Budget, guns in schools and felon voting ahead in Florida
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — If Florida lawmakers are trying to break a record for fewest bills passed during their annual session, they’re on a pretty good pace.
So far only one bill has been sent to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis — the repeal of a smokable medical marijuana ban that DeSantis signed into law last Monday.
There isn’t much more teed up to go to DeSantis’ desk. Sure, one bill that could see final passage is a measure that would require counties to post permit and inspection fees on their websites, as could another measure that would let theme parks, restaurants and hotels donate unclaimed lost property to charities instead of turning it over to police. But the most talked about issues facing lawmakers won’t get to DeSantis this week.
The state budget will be a hot topic in the week ahead. The Senate and House have proposals ready for lawmakers to consider — both of which are below DeSantis’ recommended $91.3 billion spending plan. The proposed Senate budget is $90.3 billion and the House is coming in at $89.9 billion.
All three budget proposals for fiscal 2019-2020 are higher overall than current budget. On education, the Senate wants an overall $1.1 billion increase for public schools, while the House increase is $600 million. DeSantis’ plan is closer to the House figure. The Senate amount also includes about $600 million that local school districts could use for teacher raises or other needs.
The implementation of a constitutional amendment that restores the voting rights of most ex-felons will draw a lot of attention. Voters approved the amendment in November, and the ballot language states that felons can register to vote once they’ve completed their sentence, unless they were convicted of murder or a felony sex crime. The Senate Criminal Justice Committee will take up the issue Monday with a bill very similar to a House bill that began moving last week despite complaints from the groups who helped get the amendment passed.
At issue is the definition of completing a sentence. That wasn’t spelled out in the constitutional amendment, and Republican lawmakers ushering the bills through the Legislature say completing a sentence isn’t just about serving time in prison, completing supervised release and paying restitution to victims. The bills also say that court costs imposed by a judge as part of the sentence also need to be repaid, and advocates for ex-felons say that amounts to a poll tax and goes against the will of voters.
The Senate Infrastructure and Security Committee will consider a school safety bill that’s drawing opposition from groups seeking restrictions on guns. That’s because it expands a new law that allows teachers to carry guns in schools. The bill makes changes to the law passed after a former student killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. The proposed legislation addresses many items, like speeding up the process for evaluating children showing signs of emotional or behavioral problems, requiring schools to quickly report school safety incidents, and expanding a mobile suspicious activity reporting program by including the tool on all computers issued to students.
But the change that’s drawing the most attention is language that would make all teachers eligible for a program to arm teachers who volunteer and go through training. Right now, teachers are only eligible for the program if they also have another role outside the classroom, such as an athletic coach or teachers involved in other extra-curricular activities.
The bill being considered will expand that to any teacher, regardless if they have another role at the school. Opponents fear that allowing more guns at schools creates a danger.