During Florida Legislature 2005, the American Civil Liberties Union tracked over 100 bills and actively supported or opposed over 25 bills by meeting with legislators, working with coalitions, drafting bill amendments, and testifying before legislative committees.
The following is a summary of some of the key bills that were of interest to the ACLU:
HJR 1723 relates to citizen's initiatives. The joint resolution increases the current passage requirement from a simple majority to 60 percent. ACLU opposed the measure and will work for its defeat when the proposed constitutional amendment is placed on the November 2006 ballot.
HB 1589 sets out the requirements for the new Florida Voter Registration System (FVRS) that must be operational by January 1, 2006, to comply with the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA). While there is much positive in the new law, the ACLU objects to the expansion of rulemaking and enforcement authority given to the Secretary of State (an appointed official answerable only to the governor).
HB 1567 primarily contains numerous conforming, technical, and clarifying changes to the Florida Election Code stemming from Florida's overhaul of its election administration system originating with the passage of the Florida Election Reform Act of 2001. Again much of the legislation made needed and appropriate changes, however, there were vital areas of concern to the ACLU including provisional ballots, voter solicitation, and early voting restrictions that were inadequate in our opinion.
HB 1659 created the Parental Notice of Abortion Act. The ACLU worked closely with Planned Parenthood to lessen the impact of the law that requires a parent to be notified prior to a physician performing an abortion on a juvenile under the age of 18. Some of our amendments were adopted, while many were not. The law is presently being challenged in the federal courts. Numerous constitutional issues have been raised. The district court denied relief in Womancare of Orlando, Inc. v. Agwunobi. The case is now on appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. In the meantime, ACLU and other groups are working diligently to develop a judicial by-pass system that affords these young women competent legal assistance as they navigate the legal process to obtain a waiver of notice.
HB 1041 creates the Women's Health & Safety Act. The ACLU opposed this legislation. It requires the Agency for Health Care Administration to adopt separate rules for licensed abortion clinics that perform only in the first trimester and for those that perform abortions after the first trimester of pregnancy. The ACLU and Planned Parenthood argued that the bill was designed to reduce the number of abortion providers, increase the cost of having an abortion, and had little to do with women's health and safety.
Other measures of interest that passed
While there were other bills of interest that became law including the force-on-force legislation sponsored by the National Rifle Association, a bill that makes hazing a criminal act, the privatization of foster care, the proposed constitutional amendment to increase the length of term limits, laws dealing with sexual predators, and permanent elimination of the second primary, it was proposed the constitutional amendments to weaken the citizen initiative process, the assault on reproductive choice, and changes to the election system that were the focus of the legislative office.
Other measures of interest that failed
Several bills of interest to the ACLU failed to gain the approval of the Florida Legislature. Some of the primary bills included: repeal of the gay adoption ban, restoration of ex-felon voting rights, extension of the DNA testing deadline, and compensation for wrongly incarcerated persons.
Predictions for Florida Legislature 2006
Expect renewed assaults on the independence of the judiciary and reproductive choice. There will be another effort to place additional constitutional amendments on the November 2006 ballot that, if successful, will all but eliminate the citizen initiative process. Legislators are likely to remain hostile to addressing ex-felon voting rights. (The most likely method to obtain this goal is to have the issue placed on the ballot via citizen initiative.)
Finally, there will likely be a joint resolution debated to amend the state constitutional to define marriage as only between a man and a woman. It was seen as a successful wedge issue in 2005 in states that had statewide elections. 2006 is a gubernatorial election year. The governor and members of the Cabinet will be on the ballot as well as all members of the House of Representatives and one-half of the Florida Senate. Politics will be the primary consideration in 2006. It will determine what bills will and will not be given serious consideration next March.
Larry Helm Spalding ACLU Legislative Staff Counsel