Senate President Andy Gardiner laid out his session priorities in an informational meeting with reporters last week and said he will be focused on implementing Amendment 1, bringing more tax relief to Floridians and finding ways to help special-needs students get broader employment opportunities.
Gardiner, R-Orlando, who was sworn in for the two-year term as Senate president in November, touched on several high-profile issues that are likely to become the focus of the 60-day session in March.
Medicaid: Gardiner, vice president of Orlando Health, said he is open to hearing details on a compromise health care reform plan pushed by a coalition of hospitals this month, which would help the state move toward expanding Medicaid under Obamacare to cover more of the uninsured.
Environment: He said committees will conduct hearings in January on what the authors of Amendment 1 had in mind as the Legislature works on how to implement the new constitutional provision to dedicate one-third of the state's documentary stamp taxes to land and water preservation.
Claims: Gardiner is open to giving a hearing to the 33 claims bills filed to require state or local government pay a settlement or legal liability.
Testing: He wants his education committees to review the number of school tests required of Florida K-12 students. "The jury's still out on if we are over-testing,'' Gardiner said. On Common Core, however, he said there are legitimate concerns about the proposal, "but I don't support walking away from that accountability."
Marijuana: He said he was disappointed that the Legislature's push for non-euphoric marijuana is still in the rulemaking stage but said lawmakers may revise the law to address their concerns next session. "Just like any legislation we pass, we have every right to review it and make changes,'' he said. "I think we should do that."
Jeb: Gardiner is all but ready to jump on the Jeb Bush for President bandwagon. He believes Bush's executive experience and leadership-focused approach to governing is what the country needs. "For those of us who worked through the Bush governorship, it was not do-nothing,'' he said.
Castor forum on Cuba
Rep. Kathy Castor says she'll host a community forum early next year with the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and Tampa International Airport "to educate Tampa Bay families and businesses on the evolving landscape tied to President Barack Obama's historic announcement last week to normalize relations with Cuba."
"We will engage the entire community and work toward positive change that America's policy shift will provide — whether it is travel, trade or cultural exchange opportunities," the Tampa Democrat said. The forum date has not been set.
Times Washington bureau chief Alex Leary contributed to this report.