Capitol preview: What to expect during the fourth week of the 2011 legislative session

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The Legislature enters its fourth week of the session already getting into the budget ?both chambers will have proposed budgets this week ?and planning to bring a major Medicaid overhaul to the floor this week, according to the News Service of Florida.

The Senate is expected to release on Monday its version of the budget for the spending year that begins July 1. The House released its version, weighing in at just a shade over $66.5 billion, early Friday morning. Little in the budget is expected to be a surprise; various subcommittees have been working on the spending blueprint for weeks now. But it will set up the contours of the negotiation process between House and Senate budget-writers once each chamber passes its version of the spending plan.

MONDAY, MARCH 28, 2011

THE LEGISLATURE

SECOND BITE AT THE APPLE: A Senate plan to allow lawmakers to tweak proposed constitutional amendments that are rejected by the Florida Supreme Court comes before the Senate Rules Subcommittee on Ethics and Elections. The proposal is the latest attempt by the chamber to reduce the influence the court has over the amendment process following a series of Legislative initiatives that were struck down by the court for being misleading. (Monday, 9 a.m., 412 Knott Building, The Capitol.)

PRIVATIZING PRISON HEALTH CARE: The House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee will hear a presentation on private health services for prisons. The Senate? proposed criminal justice bill already counts on getting $75 million in savings from a proposed statewide privatization of health-care services for inmates, but that proposal isn? in the House version of the bill. The committee will also hear a measure that would get rid of a state screening program for workers who need access to ports. Supporters of the measure say the state program, which went into effect in 2000, duplicates federal safeguards put in place after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. (Monday, 12 p.m., 17 House Office Building, The Capitol.)

WORKERS, RETIREES HOLD NEWSER: Workers, retirees and others who say they?l be negatively impacted by proposed budget cuts hold a news conference to discuss the proposals. (Monday, 12:30 p.m., Fourth Floor Rotunda, The Capitol.)

SCHOOL LUNCH FOOD FIGHT: The Senate Agriculture Committee takes a up a proposal (SB 1312) backed by Florida Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam to transfer responsibilities for the state? public education system nutritional programs, arguing that with so many federal programs handle through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, that putting all those programs under Putnam? roof makes sense. (Monday, 1 p.m., 37 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)

FREE ENERGY AUDITS, PSC COMMISSIONER CONFIRMATION: Public utility providers will be required to conduct free energy audits for commercial property owners and businesses under a measure (SB 7082) that comes before the Senate Communication Energy and Public Utilities Committee. The panel will also hold public hearings on the confirmation of Public Services Commission appointees Eduardo Balbis, Ronald Brise, Julie Brown and Art Graham. (Monday, 1 p.m., 110 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)

GROWTH MANAGEMENT: The Senate Community Affairs Committee takes up a number of bills including a measure (SB 1122) by committee chairman Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, which prohibits local governments from enacting new impact fees until July 1, 2013. Other bills up for consideration include a proposed constitutional amendment (SJR 5920) that would provide additional property tax discounts to military veterans. (Monday, 1 p.m., 412 Knott Building, The Capitol.)

CHILD WELFARE AND FOSTER CARE PROVIDERS: The House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee takes up two closely-watched bills in the child welfare arena. One (HB 279) deals with training and certification of child welfare providers. The other (HB 1019) provides immunity from liability for the Department of Children and Families for the acts of its subcontractors, and limits the liability for some of those community-based care organizations that contract to do child welfare in the state. (Monday, 3 p.m., 212 Knott Building, The Capitol.)

HOUSE COMMITTEE TAKES UP CHARTER SCHOOL BILL: The House K-20 Innovation Subcommittee will take up a proposed committee bill on charter schools for the first time. It allows charter schools that are rated highly to add grades or increase enrollment more easily. It also changes some of the requirements for preferential admittance of certain students at charter schools. The bill (KINS 11-03) has some similarities to SB 1546, which is being heard on Wednesday in the Senate. Charter school expansion is supported by the Republican-dominated Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott. The committee also takes up a proposed committee bill (KINS 11-04) that permits charter schools to offer virtual instruction and requires school districts to provide ?pportunities for participation?in virtual instruction. (Monday, 3 p.m., 404 House Office Building, The Capitol.)

HOUSE AGRICULTURE: The House Committee has several bills, including measures related to the discharge of wastewater into the ocean (HB 613), and the application on land of material from septic tanks (HB 1479). (Monday, 3 p.m.,. 102 House Office Building, The Capitol.)

CHILDREN AND FAMILIES: The Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs takes on a lengthy agenda including a measure (SB 404) to bolster services for children under Department of Children & Families care to help them make the transition to adulthood after turning 18. The panel also takes up a measure (SB 1194) that would remove state college budgets from Department of Education approval. (Monday, 3:15 p.m., 401 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)

HEALTH REGULATION WITH SEVERAL BIG ISSUES: A pair of abortion bills by Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, comes before the Senate Health Regulations Committee. One measure, (SB 1744) would require all women seeking an abortion to first receive an ultrasound before obtaining an abortion. Another measure (SB 1748) would place further restrictions on abortions in the third trimester of pregnancy. The committee is also considering a measure (SB 1698) to do away with a septic tank inspection program that was approved by lawmakers last year and scheduled to take effect July 1. If that isn? enough controversy for one, meeting the committee will also take up a bill (SB 432) that would prohibit physicians and other health care providers from asking whether a patient has a gun in the home. Then there? also pain clinics (SB 1386), lately a highly controversial issue. Sen. Rene Garcia has filed an amendment to do away with the state? prescription-drug tracking database, which puts him at odds with Senate President Mike Haridopolos. And the panel hears a bill (SB 1396) related to tort reform in nursing homes. Provisions to shield homes from lawsuit damages will likely raise flags for trial lawyers and advocates for nursing home residents. (Monday, 3:15 p.m., 412 Knott Building, The Capitol.)

JUDGES, ABORTION LEGISLATION BEFORE JUDICIARY: The Senate Judiciary Committee takes up a proposed constitutional amendment (SJR 1538) to prohibit the use of public tax dollars for abortion services. The original version by Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, made no exemptions in cases of rape, incest or if the health of the mother was at risk. The committee will consider an amendment to add those exemptions to the bill. The committee is also scheduled to take up a series of proposed constitutional amendments (SJR1664, SJR 1672 and SJR 1704) dealing with judicial retention, judicial qualifications and Senate confirmation of members to the Florida Supreme Court. (Monday, 3:15 p.m., 110 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE: Among the measures before the Senate Criminal Justice Committee on Monday is a proposed public records exemption for video or audio recordings that depict or record the killing of a person. Under the bill (SB 416) only the surviving spouse or adult child and specified governmental entities access to these recordings without a court order. Advocates for open records pointed out this week that such a law would have precluded the release of the tape of the death of Martin Lee Anderson, who died while in juvenile boot camp that led to reforms of the system. The panel has several measures related to juvenile justice and other criminal matters. (Monday, 3:15 p.m., 37 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)

TUESDAY, MARCH 29, 2011

PSC OVERHAUL: The House Energy and Utilities Subcommittee will hear a sweeping bill dealing with the Public Service Commission on Tuesday. The proposed committee bill would make several changes to the PSC ?including tightening rules against ex parte communications, allowing the attorney general to appoint the public counsel and implementing new education requirements for commissioners. Some of the changes are a response to a series of electronic messages sent among commissioners, their aides and utilities that spilled into the public beginning in 2009. (Tuesday, 8 a.m., 212 Knott Building, The Capitol)

HOUSE CRIMINAL JUSTICE: The House Criminal Justice Committee takes up several bills, including a measure (HB 17) on military veterans convicted of crimes, as well as a bill (HB 821) related to eyewitness identification in criminal investigations, HB 1277 on sex offenders. (Tuesday, 8 a.m., 404 House Office Building, The Capitol.)

HOUSE HEALTH CARE: The House Health & Human Services Quality Subcommittee will hear a proposed constitutional amendment (HJR 1) that would bar any laws that require a person to buy health insurance. The Senate has already passed its version of the legislation (SJR 2). Also on the schedule: A measure (HB 321) that would bar abortions past the 20th week of a pregnancy unless going forward with the pregnancy could kill the woman or severely damage her health. (Tuesday, 9 a.m., 306 House Office Building, The Capitol)

PIP BILLS: The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee takes up a pair of bills dealing with automobile personal injury protection, or PIP. One measure (SB 1930) sets up an organization to investigate and prosecute PIP fraud while another (SB 1694) would limit attorney fees to a maximum of $10,000 per case. Lawmakers have targeted the industry, blaming staged crashes and other fraudulent activities for keeping Florida? automobile insurance rates higher than would otherwise be necessary. The panel also takes up SB 1500, which limits liability for community providers of foster care services. (Tuesday, 1 p.m. 412 Knott Building, The Capitol.)

DRIVERS, STOP YOUR ENGINES!: Racing fans who want to spend eternity soaking up gas fumes and the roar of engines would be allowed to be buried at the Daytona International Speedway or Homestead Miami Speedway under a measure (SB 1096) allowing the facility to construct a columbarium on either site for those who have reached their own checkered flag. The Regulated Industries Committee also takes up the confirmation of new Department of Lottery secretary Cynthia O?onnell and a measure( SB 854) to regulate the direct shipment of wine into the state.(Tuesday, 1 p.m., 110 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)

DESTINATION GAMBLING: A trio of bills comes before the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee that would allow the state to establish five mega casino/resorts in the state. SB 1708, SB 1710 and SB 1712, set the (roulette?) wheels in motion for private developers to construct a handful of exclusive venues complete with shopping, golf, tennis, hotels, and, oh, casinos. Gov. Rick Scott seams amenable, saying last week the state has gaming already. Such venues would certainly create jobs. The committee also takes up a measure (SB 1524) to further deregulate the telecommunications industry by paring back the control exerted by the Public Services Commission on land line telecommunications. (Tuesday, 1 p.m. 401 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)

TIRE AGING BILL UP IN SENATE COMMITTEE: A bill to require greater disclosure from tire retailers on the age of ?ew?tires is also before the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee. The bill (SB 1482) requires tire retailers to disclose the date the tire was manufactured and warn them about the dangers of aged tires. Tires that were manufactured many years ago could put a driver at risk for blowouts, even if they have never been used before. This bill was filed last year, but never made it to either the Senate or House floor. (Tuesday, 1 p.m., 401 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)

FOR SALE: The Senate Transportation Committee takes up a measure (SB 560) allowing the state to sell advertising space on state transportation property along the Florida Turnpike system, highways, and other state owned facilities. The committee also takes up four road designation bills and two measures to create new specialty license plate, one for corporations (SB 716) and another (SB 900) to honor recipients of the U.S. Army? Combat Infantry Badge. (Tuesday 1 p.m., 37 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)

ELECTIONS, ETHICS AND CLAIMS BILLS: The Senate Rules Committee takes up an ethics bill (SB 7224) that as of Friday morning had no information posted on what it would do. The bill was added to the Senate tracking system on Thursday as a shell bill. The Committee is also expected to take up SB 1504, which sets restrictions on petition gatherers and another (SB 1618) to send election violations to the Division of Administrative Hearings. Finally, the committee takes up a number of relief bills for victims injured or killed in accidents involving state or local government agencies. (Tuesday, 3:15 p.m., 110 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)

HOUSE IN SESSION ?MEDICAID REFORM: The House is on the floor Tuesday afternoon from 3:15 p.m. to 6 p.m. and plans to bring its Medicaid overhaul package to the floor. One of the biggest changes in health care policy in recent years, this one will likely come in for lots of debate this week. (Tuesday, 3:15 p.m., House Chamber.)

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 30, 2011

SENATE HEALTH REG: The Senate Health Regulation Committee takes up a wide-ranging health care bill that, perhaps most importantly, provides for the state? withdrawal from Medicaid under certain circumstances (SB 1972). The panel also takes up a medical malpractice bill (SB 1590) dealing with expert witness rules. (Wednesday, 8 a.m., 412 Knott Building, The Capitol.)

SENATE COMMITTEE TAKES UP CHARTER SCHOOL BILL: The Senate Pre-K-12 Committee gets a first glimpse at SB 1546, a wide-ranging bill that makes it easier for universities and community colleges to open charter schools and allows charter schools rated as highly performing to add grades or expand enrollment more easily. Sponsored by Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, the bill is similar to a House proposed committee bill (KINS 11-03). Charter school expansion is supported by the Republican-dominated Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott. (Wednesday, 1:30 p.m., 301 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)

SENATE ENVIRONMENTAL PRESERVATION: The Senate Environmental Preservation Committee? agenda includes bills allowing wounded warrior hunting areas (SB 850) and several measures related to environmental and land permitting (SB 1404, SB 1514). The panel also considers the confirmation of George Roberts to the governing board of the Northwest Florida Water Management District. (Wednesday, 1:30 p.m., 110 Senate Office Building.)

THURSDAY, MARCH 31, 2011

HOUSE IN SESSION: The House is in session Thursday afternoon but its calendar isn? yet set. (Thursday, 3 p.m., House Chamber.)

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.