Here we are again: Following a year that included a civil war among Republicans that sparked a special session and ended with a sexual misconduct scandal that scuttled the political career of Sen. Jack Latvala the GOP-controlled Legislature returns to Tallahassee for what could be another bumpy ride.
In no particular order, here are the five biggest questions of the 2018 session.
1. Is there more turmoil to come? The decision by Latvala to resign last month following a devastating investigative report into his conduct capped off a tumultuous year, especially in the Senate. Three senators ultimately resigned in an off-election year following news accounts of their behavior.
The House was not immune from drama either as one Democratic House member resigned amid an investigation into her residency. Other GOP House members quit as well, citing the top-down management style of House Speaker Richard Corcoran.
The question remains: Are there more secrets to spill out into the open from the confines of the members-only Governors Club and the other places in Tallahassee that normally remain hidden from public view?
There is a constant buzz of rumors and innuendo and whispered allegations that this legislator is next, or that other relationships will be exposed to scrutiny. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement continues to investigate Latvala over an allegation uncovered by the Senate investigation that suggests he may offered legislative action in exchange for sexual favors. (For his part, Latvala continues to deny wrongdoing.)
Then there's the fear that Latvala - who continues to sit on a large amount of cash into political accounts he controls - will proceed to use that money to go after those who came after him. There is an expectation that the entire scandal will eventually lead to lawsuits where even more secrets could be exposed.
This constant fear of drama feeds into an uneasy atmosphere that now hangs over Tallahassee because those that run this town don't like their secrets getting out.
2. Will political ambitions interfere with a smooth session? In many election years, there is a tendency for sessions to run quickly and smoothly as legislators head to the exits in order to raise money for looming campaigns.
This year may not be the norm.
Gov. Rick Scott, of course, is expected to run for U.S. Senate. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is running for governor. Corcoran is expected to run for governor. Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis is running for a full four-year term after Scott appointed him to the post last year. There are legislators seeking to replace Putnam and Attorney General Pam Bondi.
The question is how whether these colliding campaigns will spill into the legislative arena and derail things.
One important thing to remember - Corcoran can't raise money during session, but his power could wane once the 2018 session is wrapped up and a budget is on Scott's desk. That means some special interests may stop giving him money once everything is finished.
So any type of blow-up, anything that could prevent legislators from passing a budget could theoretically help him. Here's the thought: Session is earlier this year, so in reality legislators could pass a budget in early May and it would not cause any disruption.
Under this theory, legislators adjourn for several weeks - meaning the cash could resume flowing into campaign accounts.
That's not saying it would happen, but there are several issues, including whether or not to use a rise in local property taxes to pay for schools, that could easily trigger a standoff and at the time help those seeking higher office.
3. Does Gov. Rick Scott have an easier time getting the Legislature to help him this year?
During his entire time in office the multi-millionaire businessman has had a topsy turvy with members of his own party. The governor even today likes to remind people that when he ran for governor in 2010 no one in the GOP establishment endorsed him. During an interview just last week, Scott noted that Corcoran was expected to run this year and added - "It's a totally different race from mine. Everyone had endorsed my opponent."
Last year amid a struggle over Scott's push for economic incentives and money for Visit Florida the governor went after House Republicans. He aired television ads and he visited legislators districts where he called them out by name for failing to vote with him.
After reaching a deal with Corcoran last summer that resulted in a final budget deal, his fellow Republicans have been much respectful. A recent video posted on the House website was effusive with praise about Scott's handling of Hurricane Irma.
Still Scott's agenda isn't an easy sell. His budget recommendations are viewed as too optimistic and don't reflect the state's tightening financial situation. His push to rely on a rise in local property values to help pay for a hike in school funding has already been declared dead on arrival by Corcoran. Business interests were disappointed that Scott's tax cut package was aimed directly at consumers.
In 2014, then House Speaker Will Weatherford helped muscle through legislation that helped Scott in his re-election year. But that is an eternity ago. Since then Scott has stopped raising money for the Republican Party of Florida and there has been a string of blow-ups. Do legislators remember? Or do they decide in the end they need to help the governor?
4. Will Senate President Joe Negron finally win approval for his higher education overhaul?
A lot of time and energy will be spent this session on special interest battles, but probably some of the most substantive policy issues will be the education measures being pursued by legislative leaders.
Last year Negron pursued a substantive higher education overhaul that contained a major boost in college scholarships for the state's highest performing students. Scott vetoed it, citing concerns from college presidents and others who didn't like some of the restrictions on institutions that used to be called community colleges.
The proposals are back this year (although right now in separate bills) and the Senate has expanded the financial aid portion even further. The legislation dealing with the state college system continues to draw flak from college presidents. (Reminder - the state university system and state college system operate totally separate. They are funded differently and controlled by different entities. They do not work in tandem. The two have had back and forth tug-of-war for years and calls to have a cohesive system has been sidestepped and ignored.)
Some House Republicans have already begun to raise questions about the higher education proposals. One possible scenario is that the House trades approval for Senate approval of House priorities, including a new voucher proposal pushed by Corcoran that would allow students who are bullied to transfer to a private school. The bigger question is whether Scott - who has had his own clashes with universities - will ultimately go along with the revamped proposal.
5. Will local governments lose even more control this year?
For years, the GOP-controlled Legislature has railed against Washington D.C. and the mandates placed on states by the federal government. Yet at the same time there has been fight after fight in the halls of the state Capitol over whether to block local governments from all sorts of regulations ranging from the use of plastic bags to lawn fertilizer.
Corcoran last year argued that the Legislature is the closest to the people and that's why it has a legitimate role in providing oversight over local affairs and blocking local governments from taking certain actions.
This session will likely be consumed with a series of skirmishes in this same arena, starting with the House bill to go after "sanctuary cities" that do not cooperate with federal authorities on immigration enforcement. (It's been noted that right now no cities in Florida fit this description.) The House is expected to pass the bill later week.
There are bills filed dealing with everything from local tree ordinances to regulation of short-term rentals to more oversight for local tourism councils and a ban on the use of tax money for pro stadiums.
Get ready to rumble.