Since my last post on state news, the Legislature has been in session and 17 people were killed in a shooting at the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School. That terrible incident and how to respond to it captured the nation’s attention for weeks, and moved the Legislature finally — after Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Orlando, Las Vegas and so many others — to take action against gun violence.
On Monday, after weeks of deliberations, the Senate passed a gun-safety bill (SB 7026; press release) and the House, after similar deliberations, is now considering it for what could be the final vote. Ultimately, whatever the two chambers agree on will head to Governor Scott for final action.
In other news, the Legislature failed to finalize a budget in time to end session this Friday as scheduled; a judge found Florida’s rights restoration process unconstitutional; and 37 proposed constitutional amendments remain under consideration by the Constitution Revision Commission.
Read more on those and other stories of interest from the past five weeks:
Legislative reaction to the Parkland shootings
While not as much as many hoped for, and more than others wanted, it looks like something will happen.
- A rattled Florida Legislature concedes it should do more to address mental health after Parkland school shooting. Although Republican lawmakers hesitated to discuss restricting certain weapons or high-capacity magazines, many were more eager to advocate for beefing up mental health services. Tampa Bay Times
- Related: What Florida law says about gun ownership. Under Florida law, a person must be found “mentally defective” in court to slow or completely stop the purchase of a firearm. USA Today Network via Naples Daily News
- Sen. Passidomo propels mental health assistance bill for public schools. It would require school districts to establish partnerships with local mental health providers and train school staff to recognize symptoms in troubled kids. Tallahassee Democrat (SB 1434)
- GOP poll in Florida shows strong support for assault weapons ban. The poll, commissioned by the incoming leader of the Florida Senate, shows there is overwhelming support by those surveyed for an assault weapons ban. Tampa Bay Times
- Senate passes Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act. Critical public safety legislation establishes safeguards designed to enhance safety in schools. Florida Senate Press Release (SB 7026)
- Related: Senator Farmer calls out misinformation on Senate Bill 7026. The bill still arms teachers and brings guns into classrooms. Senator Farmer, District 34 — Press Release
- Related: Florida House readies school safety bill for vote. Because the House took the Senate bill and did not amend it, if it passes, it goes to Gov. Rick Scott for signature. Sun-Sentinel
- Governor Scott touts $500 million school safety plan. He proposed $450 million to provide sheriff’s departments the authority to train additional school personnel or reserve law enforcement officers to protect students if requested by the local school board. An additional $50 million would expand mental health service teams and require every sheriff’s office to have a Florida Department of Children and Families officer embedded in their department. NWFdailynews.com
Money, money, money
On March 7, House Speaker Corcoran said there will not be a budget agreement on time, requiring members to stay later or come back for a special session. What’s the hold-up? Corcoran wouldn’t say, but “hundreds of millions of dollars in hospital funding is widely considered to be the problem.
Here’s some of how they got here:
- Florida legislators pass rival $87 billion budgets. While the two chambers propose spending roughly the same, they are not spending the same in key areas, including on environmental programs, public schools and on state universities. Associated Press, via U.S. News
- Related: Florida’s annual budget battle kicks into gear in Tallahassee. A major difference between the chambers: Senate spending on public schools relies on $434 million more in property tax payments from homeowners due to rising property values. The House considers that a tax hike and opposes it. Miami Herald
- Related: Florida House’s approved budget includes contingency clause opposed by many senators. The clause makes adopting a budget contingent on the approval of subsequent legislation that combines up to 30 separate proposals into one bill. FloridaWatchdog.org
- Related: Will there be another raid on affordable housing funds? Yes, say House Republicans. But Senate Republicans’ budget proposal not only spends all the money intended for affordable housing, it is also moving a bill by Naples Sen. Kathleen Passidomo that would ban future legislatures from steering the housing funds to other needs. Tampa Bay Times (SB 874)
- Related: Two chambers back Florida Forever land preservation at a different pace. A House committee backs gradually raising the annual allocation to the program, starting at $57 million in 2019–20. The Senate proposes $100 million a year starting in 2018–19. Palm Beach Post
- Editorial: Safe Schools can no longer be ignored by Florida lawmakers. For a decade, Florida educators have been asking state lawmakers for more funding for Safe Schools — an annual appropriation from the Legislature divvied up by the state’s 67 school districts for safety and security. The Legislature has repeatedly thumbed its nose at the request. Naples Daily News
Bills headed to the governor
Bills have been moving fast and furiously in the last days of session. When session ends, I’ll report on ones of particular interest or concern that pass both chambers. But here’s one that’s too good not to report now:
- Florida Legislature votes to share voter information. The measure would allow the Department of State to share voter information and driver’s license information with other states provided that the effort is not controlled by the federal government. Sun-Sentinel (CS/HB 85)
As a result, Florida can join the 22 other states plus DC that are already members of the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), whose mission is to help states improve the accuracy of America’s voter rolls.
In the courts
- Judge: Florida’s voter restoration process unconstitutional. In a landmark ruling with far-reaching implications, a U.S. District Judge has found Florida’s scheme for restoring the voting rights of felons unconstitutional. Tallahassee Democrat
- Related: Florida puts on hold restoration of felon voting rights. Due to a “legal battle,” Gov. Rick Scott and three other statewide officials won’t act on requests from 62 ex-felons to have their rights restored. Orlando Sentinel
The Constitution Revision Commission
Thirty-seven proposed amendments to the Florida Constitution remain under consideration by the Constitution Revision Commission, from among the 103 that made it out of the committee process in the fall.
The last of six public hearings will be on March 13 in St. Petersburg; the CRC then has until May 10 to decide which amendments to put on voters’ ballots in November.
Other state news
- After Hurricane Irma evacuation headaches, there’s new energy for Interstate 75 relief. One study by FDOT centers on future expansion of I–75. The other by Florida Turnpike Enterprise is exploring the lengthening into Citrus and Marion counties of the Suncoast Parkway, a road that is called the “Coastal Connector.” Naples Daily News
It’s been a whirlwind month, and with the Legislature still in session, it’s been hard to decide what to include in this post. So that’s it for now. In my next post, there will be much more definitive news to report. Stay tuned!