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Senate Passes Slew Of Bills With Bipartisan Support, As Regularly-Scheduled Session Ticks Down

Florida's Senate chamber
Florida's Senate chamber

Time is running out in the regularly-scheduled legislative session with under two weeks to go. There’s talk of an extension solely to hammer out the budget, but bills wouldn’t get any extra time for consideration. The Senate pushed through a number of bills with bipartisan support Tuesday.

Of the 14 bills on third reading during Tuesday’s Senate floor session, only one got a single down vote. All legislation that got floor action virtually breezed by, signaling lawmakers are trying to pass bills popular on a bipartisan basis, facing no significant debate, as the clock runs out.

That doesn’t mean the measures passed by the chamber weren’t of consequence.

Republican Senator Rob Bradley’s bill to repeal the state’s Best and Brightest teacher and principal bonus programs was met with praise from his party and Democrats alike. Democratic Senator Kevin Rader reminded his colleagues the non-recurring bonus program had been a hot-button issue for years.

“I remember being in the House five years ago having enormous debate on this, and thinking it was not going to accomplish what it was trying to do, which was the recruitment and retention and recognition of teachers and school administrators,” Rader said. “And I think there’s better ways to try to compensate our public school teachers, and hopefully we’ll see that in bills and appropriations in the next week and a half.”

Both chambers have proposals looking to boost teacher pay in Florida. Statewide teachers union the Florida Education Association also tweeted appreciation for Bradley’s bill following its passage.

Senator Bobby Powell’s bill changing penalties for people who don’t show up for jury duty passed unanimously. The measure would preclude courts from handing down a term of imprisonment for people who miss jury duty. It was inspired by a case out of West Palm Beach.

“There was a case where Judge John Kastrenakes sentenced a young man, Deandre Summerville, who was 21-years old at the time and had never been in trouble, at all, to a full year probation, 150 hours of community service, and 10 days in jail among other things including fines and fees, for missing jury duty,” Powell said of the man’s case. “This bill was brought up in order to make sure we rectify that situation.”

A measure authorizing pharmacies in emergency rooms and hospitals to give patients two days worth of medication, or three days in a state of emergency, also passed unanimously.  Republican Sen. Gayle Harrell says her bill rectifies a problem that can be quite dangerous for some.

“Senators, you know when you’re discharged from a hospital or from the emergency room, you can only be given 24 hours of medication,” Harrell explained. “There are times when there is no pharmacy open, and it becomes very problematic, especially if you have a serious condition.”

Sen. Audrey Gibson’s bill granting compensation to a Jacksonville man who spent more than four decades incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit saw no opposition. Gibson recounted meeting Clifford Williams before she filed the proposal.

“Not a bitter sense at all,” Gibson said of Williams. “And I found that to be so encouraging and so uplifting, for someone who spent 43 years of their life incarcerated for something that they did not do. I can’t even imagine what that would be like, I cannot.”

Gibson also put in an amendment adopted on the floor, which waives tuition and fees at any career center, college or university in Florida Williams decides to go to.  

Meanwhile, the legislature may take extra time to get its budget for the coming fiscal year in order. Governor Ron DeSantis today told reporters that can yield a better result:

“I’d rather have a good deal,” DeSantis said. “You can do it a few days late, or even bring people back potentially, rather than try to force things under an artificial timeline.”

The 2020 legislative session’s regularly-scheduled end date is March 13.

Copyright 2020 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Ryan Dailey is a reporter/producer for WFSU/Florida Public Radio. After graduating from Florida State University, Ryan went into print journalism working for the Tallahassee Democrat for five years. At the Democrat, he worked as a copy editor, general assignment and K-12 education reporter.