TALLAHASSEE (FBW) – As the Florida Legislature passed the mid-way mark of the 60-day annual legislative session, Florida Baptist legislative consultant Bill Bunkley gave Florida Baptist Witness an overview of matters he’s watching in the final month.
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With the session scheduled to conclude May 1, Bunkley is carefully following dozens of bills of interest to Florida Baptists, offering to legislators support or opposition in response to the legislation.
Many bills of concern – like several homosexual rights measures – have not advanced beyond merely being introduced, while other bills – like gambling expansion – have been of prime concern for Bunkley this year.
In addition to his activities related to opposing gambling expansion (see related stories), Bunkley told the Witness there are other matters which he has watched closely.
Here is a summary of non-gambling related legislation Bunkley is watching in the final weeks of the session:
Sales Tax Exemptions – Early in the session both houses of the Legislature considered dozens of sales tax exemptions for possible repeal – including the exemption on the sales of religious items, like Bibles – as well as the broader exemption enjoyed by churches, religious organizations and schools.
According to Bunkley, there appears to be little support in the Legislature for repealing these exemptions, although he’s ready if that changes.
“State revenue is short and we’ll be ready to oppose any such move should it arise in budget negotiations,” he said.
Cigarette Tax Increase – Bunkley says the Florida Baptist Convention supports a proposed $1-per-pack increase on cigarettes, both because of the health consequences of smoking and as a means of helping to balance the state budget deficit. The $1 increase is projected to generate as much as $1 billion in new revenue.
“A $1 a pack cigarette tax is a viable option we support which would supply a considerable amount of revenue to the state, revenue that on one hand would discourage smoking and on the other, fund considerable Medicare and Medicaid costs the state has to absorb. It is a tax one could choose to avoid by not smoking,” he said.
First Baptist Church in Orlando hosted an April 2 news conference with religious and health leaders to urge support for the cigarette tax measure. Dennis Baxley, executive director of the Christian Coalition and long-time Florida Baptist, spoke in favor of the measure at the news conference.
Ultrasound Abortion – Bunkley reports with regret that legislation that would require an ultrasound image be shown to a woman considering an abortion in the first trimester has stalled in a Senate committee and appears to face an uphill battle this session.
The legislation (HB 983/SB 1854), which has passed one House committee this session, closely mirrors a similar bill last year that passed the House but failed in the Senate on a dramatic 20-20 vote. The bill is no longer moving in the House because of the opposition in the Senate.
“The House pulled the bill off the agenda only because the Senate effort” has failed, Bunkley said.
Marriage Preparation Act – Legislation that would increase the marriage license fee but offer a discount to couples who agree to eight hours of pre-marital education has been approved by committees in the House and Senate.
The legislation is a package of two bills (SB 2310/SB 2306 and HB 1185/1187) that would increase the marriage license fee to $193.50, but increase the current discount of $32.50 for four hours of pre-marital education to $132.50 for eight hours of such education. For each couple which declines the pre-marital education, $100 would be transferred to the Marriage Education Trust Fund to provide grants to organizations that help strengthen marriage, according to the Florida Family Policy Council, the lead organization supporting the legislation.
“Liberal members of the Legislature can be expected to mount increasing criticism as this legislation moves along,” Bunkley told the Witness.