Senate President Don Gaetz

A younger John Thrasher pictured in the Senate's farewell video.  Here, Thrasher is a state representative.
Florida Channel

The Florida Senate met Tuesday in what’s called an organizational session to set rules and fill leadership positions for the upcoming legislative session.  As lawmakers welcomed one another back to Tallahassee, they also bid farewell to a long-time Republican powerbroker.

This is the Florida congressional district map.
National Atlas of the United States via Wikimedia Commons

The Florida legislature announced Tuesday it will not appeal a court decision finding the state’s congressional districts unconstitutional.  Legislative leaders are now asking for permission to conduct this year’s election according to existing boundaries.

wiki commons

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has cancelled plans to get business proposals from potential vendors for Camp Helen State Park in Panama City Beach. It’s the latest panhandle state park to have those type of plans withdrawn, after area residents voiced concerns.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is no longer seeking applicants to provide vendor services at one of their state parks in Walton County.

Last month, DEP officials put out a request asking for business proposals to help enhance visitor services at Grayton Beach State Park in Santa Rosa Beach. That includes food and beverage services, recreational equipment rentals, and event management services.

But, those plans were later quashed after Senate President Don Gaetz, and his son, State Representative Matt Gaetz stepped in.

Florida House

A couple of political experts are weighing on whether the Republican-led Legislature as well as the Governor moved more to the center this year with some of the bills that passed this Session.

Stan Jastrzebski

The children of undocumented immigrants in Florida will soon get to attend college for the same price as their cohorts. A bill to offer instate tuition to undocumented students passed the House Friday.

Now all that’s left is for Governor Rick Scott to ink his okay – a move that’s without much question since The governor voiced his support for the measure just after the vote.

Capital Report: 04-28-2014

Apr 28, 2014

A bill filed to make sure tragedies like Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting don’t happen in Florida passed the state House Monday. But, as Sascha Cordner reports, the measure that could allow teachers to carry guns on school campus drew a lot of fire from Democrats.

Plans to divide the jointly-run Florida A&M -Florida State University College of Engineering are on hold, for now. Lynn Hatter reports legislative budget officials dropped the idea during Sunday negotiations, opting instead to do a study on whether the split is even feasible.

Rep. Matt Gaetz via Twitter

Even with dozens of bills left on the agenda, the Florida Senate on Monday devoted hours to honoring outgoing Senate President Don Gaetz. Gaetz reflected on the chamber’s proudest accomplishments since he took the helm last year.

Before an audience of senators, lobbyists, reporters and family members, Gaetz took his spot at the Senate lectern for what will be one of the last times.

“I’ve made a thousand mistakes, and I ask your forgiveness for any slight or any offense,” he said at one point in the speech.

The Florida House passed a bill Friday that merges two pension reform proposals: one dealing with local pensions and another dealing with the state’s pension system. But, it’s unclear what will happen in the other chamber now that the combined bill is still two separate proposals in the Senate.

Rep. Jim Boyd (R-Bradenton) is one of the sponsors of the merged House proposal. He contributed the part of the proposal that deals with overhauling the Florida Retirement System.

Nick Evans

Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed four sex offender bills into law Tuesday during a public ceremony at the Capitol.  The event brought together a number of Republican lawmakers to show off the first bills passed by the Legislature.

Flanked by lawmakers, sheriffs and victims’ advocates, Scott said the package of bills will make the state safer.

Florida Senate

A planned expansion of the state’s school voucher program has been derailed in the early weeks of the legislative session. What was once billed as a top priority of legislative leaders appears to be going nowhere, to the disappointment of the program’s backers.

Sascha Cordner / WFSU-FM

After several years of never being taken up in the Florida Legislature, a bill seeking to regulate the state’s parasailing industry is now heading to the Senate Floor. It’s a popular water sport in the Sunshine State that’s ended in tragedy for some.

It was in 2007 when Crystal White and her little sister Amber went parasailing in Pompano Beach.

Florida Channel

The Senate passed a series of bills Tuesday from a bill making sure gun owners don’t face discrimination to one of Governor Rick Scott’s top legislative priorities.

Scott says he’s happy the Florida Senate passed the auto fee rollback that seeks to reduce the amount Floridians pay in vehicle registration fees. Now, he says it’s the House’s turn.

The state Board of Education has approved several new bachelor’s degree programs at what were formerly known as community colleges. The approval comes as some lawmakers look to restrict the board’s authority to approve those programs.

Sascha Cordner / WFSU-FM

State lawmakers are looking at overhauling the Florida Retirement System, ahead of a study that could show whether exempting a certain group of state employees from the pension change is financially sound. But, the so-called special-risk employee “carve-out” is not swaying the opinion of thousands of police officers, who spoke out against the proposal for the first time Thursday.

Florida Association of District School Superintendents

A proposal calling for a “time out” in Florida’s school accountability system has been filed in the Legislature, but faces long odds. So do proposals calling on the state to repeal Common Core standards.

Pelican Post

As Florida lawmakers look to overhaul the state’s retirement system, there are multiple hurdles ahead for the pension reform proposals now before the Senate. The two chambers haven’t agreed on a plan yet, a special exemption is splitting employee unions, and a study with the necessary numbers is not yet complete—pitting some Republicans against one another.

Trilby Republican Senator Wilton Simpson, who’s leading his chamber’s effort, says he’s particularly proud of the “Deferred Compensation” program.

MGN Online

A bipartisan package of sex predator bills is now heading for a floor vote in both the House and Senate.

The House Judiciary Committee approved a bill Thursday banning sex offenders from owning pornography. They also approved a measure that cracks down on repeat offenders who expose themselves in a vulgar way in public. Stuart Republican Representative Gayle Harrell is a sponsor of that bill.

LHatter / WFSU News

A fight over the future of Florida’s state pension program is back -- and groups are already lining up to fight some proposed changes.

Trilby Republican Senator Wilton Simpson’s bill would steer state workers hired after July of 2015 into so-called cash-benefit plans.

MGN Online

As Governor Rick Scott continues to tout Florida’s lowered crime rate, some question why he’s putting more money into the criminal justice budget.  It comes as the Florida Department of Corrections prepares for a projected increase in the state’s inmate population.

According to the latest Criminal Justice Estimating Conference, the state’s prison population is expected to soon rise, even though Florida is at a 42-year crime low.

R.Benk / WFSU-News

House Speaker Will Weatherford kicked off the ceremonial swearing in of former Republican lawmaker Carlos Lopez-Cantera as the next Lieutenant Governor of Florida but, Monday evening’s ceremony wasn’t the first time Cantera took the oath of office. He had been officially sworn in hours before in a private ceremony in the Governor’s office, making him the first Hispanic and first Miamian to ever be appointed to that position. Governor Rick Scott, whose support among Latinos in the state has all but dried up, may be hoping to use that to bolster his reelection campaign.

Florida Channel

Two top Republican legislative leaders are revisiting a failed attempt to make changes to the Florida Retirement System. It’s one of five top legislative goals for House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz.

Florida House / Florida Senate

Florida legislative leaders are pushing a big education agenda this year that features revamped higher education funding proposals and an overhaul to the state’s embattled school grading formula.

Water Sports Industry Association

A bill aiming to make the parasailing industry safer will look different than in years past when it’s next discussed by the Florida Legislature. The bill’s sponsor says instead of having the government regulate the industry, parasail operators would regulate themselves.

It’s the fourth consecutive year the legislation has been filed. In years past, the bill has allowed for government regulation of the parasailing industry, but Delray Beach Senator Maria Sachs says she worked out a compromise to give the bill a chance of passage.

Florida Channel

With one term left as the Florida Senate’s top leader, Senate President Don Gaetz is reminding his appointed committee heads to toe the line this coming session.

Gaetz says he wants all committees to run more smoothly and efficiently. Speaking to committee chairs Monday, he pointed to areas where he hopes they’ll do better this legislative session.

“Please do not hear bills that do not have House companions. Just don’t hear them. If there’s a bill that dons’ have a House companion, it’s just not going to pass,” said Gaetz.