Legislative Update – February 2016

In just four short weeks the 2016 Florida Legislative Session will be history. Here are some of the items that are on the floor and scheduled to move rapidly in the next couple of weeks. Senator Benacquisto wants to make solutions for Rape Victims a Priority in Florida with Senate Bill 636.

This bill calls for rape kits to be processed in a timely manner. Florida, according to the Senator this is at epidemic proportion where sexual assault kits in the state are going untested. In Florida there are thousands of rape kits that are on backlog and untested. This bill will mandate that any DNA evidence collected in a sexual assault investigation must be submitted to a member of the statewide criminal analysis laboratory system for forensic testing within 30 days after the forensic evidence is received by a law enforcement agency, or earlier if the request is made by a victim, a victim’s parent or guardian, or the alleged victim’s representative if deceased. The kit must then be tested with 120 days from submission.

Lake Okeechobee Discharges and The Florida Budget:
Both the House and the Senate are looking at ways to solve Florida’s ongoing water crisis. They are looking for a dedicated funding source that will ensure that the projects most important to water quantity and quality can move forward with funding stability.  Both houses realize the importance of water quality in our state and want to be proactive on this issue.

The Finance and Tax Committee rolled out and passed the House’s 2016 tax cut package. This year’s broad-based tax cut package focuses on returning $1 billion to Floridians to help grow the economy and make the state an even more affordable place to live and do business. The Appropriations Committee also passed a $79.98 billion budget proposal. The House believes they have put forward a fiscally responsible, balanced budget. Both the budget and the tax cut package are now ready to be considered by the full House next week.

Last week, the House passed three bills that will protect Floridians’ 2nd Amendment rights.

Open Carry: Allows law-abiding citizens with a concealed carry permit to openly carry their firearm in a holster or in a case or bag, Currently, Florida is one of only five states that do not allow open carry of firearms. The general belief of the house is allowing responsible citizens to carry openly will help further deter criminal activity in our state.
Gun’s on Campus: Allows those with a valid concealed firearms permit to carry concealed firearms on college and university campuses.  Currently, college campuses are vulnerable “gun-free zones.” This legislation will improve the safety of our college campuses by empowering law-abiding gun owners with the ability to defend themselves and others on campus if necessary.

Discharge of a Weapon: Prohibits the recreational discharge of firearms in dense residential areas. The belief is gun owners should not participate in reckless target or celebratory shooting in densely populated neighborhoods. This bill provides an important exception to ensure that our right to self-defense is not abridged. The bill passed the House unanimously.

Last week the House also passed Sanctuary City Legislation. The House believes “sanctuary city” policies in our state make communities less safe and run contrary to the rule of law. To address the potential harm these policies cause, the house passed HB675 relating to Federal Immigration Enforcement on the House Floor. The bill prohibits cities and counties from enacting sanctuary policies. If a local government currently has such policy in place, they have 90 days to repeal the local ordinance. The bill creates civil penalties of up to $5,000.00, per day for any sanctuary policy that a city or county enacts. It also authorizes the Governor to suspend any appointed or elected government official who enacts or does not repeal a sanctuary policy. This bill strengthens Florida’s adherence to immigration laws, and does so in a compassionate and common sense manner.

Below are some of the bills that will be taken up in the last few weeks of the session.

The Senate Governmental Oversight & Accountability Committee will meet to consider the following item and others: SB 686 – Government Accountability by Gaetz

Citing this act as the “Florida Anti-Corruption Act of 2016”; specifying that the Governor, the Commissioner of Education, or the designee of the Governor or of the Commissioner of Education may notify the Legislative Auditing Committee of an entity’s failure to comply with certain auditing and financial reporting requirements; specifying the applicability of certain provisions of the Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees to officers and board members of corporate entities associated with the Department of Economic Opportunity, etc.

724 – Public Records / Custodian by Joyner
Authorizing a court to hold a custodian of a public record personally liable for the reasonable costs of enforcement, including attorney fees, in a civil action to enforce ch, 119, F.S., if certain conditions exist, etc.
The House Local & Federal Affairs Committee will meet to consider the following item and others: HB 791 – Local Tax Referenda by Ingoglia

Requires local government discretionary sales surtax referenda to be held on day of general election; requires approval of specified percentage of electors voting in referendum to adopt or amend such surtax; prohibits use of certain funds and materials to advertise proposed surtax referenda for certain discretionary sales surtaxes; provides exception.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will meet to consider the following item and others:
SB 1220 – Award of Attorney Fees / Public Records by Garcia

Revising the circumstances under which a court may assess and award the reasonable costs of enforcement against an agency in a civil action to enforce chapter 119, etc. 

SB 120 – Prohibited Discrimination by Abruzzo

Creating the “Florida Competitive Workforce Act”; revising provisions to include sexual orientation and gender identity or expression and the perception of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, handicap, or marital status as impermissible grounds for discrimination; providing an exception for constitutionally protected free exercise of religion, etc. [NOTE: The bill failed in Monday’s meeting of the committee, but is pending reconsideration.] Stay tuned for a session wrap–up. It looks like it is going to be a very busy end of the session and bills will be flying fast and high on both floors which will create an very exciting end to a productive session.

Jeannie Dozier,
Legislative Chair