Florida House Adjourns Early, Killing Prison Reform Bills

by | April 29, 2015

By Michael Auslen

The House's decision to leave town Tuesday, three days earlier than scheduled, is ending the chance many bills will make it to Gov. Rick Scott's desk for his signature.

Some issues -- such as water conservation funding through Amendment One, renewing the state's gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe or a proposed $690 million tax cut package -- are closely tied to the budget, which will have to be negotiated in a special session.

Other big questions have been left in limbo, and senators could vote to agree with language already passed by the House. Among those are bills to reform the Public Service Commission, begin online voter registration, overhaul state water policy and regulate the controversial drilling method known as fracking.

But barring resurrection in special session, some policy issues won't be passed this year at all. That's either because the bills haven't been voted on in the House or because the Senate doesn't accept changes made in the House.

"When you look at the amount of good policy that's just going to fall off the table," Senate President Andy Gardiner said Tuesday, "it's just unfortunate."

DEAD BILLS

Prison reform: Amid disagreement on prison oversight, Gardiner and Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, said the chamber will not accept House changes to a Department of Corrections reform package and will instead use its own powers to keep tabs on state prisons for the next year. (SB 7020)

Special needs: Programs to help Floridians with disabilities attend college and find employment, both major priorities for Gardiner, passed the Senate but were never voted on by the House. (SB 802/SB 7030)

Economic incentives: Legislation by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, extending enterprise zones, reforming the state's film incentive program and appropriating funds for stadium projects has not yet passed the Senate, and the House never passed similar legislation. (SB 1214)

Medical marijuana: A push to make cannabis that's low in euphoric THC available to patients -- including children suffering from severe epilepsy -- was being revived by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, although it hadn't gained traction in the House. (SB 7066)

Ridesharing companies: Both chambers wanted to require drivers for companies like Uber and Lyft to have $1 million liability insurance when passengers were in their cars, but disagreement over local governments' ability to regulate couldn't be resolved. (HB 817/SB 1298)

LAST-MINUTE BILLS

All the following were passed Tuesday and are headed to the governor:

Lobbyist gift ban: Lawmakers tweaked the 2006 act banning them from accepting any gifts from lobbyists, allowing legislators to use public facilities for events like town hall meetings. (SB 984)

Guardianship: If signed, state law would explicitly ban the abuse and neglect of the elderly by their court-appointed guardians, and it would make changes to how those guardians are appointed. (HB 5)

Experimental drugs: Floridians diagnosed with terminal illnesses could have access to medications that have passed an initial trial by federal drug regulators, even if they haven't been approved for the wider public. (HB 269)

Drones: Unmanned aircraft won't be allowed to take video or pictures of private property or people if there is a "reasonable expectation of privacy." Essentially, anywhere that can't be seen by passersby can't be watched by someone with a drone. (SB 766)

(c)2015 Miami Herald