In spate of conforming bills, dozens of changes to laws

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In the wake of a session that included what veterans said was an abnormally large number of ?onforming bills?usually meant to simply bring state policy in line with the next year? budget, interest groups and others are still sifting through what all was in them more than a week later.

Gov. Rick Scott now has about two-dozen conforming bills that nearly brought down the session earlier this month when the Senate killed two of the measures. In all, lawmakers considered 43 conforming bills that emerged from House-Senate conference committee — including some that failed or died bouncing between the two chambers — weighing in at 2,268 pages, reports Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida.

The volume of the measures, which face an up-or-down vote and cannot be amended after legislative leaders agree on their wording, has sparked outrage among some long-serving lawmakers.

?t? obscene,?said Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, the unofficial dean of the Legislature. ?nd when you look at what? in those conforming bills, it? even worse.?

The measures include a slate of policy proposals: slicing, dicing and repackaging government agencies; overhauling health-care benefits for state employees; tweaking state rules for charter schools, including an adjustment to a bill passed during the same session.

While negotiators removed one measure incorporating personal-injury protection insurance changes from a conforming bill, a series of subtle changes to the reports that law enforcement officers have to fill out at the scene of accidents remained in the bill (SB 2160) dealing with changes to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

?t? certainly not what we were trying to get, and we are concerned it might be a step back,?said Sam Miller, executive vice president of the Florida Insurance Council, about the little-noticed PIP proposal.

Miller said the council was concerned about a measure that introduces a vaguely-defined ?river exchange-of-information form?to the list of documents a law enforcement officer can leave with drivers involved in a seemingly minor accident.

That could offset some of the gains made in the bill, including an expanded short-form report giving more information about who was in the car at the time of the crash, if busy law enforcement officers decide to use that instead of one of the other forms.

?f officers will use the short-form report, it? really good,?Miller said.

But Steve Schale, spokesman for the trial-lawyer lobby Florida Justice Association, said his organization was unaware of any disagreement about the measure.

?hat was not one of the controversial elements of PIP,?he said.

The same bill requires the state to contract with online driver? education courses providers to offer online tests for learner? permits and creates a task force to consider the consolidation of state law-enforcement agencies.

A government reorganization bill (SB 2156) running 839 pages overhauls the arrangement of most of the state? economic-development agencies. Perhaps most infamously, two bills (HB 5005, 5007) stretching over 96 pages would have undone a series of regulations. Both were killed on the Senate floor, in part at Jones?urging.

The education bills (SB 2120, 2150), which totaled 150 pages, require each school district to include a middle-school career and professional academy in its five-year plan; repeal the Department of Education? role in monitoring rehabilitation providers; and include a slew of changes to the state? textbook and instructional materials laws.

In the aftermath of the end of the House? session, Speaker Dean Cannon brushed aside a suggestion that the number and import of conforming bills were the reason for any breakdown.

? think the depth of the difference in the budgets and the depth of the shortfall … was, I would say, the main catalyst for the difficulty this year,?said Cannon, R-Winter Park. ?ecause we were the first Legislature to really confront the economic contraction of ?8 and the global disappearance of about a third of the wealth that we?e seen, it made it extra hard.?

And supporters of some measures cut down in the crossfire said some of the bills were related to the financial decisions made to make the budget balance.

A proposal (HB 5309) to allow the Department of Children and Families to rely on the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence? monitoring of 42 certified domestic violence shelters was an effort to deal with staffing cuts at DCF, said Leisa Wiseman, director of internal and external affairs for the coalition.

?hose positions at DCF are gone, and the functions have to be done,?Wiseman said.

The bill never got a vote in the Senate in the final chaotic hours of the session. For now, Wiseman said, the coalition will likely do the work under a contract with the department.
?t? something that will need to be addressed going forward,?she said.

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.