News Section: State Government
2013 Florida Legislative Session Preview
BRADENTON – Today marks the start of the Florida Legislature's annual 60-day session. Florida is among several states that employ a "part-time" legislature which meets only once a year, barring a special session called by the Governor. This year, lawmakers again face a crowded agenda of issues that will likely come down to the wire. From the implementation of Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act to sweeping changes in education and efforts to reform elections, foreclosures and property insurance, the legislature will be expected to accomplish significant tasks in minimal time.
The 2012 elections were a national embarrassment for the state, as long lines, long ballots and a shortened early-voting schedule helped prevent the state from being able to certify its Presidential results until four days after the election was over. State leaders, who came under intense fire for passing laws that were seen as ideologically-driven, realized that the situation could have been even worse, had the Presidential election come down to our state, as it did in 2000. Virtually everyone has acknowledged that the system must be fixed and the session will mark the beginning of what's likely to be an intense debate on how that will occur.
Reforming Citizens Property Insurance will again be a major issue in this session, as the legislature tries to reduce Florida's liability in taxpayer-subsidized homeowner insurance. Here again there is widespread agreement that the current model is unsustainable, though there are competing perspectives on how to reform it without hurting homeowners. The insurance industry's strong influence has also been a factor in the issue, causing some proposals to be non-starters if they are not seen as industry friendly.
The biggest friction might be produced in debate over whether to join Governor Scott and agree to expansions in the state's Medicaid program, which is seen as more likely to pass in the Senate than the House. Healthcare exchanges seem poised to fail in both chambers.
The governor's proposal to raise teacher pay has already sparked some cold responses from legislators in his party who are expected to argue that the funding won't be available, and instead focus on merit-pay issues that they've been unsuccessful in passing over the last three sessions. Charter school expansion and the parent-trigger bill, which died in a 20-20 Senate tie in 2012, will also be revisited.
Incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford has made converting the Florida Retirement System's defined-benefit pensions into defined-contribution plans similar to 401-k's in the private-sector, a top priority. The measure was cut out of the previous reforms to the system, which succeeded in eliminating cost-of-living adjustments, while adding a 3 percent contribution.
Governor Scott is still pushing for the eventual elimination of Florida's corporate income tax, beginning with an increase of the exemption this session. The governor is also asking for legislation that will lead to the elimination of a state sales tax on manufacturing equipment. Such taxes generate $141 million per year, but he has argued that the lost revenues will be offset by increased investment and economic growth.
The governor is expected to meet with resistance on economic incentives, which he has used broadly in hope of stimulating job creation. Negative attention drawn by many companies who have received state incentives and failed to deliver the expected results have many legislators questioning the effectiveness of such deals. Scott has requested $278 million in new tax dollars to corporations that pledge to create new jobs and a total of $141 million in corporate-tax cuts to manufacturers and small businesses. Accomplishing much of his wish list is seen as a big test for Scott, who will need recent victories to claim on the campaign trail when he seeks reelection next year.
A law regulating Internet sales tax is also expected to pass this session, while sweepstake casinos are expected to be put off until 2014. The legislature is also expected to revisit Florida's red-light camera law, which has met with perennial resistance from public officials and citizen groups.
Republicans lost their veto-proof majority in the 2012 elections and the legislature will be slightly more balanced between parties this year. Democrats won two new seats in the 40-member Senate last fall, their first net gain in 30 years. They also picked up five seats in the 120-member House, though Republicans still dominate with a 76-44 advantage there and a 12 member lead in the Senate.
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