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Senators pass antiabortion proposal without formal debate

Senators passed a sweeping antiabortion measure for the first time on their side of the Capitol by a vote of 5-2, a day after Planned Parenthood advocates rallied against state and national efforts to limit access to the procedure and birth control.

Sponsored by Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, the measure would ban abortions after the fetus reaches viability (third trimester abortions are already illegal in Florida), require abortion clinics to be wholly owned and operated by physicians, and implement a 24-hour waiting period before a woman can have the procedure.

Senators on the Health Regulation Committee delayed discussion of SB 290 until the meeting's end. They allowed for about five minutes of public testimony before deciding to take a vote with no debate of the bill -- just a few amendments -- at 5:59 p.m., the last possible minute.

Republican Sen. Dennis Jones of Seminole may be the only lawmaker to break the party line on abortion bills all session.

"I thought we were trying to get away from regulation," he said.

Sen. Eleanor Sobel, the only Democrat on the panel, suggested a string of no-win amendments that Sen. Don Gaetz and Sen. Jim Norman said were designed to take up time. Gaetz called for the time-certain vote, which resulted in cutting off a Planned Parenthood leader's testimony and leaving no room for debate on the bill.

One element of Flores' bill requires physicians who perform abortions to get three hours of ethics training as part of their continuing education. Sobel introduced an amendment that would require legislators to take three hours of ethics training. She withdrew it.

Another Sobel amendment would push the implementing date to July 1, 2020, so lawmakers could have more time to think about what they're doing, she said.

"I was wondering why you chose 20/20," Flores said. "That's a good one."

"By the year 2020 we'll know what we're really doing to women's health," Sobel said. Also withdrawn.

Referencing the law's 24-hour waiting period, Sobel touted a change that would require men who seek vasectomies or erectile dysfunction medication to also wait 24 hours. Flores said she would support it but did not think it would do well on the floor.

Planned Parenthood volunteers tried appealing to the Republicans' financial concerns, pointing out that the Agency for Health Care Administration estimated it would need $50,000 to bring its software up to date so it could comply with new reporting requirements about abortions as a result of the bill.

"You need to remember there is money attached to this bill," said Staci Fox, Planned Parenthood of North Florida CEO.