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Why A Popular Bill Died in the Florida Legislature


Have you ever wondered how a seemingly popular bill dies anyway? That's what WLRN's Rick Stone explores in this story about a group of domestic violence victims and their quest in Tallahassee.

It's February 7, 2012 -- the midpoint of the legislative session -- and the Sisterhood of Survivors has come to the Florida capital for the first committee hearing on their bill.

It would allow domestic abuse victims who are being stalked at work to quit their jobs and still qualify for unemployment compensation.

Liz Turner testified, they should not have to choose, as she did, between physical and financial survival.

"I lost my job apparently, lost my home, my kids and myself, had to sleep in a car for days."

Sponsored by Democratic Senator Oscar Braynon of Miami, the bill has a long list of co-sponsors from both parties. It is already law in 32 other states. And Braynon assured the committee it would cost next to nothing.

So, it's a popular bill which supporters say helps women and families and doesn't break the budget. The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee went for it and passed it unanimously.

The members of the Sisterhood kissed and high-fived and prepared to return to Miami. There was no way for them to know, they had just witnessed the high water mark of Senate Bill 1440.

Three weeks later members of the Sisterhood of Survivors went back to the capitol and received a much different reception. They were cordially received everywhere but they were getting nowhere.The unemployment bill is off the Legislative radar. No committee is hearing it. There is no path to passage. The Sisterhood's Niki Naseer can’t believe what's happening.

"I will regret it if the bill would be delayed and another woman will  be killed in Florida. "

 Representative Peter Nehr, a Republican from Tarpon Springs has agreed to sign on as a co-sponsor. And he agrees, it's a good bill that won't cost much. But he tells the sisters, most of the state BUDGET is a list of  things that don’t cost  much.

And, it turns out,  there WAS opposition to the bill -- from the Florida Retail Federation, a major contributor to legislative campaigns. Lobbyist John Rogers said he hated to go against domestic abuse survivors, but there was a principle at stake.

"We don't think you need add something to the unemployment law where somebody separates voluntarily."

In Tallahassee, most bills die in private. All it takes is one powerful lawmaker, one committee chairman to decide NOT to allow a bill to go forward, and it's doomed. And there's no way for the Sisterhood of Survivors to know for sure who killed their bill.

Scott Finn is a former news director at WUSF Public Media, which provides in-depth reporting for Tampa Bay and all of Florida.
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