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2014 Florida Legislature

New Senate President a "Servant Leader"

Nov 18, 2014

Sen. Andy Gardiner, an Orlando Republican hailed by his colleagues as a "servant leader," officially took the helm of the Florida Senate after receiving a unanimous nod from the chamber on Tuesday.

The three-hour, largely ceremonial organization session -- Gardiner was long ago tapped to succeed Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville -- was highlighted by tributes not only to Gardiner but to former state Sen. John Thrasher, who resigned from the Legislature earlier this month to take over as president of Florida State University.

Court: No Restitution for Wellcare

Jun 16, 2014
Tampa Tribune

A federal appeals court Friday rejected arguments by WellCare Health Plans that the Tampa-based HMO should receive restitution from former executives who were convicted in a major Medicaid fraud case.

WellCare contended it was a victim of crimes committed by former Chief Executive Officer Todd Farha, former Chief Financial Officer Paul Behrens and former Vice President William Kale.

Governor Rick Scott has about two weeks to act on more than a 100 bills delivered to his desk Thursday. They include a bill granting in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants as well as a bill legalizing a mild strain of marijuana for medical purposes—a couple controversial measures Scott has already said he’ll sign.

Charlotte's Web

Gov. Scott Inks Record Budget, Spares Most Projects

Jun 2, 2014

Without the public ceremony of past years, Gov. Rick Scott on Monday quietly signed into law a $77 billion, election-year budget, slashing just $68.9 million in pet projects from across the state.

The spending plan, the largest in state history, provides plenty of hometown projects for lawmakers to tout as they seek re-election, while increasing money for public schools, state colleges and universities, environmental projects and child welfare.

The Everglades, Lake Okeechobee and related waterways were the big winners in the 2014-15 budget (HB 5001) that is awaiting a final review by Gov. Rick Scott. The Everglades-related projects received more than $165 million in funding along with an additional $90 million over the next three years to revamp the Tamiami Trail across South Florida, improving water flow in the Everglades. But springs funding was less generous, with lawmakers only agreeing to $30 million, although Scott had asked for $55 million. They also rejected a Senate bill that would have provided nearly $380 million to help protect springs.

Local Earmarks Aplenty in Florida's Record $77 Billion Budget

May 6, 2014

State lawmakers came into the 2014 session with a surplus topping $1 billion and a mandate from Gov. Rick Scott to cut $500 million in taxes and fees.

On Friday, the lawmakers handed Scott a $77.1 billion budget, the largest spending plan in state history.

But while much of the money went to must-have programs such as education, health care and prisons, smaller items are littered through the more-than-400-page document (HB 5001): Here are some examples:

Florida legislators flush with a surplus are poised to approve a record $77.1 billion budget.

The Republican-controlled Florida Legislature is expected to vote on the budget shortly before it ends the 60-day annual session on Friday night.

The budget vote will close out a hectic final day.

Legislators have approved a bill to let students living in country illegally to qualify for in-state tuition. They voted for a measure that would allow the sale of a strain of low-THC marijuana for medical use.

Florida legislators could begin their session a bit earlier in 2016.

The Florida House on Thursday voted in favor of a bill (HB 9) that would start the annual legislative session in January of that year.

The vote was 93-22. The legislation heads to the desk of Gov. Rick Scott.

The 60-day session now starts in March. Legislators every 10 years meet in January when they are drawing new Congressional and legislative districts.

Conservative lawmakers in Florida are in the final stages of passing two bills that detractors say amount to nothing more than thinly veiled racism and xenophobia. But both proposals have undergone extensive reimagining before finally making it to the House floor.

Special-Needs Kids in Insurance Quandary

Apr 30, 2014
Wikimedia Commons

Florida pediatricians say an expected legislative move heightens worries about what will happen to young special-needs patients as the state privatizes the Children's Medical Services program over the next three months.

The changes are part of a larger transition for Medicaid patients from a fee-for-service delivery system to one in which they would be enrolled in prepaid health plans. Thanks to a 2011 law revamping Medicaid, Children’s Medical Services must make the transition to managed care by Aug. 1.

Speed limits on Florida highways could be raised to 75 miles per hour under a bill that's going to Gov. Rick Scott.

The Florida House voted 58-56 on Wednesday to pass the bill, despite several lawmakers who said it would cause more deaths. That includes Democratic Rep. Irv Slosberg, whose daughter was killed in a car accident where speed was a factor.

Florida legislators should be able to end their session on time.

A nearly $77.1 billion state budget was delivered to state legislators at 8:35 p.m. on Tuesday.

By Florida law, legislators must wait 72 hours before taking a final vote on a new budget. The session is scheduled to end on Friday.

The budget is the one bill each year that the Florida Legislature must pass. Budget negotiators met all weekend in an effort to hammer out the final details of the spending plan.

 

 A bill that would increase access to epinephrine auto-injectors used for treating allergic reactions is headed to Florida Gov. Rick Scott's desk.

Florida Budget All But Done After Late-Night Deals

Apr 28, 2014

Lawmakers were on the verge of a final budget deal Sunday night after agreeing on virtually all of the outstanding spending items ---putting them in striking distance of finishing the legislative session on time.

Negotiators led by Senate Appropriations Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and House Appropriations Chairman Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, essentially locked down most of the final budget, which is expected to settle in around $75 billion.

Florida legislators have a reached a deal over most of the spending that will be included in a new $75 billion state budget.

House and Senate budget chiefs met shortly before midnight Sunday.

Part of the deal includes a 2.6 percent boost in spending on public school students.

Legislators also agreed to spend millions to help clean up the Indian River Lagoon.

They also agreed to delay a proposed split of the Florida A&M University and Florida State University engineering college while a study is done.

Legislative Wheeling, Dealing in Final Days

Apr 24, 2014

The volume on the fourth floor outside the House and Senate chambers is reaching a crescendo. Lobbyists are jockeying for positions in front of the chamber doors as lawmakers emerge for quick pow-wows. It's all part of the last-minute frenzy as, in the words of powerful Sen. John Thrasher, "bills are dying."

Priorities of House and Senate leaders, including pensions, school vouchers and medical marijuana, are all "trade bait" as the days wind down before the session's scheduled finale on May 2.

Florida legislators with extra money to spend are trying to steer taxpayer funds to everything from gun ranges and a military museum to a course designed to teach “sexual risk avoidance.”

There’s $10 million for SkyRise Miami, a planned observation tower that would be the city’s tallest building once completed. There’s $500,000 for a livestock pavilion in Ocala. There’s money to help relocate a lighthouse now at Cape San Blas in the Panhandle.

Surplus Creates Push for Hometown Projects

Apr 16, 2014
Florida House of Representatives

Florida legislators with extra money to spend are trying to steer taxpayer funds to everything from gun ranges and a military museum to a course designed to teach "sexual risk avoidance."

There's $10 million for SkyRise Miami, a planned observation tower that would be the city's tallest building once completed. There's $500,000 for a livestock pavilion in Ocala. There's money to help relocate a lighthouse now at Cape San Blas in the Panhandle.

Speed Limits, Gun Bills Remain in Play

Apr 16, 2014

After taking this week off and holding committee meetings Monday and Tuesday, the Florida Senate will face a flurry of bills when it returns to the floor April 23.

The Senate is expected to pass a proposal (HB 7035) that would revamp laws dealing with juvenile sentencing in cases that involve murders or other series felonies. Also, it will begin debating a proposal (SB 392) that could allow speed limits to go as high as 75 mph on some highways.

Senators also are expected to take up two proposals backed by gun-rights advocates.

Although Florida lawmakers filed more than 1,800 bills this year, most measures were not destined to become laws. Some were too controversial in an election year. Some died alone with no companion measure in the other chamber. And some bill sponsors simply lost the race against time.

By the end of the week, the Tampa Bay Rays may be able to look for a new stadium site in Hillsborough County, thanks to a tentative deal reached with the city of St. Petersburg.

Mayor Rick Kriseman will talk about the agreement (which you can read through the slideshow above) he reached with the team at a 10 a.m. news conference today at Tropicana Field. The issue will likely be taken up by the St. Pete City Council at its meeting Thursday.

A group of Florida lawmakers passed a slew of measures Tuesday, including a controversial abortion bill. They also moved a series of gun-related measures to the Senate floor, including the so-called ‘Pop Tart’ bill.

Late-Term Abortion Bill

The measure essentially banning late-term abortion is already heading for a floor vote in the House, and now has one more committee stop in the Senate, after it passed the Senate Judiciary Tuesday.

KidCare Insurance for Immigrants Faces Roadblocks

Apr 7, 2014
The Florida Senate

A bill that would extend low-cost KidCare health insurance coverage to the children of legal immigrants faces legislative roadblocks --- not the least of them the doubts of Senate President Don Gaetz.

"I’d vote against it," Gaetz, R-Niceville, said Friday. "And I’m a strong supporter of KidCare. I’ve supported every expansion of KidCare. I’ve supported expansions of Kidcare that haven’t even happened. But I would have some hesitancy about this bill."

Legislature Could Start Earlier

Mar 28, 2014

Lawmakers, staff members and lobbyists might get a chance in 2016 to enjoy Florida's spring weather. 

The House voted 102-11 on Thursday to approve a bill (HB 9) that would move up the start of the annual legislative session to January in even-numbered years. Lawmakers typically go into session in early March and stick around the Capitol for 60 days.

A Senate bill (SB 72) would move up the starting date of the 2016 session but would not make the change for later years.

Also in the Capitol on Thursday: 

Bill Helping Pasco, Manatee Trauma Centers

Mar 25, 2014

A House panel Monday overwhelmingly approved a proposal (HB 7113) that would ensure the continued operation of three hospital trauma centers that are threatened by long-running legal challenges.

The House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee voted 11-2 to approve the bill, sponsored by Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, which is designed to keep open Blake Medical Center in Manatee County, Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point in Pasco County and Ocala Regional Medical Center in Marion County.

The House Appropriations Committee has signed off on allocating $1 million to research a non-intoxicating form of medicinal marijuana to treat unmanageable epilepsy in children.

The panel voted 24-0 for the measure (HB 843) on Thursday.

Capitol: Workman's Comp, Trauma Centers

Mar 20, 2014

In an issue that is dividing major business groups and the hospital industry, a House panel Wednesday approved a proposal (HB 1351) that would change the way hospitals are paid for treating workers-compensation insurance patients.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Charlie Stone, R-Ocala, could save about $200 million for the workers-compensation system, which supporters say could lead to lower insurance costs for employers.

As Outrage Grows over Child Deaths, Lawmakers Talk Money

Mar 19, 2014

Legislative leaders are responding to public outrage over a series of child deaths in Florida last year --- and not just in the policy arena. They're also talking about spending more money on the state's troubled child-welfare system.

Committees have been studying the deaths since September and have come up with complex legislation touching a dozen different concerns, from improved safety planning to expanded death reviews to keeping siblings together and medically fragile children in their communities.

Senate Committee Wants Medical Tourists

Mar 18, 2014

The state will spend $5 million next year to entice people to bring their aches and pains to Florida, under a measure that completed its first Senate committee exam on Monday.

The Commerce and Tourism Committee unanimously backed the "medical tourism" measure (SB 1150) by Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach. The bill would require Enterprise Florida, the state's public-private business recruitment organization, and Visit Florida, the state's tourism arm, to promote healthcare options in Florida.

"Florida can and should be a top-tier health care destination," Bean said.

Pharmacy Bill, FL Budget Taking Shape

Mar 14, 2014

A Senate panel Thursday unanimously approved a proposal that calls for increased restrictions on out-of-state "compounding" pharmacies that ship medications into Florida.

Compounding pharmacies became a high-profile issue in 2012, when drugs produced at New England Compounding Center in Massachusetts caused hundreds of cases of fungal meningitis in Florida and other states. In general, these facilities create medications that are supposed to be tailored to the needs of individual patients.