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Scott says he’ll veto speed limit increase: “I don’t want anybody to be injured”

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014 by John Kennedy

Not so fast, Florida. Gov. Rick Scott said Tuesday that he’s going to veto a proposal that could increase speed limits in places to 75 mph.

“There’s times I’d like to go faster,” Scott acknowledged.

But he said he’s heard plenty of opposition from law enforcement officials, including Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Tod Cloud. The governor was urged against the legislation (SB 392) by Cloud at last week’s funeral for Trooper Chelsea Richard, killed a week earlier on Interstate 75 near Ocala while investigating an accident.

“I’m going to stand with law enforcement. I want everybody to stay safe. I don’t want anybody to be injured, so I’m going to veto that bill,” Scott said.

Scott said, “By doing this, I think we’re doing the right thing for our troopers, for law enforcement.”

 

 

Abortion bills proof GOP wants to “turn the clock back” on women, Dems say

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014 by John Kennedy

A pair of abortion bills approved by the Republican-led Legislature and expected to be signed by Gov. Rick Scott are more evidence the party wants to “turn the clock back,” on women’s rights, three Democratic leaders said Tuesday.

Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz was joined by Rep. Lori Berman of Lantana and Val Demings, a former Orlando police chief now running for Orange County mayor, in condemning the legislation (HB 59 and HB 1047).

DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz

Wasserman Schultz called the measures “extremist” and examples of “tea party-infused legislation.”

Berman said the legislation was unnecessary. “Women make decisions to terminate pregnancies for a variety of reasons, and never are these decisions done lightly,” she said.

The Democrats, though, said they held little hope that Scott would veto the legislation, which passed the Legislature on mostly party-line votes.

One bill (HB 59) would allow separate criminal charges for the death of a fetus no matter what its stage of development was when a crime was committed against its mother. The other measure (CS/HB 1047) could effectively reduce the time period that a woman could legally have a late-term abortion by several weeks.

Rep. Lori Berman

Republican lawmakers during debate this spring called the bills “common sense” measures.

The legislation setting tougher penalties for harming a fetus was dubbed the “Florida Unborn Victims of Violence Act,” and stems from a Tampa case where a young woman six weeks pregnant, Remi Lee, was given pills by a former boyfriend, causing her to abort.

The bill would expand a law that already allows a separate manslaughter charge for a fetus that could survive outside the womb.

It also would toughen penalties for anyone convicted of a crime resulting in the death of a fetus, allowing murder charges to be leveled in cases where a fetus was considered viable, and lesser criminal charges in other cases.

The other bill would require a doctor to examine a woman wanting an abortion and refuse to perform the procedure if fetal viability was determined. Supporters of the bill have said that could prevent abortions around the 20th week of pregnancy, whereas Florida law currently bars most abortions following the 24th week.

On speed limit bill, all roads lead to Gov. Rick Scott

Saturday, May 10th, 2014 by John Kennedy

One of the most contested battles of the legislative session continues to divide lawmakers, with a proposal to increase state speed limits now fueling more wrangling focused on Gov. Rick Scott.

The clash over “how fast is safe” has crossed the median strip of Florida politics. Democratic and Republican legislators are scattered on both sides of the issue that Scott is expected to settle in coming weeks, either by allowing the legislation (CS/SB 392) to become law or vetoing it.

So far, he’s given no hints. But both sides are working him hard.

Two of the leading players are a pair of Palm Beach County Democrats whose districts are separated by less than 20 miles — but whose views are light years apart on the subject.

Rep. Irv Slosberg

“If you want road safety, this is a no-brainer. He’s got to veto it,” said Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, who has pushed for stricter seat-belt and texting-while-driving laws during his 10 years in the House.

But Sen. Jeff Clemens, a sponsor of the measure, says it would not heighten risks on Florida roadways.

“When you take a step back from the emotions of this issue, you realize that we’re talking about a difference of 5   mph — maybe,” said Clemens, D-Lake Worth. “That’s entirely reasonable.”

Sen. Jeff Clemens

Full story here:  bit.ly/1nseBBL

Does GOP help Scott’s re-elect by adding new pages to playbook? (w/vid of session’s last night)

Sunday, May 4th, 2014 by John Kennedy

After years of budget-cutting and strict social policies, Florida’s ruling Republicans worked to soften some edges during the just-completed legislative session with steps that appear designed to bolster Gov. Rick Scott for a bruising re-election battle.

The $77.1 billion state budget approved by lawmakers late Friday is the largest in state history, filled with increased dollars for schools and environmental programs, and chocked with hometown spending on social services, museums, theaters and local government projects.

Full story here: bit.ly/1g0vImH

Low-THC medical marijuana approved by Senate

Friday, May 2nd, 2014 by John Kennedy

The Florida Senate voted 30-9 Friday to allow doctors to prescribe low-THC medical marijuana to patients suffering from cancer or epilepsy.

The move came after Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, beat back efforts to open marijuana production to more growers in Florida. Bradley warned that the late-hour amendment could endanger the legislation, which cleared the House Thursday.

“We’re at day 60,” Bradley said of the two-month session. “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good.”

Gov. Rick Scott has said that he would sign the legislation into law.

The measure would allow doctors to prescribe a liquid form of marijuana rich in cannabidiol, or CBD. The pot is low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound with produces a high.

Under the bill, the state’s Department of Health would establish four dispensing organizations in Florida to dispense the low-THC pot dubbed Charlotte’s Web.

The department also would create a DOH Office of Compassionate Use, which would compile a registry of patients who doctors consider eligible for being treated with the marijuana strain.

Beginning in January 2015, doctors treating patients for cancer or “severe and persistent muscle spasms” associated with epilepsy could prescribe the low-THC marijuana. Only residents of Florida could obtain a prescription, under the bill.

House OK’s instate tuition for immigrants, sending it to Scott

Friday, May 2nd, 2014 by John Kennedy

Children of undocumented immigrants would be eligible for instate tuition in Florida under legislation that sailed Friday through the House on an 84-32 vote.

The legislation cleared the Senate a day earlier. It now goes to Gov. Rick Scott, who promised to sign it into law this election year.

House Republicans noted the legislation will reduce tuition for all students.

The measure (CS/HB 851) eliminates a provision in law that allowed Florida’s 12 public universities to hike tuition by as much as 15 percent annually. Instead, only Florida State University and the University of Florida will be able to seek tuition boosts higher than what’s granted by the Legislature — and then only as much as 6 percent-a-year.

But the instate provision for immigrants has been the chief focus of the legislation.

“I hope this signals an end to the anti-immigrant extremism that has prevailed in both of these houses for over a decade,” said Rep. Jose Rodriguez, D-Miami.

The legislation allows children of undocumented immigrants to qualify for instate tuition if they attended high school for three years in Florida.  Average non-resident tuition costs $21,434 annually, compared with the average $6,318
in-state fee.

Parasailing regulations headed to Gov. Rick Scott

Thursday, May 1st, 2014 by John Kennedy

Commercial parasailing operations, involved in several tragedies along Florida waterways in recent years, would gain state regulation for the first time under legislation headed to Gov. Rick Scott.

Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, sponsored the measure (SB 320) approved 38-0 Thursday in the Senate. It also includes new restrictions on kite-boarding near airport runways, but the focus in on parasailing.

“I don’t care what else is on it, as long as we get this through,” said Sachs, who has struggled for several years to tighten oversight of parasail operations.

There have been 21 parasailing accidents in Florida from 2001 through last October, resulting in 23 injuries and six fatalities, according to state records.

In 10 of the accidents, high winds or gusts were found to be a contributing factor. In six of those 10 accidents, there was also equipment failure. The other 11 accidents reportedly were caused by a variety of factors, including operator error and equipment malfunctions.

 

Charlotte’s Web marijuana strain OK’d by House by epilepsy, cancer patients

Thursday, May 1st, 2014 by John Kennedy

Following emotional debate, the House voted 111-7 to approve legislation Thursday authorizing the use of a marijuana strain for treating patients with cancer and severe epilepsy.

The Senate is poised Friday — the two-month session’s final scheduled day — to endorse the move. The House sponsor of the measure (CS/SB 1030) Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, urged parents of children with Dravet Syndrome, looking on in the audience, to now work on Gov. Rick Scott.

Scott’s surgeon general, John Armstrong, has cautioned against the legislation saying the effects of the so-called Charlotte’s Web strain is untested.

“Get eyeball-to-eyeball with him,” Gaetz said on the House floor. “Move his heart the way you’ve moved ours.”

Richardson to look on today as Senate approves payment for years behind bars

Thursday, May 1st, 2014 by John Kennedy

James Richardson, 78, expected to look on today as Senate approves bill compensating him for years in prison.

An elderly man once convicted of one of the most heinous crimes in Florida history, spoke softly Wednesday, sitting in a law firm’s office two blocks from the state Capitol.

“We’ve tried to survive, the best we know how,” said James Richardson, 78, who lawmakers today are expected to be made eligible for $1.2 million in state compensation after he was wrongfully imprisoned for more than two decades, including four years on Death Row.

“No, I don’t have any animosity,” he added. “I can say that deeply from my heart. But I just was hurt.”

The Post spoke with Richardson who come to Tallahassee where the state Senate today is expected to approve a bill making him eligible for a $1.2 million payment for his years behind bars. The interview is here:  http://bit.ly/1rS3Zvy

(more…)

Speed limit bill squeaks through House, but opponents urge Scott to hit brakes

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014 by John Kennedy

Amid emotional debate, the Florida House approved a measure that could lead to higher speed limits on some stretches of state interstates and smaller roads.

The House voted 58-56 on the legislation (CS/SB 392) which authorizes the Florida Department of Transportation to add 5 mph to some limits on rural and lightly traveled roadways. The bill, whose sponsors include Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, now goes to Gov. Rick Scott for review.

“We are simply saying (to FDOT) you can increase the limit after you do your engineering studies,” said Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres.

But Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, a funeral director who also acknowledged that he has frequently been ticketed for speeding, argued against the move.

“I can’t do something in good conscience that is going to cost lives,” Baxley said.

The legislation would let FDOT study which stretches of highway could be boosted by 5 mph from the current 70 mph limit set in 1996.

Clemens has said he doesn’t envision speed limits rising on I-95 in South Florida. But rural and more isolated stretches of Florida’s interstates could qualify, he said.

The legislation also is aimed at allowing limits on some divided highways rise from 65 mph to 70 mph and other state roads now subject to 60 mph limits to also rise by 5 mph.

There are 16 states with speed limits of 75 mph or higher, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Legislation heading to Scott says goodbye to FCAT

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014 by John Kennedy

Beating back a push by Democrats seeking a longer delay, the Republican-ruled House approved a measure Wednesday revamping the state’s school-grading system and ushering in a replacement for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

The so-far unnamed new test is being developed by the private firm, American Institutes for Research. But it is scheduled to replace the FCAT in the coming year and incorporate provisions of the Common Core Standards, the classroom system being used by Florida and more than 40 other states.

The legislation (CS/SB 1642) was approved 76-42 in a partyline vote. It now goes to Gov. Rick Scott, who is almost certain to sign it into law.

The bill would erase penalties schools could currently face for any ‘F’ or ‘D’ grades earned in the 2014-15 school year. But Democrats, backed by school superintendents from Palm Beach and many other districts, had pushed for a three-year pause in testing penalties.

Florida’s problems with FCAT testing, which included online interruptions that affected Palm Beach and other counties earlier this month, fueled Democratic concerns.

“Slow down the process so we get it right,” said Rep. Mark Danish, D-Tampa. “Instead, we’re rushing.”

Republicans, however, said it was important to continue moving forward in student assessment. The one-year penalty pause should be enough, they assured.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future, an advocate of the Common Core, is among the groups supporting the legislation.

$100K contribution among roadblocks on path to Charlotte’s Web

Monday, April 28th, 2014 by John Kennedy

The Senate approved legislation Monday authorizing the use of a marijuana strain for treating victims of severe epilepsy, with several families and children suffering from the illness looked on from the gallery.

The so-called Charlotte’s Web legislation has drawn the blessing of Republican leaders in the Legislature but still faces an uncertain outcome as lawmakers lurch toward a scheduled Friday adjournment.

Some Republican leaders see it as potentially dulling support for a November ballot measure that would go further and legalize medical marijuana.

But the measure has become troubled since major Republican donor Mel Sembler, an opponent of softening marijuana laws, opened a political spending committee called Drug Free Florida with a $100,000 donation last month.

Soon after, Gov. Rick Scott’s Surgeon General, John Armstrong, testified before a House committee raising concerns with the legislation.

Some senators Monday traced their personal histories with the legislation, saying they came around to backing the proposal (CS/SB 1030) only after meeting with the parents seeking help for children with Dravet Syndrome, a severe epilepsy which affects 125,000 Florida youngsters.

The Senate approved authorizing doctors to prescribe the marijuana strain on a 36-3 vote.

“This is it,” said Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach. “These folks are at the end of the line. We’re just trying to bring hope to these families.”

Amid a flurry of hometown spending, budget deal done

Monday, April 28th, 2014 by John Kennedy

The final touches to a roughly $75 billion state budget were settled Monday by House and Senate negotiators, clearing the way for an on-time finish this week to the 2014 Legislature.

A $1.2 billion surplus from the state’s improving economy eased spending decisions by budget-writers as they raced toward Friday’s session-end deadline.

But the extra cash also allowed lawmakers to steer millions of state dollars toward hometown projects – for arts programs, social services, water projects and college buildings. Many likely face the threat of Gov. Rick Scott’s veto pen.

“The budget isn’t about numbers, it’s about values and priorities,” said Senate Budget Chief Joe Negron, R-Stuart, telegraphing a theme lawmakers will likely use in urging Scott to go light on vetoes this election year.

Negron and his House counterpart, Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, worked through the weekend settling a host of education, health care, transportation and environmental issues that had divided the two sides.

Among the last issues settled Monday were spending for college and university construction and almost $74 million scattered across some 200 water projects across the state.

In the mix, $6 million for Palm Beach State College’s long-sought Loxahatchee Groves campus – vetoed three times in recent years by Scott and his predecessor, Gov. Charlie Crist – and several wastewater projects in Belle Glade, Riviera Beach and Royal Palm Beach.

House OK’s having a safety officer pack gun to thwart school violence

Monday, April 28th, 2014 by John Kennedy

In a partyline vote, the House agreed Monday to let school boards assign a trained official to pack a gun at schools to improve campus safety.

Ruling Republicans rallied around the measure (CS/HB 753) which still has to clear the Senate. Democrats challenged the proposal, saying it could prove more risky to add guns to school grounds.

Representatives for the Florida School Board Association and Parent Teacher Association also have opposed the bill.

Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, sponsor of the bill, disagreed.

“This gives local school boards the opportunity to make sure that our students are safe,” Steube told the House.

He said a federal study has shown that most school violence spasms out in less than 15 minutes. That makes it unlikely that calling police to the scene will stop a gunman.

The bill  gives schools the option to appoint former or current law enforcement officers and former or current military personnel to carry firearms on campus. They would have to undergo background screening and go through 40 hours of school-safety training and eight hours of active-shooter training each year. The safety officers also would need to complet four hours of firearms qualification annually.

They’d also have to have a state concealed weapon permit.

Senate approves local pension overhaul facing uncertain future in House

Monday, April 28th, 2014 by John Kennedy

The Florida Senate set itself on a collision course Monday by approving a proposal overhauling local police and fire pensions but ignoring a more sweeping plan that cleared the House last week.

The Senate approach (CS/SB 246) give cities a chance to use the state’s insurance premium tax to bolster police and fire pension funds.

With the support of police and fire unions, the bill relaxes a 1999 law that required cities to offer only new benefits with these tax dollars, a move that analysts say has contributed to many funds now becoming financially troubled.

“This is one of the great crises facing Florida,” said Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, who has been working four years on trying to forge a consensus on local pensions.

The House, however, has merged a similar pension bill with a larger change to the Florida Retirement System. The FRS rewrite has little support in the Senate, and the House tactic is clearly aimed at trying to muscle senators into accepting it if they want to repair local pensions.

Ring acknowledged that in the session’s closing week, it’s difficult to predict the local pension bill’s fate. But he said it is poised to improve retirement accounts across Florida.

“If and when this bill passes, we won’t be involved in local pensions again,” Ring assured senators.

The Leroy Collins Institute at Florida State University has studied the state’ municipal pensions, sounding alarms about the financial health of many plans.

Those drawing low marks in the 2011 review, included Boynton Beach’s police plan and Palm Beach Gardens’ police and fire plans – while West Palm Beach’s police pension was named among the best-funded in the state.

The study concluded that the municipal pension slide began in the early 2000s, well before the recession. The timing is close to when Gov. Jeb Bush and the Republican-led Legislature approved changes which improved city police and fire pensions.

The law was effectively a payback for unions which endorsed Bush over Democrat Buddy MacKay in the 1998 governor’s race.

With a late-night huddle, House, Senate all but button-up budget talks

Monday, April 28th, 2014 by John Kennedy

The House and Senate all-but buttoned up a roughly $75 billion state budget late Sunday night, but still face another day of haggling over language that will implement the 2014-15 spending plan.

House Budget Chief Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, and Senate counterpart Joe Negron, R-Stuart, took part in public meetings twice Sunday — the last gaveled in shortly after 11 p.m. Agreements covered a range of education, health care and environmental issues that had been separating the two sides.

In one of the biggest budget areas — public school spending — lawmakers settled on a 2.6 percent per-pupil increase for Florida’s 2.7 million school kids. That should boost spending by about $175 per-student to around $6,935, still below the state’s pre-recession level of $7,126 reached in 2007-08.

The funding level is less than what the House originally proposed — at 3 percent, but about where the Senate originally recommended. Both sides beat Gov. Rick Scott’s proposed 2.5 percent increase.

With a budget surplus of $1.2 billion, spending decisions were made easier. But lawmakers are still racing toward a Tuesday deadline of having the final budget before lawmakers so a constitutionally required 72-hour waiting period can pass before a vote Friday, the session’s last scheduled day.

Other deals Sunday included the House going along with the Senate on the bulk of environmental spending, including $47 million for beach restoration,$73.9 million for hometown water projects and $22.8 million for springs preservation work, less than half the $55 million sought by Scott.

$10 million for quiet zones cash tucked into state spending plan

Sunday, April 27th, 2014 by John Kennedy

House budget chief Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, and his Senate counterpart, Joe Negron, R-Stuart, huddle before Sunday conference meeting.

House and Senate budget negotiators agreed Sunday to create a $10 million grant program to pay for railroad crossing upgrades needed in Palm Beach County and elsewhere in anticipation of the passenger rail project All Aboard Florida.

The Senate earlier proposed the spending for the so-called quiet zones. But its fate was uncertain until Sunday when the House signed-off on the plan amid talks aimed at settling a $75 billion state budget for 2014-15.

Elected officials from throughout the coastal areas of Palm Beach County, working largely through the Palm Beach Metropolitan Planning Organization, had asked the state for help the work needed.

The express private service would run from Miami to Orlando with stops in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. But the added 32 trains a day have residents and business owners near the Florida East Coast Railroad tracks worried about noise, traffic congestion and boating delays.

The $2.5 billion rail project – whose price tag recently spiked – is already controversial.

While the quiet zone provision was tucked into the Senate budget by Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, Senate Budget Chief Joe Negron, R-Stuart, on Sunday reiterated that the spending should not be taken as support for the project.

“I haven’t come around to that,” Negron said. “There’s support in the Legislature for quiet zones so there’s money…but it’s not money I personally advocated for. There is agreement on the amount.”

Talk of special session on Seminole compact complicates homestretch

Friday, April 25th, 2014 by John Kennedy

With the 2014 Legislature entering its final week, Gov. Rick Scott’s administration has been floating the idea of a special session next month to renew the gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe that is slated to end next year.

The renewed compact would likely include more money for the state — and could bolster the governor’s leadership credentials heading into his re-election campaign against likely Democratic rival Charlie Crist who as Republican governor from 2007-11, signed the current compact.

But a hurry-up session is complicated.

For those supporting expanded gambling, it presents little chance of putting into play sweeteners for the state’s financially struggling pari-mutuel sites, or making a case for Genting Group, the Malaysian gaming giant looking to open resort casinos in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

Scott’s office, though, sought to quash the special session talk Friday night.

“There is no deal, and without a deal, there cannot be any decision on how to ratify a deal,” said Scott spokesman Frank Collins.

Still, House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, acknowledged that he had spoken with Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantero about compact negotiations, but that a special session wasn’t discussed.

“They were getting very close. He was kind of updating us on the progress. There were no specifics talked about,” Weatherford said.

The speaker said he responded, “When you have a deal, let us know what it is. We’d love to look at it and we’ll tell you what we think.”

Weatherford earlier talked of possibly considering a gambling expansion during the current legislative session. But it was hinged on a Seminole compact being crafted that allowed such expansion. He also envisioned next putting a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that could limit further gambling in Florida.

“I’ve always been a proponent of reducing the amount of gaming in Florida, not expanding it,” Weatherford said. “I don’t know if this compact reduces or expands it.”

House Democrats said Scott’s office hasn’t contacted them. And they vowed to block any compact that focuses solely on the tribe and not pari-mutuels, card rooms and casino resorts.

“The idea about the compact coming back is it should give the Legislature the opportunity to address those things,” said Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek.

Asked if Democratic votes were needed to seal a compact, House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale said, “Without a doubt.”

 

House compensation bill OK’d; “Will help Florida heal”

Friday, April 25th, 2014 by John Kennedy

The House unanimously approved a measure Friday that would make a former farmworker eligible for state compensation after he was wrongfully accused of killing his seven children and spent more than two decades behind bars.

James Richardson, now 77, lived in Arcadia when a few days before Halloween 1967, he was accused of poisoning his children when they came home for lunch. He was quickly convicted and condemned to death.

But a 1989 investigation ordered by then-Gov. Bob Martinez revealed wholesale misconduct by investigators and prosecutors, leading to Richardson being set free. Still, because of the circumstances of his case, Richardson does not qualify for state payment under the state’s five-year-old wrongful incarceration law.

The legislation (CS/HB 227) approved 116-0 Friday would make Richardson eligible for $1.2 million in compensation. The bill still has to clear the Senate.

“You will help Mr. Richardson heal, and you will help Florida heal,” said Rep. Dave Kerner, D-Lake Worth, sponsor of the House bill.

The legislation had been stalled in the House. But Florida’s Legislative Black Caucus appealed to House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, to advance the measure, which Kerner said proved pivotal.

“I hope this helps us turn the corner in Florida’s history,” Kerner said.

House OK’s mashup of state and local pension plan rewrites

Friday, April 25th, 2014 by John Kennedy

A sweeping overhaul of state and local pension plans was approved 74-44 Friday by the state House, but faces long odds of clearing a Senate showing little support for changing the Florida Retirement System.

The House has mashed-up two proposals — a generally popular bill which makes changes to municipal police and fire pensions, and a controversial FRS revamp. House Republican leaders are clearly trying to get the Senate to accept the FRS change as the only way to enact the local pension change.

House Democrats blasted the tactic — and the FRS move.

“The bill is a patchwork of ideas and should be voted down,” said Rep. Carl Zimmerman, D-Palm Harbor.

But Republicans defended the move.

“This bill is about the future,” said Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, noting the FRS change will only effect new hires. “This bill keeps the promise, but it secures the future.”

The FRS proposal is aimed at reducing the number of government workers joining the state’s traditional pension – pushing more into a 401(k)-style investment plan that is cheaper for the state to offer.

Over fierce opposition from public employees’ unions, House Republicans have been intent on overhauling the $144 billion FRS, used by 622,000 government workers and another 300,000 retirees. The largest share of those covered are teachers and county school board employees.

But enough Senate Republicans have refused to go along with earlier proposals that House leaders are now turning to a new approach.

Under the House bill, everyone hired in the elected officer or senior manager category beginning in July 2015 could only join the investment plan. All employees who fail to select a plan eight months after being hired would be put into the investment plan, not the pension as current law allows.

The measure also would increase the pension vesting period for all new employees to 10 years, up from the current 8-year standard.

The local proposal gives cities more flexibility to use the state’s insurance premium tax to bolster police and fire pension funds. The bill relaxes a 1999 law that required cities to offer new benefits with insurance tax dollars, a move that has increasingly destabilized many funds.

In a rare moment of harmony, after years of hostility over changing the 1999 law, unions and local governments have agreed on the police and fire pension change that is advancing as a stand-alone bill in the Senate.

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