The top issues for Florida's 2014 legislative session

Published March 2, 2014

Tax cuts: Gov. Rick Scott's top priority this election year is to pass at least $500 million in cuts in taxes and fees. Lawmakers have endorsed repealing some vehicle fees and conducting a back-to-school sales tax holiday, but there is no agreement on a handful of other issues.

Gaming: The Senate has proposed a massive rewrite of the state's gaming laws to allow for the creation of two "destination resort" casinos, one each in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. It also creates a new gaming control board to regulate all gambling. Questions remain whether the governor and a reluctant House will actually support it.

Marijuana: Proposals are moving in both chambers to decriminalize a noneuphoric strain of marijuana that is known to reduce seizures in children with severe epilepsy. Lawmakers are emphasizing that the strain, known as Charlotte's Web — after a young girl whose family discovered it — is not an endorsement of the proposed constitutional amendment to legalize pot for medical use.

Pensions: A House plan to overhaul the state's retirement system emerged this year with a compromise aimed at winning Senate passage. The House wants to close the pension system to new hires and require them to enroll in 401(k)-style investment plans or cash-balance plans but exempt law enforcement and firefighters. The new proposal, opposed by teachers, doesn't appear to have the support of Senate holdouts and the governor.

School grades: This year, lawmakers must approve a new formula for calculating school grades. The Legislature could make dramatic changes to the formula, which critics say is overly complex and has become meaningless to parents. Parent groups have called for a moratorium on the A-F grading system.

School vouchers: Legislators are proposing a massive expansion of the state's private-school voucher program by allowing companies to divert state sales tax payments to scholarship organizations that serve low-income kids. Senate leaders are proposing for the first time that scholarship recipients take the state standardized tests.

Charter schools: School districts would have less power to set guidelines for charter schools under measures that would create a uniform contract to help for-profit charter school companies to expand and come to Florida, and limit individual districts' ability to negotiate with them.

Immigrant tuition: A proposal to allow some undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates if they are Florida residents is moving in the House but faces opposition in the Senate.

ALFs/NURSING HOMES: A measure to tighten the reporting requirements of abuse and neglect at Assisted Living Facilities and increase fines for violators has the support of House and Senate leaders. The bills, which the industry has resisted for three years, would also require the state to set up a rating system for elder care homes. A measure to further shield nursing homes from lawsuits also has broad support from legislative leaders.

Trauma: A Senate plan to overhaul the way Florida approves trauma centers is moving, with the backing of the powerful hospital industry. It would end a legal dispute that has raised doubts about whether three disputed trauma centers should remain open, but the revamp faces opposition from not-for-profit safety-net hospitals that believe the current system works fine.

Nurses: In the face of a looming doctor shortage, House Republicans are pushing a bill to allow highly trained nurses to open independent practices but the measure, allowed in nearly every other state, is opposed by Senate leaders closely aligned with doctor groups, who are strongly opposed.

Sex predators: Bills are moving quickly to impose longer prison terms for sexually violent predators who have been prosecuted and released and have reoffended.

Charities: Legislators are working to tighten the state's charity laws. The effort, pushed by Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, would require more transparency and disclosures to root out bad performers who spend more on fundraising than actual outreach.

Flood insurance: Legislation to encourage the sale of private flood insurance in Florida has emerged as a response to rate increases from the National Flood Insurance Program. The bills would give consumers more options for how much insurance they need to have on their properties and would allow insurance companies to offer policyholders more flexible plans.

Red-light cameras: With data that shows fatalities are down but crashes are up, bills have been filed to repeal red-light camera programs. Cities are pushing back and more regulations of the camera programs could be the compromise.

Ethics: On the first day of the session, legislators will approve a new rule that defines residency for lawmakers.

Growth: As the economy improves and home building revs up, legislators are proposing to limit the few remaining growth rules in Florida in an effort to encourage more development. One plan would exempt counties with populations of more than 300,000 from a layer of state oversight. Other bills address water rights, road projects, conservation easements and local growth rules.

Compiled by Mary Ellen Klas, Kathleen McGrory, Tia Mitchell and Michael Van Sickler.