The 2012 Florida Legislative Session will be one of the rare Sessions because it begins in January, rather than the usual March, because of the 10 year mandatory Reapportionment – when the legislature redraws the boundaries of all the Senate, House and Congressional seats. Districts are redrawn based on the release of the US Census Bureau. Because of Florida’s boost in population of the past 10 years, it will pick up two additional Congressional seats, bringing its total to 29. The redrawing of maps is very inside baseball, and while the majority party will work to maintain its current hold on as many seats, the recent passage of Amendments 5 and 6 in 2010 will add to the controversy of drawing seats that favor incumbents, one party over the other, and minority access seats for Blacks and Hispanics. The Amendments also require that the seats contain territory of similarity and likeness. These maps will have to pass the Legislature, be approved by the state Supreme Court and then final sign off by the US Department of Justice – in time for candidates to qualify to run for the seats on June 4, 2012.
While the Legislature will be busy tending to the duties of the once in 10 years Reapportionment, there state Constitutional duty is to pass a balanced budget. If you are not familiar with Florida’s budget, it has been short of crisis mode for the past 5 years. The legislature has had to deal with $2 billion shortfalls each year, requiring them to prioritize spending and the policies needing appropriation. The primary downfall in state revenue has come from reduction in sales tax collections – the primary source for Florida’s budget. The continued budget shortfall has shifted legislators from focusing on bringing home projects to keeping programs from being eliminated.
Most casual observers do not realize the impact that Florida’s budget has on the 60 Day Legislative Session until they might read or visit the legislature and see that the progress of any other non-budget legislation can come to stand still until a compromised outcome is decided on the budget. The issues that have risen to great interest in the upcoming 2012 Session includes: Destination Casinos, expansion/prohibition of gaming; Insurance issues that include Property/Casualty and Personal Injury Protection (PIP); Health Care Insurance and Medicaid; Job creation and incentives; Immigration; and the cadre of special interest legislation filed by individual legislators.
While the possibility exists that the air will be sucked out of the room by a handful of issues described above, do not be fooled, there exists the ongoing battles between the interest groups – business vs. trial lawyers; specialty providers (optometry, registered nurses) vs. medical association; conservative vs. liberal ideas – that are sure to show battle in the committee process and may slow down progress of the larger issues. After all, legislators will return home straight to campaign mode and will have to show constituents, voters and supporters what good they accomplished through passage or defeat of legislation.