February 6-10, 2012 FIFTH WEEK OF THE 2012 REGULAR LEGISLATIVE SESSION UPDATES
Each Friday afternoon during the 60-day Session, the Florida Catholic Conference highlights legislative action on priority bills and provides a summary of activities of interest at the Capitol.
Highlighted activity for the week is below:
Catholic Days at the Capitol
More than 300 Catholics from Florida’s seven dioceses gathered in Tallahassee this week for Catholic Days at the Capitol. Before attending meetings with legislators, participants were briefed on four issues to discuss with their lawmakers: Abortion, KidCare Expansion, Student Safety and Human Trafficking.
At the Capitol Days luncheon, the bishops honored Sen. Ronda Storms and Rep. Dennis Baxley with Defensor Vitae (Defender of Life) Awards.
In addition, the bishops awarded the Thomas A. Horkan, Jr., Distinguished Catholic Leader Award to Nancy O’Byrne of the Diocese of St. Augustine. The award is given to a Catholic Floridian whose life exemplifies gospel values and whose work has influenced the formation of public policies or programs that have enhanced the life of the church, deepened respect for life and increased appreciation for human dignity of the residents of the state.
Opening Prayer of the Senate Session
On two occasions this week, the Catholic Church was represented during the opening of the Senate session. Msgr. Thomas Skindeleski, St. Vincent Ferrer, Delray Beach, on Wednesday morning, and Archbishop Thomas Wenski, on Thursday afternoon, offered the opening prayer before the full chamber.
Bishops of Florida Meet with Governor Scott
While in Tallahassee for Catholic Days events, the bishops met with Governor Rick Scott to discuss public policy issues and priorities related to the respect for human life and the dignity of all persons.
Red Mass of the Holy Spirit
The 37th annual Red Mass was celebrated by the bishops of Florida on Wednesday evening at the Co-Cathedral of St. Thomas More. Members of the community joined Catholic Days at the Capitol participants, the governor, members of the cabinet and legislators to pray for divine inspiration and guidance for all those serving in the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government and the legal profession.
Bishop William E. Lori, S.T.D., Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut, delivered the homily. In it he spoke of the importance of religious liberty and the recent mandate by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services requiring all private insurance plans, including those of Catholic employers, to include coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception
Activity by the Legislature
Facing a $2 billion deficit, the Florida House passed its version of the state budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year. The $69.2 billion spending proposal increases K-12 education funding by $1.1 billion. However, health care and higher education receive deep cuts, including nearly $300 million in cuts to hospital Medicaid rates.
During a review of budget issues in the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development Appropriations, Conference staff joined the Sadowski Housing Coalition in supporting the use of housing trust funds for their intended purpose of assisting families with affordable home ownership or rental housing and not sweeping them into general revenue.
A press conference was held this week by the attorney general’s office to call awareness to this modern-day form of slavery and the need for law enforcement to have the tools necessary to investigate and prosecute traffickers. Attorney General Pam Bondi and bill sponsors advocated support for CS/SB 1880 (Flores) / HB 7049 (Snyder). These bills strengthen state laws by providing additional jurisdiction for the Office of Statewide Prosecution and increasing the criminal penalties for a person who knowingly engages in human trafficking and human smuggling. Sheila Hopkins, associate director for social concerns/respect life, was in attendance and the Conference’s support was recognized.
Sentencing of Juvenile Offenders
SB 212 (Oelrich) was found favorable with a committee substitute by Senate Criminal Justice (5-0). The Conference is monitoring this bill, which provides that a juvenile offender who was less than 18 years of age at time of commission of a nonhomicide offense and who is sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of parole is eligible to apply for a re-sentencing hearing if the offender has been incarcerated for 25 years and meets specified requirements. It is referred next to Children, Families, and Elder Affairs. Companion CS/HB 5 (Weinstein) is now in its last committee of reference, House Judiciary.
SB 1130 (Storms) was found favorable with one amendment by Transportation (10-0) and is referred next to Senate Budget. This bill, supported by the Conference, requires the motor vehicle registration form and driver license application to include an option to make a voluntary contribution to aid the homeless and establishes a homelessness prevention grant program. The measure goes next to Senate Transportation. Companion CS/HB 531 (Reed) was reported favorably by the Health and Human Services Committee (16-0) and is on the House Calendar, on second reading.
SB 1662 (Latvala) was found favorable with a Committee Substitute by Senate Judiciary (5-0), its last committee of reference. Companion HB 1351 (Glorioso) was reported favorably by the House Health and Human Services Committee (16-0) and has been placed on the House Calendar, on second reading. This measure provides that a minor who is certified homeless may obtain a copy of his or her birth certificate and other identification documents and shall have specified rights as long as they retain that status. The measure is supported by the Conference.
HB 227 (Stargel) was found favorable by the Health and Human Services Committee (13-0) and placed on the House Calendar, on second reading. This bill creates the Statewide Task Force on Prescription Drug Abuse and Newborns. CS/SB 402 (Negron) goes next to Senate Budget. The measure is supported by the Conference.
Individuals with Disabilities / Service Animals
CS/HB 1077 (Kriseman) provides individuals with a disability who are accompanied by a service animal certain rights with regard to public or housing accommodations. The bill was reported favorably by the Health and Human Services Committee (16-0) and placed on House Calendar, on second reading. Companion SB 1382 (Bennett) was reported favorably with a Committee Substitute by Children, Families, and Elder Affairs (5-0) and is referred next to Senate Budget. The Conference supports this measure.
SB 494 (Negron) was found favorable with a Committee Substitute by Education Pre-K-12 (6-0) and is now in the Senate Military Affairs, Space, and Domestic Security Committee. The bill requires emergency response agencies responsible for notifying public school districts of emergencies to also notify private schools in the district. Private schools can opt in to receive notices for local emergencies such as bank robberies, bomb threats, etc. The committee amended the bill to allow public and private schools to maintain a secured supply of epinephrine auto injectors. These easy to use injectors can help save a child’s life if he or she has a severe allergic reaction to certain triggers. The auto-injectors are self-contained so that upon use no other individual risks exposure. Conference staff indicated support for the bill. Companion HB 273 (Kiar) was placed on the House Calendar, on second reading.