The Senate convened for its fifth week of the annual 60-day session in Tallahassee for the purpose of holding committee meetings, as well as passing legislation through the full Senate.
Below are some highlights of week five's progress.
Water storage expansion heads to Senate floor
The Senate Committee on Appropriations passed Senate Bill 10, which will expand storage of water south of Lake Okeechobee. The legislation furthers the goal of reducing, and eventually eliminating, harmful releases from the lake.
This past year, record rainfall resulted in unseasonably high water levels in Lake Okeechobee, which threatened the integrity of the Herbert Hoover Dike. To maintain safe water levels, the Army Corps of Engineers authorized the release of billions of gallons of water from the Lake to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers.
This legislation will make an important difference to families, communities and the economy east and west of the Lake, as well as southern communities who have waited too long for investments in meaningful economic development to expand workforce training and job opportunities.
Senate Bill 10 was amended to expressly prohibit the use of eminent domain, leveraging land already owned by the state of Florida and the South Florida Water Management District, land swaps and purchases to minimize impacts on agricultural workers while achieving 240,000 to 360,000 acre feet of storage. The bill also provides grants to establish training programs for agricultural workers.
The goal of the legislation was to explore all available options to deliver the much needed and long anticipated storage south of Lake Okeechobee. Senate Bill 10, now advancing to the Senate floor, provides a solution to the problem of harmful releases that respects the interests of the agricultural community and the rights of private landowners, while achieving the goal to dramatically increase southern storage.
Senate passes recess legislation
This week, the Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 78, Public School Recess. The legislation requires each district school board to provide at least 100 minutes of supervised, safe and unstructured free-play recess each week for students in kindergarten through 5th grade. Such recess must involve at least 20 consecutive minutes of free-play per day in the public elementary school setting. Senate Bill 78 ensures that recess time is kept separate from standard physical education course time.
Student loan debt legislation passes
The Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 396, Student Loan Debt, which requires colleges and universities to provide students information regarding their student loans on an annual basis. Information provided annually to the student includes an estimate of the student's total amount borrowed, an estimate of the student's total potential loan repayment amount, and the percentage of the borrowing limit the student has reached at the time the information is provided.
Senate Bill 396 ensures students will be provided with up-to-date information about the debt they are incurring via their student loans. The information provided will help students be better prepared regarding their financial future and help with decision making concerning their post-graduation goals.
Senate committee meetings and floor sittings are streamed live on the Senate's website. The daily video broadcast schedule is available at: www.flsenate.gov/Media/VideoSchedule.
Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto represents District 27 in the Florida Senate. Contact her at 239-338-2570. Her district office is at 2310 First St., Unit 305, Fort Myers.