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Florida Legislature Wrapping Up Work In Final Week

Image Courtesy of Tampa Bay Times.
Image Courtesy of Tampa Bay Times.

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Legislature is trying to wrap up a lot of unfinished work in its final week.

Late Monday night state legislators reached a final deal on a roughly $80 billion budget and are positioned to approve it later in the week. They're also expected to vote on contentious bills dealing with abortion and alimony. Legislators may also adopt a bill to repeal the state's ban on unmarried adults living together.

Legislators have already passed several significant bills including an overhaul of the state's death penalty law. Gov. Rick Scott signed the measure into law Monday.

The session is scheduled to end March 11.

Several other proposals, including bills that would allow people with concealed weapons permits to bring guns onto college campuses and immigration, have stalled and aren't expected to pass. Legislators have also rejected a proposed $3 billion gambling deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

Here's where several major pieces of legislation stand right now:

—MEDICAL MARIJUANA: Lawmakers on Monday sent Scott a bill that would allow patients with terminal conditions use medical marijuana.

— STATE BUDGET: Budget negotiators late Monday reached a deal on a new state budget after they agreed to set aside tens of millions for projects and top priorities for legislative leaders. This means that legislators will finish the session on time. That's because state law requires a 72-hour "cooling off" period before a final vote can occur.

Lawmakers worked over the weekend and reached agreements on everything from prisons, state employee benefits and school construction. The final budget decisions include setting aside more than $40 million for a contentious teacher bonus program and boosting money going to the agency that helps people with disabilities.

Legislators have already rejected key parts of Gov. Rick Scott's budget recommendation, including a request to set aside $250 million to attract new businesses to the state.

— TAX CUTS: Scott wanted roughly $1 billion in tax cuts. But legislators, citing signs of the state's economy softening, scaled back the tax cut package. Later this week they are expected to approve a bill (HB 7099) that includes a handful of smaller tax cuts, including the permanent repeal of the sales tax charged on the purchasing of manufacturing equipment. The bill also includes a three-day back to school tax holiday. Between Aug. 5 and Aug. 7 shoppers will not have to pay sales taxes on clothes worth $60 or less and school supplies worth $15 or less.

Legislators also decided to use money that could have gone into the tax cut package to roll back slightly property taxes charged by local school districts.

—ABORTION: Lawmakers are expected to take a final vote on a bill dealing with abortion. It would prohibit state money being used to pay for any health care service from a clinic or organization that also performs abortions, a measure aimed a Planned Parenthood. It requires that doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital or clinics have a patient transfer agreement. It also would redefine dates of gestation and trimesters of pregnancy.

—ALIMONY: The Florida Legislature could send to Scott this week a family law bill that would end permanent alimony awards. It would replace those award formulas to determine the amount and duration of payments and would urge judges to consider equal time-sharing with children for divorcing parents.

—EDUCATION: Lawmakers are still considering several high-profile bills dealing with the state's public schools. Legislators are also considering whether to change Florida high school athletics.

A House bill that would allow private schools to join the Florida High School Athletic Association on a per-sport basis passed on Monday along with the eligibility of athletes being heard by an informal conference board. The Senate has a bill allowing anyone to openly transfer to any high school as long as they have room and be immediately eligible.

The Associated Press is a wire service to which WUFT News subscribes.