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Dead bill walking: Weatherford's pension reform could die today

Before breaking for lunch, the Florida Senate voted 21-15 on Wednesday against considering a House bill that is one of Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford's top priorities.

HB 7181 overhauls the state's pension system and Florida's 500 municipal pension plans. The Senate has those two issues, state pension reform vs. municipal pension reform, divided into two separate bills.

In the Senate, local pension reform is popular, and passed unanimously. The state pension reform, in SB 1114 sponsored by Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, is controversial. The state's $135 billion pension system is considered to be one of the most fiscally sound in the nation, so many senators say an overhaul isn't necessary. But Weatherford has made an overhaul of the state's pension system a chief priority.

The two bills were briefly merged in the Senate on Wednesday when President Don Gaetz asked quickly for an amendment that would substitute the Senate bill for the House merged version. After it passed on a voice vote, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, rushed to his microphone to ask for a reconsideration of the vote.

After some back-and-forth on Senate procedures, Gaetz and Rules Chairman John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, agreed to Latvala's reconsideration of the vote. It passed 21-15, meaning the House bill was no longer accepted.

"We have to respect the process," Latvala said of the attempt to merge the two bills with little discussion. "We have rules, we need to respect them, you need to match up the bills before you can take up the House bill. That’s just the way it is."

After the Senate broke for lunch, Simpson said he will try to amend the local pension bill onto his state pension bill later this afternoon. His bill probably dies if the two aren't merged, he said. 

"That's what we're going to try to do, to bring the local pension bill onto the Senate bill," Simpson said. "If that fails, then I think we probably failed."

So for the second year in a row, Weatherford's pension reform will die in the Senate?

"It could," Simpson said. "We’ll have one amendment, and if that fails, maybe the bill is dead."