State Employee drug testing rushes through chambers

Despite premature reports of its death in committee, HB 1205 by Representative Jimmie Smith (RLecanto) was revived by a motion for reconsideration, and then placed on the House’s special order calendar early in the penultimate week of session. It was debated and easily passed the chamber on a mostly party-line vote. Meanwhile the Senate version of the bill, SB 1358 by Senator Alan Hays (RUmatilla) was heard in its final committee, Budget, before heading to the full Senate for a final vote on the last day of session where it passed along party lines except for one notable exception, Republican Senator Joe Negron (R-Palm City) who called the measure “big government at its worst.” The bill heads to the Governor for his signature, as we await a ruling on the constitutionality of the Governor’s Executive Order mandating drug testing in agencies under direction.

School prayer turned “inspirational message” finally passed the House

After a session-long struggle to legislate religion in public K-12 schools, legislators Gary Siplin (DOrlando) and Charles Van Zant (R-Palatka) made their case before the full House membership on the second-to-last week of the session. Amid little dissent from legislators on either side, the so-called “inspirational message” legislation, SB 98, passed the House 88-27 and heads to the Governor for his signature.

Omnibus abortion measure fails to garner Senate support

Although one of the worst attempts at limiting the rights of women to obtain a safe and legal abortion in Florida had already passed the full House this session, it failed to be heard by the full Senate before the legislature closed on Friday. SB 290 by Senator Anitere Flores (R-Miami) attempted to heavily regulate abortion providers with onerous requirements that would severely hinder the ability of such clinics to function or even survive should the bill pass. The bill only passed one of its three committees of reference and was thus subject to a procedural maneuver in which two-thirds of the full Senate had to agree to “waive the rules” to withdraw the bill from its remaining committees. Along with our partners at Planned Parenthood, the ACLU played a key role in garnering enough votes to stop the bill from ever being considered by the full Senate. The bill died without being debated in the Senate.

“Anti-Sharia” foreign law bill disappears

HB 1209 by Representative Larry Metz (R-Eustis) and SB 1360 by Senator Alan Hays (R-Umatilla) would have banned Florida courts from considering foreign or religious law in their rulings in certain family law cases. Opponents, including the ACLU, Anti-Defamation League, and the Counsel on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), said the measure was unnecessary and rooted in discriminatory model legislation making its way across conservative state legislatures. The bill was heard in several committees and garnered little dissent but plenty of controversy. While the measure passed the House, it stalled in the Senate when the chamber ran out of time on the final day and never brought it up for consideration.

Military funeral protest bill dies in battle of compromise

Two bills, HB 31/SB 632 by Representative Patrick Rooney (R-Palm Beach) and Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto (R-Wellington) respectively, would have restricted protests at a funeral, burial, or memorial service for a military service member, emergency response worker, elected official, or minor. With the content-based restrictions, the bill suffered from severe constitutional deficiencies. Based on recommendations from legislative staff and the ACLU, Representative Rooney amended his version of the bill to remove the content-based restrictions. Senator Benacquisto, however, refused to amend her Senate version despite our efforts. When the House unanimously passed its version, it was sent over to the Senate. The Senate then picked it up, heard its own version, and amended the House version to look like its own - the one with the content-based restrictions - and sent it back to the House. When this happens, the House may decide to “concur” with the changes or “refuse to concur.” The House voted to “refuse to concur” and sent back its version – the amended version without the content-based restrictions - to the Senate and asked them to “recede.” In the final days of session, the Senate “refused to recede” and the bill fortunately died for lack of compromise.

Voter ID glitch-fix bill dies under its own weight

In ACLU-FL Legislative Update #4, we told you about a bill by Senator Miguel Diaz de la Portilla (R-Miami) and Representative Matt Gaetz (R-Okaloosa) that would have allowed a voter’s address on his or her ID to be challenged at the polls. The ACLU and the League of Women Voters worked to amend SB 1596 and HB 1461 to protect a voter from challenge by a poll worker for simply having an old ID with an old address – which could have led to voters being directed to vote a provisional ballot. In the waning days of session, the full House passed the bill unanimously. But when the Senate considered the measure, several Democrats attempted to amend back some of the provisions removed by last year’s voter suppression law, including restoring early voting and voter registration changes. These amendments failed but one, by Senator Joe Negron (R-Palm City), would have allowed a voter to opt-out of electronically scanning their ID at a polling place with such technology. This amendment gained support from both parties and forced the overall bill to be sent back to the House in messages to concur. That version of the bill was never brought up for consideration in the House and the bill died on the last day of session.

VICTORY! Protections for pregnant incarcerated women heads to Gov. Scott for signing.

In the final week of session, the full House voted unanimously (one ‘no’ vote, Representative Daryl Rouson, D-Tampa, was reconsidered) to ban the cruel practice of restraining pregnant inmates during labor, delivery, and post-partum recovery. The bill was minimally amended by sponsor Representative Betty Reed (D-Tampa) to abate concerns from law enforcement interests including the Sheriffs Association and the Department of Corrections. The Senate voted to concur with these changes and the bill passed the full legislature and was sent to the Governor on the last day of session. We are proud to have worked alongside a broad coalition of groups to celebrate this important victory as Florida becomes only the 11th state in the nation with these explicit protections in law.
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Supreme Court rejects Senate redistricting maps

On the final day of session, the Florida Supreme Court rejected the Florida legislature’s submitted Senate maps based on violations of the voter-approved constitutional Fair District Amendments. The Senate will have one more opportunity to redraw the state Senate map and resubmit to the Court for approval. The court found the state House maps facially constitutional so for now they will not have to be redrawn. Governor Scott has called a special session for redistricting set to begin this Wednesday, March 14 and last two weeks so that the legislature may vote on a new senate map.
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