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News & Press: Legislative News

Big issues remain at mid-point of 2016 session

Wednesday, February 10, 2016   (0 Comments)
Posted by: DCMS
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By Jim Saunders
The News Service of Florida

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, February 10, 2016.......... Florida's 60-day legislative session is halfway done.

Most of the major issues remain unresolved after weeks of lawmakers debating bills in committees. But that's not unusual --- lawmakers typically put off the big stuff until the end.

In the days leading up to the Jan. 12 start of the session, The News Service of Florida offered 10 issues to watch this year. Here is an update about what has --- or hasn't --- happened with those issues.

BUDGET: The House and Senate are ready to approve hefty budget proposals for the fiscal year that starts July 1. But then much of the real work will start, as negotiators hammer out details of a final spending plan. Though the numbers could get tweaked this week, the Senate proposal weighs in at nearly $81 billion, about $1 billion more than the House proposal. Gov. Rick Scott, by comparison, proposed a $79.3 billion spending plan. Look for lawmakers to try agree on a budget that includes record levels of public-school funding --- something that was a centerpiece of Scott's 2014 campaign and also would come in handy when incumbents seek re-election this year. But key questions remain about Scott's push for tax cuts and economic-development funding.

HEALTH CARE: The House has lined up a series of bills aimed at scaling back regulations in the health-care industry. But it remains unclear how far the Senate will go. As an example, House Republican leaders want to eliminate the state's controversial "certificate of need" regulatory process for approving new or expanded hospitals. But a Senate bill would take a different approach, allowing certificate-of-need exemptions for health-care facilities that provide enough care to low-income and uninsured patients. Both chambers also are looking at proposals to boost transparency in the health-care system, an issue that emerged amid Scott's highly publicized criticism of the hospital industry. 

PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES: Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, has already achieved his top priority for the session. The House, Senate and Scott quickly approved a package of bills designed to provide more job and educational opportunities to people with developmental disabilities. Gardiner, whose son has Down syndrome, has long focused on efforts to help people with disabilities, or as he describes them "unique abilities." The package was approved in Gardiner's final session before he leaves the Legislature because of term limits.