- Associated Press - Saturday, April 6, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Florida lawmakers are now in the second half of their annual 60-day session and they don’t have much to show for their efforts after five weeks in the Capitol.

The Legislature has sent Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis barely more than a dozen bills, most of which are minor pieces of legislation. Sure, DeSantis now has the tough choice of whether to sign a bill that would let theme parks, restaurants and hotels donate lost property to charity instead of turning it over to police after 30 days, but bills dealing with the environment, election issues, education, health care and more are still slogging through the process.

This coming week, the House and Senate begin ironing out differences in their state budget proposals. One difference is how to fund Visit Florida, the state’s tourism agency. Ron DeSantis wants to keep spending for the agency at $76 million, but the Senate wants to cut funding to $50 million. Then there’s the House, which wants the agency to go away altogether. It’s proposing only enough money for Visit Florida to wind down operations and shut its doors in October.

That’s just one item in what will be a lot of give and take over the next three weeks or so. Lawmakers have to settle differences in the budget by April 30 if they want to go home on May 3.

“The biggest issue is that we’re dealing with people. People have different priorities about different things and different concerns,” Republican House Speaker Jose Oliva said. “You have to bring people together to come to a general agreement and hopefully to get most of what everyone wants, but it’s impossible to get everything everyone wants.”

Among other topics coming up is an ethics bill that is on its way to the House floor. The 26-page bill does a number of things aimed at strengthening the state’s ethics laws. The bill would prohibit elected officials from using public money to pay for public service announces like billboards or television spots that bear their name or image if they are also running for office.

Among other provisions, it would ban lawmakers and those running for the House and Senate from seeking jobs with companies that have business before the Legislature and from seeking investment advice from lobbyists.

Republicans are also continuing their quest to make it more difficult for voters to change the state constitution. On Monday, a House committee is scheduled to hear a proposal to ask voters to raise the approval threshold for ballot questions from 60% to 66.67%. The irony is that its supporters don’t think the constitution should be changed without two-thirds support, but the proposal to do so would only need 60% approval.

There’s some history there. Back when Republican Jeb Bush was governor, Republicans were frustrated with voter-approved changes to the constitution that included class size limits in public schools, protections for pregnant pigs and more, so in 2006 they asked voters to raise the threshold to pass an amendment from a simple majority to 60%. The irony then was the amendment passed with less than 60% of the vote - 57.8% to be exact.

Last November voters approved 11 of the 12 constitutional amendments on the ballot. Seven of those would have failed under the proposed threshold, including amendments to restore the voting rights for most ex-felons and to provide certain rights to crime victims.

Fun fact: The only proposed amendment to fail in November was placed on the ballot by the Legislature. It would have increased the state’s property tax homestead exemption from $50,000 to as much as $75,000 on homes worth more than $100,000.

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This story corrects that Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to keep Visit Florida spending at $76 million and the Senate wants to cut funding to $50 million, instead of DeSantis wanting to boost spending for the agency to $76 million but the Senate wanting to keep funding at its current level of $50 million.

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AP reporter Curt Anderson contributed to this report.

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