Inside this issue
  House and Senate Chambers Pass Budget Proposals  
  On Thursday, the full House and Senate passed their versions of the state budget for the 2016-2017 fiscal year. The conference process to work out differences between the two proposals will take place over the remaining weeks of the session.

Included among the differences in the two budgets are:
  • Ban on Planned Parenthood Funding: The House budget contains language prohibiting funding of Planned Parenthood, which is not included in the Senate budget. Federal funding of abortion is prohibited and Medicaid funds are only used for abortions in the cases of rape, incest, or to protect the life of the mother; however, the State currently contracts with Planned Parenthood for non-abortion services.
  • Pregnancy Support Services: The House budget allocates a total of $7 million for pregnancy support services; the Senate allocates $4 million. FCCB has been supportive of this program since its inception in 2006.
  • Affordable Housing: The Senate budget fully appropriates housing trust funds to assist vulnerable populations with affordable housing needs. However, the House sweeps $172 million of available housing trust funds to general revenue.
  • Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten (VPK): While the House budget includes a $37 increase in per-child scholarships, the Senate level funds the scholarship at $2,437 per child for the school-year program. FCCB recommends a scholarship increase of at least $50 per child but sees the House recommendation as a step in the right direction.
  • Kidcare: The Senate budget contains a $28.8 million allocation for KidCare health coverage for low-income, lawfully-residing immigrant children - a perennial priority of the FCCB. The allocation is not included in the House budget.


  Pro-Life Abortion Bill Passes Final House Committee  
  On Tuesday, HB 1411 (Burton) passed its final committee of reference, House Health & Human Services (11-2). The bill addresses several areas of concern with regard to abortions that occur in Florida. Provisions include:
  • Requiring that abortion clinics have transfer agreements or physicians who perform abortions have admitting privileges with hospitals within 30 minutes by emergency vehicle.
  • Prohibiting public funding for an organization that owns, operates, or is affiliated with a licensed abortion clinic, with some exceptions.
  • Strengthening the prohibition on the sale or transfer, and clarifying criteria for proper disposal, of fetal remains obtained through abortion.
FCCB expressed support for the bill during the committee meeting.

Companion bill SB 1722 (Stargel) is expected to be heard by its second committee, Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health & Human Services, next week.


  Competing Death Sentencing Proposals Pass House and Senate Committees  
  Committees in both the House and the Senate passed proposals this week to address the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Hurst v. Florida that found Florida's system for sentencing a person to death unconstitutional. In addition to remedying the court's concern that a judge, not a jury, decide whether the circumstances of a crime warrant a sentence of death, the proposals stipulate the number of jurors required to make a recommendation of death. 

The FCCB supports the Senate proposal, SB 7068, which requires unanimity by the jury throughout the sentencing process. HB 7101 requires 9 of the 12 jury members to recommend death.

Juan Melendez, the 20th of 26 death row exonerees in Florida, testified before both the Senate and House committees in support of a unanimous jury. A unanimous jury requirement promotes more thoughtful deliberation among jurors and ensures a more reliable sentencing process. Unanimity is already required in every other circumstance when a jury is summoned in Florida.

SB 7068 has been referred to the Senate Appropriation Committee. HB 7101 will go next to the full House.


  Bill Adding Protections for Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Fails in Senate Committee  
  On a 5-5 tie vote, SB 120 (Abruzzo) failed to achieve passage in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday. The bill would have added actual or perceived "sexual orientation, gender identity or expression" to those classes protected under the Florida Civil Rights Act, applying to housing, employment and other public accommodations.

Michael Sheedy, FCCB executive director, testified in opposition to the bill. Sheedy stated that the bishops of Florida do not want to see discrimination in the law with respect to sexual orientation properly understood, but cited specific concerns with the bill. These include a definition that disassociates "gender identity and expression" from natural gender at birth and the lack of comprehensive conscience or religious freedom protections.

Receiving an unfavorable vote by its first committee of reference means the bill is likely dead for the session.


  Religious Freedom Measure Advances  
  On Tuesday, SB 110 (Bean), cleared the Senate Community Affairs Committee (6-1). The bill prevents churches or religious organizations - or individuals employed by these entities, including clergy - from being forced to solemnize any marriage or provide services, facilities or goods for related purposes if such action would violate sincerely held religious beliefs.
During the committee meeting, FCCB staff expressed support for the bill. Religious freedom requires protection in the face of so many uncertainties under the law. While clergy are currently protected from performing marriages to which they object, layers of protection in law can be helpful, especially if they stave off frivolous litigation.

The House companion, HB 43 (Plakon), has passed all its committees of reference and is now on the calendar for the full House.


  Senate Acts to Protect Senior and Vulnerable Populations  
  The full Senate on Wednesday unanimously (40-0) approved SB 232 (Detert) that would regulate professional guardians. The measure aims to safeguard the elderly and other vulnerable populations from unscrupulous and predatory guardians. Also on Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee unanimously (18-0) approved the House companion bill, HB 403 (Ahern).

FCCB staff has supported the proposal as it has made its way through committee references in both House and Senate.


  Voter Registration Deadline Approaching for the Presidential Primary  
  All voters wishing to vote in Florida's March 15 Presidential Preference Primary Election must be registered by February 16. Florida's Presidential Preference Primary is a closed-primary election. This means that you must be registered with one of Florida's major political parties in order to be eligible to vote.

Citizens have a right and a duty to participate in the electoral process. As Catholics we are called to engage in the political process in light of Gospel values and the teachings of our faith. Those who are not registered to vote are encouraged to do so. Eligible voters can vote by mail (absentee), by voting early, or by voting at the polls on Election Day. Information on how to register to vote or update your voter registration is available on the website of the Florida Division of Elections.


  Recent News from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)  

February 8, 2016: National Catholic-Muslim Dialogue Launched, Archbishop Cupich of Chicago Named Catholic Co-Chair

February 4, 2016: Nearly All of Religious Profession Class of 2015 Participated in Vocation Program, Served in Parish Ministry Prior to Pursuing Vocation


  Follow Us on Social Media  
  Are you following the Catholic bishops on social media? Look for updates and opportunities throughout the session to take action on proposed legislation. Also, as we celebrate this Year of Mercy, look for #MercyMonday posts.

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February 12, 2016

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E-Update: Week 5

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 FCCB priority bills, see our legislative bill report.

The 2016 Regular Session of the Florida Legislature began Tuesday, January 12 and is scheduled to conclude Friday, March 11.

E-Update: Week 1
E-Update: Week 2
E-Update: Week 3
E-Update: Week 4

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