Florida higher-ed package on Gov. Scott’s desk; Other legislature news

A bill that would permanently expand Bright Futures merit scholarships is now on Gov. Rick Scott’s desk. A little more than 13 hours after the Senate gave final approval in a 33-5 vote, the measure (SB 4) was signed by legislative leaders and presented Tuesday morning to the governor. Scott has until March 21 to act on the bill.

The legislation, known as the “Excellence in Higher Education Act,” was a top priority for President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who has made the elevation of Florida’s 12 state universities one of the cornerstones of his two years as the Senate leader.

»RELATED: The latest in Florida political news

A similar initiative was vetoed by Scott last year, after he objected to provisions impacting Florida’s 28 state colleges. The new bill does not contain those provisions, and Sen. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican who sponsored the legislation, said lawmakers worked with Scott’s office on the measure.

In addition to the Bright Futures provisions, the bill would expand or create several need-based aid programs and allow Florida universities to provide scholarships to out-of-state National Merit Scholars. It also would create a four-year graduation rate performance standard for universities. And it would ban “free speech zones” on university and state college campuses.

Florida Legislature signals intent for daylight-saving time

Floridians will change their clocks Sunday. That could become a thing of the past, if Congress ever passes a law saying states can observe daylight-saving time year round.

If that time comes, the Florida Senate voted 33-2 Tuesday to give final approval to a measure (HB 1013) that says the Legislature intends to keep Florida on daylight-saving time throughout the year. The next stop is the desk of Gov. Rick Scott, whose office said he will review the proposal after formally receiving it. But even if he signs it, it’s not clear that the Legislature now can commit a future Legislature to make the switch.

Under federal law, states can opt out of daylight saving time to stay on standard time, but cannot make daylight saving time permanent. Hawaii and most of Arizona stay on standard time all year, while the rest of the nation will switch to daylight-saving on Sunday and switch back on Nov. 4.

Senate OKs marriage-age compromise

The Florida Senate on Monday unanimously approved a compromise measure intended to prevent most minors from getting married in Florida. The measure (SB 140), which must go back to the House, would prevent anyone under age 17 from getting married.

Senate Rules Chairwoman Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, said the age is a compromise that has been reached with her counterpart on the bill, Rep. Jeanette Nunez, R-Miami. To get married, 17-year-olds would need consent from their parents or guardians and could not marry anybody who is more than two years older. The House must still vote on the proposed compromise.

The Senate had initially sought to set the minimum age at 18 without exceptions. The House wanted to allow people who are age 16 or 17 to get married under certain circumstances that include pregnancy. Those circumstances would also include only allowing minors to marry people who are no more than two years older. The couples also would have to verify pregnancies, and the minors would have to get written consent from their parents or guardians.

Under current law, minors age 16 and 17 can get marriage licenses with parental consent, and judges have discretion to issue licenses to younger minors who have children or if pregnancies are involved.

Legislation emerged in the House and Senate, at least in part, because of the story of 58-year-old Sherry Johnson, who said she was forced to marry her adult rapist at age 11 after giving birth to a child. Johnson has lobbied for an outright ban on marriage licenses for people under 18.

House OKs banning ‘pre-reveal’ games

After a debate about the definition of slot machines, the House on Monday voted 73-41 to pass a bill (HB 1367) that would make clear that “pre-reveal” games are not allowed in Florida.

The electronic games are played in businesses such as bars and have sparked a legal battle about whether they are slot machines, which generally are prohibited under state law. The debate focused heavily on the games having a “preview” feature that advises players of the outcome of the games.

Critics of the bill said the games are played for entertainment. “This has nothing to do with gambling,” Rep. Al Jacquet, D-Lantana, said. But bill sponsor Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, said the games are slot machines.

The Senate has not taken up a similar measure (SB 1770). A lawsuit about the legality of the machines is pending in the 1st District Court of Appeal.

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