Capitol Buzz for Friday, 2/24
Five Stories To Think About Today
* Today shapes to be a fairly quiet day in the Capitol and, for the state Senate, it couldn't have come at a better time. As the week ends, the Senate has resolved--for now--its massive internal power struggle that has shifted power to Sens. Andy Gardiner of Winter Park and Jack Latvala of Clearwater. Both men are currently positioned to become Senate president in 2014 and 2016, respectively.
* The "Drug-Free Workplace Act" that allows for random drug testing of state employees will be heard by the House State Affairs Committee. Gov. Rick Scott ordered state employee drug screenings last year, but he suspended the order amid a legal challenge from the ACLU of Florida. A hearing in that challenge was held in Miami this week.
* A House panel will also consider reforms to personal injury protection insurance, or PIP (HB 119). This version is backed by Scott and CFO Jeff Atwater, who say fraud is rampant and costly to motorists. It's up for a vote in the House Economic Affairs committee. The bill requires emergency room visits if you're injured in an auto accident, unlike the Senate version.
* In other automobile-related measures, Rep. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, will explain to the same committee his bill that allows for the testing of vehicles equipped with autonomous technology. Yep, cars that drive themselves.
* The House Judiciary Committee will hear about 15 claims bills, including one to benefit Eric Brody, whose case is a priority of Senate President Mike Haridopolos. Brody was paralyzed 14 years ago after being hit by a Broward County sheriff’s cruiser.
Three Issues You Missed Yesterday
* The Florida Senate passed a $71 billion budget Thursday with bipartisan support after Republicans agreed to Democratic moves to save a rural prison from closure and to spend $1 million more to keep elderly people out of nursing homes. It also approved Sen. JD Alexander's vision to immediately create the state's 12th university out of the University of South Florida's branch campus in Lakeland.
* After days of speculation, Orlando Sen. Andy Gardiner confirmed what we have previously reported: he has won the support of rival Sen. Jack Latvala and has secured enough Republican pledges to serve as Senate president in 2014.
Who To Watch Today/Quotable Quotes
* Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami). With her expansive abortion bill sailing through one committee, and now the House version getting even more amendments tacked on, will she follow suit and have similar amendments (or sponsors in Criminal Justice or Budget committees) waiting in the wings?