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First Coast Connect
Thu March 6, 2014
What's Likely To Pass As The Florida Legislature Convenes?
As Florida’s annual legislative session gets underway this week, looming large for the Republican-controlled legislature is one overriding goal: the re-election of Governor Rick Scott.
The governor is pursuing a relatively modest agenda for the session, with priorities that include boosting public school spending and extending the back-to-school sales tax holiday, among others.
What’s likely to come out of the session as both parties gear up for the November election?
Matt Corrigan, professor of political science at the University of North Florida, and Tia Mitchell, Capitol bureau reporter for the Miami Herald and the Tampa Bay Times joined Melissa Ross to discuss the issues up for consideration in Tallahassee this year.
Corrigan said the theme of the session will likely be to "do no harm" to Scott's re-election bid, adding that a lot of Floridians don't pay attention to what happens in Tallahassee.
"Tallahassee is in the panhandle, it's a world away from Southern Florida where you have some of the population centers," he said.
"I think the biggest political benefit, in terms of an agenda... is try not to draw too much attention to yourself."
Governor Scott has been pushing an agenda to cut taxes and fees by $500 million. Mitchell said that while it seems legislators agree that taxes and fees should be cut, they do not all agree on what fees should be cut and by how much.
"More than likely some of the vehicle fees are going to be reversed," she said, also noting the expansion of the state's sales tax holiday as a likely point of agreement.
Mitchell said veterans services and education funding are also top priorities for the legislature.
Corrigan noted Scott's evolving stance on education spending—the governor is requesting more money for education this year than he did in 2013.
"He came in really as a Tea Party advocate, going to cut almost all government, and really learned a hard political lesson that if you go after education, you're going to pay a price," he said. "That's come out front and center that he wants to increase education spending."
Among perhaps the most divisive issues this session are immigration reform and marijuana.
Mitchell said that there are proposals being advanced through the legislature regarding medical marijuana, specifically the so-called "Charlotte's Web" strain of cannabis that contains little of the euphoria inducing THC the plant is known for.
"That seems like it's being embraced even though the legislature is very conservative," she said.
Mitchell said a bill to allow in-state tuition at public institutions of higher education for the children of undocumented immigrants.
There is some indication that lawmakers may avoid more controversial issues. Mitchell noted a bill that would've outlawed abortions in Florida any time a doctor determined a fetus was viable that was postponed at the last minute on Wednesday.
The sponsor of the bill, Republican State Senator Anitere Flores, said that it wasn't being tabled for Governor Scott's sake, and that the proposal will be reintroduced in committee.
Other hot-button issues this session include Medicaid expansion, voting rights, and the state's controversial Stand Your Ground self-defense law.
Mitchell said the so-called Warning Shot Bill now moving through the legislature is more likely to be passed than any revision of Stand Your Ground.
You can follow Melissa Ross on Twitter @MelissainJax.
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