BRADENTON – Florida's 2014 Regular Legislative Session will convene at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday in Tallahassee. As a "part-time" legislature, Florida's lawmakers convene for only one 60-day session each year, barring a governor-called special session. This makes for two months of Wild West-like fury as lawmakers scramble to get pet projects and favored bills to the floor, knowing that the vast majority will die before ever coming to a vote. Here are a few key issues expected to get attention.
Expanding gambling has been on the minds of many lobbyists and lawmakers in recent years, but despite much money passing through hands on the hill, nothing much has come of it. Expect the issue to suck up a lot of the air again in this year's session, as there is likely to be a lot of action on both sides, but passing meaningful legislation isn't a safe bet, even though gambling interests have shelled out the most money for 2014. For more on that issue, click here.
Despite more bad press for the state's controversial Stand Your Ground Law, don't expect reform. In fact, the early noise suggests that the NRA's attempt to expand the law to include legislation that would make clear the right to fire a "warning shot" will come to the floor, because ... well, when the NRA talks, Republicans listen and Republicans control both chambers.
House Speaker Will Weatherford will almost definitely resume his failed bid to dismantle Florida's highly-successful state pension system, despite no sound argument to do so and plenty of reasons not to. Weatherford made progress last year, nearly upending the FRS until some last-minute support came to the rescue, and he does not seem inclined to yield in his efforts to deny state workers any sort of dignity in retirement.
Of course Floridians can also expect the annual assault on public education, as all sorts of special interests angle to redirect public school funds toward for-profit charters through various school choice and voucher programs. This year, an effort to expand charter vouchers is expected to get plenty of attention.
While the 2013 legislative session contained plenty of debate regarding Florida's refusal to expand Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act, Medicaid expansion seems dead in the water in 2014. A House bill that would allow nurse practitioners to provide care without the supervision of physicians is the hot health care issue du jour.
Florida's embarrassing performance in child protection services may have finally shamed the state into taking meaningful steps toward reforming both funding and policy to ensure that children who enter the system are better protected. A number of bills would seek to address reforms and several lawmakers have pledged to make the issue a top priority.
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