Senate pushes against health care mandate
The Senate on Wednesday gave a thumbs-up to President Mike Haridopolos' proposed constitutional amendment that would guarantee Floridians wouldn't have to purchase health insurance or pay a tax penalty, which is mandated by the federal Affordable Patient Care Act. Democrats who opposed the measure argued, among other things, that it would be more appropriate to address the issue in statutes. "We're talking about our Constitution, the bedrock of this state," said Sen. Chris Smith, D-West Palm Beach. "We should tread lightly into constitutional amendments." Sen. Tony Hill, D-Jacksonville, got a laugh when he noted that some call the federal law "ObamaCare" in a derisive way. "At least somebody cares," he said. Haridopolos calls his amendment the "Health Care Freedom Act." The proposal passed on a largely party-line vote of 29-10. Bill Montford of Tallahassee was the only Democrat on the "yes" side.
Drug testing bill passes committee
Welfare recipients convicted of drug-related felonies would have to pass drug tests for three years to receive state assistance under a bill that passed its first House committee. HB 353 was approved 12-3 by the House Health and Human Services Access Subcommittee. Democrats Ari Porth of Coral Springs and Reggie Fullwood of Jacksonville joined the Republican majority to support the bill, which is one of Gov. Rick Scott's priorities. "A whole bunch of people are telling me to go big with this," said Rep. Jimmy T. Smith, R-Inverness, the bill sponsor. There could be a constitutional issue: A federal appeals court in 2003 struck a similar Michigan law saying "suspicionless drug testing" violated privacy rights guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment.
Cannon's judicial proposals advance
The House civil justice subcommittee passed bills that would require appellate judges to receive approval from 60 percent of voters to remain on the bench and make investigations of judicial misconduct public record. Both are changes proposed by House Speaker Dean Cannon, who was irked that the Supreme Court last year struck from the ballot three constitutional amendments sought by the Republican Legislature. Details of Cannon's proposal to split the current seven-member Supreme Court into two five-member courts, one criminal and one civil, also emerged. The three senior judges, all appointed by Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles, would serve on the criminal court. The remaining four, appointed by GOP Gov. Charlie Crist, would serve on the civil court. Gov. Scott would fill the vacancies.
Negron's bill shot down again
The Senate Regulated Industries Committee rejected an attempt by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, to revive his bill vetoed by Gov. Crist last year. SB 288 said that for a licensed engineer, architect, surveyor, mapper, interior designer and landscape architect to be liable for malpractice and negligence, the design error must have caused personal injury or damage to property. The proposal was the same as SB 1964, which Crist vetoed in June. The committee rejected it 9-4.
Times/Herald staff writers Janet Zink, Michael C. Bender and Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report.