Senate GOP Wants Fast Start on Campaign Pledgesby John Kennedy | February 23rd, 2011
The Senate Budget Committee fired the starter’s gun Wednesday for what is certain to prove a fast — and highly partisan — opening of the 2011 Legislature next month.
In party-line votes, the Republican-ruled panel okayed four bills that effectively represent most of the campaign promises made last fall by Gov. Rick Scott and other Florida GOP candidates. Two measures would put ballot proposals before voters next year — one, attempting to cut Florida out of the federal health care overhaul, while the other would set a strict new spending limit on state government.
Rounding out the ripped-from-the-campaign-trail ideas: a product liability bill opposed by Democratic-allied trial lawyers, and legislation that would eliminate teacher tenure and enact new evaluations and merit pay, opposed by the state’s largest teachers’ union, another big Democratic base.
“They’re all obviously being moved on a fast track for the first week of session,” Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich of Weston told fellow Democrats.
Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said he had no control over when the legislation could be lined up for the Senate floor, saying that’s up to Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island. Haridopolos, of course, may be looking to burnish his conservative credentials for his run for U.S. Senate against Democrat Bill Nelson.
Haridopolos also made it clear that he’s eager to at least get the health care ballot measure out quickly. Following Wednesday’s committee vote, Haridopolos said he wanted the legislation bearing his name to be the first bill voted on in March by the Senate.
“Our message is clear — Floridians can make their own health care choices without mandates from the federal government,” Haridopolos said.
The teacher tenure bill — a rewrite of last year’s controversial Senate Bill 6 vetoed by former Gov. Charlie Crist — continues to draw heat. On Wednesday, the Senate budget committee managed to take testimony from a half-dozen supporters of the bill, but ran out of time and voted on the measure before opponents had a chance to weigh in.
Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, a former Florida Republican Party chairman, called for imposing a time limit on the debate, infuriating some teachers who had traveled for hours to testify in Tallahassee.
“It’s looking like Senate Bill 6 all over again,” said Chris Ott, an Alachua County kindergarten teacher, angered when the committee shut down debate.