With the 2018 legislative session in full swing, we knew you’d be curious about the policies and politics driving Tallahassee’s agenda. Last month, we conducted a survey to find out which questions mattered the most to you.  We’re happy to announce the poll results are in, along with answers from some of Tallahassee’s top legislative experts:

Will the legislature crack down on texting while driving?

There are bills in both the Senate and the House that would strengthen the current ban on texting, emailing, and instant messaging while driving. The proposed legislation would change the current enforcement of the ban from a secondary to a primary offense as already enacted by most US states. Currently, for a secondary offense, a police officer must have another reason for pulling someone over before giving a citation for texting. By making texting while driving a primary offense, a police officer can pull over drivers solely for sending messages behind the wheel.

Florida is only one of four states that currently charges texting while driving as a secondary offense instead of primary. The House bill has passed through committee and is ready for a floor vote while the Senate version has one more committee stop to go. They still must pass both the full Senate and the House and be signed by the Governor before they become law.

Are budget cuts expected and, if so, what’s on the chopping block?

While it is still unclear where the Florida Legislature will land in regards to the state budget, one thing is certain- this will be the biggest budget in the history of the state. Last week the House and Senate both advanced separate versions of an $87 billion state budget. While the two chambers are not that far apart on the total amount of the budget, they are philosophically opposed about how to pay for education, health-care, environmental programs and affordable housing. At this stage, the budgets reveal less about how the state will spend taxpayer money next year and more about what the House and the Senate are willing to bargain over in the coming weeks.

Q: What about Amendment 1? Will the public be truly educated on the fall out costs to local government if the extra $25,000 homestead exemption goes through?

Florida voters will have the opportunity to vote on Amendment 1, the additional $25,000 homestead exemption, on November 6, 2018. Between now and then, municipal officials all over the state will work to educate their citizens about the negative impacts of this proposed amendment. Not only will Amendment 1 have a negative fiscal impact on Florida’s local governments, it will make the property tax system less fair with the benefit going only to a handful of homeowners.  Florida’s property tax system is a complicated mess and Amendment 1 makes it more complicated and less fair-shifting a bigger burden onto small business owners, manufacturers and working families.

Will the legislature amend the medical marijuana regulations to allow smoking?

More than 70 percent of Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana in 2016 and it was subsequently carried out by the Legislature in 2017. The legislative measure authorized patients with certain medical condition to use marijuana for treatment if prescribed by their doctor. Patients can either vape the product, use patches and oils, or consume edibles but it specifically bans the use of smoking. Since being enacted, the amendment’s implementation has caused quite a controversary.In June 2017, a lawsuit was filed in the Leon County Circuit Court by Orlando Attorney, John Morgan, who was a large fiscal contributor to the 2016 ballot initiative. He argues that the smoking ban is inconsistent with the Constitution especially when a doctor deems smoking marijuana as part of their patients’ medical treatment. The lawsuit was heard on January 25, 2018 but the judge has yet to issue a final decision.

In November 2017, Senator Gary Farmer from Fort Lauderdale filed a bill (SB 726) for consideration during the 2018 Legislative Session to remove the smoking ban. However, it has made no appearance during Session and it is not expected to do so. For smoking to be allowed, it would have to either pass the Legislature or be dictated by the courts.

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