Life and politics from the Sunshine State's best city

Budget, beer, guns, pot and potties on lawmakers’ agenda

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Conservation land purchases, beer growlers, tax cuts, guns on state university campuses, medical marijuana and even where transgender people can go to the bathroom will all be issues that will come up during Florida’s 2015 legislative session.

The only requirement lawmakers have under Florida law is to approve the state budget, but there’s always so much more when the 120 representatives and 40 senators come to the Capitol for 60 days each year. The session starts Tuesday with Gov. Rick Scott’s State of the State address and ends May 1.

With Republicans firmly in control, they’ll drive the agenda and the two new leaders — House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner — are in sync on a number of issues. And they, like Scott, like the idea of cutting taxes and making government more efficient.

Exactly how and to whom they’ll give money back is to be determined. Scott is proposing to reduce taxes on cellphones and cable and satellite television, called the communication services tax, or CST. He also wants to eliminate the sales tax on college text books and increase a corporate income tax exemption.

“The benefit of the CST is it impacts pretty much everybody in the state. It’s broad based. I think for the average person that spends about $100 a month on their cellphones and TV it gives them about $40 a year in tax savings,” Scott told reporters recently at a meeting organized by The Associated Press. “We all have a cellphone and TV.”

Lawmakers are also looking at eliminating the commercial lease tax, and Crisafulli said he’s interested in sales tax breaks that would help farmers. “I’m a proponent of reducing business taxes because I think it does ultimately lead to potentially more hiring,” he said.

Lawmakers will consider varying ideas on how to implement a constitutional amendment voters passed last fall that sets aside a portion of real estate taxes for the purchase of conservation land.

Gardiner said one idea could be to use the money to create ways to let the public enjoy conservation land the state already owns.

“Instead of just buying a piece of property and putting up a fence — property of the government, keep off — why don’t we start talking about access? Parks and trails and different things like that on those pieces of property. That’s how I would look at Amendment 1,” he said.

While Democrats don’t have much power in Tallahassee, they will look to help shape legislation being steered by Republicans. That will include medical marijuana, an issue Democrats have pushed for years and one Republicans are considering after nearly 58 percent of Floridians supported a ballot measure last fall to broaden its use. The measure needed 60 percent support to pass.

“We should look at allowing more people to have an improved quality of life, especially people who have chronic illnesses like Parkinson’s,” House Democratic leader Mark Pafford said.

Democrats will also look to kill bills they think go too far, including proposals to ban all abortions, make it illegal for transgender people to use a single-sex public restroom, and allow concealed weapons permit holders to bring their guns on state university campuses.

Pafford remarked that the Republican administration refused to allow voting on campus, yet they want to let students carry guns.

“That’s just the most bizarre type of thinking, coming where I come from,” Pafford said. “I grew up in Miami and I’ve seen people shot and it’s not a nice thing.”

In all, lawmakers have filed nearly 1,100 bills. The first one the Senate plans to pass is a measure that requires greyhound tracks to report dog injuries to the state.

Other bills would:

– Legalize 64-ounce beer containers known as growlers. Florida is the only state that bans them.

– Provide financial education and job training for people with developmental disabilities.

– Allow grocery and drug stores to sell hard liquor.

– Allow secret recordings made by children to be used as evidence against rapists and molesters.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press. 

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