TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The gavel dropped Tuesday kicking off the 2014 session of the Florida Legislature. After Gov. Rick Scott gives his traditional state-of-the-state address, tightening sexual predator law will be the first order of business.
Various bills proposed in both chambers of after the death of 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle in June would increase the mandatory minimum sentence for "dangerous sexual felony offenders," bar sex predators from having their community supervision run at the same time they're under civil commitment; and increase the amount of personal information they must provide to authorities.
"We're committed to put whatever money we need, do what we need to do, fund very important legislation coming out dealing with sexual predators," said Rep. Charles McBurney, Duval County-R.
There was such confidence a bill sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, was expected to pass on the first day that Senate President Don Gaetz has invited Diena Thompson, mother of 7-year-old Somer Thompson, to attend a Tuesday afternoon news conference.
The House Judiciary Committee discussed four bills that would tighten rules on sexual offenders and predators on Monday, and leaders promised quick action.
"We don't want to have any of our youths victimized. Those are the types of things that we will come together on, and have bipartisan agreement," House Democratic leader Perry Thurston said.
Over the remaining 59 days of the session, lawmakers will discuss everything from pot to pension. But by law, their No. 1 priority is passing a balance budget.
"There's lots of work to be done in the next 60 days. I'm very looking forward to it," said Rep. Janet Adkins, Fernandina Beach-R.
The Senate's Democratic caucus laid out its session priorities on Monday. The minority party will support Scott's proposed rollback of tag fees to 2009 levels, but slammed the "historic education budget" that the governor is touting.
"We have concerns about the accountability in this state," said Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami. "We have not gotten back to our historical highs of over $7,000 per student."
"I'll actually sponsor bill about grades. We'll get into details alter this week," said Adkins. "Also, middle grades reform. Research, as early as sixth grade, you can identify at-risk of not graduating."
SPECIAL SECTION: Florida Legislature
"So many things we've learned -- not going to spend all that money. Going to put away some reserves. Further improves our bond rating, that helps our state further, lowers our interest rates on projects we finance over years," said Rep. Ronad Renaurt, Jacksonville-R.
Medical marijuana will get consideration from the House and Senate. Voters will decide a ballot referendum on the issue in November, but some lawmakers hope that more modest and controlled measures on marijuana use by prescription will weaken support for a constitutional amendment.
Red-light cameras, gun laws and gaming will also be debated by members of both chambers over the next two months.
"My number one as state, pull down $51 billion left with federal government so all Floridians have healthcare coverage. We recognize how important it is," said Rep. Mia Jones, Jacksonville-D.
The Senate gaming committee will discuss expanded gaming, including a three-bill package that includes the creation of a Department of Gaming Control and would allow Las Vegas-style resort casinos that could offer blackjack and other table games.
"Leave it up to the people of the counties to decide whether they want to bring in this new business, or whether they want to expand the gaming that's already in their county, or they don't want it at all," said Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Palm Beach County.
When the session ends, Florida is expected to have more than 200 new laws, and a budget.
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