Here's what we're watching on this Mardi Gras Day, day 43 of the legislative session. And just like last weekend in New Orleans, today's going to be busy.
Five Stories To Think About Today
* A ban on texting while driving will get its fourth Senate hearing in the Budget Committee. The measure, SB 416, sponsored by Venice Republican Sen. Nancy Detert, has moved through the Senate with just two no votes. Its House companion, though, has languished without attention despite recent pleas from some legislators, physicians and other community advocates. The texting proposal is just one of about 40 proposals crammed into a two-hour meeting.
* Rather than wait through a bid process with competitors, private companies that explore for oil on state land would get first dibs on a lease to drill oil they found under SB 1158, sponsored by Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker. The measure could affect some Panhandle parks and Blackwater River State Forest.
* Over in the House, the Appropriations Committee will take up a claims bill for William Dillon, who was imprisoned for murder but exonerated by DNA evidence 27 years later. It's a big priority for Senate President Mike Haridopolos and already approved by the full Senate. A controversial bill allowing periodic random drug-testing of state employees is slated to be heard in the same committee, which initially rejected the measure last week. Democrats and some Republicans said last week they are concerned HB 1205 will be immediately challenged as unconstitutional. That's what happened to Gov. Rick Scott, whose administration is still involved in a legal challenge from the ACLU of Florida over his executive order for employee drug tests. Also on tap is a proposed decentralization plan for the state Department of Health. The proposal, HB 1263, would move the state department's responsibilities to county health departments. It's considered more extreme than its Senate counterpart, which passed a committee last week and is more in line with the agency's own streamlining suggestions.
* Families who receive temporary cash assistance would not be allowed to withdraw money out of state or from liquor stores, strip clubs and parimutuels under HB 1401, which is being considered in the House Health and Human Services Committee. The bill is less restrictive than its Senate partner, which still places a ban on junk food.
* Planned Parenthood and its supporters will rally at the Capitol at 2 p.m. in protest of a few abortion-related measures being considered by the Legislature.
Three Issues You Missed Yesterday
* University of South Florida president Judy Genshaft and state Sen. JD Alexander met privately for an hour Monday, and while they described their conversation as fruitful, the two did not reach an agreement on the university's proposed budget for next year.
* Other education issues: The University of Florida and Florida State University could soon have the power to set higher tuition rates than the state's other nine universities -- a flexibility they've asked state leaders for repeatedly; High school students from larger, private schools could participate in public school scholastic and athletic programs under a bill that sailed through a House panel today; A bill that would change the selection process of the student member of the Board of Governors passed through another committee Monday morning, with an amendment filed by Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, that would remove the FSA requirement and instead allow student body presidents to choose among themselves.
* Minutes after the incoming Senate President, Don Gaetz, said he would vote against the proposal, the House dropped its effort to clarify immunity that lawmakers have from lawsuits on grounds of politicization of the issue.
Who To Watch Today/Quotable Quotes
* "We have a couple of appearance cards...James...M-Mon-Monteles? American Heart. What's your last name? Mosteller. [We'll have] to do penmanship classes here. Brian Pitts? Mr. Pitts's are always pre-printed and hand-written." -Sen. Anitere Flores, joking with American Heart Association lobbyist James Mosteller after having trouble reading the name on his appearance card before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday morning.