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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

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Organize Now – and a broad coalition of 25 organizations – are doing their best to keep the focus on the constitutional and local charter issues the bills would raise for counties.

"This is about local power," Porta says. "There are a lot of people that might not agree with us on the issue, but a lot of people that want to hold onto the power that is in our county charter and written into the state constitution."

ABORTION

If there's any trusted bellwether that the Florida Legislature is entrenched in the same rhetorical mire as it has been in its recent extremely conservative history – despite presentiments otherwise – it's the continued insistence on addressing women's reproductive health, specifically as it relates to abortion. Last year, nine abortion bills were stopped after extensive lobbying from pro-choice groups like Planned Parenthood, and in November, Amendment 6 – which would have prohibited public funds for abortions (among other restrictions) – lost by a 10 percent margin in the general election. That hasn't stopped the diehards from banging the anti-abortion drum, however.

"At a certain point you just wish that the members that we have in Tallahassee would spend more time addressing the real-life issues women are facing with their families and less time launching politically motivated attacks on women's health. But it seems to be more of the same," Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando president and chief executive officer Jenna Tosh says. "After coming off of this huge landslide victory with Amendment 6 for women's health and an election where we saw politicians making sweeping statements about women and women's health, which were roundly dismissed by the electorate and roundly rejected, [we wish] that we would see something different, but we don't."

On Jan. 22 – ironically, the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision – state Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Palatka, filed his annual volley to all but outlaw abortion entirely. The bill (co-sponsored in the House by Speaker Don Gaetz, tellingly) has a Senate companion, SB 1056, filed by Greg Evers, R-Pensacola, and is, according to Tosh, "the most extreme abortion ban in the country," in that it makes no exceptions beyond the life of the mother.

Perhaps more insidious, though, are the ancillary bills that toy with semantics as a means to pro-life ends that have been filed in advance of session. HB 759, filed by Larry Ahern, R-St. Petersburg, and SB 876, filed by Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, come under the seemingly innocuous title of "Unborn Victims of Violence Act." While nothing new – similar bills have been filed, or amendments proposed, in previous years – the bill would effectively rename "viable fetus" as "unborn child" in Florida statutes for DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide, which would potentially double the charges of defendants (or, in some cases, the pregnant woman) even if the defendant had no knowledge of the pregnancy. On Feb. 28, state Rep. Cary Pigman, R-Sebring, piled on with the controversial Infants Born Alive bill (HB 1129), another iteration of a historied pro-life wedge issue in which fetuses that somehow survive abortion procedures are afforded the same rights as "any other child born alive in course of natural birth."

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