The end is drawing nigh to the 2013 legislative session, which has only 11 days left. With time ticking down, Tuesday should be one of the busiest days so far.
At 9 a.m., Gov. Rick Scott will meet with the Cabinet to discuss setting rates for the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund, which was created after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. It has about $17 billion in it now, which it offers to companies as cheaper, subsidized reinsurance than what's available on the private market. If you're an insurance customer in Florida, you pay into this fund. If a bad hurricane hits, it will be this fund that will provide insurers with relief.
It's a blockbuster day at the Senate Appropriations committee, which plans to meet for eight hours, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., to hear 46 bills. Two are key education proposals. The parent trigger bill (SB 862) would let parents demand sweeping changes at low-performing schools. A separate proposal (SB 980) would prevent teachers from being evaluated based on the performance of students they don't teach. Sound obvious? Thousands of teachers were judged last year based on students they had never met. Controversial bills like one that seeks to bypass state rules and allow more nursing homes in The Villages (SB 1482), and a bill that purports to protect the rights of infants born alive during attempted abortions (SB 1636) will also be heard. Oh yeah, there's also the matter of how lawmakers will decide how to come up with alternatives to Medicaid. There's the NegronCare bill (SB 1816), which would accept billions of dollars in federal assistance offered to expand Medicaid and instead allow Floridians to purchase health care on the private insurance market. It would use $1.2 billion in federal aid in the first year, said its sponsor, Senate Appropriations Chair Joe Negron, R-Stuart, while costing the state $20 million. People in the plan would be asked to pay $15 to $20 monthly premiums. The proposal is supported by Scott. And there's BeanCare (SB 1844), so named after its sponsor, Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, which would use $15 million in state funding in the first year to help about 250,000 people receive basic access to health care such as flu shots or preventative care. It more closely resembles a House plan that also doesn't touch federal money.
Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, and Sen Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, hold a 9:30 a.m. press conference on their alimony bill, which has passed both chambers and is awaiting a signature from Scott. The bill, which does away with permanent alimony and requires judges to split custody evenly between most divorcing parents, could be in trouble. The Family Law Section of the Florida Bar and some women's groups are putting pressure on Scott to use his veto pen. If he wields it on this, it could help him with women voters, where his poll numbers are lowest.
The House is in session beginning at 10:30 a.m. to hear formal discussion on 51 bills, including HB 1315, which would give foster children additional options. They could leave foster care at 18 and receive no financial help, except for some transition money, from the state. They could decide to stay in their foster care home until they turn 21 (foster care parents would continue to receive payment, with a slight increase, for that child). Or the teens could leave foster care, take the money and enroll in school. There's also HB 235 that allows the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to issue driver's licenses to those who were brought to the U.S. as children and were granted the two-year special status that prevents them from being deported. There's also HB 743, which would require the state to set up a registry to collect information about chemicals and volumes of water used in the fracking process, based on a similar model used in Texas. But environmental activists worry that the new requirement might open the state up to fracking, which is not currently allowed in Florida.
And, of course, today at 5 p.m., the spending issues in next year's budget that the joint House and Senate budget committees can't resolve will get "bumped" up to a higher level of decision-making: Appropriation chairs Negron and Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland. Expect them to mull what to do about Everglades funding, beach restoration, Scott's tax incentives, university tuition and an assortment of other issues. But unlike prior years, the two chambers aren't that far apart. Helped a bit by a surplus, as well as what appears to be an amicable working relationship between House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz, lawmakers are actually hopeful they can wrap up the budget early, or at least won't have to scramble to end on time. "We're going to see fewer issues get bumped up than in the past," Weatherford said Monday. "I don't see a whole wide array of issues that we can't get out of town with. I think the stuff that will get to the Senate president and I will be big issues that will need to be determined by us but not things that can hold up the process. I think we'll finish on time." But with an alternative to Medicaid expansion still hanging in the balance, not to mention a big difference between lawmakers and Scott on whether teachers should get automatic pay increases (they say no, he says yes) don't make those May 4 vacation plans just yet.