What passed, failed in the legislative session

TALLAHASSEE – 

Lawmakers are preparing to wrap up the 2012 legislative session, leaving several major legislative priorities on the table.

Casinos, Citizens Insurance reform and abortion bills never made it through both chambers of the legislature. The Florida Senate defeated the so-called “parental trigger” bill Friday, which would have allowed parents to turn failing schools into charter schools, possibly turning them over to private management.

Some more sensational bills of lesser import never made it out of committees: including the bill to repeal dwarf tossing and the bill that would bring back firing squads in Florida.

Another blemish on the legislative session’s record — The Florida Supreme Court Friday struck down the Senate’s redistricting map. That means a special session will have to be convened to redraw those boundary lines.

Several other major bills passed, though, while some may still reach the finish line before the handkerchief drops on the session.

Bills to Watch

The Budget: The most important thing the legislature does, the only thing it is constitutionally obligated to do every year, is pass a balanced budget. Will that include cuts to medicaid? An increase in public school funding? Cuts to court clerks? A tuition hike for the rest of the state’s colleges and universities? These are just some of the questions that will need to be answered by the end of the budget.

PIP (HB 119): Gov. Scott wants to rein in on personal injury protection insurance for auto insurance, cracking down on fraud. However, there is some controversy over whether the House version of the bill goes too far and affects people who have a legitimate claim. The governor is asking the Senate to pass the House version of the bill.

Transportation (HB 1399): The wide-ranging transportation bill also includes a provision that would strip Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs from the
Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority and replace her with a appointee by the governor. Jacobs says this is retribution for her opposition to one of the governor’s recent appointees. While it passed in the House, several state senators are vowing to fight the provision on the floor.

Approved Bills

*Subject to approval by Gov. Scott, unless otherwise stated.*

State Employee Drug Testing (HB 1205): Florida state agencies will now be able to randomly drug-test employees under a bill Gov. Scott is certain to sign. Florida would be the first state to allow for random, “suspicionless” drug testing of all state workers, according to the National Association of State Personnel Executives. There’s a serious question of whether the bill is even constitutional. Some legal experts say it violates the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution. An executive order Gov. Scott issued last year is being challenged in federal court.

Unemployment Tax Bill (HB 7027): Businesses have to pay an unemployment tax to cover the cost of those without jobs. While the tax will go up this year, lawmakers managed to scale back the tax hike. The minimum tax rate will jump from $72.10 per employee to $121 per employee. The bill will also cap the maximum amount per employee at $432.

Inspirational Messages Bill (SB 98): Orlando Senator Gary Siplin’s bill would allow students to decide ahead of time to deliver “inspirational messages”,
 including prayers, during school functions. School district employees would not be able to do the same, still, expect a lawsuit.

Tuition hike for UF, FSU (HB 7129): The University of Florida and Florida State University will now be able to raise tuition beyond the current 15 percent a year cap under a bill heading to Gov. Scott’s desk, but whether it gets signed by Gov. Scott is anybody’s guess. Supporters say the bill allows Florida’s top research schools to raise money to compete nationally. But Scott was against tuition hikes this year.

William Dillon Compensation Bill: The bill, already signed by Gov. Scott, awards $1.3 million to William Dillon, a Brevard County man who was wrongfully convicted of murder.

Sort-of Caylee’s Law (HB 37): The bill inspired by the death of Caylee Anthony increases the penalties for lying to authorities in the case of a missing child. The bill raises the maximum penalty from a year in jail to five years in prison. This bill differs from the Caylee’s laws passing across the country, which would create a deadline for when parents need to report a child missing or injured.

Abuse Reporting (HB 1355): In answer to the recent child sex abuse scandals at Penn State and Syracuse University, lawmakers passed this bill, which fines public and private universities in Florida $1 million if they knowingly cover up a sex abuse case.

School Vouchers Expansion (HB 859): Lawmakers expanded on the state’s school voucher program for low-income students — something Gov. Scott is likely to sign. The bill increases the amount of money corporations can donate to the program next school year to $229 million. In return businesses can get credits on certain taxes.

School Funding Bill (HB 870): The bill cuts funding off to schools that score below the state average on certain end-of-course tests. Critics argue that the bill takes already badly needed funds away from schools that are struggling to improve.

Tax Breaks Package (HB 7087): A package of assorted tax breaks and incentives totaling about $120 million is going to Gov. Scott. The package includes cuts andincentives for everything from private-airplane owners to phosphate miners. It also includes the popular three-day back to school sales tax holiday in August.

Rejected Bills

Prison Privatization (HB 7083): One of the most controversial bills this legislative session, the bill would have allowed private companies to take over some prisons in South Florida. The fight exploded between Republicans, leading to the highly-publicized removal of long-time Florida Senator Mike Fasano, R- New Port Richey, from two major committee chairmanships because of his opposition to the bill. It failed in the Senate anyway.

Citizens Insurance Reform (HB 245): Another attempt to reduce the number of Floridians using the state’s insurer of last resort fell this year to a coalition of Republicans and Democrats. The bill would have automatically transferred some homeowners to out-of-state companies. But Democrats and some Republicans pushed through an amendment that would have required homeowners to “opt in” to those out-of-state companies instead. The bill’s sponsor, instead, killed the bill.

Casino Expansion (HB 487): Attempts to create three resort casinos in Florida were met with strong opposition, both from lawmakers concerned about the state’s current gambling venues, and from people who don’t like gambling. A lukewarm reception from Gov. Scott didn’t help. While major casino owners pushed hard, they faced even harder opposition from Florida businesses, including Florida Chamber of Commerce and Disney.

Abortion Bills (HB 277) and (HB 1151): Some bills trying to either further restrict abortions or end them almost altogether never made it through. One bill would have required a 24-hour waiting period for abortions and placed new rules on abortion doctors and clinics. Another would have ended abortion except if the mother’s life was in danger.

Firing Squad (HB 4177): A conversation at a Waffle House in the Panhandle led to a lawmaker’s idea to get rid of lethal injection as a form of execution in Florida, bring back the electric chair and also offer firing squads. The bill never made it passed the first reading.

Dwarf Tossing (HB 4063): Touted as a way to help grow the economy and get rid of an unnecessary law, Representative Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, offered up a bill that would repeal the state’s ban on dwarf tossing, which has existed since 1989. The bill never made it passed first reading, and never had a sponsor in the Senate.

Red Light Camera Repeal (HB 4177): Also never making it out of committee, a bill by two Seminole County representatives that would have repealed the state’s law allowing red light cameras.