Amphibians like frogs and toads can create thousands of tadpoles each season, but only a few actually survive to become adults just like their parents.
That could be the perfect way to describe how lawmaking works in Tallahassee. Hundreds of bills are introduced during each session of the Florida Legislature, but very few survive.
And it was especially true with local lawmakers who successfully introduced 30 bills that would eventually, in some form, pass both the House and the Senate. But the bill graveyard this term was more than double.
Yet, House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, was happy with the results he achieved with his Senate counterpart, Don Gaetz, R-Destin.
“Among the priorities that were passed are stronger laws to make Florida the worst place for violent criminals, the Florida G.I. Bill to provide our veterans with the opportunity to receive in-state tuition, and expansion of school choice, significant welfare reform, and measures to improve governance and Florida’s (information technology) infrastructure,” Weatherford said in an email to The Laker/Lutz News.
But what the speaker was not able to push through was pension reform.
“That means we will continue to spend more than $500 million per year to shore up our state’s pension system for the foreseeable future,” Weatherford said.
Six House members and three senators serve the residents in central to east Pasco County, as well as northern Hillsborough County. Those elected officials range from the likes of Weatherford and Land O’ Lakes Republican Richard Corcoran based right here at home, to people like Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, and Rep. Dan Raulerson, R-Plant City.
Combined, they introduced 90 bills, with just a third of them making it past the required votes to either head to Gov. Rick Scott, or be adopted without needing his approval. But no one was immune to watching bills die, and every lawmaker had favorites they were sorry to see go.
“We were hopeful in passing legislation that allowed our local governments a cheaper, easier way to provide better water and wastewater programs,” state Sen. John Legg, R-Lutz, said. “Hopefully next year we can find a way to provide lower-cost utilities for the consumer.”
“The biggest goal we did not achieve was the expansion of Medicaid,” state Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, said. “I still cannot believe that we came home from Tallahassee without even addressing this issue.”
Corcoran, who is expected to become House Speaker in the coming years, also felt health care was a missed opportunity.
“Our attempts to improve the quality of treatment, improve access to care, and lower health care costs simply did not go far enough,” he said. “Consumers must be put in control of their health care dollars, not all these corporations who only care about the bottom line.”
At the same time, there was still success to be celebrated, especially when it came to local collaboration. Like Corcoran and Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, in passing what Corcoran says is “one of the best pro-consumer water bills in years.”
“This will give customers of private water companies a more equitable seat at the table to address the poor water quality provided to them,” Corcoran said. “Now, customers will have the ability to petition the Public Service Commission and have the opportunity to force the utility to improve the quality of water in their community.”
That’s S.B. 272, also known as the “Consumer Water Protection Act,” that came about because of water problems in a New Port Richey subdivision.
The bill “was filed to help my constituents in Summertree who have water quality issues, but the bill will help all of Florida’s consumers if they have issues or problems (with) water quality or service from the utility servicing their area,” Simpson said.
The session is over, with Scott now contemplating which measures to sign, which to allow to become law without his signature, and which to veto. Lawmakers are set to do it all again after the next cycle, which will include some familiar faces, and some new ones as well.
No matter what, lawmakers provide a common refrain: we must learn how to work together better.
“I will work with my colleagues to build a consensus, and work hard on that legislation (that did not pass) next session,” Simpson said.
“I plan to continue to work with our local governments and partners in the House and Senate on utilities legislation to provide lower-cost utilities for our consumers,” Legg said.
But sometimes, achieving goals also means knowing who your enemies are. And Corcoran has his picked out.
“The key is to never back down to the special interest,” he said, “and fight them wherever and whenever you can.”
The Living …
Some of the bills that made it past the Legislature include:
H.B. 1191/S.B. 450 – Telephone Solicitation
Don’t let the name on this bill mislead you. While it’s designed to make it harder for telemarketers to reach people unsolicited, this bill — which is on its way to the governor — would actually block unsolicited text messages as well for people who add their cell numbers to the “Do Not Call” registry.
The bill was introduced on the House side by state Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, although it was the identical Senate bill that would get the attention instead.
Of the six bills Cruz introduced during the recent session, this was the only one to make it out of a subcommittee.
H.B. 523 – Licensure to Carry a Concealed Weapon or Firearm
This bill was the creation of state Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, which would authorize county tax collector offices to accept applications and renewals for concealed weapons and other firearms permits.
But anyone who takes advantage of the change would have to pay additional “convenience” fees, which the tax collector’s office will get to keep.
The bill faced some opposition in the House, where it did pass 94-22. But it was a clean sweep through the Senate, where no one voted against it.
H.B. 203/S.B. 260 – Unaccompanied Homeless Youth
Hospitals and doctors typically cannot treat minors without receiving the consent of a parent or guardian. But that can be difficult to obtain for young people who are homeless and away from their family.
This bill, from state Rep. Dan Raulerson, R-Plant City, would help the nearly 7,000 homeless youth that are believed to be living in Florida seek medical care when they need it. It provides them the right to give consent for the care, with the exception of abortions, which still require parental notification.
The Senate took up the identical S.B. 260 instead, which passed both chambers unanimously.
… The Dead
Some of the bills that didn’t make it past the Legislature include:
H.B. 701 – Daylight Savings Time
Introduced by state Rep. Mark Danish, D-Tampa, this bill was a simple one: make daylight saving time the standard time year-round in Florida.
The Laker/Lutz News first wrote about this bill in January, which sparked some interest not just in the state, but nationally as well.
Where it didn’t spark interest was the Florida House, where it became stuck in a subcommittee in March, and would eventually die there.
S.B. 566 – Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program
This bill from state Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, would have allowed students in the Florida Bright Futures scholarship program to, among other things, have a wider choice of volunteer service work areas to choose from beyond social areas, including civic or professional interests. It also would’ve prohibited those students from earning money or academic credit for doing the work required to take advantage of the program.
The Senate actually liked Lee’s proposal, and passed it 36-1 on April 24. But the House never took it up, and without its approval, this idea — at least for this session — has gone dark.
S.B. 958 – Fee Waivers for Purple Heart Recipients
They served their country, and were injured in the process. And Florida has rewarded those returning Purple Heart soldiers with various benefits, including free tuition at state colleges and universities, and discounts for other government services.
State Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, however, wanted to give Purple Heart recipients and their families free lifetime membership to Florida state parks.
It’s actually not clear how many Purple Heart recipients live among the 1.5 million veterans in Florida, but more than 12,000 Purple Heart license plates are currently in circulation, according to a Senate analysis.
Simpson originally wanted to give Purple Heart soldiers free access to toll roads as well, but that idea was the first to go.
The rest of the bill followed after it stalled in the Transportation Committee in April, and senators never picked it back up.
Published May 21, 2014