Florida Legislative Session Hits its Final Day
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Lawmakers began their last day of the 60-day session Friday with some issues still unresolved, from approval of the state budget and Medicaid expansion to an elections bill that would expand early-voting days and sites.
The proposed $74.5 million budget was expected to be approved without a problem, but the House and Senate were still far apart on a health care plan. The Senate wants to use $50 billion in federal money over the next decade to extend health care coverage to 1.1 million Floridians, while the House doesn't want to accept any federal money for Medicaid expansion.
The House, meanwhile, passed an elections bill on the first day of session, but the bill still hadn't passed the full Legislature. The Senate amended the bill more than a week earlier, sending it back to the House. The chambers, though, agreed on most of the major issues in the measure, including allowing up to 14 days of early voting instead of the current eight days and giving elections supervisors more options on where to hold early voting.
Less likely to pass was a bill that would use state tax dollars to help the Miami Dolphins with $400 million in stadium renovations. A bill to prohibit judges from applying foreign law in Florida cases was declared dead and measures that would ban abortions based on the race or gender of a fetus and create a needle-exchange pilot program, among others, were still in limbo.
Still, Gov. Rick Scott already has signed many major bills into law, including a ban on Internet cafes offering slot machine-like games, a wide-ranging ethics bill, an increase in campaign contribution limits and more. Scott vetoed a bill that would have ended permanent alimony.
Scott was also able to claim victories on his top two priorities: sales tax and teacher raises.
The Legislature gave him a bill that will exempt manufacturers from paying the 6 percent state sales tax on new equipment from April 30, 2014, to April 30, 2017. He wanted to permanently eliminate the tax. Lawmakers also included $480 million in the budget for teacher raises. Scott wanted raises for all teachers, but the Legislature is basing the increases on teacher performance.
"I think the governor gets two wins. I think it gives him a lift going into the summer and into the election cycle," said Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville. "And I'm for Rick Scott for governor, so I'm glad he got the wins."
The Senate began Friday by sending Scott a bill that would speed up the residential mortgage foreclosure process.
Unlike last year, when the Legislature didn't finish its business until midnight, or the year before, when the budget was passed at 1:55 a.m., it appeared lawmakers would wrap up the annual session with the "sine die" hanky drop ceremony well before sunset.
"It will be kind of neat to sine die and not be tired and having absorbed copious amounts of caffeine all day long and a Red Bull at the midnight hour," said Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples. "That's a huge plus. That's a win right there."
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