The 2012 Florida Legislature began its work three months early this year to start the process of redrawing state house, senate and congressional district lines based on new Census numbers referred to as redistricting that is required as a result of the decennial census and reapportionment. While this and passing the state budget remain the only constitutionally-mandated duties of the legislature, members of the House and Senate found time to file some two-thousand bills ranging from death by firing squad to restrictions on the number of twinkies one can purchase with food assistance. Fortunately, the leadership of the Senate immersed itself in controversy, subjecting its members to tough votes, mostly coming up short and paying a political price.
Amid the infighting, desperate leadership looking for an easy win targeted the civil liberties of Floridians. The resurrection of a decade-long battle over prayer in school gave the socially conservative wings of both parties cover to claim a bipartisan victory. The Governor’s blatant disregard for basic constitutional liberties was on display as he championed drug testing for state employees, this time through the legislative process. Last session’s unfinished war on women’s health found shelter this year in nine antichoice measures, one of which threatened to effectively shut down any reasonable access to abortion care throughout the state. All the while partisan rhetoric and election-year pandering made any chance of reforming our elections, criminal and juvenile justice, or public education systems a distant prospect.
Fortunately despite some defeats, and with the help of our allies and in our organizational coalitions, we reveled in some victories: the defeat of every anti-choice measure this session, protecting and preserving a woman’s access to safe and quality health care in Florida; the narrow demise of a big business prison privatization scheme that would have fed Florida’s addiction to mass incarceration; the retreat of Alabama/Arizona-style anti-immigrant laws that promote racial profiling and fear in our communities; the absence of legislation or a proposed constitutional amendment to overturn our historic legal victory on adoptions; the Supreme Court’s affirmation that voters asked and will receive fair and apolitical districts by rejecting the legislature’s Senate maps; and the passage of one of our own proactive pieces of legislation protecting the safety and defending the dignity of incarcerated pregnant women by banning the cruel and archaic practice of shackling in the third trimester and during the birthing process.
We would have not been successful without the expert guidance and political savvy of our contract lobbyist Pamela Burch Fort or without a reliable home team comprised of Beth Wilson, Maria Kayanan, Derek Newton and Baylor Johnson. We look forward to continuing to defend freedom and liberty in Tallahassee - where we remain a subtle voice of reason in an often unreasonable place.
Ronald F. Bilbao, Senior Legislative Associate and Advocacy Coordinator
SB 290/HB 277 (Flores/Burgin) Abortions – The worst of nine anti-choice bills filed this session, this bill targeted abortion providers by mandating onerous restrictions such that a clinic must be wholly-owned and operated by a physician, requiring a 24-hour waiting period before a woman can obtain an abortion, and mandating ethics training for physicians performing abortions. The bill passed the House but failed to be considered by the Senate.
SB 98 (Siplin/Van Zant) School Prayer – This is the school prayer, which was termed “inspirational message” bill when Senate legal staff expressed doubts it could pass constitutional muster. The measure authorizes school districts to adopt a policy to allow students of all ages to deliver inspirational messages at compulsory and non-compulsory school events and prohibits school personnel from being involved in overseeing the message contents, sectarian or otherwise. The Senate version passed its chamber and was then brought over to House, heard in committees, and passed by the full House. It heads to the Governor for signage.
SB 1360/HB 1209 (Hays/Metz) Foreign Law – This bill, formerly targeting Sharia law, bans the state from using any religious or foreign law as a part of a legal decision or contract. The bill passed the full House but died in a Senate committee.
HB 1315 (Harrell) E-Verify – The only anti-immigrant bill filed this session, this bill aimed at implementing the questionable federal electronic verification program for employers which required all employees to submit proof that they were not undocumented immigrants. The bill failed to get a hearing and had no Senate companion.
SB 106/HB 91 (Siplin/Bullard) In-State Tuition – This measure would allow all Florida students who meet certain requirements to be eligible for resident tuition rates at public colleges and universities in the state, regardless of immigration status. The bill failed in its first Senate committee.
SB 1018/HB 441 (R. Garcia/Fullwood) Resident Tuition – This bi-partisan bill would fix a rare exception in Florida’s public higher education system that bars citizen students of undocumented parents from paying resident tuition at public colleges and universities. It is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The bill died on a tie vote in its first Senate committee.
SB 1358/HB 1205 (Hays/Smith) Drug-Free Workplaces – The legislature took it upon itself, under the lobbying and legal “expertise” of the Governor’s counsel, to expand the Drug-Free Workplace Program to mandate random, suspicionless drug testing for state employees on a rotating basis. The state agency can choose whether to participate in the program as it will have to find the funds to do so, i.e. pay for the drug tests, in its current allotted budget. If an employee fails the drug test, he/she must attend a rehab program or face disciplinary action or discharge. The bill sailed through both chambers mostly along party-lines. It heads to the Governor for his enthusiastic signature.
SB 2038 (Rules) – This Senate bill by the Rules Committee would have privatized more than two dozen prisons in eighteen counties at a minimum savings of 7%. The bill failed on a close Senate vote, 19 yeas to 21 nays.
SB 732/HB 561 (Bogdanoff/Fresen) Mandatory Minimums –This bill would have revised the quantity of a controlled substance which a person must knowingly sell, purchase, manufacture, deliver, or bring into the state with the intent to distribute in order to be subjected to the automatic imposition of a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment. The bill passed two Senate committees but had no movement in the House.
SB 448/HB 177 (Bogdanoff/Porth) Inmate Reentry – This bill will shorten the sentences of non-violent, drug offenders who have completed at least half their sentence and qualify for a drug rehabilitation program. The bill gained bipartisan support and passed both chambers. It heads to the Governor for his signature.
SB 772/SB 352/HB 29 (Altman/Braynon/Julien) Sentencing in Capital Felonies – This bill requires an advisory sentence of death be made by a unanimous recommendation of the jury in capital cases. These bills were not heard.
HB 4051 (Rehwinkel Vasilinda) Death Penalty – Abolishes the death penalty in Florida. This bill was not heard.
SB 1128/HB 813 (Oelrich/J. Smith) TANF and SNAP Benefits – This bill opts Florida into a federal option prohibiting individuals convicted of a felony drug offense from receiving temporary cash assistance and food stamps. The House bill passed the full membership along party lines but the Senate measure stalled late in the Session when it was sub-referred to an additional committee and was never heard.
Military Funeral Protests
SB 632/HB 31 (Benacquisto/Rooney) Funeral Protests – This bill banned protesting one hour before and after and within one hundred feet of a funeral for a member of the military, elected official, EMT worker, or minor. The bill was amended in the House to remove the content-based restrictions but died in messages when the Senate refused to concur with the changes.
SB 1596/HB 1461 (Diaz de la Portilla/M. Gaetz) Voter ID – As originally filed, this bill would have allowed for a voter’s address to be challenged by a poll worker if the address on the photo ID did not match the address in the voter roll. The ACLU worked to successfully amend the bill to remove the harmful provision, but the bill became a vehicle for other amendments that weighed it down. The bill passed the House, then the Senate with amendments, but died in returning messages to the House.
Healthy Pregnancies for Incarcerated Women
SB 524/HB 367 (Joyner/Reed) Anti-Shackling – Written and filed for the first time last session, this bill bans the use of restraints on incarcerated pregnant women during labor, delivery and post-partum recovery, unless a corrections officer makes a determination that there is a documentable extraordinary circumstance. Certain restraints are completely banned during third trimester of pregnancy and prisoners are to be notified of the updated changes to the procedures upon taking effect. The bill passed unanimously through the Senate and the House and heads to the Governor for his signature.