Session Update: Election Law Changes, Guns In Schools, Gov. Askew Dies

Mar 18, 2014

Gov. Reubin Askew takes the oath of office on January 5, 1971. He died last week at age 85.
Credit State Library and Archives of Florida

Lawmakers altered their session schedules this week to say goodbye to former Gov. Reubin Askew. He died Thursday at age 85. Flags are flying at half-staff at local and state buildings.

“He governed the state during a very, very perilous and difficult time of political scandals and school desegregation and Watergate,” said Tampa Bay Times Tallahassee bureau chief Steve Bousquet. “He was a firm believer in making government more open and more accessible to people, and that’s why we have in the Constitution the requirement for open records and for financial disclosure by elected officials. That’s what Askew is best remembered for.”

Askew was a Democrat who served as Florida’s 37th governor from 1971 to 1979. He was the first to be elected to a second, successive four-year term in Florida.

He lies at the Old Capitol Tuesday. A memorial service will be held Wednesday in Tallahassee. A public graveside service will be held Friday in Pensacola, where Askew will be laid to rest with full military honors. He was an Army and Air Force veteran.

Lawmakers will take a brief pause, then start taking up more bills.

The Legislature has completed two weeks of the 60-day session. While lots of bills are passing committees, many won’t make it to a floor vote in both chambers.

Steve Bousquet in the Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau tells us more about what lawmakers have been up to over the past two weeks.

Q: One of the hottest issues has been in-state college tuition for children whose parents are undocumented. That proposal is actually moving through committees now, but does it stand a chance?

A: Yes, it does. That bill has a good chance of passing. That is a top priority of House Speaker Will Weatherford. Rick Scott got on board and basically said if the legislature would abolish differential tuition increases – that is discretionary tuition increases at some of the big universities – he would support it. It’s a proposal that could produce a backlash for some senators with conservative voters. But right now you’ve got the Speaker and the Governor in lockstep in supporting it.

Q: A bill has been filed that says supervisors of elections can only collect absentee ballots at their offices. Why do we need this bill?

A: Every session, the legislature finds something in the election laws to tinker with or to want to adjust. This year, it has to do with this issue that is a major problem or a controversy in one place, and that’s Pinellas County.

The Pinellas County elections supervisor is a big believer in absentee ballot voting – mail voting. No other county that size has so few early voting sites, and as a replacement for that, she encourages voting by mail. To make it even easier for voters, since 2008 she’s had a network of little satellite drop-off locations where people can drop off their absentee ballots. There’s never been a security issue raised. But Rick Scott’s top elections official, Ken Detzner, said nothing in state law allows that practice.

Q: Do you anticipate more election law changes this year?

A: The one significant thing they’re talking about doing is, for the first time in the history of this state, creating an online voter registration system. You can register to vote from your computer at your apartment or your home. It would not take effect until after the next election. It would take effect in 2015. But we would have online voter registration in Florida for the next presidential election.

Q: Guns are back. We have a proposal that would allow gun owners to get concealed weapons permits at the tax collectors' office. For now, they have to go through the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. So, why this proposal?

A: Because there’s a big backlog of applications. We just passed the one million mark. More than a million people have concealed weapons permits in the state of Florida, and we’re going to a system now where almost everybody gets their license tags renewed on their cars and trucks at a tax collector’s office. You wouldn’t get the permit there. You could just apply for it there. You still have to go through a criminal background check by the [Florida] Department of Law Enforcement. But I think this is designed to reduce the backlog of pending applications.

Q: A bill is back to allow armed teachers or volunteers on school campuses.  They would have to have a military or law enforcement background. The bill has been tweaked a bit from last year, but does it stand a chance this time?

A: The National Rifle Association (NRA) and its local affiliate are never to be under estimated in Tallahassee. However in this case, the reason I’m a little bit skeptical is because it’s an election year. This is the kind of idea in light of the violence we’ve had in the state of Florida, this is not necessarily going to be embraced by the independent and swing voters who may decide the election for governor. If I had to guess, I would say that this proposal does not get to the finish line.

Q: Any other session related topics we should know about?

A:  The revenue picture was a little bit brighter than they thought – another $120-million or so of projected revenue. It isn’t very much in a $74-billion budget, but the revenue picture is slowly brightening a little bit more.

Also, the legislature seems to be more serious than they’ve been in past years about trying to help inmates adjust to society once they get released from prison. A bill that’s moving steadily through both chambers would so something that, believe it or not, is not required in Florida. When an inmate is released from prison, he or she would be required to be issued a photo ID by the state of Florida. How do you get a job – how do you get anything in society today without a photographic ID, an ID card? The state of Florida would have to provide one to every inmate as they walk out the prison gates.