With the half-way mark of the 60-day 2016 Legislative Session on Wednesday, the theme so far is like a line from a Frankie Valli song: “…so close/And yet so far.”
Take the 2016-17 state budget, the only bill lawmakers are required to pass each year. The House came in at $79.9 billion with the Senate proposing $80.9 billion. Sure, that’s only a billion dollars apart, but $1 billion is still a lot of money, even in Tallahassee.
Lawmakers are set to begin talking about the state’s blueprint for spending on the floors of both chambers in the afternoon. After voting out their respective proposals, both sides will go into a conference process to come up with a final product to send to Gov. Rick Scott.
As to policy, both chambers are closing in on some sort of ride-booking legislation, for example, but remain apart on how to regulate those services, which include Uber and Lyft. And both chambers seem willing to do something about gambling, but don’t agree on exactly what.
But they did pass three big measures in the first week: A water protection bill that House Speaker Steve Crisafulli wanted; a bill that expands employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities, and another that increases their educational opportunities.
The latter two were priorities of Senate President Andy Gardiner, who has a son with Down syndrome. Scott signed all three.
Here’s a recap of some major areas:
2016-17 STATE BUDGET
Scott didn’t have a lot of demands on lawmakers for the yearly spending plan. In fact, he had just two: A $250 million Florida Enterprise Fund for business incentives and $1 billion in tax cuts.
The House gave Scott the tax cuts – sort of. The Finance and Tax Committee came up with a plan that’s a little less than $1 billion in tax cuts over two years. The House also didn’t honor Scott’s request to kill the corporate income tax on retailers and manufacturers.
“Some of Gov. Scott’s goals have been included,” Republican state Rep. Matt Gaetz, the committee’s chair, said last week. “I think there’s a lot of synergy, a lot of overlay. There were some ideas … that we were unable to accommodate at this time, but, you know, hope springs eternal.”
In the Senate, state Sen. Jack Latvala came around to the incentive fund, recommending it for his chamber’s budget as chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development.
“By taking a significant step forward to work with the governor, I hope we are improving the overall climate of his decision making,” the Clearwater Republican said last month, a not-so-subtle reference to the governor’s veto power over line-items in the budget.
When asked if his decision was more “olive branch or philosophical agreement,” Latvala said, “It’s a combination of both.”
The House last month passed a bill regulating “transportation network companies” such as Uber and Lyft, and mandating insurance and other requirements.
But it includes a provision disfavored in the Senate: It vests regulatory power over ride-booking services solely with the state, cutting out local bodies such as the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission.
On Tuesday, the Senate moved forward with its own version that only addresses insurance requirements, setting up another logjam with the House similar to last year.
Also on Tuesday, a House panel OK’d a trio of bills having to do with the Seminole Compact struck between Scott and the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which operates casinos across the state.
The measures would approve the new Compact, which grants the state $3 billion over seven years in return for continued exclusive rights for the tribe to offer blackjack, as well as allow pari-mutuel “decoupling,” or removing the racing requirements to have slots and card rooms at racetracks, and allow voters to approve any future expansion of gambling.
Florida and the tribe signed a deal in 2010 but the provision that allows blackjack and other “banked card games” expired last year.
That same day, the Senate delayed consideration for one week of similar legislation, with a key senator saying his colleagues needed “the opportunity to digest the various amendments being filed.” One of them would clarify that fantasy sports play isn’t gambling.
State Sen. Rob Bradley, chair of the Regulated Industries Committee, also said that “if there is a gaming deal to be had, it would be in either the last week or the week before.”
A bill aimed at effectively ending permanent alimony is heading to the House floor after clearing its final committee of reference.
Mainly, the measure limits judges’ discretion in awarding alimony by providing guidelines for how much an ex-spouse should get and for how long.
It’s the third time in recent years the Legislature has attempted to change Florida’s alimony law.
A companion bill was set to be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday but the meeting ran out of time and the bill was pushed to next week.
Another family-law bill moving this session would change state law on child-sharing. It would create an assumption that equal time-sharing for both parents after a divorce is in the best interest of a child. It’s set to be heard Wednesday in the Senate Rules Committee.
Jim Rosica (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers the Florida Legislature, state agencies and courts from Tallahassee.