Tuesday, 16 March 2010 11:42

Update from Tallahassee: Legislative Session 2010 Week One

Written by  Greg Giordano
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Florida State SealThe annual meeting of the Florida Legislature began on March 2.  By law the legislature meets on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March.  This year’s session kicked off  with a bang.  The first bill out of the gate, Senate Bill 1666 by Senator Rudy Garcia of Miami, passed the House and Senate and went straight to the governor’s desk, all on the first day.  Governor Charlie Crist signed the bill as soon as it was delivered to him and he mentioned that fact during his annual State of the State address that evening.

SB 1666 was an important piece of legislation that provides immediate assistance to both those who are unemployed and to businesses hit by the economic downturnEmployment benefits have been extended for eight additional weeks for 15,000 Floridians who have exhausted their current benefits.  On a larger scale the bill provides relief to businesses who were faced with a large increase in their portion of unemployment taxation.  In 2009 the legislature passed a bill to increase contributions made by businesses to the unemployment fund because of its rapid depletion due to the faltering economy.  The passage of this bill suspends the increase in those payments so that already struggling businesses can keep employees and keep focused on growing and providing new jobs.
The first week of the session was very consumer-friendly.  A bill filed by Senator Mike Fasano of New Port Richey, SB 1532, provides protections for seniors who desire to get a reverse mortgage.  Reverse mortgages, as has been seen on many television commercials, are targeted specifically to individuals 62 years of age and older.   Due to unscrupulous lenders who do not fully explain the facts and conditions of a reverse mortgage, Senator Fasano filed the bill to offer needed protection from exploitation.  The legislation requires the lender to provide full disclosure of the terms of a reverse mortgage, including the terms in which the loan must be repaid.  Additionally the bill requires prospective borrowers to attend a federally approved class so that they can fully understand what a reverse mortgage is.  The bill passed the Florida Senate with an unanimous vote and is now under consideration by the House of Representatives.
When Floridians approved the “Class-size” amendment in 2003, it was not contemplated that over $13 billion dollars would be spent to achieve the requirements of the amendment and still not reach the goal as spelled out in the Florida Constitution.  Because directives of the constitution can’t be changed by statute, Senator Don Gaetz of Destin has filed a joint resolution to put the issue back on the ballot for Floridians to decide whether the state should stay the course on class-size reduction or go in the direction laid out in the resolution.  In a nutshell the proposed constitutional amendment will change the cap on class size as follows:  Kindergarten through Grade 3, 18 to 21 students, Grades 4 -8, 22 to 27 students; and Grades 9-12, 25 to 30 students.  The resolution passed its final committee of reference this week and is now on the calendar awaiting a floor vote.  If it and its House companion passes the measure will be on the November, 2010 general election ballot.

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