Legislative Insider’s Report from Tallahassee – Week 5 of 9

Much of this week’s happenings centered around the state budget and education, specifically the Hope Scholarship program that is being championed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran. Both the House and Senate rolled out their budget proposals this week.  Both versions total about $87 billion, but individual line items are different.  Each chamber passed out their version; in the House, it was pretty much party line in an 85-27 vote, while the Senate approved their version in a 33-1 vote. Legislative leadership will now go to conference to negotiate the final budget.  With four weeks remaining in the Legislative Session, there is plenty of time to iron out the final details. 

The Florida House, HB 7055, Florida House, 2018 Session, Week 5
The Florida House votes on HB 7055

The Hope Scholarship bill (HB 1/SB 1172) was heard in both House and Senate committees this week, while the House took up a larger education bill (HB 7055) which also includes the provision.  The House budget has a provision which would make the bulk of next year’s per-student school funding contingent on the passage of the education bill. After hours of floor debate on Thursday, the House passed HB 7055 in a 66-43 vote which was mostly party line (five moderate Republicans voted against the bill).  It remains to be seen what the Senate will do in response.  

With the close of the fifth week of Session, it is becoming clear where we stand for this year on a range of issues.  Any bill that has not yet been heard in either the House or the Senate is likely dead.  House subcommittees are no longer meeting and most committees will conclude their business in the next week (or possibly two).  In our report this week, we have made it clear which bills have not seen any action this Legislative Session so you can tell where any specific bill in the process is for the year.  

Rick Green of Patriot Academy holds a mock committee meeting
Rick Green of Patriot Academy works with homeschool students to hold a mock committee meeting

Rick Green of Patriot Academy was at the Capitol this week as part of the Florida Parent Educator’s Association’s Day at the Capitol.  Rick Green had homeschooled students participate in activities which mirrored some of what Patriot Academy does during its summer programs.  Florida Family Policy Council partners with Patriot Academy to hold this event in Tallahassee. This year’s event will be held from June 11 to 13th.  We have a limited number of scholarships available for participants who have a parent who is in the military or is a first responder or military veteran.  

Now for the latest on our 2017 Legislative Agenda!

ADOPTION/FOSTER CARE

OPPOSE HB 357 / SB 576 Adoptee Birth Certificates
Sponsors: Rep. Richard Stark (D), Sen. Dennis Baxley (R)

This bill mandates opening up birth records to birth parents and adult adoptees (even without the consent of the birth parents in adoptions after July 1, 2018) by requiring the Florida Department of Health to issue noncertified copies of unaltered, original birth certificates to adoptees and birth parents.

Action: None this Session.  The House sponsor reached out to us this week with a proposal to amend the bill in a way which could potentially satisfy our concerns with the bill.  Rep. Stark has not yet introduced an amendment to the bill for our evaluation. 

 

ABORTION

SUPPORT HB 1429 / SB 1890 Dismemberment Abortion
Sponsors: Rep. Erin Grall (R), Rep. Joe Gruters (R), Sen. Debbie Mayfield (R)

Prohibits dismemberment abortion, where an unborn child is killed by an abortionist using instruments to cut or rip the child’s body apart piece by piece and then extracts the pieces from the mother.

Rep. Erin Grall (R-Vero Beach) gives closing remarks on HB 1
Rep. Erin Grall (R-Vero Beach) gives closing remarks on HB 1429

Action: The House Judiciary Committee picked up the bill on Wednesday. Opponents argued that women should have access to an abortion no matter what, but they did not engage on the topic of the cruel and barbaric practice of killing an unborn child by dismembering it.  Supporters expressed their outrage that unborn children are being killed by having their limbs ripped from them and bleeding out and argued that we must remember our humanity in this session.  Rep. Gonzalez (R-Venice), who is both a doctor and a lawyer, was able to passionately articulate both the medical and legal arguments.  He concluded his debate by saying, “we have a compelling state interest to prevent inhumane actions which by all descriptions [of the procedure] is deeply and utterly inhumane.”  Shockingly, some members argued that the choice of how the baby is killed is the woman’s choice and one admitted that abortion was killing a child, but still opposed the bill.  The committee passed the bill in a 12-7 vote.  The House version has one more committee assignment before it can head to the floor for a vote by the full House.  The Senate has yet to hear the bill at all meaning the bill will likely die even if the full House passes it. 

OPPOSE HB 1273SB 1718 Contraception Mandate
Sponsors: Rep. Holly Raschein (R), Sen. Lauren Book (D)

Mandates employers provide insurance plans which pay for contraception, including abortion-inducing drugs.  The exemption for employers is limited to religious objections by religious nonprofits or small, privately-held companies and it requires notification of objection to providing coverage.  Insurance companies are still required to provide coverage of contraception to employees who work for an exempt organization.

Action: None this Session. 

OPPOSE HB 189 / SB 320 Abortion Clinics
Sponsors: Rep. Amy Mercado (D), Sen. Linda Stewart (D)

This bill prohibits anyone from interfering with women attempting to enter abortion clinics.  Sidewalk counselors or protestors could face fines, civil suits, and criminal penalties for simply calling out to a woman to not abort her baby.  This bill goes beyond prohibiting criminal and inappropriate interference with abortion facilities and limits free speech. 

Action: None this Session. 

 

CULTURE

SUPPORT HR 157 / SR 480 Declaring Pornography a Public Health Crisis
Sponsors: Rep. Ross Spano (R), Sen. Kelli Stargel (R)

Recognizes the public health crisis created by pornography and acknowledges the need for education, prevention, research, and policy change to protect Floridians.

Action: None this week.  The House has one remaining committee stop (which may hear it next week) while the resolution has not been heard at all in the Senate.  This bill is a resolution (rather than a new law) meaning that each chamber can independently pass the resolution without the approval of the other. 

SUPPORT HB 839 / SB 1158 Display of State Motto in Public Schools
Sponsors: Rep. Daniels (D), Rep. Ponder (R), Sen. Perry (R)

Requires each Florida school and each school district building to prominently display the state motto “In God We Trust.”

Action:  The House bill was heard by its final assigned committee, Education, on Wednesday where it passed in a 17-1 vote. The bill is now headed for the floor.  The Senate has yet to hear the bill in committee which means the bill is likely dead for the year. 

 

EDUCATION

SUPPORT HB 731 / SB 732 Home Education
Sponsors: Rep. Jennifer Sullivan (R), Sen. Dennis Baxley (R)

Clarifies that a home education program is not a school district program and parents who wish to homeschool their children must register with the district school superintendent only for the purpose of complying with the state’s attendance requirements.  It requires the district school superintendent to accept the parental notification and register the program upon receipt of the notice.  The school district cannot require any additional information unless the student chooses to participate in their programs or services.  The bill also stipulates that the content of a child’s portfolio shall be determined by the parent, not the school district.  Finally, it allows school districts to provide homeschool students access to career and vocational courses and requires that industry certifications, national assessments, and statewide, standardized assessments offered by the school district be available to homeschool students.  For homeschool students who are dual enrolled to earn college credit, the bill stipulates that course or program limitations may not exceed the limitations for other dually enrolled students.

Action: The House bill was heard Wednesday by the Education Committee (its final committee) and passed with no opposition in an 18-0 vote.  The House bill was amended in committee to remove an existing 8-hour cap on the number of courses a homeschooled, dual-enrolled student can take to receive college credit.  The Senate version was heard on Thursday by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Pre-K-12 Education passing unanimously 8-0.  It has one final committee stop, Appropriations, before heading to the Senate floor.

SUPPORT HB 1 / SB 1172 Hope Scholarship Program
Sponsors: Rep. Byron Donalds (R), Sen. Bill Galvano (R)

Establishes the Hope Scholarship for students after an incident of battery, harassment, hazing, bullying, kidnapping, robbery, sexual offenses, harassment, assault, threat or intimidation.  The student will have an opportunity to transfer to another public school or to apply for a scholarship to attend a private school.  Scholarship funds are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Sen. Galvano presenting Hope Scholarship
Sen. Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton) presents SB 1172 in committee

Action: The House version was heard on Wednesday in the Education Committee, its final committee stop.  The Senate bill was heard by the Appropriations Subcommittee on Pre-K – 12 Education on Thursday.  A number of noncontroversial amendments were added to the Senate version.  During public testimony, opponents tried to argue that bullies exist everywhere and that victims shouldn’t just be allowed to go to another school.  Supporters are clear that it is the parents’ choice as to what environment would be best for their child – whether to stay in their current school, transfer to another public school, or obtain a scholarship for a private school.  It is also clear that schools who don’t handle problems with bullies in their school should face consequences.  Unfortunately, the issue has become very partisan and members who oppose the scholarship program are not typically supportive of school choice.  The House version passed its final committee 14-4 and the Senate version passed its second (of three) committee in a 6-2 vote.  

 

FREE SPEECH

SUPPORT HB 909 / SB 1234 Free Speech Zones on Campus
Sponsors: Rep. Rommel (R), Rep. Clemons (R), Sen. Baxley (R)

Protects the right of free speech outdoors on public campuses of higher education such as state colleges, universities, law schools, etc.  Prohibits a public college, university, law school, etc. from creating “free speech zones” or restricting free expression except in cases that are reasonable and content-neutral.  No student, faculty or staff member would be allowed to materially disrupt another individual or organization’s scheduled or reserved activities.  If a violation occurs, the Attorney General or the person whose rights were violated may take the violator to court within one year of the violation for reasonable compensation. 

Action: The Senate version was picked up by the Senate Education Committee Tuesday.  The bill was amended in committee by the sponsor to clarify the liability language for public institutions and add increased accountability for student governments in charge of funding student campus organizations. 

The bill was highly contested in committee and some senators questioned the need for the legislation.  The bill sponsor reminded the committee that restricting free speech to free speech zones or only allowing certain groups on public campuses sets a dangerous precedent.  Specifically, these actions silence or alienate those with differing views which ultimately leads to intolerance of any opinion or thought contrary to the official or mainstream perspective or worldview.  It also, of course, violates the First Amendment. 

One senator brought up KKK as a reason to have waiting periods or restrictions on speech on college campuses.  However, as one member of the public pointed out, as much as this form of speech is detestable to most of society, placing restrictions on any group and not on other groups is an unequal application of rules and is effectively content-based discrimination.  We would also point out that the best way to tackle these detestable attitudes and speech is by having civil discourse and thoughtful examination as to why it is inappropriate.  After further discussion, the bill was passed along party lines in a 7-4 vote.  The bill has one more assigned committee (Judiciary) before it heads to the Senate floor.

GAMBLING

OPPOSE HB 223 / SB 374 Fantasy Contests
Sponsors: Rep. Jason Brodeur (R), Sen. Dana Young (R)

Exempts fantasy gaming contests such as fantasy sports leagues from being subject to gambling penalties and regulations. In effect, legalizing fantasy gambling.

Action: None this week. 

OPPOSE SB 840 Legalizing Fantasy and Designated Player Games/Expanding Slot Machines
Sponsor: Sen. Travis Hutson (R)

In addition to exempting fantasy gaming from state gambling regulations, this bill would remove the requirement that greyhound, thoroughbred, quarter horse and harness horse permit holders conduct live racing at their pari-mutuel facilities in order to be eligible for or keep their slot machine and cardroom licenses.  This bill would allow these facilities to take wagers for intertrack races and simulcasts.  It would also legalize designated player games (playing against a designated player rather than the house). 

Action: None this week.  The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Finance and Tax is scheduled to hear the bill on Monday 2/12.

OPPOSE HB 1293 / SB 1802 Preview Games and Machines
Sponsor: Rep. Al Jacquet (D), Sen. Perry Thurston Jr. (D)

Legalizes preview or pre-reveal machines, slot machines which draw individuals in by revealing the prize before the game is started.  A Florida judge has already ruled the machines constitute gambling. 

Action: None this Session. 

 

HUMAN TRAFFICKING

SUPPORT HB 167 / SB 1044 Civil Action for Human Trafficking Victims
Sponsors: Rep. Ross Spano (R), Sen. Lauren Book (D)

Allows a victim of human trafficking to bring a civil cause of action against a human trafficker or facilitator (a person or business who aids in or turns a blind eye to human trafficking activities).  Under this provision, a victim of human trafficking could receive payment for medical bills, mental health services, repatriation, etc. as well as monetary damages for pain, loss, trauma, etc.  A trafficker or facilitator would also be liable under this section to provide an additional $100,000 in damages to the Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking (established by HB 169/SB 1046) and, in some cases, additional damages to law enforcement to aid in future human trafficking rescue efforts.  Punitive damages would be equally divided between the victim and the trust fund.

Action: The House bill was scheduled to be heard in the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday 2/1 but was postponed. The committee met again this week but did not hear the bill. The Senate bill was not heard this week but will be heard in its first committee, Children, Family and Elder Affairs on Monday 2/12. 

SUPPORT HB 169 / SB 1046 Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking
Sponsors: Rep. Ross Spano (R), Sen. Lauren Book (D)

Creates the Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking and Prevention within the Department of Law Enforcement.  This fund would be funded by penalties and damages obtained under as referenced in HB 167 / SB 1044 and other sources, including funds appropriated by the Legislature.  The trust fund would be used to assist victims of human trafficking with medical and mental health exams and treatment, living expenses, lost wages and repatriation. The funds could also be used for a variety of education and prevention efforts, creating a survivor’s resource center, or for vacating convictions against trafficking victims incurred due to trafficking, etc.

Action: The House bill was scheduled to be heard in the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday 2/1 but was postponed. The committee met again this week but did not hear the bill.  The Senate bill was not heard this week but will be heard in its first committee, Children, Family and Elder Affairs on Monday 2/12. 

SUPPORT HB 7039 / SB 1502 Increased Penalties for Human Trafficking
Sponsors: House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, Rep. Ross Spano (R), Sen. Lauren Book (D)

Requires a 10-year minimum mandatory imprisonment sentence for any individual, who knowingly or recklessly without regards to the facts, engages in, attempts to engage in, or financially benefits from human trafficking.  Removes fees to expunge certain portions of criminal records for victims of human trafficking as it relates to their trafficking.  Redefines the term “Adult Entertainment Establishment” to include additional adult-style businesses.

Action: The House bill was considered by the House Justice Appropriations Committee on Tuesday and passed 10-0.  The bill must pass one final committee, Judiciary, to head to the floor.  There was no movement on the Senate bill this week.

 

LIFE 

SUPPORT HB 41 / SB 444 Pregnancy Support Services
Sponsors: Rep. Jackie Toledo (R), Sen. Aaron Bean (R)

Requires the Florida Department of Health to contract with the Florida Pregnancy Care Network (FPCN) to provide pregnancy support services for women who suspect or know they are pregnant.  FPCN would then provide support to pregnant women and address their wellness needs.  The bill requires FPCN subcontractors to promote and support childbirth only. All services provided must be voluntary and cannot include religious content.

Sen. Aaron Bean closes on HB 41
Sen. Aaron Bean (R-Jacksonville) giving his closing argument on HB 41

Action: The full Senate considered the bill this week.  After a number of failed attempts by Democrats to amend the bill on Wednesday, the Senate took up the House version.  On Thursday, after one more attempt by Sen. Audrey Gibson to amend the bill, the Senate passed the bill 21-12 along party lines.  Once the presiding officers sign the bill, it will be sent to the governor. 

 

 

LGBT

OPPOSE HB 347 / SB 66 Creating Special Rights for LGBT Citizens or “Florida’s Competitive Workforce Act”
Sponsors: Rep. Ben Diamond (D), Rep. Rene Plasencia (R), Sen. Darryl Rouson (D)

The worst bill in the Florida Legislature because of its effect on public safety and freedom of conscience.  It adds sexual orientation and gender identity or expression to Florida’s Civil Rights Act of 1992 as impermissible grounds for discrimination. This bill provides a new way for LGBT individuals to sue employers and small businesses for discrimination.  Would allow men access to use women’s showers, locker rooms, and bathrooms.

A full list of House and Senate co-sponsors.

Action:  None this Session.

OPPOSE HB 717 / SB 696 Banning Conversion Therapy
Sponsors: Rep. Evan Jenne (D) / Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D)

This bill makes it unlawful for people in Florida who are licensed to provide professional counseling and others, like pastors who are licensed counselors, to counsel youth under the age of 18 struggling with their “sexual orientation and/or gender identity” to think and live in a heterosexual manner consistent with their biological gender, even if the child (as the patient) asks for their help to do so. 

Action: None this Session.  The bill sponsors with other legislators and in coordination with Equality Florida held a press conference this week in an attempt to draw attention to their proposed legislation.  The rhetoric on this bad bill was ratcheted up this week with one legislator calling so-called conversion therapy bullying and implying that the high suicide rates of youth identifying as LGBT were a result of Christians calling homosexuality a sin.  

 

MARRIAGE

SUPPORT HB 1323 / SB 1580 Florida Guide to a Healthy Marriage  
Sponsors: Rep. Clay Yarborough (R), Rep. Danny Burgess (R), Sen. Kelli Stargel (R)

Creates the Marriage Education Committee, which is tasked with developing the Florida Guide to a Healthy Marriage, which is required to include resources on conflict management, communication skills, family expectations, financial responsibilities and management, domestic violence, and parenting responsibilities; current information from marriage education and family advocates to assist in forming and maintaining a long-term marital relationship; and information regarding premarital education, marriage enrichment education, and resources that are available to help restore a marriage that is potentially moving toward dissolution.  Clerks will be responsible for posting the guide on their websites and individuals applying for a marriage certificate must certify that they have read it or similar resources.

Action: None this week. 

OPPOSE HB 130 / SB 6027 Same-Sex Marriage
Sponsors: Rep. David Richardson (D), Sen. Gary Farmer (D)

Removes the language in state statute which prohibited same-sex couples from marrying and the State of Florida from recognizing same-sex marriages from other states.

Action: None this Session.

 

RELIGIOUS LIBERTY

SUPPORT HB 871 / SB 1290 Free Enterprise Protection Act
Sponsors: Rep. Jay Fant (R), Sen. Dennis Baxley (R)

Prohibits any level of state government or individual acting on behalf of the state from discriminating against a business based upon their internal personnel or employee benefits policies or their exercise of free speech and religion as protected under the Florida and federal Constitutions. The state and its subdivisions would be prohibited from revoking tax exemptions and benefits; denying grants, certifications, licenses, etc.; and access and entitlement to property, facilities and speech forums, among other provisions.

Action: None this Session.

The Senate bill was heard by the Senate Education Committee Tuesday. The bill was amended in committee by the sponsor Sen. Baxley (R-Lady Lake) to clarify liability language for public institutions and add increased accountability for student governments in charge of funding student campus organizations.

The bill was highly contested in committee, with some Senators even questioning the need for this legislation. The bill sponsor reminded the committee that restricting free speech to certain areas or groups on public campuses as some Florida universities (and many others around the country) are practicing is setting a dangerous precedent. Not only do these actions silence or alienate those with differing views leading to complete intolerance, but it also violates the First Amendment.

One senator brought up the inflammatory example of the KKK as a reason to have waiting periods or restrictions on speech on college campuses. However, as one speaker pointed out, as much as this form of speech is not welcome by society, placing restrictions on any group and not on other groups is an unequal application of rules and is effectively content based discrimination. After further discussion, the bill was passed on party lines 7-4. The bill has one more committee, Judiciary, before it heads to the Senate floor.

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