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PolitiFact Florida: What to know before the start of the 2018 legislative session

The opening day of Florida’s legislative session on Tuesday marks the beginning of jam-packed schedules, long committee meetings and impassioned rallies at Florida’s Capitol.

The session moves fast, with just 60 days for lawmakers to pass a budget and move new legislation to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk before sine die.

Members of the Republican-controlled Legislature have their sights set on establishing a scholarship program to help kids who have been bullied, stiffening a ban on texting while driving, and writing a budget that doesn’t raise taxes — among hundreds of other ideas.

Don’t feel lost in the sprint. PolitiFact Florida is here to help you sort through session basics.

For most bills, chances of passage are poor

Each bill faces substantial hurdles before final passage.

First, a lawmaker sponsors a bill and finds a co-sponsor in the other chamber. Then, that bill moves through committees. From there, it moves on to both chambers and then finally goes to the governor to sign.

According to a seven-year average of passage rates, less than 13 percent of filed bills survive floor fights and the governor’s scrutiny to become law. In 2017, for example, more than 3,000 bills were filed between the two chambers. However, only 7.5 percent, or roughly 230 bills, became law.

One indicator of a bill’s chances is the number of committees to which it is assigned. The typical number is three. If it’s more, the bill is probably in trouble.

Legislature’s only requirement: a budget

The requirement to pass a budget is laid out in Article III, section 3(b), of Florida’s Constitution.

For the 2018-19 fiscal year, Scott proposed an $87.4 billion spending plan that includes billions more for environmental protection and education and $53 million to fight the opioid epidemic.

Lawmakers may use that as a starting point, or they can ignore it.

In the past, Scott and legislative leaders have had different spending priorities, especially when it came to Visit Florida, the state’s tourism arm, and Enterprise Florida, which oversees state business incentive programs.

The lead budget writer in the House, Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, told the Tampa Bay Times that "our goal is to pass a budget that’s a lower dollar amount than the governor." With 2018 being an election year, lawmakers will view the budget battle as an important contest.

Until two weeks ago, the Senate’s lead on the budget was Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. Latvala resigned after an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment, and Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, is now the chair of the appropriations committee.

Lawmaker-to-lobbyist ratio is pretty lopsided

For the 160 members of the Legislature, roughly 522 people register to lobby them. That’s more than three lobbyists per lawmaker. The discrepancy was worse in previous years. Roughly 2,000 people were registered to lobby lawmakers in 2013, more than 12 lobbyists per lawmaker.

Key issues in
this year’s session

Hurricane preparedness: Irma’s rampage through Florida left politicians with soul-searching and blame-sharing about how to better protect the state from the next monster storm. Mandatory generators at nursing homes and tax exemptions for them are chief on the priority list after residents died at a South Florida nursing home that went days without central air conditioning.

Texting while driving: HB 33, sponsored by Reps. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa, and Emily Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, would make texting and driving a primary offense rather than the secondary offense it is under current law. That means you could be pulled over for texting while driving, instead of just getting a citation on top of another offense, such as speeding or reckless driving.

Some members from Florida’s black caucus, including Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Plantation; Rep. Sean Shaw, D-Tampa; and Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, fear that the bill will lead to more racial profiling.

Education: Florida’s schools remain a top issue of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who last year threw his full support behind a bill that included $140 million for the "schools of hope" program aimed at attracting privately managed charter schools to compete with near-failing public schools in poor neighborhoods. House leaders want to go further in 2018, starting with HB 1, which includes the creation of the Hope Scholarship program to allow public school students who are bullied to transfer to other public schools or private schools with free tuition or discounted tuition.

Allison Graves is covering the legislative session for PolitiFact Florida. Email her ideas for facts to check at [email protected]

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