House Speaker Richard Corcoran said it best during his customary end-of-week press conference Thursday: “Next week will be budget week.”
As state lawmakers head into the final weeks of the 2017 Session, Week 6 is all about the money. It’s also a short week. With Passover beginning at sundown April 10 and Easter on April 16, the House and Senate are planning to be in session on Wednesday and Thursday this week.
But boy, do they have a lot planed.
Florida House of Representatives
Much like their colleagues across the hall, the House will take up its $81.2 billion spending plan (HB 5001) and a series of other budget-related bills when it meets at 1 p.m. on Wednesday. The House Appropriations Committee voted 24-2 to approve its budget last week. All requests for floor amendments and substitute amendments to the general appropriations bill must be submitted to the Appropriations Committee staff by noon Tuesday.
House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo said he expects both chambers will vote out their respective budget in Week 6, with conference beginning the week after.
Look for the House to vote on its budget when it holds a floor session at noon Thursday.
The Senate will go into Session at noon Wednesday. While they have several issues on the Special Order Calendar, the main event will be the upper chamber’s $83.2 billion spending plan (SB 2500). The proposal unanimously cleared the Senate Appropriations Committee last week after members rapidly approved more than 100 amendments. Amendments to the Senate’s proposed budget must be submitted to Appropriations Committee staff by 1:30 p.m. on Monday.
The Senate is also poised to take up a major water bill (SB 10) sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley. The bill, which was amended last week, would convert state-owned land in the A-1 and A-2 parcels — currently being leased by Florida Crystals and Duda & Sons — and use it to create a 14-foot deep storage reservoir. The push to create water storage south of Lake Okeechobee is a top priority for Senate President Joe Negron. The amended version of the bill is seen as more amenable to land owners in the Everglades Agricultural Area who were opposed to Negron’s original proposal to buy 60,000 acres of agricultural land for the project.
The Senate heads back to the floor at 4 p.m. Thursday, and is expected to take up a series of bills, including a proposal (SB 532) that is meant to improve public notification when a pollution event occurs. Sponsored by Sen. Bill Galvano, the bill comes on the heels of two high-profile pollution incidents involving a sinkhole in Polk County and sewage discharges into Tampa Bay.
The House Commerce Committee could to take up a bill (HB 1055) that would grant the Public Service Commission the exclusive right to determine when utility transmission lines must be located underground during its next meeting. The proposal, sponsored by Rep. Clay Ingram, would reverse an appeals court ruling against Florida Power & Light.
The Senate companion (SB 1048), sponsored by Sen. Tom Lee, passed on a 34-3 vote, after members voted down a series of amendments by Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez on Wednesday.
The House Commerce Committee on Thursday unanimously approved a massive insurance industry clean-up bill (HB 359), teeing it up for a vote from the full House in the coming days.
The proposal, sponsored by Sen. David Santiago, makes adjustments to several parts of the state’s insurance system, including allowing medical malpractice insurance companies to file certificates instead of complete annual rate filings. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a similar bill (SB 454) during its meeting Wednesday, but that bill still has one more stop before heading to the floor.
That decision sets up the conference process, where both will try and iron out their differences. The House wants to lock down gambling expansion, while the Senate is open to new opportunities.
Both bills include a new agreement that provides exclusive rights for the Seminole Tribe of Florida to offer blackjack in return for $3 billion over seven years. The House proposal, however, diverts revenue share from a new agreement to educational initiatives, including improving failing schools. The Senate wants the money for general revenue.
Conference on the proposal could begin as early as this week.
The Commerce Committee approved a bill (HB 7085) that would overhaul the state’s workers’ compensation system. Under the amended bill, attorneys filing benefits challenges would need to stipulate to the time they have put into a case before trial to prevent bill padding, attorney fees wouldn’t be available unless the worker wins, and the worker would be responsible for the legal costs of pursuing legal claims. That bill now heads to the full House. It differs from the Senate proposal (SB 1582), which among other things, includes higher maximum hourly attorney fees. The Senate proposal has two more committee committee stops before getting a full vote.