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The Session May Be Dead But A Few Last Minute Bills Survived

The Florida Senate chambers Tuesday.
Nick Evans
The Florida Senate chambers Tuesday.
The Florida Senate chambers Tuesday.
Credit Nick Evans
The Florida Senate chambers Tuesday.

When the House called an end to the 2015 session, a lot of major legislation died—but not everything.  The Senate was able to pass along a final few bills to the Governor in the waning hours.

Tuesday, House lawmakers called it a session and high tailed it out of the chamber, but they did pass a few measures before they went.  This sent the bills down the hall, and Wednesday the Florida Senate had to decide what to do with them.  Some were getting their second Senate hearing.  These bills bounced—that is after passing the Senate, they went to the House, got amended, and now they’re back.  And in a few cases, senators refused to go along with the changes.

“Mr. President,” Sen. Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) began, “I ask that we send back the Senate bill.  We send it back with the other elements of the work plan that you and the speaker agreed to and we lay it in front of that locked door.”

Gaetz was talking about a specials needs education bill which was a priority for Senate President Andy Gardiner. 

But a lucky few, gained Senate approval.  The first to make it through was Sen. Darren Soto’s (D-Kissimmee) change to Florida’s statute of limitations for bringing rape charges.

“This bill would extend the statute of limitations from four to eight years for sexual offenses,” Soto said in introduction of his bill.

The state’s current limit of four years is among the lowest in the country.  Soto explained the bill also maintains the Senate’s fixes to sexting laws, but the House stripped out two other provisions related to sentencing and electronic monitoring. 

Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater) faced a similar choice on his human trafficking bill.

“This is the bill requiring the posting of human trafficking awareness signs,” Latvala said.  “The House didn’t feel like they wanted them posted in as many locations as we wanted them posted, so they reduced those number of locations, however, something’s better than nothing.”

Latvala explained the measure still mandates signs at major transportation hubs and emergency rooms, but the House removed additional spaces like massage parlors known as hot spots for trafficking. 

The senator salvaged another measure as well, this time related to utility regulation and the public service commission, or PSC.  Here Latvala called for the commission to hold regular meetings in the utility’s territory to hear from rate payers.  The bill also required the PSC include the office of public counsel—the consumer representative—in any settlement talks.  Latvala said the House removed both provisions.

“So we’re in a situation where we’ve got to accept the bad,” Latvala said, “accept the deficiencies that were given to us in this bill from the other end in order to get the good parts.”

Sen. Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth) gained passage for an online voter registration act, but unlike the other bills, it seems he welcomed the House amendment to his bill.

“The House amendment requires the online voting registration system to comply with the agency for state technology’s IT security provisions,” Clemens explained. “And requires the Division of Elections to conduct a comprehensive risk assessment before taking the online voting registration application system live, and every two years thereafter—and I concur with that amendment.”

But Clemens’ measure is likely headed for a veto.  Governor Rick Scott’s Secretary of State appointee Ken Detzner appeared in numerous committees to oppose the measure. 

So with the Supreme Court’s decision not to compel the House to return, the session is indeed over.  But stay tuned: both chambers will be thrown back together very soon in special session.

Copyright 2020 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Nick Evans came to Tallahassee to pursue a masters in communications at Florida State University. He graduated in 2014, but not before picking up an internship at WFSU. While he worked on his degree Nick moved from intern, to part-timer, to full-time reporter. Before moving to Tallahassee, Nick lived in and around the San Francisco Bay Area for 15 years. He listens to far too many podcasts and is a die-hard 49ers football fan. When Nick’s not at work he likes to cook, play music and read.
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