Health insurance perk: Florida legislators plan to keep the cost of health insurance low for state leaders.
Gov. Rick Scott proposed having himself and other high-ranking state officials pay the same for health insurance as rank-and-file workers, but new budgets unveiled by the House and Senate would keep health insurance premiums the same as they are now.
The governor along with the three elected members of the Cabinet as well House members pay no more than $400 a year for health insurance. The 40 members of the Florida Senate earlier this year started paying the same as career service employees. That’s nearly $2,200 a year for family coverage.
Florida spends $1.9 billion to cover roughly 170,000 state workers, university employees and retirees. Most of the money comes from taxpayers, not premiums.
Earlier session? Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, has filed a bill (SB 1356) that would move the starting date of the 2014 legislative session to Jan. 22, meaning the 60-day gathering would have to be done by March 23 — though, with that being a Sunday, lawmakers might opt to wrap up their business two days earlier.
The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee will hear the bill on Monday, but the legislation still has two more stops in the chamber and no House counterpart.
The Florida Constitution allows the Legislature to move its start date on even-numbered years, as lawmakers did in 2012 because of the once-a-decade redistricting process.
Lobbyist gift ban changes: The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee on Monday is expected to take up a bill (SB 1634) that would allow limited exceptions to a lobbyist gift ban that changed the way of doing business in Tallahassee.
Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, who as Senate president in 2005 pushed through the gift ban, has filed the bill that would make long-discussed tweaks. Lawmakers, for example, have complained that the ban prevents them from accepting token cups of coffee or having a bite to eat when they go to gatherings.
The bill would allow lawmakers to accept non-alcoholic beverages from lobbyists or from an organization or company that hires a lobbyist.
It also would allow lawmakers to accept meals if they are featured speakers, moderators or panel-discussion participants at events held by membership organizations that have lobbyists. In such situations, lawmakers would have to file reports with the Senate about attending the events.
And it would allow lawmakers to accept food and beverages at widely attended events that are held by membership organizations or governmental bodies that have lobbyists. The bill includes restrictions, however, such as the estimated cost of such an event couldn’t be more than $25 a person and the events would have to be accessible to the media.
The changes in the bill would be scheduled to expire June 30, 2015.
Wineries expansion: An effort to expand the number of Florida-based wineries that could also directly sell their products may need to be watered down a bit before it’s ready to be served up to state lawmakers this session.
Lobbyists for alcohol distributors and small farm wineries fought this week against allowing all wineries, regardless of size, that use Florida grown produce for their beverages to avoid the middle part of the state’s sales chain.
So House Finance and Tax Subcommittee Chairman Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, has agreed to withdraw that portion of a wide ranging economic development package he is putting together.
“That doesn’t mean the issue is dead, I like the issue, but it needs to be further explored,” Workman said.
Currently, Florida law allows only certified Florida farm wineries, which are open for tours and tastings, and produce or sell less than 250,000 gallons of wine annually, to both make and sell their own wine.
The measure Workman cut out of his proposed economic development bill would have opened the distribution field to all manufacturers of Florida wines and wine products, which opponents say could include out-of-state wineries as long as they’re using Florida produce.
Other alcohol-related bills under consideration this session include SB 1344, which would make 64-ounce beer growlers legal, and HB 347, which would let small craft liquor distillers sell up to two bottles directly to customers.
Palm Beach Post wire services.