With End In Sight Lawmakers Begin Busy Week

Feb 22, 2016

Credit Nick Evans

Florida’s lawmakers have a busy week coming up as 2016’s regular session begins to wind down.  Here are some highlights on the docket.

There’s less than three weeks left in this year’s legislative session, and while predictions of an early conclusion seem unrealistic at this point, the finish line is just around the bend.  This week lawmakers expect to begin their budget conference and committees are shuttering in earnest. 

It’s getting late, the lights are coming on and the legislative bartenders are clearing their throats for last call. 

But there are a few pieces of business left before the Legislature closes up shop—fifty-five of them on the calendar in the House.  So even if time is running short lawmakers have a busy week ahead. 

That’s dean of the Florida Senate, Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) has opposed a measure removing one of Florida’s submissions in Washington D.C.’s Statuary Hall.

“My problem with the bill is that based on a reading of the bill,” Gaetz says, “there will be only one person in Florida history who will not be eligible to be considered by the committee and that is General Edmund Kirby Smith.”

Gaetz is one of a handful of GOP lawmakers pushing back on the effort.

“In the absence of a reason to take him out,” Gaetz says, “and maybe there are good reasons to take him out, but we haven’t heard it.  In the absence of a reason to take him out, I think we have the cart before the horse here.”

He argues singling out Smith is unfair.  If the Legislature wants to reconsider one of the state’s submissions, it should consider both, and all names should be on the table.  That approach is reflected in amendments tacked onto the House bill. 

Also on the calendar in the House is a guardianship measure aimed at stamping out elder abuse. 

“Some guardians take advantage of their wards,” Rep. Larry Ahern (R-Seminole) says, “bleed their estates through excessive fees and expenses.  In extreme cases the wards are prevented from regaining their competency, and remain in effect prisoners of their guardians.”

Once they gain court approval guardians can take complete control of their wards’ finances and health decisions—sometimes taking actions over the objection family members.  Ahern’s measure gives the state agency charged with regulating public guardians oversight authority in the private guardianship industry as well.

“Members,” he says, “we don’t want to read another story about someone who’s been appointed by the courts been given complete autonomy over a person’s life and estate then uses that position to take advantage of the person they were entrusted to protect.”

Meanwhile the Senate is preparing to take up a public records measure that has raised concerns among government transparency advocates.  Under current law if an official or an organization that falls within sunshine provisions refuses to provide public records, you can take them to court.  If you win, your court costs are covered.  Critics say the system is too easily abused, but supporters say without court costs it would be almost impossible to compel compliance.  Sen. Rene Garcia’s (R-Miami) proposal still directs the court to award attorney’s fees but it gives the judge enough room to deny funds for requests made in bad faith.

“The amendment also provides that a court may not award attorney’s fees if the public records request was made with the primary purpose of cause a violation of the public records laws,” Garcia says.

Garcia’s bill is slated for a Wednesday hearing on the Senate floor.  The House version has one panel left before the floor.  That committee meets Thursday.