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Jan 20, 10:49 AM EST

Lawmakers to grapple with state budget and other issues


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Florida legislators are heading into the third week of their 60-day session where they are ready to start grappling with a state budget that will exceed $80 billion.

While passing the budget is the only obligation the Florida Legislature has each year, there are dozens of other bills being considered ranging from a duck license plate to drinking on trains.

But first, the budget. Gov. Rick Scott has already proposed an $87 billion budget, but lawmakers have the final say and often have different ideas on how state money should be spent. The House and Senate are getting ready to announce what they think the state should do with its billions of dollars, and there's certain to be some disagreement. It's a process that usually doesn't gel until the final week of session - if then.

But there's much more on lawmakers' plates this week, including a bill (SB 858) that would remove Florida from daylight saving time. It would save Floridians the trouble of setting their clocks forward each spring and back each fall, but it would also mean Florida would be an hour off the rest of the East Coast for part of the year.

Not only that, but Florida has two different time zones. The peninsula and eastern Panhandle are on Eastern Time, while the western Panhandle is on Central time. The legislation will be considered Tuesday by the Senate Community Affairs Committee.

Among other topics will be making it harder for lawmakers to raise taxes and fees - a priority for Scott and Republican House Speaker Richard Corcoran. The proposal (HB 7001) that will go before the full House on Wednesday would require a two-thirds vote before the Legislature could approve such hikes.

It would have to be approved by voters in November, but it's no coincidence that Scott and Corcoran also hope to be on the ballot. Scott is considering a run for U.S. Senate and Corcoran is thinking about running for governor. Being tough on taxes could help their campaigns.

A bill to place a slavery memorial on the Capitol grounds is also ready to be considered on the House floor. The legislation (HB 67) would be an acknowledgement of the cruelty and injustice of slavery and the contribution many slaves forgotten by history made to the United States. Ironically, the Capitol already has a monument to Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War.

The idea was first brought up last year, but died when a senator who has Confederate heritage refused to hear it in the committee he chairs. That senator, Republican Dennis Baxley, is now on board. Baxley allowed the bill to be heard this year and voted to approve it. It has one last stop in the Senate.

Of course, lawmakers are considering dozens of other bills next week, ranging from ducks to booze. Here's a look at a few:

- The House Appropriations Committee takes up a bill (HB 21) on Monday to tighten regulations on opioid prescriptions, including a maximum three-day supply for painkillers like oxycodone. The bill is a priority for, well, seemingly everyone. It's being pushed by Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron and has bipartisan support.

-The Senate Education Committee will consider a bill (SB 1172) creating the "Hope Scholarship" program, which would allow students who are bullied to receive a voucher to attend a private school. This measure is a top priority for Corcoran.

- Among a slew of new specialty license plates (Florida already has more than 100 specialty plates advocating everything from saving manatees to saving fetuses) is a proposal to create a "Ducks Unlimited" plate. House and Senate committees are scheduled to consider the bill.

- Riding on a train? Drink up! A Senate committee is considering a bill (SB 922) that would lift a restriction on trains that sell booze. Right now, intrastate passenger trains and sleeper cars can only sell liquor in miniature bottles of no more than two ounces. That would end if the bill becomes law.

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