2014 Florida Legislature: Top issues

March 2, 2014 

A look at some of the top issues heading into this year's Florida legislative session, which begins Tuesday:

TAX CUTS

Gov. Rick Scott's top priority this election year is to pass at least $500 million in cuts in taxes and fees. Lawmakers have endorsed repealing some vehicle fees and conducting a back-to-school sales tax holiday, but there is no agreement on a handful of other issues.

GAMING

The Senate has proposed a massive rewrite of the state's gaming laws to allow for the creation of two "destination resort" casinos, one each in Miami-Dade and Broward. It also would create a new gaming control board to regulate all gambling. Questions remain on whether the governor and reluctant House will support it.

MARIJUANA

Proposals are moving in both chambers to decriminalize a non-euphoric strain of marijuana that is known to reduce seizures in children with severe epilepsy. Lawmakers are emphasizing that the strain, known as Charlotte's Web after a young girl whose family discovered it, is not an endorsement of the constitutional amendment to legalize pot for medical use.

PENSIONS

A House plan to overhaul the state's retirement system has emerged this year with a compromise aimed at winning Senate passage. The House wants to close the pension system to new hires and require them to enroll in 401-k-style investment plans or cash-balance plans but exempt law enforcement and firefighters. The new proposal, opposed by teachers, doesn't appear to have the support of Senate holdouts and the governor.

SCHOOL GRADES

This year, lawmakers must approve a new formula for calculating school grades. Lawmakers could make dramatic changes to the formula, which critics say is overly complex and has become meaningless to parents. Parent groups have called for a moratorium on the A-F grading system.

SCHOOL VOUCHERS

Legislators are proposing a massive expansion of the state's private-school voucher program by allowing companies to divert state sales tax payments from the state to be sent directly to scholarship organizations that serve low-income kids. Senate leaders are proposing for the first time that scholarship recipients take standardized tests.

CHARTER SCHOOLS

School districts would have less power to set guidelines for charter schools under measures that would create a uniform contract to help for-profit charter school companies to expand and come to Florida, and limit individual districts' ability to negotiate with them.

IMMIGRANT TUITION

A proposal to allow some undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates if they are Florida residents is moving in the House but faces opposition in the Senate.

SEX PREDATORS

Bills are moving quickly to impose longer prison terms for sexually violent predators who have been prosecuted, released and re-offended.

FLOOD INSURANCE

Legislation to encourage the sale of private flood insurance in Florida has emerged as a response to rate increases from the National Flood Insurance Program. The bills would give consumers more options for how much insurance they need to have on their property and would allow insurance companies to offer policyholders more flexible plans.

RED LIGHT CAMERAS

With data that shows fatalities are down but crashes are up, bills have been filed to repeal red light camera programs. Cities are pushing back and more regulations of the camera programs could be the compromise.

-- Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau reporters Mary Ellen Klas, Kathleen McGrory, Tia Mitchell and Michael Van Sickler contributed to this report.

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