The March 1
end to legislative committee meetings has narrowed the field of bills that can continue to move forward in the final days of the 2016 session.
FRACKING DIES IN SENATE COMMITTEE
Fracking legislation appears dead for this session. A bill regulating the practice died on Tuesday in the Senate Appropriations Committee when the sponsor, Sen. Garrett Richter (R-Naples), pulled it from consideration. The Appropriations committee had voted down the bill last Thursday, but a procedural move allowed for a hearing to reconsider it.
Fracking involves using high pressure streams of water and chemicals to blast oil and gas from rocks as deep as two miles underground. Reports of contamination of drinking water and aquifers, increased cancer rates, and earthquakes have been attributed to fracking. States around the country are passing fracking bans to protect their citizenry and environment. SB 318 by Richter -- supported by the American Petroleum Industry, Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Florida -- encountered growing opposition throughout the legislative process.
Over 80 local governments have passed bans, prohibitions, or resolutions opposing fracking and SB 318. Those actions would have been preempted, and awarded all regulation of fracking to the Department of Environmental Protection, making those bans void. Thousands of calls and emails from our concerned citizens throughout the state made the message very clear: No fracking in Florida!
LEVELING THE PLAYING FIELD FOR SOLAR IN FLORIDA
SJR 170, Renewable Energy Source Device sponsored by Senator Brandes (R - St. Petersburg), would place a Constitutional Amendment on the 2016 November ballot that would help expand renewable energy development on commercial and residential buildings in our state. SJR 170 amends Article VII, section 3 of the State Constitution, authorizing the Legislature to exempt the assessed value of a solar or renewable energy source device from the tangible personal property tax.
If approved by vote of at least 60 percent of the electors voting on the measure and implemented by the Legislature, SJR 170 will reduce ad valorem tax revenue from solar or renewable energy source devices that would otherwise be taxed as real or tangible person property. This important bill continues to move forward, now slated for floor votes in both chambers. LWVF continues to support this bill.
ABORTION ACCESS AT RISK
After a lengthy debate, the House on Wednesday approved a bill that would place new restrictions on abortion clinics. The House voted 74-44, largely along party lines, to approve HB 1411 by Rep. Colleen Burton (R-Lakeland). The Senate is scheduled Friday to take up its version of the bill (SB 1722), sponsored by Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland) on Special Order Calendar. The House bill would take a series of steps, such as requiring clinics that perform first-trimester abortions to have transfer agreements with nearby hospitals or for clinic doctors to have admitting privileges nearby. Clinics that perform second-trimester abortions would have to meet both conditions.
The bill would bar public money from going to organizations that own, operate, or are affiliated with clinics that perform abortions. It also would require the state to inspect at least 50 percent of abortion clinic records each year. The bill creates significant obstacles to women seeking abortions, and in what is viewed as an open attack on Planned Parenthood, prohibits state funding for cancer and healthcare screenings for clinics that perform abortions.
LWVF strongly opposes this bill.
The Senate took up a proposal (SB 668), sponsored by Sen. Kelli Stargel (R - Lakeland) that would overhaul the state's alimony laws. Lawmakers are poised to do away with permanent alimony and change the way judges decide how much time children should spend with their divorced parents.
The bill would eliminate certain types of alimony, including permanent alimony, and create formulas for alimony payments. The duration of alimony payments would be based on the number of years of marriage, while the amount of the payments would rely on a couple's gross income -- the higher earner's salary minus the earnings of the spouse seeking alimony.
GUN BILL REVIVED FOR A FINAL WHIMPER
As if to prove that one never knows what they will see before the hankie drops ending each legislative session, Senator Gaetz (R-Niceville) provided the pudding. In a last ditch effort to revive legislation allowing the open carrying of handguns by concealed permit holders throughout our state, Gaetz filed an amendment adding his already-rejected language (SB 300) to an obscure bill that aims to lift a ban on the manufacturing or sales of a maritime tool known as a slungshot. The tool was once a 19th-Century gang weapon.
But Gaetz withdrew his amendment because of a Senate rule that bars lawmakers on the Senate floor from tacking language from a bill that has stalled in the committee process onto a separate bill. The open-carry measure -- approved a month ago in the House in a mostly party-line 80-38 vote -- did not get through the Senate Judiciary Committee. The slungshot measure (HB 4009) will go before the Senate for a final vote Friday. The House has unanimously approved the slungshot proposal.
Please click here to read a press release that LWVF sent out after news of this tactic broke.
Watch the above video for a glimpse into the camaraderie
and humor amidst strong tensions and complex protocol at the end of a long day in session, and after an earlier rejection of the Open Carry amendment.
ENVIRONMENTAL SPENDING UPDATE
The House and Senate came to an agreement late Thursday on an environmental budget. Here are some highlights:
Land conservation: There's a total of $90.5 million, but only $15.2 million is going to buy lands on the priority list of the Florida Forever program, which used to get about $300 million per year until the economic recession. Environmentalists wanted to revive the program when they drafted Amendment 1, overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2014, to set aside money for land and water conservation.
The rest of the money in the budget goes toward paying ranchers not to develop their lands; buying lands for parks; lands needed for Everglades restoration; and land for two preserves in Central Florida. Senate President-elect Joe Negron stated that the Legislature can do better, and there's still time to increase land acquisition money before the Legislature passes the budget. The Senate proposal put forward $200 million for Everglades and $75 million for Springs. There is about $152 million for Everglades restoration and projects around Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers. The budget gives priority to projects that reduce lake discharges due. The budget continues to be a work in progress.
Please review the status of all of our priority bills being followed this session: