Florida Five: Wasserman Schultz for Senate?, Bills to watch in upcoming legislative session

Five of today’s top Florida political stories at your fingertips:

Interesting Florida bills to keep an eye on as lawmakers get back to work – It’s the holiday season, and for those fortunate enough to take some time off of work, it’s an opportunity to rest, relax and spend time with loved ones before the new working year begins. Lawmakers are no different. Come January, Florida’s state legislators are back to work as legislative committee meetings commence. Committee meetings, of course, are a critical part of the sausage-making process that produces oodles of new laws every year. In total, five weeks of committee meetings are scheduled to occur before the actual state legislative session begins March 3, 2015. One week before is the bill filing deadline. Read more

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The seven Senate races to watch in 2016 – Democrats are looking to reclaim their Senate majority in two years, but after losing nine Senate seats in 2014, their path back to that majority won’t be easy. Democrats will be benefiting from a favorable landscape, with Republicans defending 24 seats (many of them in blue territory) while Democrats will be defending only 10. To leverage that advantage into control of the Senate, however, Democrats need to net at least four seats (five, if Republicans win the presidency). That requires sweeping out blue-state freshman Republicans in states such as Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin while also defeating a couple of brand-name senators, such as Rob Portman or Marco Rubio, in perennial swing states. So to kick off the new year, here is National Journal’s preview of the seven most compelling Senate races in 2016, with the most pressing question that will determine the race’s outcome. Read more

Florida judge says that it’s county clerks’ duty to issue same-sex marriage licenses – A federal judge ruled Thursday that Florida’s county court clerks have a legal duty to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but he stopped short of ordering them to do so. U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle issued the ruling in Tallahassee federal court responding to requests to clarify his previous order that Florida’s same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional. He stayed that order, but the stay is scheduled to expire at the end of the day Monday. The association representing county clerks said the ruling applies only to Washington County, where a lawsuit filed by two men became a key basis for Hinkle’s order. Gay rights groups said Hinkle’s order applies statewide. Hinkle warned Thursday that clerks who don’t start issuing the licenses when the stay expires could face future lawsuits or other legal consequences. Read more

Judge: Florida’s health care for needy kids violates U.S. laws – A federal judge has ruled that Florida’s health care system for impoverished and disabled children violates several U.S. laws. In a ruling Wednesday, U.S. Circuit Judge Adalberto Jordan said lawmakers had for years set the state’s Medicaid budget at an artificially low level, causing pediatricians and other specialists for children to opt out of the insurance program for the needy. Jordan said that amounted to rationing of care and exacerbated a shortage of pediatricians, particularly in rural areas. “This is a great day for the children in this state,” said Dr. Louis B. St. Petery, a Tallahassee pediatrician who is executive vice president of the Florida Pediatric Society and helped spearhead a 2005 lawsuit against Florida’s Department of Health, Department of Children and Families and the Agency for Health Care Administration. Read more

Christie, Perry to attend Scott Inauguration – Two potential Republican presidential contenders are heading to Florida to attend Gov. Rick Scott’s second inauguration. A spokeswoman for Scott said Wednesday that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and outgoing Texas Gov. Rick Perry will both attend Scott’s swearing-in ceremony Tuesday. Scott won a narrow re-election victory for a second term against Democrat Charlie Crist in November. Florida is a key presidential swing state. It’s also the home of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who announced plans to “actively explore” a White House run earlier this month. Read more

Bonus 2016 watch: Welcome to 2015, where it’s all about 2016

For more Florida political news, visit BPR’s FLORIDA NEWS page

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