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More than 7,500 St. Johns County residents have already voted by mail in special elections there. Early voting begins Saturday and runs until the day before Easter.

Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles / FLHSMV.gov

Lawmakers took steps Thursday that could cancel a fifth of the specialty license plates available in Florida but also advanced 26 more designs for motorists to pre-order.

House and Senate committees backed higher thresholds for plates to qualify to be produced and for the current 122 tags to remain on the road.

At the same time, the Senate Transportation and House Economic Affairs committees moved a wide range of tags toward pre-sale for Panhellenic organizations, non-profits, environmental endeavors and professional sports teams.

tax cut chart
Jessica Palombo / WJCT News

House members backed Gov. Rick Scott's push to reduce taxes on cell-phone bills and pay TV on Tuesday.

And they bettered the governor, by $17 million, in rolling out a $690 million tax-reduction package that offers a slew of sales-tax holidays and eliminating taxes on gun-club memberships, college textbooks, materials purchased at book fairs and vehicles purchased overseas and brought to Florida by military members.

Erik Hersman / Flickr

Seeking to make Florida more "meaningful" in choosing a Republican presidential nominee, the Senate on Wednesday gave final approval to moving back the date of the state's presidential primary elections.

Senators, with little debate, unanimously backed a bill (HB 7035) that passed the House last week. It now goes to Gov. Rick Scott.

The bill would lead to the presidential primaries being held on the third Tuesday in March, which would be March 15 in 2016. Under current law, next year's primaries would be on March 1.

VIVA Florida 500

Following controversial presidential searches at some public universities, a Florida House panel Tuesday easily approved a bill that would offer confidentiality to candidates during the early stages of searches for new college leaders.

With only one dissenting vote, the House Higher Education and Workforce Subcommittee approved the measure (HB 223) by Rep. Neil Combee, a Polk City Republican who argued that the move would increase the pool of applicants to become president, provost or dean at public colleges or universities.

News4Jax

The city of Jacksonville could have to pay $3.3 million dollars to the family of a boy who was paralyzed by a falling tree limb four years ago. As the News Service of Florida reports, a state Senate committee approved a bill Thursday that would require the city to compensate the family of Aubrey Stewart. The bill’s sponsor, Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island), said the city had received multiple complaints about the conditions of trees but did not take action before Stewart was injured.

Ines Hegedus-Garcia / Flickr

A plan that would make changes to the management of the state's natural springs and address drinking-water issues across Central Florida and the flow of pollution in and out of Lake Okeechobee was approved Thursday by the House on the third day of the legislative session.

Rick Scott
The Office of Governor Rick Scott

Calling on something he termed "Florida exceptionalism," Gov. Rick Scott used the annual State of the State address Tuesday to try to reinvigorate his legislative agenda after a difficult opening to his second term.

During the 21-minute speech, Scott pushed lawmakers to adopt his proposals to slash taxes, hold down the cost of higher education and boost public education spending to the highest per-student level in state history.

Michael Rivera / Wikimedia Commons

When Florida lawmakers return for session tomorrow, one issue they’ll wrestle with is local pension reform. Here in Jacksonville, pension debt is more than 40 percent unfunded. University of North Florida Professor Michael Hallett says part of the city’s problem stems from a state-imposed cap on local tax increases.

“The Police and Fire Pension Fund debt in Jacksonville is in part driven by a longer standing failure to pay into the Police and Fire Pension Fund at the levels that were agreed to contractually,” Hallett said. 

Scott and auto workers
Office of the Florida Governor

The Florida Legislature begins its 2015 lawmaking session Tuesday in Tallahassee. Above all, lawmakers are responsible for passing a budget that determines how much taxpayer money is spent on what.

In this week’s Business Brief, business analyst John Burr and WJCT News Director Jessica Palombo talk about the spending plan put forth by Governor Rick Scott, which includes corporate income and manufacturing equipment tax cuts. 

handgun
Robert Nelson / Flickr

  Florida's university system wants state lawmakers to holster the idea of allowing guns on campus.

A joint statement from the university system's Board of Governors, university police chiefs and the 12 public universities expresses opposition to a legislative proposal (SB 176 and HB 4005) that would allow people with concealed-firearms licenses to carry guns at state colleges and universities.

Cordell and Cordell / Flickr

A "child support-esque" formula could determine the amount of alimony divorcing spouses would receive under a radical overhaul of the state's alimony laws now in the works.

In contrast to hotly contested legislation that prompted an outcry from the National Organization for Women and pitted alimony-reform advocates against divorce lawyers two years ago — and ultimately resulted in a veto by Gov. Rick Scott — the new plan floated by House Rules Chairman Ritch Workman so far has the blessing of people on both sides of the issue.

Melissa Ross / WJCT

A Florida House committee approved a measure this week to allow students to carry guns and concealed weapons on the state’s college campuses. This controversial idea comes just months after a shooter injured three people at the Florida State University library. Supporters of allowing guns on campus say it would prevent more campus shootings like the FSU incident. Opponents argue more guns on campus will make students less safe. We discussed the issue with legal analyst and Florida Coastal School of Law professor Rod Sullivan.

Senate, House Elections Today In Northeast Florida

Jan 27, 2015

Voters in Northeast Florida are heading to the polls today to choose Republican nominees for three legislative districts expected to be easily carried by the GOP in special elections in April.

The highest-profile race pits Rep. Travis Hutson (R-Elkton), Rep. Ronald "Doc" Renuart (R-Ponte Vedra Beach) and Flagler Beach Republican Dennis McDonald for the nomination in a Senate district vacated by Sen. John Thrasher (R-St. Augustine). Thrasher resigned from the Legislature last year to become the president of Florida State University, his alma mater.

Rick Scott
The Office of Governor Rick Scott

Making good on a campaign promise, Gov. Rick Scott announced Monday he will ask lawmakers to provide the highest per-student funding for education in state history during the legislative session that begins in March.

Scott said his "Keep Florida Working" budget would include $7,176 per student, about $50 above the previous high in the 2007-08 budget year. That spending plan was approved before the financial crisis that caused the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Florida voters passed the Water and Land Conservation Amendment in November. It requires one third of documentary stamp revenue – a tax on real estate transactions - to go toward environmental initiatives.

The Florida Legislature must spend a portion of the documentary stamp money on environmental programs, like buying land and preserving springs.

Taxpayer Tab Mounts In Welfare Drug-test Legal Fight

Dec 9, 2014
Rick Scott
The Office of Governor Rick Scott

  TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Taxpayers are on the hook for at least $307,000 – and perhaps much more – to cover legal expenses in Gov. Rick Scott's repeated failed efforts to convince courts that a onetime campaign pledge to drug-test welfare recipients is constitutional.

A federal appeals court last week ruled that the state's mandatory, suspicion-less drug testing of applicants in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, program is an unconstitutional violation of Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government.

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