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Capitol Report: March 12, 2016

Capitol Report: March 12, 2016

Capitol Report 2016 Session Week 9
March 25, 2016

The final week of session was filled with budget negotiations, farewells and tributes to departing members, and the final passage of bills that will now move up to Governor Rick Scott for approval. Many of the issues weaving through the Legislature at this juncture are somewhat benign, due to many controversial bills being killed in committee stops or withdrawn from consideration.

However, the Republican-led legislature moved forward with what has been deemed a “WAR ON WOMEN” at the Capitol this week:

Senate Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner debates in opposition to sweeping abortion legislation. The legislation is a reaction to a July 2015 controversy regarding Planned Parenthood:

ABORTION

CS/CS/HB 1411, Burton-Lakeland (CS/SB 1722 Stargel – Lakeland)

A sweeping abortion bill that further obstructs women’s access to abortion services has passed the Legislature. The bill places into law definitions for pregnancy trimesters and scraps the definition that currently exists in administrative rules. While the rule dates the first trimester of pregnancy back to a woman’s last menstrual period, the bill defines the first trimester as beginning at conception. This definition is significant because Florida regulates clinics based on which trimester they perform the abortion.

The bill would also require physicians who perform second-trimester abortions to obtain admitting privileges or transfer arrangements at a nearby hospital. Currently, only the clinic Director is required to maintain admitting privileges.

It would prevent clinics that provide elective abortions from entering any contract with the state in an effort to financially punish abortion providers. Currently, the state is home to six Planned Parenthood clinics which provide cancer screening, exams, birth control, HIV testing, and an assortment of other health services to under-served populations. State tax dollars are presently not used for abortion services.

The bill was passed along party lines, with the Republican-majority rejecting dozens of moderating amendments proposed by Democrats. Governor Scott is expected to sign the bill into law.

LWVFL remains strongly opposed to this bill.

ALIMONY

A bill that would end permanent alimony in Florida and replace it with a mathematical formula to determine the amount and duration of alimony payments is headed to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk.

The law would not apply retroactively, but it does allow the payer to renegotiate terms due to retirement or another life-changing event that affects the ability to pay. Similarly, it would allow for a modification of payments if the person receiving alimony got a pay raise of 10 percent or more.

The measure includes an equally controversial component dealing with how much time children should spend with their divorced parents, a decision made by judges that also affects child support payments. The bill establishes a “premise” of 50 – 50 time share between divorcing parents, raising concerns about the impact the policy would have on the children of divorcing spouses.

Estimates identify that 97% of the people that will be negatively impacted by this legislation are women. The bill was approved along party lines after lengthy debate in both chambers.

LWVFL remains strongly opposed to this bill.

Click here to read a letter we sent to Gov. Rick Scott today asking for his veto on these two damaging bills.

SOLAR TAX EXEMPTION

As warming temperatures, erratic weather patterns, and rising seas become a visual reality in our state, the Legislature has taken a step to begin leveling the playing field for renewable energy. The measure (HJR 193) will place a Constitutional amendment on the August 30 ballot exempting taxes on renewable energy infrastructure for both commercial and residential properties. With dozens of co-sponsors, the broadly supported bill moved through both the House and Senate floors unanimously. HJR 193 is awaiting Governor Scott’s signature.

LWVFL strongly supports this bill.

ANTI-CORRUPTION

An anti-corruption bill (HB 7071) designed to make it easier to prosecute public officials and government contractors for bribery and bid rigging has been sent to the Governor for his signature. The legislation was sponsored by Representative Ritch Workman (R-Melbourne) and Senator Don Gaetz (R-Niceville).

A key provision of the measure changes the current legal standard for proving bribery or official misconduct. Instead of having to prove that an officer showed “corrupt intent” in accepting a payoff or rigging specifications to favor a company seeing government business, prosecutors would have to show only that the officials “knowingly and intentionally” did so.

The proposal also expands who may be prosecuted for official misconduct to include officials and employees of companies doing business with a state, county, or city agency. It also covers consultants hired by government agencies to develop.

LWVFL strongly supports this bill.

EDUCATION

HB 7029 School Choice began as a single-subject bill in the House making modest changes to charter school governance, and has grown to what is referred to as a “train”. The measure now contains the contents of multiple bills that also include virtual education, school board duties, school board association membership, higher education performance measures, and other issues.

As the final hours of Session ticked by, Senator Gaetz compromised with the House and urged the Senate to accept the revised House version of the bill. The language that limited the ability to control ‘private enrichment’ is gone. The bill has been approved by the House. Too bad for accountability. This education omnibus (“train”) has a tremendous amount of detail. There will be more to come next week.

LWVFL Education Co-Chair Sue Legg took part in a protest in January to provide adequate funding for our schools and teachers, a resolution to excessive testing, and greater accountability over charter schools. Her tireless work and expertise, as well as Co-Chair Pat Drago’s, are invaluable to us.

Get involved!

Get involved with the League of Women Voters of Florida. There are lots of ways to participate and make a difference.

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