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Week in Review for April 11, 2014


TOP STORIES: The best of the week

Final weeks: Weatherford's big ideas, trains and budget talks
The priorities of House Speaker Will Weatherford, large ominibus bills and the finalization of the budget will all be in play in the session's final weeks

A 'patchwork of awesomeness' or 'broad-based' tax cuts?
The House and Senate are still wrangling on how to cut up to $105 million in taxes. Lawmakers have already passed a $395-million cut in vehicle registration fees and now the debate is over a variety of carve-outs for industries or a broad-based cut for people

Rep. Corcoran seeking carve-out for favored company in Citizens sinkhole bill
Rep. Richard Corcoran wants to add an amendment to HB 129 preventing Citizens Property Insurance Corp. from excluding Advanced Pier Technology on its preferred vendor list for sinkhole repairs even though the company is currently being sued for inflating the cost of repairs.

Senate version of anti-environmental regulation bill declared dead by Senate sponsor
SB 1464 was temporarily postponed during the last meeting of the Senate Committee on Community Affairs. "That bill in its current form is dead," said Sen. Wilton Simpson, bill sponsor and committee chairman. The House and Senate bills faced opposition from cities, counties and environmental groups even as controversial elements were being taken out.

Bills establishing sunset review for agency support groups moving despite concerns
HB 1153 and SB 1194 would establish standard reporting requirements for citizen support organizations and direct support organizations and a process for sunset review by the Legislature every five years. Friends of Florida State Parks is concerned the sunset review could discourage donors from giving money for state park projects.


A bill prohibiting abortions when a fetus can survive outside the womb unless the pregnancy threatens the mother's health, on April 8, passed the second of three committees assigned to hold hearings on it. Read more ...

A Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services bill passed its final committee stop with a delete-everything amendment including language from another bill dealing with water-storage projects. Read more ...

Alcohol Rules and Regulations
A Senate bill that would allow the sale of 64-ounce growlers cleared its first panel with one opponent comparing Florida's three-tier regulatory system to a "New York" style "protection" racket. Read more ...

Assisted Living Facilities and Nursing Homes
A bill initially crafted to overhaul regulations of assisted living facilities has been amended by a House panel to include other issues that may be outside of the subject matter. Proposed laws must relate to one topic. Read more ...

Charter Schools
The Florida Current reports that a Senate bill that once standardized contracts between charters and school districts no longer bears any resemblance to the original proposal. Read more ...

Controlled Substances
A measure to regulate and inspect all health care clinics in the state easily passed its third Senate panel on April 8, 2014. Meanwhile, health groups and local governments are opposing an amendment that would ban local efforts to restrict the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products. The amendment is attached to a bill banning the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors. Read more ..

Citizens Property Insurance Corp.
A House committee rejected an amendment which would have forced Citizens to include a contractor on an approved vendors list to repair sinkhole damage. Read more ..

Correctional Facilities
Dozens of correctional officers converged on Florida's capitol Tuesday to lobby legislators for 3 percent raises for officers with less than five years of service and a 5 percent raise for more senior workers. Read more ...

Education Assessments
A school grading overhaul first envisioned by Education Commissioner Pam Stewart was passed unanimously by the Senate. Read more ...

Environment Appropriations
Heading into negotiations on a 2014-15 state budget, the House and Senate are far apart on the amount each would spend on local water projects. Read more ..

Economic Incentives
The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee voted to introduce a bill that would require a county match for film incentives. Read more 

Environmental Regulation & Permitting
Rep. Jimmy Patronis said his HB 703 won't be heard when the House State Affairs Committee holds its final committee meeting on April 11, 2014. Read more ...

The Everglades and Lake Okeechobee
Central Florida lawmakers are pushing through a bill that will help local governments pick up the tab for cleaning up Indian River Lagoon. Read more ...

Fetal Injury
The Florida House has approved a measure which makes the injury of an "unborn child" a separate felony from attacking a pregnant woman. Read more ...

Growth Management
A House bill prohibiting cities and counties in the future from rezoning fuel terminals into noncompliance cleared its final committee stop. Read more ...

The House voted 80-36 for a bill allowing gun owners to pack their weapons when fleeing a hurricane or other emergency. The chamber also passed a bill to allow county tax collectors to handle concealed weapons permit applications. Read more .....

Hazardous Waste & Contamination
A toxics "tug-of-war" is going on in Legislatures across the country, according to The Center for Public Integrity. But that doesn't appear to be the case in Florida. Read more ..

Higher Education
Three Republicans joined with five Democrats on a Senate appropriations subcommittee to keep a plan alive to give undocumented students in-state tuition rates to attend universities and colleges. Read more...

Home Rule
The Senate voted 40-0 in favor of a bill that would create reporting requirements for citizen support organizations and a process for sunset review by the Legislature every five years. Read more ...

Human Trafficking
The locked facility provision has been dropped from House and Senate human trafficking bills. The sponsor explained she withdrew it because, "Sometimes, you have to give a little first to move things down the road." Rep. Harrel predicts studies will show a locked facility is needed. Read More ...

K-12 Schools
The Florida Legislature has passed a bill aimed at protecting student data that includes a prohibition on the collection of biometric information. Meanwhile, a bill giving school districts more authority to choose textbooks and other instructional materials narrowly passed the Senate on April 11, 2014. Read more ...

A proposal to repeal a five-year waiting period for immigrant children to join a state insurance program may be blocked by its price tag. The Senate plan faces back-to-back budget committees. Read more ...

Large Casinos
Gov. Rick Scott has agreed to meet with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. The tribe is interested in offering Las Vegas-style gambling in the Pensacola area. Read more ..

Labor Relations
Democratic women legislators held a press conference calling for Republican leadership to schedule hearings for equal pay bills HB 163 and SB 206, neither of which have been heard in committee. Read more ..

Managed Care for Medicaid
The Florida Current reports that a bill revising prescription plans in Medicaid passed its final Senate panel on April 8, 2014. Read more ...

Medicaid Expansion
The number of Medicaid recipients increased by 245,000 in Florida from October 2013 to February 2014. This is the same time-frame as the health insurance enrollment period. Read more...

Open Government
A bill to exempt university president searches from public records requirements cleared the House with a 104-9 vote. Read more ...

Pari-mutuels and Slot Machines
House Speaker Will Weatherford said the lights are out on gaming bills this year - even one that would require dog tracks to report greyhound injuries. Read more ...

Pension Reform
The House Appropriations Committee approved a bill that would make three changes to FRS and a Senate committee advanced a bill which encourages new hires to pick the investment plan over the traditional pension plan.

Physician Shortage
A House panel created an omnibus healthcare bill adding measures such as nurse practitioners and telemedicine to a proprosal originally about trauma centers. Read more ...

PreK-12 Education Appropriations
The House Education Committee approved a plan to calculate a return on investment for dollars spent on Florida public schools. Read more ...

Private Schools
The Florida House rejected an amendment to a voucher expansion bill which would have required students using state vouchers to take the same standardized tests as public school students. Read more ..

Public Employee Health Insurance
Staff from the state Office of Economic and Demographic Research picked a number close to the middle of three estimates as the fiscal impact of SB 1014, a proposed regulation of the prescription benefit in the state worker insurance program. Read more ...

Public Lands
Friends of Florida State Parks tells the Tampa Bay Times that the group is concerned that a pair of ethics bills moving through the Legislature could lead to the organization's demise. Read more...

Sex Offenses
The Florida Current reports that a Senate panel unanimously approved an 11 member task force to hunt down sex offenders who abscond from state supervision. Read more ...

Sports Tax Breaks
The Senate version of a bill creating an application process for a sports tax break was amended to allow projects currently underway to compete for state money without legislative approval. This bodes well for the Daytona speedway and an Orlando soccer stadium. Read more ...

State Contracts
A bill that would preempt local preference ordinances for contracts using state money was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Read more ...

Trauma Centers
Plans allowing the continued operation of contested HCA-run trauma centers passed their final committees on April 10, 2014. The House added additional issues to its plan, making it different than the Senate version. Read more...

Water Quality
A House bill delaying a prohibition on the land application of septic tank waste passed its final environmental committee stop with environmental support and concerns. Read more ...

Trauma Centers
HCA has decided to waive trauma center response fees for the uninsured. The hospital-chain said the move is unrelated to a Tampa Bay Times report showing the fee could reach $33,000. Read more...


Negron: Budget conference meetings to begin on April 21
There are no House and Senate meetings scheduled for next week. Sen. Joe Negron, the Senate's chief budget negotiator, told his chamber that budget conference committees will begin meeting the afternoon of Monday, April 21.

Crist says Scott is a cloud blocking solar energy in Florida
While renewable energy legislation remains stalled and a memorial supporting coal as an energy source advances, the Democratic candidate for governor said if elected he will push some of the same alternative and renewable energy policies he proposed when he was a Republican governor.

Agencies' new rulemaking reports moving in House, stalled in Senate
For SB 1708 and other bills struggling to get a hearing, the session's ever-compressing deadlines mean time is running out - quickly.

Senate tucks Weatherford's driver license bill into transportation package
A priority bill for the House Speaker making it easier for those with suspended drivers licenses to get their licenses back was added to a Senate omnibus transportation bill Wednesday.

Eisnaugle wins special election
Former Orlando-area Rep. Eric Eisnaugle won a special election this week and on Wednesday, accompanied by his wife and children, staged a triumphant return to the Florida House of Representatives. Read more ...


House, Senate apart on spending to battle citrus greening, pests while raises sought for firefighters
The House earmarked $13.7 million for citrus greening response, more than twice what the Senate included in its budget proposal. Rep. Ben Albritton, the lead negotiator for the House on agricultural spending, said he will fight diligently for the money while Senate leaders say they are looking for $1.7 million to give wildlands firefighters a pay raise. 


Senate, House differ widely on water projects spending
The Senate has proposed spending $43.3 million on 84 local water projects around the state while the House proposes $100 million but has no list yet. "Many, many members have come to me about their water projects," Sen. Alan Hays said. "And I regret to tell them, 'Sorry but I ran out of money.'"


Development bill fate appears in doubt, following the path of an environmental regulation bill
SB 372 deals with "developments of regional impact" and was temporarily passed in a Senate committee on Wednesday. The House companion bill has yet to be heard in committee. "I'm starting to hear the echoes of the death rattle," said its sponsor, Rep. Matt Gaetz. Meanwhile, Rep. Jimmy Patronis said his controversial HB 703 won't be heard this week in the final State Affairs Committee meeting.

Beer battle bubbles up in Senate, stumbles along
Legislation to allow craft beer brewers to sell 64-ounce growlers but still require them to operate in the "three-tier" system that compels them to sell to distributors before selling directly to consumers moved through another Senate committee Tuesday. The beer battle is far from over, however.

Women Democrats urge pay-equity legislation
Women lawmakers marked National Equal Pay Day by calling attention to HB 163 which would require the state to adhere to a standard of equal pay for equal work and to collect data to see if there is a difference between what men and women earn.


House version of human trafficking "locked facility" bill up for committee
Child advocates argue that a locked facility for teens rescued from prostitution rings would only create more trauma for them.

Lawmakers nix locked facilities from human trafficking bill
From the moment it was proposed child advocates fought the idea of locking up teens rescued from prostitution rings, arguing it would add to the trauma they had endured. Thursday, Rep. Gayle Harrell struck the provision from her bill but said future studies will show locked facilities are a necessity.


Panuccio confirmed by Senate as jobs agency head
Despite the struggles with CONNECT, a new unemployment benefits system that caused delays for thousands of Floridians looking for work when the switch was made to the system in October, Jesse Panuccio did not receive a single negative vote for confirmation as the executive director of the Department of Economic Opportunity


Senate waters down its charter school contract bill
A Senate proposal that once promised sweeping changes in the contracting process between Florida charter schools and school districts no longer requires districts to share unused buildings. And, Sen. Bill Montford said the more comprehensive House version will not fare well in the Senate.

In-state tuition bill moves on a close vote
The Republican-controlled legislature is moving closer to passing a proposal to allow qualified students to pay in-state tuition even if they are in the country illegally.

House approves "biometrics" ban
A bill forbidding public schools to collect "biodata" on students advanced Wednesday in the Florida House. The sponsor argued that the best way to prevent data breaches is not to collect data.

Senate backs timeout on school grades
Florida's school grading system would be paused for a year under a bill passed Friday by the Florida Senate.

House school vouchers bill heads to Senate
The proposal lacks a testing requirement for students and it's not clear if it will be accepted by the Senate where President Don Gaetz has said accountability is one of the themes of the 2014 Workplan.


Crist says Scott is a cloud blocking solar energy in Florida
While renewable energy legislation remains stalled and a memorial supporting coal as an energy source advances, the Democratic candidate for governor said if elected he will push some of the same alternative and renewable energy policies he proposed when he was a Republican governor.


Paper or plastic? Bill to lift ban on plastic bag ordinances temporarily passed after debate
A private water utilities bill passed out of the final meeting of a Senate environmental committee. The meeting also spotlighted problems with plastic bags and developers' criticism of how environmentalists have worked water issues this session.

Bills delaying ban on spreading septic waste are moving with environmental support
Environmentalists beat back a four-year delay on banning septic sludge from being spread on land and now are supporting an amended proposal delaying the ban for one year. The prohibition is part of a 2010 law designed to protect Florida springs


House introduces less restrictive Telemedicine plan in omnibus health care bill
A proposal initially designed to rescue three HCA-trauma centers from a court challenge now allows highly trained nurses to practice independently and includes telemedicine regulations.

Budget forecasters confirm cost of the pharmacy bill, which would be paid by the state
The proposal sailed through three committees but state economists say it is not clear how it will affect state worker insurance policies.

Senate bill to expand Step Therapy medication plan clears final committee
Opponents of the bill said allowing doctors to override a plan designed to be effective for patients and reduce cost for the state is not wise.

A weakened telemedicine bill passes second committee
Amendment now requires out-of-state doctors to have same credentials as their Florida colleagues.

House passes bill restricting the time an abortion could occur 
It changes the exceptions to a late term abortion and opens the door to a legal framework that would take into account viability for life, rather than a designated time period, for when an abortion could be performed. Among those voting no were four Republicans.


Senate panel approves greyhound injury reporting
But an effort to "decouple" racing from card rooms and slot machines falls short despite an assist from the Senate President, his wife and his son, sponsor of the companion bill in the House.


House advances gun bill
The bill was extensively debated Wednesday and a final vote is scheduled for Friday. The Senate version has one more committee stop. It would allow the public to carry concealed firearms during emergency evacuations. An idea the Florida Sheriff Association does not support.

House sends gun bill to Senate
The sponsor explained the bill extends carry-and-conceal privileges to those fleeing during a mandatory evacuation declared by the governor or local officials. The Senate version has yet to clear a committee.


Committees work on pension and insurance bills
The House budget committee increased the amount of time for public employees to be vested in a pension system. The proposal also changes the "default" rule so that employees who don't make a pension choice would automatically go into the investment plan rather than the defined benefit plan as now provided.

Bill to further shrink Citizens clears Senate panel
Legislation to push more policies out of state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. sailed through the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee on Monday, but key provisions don't match up with the House version.

House preps Citizens sinkhole bill for final vote
The bill, HB 129, requires Citizens Property Insurance Corp. customers to use vendors approved by the state-run insurer to fix sinkhole damage to a home and could come up for a floor vote in the House as soon as Friday.

House passes Citizens sinkhole repair program bill
HB 129 to require Citizens Property Insurance Corp. customers to choose from among company-approved vendors to repair sinkhole damages passed through the House by an 85-25 vote on Friday.


Jobs agency head moves closer to confirmation
After cruising through four Senate committees, DEO executive director Jesse Panuccio's confirmation is ready for a floor vote


Senate panel votes to create absconder "strike force"
The measure also sets up a task force made up of various state agency heads and it defines the term sexually violent to include offenses involving a child under the age of 16. Records indicate the location of 746 registered sex offenders is unknown.

House human trafficking bill sails through first committee
The vote was unanimous but members expressed concerned about a locked safe facility for teens rescued from prostitution rings. The sponsor asked lawmakers to focus on the problem and promised changes as the bill moves forward.

Teamsters seek "pay parity" raises for prison staff
Correctional officers say they want "equal pay for equal risk" with state police. They say Florida can afford a $30 million pay increase when the state has a projected budget surplus of $1 billion


Uber bill narrowed to Hillsborough, clears Senate panel
Sen. Jeff Brande amended his bill preempting local ordinances regulating a car-ride service phone app. SB 1618 now applies only to a special district in Hillsborough County.


Stories in the Week in Review were written by James Call, Bill Cotterell, Gray Rohrer, Bruce Ritchie, Gray Rohrer, Arek Sarkessian and The Associated Press.



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