May 06, 2017

In final session votes, lawmakers trade 'Stand Your Ground' for religious liberties in schools

Stand Your GroundBy Jim Turner
News Service of Florida

A change to the state’s “stand your ground” self-defense law is heading to Gov. Rick Scott after the Senate agreed late Friday to go along with a House proposal.

The House and Senate both wanted to change the law but had clashed on a legal issue in the bill (SB 128).

But with time running out in the legislative session Friday, the Senate voted 22-14 — with Tallahassee Democrat Bill Montford joining Republicans in support — to accept the House proposal.

The move came in exchange for getting the House to accept the Senate’s more far-reaching language on a separate measure (SB 436) dealing with religious expression in public schools.

“I thought that it was a reasonable resolution to both matters, and they’re both constitutional issues,” said Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican who sponsored the “stand your ground” bill. “And we wrapped it all up in a bow, and we resolved them both in a satisfactory manner.”

More here.

Photo credit: AP

May 05, 2017

Mammoth education budget bill will decide testing, recess, teacher bonus policies and more

Florida Legislature (7)

@ByKristenMClark

At the insistence of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, numerous major changes to education policy for Florida’s K-12 public schools — from teacher bonuses and daily recess, to testing reforms and expansions for charter schools — were crammed into a single mammoth bill on Friday, with $414 million in spending attached.

All of the policies in the the 278-page bill (HB 7069) will pass or fail as one on Monday, when lawmakers vote on the annual budget.

No changes can be made to the bill. House and Senate members have less than two days to make sense of it before they must cast an up-or-down vote.

If lawmakers’ pass it, the bill ties the hand of Republican Gov. Rick Scott. Should he want to veto the bill, he would be politically responsible for shooting down every policy in it — particularly the parent-demanded daily recess measure.

Corcoran told reporters it wasn’t political strategy to link all of the policies together, but he showed his cards a week ago when he tweeted after midnight Saturday that “the problem with recess is the governor not the Legislature.” (He pointed out Friday that that tweet ended up being true and was simply “just a week early.”)

But the sheer size and scope of the new version of HB 7069 caught many lawmakers by surprise — even those closely involved in negotiating the compromise between both parties and both chambers.

Several senators, in particular, were troubled by the process and said the bill wouldn’t automatically have their support.

Full details here.

Photo credit: Senate President Joe Negron, center right, watches as Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran, left, and House members work out budget differences during a budget conference late afternoon Friday, May 5, 2017 at the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. Mark Wallheiser/AP

May 04, 2017

A possible explanation for why the House hasn't heard school recess

SP_409499_KEEL_2_FLGOV@ByKristenMClark

Because Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, hasn't brought the Senate-approved recess bill to the House floor (and there are no indications of that changing), the fate of that proposal now rests almost entirely on negotiations between the House and Senate over a massive education policy bill that must be resolved by the end of Friday.

Although session extended until Monday, that extra time applies only to the budget and "conforming" policy bills linked to that. All other run-of-the-mill policy bills -- such as the one mandating 20 minutes of daily recess in elementary schools -- die when floor sessions end Friday, the original scheduled end of session.

To keep recess in the conversation, Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores included it in a 72-page rewrite of another education bill that was published late Wednesday and could be heard on the Senate floor Thursday.

MORE: "Short on time, lawmakers seek to cram in new education policies — from testing to recess"

But why is school recess -- a measure overwhelmingly wanted by parents and one that could easily pass the House if brought to the floor -- up for negotiation in the first place?

Hialeah Republican Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., the House Pre-K-12 education budget chairman, offered one possible explanation Wednesday.

"That's a good question. We got to this point in session, and it's still up in the air, but as the speaker, I believe, said it’s still in play," Diaz said, adding: "We didn’t take that up, but if you look at it holistically, why didn’t they [the Senate] take up the single-policy education bills that we sent over?"

"We didn’t take up recess? I’ll shoot back and say, 'why didn’t you take up the schools of [hope]?' That’s the same for both sides," he added. "I’d have love to have been passing these individual policies, so it was clear and transparent. We sent them over but they’re not being picked up."

Corcoran previously has declined interview requests from the Herald/Times to discuss the recess bill, and he hasn't publicly explained why he won't take up the Senate bill as parents have pleaded with him to do through now more than a thousand emails and many dozen phone calls. Corcoran, a couple weeks ago, said there was still time to address recess, but he made no guarantees it would be heard.

Photo credit: Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah. Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

May 03, 2017

House wants to exempt police from 3-day waiting period to buy guns

Asencio

@ByKristenMClark

The Florida House, by a near-unanimous vote, agreed Wednesday morning to send a constitutional amendment to voters in 2018 that would exempt law enforcement officers from Florida’s mandatory three-day waiting period for purchasing handguns.

But despite the favorable outcome, the measure isn’t likely to be put on next year’s ballot this spring, because the Senate companion measures were not heard in that chamber’s committees. The Senate would have to make the rare move of taking up the House proposals straight on the floor before Friday.

The House legislation (HJR 291 and HB 673) — a resolution putting the measure on the ballot and a bill to implement it — were a bipartisan effort between Reps. Don Hahnfeldt, R-The Villages, and Robert Asencio, D-Miami.

More here.

Photo credit: Rep. Robert Asencio, D-Miami. Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times.

For first time in 15 years, lawmakers reject new Sunshine exemption. (It would've been big.)

IMG_barbara_petersen_2_1_MVAT1IS1_L300902424@ByKristenMClark

In a surprise result that’s unprecedented in the past 15 years, lawmakers on Tuesday rejected an attempt to significantly scale back part of the state’s famed Sunshine Law that secures Floridians’ right to watch how local officials make decisions on their behalf.

HB 843 would have let two local government leaders meet about public business in secret. It earned a majority of votes in the state House on Tuesday but still lacked the several more needed for it to pass — thanks to a constitutional provision that requires two-thirds’ approval for lawmakers to OK any new Sunshine exemptions.

The vote was the first time since voters approved that two-thirds requirement in 2002 that lawmakers have killed a proposed exemption, said Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, which advocates for open government and of which the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times are members.

Most exemptions pass both chambers easily, frequently with unanimous support or with heavily lopsided votes in favor.

“It’s a huge relief,” Petersen said. “It really would have reversed 50 years of public policy.”

More here.

Dems' guarantee of swift vote on water bill killed Republicans' last-minute gun bill

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@ByKristenMClark

House Republicans quietly agreed Tuesday to pull from the floor a gun bill not yet considered at all by the chamber, after trading with Democrats to ensure a priority of the Senate president — also not previously vetted by the House — would be voted out that same day.

It’s a prime example of the type of deal-making and horse-trading that’s commonplace in the Florida Legislature during the final days of session.

Had SB 616 been heard on the House floor Tuesday as planned, the Republican-led chamber likely would have easily approved it on Wednesday. But instead, Democrats were able to use the power of their 41-member caucus — something they can’t often do — to convince House Speaker Richard Corcoran not to hear the bill, after all.

“Today, you saw the power of the Democrats,” House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz, of Tampa, said. “It was a good day, a very good day.”

More here.

Photo credit: AP

May 02, 2017

After failing to meet deadline, Legislature headed for OT

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@ByKristenMClark @stevebousquet @MichaelAuslen

Florida’s legislative session will head into overtime after two top Republicans — negotiating in private billions of dollars worth of spending and substantive policy — failed to meet a deadline to get an $83 billion budget done Tuesday night, so that the session could have ended on time on Friday.

As time expired Tuesday, Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, both said the 60-day session would have to be prolonged, but they didn’t yet know for how long.

“You know the timetable as well as I do, with the 72-hour requirement. We will definitely not complete the budget work prior to the end of Friday,” Negron told reporters Tuesday evening — a few hours after House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, downplayed the increasingly expected delay by saying an on-time budget was still “90 percent likely.”

But earlier in the day, Trujillo was already guaranteeing lawmakers would remain in Tallahassee for longer than they’d planned.

More here.

Photo credit: House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, with Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart. Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

Session could be extended 'at least by a day,' Trujillo says

@ByKristenMClark @MichaelAuslen

Lawmakers now say they could extend the 60-day legislative session by “at least a day” but perhaps longer, because after days of private negotiations, House and Senate leaders still haven’t reached agreement on major sticking points of both funding and policy for the 2017-18 budget.

House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, told the Herald/Times around midday Tuesday that budget talks were going well, but it was unlikely legislative leaders would reach compromise on an $83 billion budget before day’s end — the deadline if the session was to end on schedule by Friday.

“We’ll extend at least a day, but I think one day max,” Trujillo said. That would push the session into Saturday, but Trujillo then said lawmakers would “maybe lay [the budget] on the table and come back Monday,” which would require at least an additional three days.

More here.

Miami-Dade state attorney not happy prosecutors won't get raises, while public defenders could

via @DavidOvalle305

Public defenders may be getting pay raises. And prosecutors may not.

And that isn’t sitting well with Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, who on Monday emailed her entire staff to apologize — and to criticize Florida lawmakers, saying “our Legislature did not see fit to acknowledge your tireless work on behalf of our community.”

In unusually frank language, the longtime elected Democrat singled out Sen. President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, “who previously stated that he thinks the prosecution has an easier job than the defense,” according to her email.

At issue: Senate Bill 7030 boosts pay for public defenders with three years of experience or more by 6 percent. The bill, which passed the Senate’s appropriations committee on Monday, did not do the same for Florida prosecutors.

The issue, however, is not a done deal as the Senate and House leadership work to hash out final budget before Tuesday.

Full story here.

May 01, 2017

Steube's courthouse gun bill goes immediately to House floor -- with no vetting there

Richard Corcoran Jose Oliva

@ByKristenMClark

In an extremely rare move, House leaders are rushing a gun bill that none of their members have considered to the floor during the final week of session.

Lawmakers in the House will take up SB 616 on Tuesday — a Senate-approved proposal that would allow concealed weapons permit-holders to store their guns with security while visiting state courthouses.

MORE: “Visitors’ guns could be secured in Florida courthouses”

The Rules & Policy Committee, chaired by Miami Lakes Republican Rep. Jose Oliva, put the bill on the daily floor calendar after senators passed it on Friday.

Because the bill did not have a House companion, it’s brand new to lawmakers in that chamber, and they won’t have a chance to first vet it in a policy committee.

The move is highly unusual and also deprives members of the public a chance to address their representatives at a public meeting before the floor vote.

More here.

Photo credit: House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, talks with House Rules & Policy chairman Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes. Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times