Florida's Legislative Preview
A roundup of what interest groups, lawmakers and the governor are seeking this year.
» Drug Discovery — Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies is seeking $3 million to expand its research and support its drug discovery program, which can lead to new therapies. Torrey Pines says the funds would help keep its library of compounds available to more than 20 other institutions that use them in their research.
» New Campus — Moffitt Cancer Center is asking for restoration of the 4.88% cigarette tax revenue that it received prior to budget cuts. The funding will allow the research hospital to go to the bond market to obtain funding to begin construction on a new campus in Tampa. Moffitt is also seeking $12.9 million in higher education funding to train medical students and residents — a $2-million boost over what it received last year.
» Trust Fund — Moffitt and other members of BioFlorida, the state’s bioscience industry association, want lawmakers to transfer 10% of the revenue from the cigarette surcharge enacted in 2009 into the state’s Biomedical Research Trust Fund.
» Incentive Funding — Space Florida is requesting $10 million for its annual budget plus another $10 million dedicated for a financing fund to help attract and grow space-related businesses in the state. Frank DiBello, president of Space Florida, says the group would like the Legislature to remove the $7-million-per-company caps on the Qualified Target Industry Tax Refund program and the Qualified Defense and Space Contractor Tax Refund program. The group is also seeking the creation of a Space Exploration Research Institute in collaboration with the Florida Institute of Technology, additional funding from the Florida Department of Transportation for Spaceport infrastructure and the institutionalizing of spaceports in the Transportation Department’s budget to ensure minimum annual funding levels.
» Trust Funds — The Sadowski Housing Coalition is urging the Legislature not to divert money in state and local housing trust funds for other purposes. The appropriation should be approximately $193.8 million.
» Stand Your Ground — In the wake of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin last year, Rep. Alan Williams (D-Tallahassee) and Sen. Dwight Bullard (D-Miami) have filed legislation to repeal Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows people to use deadly force if necessary to defend themselves. The repeal has slim odds of passage in the Republican-led Legislature and is unlikely to see its way out of the House Judiciary Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala), an original co-sponsor of the law.
» Distracted Drivers — The Florida Police Chiefs, AAA and others are making a push for a ban on texting while driving this year. Legislation by Sen. Nancy Detert (R-Venice) and Rep. Doug Holder (R-Sarasota) would outlaw texting, emailing and instant messaging but still permit the use of hands-free texting and navigation devices. The bill would make texting while driving a secondary offense. First-time offenders would be fined $30, plus court costs. The issue could face formidable roadblocks. House Speaker Will Weatherford has said that “individual rights” must also be weighed when considering a ban on texting while driving. Thirty-nine other states currently prohibit the practice, and former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has urged lawmakers to adopt a ban.
» Synthetic Drugs — Last December, Attorney General Pam Bondi issued an emergency order banning 22 substances used to make synthetic drugs commonly referred to as “bath salts,” “K2” or “spice” and making it a third-degree felony to “sell, manufacture, deliver or possess with intent to sell, manufacture or deliver the chemicals.” Bondi has asked the Legislature to codify her emergency order into legislation. The Legislature has previously outlawed 98 other substances used to manufacture the synthetic drugs.