The Florida Legislature begins its annual 60-day session with a plate full of issues and promises by legislative leaders to get along.
In contrast, the last four years have been marked with fighting and animosity among top leaders. A full slate will challenge the decision making process.
Education remains the big challenge for lawmakers. Jeb Bush wants to trade a pay raise for teacher in exchange for support in repealing future class size reductions. The governor is also proposing a major expansion in the voucher program, making them available to up to 25,000 kids who fail FCAT reading three years in a row.
Funding growth management is the Senate president’s top priority. Local governments will likely get increased taxing powers to pay for growth.
President Tom Lee also wants more expense reporting from the board of lobbyists who roam the capitol.
House Speaker Allan Bense wants to make it harder to amend the state constitution and he wants to tackle the contentious issue of limiting law suits.
Add in the potential of skyrocketing insurance rates after four hurricanes, a pre-k program set to begin in August that still needs major tweaking, the governors call for massive Medicaid reform and a power grab by the secretary of state to gain control over county elections supervisors and there is more than enough to argue over.
For the first time in four years Florida’s legislative leaders actually like each other and get along, but that doesn’t mean the next 60 days to be free of hot tempers or hurt feelings.
Jeb Bush will set the agenda with his State of the State speech when he asks lawmakers "to think big and to dream big, and to act big," but whether lawmakers follow his lead or march to their own drummer is up to them.
The only thing lawmakers are required to do over the next 60 days is pass a state budget. This year’s spending plan is expected to top $61 billion.