Legislative bipartisanship may not last through the holidays

TALLAHASSEE — Drink up, wayward partisans. Florida lawmakers may be striking a bipartisan tone as of late, but there are too many points of ideological contention for this camaraderie to survive intact beyond the holidays.

Democrats are clamoring for a more sweeping response to the "stand your ground" task force that has recommended marginal changes to the "shoot-first" law that lets people use deadly force instead of retreating if they believe their lives are in danger.

Gov. Rick Scott, House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and other Republicans don't plan to push big changes in the wake of the fatal shooting of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by Neighborhood Watch volunteer George Zimmerman in Sanford. Zimmerman has used the law to claim he was defending himself. That isn't good enough for Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, who wants the law repealed.

Sens. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, and Gwen Margolis, D-Miami Beach, have also filed elections bills that could serve as vehicles for the Democratic response to Florida's latest election fiasco.

Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, signaled last week that the GOP may lay much of the blame on Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties, which took more than a week to tally ballots and finalize the fact that President Barack Obama carried the state. But critics blame Republicans' efforts to crack down on early voting.

Margolis filed a bill (SB 82) last week to expand the locations where county supervisors can hold early voting — they're now restricted to elections offices and public libraries — and let them decide when sites would be open the weekend before the general election.

The Legislature in 2011 reduced early voting from two weeks to eight days, and prohibited it on the final Sunday before the general election — traditionally a day when African-American churches have rallied their congregations to the polls.

And if Attorney General Pam Bondi's taped speech to insurers in Orlando last week was any indication, the fight over "Obamacare" isn't over in Tallahassee. Bondi, who suffered a major defeat when the Affordable Care Act was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in June, sent a video to a Florida Chamber of Commerce summit that ripped the law and said that "political accountability failed."

Bondi is a gubernatorial aspirant, and her incentive is to stoke the checkbooks and passions of those aggrieved by the law: insurers and the business lobby. Scott and the Legislature, meanwhile, have to make many decisions surrounding the law next year, including whether to set up a health-insurance "exchange" and expand the Medicaid program to more people with higher incomes.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are already dusting off some of the bills that sparked battles in past sessions.

Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, has refiled his "application of foreign law" bill (SB 58), which bars courts or other jurisdictions from using religious or foreign law as a part of a legal decision or contract.

Hays and his supporters say they are proactively trying to prohibit the use of Islamic law to settle U.S. legal disputes, although there is scant evidence this is a problem. Islamic, Jewish and legal organizations have called the "anti-Sharia" legislation discriminatory, and last year's fight drew some incendiary pamphlets and arguments in the Capitol halls.

Then there are insurance, business-tax and higher-education fights looming.

Election-law changes and health-care fights could start as soon as this week, when lawmakers are in town for the first round of committee meetings since the Nov. 6 election.

So, the message here is to soak up the season's greetings and yuletide cheer before the natural order of Tallahassee sours the eggnog and spikes the punch.

adeslatte@tribune.com or 850-222-5564

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