Florida’s GOP-controlled Legislature kicks off its annual session Tuesday, one that could be consumed by plenty of high-profile issues — but lacking the intensity that comes during an election-year session.
Both House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner have their own agendas. But it appears the focus over the next 60 days may be more about how Gov. Rick Scott and various special interest groups fare during the weeks to come.
Here then are the five biggest questions of the 2015 session:
1. Will Scott win approval of his chief priorities?
Right now the outlook is a bit murky.
Top Republicans have expressed skepticism about the size of Scott’s requested tax cuts, which total nearly $700 million. That’s difficult in a year when the state may be scrambling to replace more than $1 billion in federal money the state has been receiving to help hospitals treat the poor and uninsured.
Scott’s push for increased school funding will probably be viewed favorably, but the GOP governor may find it harder to win approval of his “college affordability” bill. One of its key portions would limit graduate school tuition hikes in the future.
University officials have not taken a stance on Scott’s plan. But in the past they have argued medical schools and law schools should be priced according to demand.
But Scott appears undeterred and will press for the bill in his State of the State speech, according to excerpts released Monday.
“Let us never again say that, ‘We have to raise tuition because tuition in other states is higher than ours,'” Scott is expected to say. “We don’t raise taxes when other states have taxes higher than ours, and we shouldn’t raise tuition when other states have higher tuition.”
2. What are the odds for any substantial gambling legislation getting passed?
On the eve of the session, state Rep. Dana Young filed a sweeping bill that would allow two casinos in South Florida and allow slot machines to expand to two counties where they are not currently allowed — Palm Beach and Lee.
But the odds of any gambling bill making it through the Legislature are long. That’s primarily because multiple groups are deeply invested in the final outcome. Business groups remain opposed to casinos, while the owners of dog and horse tracks usually oppose any bill that doesn’t help them financially.
As Senate President Andy Gardiner said recently: “The gaming industry in general tends to eat its own.
1. How far will legislators go in dealing with the state’s backlash against standardized tests in public schools?
Legislators say they plan to pass some sort of bill that reduces the amount of testing, but it appears unlikely that lawmakers will take any substantial steps to overhaul the school grading system put in place by former Gov. Jeb Bush.
4. Will bills dealing with beer, liquor and pot move this year?
Battles over regulating beer and liquor have become a perennial in recent sessions but there appear to be signs that the businesses entrenched in this tug-of-war may come to an agreement. There are legislators who also want to push ahead with new medical marijuana bills, but those also may have a tough time winning passage.
5. Can lawmakers pass a bill implementing the conservation projects Amendment 1 demands?
That appears unlikely. Voters last fall approved the constitutional amendment that sets aside millions for conservation, but already a disagreement has broken out over how Scott and legislators want to spend the money.
Republished with permission of The Associated Press.