Florida Legislature Archives - Page 6 of 54 - Florida Politics

Gary Farmer apologizes for taking ’emotional’ jab at Lauren Book

After state Sen. Gary Farmer came under fire for saying state Sen. Lauren Book’s family responsibilities may be too much to balance if she was chosen as the Senate Democratic Leader-designate, he apologized.

“I recognize that I failed to properly express my thoughts about the difficulties that a Caucus leadership role can play for any individual when it comes to family life,” Farmer said in a statement.

The comments were made Thursday night as the Senate Democrats tried to finalize a vote for the next Leader-designate. Sen. Randolph Bracy nominated Book for the role and that’s when Farmer said her responsibilities as a mother may come in the way. Farmer is also a father of two.

“In the heat of this private moment, I’ll admit that I got pretty emotional,” Farmer said in relation to his comments.

Sen. Kevin Rader called his comments “sexist” and “discriminatory” in a letter to Senate Democrats.

“I just can’t believe that we have a member in our caucus that would insult another member by using sexist and antiquated comments about her children being a hindrance for her to be the leader of our caucus,” Rader said.

After Rader sent the letter Thursday night, Senate Democrats held a meeting on caucus business Friday morning. They came out of it without a vote on who will be the next Leader-designate to succeed Sen. Audrey Gibson.

After that meeting, Farmer said he tried to reach out to Book but could not get in touch with her. He did not want to comment as to whether he was planning on apologizing. Hours later he did.

“I admire Senator Book, and her ability to balance being a parent while serving as a capable and effective legislator over the past two session,” Farmer said in a statement.

“I truly apologize for the way in which this came across, and want to be clear that it was in no way meant to be a broad statement on gender, or Senator Book.”

Legislature approves break for students with excess hours

Students who take too many classes while earning baccalaureate degrees could avoid a financial penalty if they graduate within four years, under a bill headed to Gov. Rick Scott.

The Senate on Friday voted 37-0 for the measure (HB 565), sponsored by Rep. Amber Mariano, a Hudson Republican.

The House earlier voted 115-0 for the bill. Since 2012, university students who take more than 132 credit hours of classes for a major that typically only needs 120 credit hours pay an excess-hour surcharge, which doubles the tuition rate. It means the normal per-hour rate of about $200 rises to $400 for those extra credit hours.

The bill would give first-time-in-college students up to 12 extra hours, penalty free, if they graduate within four years of enrollment. They would pay the penalty but would be reimbursed through a refund.

Analysts project it could help nearly 1,500 students avoid the surcharge annually, although it would result in a loss of $2.4 million for the universities. Mariano and Sen. Aaron Bean, a Fernandina Beach Republican who sponsored the Senate version (SB 844), acknowledged it is a modest step in seeking financial relief for students who take too many classes, but they said they would try to expand its scope next year if Scott signs the bill into law.

Senate kills human trafficking bill a day after it was revived

The last-ditch effort to revive a Senate human trafficking bill crashed Friday night after the House decided to strip language that would have created a trust fund for victims.

When it was up to the Senate to consider the changes to the bill, Republicans argued it should be killed because the House “did not do the right thing.”

“Our friends in the House stripped that out in an attempt to say that they did something in the face of these women, all for political glory,” said Sen. Rene Garcia, who was audibly out of breath after running to his desk to debate the proposal.

“Vote this down,” he asked senators.

Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, pleaded with senators to support the proposal because it would help women who are used as sex slaves in establishments across the state.

“We can bring that trust fund back next session,” Book said as she pointed to three trafficking victims in the gallery watching the debate.

After her closing, the bill was struck down in a voice vote.

The measure would have allowed victims of human trafficking to sue hotels and motels if the owners or employees turn a blind eye to the illicit activity. If victims won a suit, the court would assess a civil penalty against the accused in the amount of $50,000 in addition to any other damage reward. Those proceeds would then be deposited into the trust fund.

Book unexpectedly tabled the bill a few weeks ago after it sailed through committee assignments, but on Thursday, she successfully tacked her bill onto a House-backed bill that expands control and monitoring of sex offenders and predators in the state.

Once the human trafficking language was slashed from the sex offender bill (HB 1301), the Senate passed the measure unanimously, sending it back to the House.

House, Senate reach budget deal with $90m in last-minute spending

Legislative leaders closed out the largest proposed budget in state history Thursday that included nearly $90 million in last-minute spending for projects that largely have to do with education.

As the House and Senate finalized differences on the roughly $88 billion 2018-19 budget, the supplemental funding — informally known as the “sprinkle fund” — was unveiled in a 10 a.m. budget meeting.

The 21 last-minute spending list includes $30 million for charter school maintenance projects, $20 million for performance-based incentive in the state university system and $3.3 million for the University of South Florida.

From that list, a dozen items are hurricane-related costs and contingent on reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Another budget item negotiators agreed to pay in the end is a member project championed by state Rep. Mike La Rosa, a Republican whose district includes Polk County.

La Rosa wanted to get $1.3 million in funding to repair major damage caused to a Polk County charter school by Hurricane Irma last year. Lawmakers decided to give $1.2 million to the school to help with building repair costs and costs associated with school supplies and relocating students to an off campus location. From those funds, $700,000 are subject to federal reimbursement.

Throughout budget negotiations budget writers said members projects were cut and priorities were reshuffled to fund the $400 million “Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Act,” which included $67 million for a controversial program to arm school personnel and more funding for mental health services in schools across the state.

Lawmakers have yet to vote on the budget, which is the largest proposed budget in state history. They will have to wait until at least Sunday afternoon to give it final approval.

Early start approved for 2020 Session

Continuing a trend, the Florida Senate on Thursday gave final approval to a bill that would start the 2020 Legislative Session in January.

Under the state Constitution, Legislative Sessions typically start in March. But the Legislature can decide to start Sessions at other times during even-numbered years.

The Legislature voted to start the 2016 and 2018 Sessions in January.

The bill (HB 7045) approved Thursday in a 34-3 vote would start the 2020 Session on Jan. 14. The House has also approved the bill, which means it is now ready to go to Gov. Rick Scott.

Three South Florida Democrats — Minority Leader Oscar Braynon, a Miami Gardens Democrat, Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Miami Democrat, and Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat — opposed the bill Thursday.

“It’s too cold in Tallahassee during the winter so I cannot support this bill,” Braynon said.

That drew a reply from Senate bill sponsor Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican.

“It’s, frankly, too hot later, so I would ask you to support it,” Galvano said

Legislative leaders reach budget deal, Session extension looms

Florida lawmakers will extend their annual session for several days to pass a new $87 billion-plus state budget, which will include a $101.50 increase in per-student funding in public schools.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran announced early Wednesday afternoon that legislative leaders had reached agreement on the budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. One of the last issues to be resolved was funding for hospitals and nursing homes.

His announcement came after House and Senate negotiators failed to finalize a budget before a Tuesday deadline, forcing an extension of the 60-day legislative session, which had been scheduled to end Friday.

“We do believe that as of right now we have agreement on the budget,” Corcoran told the House, drawing applause from the members.

But Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron said they have not worked out the timing of the session extension, which will likely mean a final vote on the annual appropriations bill Sunday afternoon or Monday.

The budget bill must be published, and then lawmakers must wait 72 hours before the final vote under a constitutionally mandated “cooling off” period.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley said the last major issue settled was a deal securing $40 million in state funds, which can be matched with $60 million in federal funding, for nursing homes.

“It was very important to us in the Senate,” Bradley said. “We have a $100 million to help our elderly, our frail, vulnerable citizens who are in our nursing homes.”

Lawmakers also settled a dispute over a funding formula distributing Medicaid payments to Florida hospitals.

“I tell you I’ve spent the last 36 hours watching a lot of heavily lobbied special interests fight like hyenas over a static amount of money,” Bradley said. “At the end of the day, what is important to us is creating new money to help vulnerable Floridians rather than worrying about how these special interests work out their fights among themselves.”

Although the specific details had not been released early Wednesday evening, Bradley cited a number of accomplishments in the new budget, including $100 million for the Florida Forever environmental land-buying program and $400 million for a school-safety initiative, which will provide more mental health services and security officers for schools.

He said the budget will include a tax-cut package, which is expected to be in the range of $80 million, and will include more than $50 million to address the opioid crisis.

Although state workers will not receive a general pay raise, the budget includes pay hikes for state law enforcement officers, assistant state attorneys, state firefighters, assistant public defenders and probation and detention officers in the Department of Juvenile Justice, Bradley said.

He said there would be “record” funding for the state university system and public schools. The $21 billion public school budget will include a per-student funding increase of $101.50, Bradley said.

The budget includes a permanent expansion of Bright Futures scholarships for students at universities and state colleges, including allowing the merit aid to be used to attend summer classes.

However, without the appropriations bill actually being published, the budget deal technically remained “open” for adjustments on Wednesday, with some lawmakers speculating that it was being used as leverage to sway some reluctant House members as they debated a contentious school-safety bill (SB 7026). The House passed the bill 67-49 early Wednesday evening.

“In my opinion, it’s because they are wrangling votes over there” in the House, Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon said about the delay on finalizing the budget.

Bradley said he could not speculate on the House, while saying “there were no carrots or sticks with regards to the budget” in the Senate debate over the school-safety bill, which passed in a 20-18 vote earlier in the week. He said the budget delay was caused by differences over the health-care spending.

Sen. Tom Lee, a former budget chairman and Senate president, said he believed there were real budget differences between the two chambers “but maybe they weren’t working on it very hard — they weren’t in a big rush.”

He said using spending initiatives in the annual budget bill to motivate individual members is “a real management tool.”

“They’ve used every tool that I have ever seen used in this building to try to whip the votes for this (school-safety) bill,” Lee said.

Material from the News Service of Florida was used in this post.

House passes Adam Putnam’s priority without contentious gun provision

The Florida House Tuesday passed a priority bill for Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam without a toxic gun provision and without considering a contentious bill tied to puppy mills.

The language in the House plan was causing heartburn, but state Rep. Jake Raburn, who is sponsoring the House bill, decided to consider the Senate plan, which was much less contentious.

“We’re taking up the Senate bill in place of the House bill. That language has been removed,” Raburn said.

The House bill came under fire by the House Democrats during a caucus meeting Tuesday morning after members saw the House bill would be on special calendar. State Rep. Sean Shaw said the bill, which covers a wide-range of policy issues overseen by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, was “insidious” because of the gun provision.

That language would have allowed the state to process gun licensing permits within 90 days even if there was an incomplete criminal background check.

Putnam, a Republican candidate for governor who has made gun rights the centerpiece of his campaign, asked for the language to be included in both the House and Senate bills early on in the 2018 Legislative Session. But the provision came under fire after the Parkland school mass shooting.

Earlier Tuesday, Corcoran’s office indicated they would put their language on the Senate bill, a move that ultimately did not happen.

A day after the massacre, the Senate stripped the language from its bill due to a “timing and sensitivity” issue. The upper chamber passed its version last week.

If the House did not take out the gun provision, it would have been extremely unlikely for the proposal to pass the Legislature this year.

Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel, the sponsor of the Senate bill, told Florida Politics she would not take up the bill with the gun provision.

In addition to the gun provision, a contentious amendment by state Rep. Halsey Beshears,which was opposed by animal rights advocates, was tossed Tuesday.

The Monticello Republican filed an amendment under the House bill Monday, which would have voided any local ordinances in the state that ban the sale of dogs from USDA-licensed breeders. This could have limited the local government’s ability to crack down on puppy mills and rally animal rights advocates against the bill.

Putnam’s priority bill easily passed the House and is now headed to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk.

Pixabay (free download)

Senate, House reach compromise on controversial child marriage bill

The Florida Senate gave initial approval Monday to a compromise with the House on the controversial child marriage bill, which would allow 17-year-old to wed in the state.

The Republican-controlled House initially wanted to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to marry in cases where there is a pregnancy and the older partner is no more than two years older than the minor.

A new amendment filed by Republican Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, the sponsor of SB 140, was adopted on a voice vote. With that the Senate moved from an outright ban on minor marriage, to allow minors who are 17 to wed if there is parental consent and the partner is no more than two years older. Benacquisto wanted to get rid of the pregnancy requirement added by the House.

With the amendment, the bill passed the Senate unanimously.

“Proud that our bill to have the strongest #EndChildMarriage laws in the nation passes unanimously in the Senate and I look forward to the House taking it up and passing!” Benacquisto tweeted.

The Senate bill now repeals a state law that allows a court to issue a marriage license to a girl or boy under the age of 18 if both parties swear under oath that they are the parents of a child. This loophole in the law has led to some children, as young as 13, to be forced into marriage.

Florida Senate narrowly passes watered-down school safety proposal

In a bipartisan effort, the Florida House narrowly passed a watered-down school safety proposal with a $400 million price tag that will provide students with more access to mental health services and allow school districts to participate in a program that arms school staff.

“This bill will make a difference, and when it becomes law, things will start changing,” Sen. Bill Galvano said.

SB 7026 passed on a 20-18 vote with the help of Democratic Sens. Lauren Book and Kevin Rader.

Republicans who voted against the measure, most notably Sens. Greg Steube and Dennis Baxley, were against provisions with gun restrictions such as a ban on bump stock and raising the age to buy an assault rifle from 18 to 21.

Before the final vote, senators debated the bill for more than two hours and approved an amendment that scaled back a controversial program that would have allowed teachers to carry concealed weapons on campus to fight off active shooters.

The change better aligns the Senate’s proposal to what Parkland students and Gov. Rick Scott want: Not arming teachers.

But even with the tweak, Democrats argued the bill still allows teachers who also work as librarians, coaches or psychologists to sign up for the program.

The amendment filed by Republican Sen. Rene Garcia, who admits to not being the biggest fan of the school safety package, said the intent is to make sure the “instructional personnel who are in the classroom cannot participate in the program.”

Garcia’s amendment also changed the name of the contentious program to the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program in honor of a beloved coach who died trying to protect students from a hail of bullets on Valentine’s Day. He said Feis’ wife was “very supportive” of naming the program after him.

The measure now heads to the House for consideration.

“I don’t know if they’re going to continue to work on this in the House,” said Sen. Tom Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican who voted against the bill. “I can’t imagine them bouncing this back and we have to go thru this all over again … God help us if they send it back.”

The latest summary of the legislation, provided by the Senate communications team, is below.

Tax supermajority proposal heads to voters for approval

Despite concerns raised by Senate Democrats that it would “tie the hands” of future legislators facing emergencies, the Florida Senate passed a measure Monday that would make it harder for the Legislature to increase taxes and fees in the future.

“This can tie the hands of future legislators in difficult times,” said Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez in reference to the costs that climate change and rising sea levels could bring in the coming years.

The legislation would mandate a two-thirds vote in both chambers before any tax and fee hike can be imposed on Floridians. Because the change would amend the Florida Constitution, it will need 60-percent voter-approval to take effect. They will vote on it in November.

“It’s the people’s money, not ours. Yes, two-thirds is hard to get. It should be hard to raise taxes because it is the people’s money, not ours,” Senate Budget Chair Rob Bradley said.

The upper chamber pushed through the proposal on a 25-13 vote, with three Democrats — Sens. Lauren Book, Linda Stewart and Bobby Powell — voting with Republicans. Republican Sen. Tom Lee voted with Democrats.

The proposal has been a big priority of Gov. Rick Scott, who has also tried to push the supermajority vote mandate through the Florida Constitution Revision Commission.

Upon passage of the bill, Scott praised the Legislature.

“We have cut taxes more than 80 times since I’ve been in office because we know that Florida families and businesses succeed when we put their tax dollars back in their pockets,” the governor said.

“I look forward to this important amendment being on the ballot to protect families from unfair tax increases.

The Senate had originally been at odds with the House and Scott by proposing a three-fifths vote to pass tax increases, but later took the House version of the bill.

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