BRADENTON – Florida lawmakers are buckled in for the 200-mph, anything-goes death race they've come to expect in the final week of their annual 60-day legislative session. The politics of a gubernatorial election year have kept 2014 less raucous than recent sessions, but with legislation on several key issues still in play, we can nonetheless expect a wild ride.
Florida governor Rick Scott has focused his final-week thrust on tuition for illegal immigrants, suddenly determined to see that children of illegal immigrants who have spent at least three high school years in a Florida school are eligible for in-state tuition rates. Scott, who's trailed Democratic frontrunner Charlie Crist in the polls for the better part of the last year, didn't mention the issue before last week and is likely looking at the move as a silver bullet solution to shoring up some Latino vote.
A push to raise the speed limit on some Florida roadways from 70 to 75 mph did not get a lot of attention when it showed up in a Senate bill filed before the session. However, having passed the Senate last week and with the House said to be poised to put a similar bill to a vote, the issue has a chance to come in under the wire.
A procedural move in the Senate successfully brought school vouchers back from the dead. This zombie bill that would include some measure of standardized testing (though not the same as what will be adopted by public schools when FCATs are replaced next year) seeks to expand so-called tax-credit scholarships, at the expense of already beleaguered public-school funding.
Despite promises of sweeping reform after a Miami Herald expose shamed the Department of Children of Families' role in 477 deaths involving children within its system, it doesn't look like much will actually be done to bolster the deadbeat agencies' non-existent credibility, as legislators continue to squabble over minutiae of reform -- mostly money.
Expanding Medicaid to some of the 750,000 Floridians without access to health insurance never really came up in the session, despite promises by lawmakers last year to design a “better” state-run solution to the Affordable Care Act. Doing nothing while complaining about Obamacare might have seemed politically expedient, but tell that to those who remain uncovered and cannot afford proper medical treatment.
Finally, a budget of roughly $75 million will need to be approved. Given the amount of cuts suffered by worthy programs and much-needed actions that weren't taken up at all, legislative pork will certainly be under the microscope. It will be interesting to see whether an upcoming election will motivate the governor to break out his veto pen on his own party.