TALLAHASSEE -- A bill expanding Florida’s school voucher program for students with disabilities has passed in the Senate and gone to Gov. Rick Scott.
The Senate on Monday voted 28-9 for the bill (HB 1329) that previously had passed the House.
The McKay Scholarship Program currently provides public funds so 21,000 students with physical and learning disabilities can attend private schools.
The bill could add thousands more with lesser disabilities such as asthma, allergies and diabetes.
Sen. Eleanor Sobel, a Hollywood Democrat, argued against the bill. She said it unnecessarily takes money from public schools for students whose ailments can be controlled in a traditional classroom setting.
School districts would lose basic funding for each voucher student but not money spent on accommodating their disabilities.
House votes to repeal red-light camera law
The Florida House has narrowly voted to repeal a law allowing the use of cameras to catch red light runners.
It was passed just a year ago.
The 59-57 roll call on Monday sent the repeal bill (HB 4087) to the Senate where it’s unlikely to pass as similar legislation (SB 672) hasn’t made it out of committee there.
The repeal’s sponsor, Rep. Richard Corcoran, a New Port Richey Republican, argued last year’s law is nothing but a front to make money for companies that contract with local governments to provide the cameras.
Others argued the cameras are an invasion of privacy and disputed studies showing they save lives.
Florida House passes online hotel tax measure
The Florida House has passed a bill to exempt online hotel booking companies from taxes on their price mark-ups that they consider to be service fees.
The bill (HB 493) passed 77-38 Monday. It now goes to the Senate where a similar bill (SB 376) is stalled in committee.
The bill is supported by online companies such as Expedia, Travelocity and Priceline. It’s opposed by larger hotels that don’t get the tax break because they do their own online bookings as well as counties and local tourist development agencies that say they are losing millions.
Several lawsuits have been filed over the issue in Florida and other states. The bill’s advocates argued that most services already are exempt from taxation in Florida.
House passes tax relief amendment for ballot
Florida voters would have a chance to give themselves more property tax breaks under three proposed state constitutional amendments that advanced in the Legislature on Monday, but none yet have received final approval.
The most far-reaching measure (HJR 381), which passed in the House and went to the Senate, includes primary homes, known as homesteads, that already benefit from the Save Our Homes Amendment, as well as businesses and second homes.
The other two would provide tax breaks for combat-disabled veterans and low-income seniors. The veterans amendment cleared the Senate while the seniors proposal passed in the House.
House passes lawsuit overhaul package
In yet another win for its conservative agenda this session, the Florida House approved a trio of lawsuit-overhaul bills Monday.
But related bills in the Senate are in a holding pattern or were being gutted, putting into question the bills becoming law by the planned end to the legislative session this Friday.
The first bill (HB 479) increases the burden of proof for plaintiffs to win medical malpractice cases, largely makes hospitals blameless for the errors of some of their doctors and provides for punishment of out-of-state doctors who offer expert testimony found to be false or misleading. It passed 88-28.
The Senate later took out the hospital-protecting provision, however, saying hospitals still need to be held accountable to injured patients.
Another bill (HB 661) affects suits against nursing homes. It provides a $300,000 limit on pain and suffering damages in wrongful death cases against nursing homes, and requires the court to hold a hearing before allowing punitive damages. House members approved the measure 77-41.
A third (HB 391) changes the way the state’s trial judges determine whether to allow testimony from expert witnesses, requiring a stricter standard used by federal courts.
Florida House passes virtual learning expansion
The Florida House has passed legislation to expand virtual learning in the state.
The chamber voted 98-19 for the bill (HB 7197) Monday. It goes to the Senate where an identical measure (SB 1620) is awaiting floor action.
The bill directs the Department of Education to expand online learning options and assist school districts in expanding their virtual education programs. Starting this fall all students entering high school would have to complete at least one online course to graduate. By 2014-2015 all statewide end-of-course tests would have to be taken online.
Scott gets to block federal health overhaul
Gov. Rick Scott is getting a bill that would prohibit Floridians from being required to purchase health insurance.
The Republican-controlled Senate on Monday voted 30-7 for the measure (HB 1193) previously approved by the House.
It would put Florida in direct conflict with the federal health care overhaul that will require most people eventually to have insurance coverage.
Legal experts say federal laws trump state legislation.
Scott, a former hospital chain CEO, has been a vociferous opponent of the health care law.
Budget talks stall, could be ‘photo finish’
Budget talks have stalled in the Florida Legislature, and that could put lawmakers into overtime.
House and Senate budget leaders held no formal meetings Monday on differences between the chambers.
House Speaker Dean Cannon said they were making “slow but steady progress” but ending the annual session on time Friday is “going to be a photo finish.”
Negotiators must reach a deal Tuesday to do that.
The Florida Constitution requires a 72-hour delay before a compromise can be approved to ensure all lawmakers can review it before they vote.
House votes to lift Florida’s seat requirement
The Florida House wants to lift a requirement for employers to provide seats when workers are on break from duties where they stand or walk.
The repeal (HB 7131) passed 85-32 vote Monday. It was supported by all Republicans but only three Democrats including the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Daphne Campbell of Miami.
Several majority Republicans left their seats and stood behind Campbell to show their support in the back of the chamber where Democrats are relegated,
-- Associated Press