Legislative Insider’s Report
Week 3 of 9
Perhaps the biggest news this week for many of our supporters was that Florida Family Policy Council President John Stemberger was appointed to the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) by Speaker Richard Corcoran. On Monday, he was sworn in by the Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court to serve for the next 18 months as a commissioner on the CRC, which is a constitutional position. John will represent millions of Floridians with conservative viewpoints, just like yours.
So, what is the CRC? We’re so glad you asked!
Florida is the only state in the nation to have this type of mechanism for constitutional change. The Florida Constitution stipulates that every 20 years a CRC will be convened to review the state constitution and propose changes to it, which are placed on the ballot in the next election (in this case, 2018) to be voted on by Florida voters. The 37-member panel is composed of the following: the Attorney General of the State of Florida, plus three members appointed by the Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court, nine members appointed by the Senate President, nine members appointed by the Speaker of the House, and fifteen members appointed by the Governor. The Governor also has the right to select the Chairman of the CRC (from those 15 members he appoints).
The Organizational Session of the CRC was held this week in the Senate Chamber in Tallahassee. For pictures of John and these historic proceedings, you can check out the album of photos on our Facebook page. The CRC will conduct public meetings to hear from Floridians about what changes they would like to see to the state constitution. Public hearings have already been scheduled in the next two weeks in Orlando, Miami, Boca Raton, and Pensacola. Please come to the one in your area and let the Commission hear your ideas and proposals for amending the state constitution.
Currently scheduled meetings of the CRC:
Orange County / Orlando, Wednesday, March 29 from 5-8 p.m., University of Central Florida (UCF), FAIRWINDS Alumni Center, 12676 Gemini Blvd. N., Orlando, Fla. 32816 (Free parking will be available)
Miami-Dade County, Thursday, April 6 from 5-8 p.m., Florida International University (FIU), Frost Art Museum, 10975 SW 17th St, Miami, FL 33199, (Free parking will be available)
Palm Beach County / Boca Raton. Friday, April 7 from 9 a.m. – noon, Florida Atlantic University (FAU), FAU Stadium Recruiting Room (located indoors), 777 Glades Road, Boca Raton, Fla. 33431, (Free parking will be available)
Escambia County / Pensacola, Wednesday, April 12, from 4-7 p.m. (Central Time), University of West Florida (UWF), Center for Fine and Performing Arts, 82 Service Rd, Pensacola, Fla. 32514, (Free parking will be available)
The website for the CRC can be found at flcrc.gov. If a meeting hasn’t been announced in your area yet, please check out the CRC website periodically and our Facebook and Twitter accounts for breaking news and information.
Now, for the goings-on at the Capitol! While the Senate canceled 20 meetings this week and moved the full floor session from Thursday afternoon to morning, we still saw some action this week in Tallahassee. As always, you can go to our website for a full list of bills that Florida Family Action is supporting or opposing this year.
ADOPTION / FOSTER CARE
The House version of the bill passed its final committee on Thursday morning with a 16-1 vote. Florida Family Action supported this bill in committee. While officials from the Guardian Ad Litem program, non-profit organizations providing families for children in need of temporary care, and other stakeholders all praised the bill and the success rates accomplished through these types of programs, the Florida Bar’s Family Law Section opposed the bill (the only organization to do so). They felt the measure did not go far enough and pushed for “foster-care lite” with involvement by DCF and the legal system. This bill is specifically designed to offer a resource for families with an emergency/crisis before there is abuse or neglect which forces DCF to remove a child from their home. It heads to the floor of the House next, but the bill has yet to be scheduled in its first committee in the Senate.
This bill was heard in both the House and Senate this week. On Monday, the first of three assigned committees in the House voted 12-0 to approve the bill. An amendment was added during the committee by the bill sponsor to push back the date the first tests would be published (at the request of the Florida Department of Education) and clarify what tests would be published on the state education website. On Tuesday, the Senate Education Committee had a workshop on this bill along with several other student assessment bills being considered by the Senate this session. Florida Family Action publicly supported this bill both times in committee.
This bill cleared its first House committee on Tuesday. The bill was amended by the House sponsor to remove a provision which would have helped to reimburse families with students dual enrolled in college courses. The amendment was due solely to the fact that there is not currently room in the budget for the expenditure. Multiple committee members, including Vice-Chair Jennifer Sullivan, were committed to trying to find funds in the budget to allocate to this expense as public school students do not currently pay for their textbooks if dual enrolled.
HB 7037 Addressing Gambling Long-Term
Sponsor: Rep. Mike La Rosa (R) and the Tourism & Gaming Control Subcommittee
While Florida Family Action normally opposes all gaming bills, FFA supported this bill in committee because it offers a long-term solution to gambling in the state and closes several potential loopholes that are currently in our state statutes. The bill passed the Ways & Means Committee this week (the second of three stops) in an 11-7 vote. Rep. Abruzzo offered two amendments to the bill which would have expanded gambling in Florida but withdrew them from consideration before they could be debated or voted on. He told fellow committee members that unless they made some concessions and expanded gambling that this would not be acceptable to the Seminole Tribe or the Senate. The Senate’s gambling bill is a massive expansion of gambling and we continue to believe the House version is better policy and better for Florida’s families, businesses, and our tourism brand.
This bill was heard in both the House and Senate this week. On Monday, the House Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee (the first of three committees) unanimously approved the bill. On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee (the second of three committees) also unanimously approved the bill. FFA supported the bill in both the House and Senate committees.
This bill was heard in the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee (first of four committees) on Tuesday. The bill was moved forward with unanimous approval. Florida Family Action publicly supported this bill in committee.
This bill was heard by the House Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee on Monday and was unanimously approved. FFA supported this bill in committee.
HB 303 / SB 436 Religious Liberty in Public Schools or “Florida Student and School Personnel Religious Liberties Act”
Sponsors: Rep. Kim Daniels (D), Rep. Patricia Williams (D), Sen. Dennis Baxley (R)
On Thursday, this bill moved forward in both the House and the Senate. It cleared its second (and final) House Committee with little fanfare. There was no debate, and it passed the Education Committee unanimously 15-0.
The opposition in the Senate might have made one think that the bill was seeking to shove Christianity down the throats of young children (as young as five) in a way that violated the Constitution. Sen. Baxley made it clear that the bill simply codifies in Florida Statute what the courts have already determined is appropriate in a school setting.
While this bill does nothing new, we do wish that legislators proposing bills on religious liberty actually craft a bill that provides real and new protections and not just repeat existing protections. The same issue was present last year with the Pastors Protection Act which really did nothing other than codify existing law and did not actually affirmatively advance the cause of religious liberty.
This bill which we have described as the worst bill proposed in the Florida Legislature has not been scheduled to be heard in committee. We continue to educate legislators on the dangers of this piece of legislation and it continues to be appropriately dead on arrival despite some liberal Republican support. See the variation on this broader bill immediately below this section.
We heard that this bill was going to be on the agenda next week in the Senate Judiciary Committee. We oppose this bill because of the real risk to the privacy and safety of women and children in a variety of situations. Imagine men being able to walk right into women’s showers, locker rooms, dressing areas, and bathrooms in facilities including:
- College campus dormitories
- Florida’s jails and prisons
- Nursing homes & assisted living facilities
- Hospitals and psychiatric wards
- Domestic violence shelters
- Scout and youth camps
- Homeless shelters
- DCF group homes
- Church parsonages
- Homes for persons with disabilities
- Bed and Breakfast facilities
- Transition living facilities for drug treatment
- Homes for youth aging out of foster care
This bill which is a part of the Competitive Workforce Act discussed above is outrageous. It is the most dangerous and anti-liberty bill being proposed around the country while being promoted as the next best and greatest thing. Not on our watch! Working behind the scenes, Florida Family Action has ensured that this bill will not be heard in committee and will never see the light of day this year.
SB 8 Gaming Expansion Bill
Sponsor: Sen. Bill Galvano (R)
This bill remains in the queue for a full vote by the Senate, but it has yet to be scheduled for a vote.
The “Whiskey and Wheaties” bill passed its final committee in the House on Wednesday in a 15-13 vote with a number of individuals testifying against the bill. The push to sell alcohol on the shelves of grocery stores was made by big-box stores Target and Walmart. Some small business owners came out in opposition. While some committee members acknowledged increased risks in allowing big stores to sell spirits, others denied that it would lead to an increase in underage drinking or theft of alcohol.
While the Senate passed the bill out of committee before the start of the session, they waited to take a vote by the full body until after it cleared its final House committee. The House committee votes were very close, and the Senate was likely waiting to make sure the measure could be taken up by the full House for passage. While sailing through Senate committees, the final Senate vote was 21-17. There is some chatter around the Capitol that it is possible it could fail in a vote by the full House, although that seems increasingly unlikely.