Inside this issue
  Legislative Leaders Open Session; Governor Delivers State of the State  
  On Tuesday morning, the House Speaker and Senate President convened their chambers for the 2014 Regular Session of the Florida Legislature.

To a joint session of the House and Senate, Governor Rick Scott delivered his fourth annual State of the State Address, holding firmly to the theme let's keep working. Touting improvements in the economy since taking office, the governor pointed to falling unemployment, improving home values and a lower crime rate. Governor Scott also spoke about his plan to cut taxes and fees and increase education spending.

Read Governor Scott's State of the State Address.

Speaker Will Weatherford addressed the House chamber identifying several of his priorities for the 2014 session. He vowed to reach Governor Scott's proposal to cut $500 million in taxes and fees, stating that "we are going to cut taxes. A lot of taxes." The speaker also stated that the House will address education issues, such as expanding the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program so children from low-income families can attend the school of their choice and allowing undocumented immigrant children to receive in-state tuition rates for higher education.

Read Speaker Weatherford's opening day remarks.

President Don Gaetz spoke to his chamber highlighting a work plan, which he crafted with the house speaker. The plan includes toughening laws dealing with sexual predators, while making Florida the most welcome place for members of the military through the Florida GI Bill. President Gaetz also said the legislature will address child-welfare reform and human trafficking. He also promised to meet the governor's proposal to cut taxes and fees.

Read President Gaetz' opening day remarks.


  Unborn Victims of Violence Bill Ready for House Floor  
  HB 59 (Ahern) provides that a person who engages in criminal conduct that causes the death of, or injury to, an unborn child commits a criminal offense separate from the offense against the mother. The bill was passed Monday by its second and final committee of reference, House Judiciary (13-3), and goes next to the House floor. FCCB supports this measure, which is law in 37 other states and at the federal level.

Senate companion, SB 162 (Stargel), is now in Rules. It passed two committees prior to the start of session, Criminal Justice (5-2) and Judiciary (6-2).


  Juvenile Sentencing Addressed by Senate Committee  
  Based on neuroscience research which shows that impulse control and risk evaluation are not yet fully developed during the teenage years, the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Graham v. Florida banned life sentences without the chance of parole for juveniles convicted of non-homicide crimes. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court found in Miller v. Alabama that, in homicide cases, juvenile sentencing should consider mitigating factors and that life sentences without parole should be rare.

In response to these two high court rulings, SB 384 (Bradley) attempts to address sentencing guidelines for juveniles who were under the age of eighteen at the time of the offense. The bill was amended by the sponsor to provide for a review after 25 years for juveniles who were involved in a homicide but did not commit the actual murder and who were sentenced to a minimum of 25 years or life. In non-homicide cases, review would occur after 20 years for sentences of 20 years or more, with the possibility of one subsequent review 10 years later.

In the case of juveniles convicted of capital felonies, the bill requires judges to consider certain factors pertaining to the offender and the circumstances of the offense prior to determining whether a life sentence is appropriate. If the judge concludes that life imprisonment is not an appropriate sentence, the defendant shall be punished by imprisonment for a term of not less than 35 years.

SB 384 passed the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice (7-5). The FCCB seeks meaningful and periodic review for all juvenile offenders.

House companion, HB 7035 (Criminal Justice Subcommittee), waits to be heard by the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee.


  Proposal Allows for In-State Tuition for Immigrant Children  
  CS/HB 851 (Nuñez) provides that a U.S. citizen may not be denied classification as a resident for tuition purposes at Florida colleges and universities based solely upon the immigration status of his or her parents. Additionally, the measure allows undocumented students to qualify for in-state tuition if they attend a high school in Florida for at least three years and apply for college within two years of graduation.

The bill, supported by the FCCB, was passed unanimously by the House Education Appropriations Subcommittee and will be heard next by Appropriations.

Senate companion, SB 1400 (Latvala), has yet to be heard by its committees of reference.


  Access to Care for Homeless Minors Acted on by House and Senate Committees  
  HB 203 (Raulerson) was passed unanimously by the Civil Justice Subcommittee on Wednesday and goes next to the Health and Human Services Committee. The bill allows for youth who are at least 16 years of age, certified as homeless, and not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian to make medical decisions for themselves and any children they may have. FCCB staff indicated support for the measure during the committee meeting. Provisions of the bill do not affect the requirements of the Parental Notification of Abortion Act.

The senate companion, SB 260 (Latvala), passed Judiciary (8-0) on Tuesday, completing its journey through committees. It will be heard next by the full Senate.


  Expansion of Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Advances  
  To the 2014 Florida Legislature: Expand Equal Opportunity: So began a full-page plea sponsored by The Florida Interfaith Alliance for School Choice in Wednesday's Tallahassee Democrat. Lawmakers were urged to vote for more tax credit scholarships to help children from low-income families obtain the funds necessary to attend the private schools of their choice. The ad, signed by all Florida bishops and staff of the FCCB education department, also received the support of many clergy, superintendents, and Religious. Currently, 173 of Florida's Catholic schools serve 9,448 students through the program.

On Thursday, members of the education community, parents, and students gathered at the Capitol for an interfaith day of prayer and advocacy hosted by the Florida Alliance for Choices in Education. Sister Maureen Martin, ASCJ, principal of JPII Catholic High School in Tallahassee addressed event participants. Read her remarks.

Activities in Tallahassee garnered positive results, as Proposed Committee Bill FTSC 14-02 passed the Finance and Tax Subcommittee (11-7). The bill provides for an expansion of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program. Major components of the proposed expansion include allowing more students to be served, bumping up the program funding cap, reducing the gap between scholarship and tuition, and removing the prior-year attendance requirement for students in grade 6-12. FCCB staff indicated support for the bill during the meeting.

Companion, SB 1620 (Galvano) was referred this week to the Education Committee, Appropriations Subcommittee on Finance and Tax, and Appropriations Committee.


  Final Days to Register for Catholic Days Events in Tallahassee  

Put into action our faith's call to political responsibility by joining fellow Catholics gathering in Tallahassee March 25-26 for Catholic Days at the Capitol.

Activities include:
  • A legislative briefing on policy issues affecting human life and dignity
  • Pre-scheduled meetings with elected officials
  • Group photos of each diocesan delegation with their bishop
  • A luncheon for Catholic Days participants, Florida's bishops and legislators
  • 39th Annual Red Mass of the Holy Spirit con-celebrated by the bishops of Florida to pray for those working in the legislative, judicial and executive branches of government. Homilist will be Bishop Robert N. Lynch of St. Petersburg.
Click here for your diocesan coordinator, a schedule of events, registration forms, and deadlines.

Learn more about the Red Mass.


March 07, 2014

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E-Update: Week 1

Each Friday during the 60-day session, the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops (FCCB) provides a summary of activity on priority bills and other items of interest at the Capitol.

For the current status of bills closely monitored by the FCCB, see our legislative bill report, which is updated on a daily basis.

The 2014 Regular Session of the Florida Legislature began Tuesday, March 4 and is scheduled to conclude Friday, May 2.
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