Our third week of session in Tallahassee was our busiest yet. I was tempted to entitle the sections below The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly since that is an accurate description of events. But instead, they are organized by our five legislative priorities. We are seeing the most promise in the areas of election law and natural resources. The exception would be the bills attempting to undermine Amendment 4. Other major areas of concern continue to be with education and health care bills. The bills mentioned below are just a sample of the bills we are tracking and acting on. You can assist in the efforts by engaging with our Action Alerts. Those will be sent out for bills and issues that are our highest priorities.
Over the coming weeks I’ll be advocating on behalf of the LWVFL in the House and Senate to ensure that substantive progress is made in the areas of education, health care, gun safety, election reform, and the protection of our natural resources.
Nicolette Springer, M.S.
LWV of Florida
HB 7089/SB 7086 – Amendment 4
This pair of bills attempts to place additional requirements upon returning citizens in order to be eligible to vote. We are working closely with allies to combat these issues. The Senate version is set to be heard Monday afternoon. Action Alerts have been sent out.
PCB SAC 19-01 Elections (House State Affairs Committee Bill)
This is a comprehensive 47-page bill that addresses several issues that arose during the 2018 election. There are 21 changes to the election code. Bill sponsor Rep. Blaise Ingoglia stated that they had workshopped the issue and involved many Supervisors of Elections (SOE) to address specific issues that arose in the 2018 election and the corresponding recount.
The main feature of the bill involves Vote-by-Mail (VBM) ballots. This bill moves back the start of the VBM period, allows canvassing boards to count VBM ballots sooner, extending the time by 5 days, and moves the primary election back one week. This will allow SOEs to finish counting VBM ballots sooner and focus more closely on early voting and election day ballots. If a recount is required, the VBM ballots won’t take up so much energy and time.
There is also a portion addressing signature issues, allowing more time to cure provisional ballots, signature verification training, and various methods of contacting the voter.
One downside is the bill does not address funding; counties will be responsible for all counts to upgrade equipment and/or retain additional staff. The President of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections, Paul Lux, spoke on behalf of SOEs across the state. He stated that almost all of their concerns were addressed except for two. Rep. DuBose asked for the bill to be amended to add these two items, as well as extending the recount deadlines per the Senate bill. Reps Good and Polsky echoed that request, but no amendment was accepted. The bill moved forward unanimously.
The LWV is in strong support of this bill and will seek the extended recount deadlines to match the corresponding Senate bill before the next committee meeting.
SB 7030/HB 7093 School Safety (General Bill by Senate Education Committee/House Education Committee)
This bill is commonly known as the “Guardian” bill and intends to arm teachers. Last session a version of this bill passed but stated that teachers who “exclusively perform classroom duties” are ineligible to participate. The current version eliminates that clause thus allowing teachers to carry a gun into the classroom.
SB 7030 was scheduled for this week, but was postponed until March 26th however HB 7093 was heard in the House education committee. I testified on behalf of LWV and asserted to that we are asking too much of our teachers, protecting our students is the work of law enforcement. Rep. Randy Fine of Brevard questioned how we could trust law enforcement if a deputy hid at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High while bullets flew. I rejected his argument as unfair to law enforcement. Fine conceded but asserted, “People don’t die if I don’t do my job.” I reminded him that they might if he put guns in teachers’ hands. Here’s a link to the full exchange (starts at 33:31).
The bill passed committee on party lines and moves forward to the Appropriations next. The Senate version, SB 7030, is scheduled for the Infrastructure and Security committee Wednesday, March 20th at 4:00 P.M. SB 7030 is a high priority and LWV is in opposition to this bill. Keep an eye out for an Action Alert in the coming days on this bill.
SB 7070/HB 7075 School Choice (General Bill by Senate Education Committee/House Education Committee)
This bill pertains to various existing voucher programs, including creating a new one entitled, Family Empowerment Scholarship Program. Passage of this bill will greatly expand “scholarships” and increases eligibility. The LWV affirms that funneling general revenue dollars to private and religious schools reduces general revenue for public schools, and is clearly unconstitutional based on the 2006 Supreme Court Case. The House version went through the Education Committee last week and this week I testified in the Senate subcommittee on Appropriations. This bill passed the committee with 5 to 3. Sen. Pizzo, Sen. Montford, and Sen. Book were the three votes in opposition. Keep an eye out for an Action Alert in the coming days on this bill.
SB 0226 was favorably passed and now moves to the Appropriations Subcommittee on Education. LWV is currently in opposition to this bill.
HB 1335 – Abortion (Rep. Erin Grall)
This bill would require teens to obtain parental consent prior to receiving an abortion. Most teens already seek the counsel of their parent or guardian when making this health care decision, but when they don’t there is usually a good reason. That’s why leading health and medical professionals oppose this bill. Not all young people are fortunate enough to have a healthy relationship with their parents. This legislation puts those already vulnerable teenagers in harm’s way, or forces them to go to court.
Public comment was very emotional and included two women who had an abortion and opposed the bill. The debate amongst legislators was heated as well. Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith was the most outspoken in opposition and cited the Supreme Court case that concluded a law requiring consent is unconstitutional. The bill sponsor, Rep. Grall, asserted, “Sometimes I think the courts get it wrong.”
Rep. Rene Plasencia attempted to be the voice of reason, saying that there are better ways to prevent abortion and noted that these types of bills are brought up every year and the Court strikes them down. He ended by stating, “It’s getting us nowhere.” Despite this assertion, Rep. Plasencia did not break party lines and still voted yes on the bill. The bill passed 10 to 4 and moves to Judiciary. This bill is a priority for the LWV, expect to see an action alert when it is scheduled for the next committee.
SB 7064 – Oil Drilling
This bill attempts to define the term “fracking” and also prohibits fracking in Florida. Although the language presented bans fracking, this bill does not ban matrix acidizing, therefore the LWV is opposed to the bill. It will be heard on March 26th in the Innovation, Industry, and Technology committee.
Other Abortion Bills
The parental consent bill joins a handful of others in this year’s legislative session that would restrict abortion. HB 235 and SB 792 would limit the procedure to before a fetal heartbeat is detected (6 weeks) and HB 1345 and SB 558 would restrict this health care option to prior to 20 weeks. Though all of those bills have been referred to committees, none have yet been scheduled for a hearing. I’ll keep you posted if they do.