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Senate Blasts Through Remaining Bills As Deadline Looms

Florida Public Employees Partnership.

Florida lawmakers are on track to vote on the budget Monday. That makes Friday the last chance for them to get the remaining bills passed. Here's a rundown of some of the Senate’s 11th hour deliberations.

With the end of session looming, horse trading is pretty typical. That can make for some gut-wrenching decisions. One of those bills combines an expanded scholarship for people with disabilities, with an expanded voucher program that uses state money for private and religious schools. Tampa Republican Senator Dana Young is backing the tax credit scholarship program, which primarily goes to low income and minority students.

“This bill doesn’t increase the cap on these scholarships at all. All it does is it increases the amount of money per child for middle school and high school,” Young said.

The bill was especially challenging for Democrats, who see school choice as a threat to traditional public schools. Ultimately the Senate approved the bill 27 to 11.

Another contested bill is a fix to the state’s worker’s compensation program, which was recently found unconstitutional. Lawmakers want to stabilize rates that are on the rise since the ruling. Fleming Island Republican Senator Rob Bradley hoped to strike a compromise with the House.

“It’s a great bargain between our state’s employers and our state’s employees. And it’s designed to benefit both workers and employers, not just one or the other,” Bradley said.

But the Senate rejected Bradley’s compromise. The chamber adopted Ft. Lauderdale Democratic Senator Gary Farmer’s plan, which allows for higher attorney’s fees.

“Among other things it makes the rate making process more transparent so that businesses are gonna get a better…hopefully lower rates,” Farmer said.

The change sets the chambers up for another round of disagreements, which means workers comp reform is likely dead for this year.

There was also a lively debate over public school textbooks. Lawmakers want residents to be able to object to books they find inappropriate, not just parents. But Lake Worth Democratic Senator Jeff Clemens worries the bill opens the door to…

“Potentially allowing parents to advocate with their schools boards that we should remove language about sexual education, about important events in history, about science!” Clemens said.

Supporters of the bill want to beef up the review process and allow more community control. The Senate ultimately voted 19 to 17 to do just that.

But many of these last minute measures are relatively uncontroversial, allowing the chamber to rattle through page after page of parliamentary procedure. The experience is not unlike an auction.

The Senate also voted to print addiction advisory warnings on lottery tickets, similar to those on alcohol and cigarettes. Republican Senator Keith Perry of Gainesville is sponsoring the bill.

“This bill seeks to better inform individuals that gaming may be addictive by requiring the words ‘warning gaming may be addictive’ to be printed on all lottery tickets, advertisements and included on the lottery promotional materials,” Perry said.

The measure is now headed to the governor’s desk.

Lawmakers also unanimously approved a bill they hope will make the state’s vote by mail system more accessible. West Palm Beach Democratic Senator Bobby Powell is sponsoring the bill.

“This bill allows for an absentee ballot voter or a vote by mail voter to turn in their ballots at an early voting location in their co of residence as well as during the times that the voting sites are open,” Powell said.

Senators also voted to expand autism training for law enforcement officers. They approved plans to increase penalties for people who commit domestic violence, and to create new criminal punishments for terrorism.

But not every bill made it through. Put on hold is a plan to let utility companies recoup costs when they invest fracking.  Lawmakers also sidelined direct primary care agreements, which would let patients pay doctors directly for a limited array of services, instead of through insurance companies.