Florida lawmakers went home when they were supposed to this year.
That alone made the 2016 Legislative Session more successful than last year.
In an often contentious process where far more bills die than go to the governor, it was a rare year in Tallahassee. How so? Lawmakers passed restrictions on abortion and killed a measure that would have provided civil rights to gays and lesbians, and Democrats said it was a great session. Tax cuts for businesses died, along with top priorities for the National Rifle Association, and Republicans said it was a great session.
One hundred and sixty lawmakers voted on the $82.3 billion dollar budget and only one clicked the ‘No’ button, and that was Republican Rep. John Tobia, who votes no on a lot of things. Last year, lawmakers left town without approving a budget and had to come back and try again. And they came back two other times and left without agreeing on a plan to draw new congressional and state Senate boundaries.
“This session has not been as rambunctious as sessions in the past,” said Democratic Rep. Evan Jenne during the final hours of the 60-day session. “It’s just been basic housekeeping these last couple of days. A real lack of contention. In some ways it’s nice. It’s a better way to move the state forward … it’s really been a much smoother running Legislature.”
And the Republican view?
“It went off without a hitch in a lot of ways. The relationship between the House and the Senate improved greatly,” said Sen. Tom Lee, a former Senate president who led his chamber’s budget talks this year. “Any chamber or the governor can bring this place to a screeching halt if people dig in and become disagreeable on things … after a special session on the budget and multiple special sessions on reapportionment, people came back here to try to figure out a way to get along and get things done on a timely fashion.”
Even Gov. Rick Scott, who took a beating in a lot of ways, said positive things. Sure, he didn’t get his $250 million fund to lure businesses to Florida, most of the tax cuts he wanted or approval of a $3 billion gambling deal with the Seminole Tribe, but he’s launching a “victory” tour Monday to boast about the good work that’s been done in Tallahassee.
“The high profile ones? Yeah, certainly not great for him,” said lobbyist Brian Ballard about Scott’s agenda. “But them getting out of here on time and it being relatively peaceful – not raising taxes – those are all wins for him. Just not getting as much of the wins that he wanted.”
Overall, lawmakers passed about 275 bills.
Other than the budget, other measures will set water policies, allow terminally ill patients to use marijuana for medical purposes, replace a statue of a Confederate general that represents Florida in the U.S. Capitol, require an arrest before police can seize money and property, give shoppers three days to buy clothes without sales taxes before school starts and require at least 10 of 12 jurors vote to condemn prisoners before they can receive the death penalty.
Lawmakers also approved repealing a law that makes it illegal for unmarried men and women to live together and have sex, though five Republican House members voted against it.
Far more bills died. About 1,600, including measures that would have allowed guns on state college campuses, created statewide regulations on ride services like Uber and Lyft, let people openly carry their guns and giving the governor authority to use military force to prevent people from settling in Florida if they come from Eastern Hemisphere countries where “invaders” live or train.
Republished with permission of the Associated Press.