Gary Fineout outlines the five bills that could set the tone for the final days of session

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Outgoing House Speaker Will Weatherford, in the last week of session, watched as the Florida Senate dismantled his state pension overhaul plan by a 21-15 vote — effectively killing one of the Speaker’s top legislative priorities in 2014.

With only two days left before Friday’s Sine Die, Gary Fineout in his Fine Print blog notes that a “handful of other bills” remain could be a turning point for the Florida legislature – as deciding factors for whether the session “lurches to the finish or implodes.”

Of the pieces unfinished business left for lawmakers, Fineout singles out five bills, some flying under the radar and each with the potential to set the tone for the final hours of session:

SB 1512: The expansion of Florida’s de facto private school voucher program was tied to legislation providing additional assistance to families of special needs children. Now the bill includes additional testing provisions for schools that accept vouchers, a measure private school operators will likely resist.

Weatherford recognizes the controversy over the degree of “accountability,” for private schools, Fineout notes, but an added amendment by Sen. Kelli Stargel could be a game changer.

Stargel’s revision keeps the testing requirements but puts off the voucher expansion for middle class families for three years. How the Senate responds to the revised bill could be a bellwether for how other important last-minute legislation will fare.

HB 5601: This bill of wide-ranging tax cuts fills the remaining $100 million gap that was a key promise of legislative leaders before the session. Fineout points out that it is a “constantly evolving” legislation, which changed substantially through its time in the House, and is likely the Senate will do the same before a final vote.

Tacked on to the bill are multiple sales tax holidays, cuts in the state’s communication services tax and the even a little bit of help for the Daytona International Speedway.

With something for everyone, Fineout sees this bill as a “must-pass,” but it is still uncertain if there is a final deal yet. House Finance and Tax Chair Ritch Workman has been negotiating directly with Senate budget Chief Joe Negron on a final version, bypassing his Senate counterpart Sen. Dorothy Hukill. A deal may have been reached late Wednesday evening, Fineout writes.

HB 851: This is the high-profile House bill allowing undocumented immigrant students to pay in-state tuition rates at state colleges and universities. Chances are good that Florida Senate will pass the bill, sending it to the House, but that was only after much public drama and lobbying by Gov. Rick Scott. Passage will give Scott a substantial political victory for the 2014 session, and a banner to wave in his re-election effort.

SB 1030: The “Charlotte’s Web” marijuana-extract bill passed overwhelmingly passed the Florida Senate, which would legalize the specialized strain of pot for medical purposes. Although the House version never made it to the floor, the bill remains a priority of many Republicans. Weatherford indicated he would allow the bill a vote.

Fineout believes it could be one of those bills that that makes it near the end.

SB 1216/HB 7095: Sports stadium tax breaks have finally caught on with Florida lawmakers, including incoming Senate President Andy Gardiner as well as many lobbyists. Fineout writes that it would not be surprising if the debate over what will be included (or left out) of this bill will bring the proposal right up to the last minutes 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.