Gambling, Guns, Tax Cuts And More Facing Florida Lawmakers As Session Starts
The Legislature will begin its annual session early this year with the hopes of avoiding the chaos and dysfunction that marked the 2015 session and three special sessions that followed.
House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner say the past is the past and there’s no lingering animosity after the two chambers found it difficult to agree on much last year.
“What you’re seeing is a real desire to get some things done. While a lot of people talk about what happened last session, as far as I’m concerned the relationship with the speaker and the governor have been good,” said Gardiner.
Crisafulli acknowledged there were “many challenges” this past year.
“Now it’s time to look ahead,” he said, adding that lawmakers will begin the upcoming session by addressing major issues that died last year when the House went home early, including a water protection bill and measures to help developmentally disabled residents.
Here’s a look at issues facing lawmakers when the 60-day session opens Tuesday.
GOV. RICK SCOTT’S AGENDA
Scott is pushing for $1 billion in tax cuts and a $250 million for business incentives. On Wednesday, he will start a three-day bus tour that hits most of Florida’s major media markets to promote both ideas. Scott’s proposed cuts are largely aimed at businesses, including the elimination of corporate income taxes for manufacturers and retailers. That alone would cost the state treasury an estimated $770 million a year. Scott also wants to cut sales taxes charged on commercial leases by 1 percent and permanently eliminate the sales tax charged on the sale of manufacturing equipment.
The governor is also calling for a 10-day back-to-school sales tax holiday as well as a nine-day sales tax holiday on supplies used for hurricane preparation. Scott also wants to permanently eliminate sales taxes on college textbooks.
While the Republican-led Legislature is open to the idea of tax cuts, leaders in both chambers have said $1 billion might be too much, especially if it’s largely revenue the state will permanently lose.
Two bills are moving through committees that would give more rights to gun owners. Each has been passionately debated during legislative committees. One would allow concealed weapon permit holders to openly carry their handguns. A second would allow permit holders to carry guns on state university and college campuses.
If both become law, universities could go from gun-free places to having students in class openly displaying handguns. Gun-rights advocates say this will make universities safer. However, every state university president and police chief in Florida opposes the guns on campus bill.
Both chambers say a top priority is passing a bill designed to help protect springs and groundwater while cleaning Lake Okeechobee, the northern Everglades, rivers and other waterways. The idea is to limit pollutants entering waterways and to come up with long range plans to manage water resources. Environmentalists say the legislation doesn’t go far enough to address regulating sugar producers, cattle ranchers and farms that contribute to pollution.
Lawmakers will also considering a proposal to dedicate $200 million a year to restoring the Everglades.
Environmentalists are upset over a bill that would require the Department of Environmental Protection to come up with regulations for fracking, a form of drilling that uses chemicals and water to blast through rock to get to oil and gas underneath. Supporters say there is nothing to stop fracking now, so regulations would make sure it’s done safely. Opponents would prefer to see the practice banned because of fears groundwater will be contaminated.
The Legislature will consider the gambling deal Scott signed with the Seminole Tribe. It would guarantee the state $3 billion in revenue in exchange for allowing blackjack to continue at the tribe’s seven casinos and letting them operate roulette and craps. The agreement as signed is guaranteed to go through changes as the lawmakers consider regional interests like slot machines at dog and horse tracks.
Lawmakers will also consider a proposal to allow lottery sales at gas pumps and self-checkout registers at grocery stores.
A bill would regulate the fantasy sports companies like DraftKings and FanDuel while making it clear that they can legally operate in Florida.
AND MORE ...
– Among odder bills is a measure that will repeal an unenforced 19th century law that makes it illegal for unmarried men and women to live together and have sex.
– Lawmakers are considering a measure that will ask voters to make the education commissioner an elected instead of an appointed position.
– A bill would ask for the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith that represents Florida in the U.S. Capitol.
– A bill would let terminally ill patients use marijuana.