(Update: Gov. Charlie Crist on Friday evening announced that he signed HB 131 into law.)
While everyone is waiting to see what Gov. Charlie Crist does with the $70.4 billion budget there is another bill on his desk that could have a big impact on the upcoming elections.
Crist must also act Friday on HB 131, the lengthy elections bill. The bill contains several changes to law, including giving the power of the Secretary of State to order recounts and to make it clear that state election laws always trump local ordinances.
Crist, however, is apparently divided over what to do with the bill because it includes a provision he opposes.
The legislation delays from 2012 until 2016 a requirement that disabled voters have access to voting machines that use paper ballots. Former Secretary of State Kurt Browning testified to lawmakers that Crist did not like the delay but it was pushed by the state's election supervisors who don't want to incur the cost right now of buying new machines.
For candidates like Attorney General Bill McCollum the big provision in the bill, however, is the language that would re-regulate 527s after a federal court struck down the state's previous regulations.
Why? Because without the bill it could become illegal in Florida for campaigns to coordinate with third-party groups that launch attack ads.
This week a group known as Alliance for America's Future is launching ads that go after GOP rival Rick Scott. While McCollum's campaign has not acknowledged its involvement McCollum's own ad man is helping with the organization.
The elections bill would require such groups to register with the state and disclose finances if the groups runs ads 30 days before the primary and 60 days before the general election.
But just as importantly the bill would resolve issues raised last August by Tallahassee attorney Mark Herron, one of which is whether or not 527 groups can coordinate with candidates if the underlying law regulating these organizations is wiped out.
Herron's 5-page letter also asked whether any ads run by 527 organizations is considered a contribution to a candidate's campaign if the 527 organization runs an ad that either attacks or supports a candidate in such a way that it is the "functional equivalent of express advocacy," which is a new definition cited recently in federal court decisions.
The upshot is that coordination will likely remain legal - and 527 ads won't count as contributions - if Crist signs HB 131. But if Crist vetoes the bill then 527 organizations - which are not bound by the same $500 limits as candidates - may not be able to do anything in concert with statewide candidates like McCollum or even legislative candidates. That could be a big deal during an election season when there are candidates using large amounts of their own money.
A spokeswoman for McCollum's campaign confirms that the Attorney General supports the bill.