Florida Enters Final Half Of Legislative Session, Budget, Death Penalty Still Up For Debate

Feb 15, 2016

Credit Tom Flanigan / WFSU News

Florida is halfway through its legislative session. But the House and Senate have a lot to do before they leave the Capitol.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner took care of their priorities early, with Governor Scott signing bills the first week supporting water conservation and job opportunities for people with disabilities. Crisafulli hinted at tax breaks before session, mentioning Representative Matt Gaetz’ Finance & Tax committee.

“Opportunities include more tax relief for hardworking families, I think you’ll see a significant tax package come out of Chair Gaetz’ committee this year," Crisafulli says. "We’ll be embracing new technology and cutting regulations that discourage competition.”

Gardiner mentioned education in his pre-session remarks, promising increased K-12 funding. And he kept that promise. Republican Representative Manny Diaz is pleased with the amount.

“This is historic level of funding, which is 105 dollars higher per student than the 2007-2008 levels, which everyone always speaks of,” Diaz says.

The House and Senate have passed their versions of the next state budget, but now they have to work out the differences. The Senate budget includes 250 million dollars for attracting businesses, while the House includes a billion dollar tax cut plan. But Crisafulli acknowledges that package is just a first draft.

“I’m here to tell you it’s not gonna pass off the floor at the end of session, ‘cause we have to go sit down with our Senate partners and have an honest discussion about looking forward and understanding what this package means for, you know, our state in the future,” Crisafulli says.

The House budget bans spending on Planned Parenthood. Both budgets cut positions in the Department of Health.

Other upcoming decisions include healthcare, gambling and the death penalty. The House wants to repeal certificate of need for hospitals, which requires state approval to build or expand. The Senate wants a reform instead.

The two chambers are also split on death penalty legislation. The Senate wants a unanimous jury decision to recommend death, while the House says nine jury members is enough. State Attorney Brad King sides with the House, saying a unanimous decision could be asking too much.

“Jurors have a hard time actually voting to impose death on another human being," King says. "It’s a hard thing.”

A House gaming bill is also still in play that would create a new Seminole Compact. Republican Representative Jose Felix Diaz expects they will make a deal in the end.

“I’m not concerned, I really am not," Diaz says. "I’m optimistic that there’s a bill that can pass, I feel like it’s in the best interest of Florida to have a deal, but I’m not gonna, you know, OK a deal that’s bad just because the money’s good.”

The Seminole Tribe of Florida would pay 3 billion dollars to offer more casino games and slot locations.