Activity up as Fla. lawmakers wind down

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The regular Florida legislative session ends on May 3 and there is a lot going on in Tallahassee.  Here are some highlights from Tuesday including health care, texting while driving, the 'parent trigger' bill and a ban on the use of the words "mental retardation."

Dems stall session to force health care vote

House Democrats are using a procedural move to stall the session in its final days.

House Democrats are upset that House Republicans are refusing to consider a measure that would utilize federal aid to offer health care coverage to roughly 1 million Floridians. The bill was overwhelmingly passed by the Florida Senate on Tuesday.

The session ends on May 3.

But Democrats utilized a constitutional requirement that all bills must be read in full before they are voted on. This requirement is normally waived by a two-thirds vote. There are 44 Democrats in the 120-member House.

Republicans have responded by using an "auto reader" machine that reads bills.

It's not clear how long the standoff between the two sides will go on. One Democratic legislator said members made sure to go the bathroom before Democrats began their filibuster.

Legislature may move up date of pay raise

Florida's teachers may get a proposed pay raise sooner than expected.

Senate President Don Gaetz on Tuesday said that legislators did not intend to delay a proposed teacher pay raise until June 2014.

House and Senate budget negotiators Sunday night agreed to spend $480 million on teacher pay raises. But they included a provision in the new $74.5 billion budget that would have delayed the pay raise until next year.

Gaetz said the intent was to require school districts to hand out the raises by that date.

A spokeswoman for the Senate said legislators will likely pass a separate bill this week that makes it clear that the raises can be distributed out prior to next summer.

Gaetz contended that the June 2014 provision came from Gov. Rick Scott's office.

Bill eliminates 'mental retardation' in state law

The Legislature has unanimously passed a bill that removes the term "mental retardation" from state law and replaces it with "intellectual disability."

The House on Tuesday voted 119-0 for the bill (SB 142) that was already unanimously passed by the Senate. The measure also replaces "mentally retarded" and "retarded" with "intellectually disabled."

The bill now goes to the governor to be signed into law.

The change would not affect the content or effect of any laws. Proponents of the bill have said the word "retarded" is outdated and has become offensive.

Forty-three states have already taken steps to remove the word "retarded" from their laws.

President Obama signed a law in 2010 striking use of the term in federal policy.

Texting while driving ban could be dead

A statewide ban on texting while driving could be dead after Florida House members amended the bill with only three days left in the legislative session.

The House amended the bill (SB 52) on Tuesday. The measure still needs to be voted on.

Even if it passes, it has to return to the Senate for that chamber to approve the new change. The legislative session ends Friday.

The change allows police to use drivers' mobile phone records against them only when texting causes a crash resulting in death or personal injury.

Sen. Nancy Detert has pushed for the bill for years. The Venice Republican says the House should have passed the bill as it was.

Senate rejects pension changes

The Senate has dealt a crippling setback to efforts to revamp Florida's retirement system, a top goal of House Speaker Will Weatherford.

Senators on Tuesday defeated a proposal similar to a House-passed plan that would do away with guaranteed pensions for future state and county employees and teachers. The vote capped a long debate and the Senate then moved on to other bills as lawmakers head toward the 60-day session's final gavel on Friday.

The House plan would replace pensions with individual investment accounts similar to 401(k) plans, but it does grandfather current employees in the existing pension plan.

Those now in the Florida Retirement System can select a traditional pension or a 401(k)-style plan.

Republican Sen. Jack Latvala spoke against the proposal. He said the pension changes would hurt the state's chances to attract quality workers.

Senate passes Negron's Medicaid bill

The Senate has passed a bill that would accept more than $50 billion federal dollars and offer health coverage to more than 1 million Floridians under the federal health law.

Sen. Joe Negron's bill passed Tuesday with no debate, but the silence sends a strong message to the House that the Senate isn't backing down, making a compromise unlikely in the final days of session.

The bill would not expand Medicaid but give money to residents to purchase private insurance. But the House doesn't want to accept money tied to the Affordable Care Act and has passed a bill that would use $237 million

in state funds to cover about 115,000 residents.

Negron said Monday the differences between the House and Senate may be too far to bridge.

'Parent trigger' bill fails in Senate

A hotly contested bill to give parents a vote on turning around failing public schools has been defeated in the Florida Senate.

The "parent trigger" bill (HB 867) failed on a 20-20 vote Tuesday after a long debate.

Opponents called it an effort to allow private companies to take over public schools. Supporters said it would give parents a voice in charting a turnaround for failing schools.

It's the second straight year the Senate has defeated the contentious proposal.

Senators revised the bill this year to make local school boards the final decision makers on turnaround plans.

Local boards would have to consider options preferred by parents. The actual voting by parents would be done through a petition drive. Options could include turning the failing school into a charter school.

Bill requires care for infants surviving abortions

Lawmakers have sent to Gov. Rick Scott a bill that would require medical care for newborns who survive botched abortions.

The measure (HB 1129) won final passage on a 38-0 Senate vote Tuesday.

It would penalize abortion providers who don't provide medical care for infants born alive despite attempted abortions.

Abortion-rights supporters say such a scenario is extremely rare. But some abortion opponents have said it's not such a rarity.

A woman who claimed she was born after her mother tried to abort her appeared before a legislative panel to support the bill.

The measure looms as the major abortion-related bill for the 60-day legislative session ending Friday.

A bill that would ban abortions based solely on an unborn child's gender or race isn't making headway in the Senate.



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