Florida legislators enter the final week of their 60-day session with lots of unfinished business, including whether to approve a strain of marijuana for medical use.
The last few days could reverberate into this year's election, especially since Gov. Rick Scott is now pushing hard for a tuition break to college students living in the state illegally. Scott last week publicly asked his fellow Republicans in the Florida Senate to let the measure come up for a vote even though some GOP senators have already denounced the measure as "pandering" to Hispanics.
Legislators must also pass a roughly $75 billion state budget. Top legislators negotiating over the budget spent the weekend haggling over how much to spend on schools and environmental programs. The budget must be finished by Tuesday because legislators must wait 72 hours before a final vote on Friday, the session's closing day.
House Speaker Will Weatherford said he is confident that legislators would wrap up their budget work in time. He also sounded optimistic that legislators would work out agreements on many of the significant pieces of legislation that remain undecided.
"We have significant momentum heading into the last week of session, where I believe we will find agreement on common sense reforms and continue to make historic investments in education," Weatherford said Sunday.
Since the session began in March, legislators have already passed high-profile bills aimed at cracking down at sexual predators and rolling back auto registration fees paid by motorists. The nearly $400 million auto registration fee rollback was one of Scott's top priorities.
"We've been very good to the governor this year," Weatherford said. "If you look at our budget, if you look at the bills that we've passed, if you look at the priorities he has had and how we have delivered on all of them."
Lawmakers have also passed bills dealing with abortion and the so-called "warning shot" bill that would spare people who threaten to use a weapon from the state's mandatory minimum sentencing laws if they are acting in self-defense.
The Democratic minority, however, is complaining the Legislature hasn't taken on pressing issues such as Medicaid expansion or even reshaping the state's gambling laws.
"It's like there is a disconnect," said House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston, D-Plantation. "The leadership is squabbling over little issues when the big issues aren't being addressed."
With one week left to go, some of the other unresolved items include:
"Changing the state's traditional pension plan. The Florida House has passed a bill that would attempt to steer public employees away from the traditional pension plan and into an investment plan similar to 401 (k) plans. The House bill (HB 7181) would force all newly elected officials and top employees into the investment plan starting in July 2015. It would also automatically force new employees into the investment plan if they do not make a choice within the first eight months of employment.
"Allowing the state Department of Transportation to raise speed limits. The Florida Senate has already passed a bill that would give state officials the ability to raise the limit from 70 to 75 mph if it is deemed appropriate. The department could also raise the speed limit from 65 to 70 mph on rural, four-lane divided highways and up to 65 mph on other roads.
"Expand the state's private school voucher program for low-income children. The Florida House passed a bill that expands the existing program but a rival bill in the Florida Senate would put additional testing requirements on private schools that accept students with vouchers. The House bill did not include any additional testing requirements.