Big legislative issues remain at ‘halftime’

BY JIM SAUNDERS
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

TALLAHASSEE – Florida’s 60-day legislative session is halfway done. Most of the major issues remain unresolved after weeks of lawmakers debating bills in committees. But that’s not unusual – lawmakers typically put off the big stuff until the end.

Here is a partial update about what has – or hasn’t – happened.

•Economic development: Gov. Rick Scott continues to put pressure on lawmakers to approve setting aside $250 million for economic-development incentives. Senate leaders have agreed. But it has received a cooler reception in the House, which is more focused on cutting taxes.

•Education: The Senate has looked at the possibility of allowing school districts to use tests other than the state’s Florida Standards Assessments. Right now, House Republican leaders appear to show little interest in making major changes to the testing system. Instead, the House has focused heavily on expanding school choice, including proposals that would bolster charter schools and allow parents to enroll children in any public schools that have available space.

•Gambling: The House has three proposals that would make major changes in Florida’s gambling industry. One would ratify a $3 billion gambling deal negotiated by the Scott administration and the Seminole Tribe of Florida. But the package also allows greyhound tracks to stop offering live racing and clears the way for slot machines in Palm Beach County. A gambling package has also been proposed in the Senate.

•Guns: The House last week approved two major gun bills backed by Second Amendment groups.

One would allow people with concealed-weapons licenses to carry guns on college and university campuses. The other would allow people with concealed-weapons licenses to openly carry firearms in public. The bills appear likely to die in the Senate, where Judiciary Chairman Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, has already made clear he will not take up the campus-carry bill. Even if the committee takes up the open carry bill, senators likely would consider changes unacceptable to groups such as the National Rifle Association.

•Health care: The House is considering bills scaling back regulations in the health-care industry.

Both chambers also are looking at proposals to boost transparency, an issue that emerged amid Scott’s criticism of the hospital industry.

• Justice system: The U.S. Supreme Court issued a major ruling that said Florida’s death-penalty sentencing system was unconstitutional. That spurred the Florida Supreme Court to put on hold an execution that was scheduled for this week, and has forced lawmakers to try to revamp the sentencing system. So far, the House and Senate disagree about whether juries should have to make unanimous recommendations to judges about imposing death sentences. In the past, majorities of juries have been able to make such recommendations.

•People with disabilities: The House, Senate and Scott quickly approved a package of bills designed to provide more job and educational opportunities to people with developmental disabilities.

•Water: Lawmakers and Scott have approved a wide-ranging bill to set new water policies for the state. Lawmakers also are considering a plan known as “Legacy Florida,” which would direct money to South Florida to address issues related to Everglades restoration and Lake Okeechobee.

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