Florida Legislature trying to wrap up work in final week
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida legislators are nearing the finish line of their 60-day annual session, but they have a long line of unfinished business to take care of in the final week.
The session is scheduled to end on March 9.
That long list of unfinished business includes a sweeping gun and school safety bill that was drawn up in response to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where 17 people were shot and killed.
The House and Senate are expected to vote on a bill that includes a measure to raise the minimum age to purchase a gun in Florida to 21 and create a three-day waiting period for gun purchases. It also calls for the creation of a new mental health program for schools and includes funding to expand the number of school resource officers in public schools.
But the legislation also includes a contentious measure that would allow teachers and school employees to carry guns on campus if they are trained. House Speaker Richard Corcoran says that critics have misunderstood the “marshal program” but Gov. Rick Scott has said he is opposed to “arming teachers.”
On top of the gun bill, the Legislature is expected to vote on and pass a roughly $87 billion budget. This budget is expected to include a small increase for public schools and also an increase in the amount of money for Bright Future scholarships that go to kids who are attending Florida colleges.
Other bills coming up next week:
-The House and Senate are scheduled to vote on a sweeping education bill (HB 7055) that includes the creation of a special new voucher program aimed at students who are either bullied or harassed while at school. Children who are bullied at schools can transfer out of a public school and go to a private school.
The legislation includes other education proposals, including one that would require that the words “In God We Trust” be placed in every school in the state.
-Legislators will consider a measure that would ease some of the restrictions now in place for so-called payday loans. The bill would double the current limit on the loans from $500 to $1,000 and would allow lenders to give 60-to-90 day loans.
Consumer advocates contend the bill, which is also being opposed by a large number of churches and religious organizations, would create a debt trap for poor people. Back in 2001, the state cracked down on loans where lenders give borrowers money in exchange for holding a postdated check as collateral.
Backers of the bill say they need to change the law because of potential new federal regulations.
-Florida could make it harder to raise taxes or fees in the future under a proposed constitutional amendment (HB 7001) that the Florida Senate is expected to vote on. If approved by 60 percent of voters the amendment would require the Florida Legislature to approve future tax hikes by a two-thirds vote.
The proposal is a top priority for Scott.
Several other states, including California, have similar restrictions on tax hikes. Democrats who have opposed the legislation said it was short-sighted and would prevent the Legislature from cleaning up loopholes and tax breaks.