Ethics and campaign finance reform await Gov. Rick Scott’s signature. A sweeping education bill has been passed. And an elections bill is expected to be passed this week.
All were among Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford’s top priorities this session.
With less than a week left, it looks as if one main priority, pension reform, has stalled out, adrift in the the flow of bills between the House and Senate. Weatherford, usually so chipper about his prospects, sounded last week as if he’s willing to concede that his wish to get HB 7011 passed won’t be fulfilled.
“Hey, we’re three for five so far,” Weatheford told reporters Friday. “We’d like to be five for five, but there are no guarantees.”
Don’t fall for Weatherford’s sudden humility.
Weatherford has been pushing for a Senate vote all session on HB 7011, and it looks like today, for the first time, he’s got a chance.
The sponsor of a rival bill, SB 1392, which is a more moderate version of Weatherford’s pension overhaul, attached an amendment to his bill Monday that would substitute much of 7011 for his own.
What’s the difference?
HB 7011 would prohibit state and local government workers hired after Jan. 1, 2014 from enrolling in the state's pension system and direct them instead to 401(k)-style investment plans. Union groups oppose it, saying it would relegate public workers to a more risky form of investing. SB 1392 would only encourage state and local government workers hired after Jan. 1, 2014 to enroll in the private investment plans by having the state contribute 2 percent of their salary to the plans. But if they chose to remain in the pension system, they could do so, but without the 2 percent contribution. Some union groups, like the Police Benevolent Association, actually support SB 1392. Others, like the Florida Education Association, oppose it as well, saying it poses as much risk to the pension and to workers’ retirement as the House bill.
The odd thing is that SB 1392’s sponsor, Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, also happens to employ Weatherford as a consultant at his environmental company. He came up with the language of his bill, which he has argued is a more practical approach.
But Weatherford and HB 7011’s sponsor, Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, have preferred the House version all along. Weatherford has been seeking a Senate vote throughout session, even though it doesn’t have the slightest chance of getting approved, according to Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater.
Up until last week, Simpson seemed intent on sticking with his bill. But on Friday, he acknowledged he was considering substituting Brodeur’s bill for his own, with some changes.
On Monday, that’s what he did.
He is proposing an amendment that would strike his bill and put in language similar to HB 7011, with one difference -- it wouldn’t go into effect until 2015. He’s also proposing that a committee of lawmakers study the issue in the meantime.
Simpson also is proposing a second amendment that tweaks his own SB 1392 by eliminating the money the 2 percent contribution. It, too, would have a committee study the issue.
On Tuesday, Simpson would take up the substitute amendment first, which seems to go a long way to accomplishing Weatherford’s goal of getting senators to vote for it. Latvala surmised that Weatherford knows HB 7011 would go down in defeat, but he just wanted to know who supported it.
It’s important to note here that another player wants Senators to vote for the Brodeur bill: The Florida Chamber of Commerce.
David Hart, the executive director of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, told the Times/Herald last week, that there was no question which bill the business group favors.
“We like the Senate plan, but we love the House plan,” Hart said.
Hart said he thinks there could be enough votes to support it, but said, if nothing else, a vote would clarify who’s against it and who’s for it.
It wouldn’t be a litmus test for the Chamber, Hart said, but it would provide worthwhile information by getting senators to actually vote on the issue.
It’s also noteworthy that Weatherford’s father-in-law, Allan Bense, who served as House Speaker from 2004-2006, sits on the Chamber board. He also is the board chairman of the James Madison Institute, a libertarian Tallahassee think tank that’s also been pushing for HB 7011.
Simpson’s substitute amendment isn’t exactly the same as HB 7011, but it’s close.
But and his other amendment, which are about 50 pages each, are already setting alarms at the FEA.
“We are reviewing it but it appears we have a last-minute, 100-page Frankenstein amendment,” said FEA lobbyist Lynda Russell.
Because Simpson's bill is so similar to HB 7011 that's still stuck in a Senate committee, it's not clear if Senate President Don Gaetz would have to waive the rules to allow the substitute amendment to be heard. If one senator objects, then it would require a two-thirds vote for the amendment to be heard. In which case, Weatherford really will have to wait until next year.