Florida Legislature wraps up, sort of, with slew of bills

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The Florida Legislature wrapped up its annual 60 day session on Friday.

Well, sort of.

Lawmakers still have to come back Monday to deal with the state’s $83 billion budget. But Friday was the last day to pass any other bills, and lawmakers sent a bunch to Gov. Rick Scott covering issues like school books, warnings on lottery tickets, terrorism and more.

As usual, the Legislature waited until the session’s end to pass a slew of bills, ranging from allowing craft distilleries to sell more of their product to tougher penalties for possessing fentanyl.

Still, of the more than 3,100 bills filed, fewer than 200 had been passed by both the House and Senate before Friday. But by early evening, lawmakers had passed a few dozen bills on the last day alone and were working to reach agreements on issues like implementing the medical marijuana constitutional amendment approved by voters in November.

The marijuana bill died when the chambers couldn’t agree on language. So did many other bills. The number of measures that made it through the process was far lower than most years in a session that most insiders agreed was odd, even for a process known to be bizarre at times.

“There were a lot of herky-jerky moments. There was not a real flow,” said longtime lobbyist Brian Ballard, adding that the passage of relatively few bills fits with House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s philosophy. “The small number of changes in statute would probably be a badge of honor. It’s very sluggish.”

To some Democrats, it isn’t a bad thing for bills not to pass the Republican-dominated Legislature.

“There were a lot of things that didn’t happen that were good. No abortion bills, no gun bills, the voucher bill was weak,” said Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon. “Most of the things we were usually fighting off left and right we didn’t have this year. In that respect, those things are good.”

Among the bills that passed Friday were a measure to make Florida the first state in the nation to shift the burden of proof in “stand your ground” pretrial hearings to prosecutors instead of defendants.

Lawmakers also sent the governor bills that would increase the number of bottles craft distillers can sell to customers who visit their distilleries; require the state to train police officers on autism awareness; create new criminal offenses for people who support terrorists; strengthen regulations on sober homes; toughen penalties for fentanyl possession and illegal sales; and make it easier for parents to challenge textbooks and library books used in public schools.

For much of the session, there were questions on whether the House and Senate could agree on a budget. An agreement was finally reached on the last day, forcing lawmakers to come back Monday strictly for budget issues.

“This 60 days was definitely a lot more intense than sessions past,” said Republican Rep. Blaise Ingoglia. “Towards the end, we started getting gradually closer and closer to where we wanted to be. At the end of the day, the thing that worked in our favor was that we had a finite amount of time, which forced us all to come together.”

Jim Williams is the Washington Bureau Chief, Digital Director as well as the Director of Special Projects for Genesis Communications. He is starting his third year as part of the team. This is Williams 40th year in the media business, and in that time he has served in a number of capacities. He is a seven time Emmy Award winning television producer, director, writer and executive. He has developed four regional sports networks, directed over 2,000 live sporting events including basketball, football, baseball hockey, soccer and even polo to name a few sports. Major events include three Olympic Games, two World Cups, two World Series, six NBA Playoffs, four Stanley Cup Playoffs, four NCAA Men’s National Basketball Championship Tournaments (March Madness), two Super Bowl and over a dozen college bowl games. On the entertainment side Williams was involved s and directed over 500 concerts for Showtime, Pay Per View and MTV Networks.