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Fla. Senate Election Reform Debate Grows Tense; Dems Accused Of 'Partisanship'

The Florida Senate’s Election reform bill is one step closer for a floor vote, after it passed another committee Tuesday. But, things grew tense as the measure’s Republican sponsor faced off against Democrats, who say the measure does not go far enough.

The vetting process of the election reform bill in the Senate Community Affairs Committee started off like any other committee meeting with the bill’s sponsor, Senator Jack Latvala of Clearwater, explaining parts of the bill.

When it comes to early voting, it allows for more days, leaving the final say up to the Supervisors of Elections.

“So, we allow up to 14 days and require 8 days,” said Latvala.

There are several more provisions in the bill including the expansion of the number of early voting sites—a priority of the Supervisors and the Florida Department of State.

And, while the bill has the support of many including voting advocates and Democrats, they still say the bill could go a lot further.

Both Democratic Senators Darren Soto and Chris Smith offered up 10 amendments, although Soto later withdrew his. But, all of Smith’s amendments failed. They included an amendment to require early voting the Sunday before Election Day to another amendment that would allow the same site used for early voting to also be used on Election Day as well.

That last amendment was the only one that Latvala seemed to favor, with only one word: "Ditto."

But, as Smith pushed on with many of his other amendments, things grew heated as Latvala accused the Democrats of introducing amendments for the wrong reasons.

“I think this is just part of really frankly a continuing political effort to keep this issue in the news, no matter how we move to a much better product. We’ll just ride this horse until it dies. So, this would also be…I am going to oppose this amendment also today,” said Latvala.

Later, Latvala did say he knew at least one of Smith’s amendments was well-intended—a comment that a more subdued Smith took issue with.

“I’m glad that the words ‘well-intended’ were used because all day I’ve heard ‘ride a dead horse,’ hop on to make news,’ and other what I would consider disparaging comments. This amendment, as all the others, have been well-intended. This amendment, as with all the others, has been publicized as good steps in making good elections. My goal today is to make a bill better. It’s chance to give people a chance to have their most fundamental right counted,” said Smith.

But, when it came time to make his final argument for his unamended bill, Latvala did not back down. He said he took these repeated attempts to change the bill personally, blasting the Democrats for choosing “partisanship” over what he called a good bill.

“You know, I offered to try and work this out as recently as yesterday, and take a number of these amendments that were offered today. There’s a couple of them that make sense. But, I wanted it as a global solution. But, it all came down to the fact that Senator Smith is insisting on mandatory voting on the Sunday before Election Day, and anything less than that wouldn’t work. Well, I’m sorry. I can’t as a public official ignore the fact that under oath, that we had nine Supervisors of Elections appear before our Committee and say that was a bad idea,” Latvala added.

The bill passed along party lines with Democrats opposed in the Senate Community Affairs Committee voting Tuesday. It has one more committee stop before it heads to the Senate floor.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on twitter @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.