Florida House Clears Out Crowded Docket

Feb 24, 2016

Credit Florida Channel

House lawmakers took up a raft of legislation for the final vote Wednesday.

The House plodded off to a sluggish, contentious start again Wednesday, kicking things off with an economic development package sponsored by Bradenton Republican Jim Boyd.

“Members, this is the bill that we discussed yesterday that adds transparency and accountability to the job creation process in Florida,” Boyd told lawmakers Wednesday morning.

Transparency’s an interesting word right? 

Boyd’s measure has raised hackles among some in the chamber because its fiscal impact is a great big question mark.  While the Senate is agreeing to go along with the governor’s $250 million Enterprise Florida ask, the House is leaving the dollar figure off—allowing leadership to work out the cost in the budget conference.

“What’s the cost of this bill—can anybody tell me?” Rep. Kristin Jacobs (D-Coconut Creek) asks in disbelief.  “Because it’s sitting right here on my desk with a big fat zero attached to it.  When do we take up bills here and we don’t know what we’re going to spend?  We’re going to wait.  We’re going to vote for it today—vote for it today—and you’ll find out later what it’s going to cost you.”

“Is that the way we do business?  Is that fiscal conservativism?  I think not.  I think it is a scary road that we are heading down.”

But as it happens, $250 million is a lot of money.  If lawmakers can roll it into the budget vote rather than explicitly approving the expenditure, then for many, it looks a win-win.  The dollars can be spun into a victory for small businesses at home in the district, while those fiscal conservative principles remain safe from attack. 

A number of Democrats, primarily from the black caucus, jumped ship to join the GOP majority in favor of the measure, but almost 30 Republicans voted against it. 

Later on the floor, lawmakers took up a measure that would launch pilot programs aimed at making it easier to find missing persons with special needs.

“Just as a little background on this,” Rep. Elizabeth Porter (R-Live Oak) explains, “in August 2014, a young boy by the name of Leo Walker climbed out of his bedroom window and wandered off from his home in Live Oak Florida.  Walker who had autism spectrum disorder was found about 1000 feet away from his home in a small pond.”

Porter says even though they arrived quickly, first responders weren’t able to rescue Walker.  The search cost local law enforcement agencies almost $1 million.  Porter’s bill appropriates a $100,000 to develop and provide personal tracking devices to assist in search and rescue efforts.  

“The cost of this pilot program is significantly less than the cost one search and rescue operation for an autistic child,” Porter says.  “It’s time for us to be proactive rather than reactive because that’s how we can save lives.”

A similar measure died in the Senate last year, but this time around it has already passed.  Now it’s on its way to the governor. 

The House also took up and passed a measure related to elder guardianship.  Seminole Republican Larry Ahern shared the story of Marie Winkleman shortly before the vote.

“At the last accounting of her checking account it had been docked some $635,000 to pay the guardian the attorney and others involved in her case,” Ahern says.  “Members, a yes vote today begins the process that says Florida is providing the protection necessary to end any impropriety associated with the guardianship program.”

The Senate already approved that measure as well. 

The rest of the week is taken up with committee hearings.  The House will reconvene on the floor again next week.