By Jim Turner
The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — Banning “sanctuary” cities, revamping gambling laws, approving new sexual-harassment rules and even creating a license plate to commemorate the University of Central Florida’s undefeated football season were among numerous issues that died when the 2018 legislative session ended Sunday.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, was quick to praise the new budget for including $100.8 million to revive the Florida Forever land-preservation program after a decade of neglect.
But his effort (SB 370) to put into law an annual $100 million amount for Florida Forever, along with a separate bill to hike funding for the state’s natural springs and to restore the St. Johns River, are measures he will have to pursue again next year.
“The House version of the legislation put off spending on Florida Forever until later years, and that was not acceptable,” Bradley said after the Senate concluded most of its business Friday night. “I wanted to do it now.”
Overall, 2018 was not a stellar year for passing bills, with the House and Senate agreeing on 195 bills, four resolutions and one resolution-like “memorial.”
Here are some of the higher-profile issues that died when the session ended:
The effort (SB 462 and HB 237) to ban the controversial oil- and natural-gas drilling process known as “fracking” gained support from some Senate Republicans, along with Democrats. But the House never took up the issue in committees.
Lawmakers made a late attempt to reach agreement on a gambling deal amid concerns about a proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would give voters — not the Legislature — control of future gambling decisions. But legislative leaders abandoned the effort Friday, as negotiators grappled with issues such as a gambling agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida and allowing slot machines in counties where voters have approved referendums.
GUNS AT CHURCH
A proposal (SB 1048) that would have allowed people with concealed-weapons licenses to carry guns at churches and other religious institutions that share property with schools appeared headed toward passage this year. The measure got through the Senate Judiciary Committee — where a number of gun bills have failed in recent years — and had reached the Senate floor.
But then came the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County. The church-related bill remained pending in the Senate throughout the rest of the session and did not get a vote.
Neither of the big issues — to revamp laws dealing with a controversial practice known as “assignment of benefits” and to eliminate the “no-fault” auto insurance system — passed.
The House approved a bill (HB 19) to repeal the no-fault system, which requires motorists to carry personal-injury protection, or PIP, coverage. But the Senate proposal (SB 150), which included a requirement for motorists to carry $5,000 in what is known as medical payments coverage, or MedPay, couldn’t get through committees.
The insurance industry and business groups pushed for changes in assignment of benefits, an issue that involves policyholders signing over benefits to contractors, who then pursue payment from insurers. But the issue stalled early in the session in the Senate.
RED LIGHT CAMERAS
Among the first issues (HB 6001) out of the House this year was the annual effort to eliminate a law, known as the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act of 2010, that allows local governments to use red-light cameras. But as happened in past years, the idea once again failed to get the green light in the Senate.
A priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, the House passed a measure (HB 9) aimed at requiring local governments to comply with federal immigration laws — an issue that has become known as preventing “sanctuary cities.”
But the Senate version of the controversial measure (SB 308) stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee because of opposition from Democrats and two Republicans, Sen. Rene Garcia of Hialeah and Sen. Anitere Flores of Miami.
One of the hot topics as the session began — with once-powerful Sen. Jack Latvala resigning after a damaging investigation — the House and Senate were unable to agree on how to prevent and punish people who engage in sexual harassment.
The House approved a bill (HB 7007) that attached anti-sexual harassment language to other ethics issues. But the Senate didn’t go along with tying the issues together.
TEXTING WHILE DRIVING
With the backing of Corcoran, a proposal (HB 33 and SB 90) to allow law-enforcement officers to pull over people for texting while driving cruised through the House and had advanced through the Senate.
But Bradley let the proposal die in the Senate Appropriations Committee. The bill faced concerns about issues such as minority drivers facing increased racial profiling if texting while driving became a “primary” traffic offense. Bradley was unswayed by arguments that the bill would require law-enforcement officers to record the race and ethnicity of each person pulled over for texting while driving.
TRAINS AND ‘BO’S BRIDGE’
Derailed for the second year, Treasure Coast lawmakers failed to pick up needed support from outside their region to impose state rules (SB 572 and HB 525) about passenger trains, particularly All Aboard Florida’s Brightline service, which is expected to eventually run from Miami to Orlando.
Also, lawmakers didn’t approve a proposal to acquire the financially troubled Garcon Point Bridge — known in Tallahassee as “Bo’s Bridge — near Pensacola. The bridge, named after former House Speaker Bo Johnson who championed the project, has been in default for years. Toll revenue fell well short of what was projected in the original $95 million bond agreement. Debt on the bridge has ballooned to $135 million.
The annual push to create a slew of new specialty license plates combined during the session with euphoria following the University of Central Florida’s perfect football season. In the end, lawmakers punted on a license plate to commemorate UCF’s season and most other specialty tags, including an attempt by Auburn University alumni to create a license plate for the Alabama school.
Lawmakers again waded into the controversial issue of preventing local regulation of vacation rental properties. But despite backing from industry and business groups, bills (SB 1400 and HB 773) never were heard on the Senate or House floors.