Gavel awaits Florida lawmakers in session’s closing week

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida lawmakers are expected to gavel their session to a close on Friday — if they can produce a state budget by Tuesday — but return to the state Capitol two weeks later for a special session to consider a new gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe.

While sticking points remain in budget negotiations, lawmakers seem poised to meet their budget deadline. The state budget is expected to be about $100 billion, although the specific amount is still under negotiation.

Because of a required cooling off period, a completed draft of the budget must be finalized by Tuesday so it can be approved before so-called sine die at the end of the week.

While a state budget is the only legislation required of lawmakers, several major bills still await passage: a nationally watched elections bill, proposals focused on Big Tech and a measure that would bring more scrutiny to use of force by law enforcement officers.

The Senate is expected to finalize passage of its version of the elections bill on Monday. The House is also considering its own elections proposal, and it remains to be seen which version will prevail.

Both versions are seeking to rewrite rules on vote-by-mail ballots and how they are collected. Of major contention is the use of drop boxes and new identification requirements that critics of the changes say would make it more inconvenient to vote.

It also remains to be seen if both legislative chambers can reach agreement on a consumer privacy bill that would impose new rules on companies that collect, use and sell personal data — including buying and online habits. Both versions seek to give people the opportunity to prevent companies from archiving their personal information in massive databases.

A House version would allow a person to sue companies that violate the new rules, if approved, but a Senate version deleted that provision under pressure from business interests.

Florida lawmakers are also considering a measure that would order police departments and other law enforcement agencies to review use-of-force policies and establish new standards, particularly in the use of potentially lethal choke holds. Officers would have to intervene if they witness another officer using excessive force and they would have to render medical aid to people in custody.

The reform measure is in counterpoint to an anti-riot bill already signed into law by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Community activists and other critics have decried the new law as an attack against the Black Lives Matter movement. The anti-riot bill, which went into effect upon signing, not only stiffens penalties against protesters who turn violent but also creates new felonies for organizing or participating in a violent demonstration.

The matter is a key concern of Florida’s legislative Black caucus in the wake of a wave of protests following the death of George Floyd.

The proposal would require law enforcement agencies to launch independent investigations — conducted by another law enforcement agency — of any incidents leading to a death. That report would have to be submitted to a state attorney for review.

It would also require job applicants to disclose if they are under investigation and if they left their previous job under the cloud of investigation.