Legislative Update: Week of March 30th

Provided by Moné Holder, The New Florida Majority’s Legislative & Policy Director

Update: The Fundamental Right to Vote

SB 1442 by Senator Oscar Braynon II (D-parts of Miami-Dade and Broward) and HB 1139 by Representative Cynthia Stafford are identical pieces of legislation that would recognizes voting as a fundamental right that should be enshrined into state law. Doing this would require strict scrutiny –  the highest standard of judicial review –  to apply to voting in Florida and protect citizens against partisan efforts to make voting harder.

The legislators, along with The New Florida Majority, the Advancement Project and Faith in Florida, held a press conference on Thursday, March 26 encourage the legislature (and particularly Ethics & Elections and Government Operations subcommittee Committee leadership) to hear the bills. Both members stressed that there is a need for a fundamental right to vote in the state to ensure that voters of color aren’t disenfranchised.

The press conference was covered by a number of media outlets, including WFSUV. Read more about the press conference here.

Currently, SB 1442 has been referenced to the Ethics and Elections, Judiciary and Rules committees.  HB 1139 has been referenced to Government Operations Subcommittee, Civil Justice Subcommittee, and State Affairs Committee.

The full bill language can be found here: House | Senate

Ethics and Elections

The Senate Ethics and Elections committee met on Tuesday, March 24th and unanimously passed three bills:

SB 1372 (Senator Don Gaetz-R) Government Accountability; Specifying that the Governor, the Commissioner of Education, or the designee of the Governor or of the Commissioner of Education may notify the Legislative Auditing Committee of an entity’s failure to comply with certain auditing and financial reporting requirements; revising reporting requirements applicable to the Florida Clerks of Court Operations Corporation; expanding the types of governmental entities that are subject to lobbyist registration requirements; revising the responsibilities of the governing board of a charter school to include the establishment and maintenance of internal control

SB 984 (Senator Oscar Braynon-D) clarifies that the use of a public facility or public property provided from a governmental entity to a legislator for a public purpose is not expenditure for purposes of the legislature expenditure ban, regardless of whether the governmental entity is a principal.

SPB 7064- and elections administration bill that makes a number of substantive changes to the Florida Elections Code, including:

Online Voter Registration-Mandates the creation of an Online Voter Registration system for most applicants, beginning October 2017

Voter Signature Update-Allows voters to update their signatures until 5 p.m. on the day before the election, for the purpose of canvassing absentee and provisional ballots.

Voter IDs-Expands the list of permissible voter IDs to include U.S. passport cards, federal veterans’ health ID cards, and Florida concealed weapons/firearms licenses

Mail-Ballot-Only Information-Extends the daily deadline for supervisors to upload absentee ballot information to the Division of Elections during an election cycle, from 8 a.m. to noon

Absentee Ballot Information-Extends the daily deadline for supervisors to upload absentee ballot information to the Division of Elections during an election cycle, from 8 a.m. to noon

Voting Precincts-Beginning in 2021, requires voting precincts to conform to U.S. Census block boundaries, except in certain cases involving changed county, incorporated municipality, or other political subdivision boundaries.

The bill also makes technical and conforming changes to the election code, including modifying the requirements for sample ballot publication, correcting an erroneous deadline on Absentee Ballot Affidavits used to “cure” missing voter signatures, and modifying the timing requirements for designating early voting sites in special elections.

The Senate Ethics and Elections committee is set to meet again on Tuesday, March 31st at 4 pm.

Criminal Justice

The New Florida Majority, along with other civil rights organizations such as the ACLU-FL, NAACP Florida State Conference, and law enforcement agencies, met with Senator Chris Smith and Representative Shevrin Jones on Wednesday, March 25th in the Senate Minority conference room.  The meeting was held to hear concerns and suggestions from stakeholders regarding SB 248. The bill addresses the public record exemptions for police body camera recordings.

The NAACP and ACLU raised concerns with the exemptions and asked that Senator Smith take up language identical to HB 57 filed by Representative Shevrin Jones.  Jones’ bill requires police departments that use body cameras to draft written guidelines that govern their use. Smiths’ bill however, provides public records exemptions to footage captured at certain places such as within a private residence, a medical facility or at the scene of a medical emergency.

Another concern about the bill was the 90 day period in which video footage would be available before deletion. A representative from the Public Defender’s office raised that 90 days is not enough time. The response from others present at the meeting is that there just wasn’t enough space on the cloud to keep every single video from every police department available for longer than that.

After hearing from stakeholders, Senator Smith will propose an amended bill in the earlier part of this week in hopes that the language will be something “everyone can live with.”

SB 248 is now in the Rules committee which is its last referenced committee but is not on the agenda yet.