Legislative notebook: Senate embracing bill for clean energy
The measure is backed by Gov. Crist and Jacksonville’s King.
By Brandon Larrabee
TALLAHASSEE – A clean energy bill backed by Gov. Charlie Crist and sponsored by Sen. Jim King, R-Jacksonville, is showing new signs of life after even King had publicly left it for dead.
King’s proposal, which would require private utilities to generate 20 percent of their power from nuclear or renewable sources by 2020, is expected to win approval today from the Senate and head to the House.
Prospects in that chamber, where leaders favored an offshore drilling measure, had appeared bleak. During one recent committee meeting on the bill, King quipped that he wouldn’t strenuously oppose another senator’s amendment to the measure because he didn’t think anyone would see the bill again.
That remark apparently upset some House members who had expected to see the bill. Leaders now say they’re interested in the measure, King said.
"I think that comment was what kind of sprung it forward," he said.
The bill still faces hurdles and some of the usual last-minute legislative brinksmanship. King said he’s still weighing whether to immediately send the measure to the House after its likely approval Wednesday or whether to sit on it for a few days.
"Because if I send it to them too quickly, I think they strip everything and [add] whatever they want on it. … What we don’t want to do is we don’t want to get in a situation where we’re holding hostage," he said.
Those are far more pleasant questions, though, than the measure was facing a few days ago.
Tuition bill passes
A measure that would allow state universities to increase tuitions by up to 15 percent next year easily cleared the House, 101-17. The bill would expand "differential tuition," already available to five universities, to all 11, including the University of North Florida.
Supporters say the extra funding will allow schools to maintain quality while a requirement that 30 percent of the funding go to need-based aid will soften the blow to lower- and middle-income students.
"It assures that, when a student goes through the door of his or her university, he will have quality faculty and he will have a quality curriculum," said Rep. Bill Heller, D-St. Petersburg.
Opponents still worry about its effect on some would-be students.
"We’re sort of boxing out the people that most need education at this point in time," said Rep. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami.
Gov. Charlie Crist, who has pushed the measure, praised the House action and is expected to sign the bill.
Unemployment measure dead
A push by Sen. Tony Hill, D-Jacksonville, and other lawmakers to expand eligibility for unemployment benefits to an additional 40,000 workers is all but dead after the House turned away efforts to amend the proposal to a measure raising unemployment taxes by $650 million.
The House voted 75-40 to kill the amendment, which supporters say would bring $444 million in federal stimulus funding to the state’s trust fund for unemployment benefits, which is expected to start running a deficit this summer.
"Adopting this amendment really is a no-brainer," Rep. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, argued in a futile debate leading up to the vote.
Business groups, though, prefer the tax because it’s temporary and doesn’t expand unemployment benefits, which could drive taxes even higher in the future. Opponents of the benefit expansion also argued that supporters’ proposal to approve the measure with an eye on repealing it once the stimulus money ran out would essentially be lying to federal government.
"Under any other circumstances, that would be considered fraud," said House Majority Leader Adam Hasner, R-Delray Beach.
New era for FCCJ
Legislators passed a bill Wednesday officially transforming Florida Community College at Jacksonville into a state college. Effective Aug. 1, FCCJ will be called Florida State College at Jacksonville.
FCCJ’s change was included in a bill that implements several statutes for Florida’s new state colleges. Created last year, Florida’s new state college system allows several community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees and change their names.
Times-Union writer Adam Aasen contributed to this report.