Today, both the House and Senate are expected to pass their versions of the state budget. There will be some internal legislative processes:
- one chamber passes its budget first and sends it across the rotunda,
- the second chamber takes up the budget and replaces the language therein with its own version,
- the second chamber then sends the amneded budget back across the rotunda,
- finally the first chamber then has to agree with the amendment or appoint a conference committee to work out the differences.
This morning, the House Economic Expansion & Infrastructure Council will debate HB 559 by Rep. Down Brown, which would allow all property owners to decide if they want to allow activity on their property that supports or opposes ballot initiatives. The Jobs & Entrepreneurship Council will hear HB 169 by Rep. Bill Heller, which would prohibit bars and restaurants from serving people who are designated drivers, and HB 1217 by Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, which provides the regulations needed for direct-to-consumer wine shipments.
When the House convenes for session, the major issue will be a vote to pass their version of the budget. However, they have a number of bills on second reading – most of which aren’t interesting enough to talk about. One of the bills is also one of my Top Ten Amusing Bills: HB 1003 by Rep. Joe Pickens, which would allow law enforcement to drive golf carts and ATVs on public streets.
Cable Television Bill
In the same committee, SB 998 by Sen. Mike Bennett is on the agenda. This bill would remove local government oversight of cable television (well, “video”) franchises and provide a state-level franchise process. A quick history lesson: When cable television was first developed, cable companies established franchises with local governments. In exchange for paying “franchise fees” to the local government, ostensibly for the right to run cable along public rights of way, the cable company received a monopoly in a geographic area. There were a lot of cable companies back then.
During the 1980s and 1990s, the industry consolidated and now there are a handful of cable television providers. The technology also improved greatly, with the advent of digital television. Now TV signals could be broadcast down fiber-optic cables, and telephone companies were leading the switch over to fiber-optic to make their network better. Thus, telephone companies can now provide TV service. But, they still had to operate under the old laws of going to each community for a franchise. Well, there are 67 counties and more than 400 cities in Florida – that’s a lot of work.
However, if they have statewide franchise, they can pick and choose where they provide service. It became clear that lower-income areas, with a lower subscriber density, would be ignored. Thus, Sen. Mike Fasano amended SB 998 to require new video providers to serve at least 50% of the low-income neighborhoods in their service area within 5 years. The House bill, HB 529 by Rep. Trey Traviesa, has already passed the House and does not have the low-income provision. The low-income provision removes the primary reason to oppose the bill.
In the Senate Community Affairs Committee, SB 1498 by Sen. Victor Crist, a bill that addresses the composition of the board of the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority, will be debated. Originally, the bill would have shifted the appointment authority so that a majority of the board would be appointed by locally-elected officials. However, the amended bill gives Governor Charlie Crist (no relation) the ability to review all existing gubernatorial appointees and make any necessary changes.
In the Environmental Preservation & Conservation Committee, SB 2666 by Sen. Lee Constantine would create a sales tax holiday for purchasing “energy efficient” products for noncommercial or personal use.
Like the House, the Senate will also pass it’s version of the state budget today. Other bills on the agenda include final passage of SB 1456, by Sen. Dan Webster, which establishes the Back to School Sales Tax Holiday for 2007 as August 4th through th 13th, and HB 211 by Rep. Peter Nehr, setting the Hurricane Preparation Sales Tax Holiday for 207 as June 1st through the 12th.
Among the bills on second reading is SJR 388 by Sen. Frederica Wilson, re-establishing an elected commissioner of education.
With just over three weeks left, the Legislative Session is just getting interesting.