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Tallahassee Roundup: Week 1


BRADENTON -- This week, the Florida Legislature convened for the start of its annual 60-day session. Each week, TBT rounds up what went down in one easy to swallow dose. From ethics to campaign finance and switching the Florida Pension system over to a 401k, to reforming Florida's broken election system, a host of contentious issues came to the surface, seeming to indicate that once again, lawmakers will come down to the wire in deciding what ultimately gets passed.

On the first day of the 2013 session, the Florida House approved a bill aimed at fixing the broken election system. In 2011, the legislature passed laws to dramatically shorten early voting, while cramming the ballot with lengthy constitutional amendments, leading to long lines at the polls on Election Day. Results languished for weeks. HB 7013 requires county election supervisors to process any absentee ballots received prior to Election Day beforehand, and allows absentee voters to cast a new ballot if they fail to sign the outside envelope of the first one.

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It does not, however, restore the state's early voting to a required 14 days, only increasing the minimum number of hours that early voting polls must be open from 48 over eight days to 64 hours over eight days, leaving it to each county's discretion whether to afford more early voting (as many as 14 days totaling no more than 168 hours). It would also leave up to each county whether early voting is available on the Sunday before a Tuesday election.

A bill forcing all new state employees in 401(k)-style retirement plans instead of FRS' current defined benefit option passed a House subcommittee Thursday, setting up a showdown with public workers' unions. It passed party-line, though some Republicans said that they wanted to hear more before it comes to a vote. PCB GVOPS 13-01 passed the House Government Operations Subcommittee after  3½-hours of contentious debate.

A new "parent trigger bill" passed a House education subcommittee Thursday by an 8-5 party line vote. If signed into law, it would allow parents to petition failing public schools for various options, including being taken over by a for-profit charter school company.

In the ongoing saga between optometrists, who want the ability to prescribe oral medication, and ophthalmologists, who don't want them to, a Florida Senate panel voted 10-3 on Wednesday to approve a bill granting more prescription authority to the optometrists. This has been one of the most expensive if quietly-waged battles in the state legislature over the last several years.

A bill by Doug Holder (R-Sarasota) that would limit texting while driving has gained momentum in the Florida House. Both Holder and Venice Senator Nancy Detert have been trying to get such a bill going for years. On Thursday, Holder's House bill to make texting while driving a secondary offense passed out of a House transportation subcommittee unanimously.

The House also voted to move forward on a plan to scrap the $500 cap on political contributions, switching to $10,000 limits that they say will have tougher disclosure, though Governor Scott indicated he would not be able to support such a change.


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