Marijuana, guns and conservation on agenda for 2015 Florida legislature

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 03, 2015 7:05 AM

By Bill Cotterell

TALLAHASSEE (Reuters) - Florida's legislature convenes on Tuesday with lawmakers expected to grapple during the 60-day annual session with measures including allowing concealed guns on college campuses and permitting doctors to prescribe medical marijuana.

Discussion of casino gambling, a now-perennial clash between out-of-state gambling interests and entrenched family resort companies like Walt Disney Co, will also stir controversy in the next two months.

   In addition, lawmakers will likely argue over how approximately $1 billion a year in real estate and land development taxes should be spent on conservation. The spending, mandated by a constitutional amendment approved by voters, could go to such projects as Everglades cleanup and beach restoration.

For a third straight year, outnumbered Democrats are trying to expand the state’s Medicaid program by accepting about $50 billion in federal funding over the next 10 years — extending healthcare for about a million poor people — but Republicans who control the legislature remain opposed to anything derived from President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

   Governor Rick Scott, a conservative Republican narrowly re-elected last November, will officially start the session with the annual "State of the State" address on Tuesday, outlining his $77 billion budget.

Scott will propose $673 million in tax reductions, including cuts in cell phone and cable TV levies, and a lowering of taxes on corporate profits.

   A shooting incident at Florida State University on Nov. 20 in which two students were wounded and the gunman killed triggered renewed interest in repealing the exemption of college campuses from the state law allowing gun owners to get concealed weapons permits.

University presidents and faculty organizations have spoken out strongly against allowing guns on campus, but the National Rifle Association and conservative Republican legislators are pushing the proposal.

   A medical marijuana constitutional amendment fell short of the required 60 percent voter approval last November, but a new public petition drive is underway to put a similar measure on the 2016 state ballot. Supporters hope the ballot drive will pressure lawmakers to pass legislation permitting prescription pot.

   The state’s five-year, $1 billion casino compact with the Seminole tribes runs out on July 1. Legislators will debate proposals to expand banked card games and slot machine gambling beyond the tribal reservations in what has become a high-stakes annual competition between major gambling companies and the family-oriented attractions deeply rooted in Florida.

(Reporting by Bill Cotterell; Editing by David Adams and Eric Beech)