Internet cafe and adult arcade ban looms as House bill and Senate proposal pass

TALLAHASSEE — Sparked by the scandal surrounding Allied Veterans of the World, the Senate started the process of banning Internet cafes Monday and the House wrapped up similar efforts Friday.

A ban on Internet cafes looms in both the House bill that passed Friday, and the Senate proposal that moved past its first committee Monday. Both also call for banning adult arcades that have casino-style games.

The two legislative chambers are quickly reacting to investigations over Allied Veterans. The nonprofit is under investigation for allegedly operating a $290 million illegal gambling business that barely benefited veterans, while its executives reaped the profits. Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who once consulted for Allied Veterans, resigned last week after she was questioned about her ties. She doesn't face any charges.

Each Treasure Coast House member voted in favor of the House ban, except Rep. Gayle Harrell. The Stuart Republican was out of town for family obligations and didn't vote.

The House also crammed in favorable votes Friday on a campaign finance overhaul and a pension facelift, which would require new Florida Retirement System employees to enter 401(k) retirement plans instead of traditional pensions.

Here is a look at what local lawmakers were up to this week:

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart

Negron's alternative plan to expanding Medicaid under President Obama's health care law got bipartisan praise Thursday. After both the House and Senate voted against opening Medicaid to another 1 million low-income patients, Negron spelled out a plan that would give new patients vouchers toward private insurance. It would still aim to use $51 billion over 10 years provided by Obamacare. Negron's plan, Healthy Florida, now heads to other Senate committees. Negron needs the House to get on board and Gov. Rick Scott, who endorsed Medicaid expansion, to sign off on it.

Negron also spelled out his idea to reduce some fees on drivers instituted in 2009, which could save them up to $220 million a year. Negron wants to reduce fees on vehicle tags for cars and light trucks by about 50 percent, compared to 2009 fee increases. Considering all surcharges, a four-door sedan that used to cost $45 for its tags costs about $71 now with the price hike, according to the Martin County tax collector website. The proposal, set to get a hearing sometime this week, would knock out a tax break on insurance companies' salaries to make the plan revenue neutral.

The full Senate unanimously passed Negron's bill spelling out the public's right to speak at most government meetings. SB 50 cleared the Senate Tuesday; its House version, HB 23, has passed one committee so far.

Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring

Grimsley, who represents western Martin and St. Lucie counties, has her school safety bill ready for a floor vote. SB 318 requires universal state-issued ID badges for non-teacher contract workers at public K-12 schools. Part of the background check would require proof of citizenship or permanent resident alien status. The bill passed its third committee unanimously Thursday, and is on the full Senate's calendar for next Wednesday.

Sen. Thad Altman, R-Rockledge

Altman's proposal to require a unanimous jury decision on death penalty cases stumbled this week. Currently, only a simple majority is required. The bill, SB 148, was temporarily postponed Monday from a committee hearing. That's the second time the proposal's hearing was delayed, and it's about mid-way through the 60-day legislative session. The bill doesn't have a committee vote yet.

Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart

Harrell has two juvenile justice-related bills ready for floor votes after last week's favorable committee action. The first, HB 4019, would delete requirements that the Department of Corrections and counties create programs where judges can order juvenile offenders to tour jails or prisons, getting rid of the "scared straight" requirement. The second, HB 353, spells out clearer criminal penalties when a Department of Juvenile Justice employee neglects a youthful offender. Neither has been scheduled for floor action.

Rep. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach

Mayfield's proposal cancer treatment parity bill is showing promise in the House and Senate. HB 301 would require equitable private insurance coverage for oral treatments of cancer at a comparable rate to how injectable treatments are covered. Mayfield's bill passed a second of four committee stops Tuesday. SB 422, the companion bill by Sen. Lizbeth Benaquisto, R-Fort Myers, is ready for a full Senate vote next Wednesday.

Mayfield also greeted some familiar faces from Indian River County on Thursday. Students from Liberty Magnet School in Vero Beach got to sit in the House chambers while Mayfield spoke to them.

Rep. Larry Lee Jr., D-Port St. Lucie

Lee passed his first bill out of the House on Friday. HB 223, which would let insurance companies post some policy information online instead of mailing it out, received unanimous approval.

Lee's primary project, a bill setting up an early intervention pilot program in St. Lucie County to help kids read, cleared its first committee stop Wednesday. HB 803 would track 2 and 3 year olds' literacy progress through tutoring.

Rep. MaryLynn Magar, R-Tequesta

Magar moved along a bill that would revamp a slew of requirements in transitional living facilities. HB 1109 passed a committee Tuesday, and would set standards for everything from staff screening to admission and discharge requirements.

Rep. Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park

Pigman's proposal to protect babies who survive botched abortions got a 10-2 favorable committee vote Tuesday. The bill spells out penalties for medical workers who don't attempt to keep babies healthy after a failed abortion. Mayfield co-sponsored the legislation, which has two more committee stops.