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What Passed?

April 30th, 2015 by flanews

Capitol chaos may have overshadowed what actually got done this session. Matt Galka looks at some of the bills that are only the governor’s signature away from becoming law.

It’s quiet at the Capitol. The last two days of legislative session are usually filled with a flurry of last minute lawmaking. But the House quit Tuesday and the Senate says it doesn’t plan on meeting again. Before both chambers left, they did manage to get work done.

Maybe the most controversial measure of the year was a 24 hour waiting period for abortions proposal. The bill had feverish opposition outside the chambers but passed easily among lawmakers.

Craft Beer lovers can raise a glass after a multi-year battle to allow a 64 oz container called a growler was finally approved.  32 oz and 128 oz containers had already been permitted.

“To try to explain to them why we can’t fill the 64 oz but we can do a 32 or a gallon was probably the hardest part,” said Michael Carbonell, the co-owner of Growler Country, a store that caters to craft beers.

And quirkier bills pass every year, too. Like the one this year giving about 600 voters in the Panhandle town of Panacea the chance to incorporate.

Residents in the small town about 30 miles away from Tallahassee say incorporating could help the economy.

“We need to put this into jobs, we can do that, that’s why we need to be self government, self government, that’s the issue here,” said Panacea resident Ron Crum.

All 600 voters, and 20 million other floridians, will have to sit back and wait for lawmakers to figure out one more thing: a budget.

The final tally: Just 231 bills passed both chambers this year, the lowest amount in at least the past 15 years. Senate President Andy Gardiner proposed starting a special session June 1st to attempt to pass a spending plan.

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Democrats Keep Hammering GOP House Majority

April 30th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Here’s their latest release:

Democrats continue to hammer House Republicans in vulnerable districts over their early exit this week and are now dropping thousands of mailers in nine swing districts, a day after announcing they were targeting those same districts with robo-calls.
House mailer on tea party
“In Tallahassee, Manny Diaz lets the Tea Party pull his strings,’’ reads the flyer, which features Rep.Richard Corcoran as puppet master and the heads of Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli in the background.
“Turning his back on Broward and Miami-Dade families, Miami Diaz decided that denying health care to 800,000 working Floridians was more important than doing his job,” the copy reads.
Also targeted for the mass mailings are Reps. Scott. Plakon of Longwood, Bob Cortes of Maitland,Mike Miller of Winter Park, Shawn Harrison of Tampa, Chris Latvala of Clearwater, Kathleen Petersof St. Petersburg, Bill Hagar of Boca Raton, Manny Diaz of Hialeah, and Frank Artiles of Miami. Each of them reside in districts were voter registration is shifting away from Republicans, and that could make them vulnerable in the 2016 general election year.
The “Tea Party” message also helps Democrats exploit the pressure legislators are getting from those on the right, who are warning Republicans that a vote in favor of Medicaid expansion could draw a primary challenge for these House seats.
“This week Floridians saw House Republicans quit work and go home, just because their jobs got tough.,’’ said Joshua Karp, spokesman for the Florida Democratic Party which is financing the mailers. “These mailers are going to make sure that House Republicans don’t get a free pass for allowing their Tea Party puppet masters to deny health care to hundreds of thousands of Floridians.”
Driving home from Tallahassee, Rep. Manny Diaz dismissed the robo-calls and mailers as more of what he has already faced in the last election cycle.
“This is just a repeat of what occurred in 2013,’’ he said. He said he’s done local radio and met with constituents at senior centers around his district and he believes he has their support.
“I tell them that the one-size-fits-all forced hand of the federal government is not right, and the fact that many people who have gotten insurance under the exchange would lose their insurance if we expanded Medicaid and the health care outcomes are just not good ones.”

 

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Senate Democrats File Writ, Seek Return of House

April 30th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Update: Supreme Court orders House to respond by 10:00 Friday Morning. See the Order here.

 

A dozen Senate Democrats walked from the Capitol across the street to the Supreme Court today and filed suit, alleging the Florida House acted unconstitutionally when it adjourned early on Tuesday. The Constitution says neither House may adjourn for more than 72 hours. The filing asking the court to order the House back into session by 1:30 on Friday, which is the end of the 72 hour period. Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner says allowing the adjournment would set a bad precedent.

“The people of Florida did not send us here to waste time on their dime. They sent us here to get the job done. It’s time the House completed there’s. And we expect the Supreme Court to remind them of that duty” said Joyner from the steps of the court.

Sen. Daren Soto (D-Orlando) drafted the suit, and says if the court doesn’t stoop what he is calling an illegal act, there will be no end to future disagreements.

“We’ve all sworn a duty to uphold the constitution and we’re deeply concerned about an awful precedent. What’s to say that next year it won’t be two weeks, three weeks, or four weeks. And so the remedy is pretty clear…The Supreme Court, under the case law we sited has the authority to approve a Writ of Mandamus to require an official act of the  Legislature and because the SineDie was done illegally, we are technically still in session” says the Orlando Democrat.

The House went home Tuesday over a budget disagreement with the Senate on healthcare. Senate President Andy Gardiner today suggested a 20 day Special Session beginning June 1 to write a budget. See the writ here.

Senate Says Goodbye00000002

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Senate Says House Should Come Back

April 29th, 2015 by flanews

Signs pointed towards the Florida Senate ending session today after the Florida House quit yesterday, but that’s not the case. As Matt Galka tells us, Florida isn’t any closer to a budget with two chambers clearly at odds.

The end of the 2015 legislative session is playing out more like a soap opera than a ceremony.  As the Capitol Turns continued Wednesday, with Senators taking jabs at the chamber that quit over a Medicaid money standoff.

“American workers work hard, they would never quit and go home early, and this bill is a testament to that fact,” said Sen. Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth) while zinging the House during a floor speech on a bill that would require state and local governments to buy flags made in the USA.

Pensacola Republican Greg Evers took it a step farther.

“They didn’t complete their work, if I had an employee like that, I would fire them,” he said.

The House was rowdy yesterday when they decided to call it a session, but the chamber sat quiet Wednesday.

House Democrats held a caucus meeting and developed a plan

“I’m fully concentrating on healthcare expansion, that’s our jobs,” said Minority Leader Rep. Mark Pafford.

Many House Republicans didn’t come to the building at all.

With the House it quitting early it left many Senators with bills still in play in positions they didn’t want to be in.

Sen. David Simmons (R-Altamonte Springs) revenge porn bill – which would criminalize posting intimate pictures of someone without their permission – passed, but not the way he wanted. But if he wanted it to become a law, he had no choice.

“It does give us something, it certainly doesn’t give us what we need, or what the people of Florida deserve,” said Simmons.

The Senate adjourned Wednesday around 3 p.m. but not for the year.  They called on the House to reconvene before Friday – the scheduled end to session. The House Speaker already said no.

Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli sent a letter to the Senate President late Wednesday afternoon reiterating his chamber’s opposition to expanding Medicaid, and said he was ready to work on a budget for the state during a Special Session.  The Senate says they would be willing to come back to finish up work before the week ends.

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Legislative Meltdown Helps Environmentalists Regroup

April 29th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Dozens of bills considered important will not pass this year in Tallahassee because the House went home three days early.  As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the State Senate met today anyway, and passed some bills to make a point.

State Senators used the day to approve the House’s top priority, a massive water bill.

But only to make a point.  The House wasn’t in session to take it up.

“Sadly, this bill will not become law this year, again” said sponsor Sen. Charles Dean.

Environmentalists are actually happy. On Tuesday, Audubon Florida was passing out plastic bottles filled with polluted water“They’re not following the will of the voters” is what Audubon President Eric Draper told reporters. Now, he sees the legislative meltdown as an opportunity to turn a loss into a win.

“The legislature goes home early, and they are gonna hear from the voters. They voted 75% to put Amendment one dollars into land acquisition. And when legislators hear from people, they are going to come back here and do something different” says Draper.

At just about every turn, the Senate had something to say about the House going home early. From the podium, Senate President Andy Gardiner remarked  “Unfortunately, our friends on the other side of the aisle…or across the hall, aren;t even around to have the debate and discussion.”

Also happy are fracking opponents. They argued fiercely against a bill on Tuesday.

“This is a practice, Fracking, that introduces toxic chemicals into the ground beneath the feet of our our very communities” Sierra Club lobbyist Dave Cohen said in a news conference.

The legislation was poised to pass.

” That’s not going to happen” Sponsor Garret Richter (R-Naples) told the Senate.

The bill didn’t pass because a procedural rule required a 2/3 vote that wouldn’t have been required if there was another day

It died. So The legislative meltdown helped environmentalists do what they couldn’t accomplish on their own…killing bills they said were bad public policy.

The Senate also used the day to confirm dozens of Gubernatorial appointments to boards and commissions, but none of the Governor’s agency heads were taken up. Scott can reappoint them within 45 days and if they are not confirmed next year, they lose their jobs.

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Legislative Meltdown is History Making

April 28th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

The Florida House called it quits today, ending the 2015 Legislative session three and a half days early in an intractable dispute over expanding health care. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, lawmakers still face a June 30th deadline to pass a state budget.

Just after 1, House Speaker Steve Cristifulli told his members that negotiations with the Senate were at a dead end and there was not point in continuing to pass bills.

“Never before has the budget come to a total standstill  over policy differences between these two chambers” said the Speaker.

And with that the House moved to go home three and a half days early.

“All in favor signify by saying yeah”

Matt Hudson is number two in the House.

“When you are negotiating with someone and they are not negotiating in good faith, its reasonable for one side to say hey, you know what, when you are willing to come to the table and have a rational conversation like you would with your spouse or your kids, you know what, we’ll be happy to sit down with you.

This is the first time since 1978 that one chamber has abruptly decided to go home more than just a few hours early.

The move kills every bill on the House Calendar. Senate President Andy gardiner says his chamber will meet Wednesday.

“You know, the House didn’t win, the Senate didn’t win. The taxpayers of the state of Florida lost, and there are a lot of issues that aren’t going to make it.”

State Senator Nancy Detert is usually a straight talker….the move left her  “speechless.”

House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford says the punt is a chance to start over.

“We’ve blown a historic moment in the state of Florida. I hope we can get back, back on track and get something done.

Lawmakers will have to come back. They have a June 30th deadline to adopt a state budget or shut shut state government down.

The last time the state did not have a budget on June 30th was 1992. A final deal was cut at three am, avoiding a shutdown of state government.

sinedie00000006

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Fracking Legislation Could Survive Session Shutdown

April 28th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Most bills died when House members called the 2015 session quits on Tuesday, but one of the bills that could still be alive is legislation regulating fracking. It cleared the House yesterday and was expected to be amended by the Senate today, but now with the House having gone home, the Senate will either have to accept the House version or let the bill die. Before today’s legislative meltdown, Dr. Ron Saff called on the Senate to kill the fracking legislation.

“Under these bad bills, these carcinogenic chemicals can be considered propriety business information which would mean they would never be disclosed. Physicians attempting to find out what dangerous chemicals that in the water that caused a patients

Cancer or sickens a workers would find it impossible” says Saff.

The Senate meets tomorrow at 10am.

fracking00000004

 

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House Approves Online Voter Registration

April 28th, 2015 by flanews

The biggest news out of the Florida Capitol today was the House calling it quits three days early, but before they did, they managed to get some work done. As Matt Galka tells us, the chamber passed an online voter registration bill – without support of the Governor’s top elections official.

Online voter registration could be coming to the state in 2017.  The proposal is designed to make it easier for Floridians to cast their ballot.  A funding issue had temporarily held up the bill in the Florida House…and Representative Dwight Dudley said a Cyber Security amendment Tuesday was an attempt to kill it.

“The measures in this bill, this is not a beneficial thing for voters in the state of Florida,” said Rep. Dudley (D-St. Petersburg).

Rep. Jamie Grant (R-Tampa) had sponsored the security amendment and went on the defensive.

“We oughta be talking about how to publish the data, open source it, and get this right. So the extent that someone would say that an amendment to try and kill this bill to make it better is an attempt to kill it is just a patent lie,” he said.

The Secretary of State had strongly opposed the bill in all of its committee stops had led some to believe the Governor could ultimately veto it.

The Governor’s top elections official said he was worried that his staff would be bogged down implementing the new system.

Senate sponsor Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth) said they tried to address every concern.

“You’re always worried about a veto, that’s the Governor’s prerogative, but I think we’ve answered all the concerns that the Governor has had. Other state’s have done this in a lot less time, we’re giving them two and a half years to put a system together,” said Sen. Clemens.

With the House done for the rest of session, the Senate will need to pass the bill as is…or the bill will die before giving the Governor a chance to do anything.

The Governor hasn’t indicated whether or not he’d sign the bill, but if he vetoes it, lawmakers could override it. The bill is also an attempt to help military members overseas sign up to vote.

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Amendment 1 Lost in the Budget Shuffle

April 27th, 2015 by flanews

A standoff over healthcare money has left the state without a spending plan, but as Matt Galka tells us, environmentalists are worried they’re going to become a casualty because of the budget battle.

75 percent of voters approved Amendment 1 in November. The constitutional amendment directs the state to use tax dollars to buy environmental conservation lands.

But Florida is locked down in a budget battle over healthcare. With no solution readily available, that puts a lot of money – including Amendment 1 dollars – up in the air.

“We’re left in limbo right now, we had pushed to get from 2 to 35 million for amendment one land acquisition funds. The House is stuck at 15,” said Sen. Darren Soto (D-Kissimmee).

Supporters are asking for $150 million dollars for Florida Forever – a program that is designed to fund new land acquisitions.  $750 million is estimated to be available for Amendment 1, but House and Senate proposals don’t come close to the request.

Amendment 1 supporters are comparing this to what the state did with the lottery in the 80’s.

Voters approved using lottery money to provide funding for education, but the state back filled some agency costs. That’s set to happen again.

“Voters approved the lottery based on the belief that it would increase funding for education, voters approved Amendment 1 based on the belief it would increase funding for conservation land acquisition,” said Will Abberger with the Amendment 1 Coalition.

Representative Matt Gaetz says they want to come to a resolution before time runs out.

“My preference is to get that money working on behalf of the people of Flordia, the way to do that is to make sure we have the infrastructure to support the land we have, both governmental and physical,” said Rep. Gaetz (R-Fort Walton Beach).

Environmentalists have pushed for purchasing land currently owned by U.S. Sugar which they say could help restore the Everglades. The state’s option to buy that land ends in October.

Members of the Everglades Trust are planning on delivering thousands of petitions to lawmakers and the Governor urging them to spend more money on buying new land.

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Healthcare Debate Splits Families, Legislature

April 27th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

The Florida Legislature began its final week with big questions about what will get done.  A budget stalemate over health care will send lawmakers into overtime, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, most legislation will live or die when the week is over.

As Lawmakers returned to the Capitol on Monday, the 2015 session is likely to be remembered more for what didn’t happen than did.

At top of the list: a budget

Sen. Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) says it was a missed opportunity. “Budget negotiations should have started long ago and they haven’t. And the reason they haven’t is because we haven’t been able to get the heath care issues resolved” said Gaetz.

As a Senator. Don gaetz supports the Senate plan to expand health care for the working poor. Across the rotunda, his son State Representative Matt Gaetz is adamantly opposed  “We both have strong views. Senator gaetz believes we should expand Medicaid. I think we shouldn’t. And hopefully as a legislature we’ll perform our constitutional duty of crafting a budget” says the son and House member.

It has been 55 days since Rick Scott called on lawmakers to cut taxes on cell phone, cable tv, textbooks, and more. Sen. Nancy Detert (R-Venice) says the cuts and going nowhere until the fight over health care is settled. “Nobody is getting anything that they want right now and until we see what the budget is, and we won’t have one by Friday, so, all remains to be seen.”

As lobbyists hand outside the chamber doors, they and lawmakers will use the final week to try and salvage something to take home.

Surprisingly, the most heavily lobbied bill this week is the so called Whiskey and Wheaties bill. That would allow big box stores to sell liquor inside their main store.  It’s fate, along with hundreds of other bills, won’t be know until Friday.

In the first seven weeks, lawmakers passed just two dozen bills. Last week, another hundred were sent to the Governor….this week could see another hundred or more.

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Abortion Waiting Period Bill Going to the Governor

April 24th, 2015 by flanews

A bill that would require a waiting period for an abortion was hotly debated on the Senate floor Friday.  As Matt Galka tells us, a party line vote sent it to the Governor, despite objections from multiple female lawmakers.

The debate over whether or not the state should impose a 24 hour waiting period on abortions raged for an hour in the Florida Senate.

“Roe v. Wade gave women the right to choose and every year we come up with another bill that becomes an impediment,” said Tampa Democrat Sen. Arthenia Joyner.

“Those of us here in the chamber really don’t like that much government intrusion – but we don’t mind it if the Governor comes into the examining room for a woman,” said Sen. Maria Sachs (D-Delray Beach).

The bill’s sponsor said it wasn’t targeting a woman’s ability to choose.

“If all that this bill does is have one woman, just one, say I’m going to make the decision to have this baby, I will consider that a huge success,” said sponsor Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami).

While female Senators debated a woman’s right to choose, some of the most emotional testimony came from a man.

Former Senate president Don Gaetz told a story about his wife Vicki. 29 years ago, she suffered a rare spinal injury while pregnant. Gaetz says she was advised to have an abortion.

“So she thought about it, I think for a day or two, and then she came back I’m going to live and my baby’s going to live. And today our daughter, that baby, is a 29 year old network televison producer,” said Sen. Gaetz (R-Niceville).

The bill passed with only opposition from Democrats. It is now on its way to Governor Rick Scott’s desk.

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Games being played over Health Care Expansion

April 24th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Update: 12:00 noon, Saturday, April 24. 2015

The Governor’s Press Office called, asking for a correction to the story below in which we say “We caught up with Rick Scott at an event left off his schedule.” The office contends it was not a state event and only state events are listed on his schedule. So noted. His published schedule for 4/24/15 lists “10:00Am-6:00PM Staff and Call Time”

The first sign of a thaw in frosty relations at the state Capitol over health care expansion and funding has surfaced, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, the reaction has been too little too late.

Florida stands to lose more than a billion in Federal money used to pay hospitals who provide care to people who can’t pay. The funds are being cut off the state hasn’t  expanded heath care for the working poor.

8 weeks into the 4 billion standoff between the Senate, who wants to expand health care, and a House that doesn’t,  the House finally made a first offer. Just 200 million, which would come from tax cuts sought by the Governor.

It’s not sitting well with Senators. Sen. Jack Latvala (R-St. Petersburg0 intimated it was too little too late. “It’s big hole. People are going to go without health care. Hospitals are going to close. You know, we have to deal with that”.

Meanwhile games are being played.

The House is refusing to take up a Senate favored online voter registration bill. Its been on the calendar 8 days.

Earlier this week, Rick Scot called Senators here to his office  and threatened them with vetoes if they didn’t get on board with the House plan. So far that’s not working.

Sen. Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) isn’t fond of the Governor’s tactic. “When you say to a Senator, or a Representative for that matter, all your bills are dead and all your appropriations will be vetoed, you create no way forward”

We caught up with Rick Scott at an event left off his schedule. We asked him about the House’s offer. I’m focused on making sure we get the 670 million in tax cuts. Historic per pupil funding for education, and college affordability, so I’m going to continue to work on that” replied the Governor.

Q” The House offer takes the money from the tax cuts.”

“Bye Bye. See you guys.”

And with each day, Tallahassee looks more like Washington. Dysfunctional

Other causalities in the health care standoff might include some of the Governor’s Agency Heads. So far the Senate has refused to confirm any of them. Each day of a special or extended legislative session is estimated to cost 65 thousand dollars.

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Consumer Protection or Internet Regulation?

April 24th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

In an effort to cut down on internet piracy, state lawmakers have approved legislation requiring every web site to carry the name and address of the sites owner. Opponents called it the first step at regulating the internet, but House Majority Leader Dana Young of Tampa says the measure is aimed at protecting consumers.

“it’s consumer protection so that consumers know that, if they are purchasing music from a website, that it’s not counterfeit or bootleg, and if it is they know how to contact them” says Young.

Google and most other major internet businesses opposed the legislation.

 

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117-0 BiPartisan Beer: Growlers and More go to Governor

April 24th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

A quirky Florida law is about to change. The state allows Brewpubs to fill 32 ounce or gallon “growlers, but not the most popular size…a half gallon. Florida lawmakers, by a vote of 117-0 today sent legislation to the governor legalizing the 64 ounce containers on July first. Sponsor Chris Sprowls of Clearwater says its about time.

“We go home, sometimes people say what’s the big deal about a 64 oz growler, what we’re doing today is allowing entrepreneurs, artists, people who care about innovation, business, to continue to prosper in our state and I appreciate your support” says Sprowls.

The legislation also sets limits on what brewpubs can sell in tasting rooms.

 

 

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Cheaper Flood Insurance on the Horizon?

April 24th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida lawmakers have sent legislation to the Governor that would allow private insurance companies to lower the cost of flood insurance policies by offering less coverage and deductibles currently not available under the National Flood Insurance Program. Sponsor Larry Ahern of St. Petersburg called it thinking outside the box. “this outside the box thinking, the challenges the status quo that we so often find and we’ve heard a lot about here today that benefits our constituents” says Ahern.

The legislation was opposed by insurance agents who serve in the state House. They fear customers opting for the cheaper policies won’t understand they may not get their homes rebuilt after a loss.

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