Hold your hats, folks, there are some surprises in store the last week of session. Here are the top six things to watch in the coming five days.
Upgrading the Budget
There are lots of words to describe the multiple pots of money held in reserve by House and Senate leadership to start the budget process early in session, but if you look at the bills that originally passed both chambers — and the final budget conference report – you are going to see a huge increase in money from start to finished product. A lot of that will be member projects that will be hard for the Governor to veto in an election year.
Medical Marijuana and “Charlotte’s Web”
This will be the best debate of the final week. It also, hands down, wins this year’s “oddest bedfellows” award. The issue has bonded hard-core conservatives, religious zealots, and left-wing liberals. Ironically, the few opponents to date are moderate Republicans (Sens. Altman & Hukill, Reps. Harrell, Metz and Stone).
Much of the credit goes to Rep. Matt Gaetz, one of the most gifted debaters and orators to ever serve in the House (and that’s saying a lot). Here are the top two questions if the measure passes: will the Governor sign it? Will opponents to Amendment #2 use the bill to argue that the Legislature has acted and there is no need to pass such a sweeping measure?
The Health Care Choo-Choo
The health care train has left the House station. While nearly four in 10 members attempted to derail the omnibus bill, too many were already aboard. From expanded scope of practice for nurses to the power of telemedicine, the House has been bold in announcing its direction for the next six years (Crissafulli, Corcoran and Olivia). The Senate has a much more limited interest in health care legislation, notably the “trauma drama” fight of HCA. Count on this being a Friday surprise for everyone involved.
Rep. Jamie Grant, tough-minded and up for the challenge, continues to focus on passing a bill in the House to ease Uber into Florida without the regulation that manages the taxi industry. While the bill now applies only to Hillsborough County, the Uber interest is a statewide pre-emption. Incoming Senate President Andy Gardiner has shut this bill down for the 2014 session (the bill’s main opponent is Orlando-based Mears Transportation). So the question this last week is: How badly does Grant want to hold his head high and go home with a solid vote on the House floor, despite the measure’s overall defeat?
One of the most contentious debates of the session has devolved into name-calling, threats and Easter-day phone calls to the home of Senate sponsor, Kelli Stargel. The craft industry is exploding in Florida – but at what cost to the big suppliers and distributors? I’d expect some, um, sober fireworks this week before a final decision is made.
Tuition for Illegal Immigrants
Gov. Scott stands on the precipice of a huge victory if his two strongest Senate allies, John Thrasher and Jack Latvala, give him the chance to bring this issue to fruition. Voters in South Florida and the I-4 corridor are waiting to heap praise on the Governor for this victory. The measure is tied to some other popular proposals. If passed in that form, it would be hard to shoot down.