Legislative preview with Bradenton Sen. Bill Galvano

When the Senate convenes on March 7 for the 2017 Regular Session, Sen. Bill Galvano will once again play a key role as a power broker in the Legislature with his strong political background and influential future. The Bradenton attorney served as the Republican majority leader from 2014-2016, and is in line to become Senate president in 2018-2020. Committee assignments for the 2017-2018 sessions should be forthcoming this week, and we expect Galvano will be in prominent positions. Committees are scheduled to begin meeting the week of Dec. 12, so legislative business will commence soon.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Bradenton Herald Editorial Board on Monday, Galvano discussed his priorities and the political landscape in Tallahassee and elsewhere.

State spending

The Legislature’s only constitutional responsibility is developing and passing a balanced state budget. “The budget is fluid,” the senator said about this year’s outlook. Indeed, lawmakers could be dealing with a potential deficit of $1 billion, according to House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, because of rising Medicaid costs, underperforming state investments and the economic impact of the Zika crisis. Plus, state economists have been forecasting a $1.3 billion deficit in 2018.

“We have the potential of running real deficits over the next four years,” Galvano said. During his likely term as Senate president from 2018-2020, the forecast puts the deficit at $2.8 billion, a troubling prospect that would require frugal spending. “I don’t want to have to deal with a $2.8 billion deficit all at once in 2018,” he said. “That is a big number.”

His solution to avoid that scenario should be an easy sell in the Legislature — “chipping away” at that figure annually in advance of 2018.

Medical marijuana

Besides state spending, perhaps the most contentious issue facing lawmakers will be writing the implementing language for Amendment 2 — the proverbial devil in the details. The measure requires the state to compose rules and regulations, but they cannot conflict with the amendment language.

The passage of the amendment in November took overall control of a medical marijuana law out of the Legislature’s hands, which, we believe, is a terrible way to govern but lawmakers failed to adopt a cannabis bill that would have given amendment backers the impetus to quit the initiative campaign.

The consequences will be a spirited if not heated debate over how legislators can adhere to the amendment language and not spark lawsuits by overstepping those boundaries.

But, Galvano observed, “just because there is an amendment doesn’t guarantee that it is a reality. There will be challenges in the implementation and how that works. The question of licensure will still come up again in terms of how many licenses there are right now. That’s something we will have to look at and that should have significant debate. The amendment doesn’t get into any of it. Like any of these, we will have to figure out how to best implement and then regulate, too.”

The senator, a supporter of medical cannabis, offered up a novel idea since most of the evidence of its efficacy is anecdotal. “I think it’s highly appropriate to have a research component built into anything that we do, so we can start building real evidence because we don’t have that ... so I’m going to work to see if we can establish a real research facility for medical marijuana,” he told the Editorial Board. That lack of proof can be blamed on the federal government, which would not allow marijuana to be grown to be used in research.

Galvano then advanced another good idea, saying he would like to work with the Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute in Tampa on conducting medical marijuana research, initially focused on cancer patients. Moffitt is one of the nation’s preeminent treatment centers, ranking as the No. 6 cancer hospital in the nation by U.S. News & World Report in 2016.

The senator is right on target with his advocacy of research, which, if it successfully proves the medical value of marijuana, would end the debate.

Other topics

Galvano has always been a strong advocate of education, whether that be K-12 or higher education, and that remains a top priority — with funding being the primary issue. Affordable housing, the drug epidemic, mental health and homelessness are also on his agenda.

On Cuba, the Cuban-American delegation in the Legislature opposes friendly relations with the country without the institution of freedom of speech, freedom of the press and other liberties, the senator said in explaining the political difficulties in Florida of improving relations. President-elect Donald Trump will be the catalyst in American policy toward Cuba, Galvano noted, but there are business opportunities to be explored — especially with Port Manatee being the closest port to Cuba.