The 2012 Legislative Session concluded on Friday, March 9, with the Florida Legislature passing a balanced budget. A few main focuses of this year’s session included: Redistricting, Gambling, and reforming Florida’s automobile insurance requirements.
The House and Senate agreed on details of the 2012-2013 budget on time, which included an increase in PreK-12 school funding by $1 billion, a reduction to hospital spending by more than $300 million, and spending cuts to partially offset $850 million in projected growth in Medicaid. In the end, lawmakers closed the budget gap by sweeping over $500 million from trust funds and spreading cuts across several budget areas, with some of the major reductions falling on prisons, hospitals, and higher education, with universities facing one-time reductions that could be cushioned by cash balances and tuition hikes.
Redistricting dominated the first half of the session, and is now the subject of a two-week special session, which began Wednesday, March 14, to fix a set of Senate maps that were declared invalid. The Florida Supreme Court ruled that the Senate map violated recently-adopted constitutional amendments by intentionally favoring incumbents and the Republican Party. The Legislature will now have to agree upon an amended map and resubmit it to the court for approval. The House maps were declared valid and the Congressional maps are the subject of an ongoing lawsuit, having been challenged by numerous interest groups.
Before the 2012 legislative session began in January, one bill got more attention than any other: Gambling. The effort, which would have brought “destination resort casinos” Florida and potentially other areas, was initially expected to define the session, but died when a House panel refused to vote on the legislation. In addition, lawmakers failed to address the legal gray area occupied by Internet sweepstakes cafes. The Senate preferred to regulate the cafes, which conflicted with the House’s desire to ban them completely. The issue was not resolved.
Another main concern for the 2012 session was to reform the state’s no-fault auto insurance system, more specifically the personal injury protection insurance each driver must carry. The system has been riddled by fraud for more than two decades. The resulting bill is being called the most significant round of changes to the insurance program since its inception. Governor Rick Scott made the issue a priority and pressed legislators to pass a bill that would reduce automobile insurance rates. Under the new law, attorneys in a complicated case will no longer be eligible to have their fees multiplied by a judge. The changes also reduce the limit, from the current $10,000 to $2,500, for the amount of non-emergency services primary care providers are able to bill under PIP. Massage therapy and acupuncture have been excluded from covered benefits.
In keeping his pledge to add $1 billion to the K-12 education budget, Governor Scott made $1 billion in additional education funding the centerpiece of his legislative agenda this year. The $1 billion allows for:
- A $405 million increase in per-student funding or roughly $150 per student.
- An extra $47 million for enhanced reading programs.
- $663 million to fill funding gaps due to the influx of 31,000 expected new students next year and lower property taxes.
- Funding that will enable districts to reward the best teachers.
The 2012-13 budget makes ends meet in spite of a budget gap in excess of $1 billion, on top of a $3.7-billion gap during the current budget year. Governor Scott vetoed $142.7 million from the budget, adding to Florida’s reserves.