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The day that was in Florida politics — March 31

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This day at the state Capitol lawmakers continue to clear their desks of items before getting down to serious budget work. They dealt with the contentious issues of marijuana, abortion and fracking before having to deal with the $4.2 billion really contentious differences in the spending plans they are developing.

State Sen. Garrett Richter’s fracking proposal drew guffaws from environmentalists in the audience when it was presented as a regulatory plan for an industry already active in the state.

The panel approved the proposal to develop rules for fracking and offshore oil exploration. AIF applauded the move, saying it provides “certainty to the industry, but also ensuring a regulatory framework is in place that balances the growth of the industry with environmental stewardship.”

Environmentalists laughed at the argument. They demand a ban on fracking. The story is here.

State Sen. Aaron Bean once again demonstrated Tuesday an ability to pack a committee room; combining marijuana, abortion and a confirmation hearing in one meeting.

When Bean took up SPB 7066, the Charlotte’s Web fix, the Black Farmers Association joined the struggle to implement the state’s medicinal marijuana law. Three members of the group stood as one to object to a 30-year-nursery certificate requirement to be eligible for a license to cultivate marijuana and dispense medicinal oil from the plant.

State Sen. Oscar Braynon sponsored an amendment striking the requirement, saying 30 years ago black growers were emerging from a racist sharecropping system.

“There were no black growers back then,” Howard L. Gunn, a grower from Ocala told the committee.

State Sen. Rob Bradley is carrying the bill. He said he was no fan of the 30-year rule, would discuss with the House why it was included but wanted the bill to keep moving and end the delay in getting cannabis medicine on the market.

Braynon withdrew his amendment on Bradley’s promise the discussion will continue. You can read more here.

Health Policy approved a 24-hour waiting period for an abortion on a 5-3 party line vote with Republican members voting affirmative. The committee then moved in a bipartisan fashion to ban smoking in a vehicle when a child is a passenger. More on that here. And agreed to recommend Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Elizabeth Dudek for confirmation. More here on the Dudek hearing.

Dudek told committee members AHCA expects to hear from Washington within two weeks about a potential deal on the Low Income Pool program. It’s one of the points dividing the House and Senate on budget negotiations — the Senate has a plan to replace the money if Washington stops funding it, while the House is counting on Gov. Rick Scott to negotiate a deal.

The Senate though is taking things into its own hands. Tuesday, State Sens. Renee Garcia and Garrett Richter skipped committee meetings in Tallahassee to go meet with officials in D.C.   That story here

Wednesday marks the mid-point of the 60-day session and lawmakers will mark April Fools Day by working on a state budget. Both the House and Senate will discuss their respective state spending plans on the floor. The chambers are $4.2 billion apart, with the House proposing spending $76.2 billion and the Senate coming in at $80.4 billion.

The Senate includes federal money available to extend healthcare coverage to the uninsured while the House has shown no interest in the plan. The House includes about $680 million in tax cuts while the Senate has said it won’t consider big-ticket items until the healthcare issue is resolved.

The plan is for the chambers to discuss their budgets Wednesday and possibly pass them on Thursday. Thus, officially setting the battle lines for the final four weeks of the 2015 legislative session.

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