Takeaways from Tallahassee

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Hey, we get it. There’s a lot going on in the 2018 Legislative Session – and it’s only Week Six.

With budget negotiations, the passage of 27 bills this week and it being an election year, it’s easy to get lost in the noise. So, here’s a brief – very brief – update on some contentious legislation that is facing some hurdles in the process.

The controversial “sanctuary city” bill is likely dead in the Senate. After much buildup on whether the Senate would act differently on the measure that has been a hot political issue this year, the bill hit a roadblock. Sen. Aaron Bean said his bill did not have enough votes to pass its first of three committee stops and asked a Senate panel to temporarily postpone it. Potentially indefinitely.

Aaron Bean’s ‘sanctuary city’ bill runs out of steam in the Senate.

Controversial bills to ban the breeding of Orcas and fracking in the state – two big money fights – have yet to be heard in committee. Sea World has been lobbying hard against the Orca bill, which doesn’t even have a companion bill in the Senate. The fate of these bills is not looking promising even as advocates rally at the Capitol.

A pair of gun bills that would allow guns in religious institutions with schools attached are headed to the full floors for consideration. The measures have one big difference: The Senate wants to keep guns out of churches attached with schools if school-sponsored activities are going on, the House does not.

Sen. Dennis Baxley, who is championing the effort in the Senate, said he has talked with House members to see where things will go.

The same scenario took place last session, ending with a dead proposal in the Senate. So, this one is a tossup.

With that out of the way, here’s the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Ana Ceballos, Jim Rosica, Danny McAuliffe, Andrew Wilson, Michael Moline and Peter Schorsch.

But first, the Top 5 stories from the week:

Unconstitutional system – A federal judge said Feb. 1 that the process used in Florida to restore voting rights to felons who have served their time is unconstitutional and guided by “no standards.” U.S. District Judge Mark Walker said the current system crafted by Gov. Rick Scott’s administration is “nonsensical” and violates the constitutional rights of ex-felons, adding that is it often driven by politics. Scott’s Office said in a statement he would continue to fight for the state system in court. “The Governor believes that convicted felons should show that they can lead a life free of crime and be accountable to their victims and our communities,” Scott’s Office said.

Some child brides OK – Legislation that would prohibit children from getting married in the state headed in two different directions in the House and the Senate this week. In an emotional vote on the full floor, the Senate unanimously passed a strict ban on all marriages if a person is under the age of 18. The next day, however, the House altered its version of the bill to allow 16-year-olds who get pregnant and want to get married to the father of the child, if he is 18 years or younger. House members who were against the all-minor marriage ban said that doing so could lead to someone getting an abortion if they can’t get married or have a child out of wedlock, which would be against some religious beliefs.

Marijuana money – State Rep. Jason Brodeur has told the state’s top health officials to get to work on medical marijuana – or they won’t get paid. The Sanford Republican has offered an amendment to the House’s 2018-19 budget proposal that would freeze more than $1.9 million in salaries and benefits for the Department of Health’s brass, including Secretary and state Surgeon General Celeste Philip and other top officials. They’ll get paid, Brodeur said, when the department’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use starts dealing with the backlog of applications for marijuana growing and dispensing licenses, and for state-issued patient ID cards, among other things.

Florida Forever funding halfway there – Legislators seeking $100 million annually for the Florida Forever land-buying program got a win in the Senate, with the passage of Senate Bill 370. The proposal, by Sen. Rob Bradley(R-Fleming Island), ensures that money will not be spent on general operations, but rather on land and water conservation efforts. The measure would comply with the wishes of voters in 2014 who approved Amendment 1, which sets aside taxpayer money to the conservation of land in the state. The fate of the bill in the House remains uncertain.

Sanctuary cities gubernatorial snafu – The issue of “sanctuary cities” policies blew up in the gubernatorial race this week, even though no such policies currently exists in the state of Florida. The immigration debate snowballed after House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s political committee dropped $500,000 on an inflammatory TV ad that portrays undocumented immigrants as a lethal threat to Floridians. Corcoran has not yet announced his candidacy in the governor’s race, but the ad wiped nearly all doubt. The ad has also unleashed a weary back-and-forth between Corcoran and declared Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum on debating the issue. But no time, place or moderator has been determined and based on their tweets, they have different ideas of where the debate should be.

PIP quibbles

The Legislature is barking up the wrong tree on Personal Injury Protection repeal, according to Florida Justice Reform President William Large. Fixing Florida’s bad-faith laws would do more to lower premiums, he said in a written statement.

“This landmark PCI report on HB 19 proves it – repealing no-fault and mandating bodily injury insurance will cost every driver in Florida more money,” Large said. “And mandating medical payments coverage, as proposed in SB 150, will just cost drivers even more.”

He referred to an analysis released by the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.

“Meanwhile, the legislature has yet to show interest in fixing Florida’s bad faith laws, which the PCI report shows could deliver real savings estimated at 6.7 percent,” Large said.

“The bottom line is, more insurance costs more money. HB 19 and SB 150 won’t deliver for Florida’s drivers. The Legislature should start over and commit to an auto insurance system that delivers only the coverages Florida’s drivers need at the lowest cost.”

CRC shot down amendment proposals

The full Constitutional Revision Commission is floating a mid-March session start date and as that near commissioners are working to sift through the proposals that will make it to the November ballot.

Just this week, 10 proposals were either killed by commissioners or withdrawn from considerations. Some of those proposals include one that would have amended the state constitution to expand the prohibited basis of discrimination to broadly include “any disability,” not only physical disabilities.

Darryl Rouson is giving his own CRC proposal the boot.

Other proposals that were killed included the six-year lobbying ban and a proposal restricting home rule powers.

Among the proposals that were withdrawn from consideration this week, was Sen. Darryl Rouson’s proposal that aimed at restoring voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences and paid restitution. He withdrew his proposal after a ballot initiative seeking the same thing qualified for the ballot days before.

Anti-fracking advocates to call on Bradley to be their ‘hero’

Anti-fracking activists and supporters of a statewide fracking ban are gathered in Jacksonville Feb. 3 to call on Sen. Rob Bradley to be a “hero” on the Senate bill that would implement the ban.

Jacksonville Councilman Jim Love, Fernandina Beach Mayor Johnny Miller, and St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman planned to be among those who oppose fracking.

Grimsley: farmers need Irma relief now

Sebring Republican Sen. Denise Grimsley said in a letter to U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio that if Florida farmers have to wait much longer on a Hurricane Irma relief package, it could “pose a serious disruption long-term recovery.”

“Florida farmers and ranchers continue to hold out hope that relief is on its way from Congress,” she wrote. “The five months that have now passed since Hurricane Irma struck have only served to confirm that the damages were substantial and widespread.”

Denise Grimsley is pushing relief for Florida farmers after Hurricane Irma.

The agriculture commissioner candidate also said she was grateful for Nelson and Rubio’s advocacy for the package in the Senate.

“Thank you for insisting that the measure before the U.S. Senate receive immediate attention. We stand ready to assist in any way you believe would support your work to secure its passage. Please know that your efforts are not without purpose and many Florida farmers are prayerful that your efforts on our behalf meet with success.”

House Democrats still keeping track

The House Democratic Caucus updated its “running count” of bills heard in committee or on the House floor to include the third week of the 2018 Legislative Session.

To the surprise of few, the caucus found Republican bills in the House are still getting substantially more attention than Democrat-sponsored ones.

The breakdown on the “What’s the Agenda?” site shows that during Week 3, 15 Democrat-sponsored bills were heard, compared to 116 Republican-sponsored bills. Another 29 bills heard in committee had both Republican and Democrat sponsors.

The “keep track” effort also recorded 13 Republican bills making the House floor during the week, while a pair of Democrat-sponsored bills made the grade.

Including the five committee weeks leading up to the 2018 Legislative Session, Dem bills make up about 18 percent of those on committee agendas while GOP bills take a nearly 70 percent share.

Peter Schorsch is the president of Extensive Enterprises and publisher of FloridaPolitics.com, which gives us permission to use this column.

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