it wise to write off an election-year special session? Particularly one on insurance?

Galvano isn’t dismissing the warnings of Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican who has been outspoken about problems in the property-insurance industry.

“I’ve heard that there are looming issues and that there are problems with reinsurance, and they may come to fruition,” Galvano said Wednesday. “I hope that’s not the case. It depends if they do, what the magnitude is. And if it requires us to take some action in the future, we should be prepared to do that.”

Brandes said this week reforms are needed, particularly in property insurance, and that they could require a special session if not addressed before the March 13 end of the regular session.

“I think the insurance market in many ways, it has the coronavirus and is not healthy at all,” he said Tuesday during a Banking and Insurance Committee meeting “As we've seen a variety of companies go under in 2019 largely because of roof claims or other lawsuits. We're seeing a rapid increase in the amount of litigation going on. And understand we had no storms in 2019. We've also seen insurers file for a number of rate increases. We've had rate increases between 22 percent and a 40 percent or 45 percent have been filed and have had rate hearings in the last few weeks. So, I think it's important to notice that the market is not healthy at all, and it is struggling to find its footing in this space.”

Last month, for example, the Office of Insurance Regulation approved a 21.9 percent rate increase proposed by Edison Insurance Co. for homeowners, according to the agency.

AG CHAIR AGAINST ALLIGATOR RON

Senate Agriculture Chairman Ben Albritton remains unconvinced that “Alligator” Ron Bergeron, a South Florida businessman who is known for cowboy hats and big belt buckles, should be on the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board.

However, Albritton, R-Wauchula, has questioned Bergeron’s knowledge about state agricultural “best management” practices, which are intended to conserve water and limit fertilizer and animal waste from going into water bodies. But Bergeron’s confirmation was approved Monday by the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

“He was not qualified as it relates to his knowledge base to represent as a board member on the district,” Albritton, a citrus grove owner, said Tuesday. “I am prepared at this point to watch Mr. Bergeron and move forward.”

Bergeron is founder and CEO of Bergeron Family of Companies. He previously served on the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and was part of DeSantis’ overhaul of the water management district last year.

Albritton didn’t comment before Monday’s vote but a week earlier drove a line of questions at Bergeron regarding best management practices.

Among Albritton’s concerns was that Bergeron, who still needs full Senate confirmation, had expressed in July that best management practices are “just goals.”

Bergeron, who didn’t recall making the comment, said he understood ranchers are supposed to sign up for the best-management practices program but he wasn’t “sure if it is voluntary or mandatory.”

“From my understanding at this point and I have been on the board for about 10 months, nine months, the BMPs are reporting certain quality of water that is being discharged into state waters,” Bergeron said. “And from what I have been told --- and I am not sure if it is true or not --- very few people are complying with that.”

Albritton inquired if Bergeron’s three ranches were signed up for the best-management program. Bergeron noted only two of the ranches have cattle operations and wasn’t sure if both were signed up.