We are headed into the final week of Session, and with that, comes the final push to get the budget (the Legislature’s only constitutionally mandated requirement) and other important legislation passed. While early in the week, it seemed the budget process had stalled, on Thursday House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron announced that allocation amounts had been agreed upon and they will honor the other’s budget priorities. The joint conference committee met for the first time, with both leaders attending the meeting.
The Legislature continues to consider the future of gambling in Florida. Up until this week, the House proposed restricting gambling in Florida by requiring a new 20-year contract with the Seminole Tribe but adding no new gambling and restricting slot machines in referendum counties. In contrast, the Senate has proposed the most expansive gambling plan in state history. Sadly, when the House and Senate went into conference together to negotiate this week, the House seems to have compromised and given into many of the Senate’s demands (while the Senate has given very little) by allowing another casino in Miami-Dade and expanding card games under the Seminole Compact.
No Casinos’ President John Sowinski says he believes the current proposal being considered is “a massive expansion plan that rewards special interests, punishes local communities, and violates the entire intent of even having a compact in the first place, which was to receive guaranteed payments from the Seminole Tribe in return for exclusivity that confined casino-style gambling to tribal lands and facilities in Miami-Dade and Broward counties authorized by the constitution to have slot machines.” Unfortunately, it is too late for the House to return to the freezing of gambling in the state and so, at this point, Florida Family Action hopes no gaming legislation will pass this year.
The Senate bill to implement Amendment 2, legalizing marijuana for medical purposes, passed its final committee on Tuesday in a 15-1 vote, but it has not yet been scheduled for a vote by the full Senate. The House picked up its bill on medical marijuana on Friday and was amended and will vote on its final product next Monday. Significant differences remain between the House and Senate versions which will need to be ironed out in a conference committee between the two chambers. With the end of the legislative session looming, the timeline is tight.
Now for some of the bills that we’re most closely monitoring…
ADOPTION / FOSTER CARE
HB 363 / SB 200 Temporary Respite Care for Families in Crisis
Sponsors: Rep. Frank White (R), Rep. Patricia Williams (D), Sen. Kathleen Passidomo (R)
This bill helps families in crisis by allowing parents to place their children with respite care families temporarily while they work to better the situation for the entire family (whether it is seeking treatment for addiction, finding a job, etc.) This program is for families where there are no allegations of abuse/neglect which would cause DCF to remove the children from their home.
This bill passed its final committee on Tuesday in a 7-3 vote, but it continues to be troubled. The Family Law Section of the Florida Bar continued to oppose the bill ostensibly because it still doesn’t protect children enough. The bill sponsor, Senator Passidomo, has repeatedly tried to address their concerns, but it seems that nothing short of the foster care system will appease the lawyers. Sen. Flores opposed the bill because she didn’t feel it provided enough oversight of the respite care families. Sen. Bradley voted for the bill, but also expressed concern that the provisions of the bill didn’t offer enough protection. Florida Family Action will continue to urge senators to vote for the bill as it moves to the floor of the Senate as we believe the Safe Families program is good public policy and offers families in need a great option outside of the DCF system.
Sponsors: Rep. Bob Cortes (R), Sen. Aaron Bean (R)
Known as the “Grieving Families Act”, this bill would allow parents to request a certificate of nonviable birth in cases where a woman has a miscarriage and the unborn child is at least 9 weeks old.
The Senate voted unanimously (36-0) Thursday to pass the bill. The bill now goes to the Governor’s desk for signature.
HB 833 / SB 692 Revising Student Eligibility for Virtual School
Sponsors: Rep. Jennifer Sullivan (R), Sen. Dennis Baxley (R)
This bill removes a requirement that 2nd through 5th graders be enrolled in a public school in the year prior to enrolling in virtual school.
The bill passed the House on Wednesday in a 115-1 vote with no debate.
HB 1391 / SB 1556 Homeschooling Requirements
Sponsors: Rep. Eric Eisnaugle (R) and Sen. Tom Lee
The House picked up the bill on Tuesday so that members could ask questions of the bill sponsor, with the final vote being scheduled for Wednesday. While this bill remains uncontroversial, it did not even pass its first committee in the Senate meaning this bill is dead for the year (unless the text is included on another bill in the Senate).
The bill passed the House on Wednesday in a 117-0 vote with no debate.
HB 15 / SB 1314 Expanding the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program
Sponsors: Rep. Jennifer Sullivan (R), Sen. Denise Grimsley (R)
This bill expands the students who are eligible for the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program.
The bill is scheduled to be heard Monday in Senate Appropriations and an amendment has been proposed which would include HB 1391 the Homeschooling Requirements. If amended, it means this good piece of legislation will not die this year.
HB 549 / SB 906 Publication of State Assessment Tests for Parental and Educational Review
Sponsors: Rep. Randy Fine (R), Sen. Greg Steube (R), House PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee
This bill seeks to require the publication of certain state assessment tests every three years. Currently, no one has access to the questions on these exams, including the Department of Education nor any government officials. Students are being told that they cannot tell anyone the content of test questions, including their parents.
The bill was considered by the full House on Friday and passed 117-1. The bill will now be sent to the Senate for consideration.
HB 937 / SB 1370 Warnings for Lottery Games
Sponsors: Rep. Jennifer Sullivan (R), Sen. Keith Perry (R), House Tourism & Gaming Control Subcommittee
This bill would require a warning placed on lottery tickets that lottery games can be addictive.
The House picked up the bill on Tuesday in order for members to ask questions of the bill sponsor and to vote on any proposed amendments. The bill was amended to include a requirement for the warning to be on all advertisement for the lottery, including television, radio, and print ads. The bill was passed on Wednesday in a 111-3 vote with no debate.
The Senate version passed its final committee, Rules, on Friday morning in a 6-5 vote after an article was published with the Lottery claiming that millions of dollars for education would be lost if the bill passed.
HB 1383 / SB 852 Child Victims of Human Trafficking
Sponsors: Rep. Jeanette Nuñez (R), Sen. Rene Garcia (R)
This bill seeks to help children who have been the victims of sex trafficking by requiring the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to maintain a database of services available for victims of commercial sexual exploitation, increases the situations in which a defendant’s confession may be used at trial, outlines procedures for assisting victims, and requires officials to follow up with victims within six monthsto evaluate services used and their effectiveness.
The bill passed the House on Wednesday in a 116-0 vote with no debate.
HB 1165 / SB 972 Victims of Human Trafficking
Sponsor: Rep. Ross Spano (R), Sen. Randolph Bracy (D)
This bill allows victims of human trafficking to sue the individuals who engaged in their trafficking, including businesses who profited from their trafficking.
The full House was scheduled to consider their version of the bill and ask questions of the bill sponsor Friday, but the bill was temporarily postponed.
HB 1167 / SB 970 Florida Compensation Trust Fund for Survivors of Human Trafficking
Sponsor: Rep. Ross Spano (R), Sen. Randolph Bracy (D)
This bill establishes a trust fund to compensate victims and pay their legal fees, pay for human trafficking education and awareness training for communities, and advertise the national human trafficking hotline. Finances for the trust fund will come from court penalties, civil actions, seizure of properties used by traffickers, and donations from outside sources or the Legislature.
The full House was scheduled to consider their version of the bill Friday, but the bill was temporarily postponed.
HB 623 / SB 666 Creating Special Rights for LGBT Citizens or “Florida’s Competitive Workforce Act”
Sponsors: Rep. Ben Diamond (D), Rep. Rene Plasencia (R), Sen. Jeff Clemens (D)
The CWA adds sexual orientation and gender identity or expression to Florida’s Civil Rights Act of 1992 as impermissible grounds for discrimination. This bill provides a new way for LGBT individuals to sue employers and small businesses for discrimination and would allow men access to use women’s showers, locker rooms, bathrooms, women’s domestic violence shelters, etc.
This bill which we have described as the worst bill proposed in the Florida Legislature due to its effect on public safety and religious liberty 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 dead on arrival despite some liberal Republican support.
HB 81 / SB 106 Hard Liquor in Grocery Stores aka “Whisky and Wheaties” Bill
Sponsors: Rep. Bryan Avila (R), Sen. Anitere Flores (R)
Dubbed “Whiskey and Wheaties,” this bill would allow grocery stores and large retail stores to sell hard liquor in their main store rather than building or renting a separate store to sell liquor.
The House picked up the bill on Tuesday for discussion (with the final vote scheduled for Wednesday). After 90 minutes of questions of the bill sponsor, the House picked up proposed amendments which would amend the bill to include a requirement for employees to be at least 21 years of age in stores which sell hard liquor and to prohibit companies receiving taxpayer funds (through incentives or subsidies) from selling liquor. All of the proposed amendments failed and after spending two and a half hours on this bill alone, the House moved to the next bill.
On Wednesday, the House picked up the bill once again for a vote by the full House after debating the merits of the bill. Debate lasted nearly two hours – an especially long time given the other pressing matters before the Legislature this session. Members from both parties rose to encourage their fellow members to vote their conscience and not politics. At the end of the day, the bill passed the House in a 58-57 vote. Five members were not on the floor at the time of the vote, with three of them registering a no vote after the fact. Unfortunately, while this gives the no votes a majority, voting after the fact doesn’t change the outcome of the vote when it is taken. Rumors ran rampant throughout the Capitol after the vote. Florida Family Action is calling on Gov. Rick Scott to veto the bill.
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