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Florida House Takes Up Many Measures; Includes Unanimous Vote On Abortion Bill

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The Florida House took up more than 80 measures Wednesday. Some were just discussed, and teed up for a vote Thursday. Others were voted on and sent over to the Senate, and a few were even sent to the Governor’s desk. The following are just some of the more closely watched and highly debated bills up for discussion.

Foreign Law 'anti-sharia' bill

The first bill (HB 351) that the Florida House took up, which also had the most discussion, when it was called up on Second reading, was a bill sometimes referred to as the ‘anti-Sharia’ bill. “Sharia” refers to a moral and religious code of the Islamic religion. The bill’s House sponsor is Republican Representative Larry Metz.

“It would establish clearly standards for the application of foreign law in certain cases defined in the bill as family law proceedings, and there are numerous provisions in the bill addressing where foreign law could be an issue in a family law case,” said Metz.

But, Democrats, like Representative Richard Stark, worried about the unintended consequences of passing such a bill. Stark says the bill, as it is now, could have the potential to ban Florida courts from recognizing divorces of Jewish couples granted in Israel.

“And, it’s not necessarily Israeli law—it’s generally Jewish law—divorce court, ‘a Get’ is the actual name for the divorce. Will you consider before you get this thing read again and it goes for a floor vote, something that might fix this,” asked Stark.

But, Metz refused to amend the bill. After more heated debate Thursday, the unamended bill did pass 79 to 39 along party lines with Democrats in opposition.

Offenses Against Unborn Child Bill

Another bill (HB 759) that failed in an attempt to get amended was Republican Representative Larry Ahern’s bill to change the definition of an “unborn quick child” to an “unborn child,” and enhance penalties that contributes to the death of an unborn child.

The amendment filed by Democratic Representative Kevin Rader would require proof that the person who committed the offense that caused or contributed to the death of the unborn child had knowledge that the woman carrying the child was pregnant.

But, Ahern says the amendment is unnecessary.

“And, the Florida statute is very clear. It says Florida’s murder statute allows for murder charges when the defendant didn’t intend to kill or didn’t intend to kill the victim that died. This is a bad amendment. This is an unfriendly amendment. Vote down on this amendment,” said Ahern.

Democrat Jim Waldman disagreed.

“Not that it makes your bill a good bill, because your bill will never be a good bill. But, it makes a bad bill better. Please support this amendment,” Waldman responded.

Despite Waldman’s plea, the amendment failed. And, Thursday, the bill itself passed 74 to 43 with most Democrats opposed. Representative Daphne Campbell voted with Republicans in favor of the bill, while Republican Representatives Ray Pilon and Kathleen Peters voted "no" with Democrats.

Ban On Race or Sex-Selective Abortions Bill

Meanwhile, a heated discussion also took place on an abortion measure aiming to ban abortion based on the sex- and race-of the unborn child.

The bill (HB 845) by Republican Representative Charles Van Zant would require providers to sign a statement, swearing they had no knowledge, and could face a $10,000 fine if found in violation—That led Democratic Representative Dave Kerner to ask this question Wednesday.

"Are we now asking our doctors and nurse practitioners to now put on a police officer’s cap and conduct a criminal investigation just prior to performing an abortion," asked Kerner.

"Absolutely not,” Van Zant replied.

After more tense debate Thursday, the Florida House passed the bill 71 to 44 largely along party lines with most Democrats opposed.

Like the "Offenses Against the Unborn Child" bill, Republican Representatives Ray Pilon and Kathleen Peters voted "no" with Democrats. This time, they were also joined by Representatives Holly Raschein and Bill Hager. Representative Daphne Campbell was the lone Democrat to vote with Republicans in favor of the bill. She's also a co-sponsor.

Care for Infants Born Alive After Botched Abortion Bill

About the only abortion measure the House members could all agree on and passed unanimously is a bill that requires medical care for infants born alive after a botched abortion procedure. That measure (HB 1129) was sponsored by Republican Representative Cary Pigman.

"This is simply intended to guarantee all respect and humanity to infants born alive regardless of how they entered this world,” said Pigman.

“I want to especially thank Representative [Ray Wesley] Rodriques, the other Representative [José Javier] Rodriguez, Representative Saunders, and Representative Edwards in helping me in this process to  achieve a bill that met all of our needs and we could all be comfortable with."

Drones Ban

Meanwhile, the House also came together on several measures like a couple bills dealing with cruelty to animals. They also unanimously passed a bill (SB 92) limiting law enforcement’s use of drones, or the so-called Drones ban. It’s sponsored by Republicans, Senator Joe Negron of Stuart and Representative Ritch Workman of Melbourne.

“This will prohibit our police agencies in the state from using drones—if you excuse the expression—willynilly, surveilling the citizens of the great state of Florida. There are exceptions in the bill that allow them to use them in great emergencies and for quick response, and for warranted surveillance; however not without a warrant.”

That bill along with one of the animal cruelty bills and another dealing with infant death are just some of the bills now headed to the Governor’s desk.

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.