Friday marked the end of the last full week of committee meetings for the 2018 Legislative Session, and lawmakers appear confident that they will return to their districts following next Friday’s planned Sine Die finish of the 60-day lawmaking process.

Legislators began meeting in Senate and House budget conferences last Monday, shifting appropriations in their respective budgets to unify the Legislature’s spending plan.

As the week closed, funding discrepancies persisted between each chamber, but budget leaders Rep. Carlos Trujillo and Sen. Rob Bradley seem confident that conflicts will be ironed out—whether that be between them this weekend, or between Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, when issues are ‘bumped’ to the leaders on Sunday morning.

There are other factors that point to a timely end of Session. Both Corcoran and Negron have seen some of their major priorities supported across chambers.

Looking ahead, lawmakers face a budget deadline of Tuesday before a 72-hour ‘cooling off’ period, allowing them to vote on the budget on Friday’s Sine Die, when the sergeants-at-arms of both chambers ceremonially drop white handkerchiefs to mark the precise moment of Session’s end. 

Parkland

Arguably the most difficult task ahead for lawmakers will be to pass legislation addressing reforms in the wake of the Feb. 14 Parkland shooting. The tragedy gave lawmakers a little more than two weeks to draft gun, mental health and school safety proposals and expedite them through committees.

The Legislature’s proposals appropriate significant amounts to mental health and school safety programs and include arming teachers. The Florida Senate spent hours debating a bill (SB 7026) to increase school safety and restrict gun purchases in a rare Saturday session in the aftermath of last month’s Parkland school shootings, reports The Associated Press.

The Senate spent nearly eight hours debating dozens of amendments to the 100-page bill before finally approving the legislation for a final vote on Monday. Democratic proposals to ban assault rifles and large-capacity magazines were rejected, as was a Democratic proposal to strip language from the bill that would create a program to arm teachers who have gone through law-enforcement training if school districts choose to take part in the so-called "marshal plan."

The bill also includes provisions to boost school security, establish new mental health programs in schools, and improve communication between schools, law enforcement and state agencies.

The House temporarily postponed its legislation (HB 7101) on second reading during its Friday session. It is unclear how the House will proceed, given that no House bills may be taken up on second reading after Day 55 (March 4). The House can waive its rules and take up the bill on Monday or Tuesday, or can opt to take up the Senate version that is sent over on Monday and amend that. In any event, the House is destined for a marathon floor session similar to the one the Senate endured on Saturday. 

Further complicating things, Gov. Rick Scott has told legislators that he does not want teachers to be armed, indicating a potential conflict, as Scott could wield his veto power on the measure post-Session.

Stalled Initiatives

The last full week of legislative meetings also sealed the fate of other proposals that did not receive enough support to pass through the Legislature this year.

A Senate insurance plan that seeks to repeal the state’s $10,000 personal-injury protection, or PIP, mandate waspostponed in the Senate, and likely will not be heard in a different panel before the end of Session.

Legislation making texting while driving a primary offense, meaning law enforcement can use the infraction as a justification to pull someone over for texting, has stalled in the Senate—despite the Houseapproving the bill (HB 33) almost unanimously.

Another bill (SB 1400) that would preempt to the state the local regulation of vacation rental properties has halted in the chamber. The bill sponsor, Sen. Greg Steube, believes the measure is dead this year.

Awaiting Approval

High-profile legislation (HB 227and SB 376) that would extend workers’ compensation benefits to first responders who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder awaits floor approval in both chambers.

The following alcohol-related legislation also awaits floor consideration: HB 667 and SB 1020 would allow Floridians to use a smartphone app to order alcoholic beverages for home delivery; HB 961 and SB 1224would allow beer distributors to give away glasses printed with product names and logos—also known as “branded glassware”—to bars and restaurants; and HB 669 and SB 296 would eliminate wine container size restrictions. 

GRay Matters

Click here to watch the interview.

Stay up-to-date on issues that matter throughout the 2018 Session. 

This week Robert Stuart interviews Andy Hyatt, City Manager of Neptune Beach.