Gary Fineout answers your 5 biggest questions of the 2014 session

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After lawmakers vote on a new $77 billion budget sometime Friday night, the 2014 Florida Legislature session comes to a close.

The session did live up to expectations as an election-year offering for Gov. Rick Scott..

Well, sort of, writes Gary Fineout in The Fine Print.

As with every session, there is the requisite last-minute drama and tension.

Fineout answers five most lingering questions of the session:

Gambling legislation — real or for show? 

For the most part, it was a show, Fineout writes.

Gambling continues to be a divisive issue, even as halfway through the session both chambers effectively shut down any hope of serious reforms this year.

Scott and his people suggested a renewed compact with the Seminole was forthcoming, with the possibility of a special session, possibly in May.

That idea was quickly shot down, Fineout says.

What’s more is that Democrats a vital part of the success of any gambling bill, flatly refused to approve any proposal where they were not part of the negotiations.

So don’t expect any movement on that front, at least until after the fall elections.

Is in-state tuition for children of undocumented immigrants really going to pass the Republican-controlled Legislature? 

Yes, and it is going to come down to the wire, according to Fineout. The Florida House is ready to pass the bill on the final day, sending it to Scott, who indicated he would sign it.  GOP legislators were divided on the issue, especially those in the Senate. Opponents felt it was “pandering” and believe that it encourages immigrants to break the law.

Sponsor Sen. Jack Latvala gave credit to House Speaker Will Weatherford and just as significantly, Scott for keeping the issue alive in 2014.

Scott, facing a tough re-election fight, warmed up to the idea of in-state tuition, even after he vetoed a bill allowing DREAMers to get a temporary driver’s licenses just one year ago. Democrats call it an election-year gimmick, but any way you look at it, the bill will finally pass after years of effort by proponents, Fineout notes.

Accountability in the voucher program — Testing vs. vouchers 

Another one headed down the wire, Fineout says.

Amid concerns over testing, the Senate sponsor pulled the bill growing Florida’s private school voucher program. Then, the House tacked a bill expanding vouchers for middle-income families to a bill covering educational services for disabled children, which was a priority for Senate President-designate Andy Gardiner.

The Senate responded with a bill containing some testing language, but no requirements for private schools having students use the same tests as those in public school. Instead, the proposal requires schools with a majority of voucher students issue public reports on student performance on standardized tests.

That bill was hung up on the 59th day of the session, while Democrats were preventing the Senate to take up the House bill.  A procedural gaffe has the bill in jeopardy of dying on the last day, even though Weatherford anticipated the bill would still pass before Sine Die.

Is this a tough session for Rick Scott?

Sort of, says Fineout.

Scott’s re-election bid casted a shadow over the entire session. As legislative leaders ditched a series of controversial proposals, it became clear that lawmakers had no stomach for sending anything too contentious to Scott’s desk.

The governor’s change of heart for in-state tuition gave him little choice but to take on a tough subject. Once Scott announced his support of the bill, the Senate came close to ditching the entire idea several times.

In some ways, the session went well for Scott. He got most of his tax cut wish list. Not all of his spending recommendations were followed, but Scott did get a lot, and his Senate appointment went through with little trouble.

Did this session have any libertarian leanings?

Again, Fineout says sort of.

On the last day of the session, the Legislature expects to pass the “Charlotte’s Web” bill that would sanction the use of a strain of marijuana-extract for medical purposes.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, in defense of the bill, noted that passing the bill would have Florida ignoring federal laws banning marijuana in all forms.

Raising the state’s speed limits also squeaked through the Legislature.

However, many proposals lifting government regulation failed, such as eliminating red light cameras and removing the wall of separation between liquor and grocery stores.

Then there was a battle over and whether or not craft breweries can sell certain sizes of beer containers known as growlers. Big beer distributors fought with craft breweries over regulations, but as of the final day the issue still has not been resolved, and the bill expects to die on Friday.

 

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.