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Capitol Report: February 5, 2016

Capitol Report: February 5, 2016

Capitol Report 2016 Session Week 4
February 5, 2016
Filed by: Debbie Harrison Rumberger, LWVF Governmental Consultant
Contact: LWVFadvocacy@gmail.com

Budget discussions have been taking place as the House and Senate have finalized their initial budget proposals for the upcoming fiscal year. But major issues remain unresolved, particularly in education funding and tax cuts. Still, lawmakers are ahead of schedule and budget leaders say they’re confident they can work out any discrepancies. Meanwhile, committee meetings continued as bills moved through the process:

ETHICS AND ELECTIONS

Legislation to address public corruption is moving forward this session. SB 582 and HB 7071 by Senator Don Gaetz and Representative Ritch Workman, respectively, would put into law two anti-corruption recommendations that were in the 2010 Nineteenth Statewide Grand Jury Report. The bills would expand the definition of “public servants” so government vendors and contractors could be prosecuted under bribery and misuse-of-office statutes. It would also remove language in the statutes that requires prosecutors prove defendants acted “corruptly” or with “corrupt intent.” The grand jury described that language as an extra burden of proof that has limited the effectiveness of corruption laws. Instead, prosecutors would only have to meet the standard burden of proof that someone acted “intentionally or knowingly.”

The House unanimously passed HB 7071, while the Senate version has a final committee stop in the Rules Committee. LWVF supports these bills and is actively advocating for their passage.

EDUCATION

Lawmakers in the House and Senate pushed legislation that would erode school boards’ control over whether to allow charter schools by giving the same authority to a statewide entity or city governments.

The House Education Appropriations Subcommittee voted 9-3 along party lines to move forward with a constitutional amendment (HJR 759) setting up a statewide body with the power to sponsor charter schools. Meanwhile, the Senate Education Pre-K – 12 Committee, with an 8-1 vote, approved a measure (SB 808) allowing city governments to have the same authority. The Senate companion (SB 976) of the constitutional amendment on the statewide approval process was temporarily postponed due to lack of time.

The bills raised concerns even among lawmakers who said they supported charter schools, which are public schools that are allowed to disregard certain state regulations. The proposals would strip local control away from school boards, which are currently allowed to sponsor charter schools. LWVF strongly opposes these bills.

HEALTH CARE

Legislation proposed by Senator Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland) that would strip funding for women’s basic health care while impeding access to legal abortion moved through the Senate Health Care Appropriations Committee along party lines. SB 1411 Termination of Pregnancy would institute new regulations over abortion providers and state licensing.

Among them:

  • Requiring doctors at abortion clinics to have admitting privileges or a transfer agreement at a hospital within a “reasonable distance,” or about 30 minutes.
  • Blocking state funding for any services to clinics that provide abortions, except cases of rape, incest, or when the health of the woman is in jeopardy.
  • Defining when each trimester of a pregnancy begins and ends, part of a licensing dispute between the Agency for Health Care Administration and Planned Parenthood this summer, in which the agency claimed said trimesters ended two weeks earlier than the clinics’ doctors did.
  • Requires half of the records at all abortion clinics to be inspected every year by AHCA.

LWVF is strongly opposed to this bill.

GUN SAFETY

The House passed HB 163 by Matt Gaetz (R-Okaloosa) that allows individuals with concealed carry permits to carry guns openly during a marathon debate that included almost two dozen proposed amendments that lasted past 9 PM. An amendment proposed by John Wood (R-Winter Haven) allowing Senators and Representatives to carry concealed weapons into the legislative chambers was adopted 78-34. Votes throughout the evening were primarily along party lines, with a handful of Republicans joining the minority party in opposing the legislation. Only one Democrat, Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda (D-Tallahassee), voted with the Republicans in advancing the legislation.

The Senate open carry bill (SB 300) is still stuck in the committee process, awaiting a hearing in the Judiciary Committee. The bills are opposed by law enforcement groups like the Florida Sheriff’s Association as the legislation requires officers to have a prior basis for asking for proof of permit, and can face individual liability up to $5,000 for violation.

The House also passed another proposal allowing individuals with concealed carry permits to take guns on university and college campuses. The Senate Judiciary Committee, led by Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla (R-Miami) has refused to hear the Senate version of that bill, making it unlikely to pass the upper chamber.

LWVF is strongly opposed to these bills.

ALIMONY REFORM

A House panel signed off Thursday on a proposal that would overhaul the state’s alimony laws by doing away with permanent alimony and creating a formula based on the length of marriage and the incomes of both spouses to determine payments. The effort got enmeshed last year in a battle between two powerful Republican lawmakers, Senate budget chief Tom Lee and House Rules Chairman Ritch Workman, over whether the proposal should also address time-sharing of children between divorcing parents, something Lee wanted. On Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee approved its version of this year’s measure, HB 455 (which doesn’t include the time-sharing element), in a 14-3 vote after hearing emotional testimony from divorced spouses on both sides of the issue.

Click on this link to read President Pamela Goodman’s letter sent to all members of the Florida Legislature on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Florida.

LWVF strongly opposes this bill.

JUDICIAL TERM LIMITS

Proposed joint resolutions (HJR 197 and SJR 322) would limit appellate judges and Supreme Court Judges to no more than two appearances on the merit retention ballot, equating to a maximum term of between 12 and 15 years. The League will be undertaking efforts to oppose a proposed constitutional amendment establishing term limits for appellate judges throughout the session. No other state in the U.S. has term limits for state court appellate judges. Watch for action alerts and further updates over the remaining 5 weeks of regular session.

LWVF opposes these resolutions.

SUNSHINE LAW

SB 1220 and its House companion, HB 1021, would change a court’s obligation to assess to assess the agency the costs of its “unlawful” refusal, from a mandatory “shall” to an optional “may” destroying the incentive for agencies to follow the law. The League believes that open government is a vital tool in maintaining citizen trust in both the legislative and executive branches. Please see a letter provided to Senate President Gardiner and Speaker Crisafulli by President Pamela Goodman regarding this bill.

LWVF opposes this legislation.

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