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What's in store for Florida's 2013 legislative session

Legislators prepare to duke it out over more of the same: abortion, workers' rights, education, voting issues and campaign finance reform

Photo: , License: N/A

Photo: , License: N/A


Numerous elections-reform bills have been filed, but House Bill 7013 – a measure that would extend early voting back to 14 days, shorten amendment language to 75 words and give supervisors of elections latitude over early-voting locations, thereby reversing some of the damage of the 2011 law – seems to be gaining the most traction. The bill has already passed through its first subcommittee, but only after Democrats withdrew nine amendments (presumably to be brought back up in the future). The bipartisan nature hasn't sat well with everyone. State Rep. Joe Saunders, D-Orlando, worried that the bill only made up some of the ground – specifically the voter-registration limitations – that was lost to HB 1355. "There's so much more we can do. The leadership on the other side is boxing us in," he said, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Others were concerned about the mass rejection of absentee ballots in the 2012 stakes, something the bill doesn't address.

In an op-ed for the Miami Herald, American Civil Liberties Union of Florida executive director Howard Simon laundry-listed numerous possible improvements, including same-day registration, online registration, loosening requirements for photo identification and alleviating felon disfranchisement.

Florida Watch Action's Amy Ritter says her organization is monitoring the progression of the bill closely; seeing as her usual target, Gov. Scott, has only spoken vaguely on the issue, she's concentrating on the legislature.

"We saw the backlash coming out of the November election, and they couldn't hide from it. They knew they had to fix it," she says. "We're here to make sure that it's not just for show. We're not asking for crazy reforms. These are reasonable reforms that any solid-minded legislator would push forward."

On Feb. 13, state Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, addressed some of those concerns – specifically same-day registration when you've moved across county lines and automatic registration when you get your driver's license – calling his bill Desiline's Free and Fair Democracy Act, directly referencing the same 102-year-old Miami resident, Desiline Victor, who suffered long lines and was later honored by President Obama in his State of the Union speech.

"Voting is a fundamental building block of our democracy," Braynon said in a statement. "By making it easier for all Floridians to exercise this human and American right, we are helping to ensure that people remain confident and engaged in their communities."

WORKERS' RIGHTS

It only came as a mild surprise when in early February, two Central Florida legislators, state Sen. David Simmons, R-Maitland, and state Rep. Steve Precourt, R-Orlando, concurrently filed bills intent upon formalizing state rules on how private businesses treat their employees, thereby removing the home-rule powers of counties and municipalities to craft their own regulations. The move was alluded to during the controversial Sept. 11 Orange County Board of County Commissioners meeting in which commissioners voted to keep the citizen-led earned sick time initiative off the ballot. That move set off a series of legal challenges (aka LOLTEXTGATE) that have most recently led to the commissioners being ordered to hand their cellphones over to law enforcement and backtrack on their own vote with a Feb. 26 decision to put the measure on the next available ballot anyway. Of course, that ballot won't appear until 2014, which could mean that the local vote on earned sick time would be moot due to state pre-emption. And during the initial hearing – and in subsequent appearances – Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs voiced support for a statewide law.

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