Big Issues Met Different Fates During 2016 Session

March 14, 2016

A couple sailed through quickly. Others bumped along until finally passing. Still others flamed out before getting votes.

Throughout the 60-day legislative session that ended Friday night, big issues confronted the House, Senate and Gov. Rick Scott. Here is what happened — or didn’t — in 10 key areas.

BUDGET: The House and Senate signed off Friday on an $82.3 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The budget, which is about $3 billion more than Gov. Rick Scott proposed, drew nearly unanimous bipartisan support. Among other things, the budget will increase per-student spending on public schools by 1 percent, moving it to a record amount, and includes money for Everglades restoration. During the closing days of the session, speculation focused on whether Scott would veto large parts of the budget — or possibly even the whole spending plan. While widespread vetoes remain a possibility, Scott described the plan Friday night as a “good budget.”

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: Scott suffered a defeat when lawmakers did not go along with his high-profile request to set aside $250 million for incentives to attract businesses to Florida. Scott spent months trying to build support for the money, traveling the state and enlisting support from local officials and business leaders. But many lawmakers expressed skepticism about the proposal, and House and Senate leaders decided to leave it out of the budget. That decision fanned much of the speculation about Scott’s possible budget vetoes.

EDUCATION: During the closing hours of the session, lawmakers approved a wide-ranging education bill that drew praise from supporters of school choice. The bill, in part, would allow parents to transfer their children to any public school in the state that isn’t at capacity. Also, it would give charter schools that serve lower-income students or children with disabilities a bigger slice of state construction funding. One of the biggest education debates of the session focused on the “Best and Brightest” program, which provides bonuses to teachers. The program has faced criticism because it partly ties the bonuses to teachers’ scores on college-admissions tests. Best and Brightest was included in the new budget, despite protests about whether it will improve student achievement and whether it is fair. Supporters say the program can help attract high-performing college students into the teaching profession.

GAMBLING: The Scott administration and the Seminole Tribe of Florida late last year reached agreement on a plan that called for the tribe to pay $3 billion to the state over seven years in exchange for being able to offer roulette and craps at Seminole casinos. But the agreement, known as a “compact,” required legislative approval and, as often happens with gambling issues in Tallahassee, set off a feeding frenzy. The House and Senate put together broad proposals that dealt with issues such as allowing slot machines at pari-mutuel facilities outside South Florida. The proposals ultimately died without getting votes in the full House or Senate.

GUNS: The National Rifle Association and other gun-rights advocates typically hold a huge amount of influence in the Republican-controlled Legislature. But two major gun bills died this year after supporters could not steer them through the Senate. One of the bills would have allowed people with concealed-weapons licenses to carry guns on college and university campuses. The other bill would have allowed people with the licenses to openly carry firearms. Senate Judiciary Chairman Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, did not take up either bill in his committee, effectively blocking them from advancing.

HEALTH CARE: After the issues percolated throughout the legislative session, lawmakers Friday approved proposals to change some health-care regulations and to offer more information to patients about the prices of medical services. House Republican leaders have made regulatory changes a priority, arguing that such moves would help increase competition and choices in the health-care system. The proposals approved Friday, for example, include allowing advanced registered nurse practitioners to prescribe controlled substances — a long-debated issue. During the final week, lawmakers also approved allowing terminally ill patients to have access to medical marijuana.

JUSTICE SYSTEM: Lawmakers and Scott rushed to approve a new death-penalty sentencing law after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in January that Florida’s sentencing system was unconstitutional. Scott signed a bill that seeks to address the Supreme Court ruling, which essentially said Florida has given too much power to judges, instead of juries, in sentencing defendants to death. Also during the session, the Legislature approved a bill aimed at ending years of court battles with counties about how juvenile-detention costs should be divided. The bill came after an appeals court ruling that could have put the state on the hook for more than $100 million in back payments to counties.

PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES: Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, made a top priority of helping people with developmental disabilities — or, as he describes them, “unique abilities.” As a result, the Senate and House started the session by quickly approving a package of bills designed to provide more job and educational opportunities to people with disabilities. But Gardiner, whose son has Down syndrome, also got a victory in the final two hours of the session. The Senate took up a bill and stuck on an amendment that would require insurance plans to cover such services as speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy for people with Down syndrome. The amended bill quickly passed the Senate and then was approved by the House.

TAX CUTS: Scott tried to drill home a message for months: Lawmakers needed to approve $1 billion in tax cuts and $250 million in economic-incentive money to help bolster job growth and business recruitment. But lawmakers did not go along with the incentive money and approved far fewer tax cuts than Scott wanted. A package approved Friday includes $129.1 million in tax cuts, including the permanent elimination of sales taxes on manufacturing equipment. Also, it includes holding a three-day tax “holiday” in August for back-to-school shoppers. Lawmakers, however, also spent state money to help hold down local property taxes that otherwise would be needed to fund public schools.

WATER: With heavy support from House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, lawmakers started the session by quickly passing a wide-ranging bill to set new water policies for the state. The plan, in part, includes establishing water-flow levels for natural springs and setting guidelines for the Central Florida Water Initiative. Also, it addresses establishing management plans for farming around Lake Okeechobee and nearby waterways. Lawmakers then ended the session by passing another high-profile water initiative known as “Legacy Florida.” That initiative, in part pushed by incoming Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, calls for spending more than $250 million a year on Everglades restoration, springs and Lake Apopka.

by Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida

Comments

One Response to “Big Issues Met Different Fates During 2016 Session”

  1. Melodies4us on March 15th, 2016 8:23 pm

    Good reporting.





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