The Republican-controlled House passed its election-reform package Wednesday, over heated Democratic protests and a nearly two-hour legislative delaying tactic, setting the stage for the Senate to take up its reform measures today.
Both chambers packages are similar. Democrats criticized the bills because they dont include money for poll-worker and voter-education programs.
The House package (HB 1921 and HB 1925) provides $20 million in loans to counties to assist in purchasing new electronic voting machines. The Senate measure provides $20 million in grants to the counties -- but even that, say Democrats, falls well short of the nearly $30 million needed to update the states voting machines in time for next years elections.
"Were about to send an unfunded mandate on something we said was important just a few months ago," said Rep. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale. "We dont loan money on important issues."
State Democratic leaders have vowed to make the Republican election-reform package an issue in next years campaign.
"We are all disappointed that this bill doesnt do the job we had hoped for," said Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, the House Democratic leader. Republicans countered that the House measure takes the unconventional step of providing state assistance for a county problem, said Rep. Dudley Goodlette, R-Naples.
"It wasnt the legislature that dropped the ball [on providing up-to-date voting machines]," he said.
The measure to move Florida to a system of electronic voting machines (HB 1921), such as scan voting systems in which voters fill in a bubble or complete an arrow, or computer touch screens, passed the House 114-3. The other measure (HB 1925), which would do away with the second or run-off primary in Florida, passed 78-39, largely on party lines.
With no power to amend the package, Democrats tried to slow the Houses pace. Democrats had House clerks read one of the election bills in full, an effort that took nearly two hours to read all 66 pages.
The Senate is now set to move ahead on its own election reform package (SB 748, SB 1422, SB 1194 and SB 1118). Once both packages are passed, the chambers will iron out the differences and forward a final measure to Gov. Jeb Bush for his signature.
Jon Steinman can be reached at 850-222-5564 or at email@example.com