Bullies, texting, hurricanes and juvenile detention facilities are some of the issues that will get attention when the Florida Legislature’s session begins Jan. 9.
BUDGET: Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders always have different spending priorities and it's a high-stakes election year, so the annual battle of the budget could have greater significance in 2018. Scott has proposed an $87.4 billion spending plan for next year, the biggest ever and much more than Florida can afford, House leaders say. The Legislature's economists warn that revenues face intense pressure from the costs of hurricane recovery.
EDUCATION: It's often the No. 1 policy issue at the Capitol and the focus of many budget battles, too. This year, the Senate will seek permanent changes to expand Bright Futures scholarships, state colleges will try to fend off more budget cuts, and the House will push to let students who get bullied transfer to charter schools. The House also remains opposed to Scott and the Senate, who want to use growth in property values to pay for increased school spending.
HURRICANES: Mandatory backup generators at nursing homes, and tax breaks for them. Larger storm-ready stockpiles of food, fuel, water and ice. New limits on construction in high-risk areas. How Florida copes with the effects of Hurricane Irma and prepares for the next Big One will be a big issue in the legislative session. So will increased demands on services, largely in the Orlando area, as a result of the mass migration of a quarter million Puerto Ricans, who fled their homeland after Hurricane Maria devastated the island nation.
JUSTICE: "Fight Club," The Miami Herald's expose of violent and unsafe conditions at state-run juvenile detention centers, provides an impetus for lawmakers to seek reforms, while a growing number of lawmakers say Florida "minimum mandatory" sentencing laws demand change after years of debate. Two Pinellas lawmakers, Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes and Democratic Rep. Ben Diamond, are leading efforts to give judges more leeway in sentencing people for low-level drug crimes to keep non-violent offenders out of state prisons.
TEXTING: Support is growing to make Florida the 46th state in which texting while driving is a primary offense, meaning that police could stop and ticket motorists for that reason alone. Accidents with deaths and injuries caused by distracted driving are on the increase in Florida, but some members of the legislative black caucus are unwilling to give police more power, fearing that it could encourage racial profiling. Besides Florida, the other states where texting is a secondary offense for adult drivers are Nebraska, Ohio and South Dakota.