With the clock ticking down on the 2019 legislative session, House and Senate leaders are working to reach a compromise on a spending plan for next year — the only piece of legislation that the Legislature is required to pass during their 60-day session.
Lawmakers have until Tuesday in order to reach a budget agreement if they are to have any hope of ending by Friday night. State law requires a 72-hour waiting period between the time a budget deal is reached and when lawmakers are able to vote on plan. The waiting, or cooling off period, is intended to give legislators more time to study budgets and have a better understanding of what they contain before voting on them.
Appropriations chairs for both the House and Senate spent the weekend hashing out the remaining differences. Any differences that remain after today will be bumped up to the Senate president and House speaker for a final resolution.
While budget negotiations go on behind the scenes, lawmakers continue to work to reach compromises on other key pieces of legislation before Friday’s scheduled close.
One of those key bills — a criminal justice reform measure — was passed in the Florida House Monday morning. The reforms cover a variety of issues intended to reduce the number of prisoners in Florida’s correctional system which totals close to a 100,000 and end the cycle of prison that so many inmates find themselves in once they are convicted and sentenced to prison.
One way it does that is by raising the felony threshold — the point at which a theft goes from a misdemeanor to a felony — from $300 to $750.
“We all know that theft is wrong,” said Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples. “The question is, ‘At what point are you going to be branded a felon for the rest of your life?’ Because once your a felon in this system, there’s no coming back from that.”
The measure would also make it easier for people with prior felony convictions to get occupational licenses allowing them to become productive members of society.
Only one House member voted ”no.”
“I don’t think we should be soft on crime, because we are not championing the rights of the individual,” said Rep. Mike Hill, R-Pensacola.
The House criminal justice reform bill has some big differences from the Senate version, but the overwhelming vote margin sends a signal the House might be willing to work with the Senate to reach a compromise on the issue in this final week of session. A move the House has failed to make on the issue in recent years.
“This legislation provides a framework that preserves our fifty year low crime rate, but also takes a new approach to low level, non-violent offenders.” said bill sponsor Rep. Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast. “Florida’s prison and sentencing system is long overdue for such reforms, and we believe that initiatives such as reducing barriers to occupational licensing and employment assistance for those with a criminal record will not only allow for meaningful employment opportunities, but also reduce recidivism.”
Also Monday, the Senate passed a proposal that could allow for the importation of cheaper prescription drugs from Canada. The Senate passed the House version of the bill.
“Push that green button,” said bill sponsor Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach. “It means you’re tired of paying a 1000% markup for prescription drugs.”