With two weeks left in the legislative session, the House held a lengthy meeting Tuesday, passing a large number of bills and paving the way to pass even more later in the week. While most of the measures passed with little, if any, opposition, attempts to reform hate crime laws and a proposal to reform property insurance rates prompted debate and pointed questions.
The House debated a measure adding homeless people to the Florida hate crime statues. The measure passed 80-28.
Sponsored by Rep. Ari Porth, D-Coral Springs, proponents of the measure said it was needed due to a wave of violence against the homeless in Florida. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, there were 106 attacks on homeless people due to their living conditions in 2009, with 30 of those incidents in Florida.
Emotions ran high during the debate, and after Speaker Pro Tempore Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton, revealed there were dozens of representatives lined up to speak, incoming Minority Leader Ron Saunders of Key West moved to limit debate. Saunders’ motion passed.
“I understand what it means to wash off in a public bathroom and hope nobody knows where you live,” said Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, invoking his personal experiences of sleeping in an office building in St. Petersburg during a move.
Opposition focused on granting the homeless more rights than were afforded to other Floridians.
“This bill is about a new protected class of people,” said Rep. Paige Kreegel, R-Punta Gorda, who led opposition to the measure.
“This bill treats people unequally,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach. “(It) punishes people for their thoughts.”
After amendments and questions Tuesday, the House debated a bill that would allow private insurers to raise residential rates as much as 10 percent. Gov. Charlie Crist has said he would veto any bill that would raise insurance rates.
Sponsored by Rep. Bill Proctor, R-St. Augustine, the bill changes property insurance law and allows insurers to raise rates by up to 10 percent higher than the statewide average. The bill eliminates the sinkhole database and reforms laws governing claims on accidents involving sinkholes.
While House Democrats offered some opposition, the Crist administration offered more resistance to Proctor’s measure. Besides the governor’s veto threat, the Office of Insurance Regulation has expressed opposition to the measure.
Later in the afternoon, the chief sponsor of the Senate version, Republican Mike Bennett of Bradenton, pulled the bill from committee.
Other matters sailed through the House. Reforms to the rulemaking authority of the Department of the Lottery, a revamp of the board of trustees of the State Board of Administration, increased penalties for holding open house parties involving minors and alcohol and a measure granting sovereign immunity to the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center flew through the House.
Even a bill reorganizing the Department of Health, which generated opposition in committee, moved to third reading with no substantive debate. Introduced by Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, the legislation reduces the Department of Health’s mission from thirteen to seven responsibilities and would require DOH to propose a new organizational structure, including reduction of divisions and bureaus, to the Legislature by November 2010.
When the measure was in committee, the bill received fierce opposition from Surgeon General Ana Viamonte Ros and House Democrats. It received far less opposition on the House floor on Tuesday. The bill was amended and was moved to third reading without any debate.
The House has scheduled all-day sessions for the rest of the week.