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Alimony Reform Appears Dead This Session, But House Backer Rep. Andrade Keeping 'Naïve Optimism'

Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel has carried an alimony reform bill for several years, including the 2020 session - but is telling media it's not viable down the stretch. Its house sponsor this year, Rep. Alex Andrade, says if his bill dies, he will file it again next session.
Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel has carried an alimony reform bill for several years, including the 2020 session - but is telling media it's not viable down the stretch. Its house sponsor this year, Rep. Alex Andrade, says if his bill dies, he will file it again next session.
Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel has carried an alimony reform bill for several years, including the 2020 session - but is telling media it's not viable down the stretch. Its house sponsor this year, Rep. Alex Andrade, says if his bill dies, he will file it again next session.
Credit Steve Cannon / AP Photo
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Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel has carried an alimony reform bill for several years, including the 2020 session - but is telling media it's not viable down the stretch. Its house sponsor this year, Rep. Alex Andrade, says if his bill dies, he will file it again next session.

As the old late-session saying goes, “bills are dying.” That’s the case with an alimony reform bill, sent to the House floor today. Its Senate sponsor is declaring it dead in the water. Meanwhile, its principle backer in the House is holding onto hope, though he’s calling it ‘naïve optimism.’

“One thing I’ve learned since filing this bill is, everyone has an opinion about alimony,” Pensacola Republican Rep. Alex Andrade said Wednesday, as his bill cleared its final stop in the House.

In each committee, it’s gotten heaps of fiery debate and public testimony. This week’s hearing in the Judiciary Committee was no different.

Andrade’s bill would prioritize the short-term “bridge the gap” alimony system in lieu of lifetime payments to an ex-spouse. He says it’s something judges have asked for.

“We’ve had district courts, circuit courts, judges from every level, say that they want more guidelines, so they can help parties come to the table and settle. And save both parties from what’s going to potentially be one of the most harmful experiences of their life,” Andrade told his colleagues just before they voted on the proposal.

The bill also places caps on the two other forms of alimony in Florida. Rehabilitative alimony, which is meant to be temporary support to help the receiving party get financially stable, would be limited to 5 years. Durational alimony, a more long-term version meant for dependent ex-spouses, would be capped at half the length of the marriage.

But the debate this session is likely all for naught.  Sen. Kellie Stargel’s alimony bill never took off in her chamber. She told the News Service of Florida this week that makes the bill’s success a near impossibility.

The legislature has tried its hand at alimony reform for years, unsuccessfully, sometimes at the stroke of a veto pen – and Stargel has carried the bill before.

But on Andrade’s first try, he’s remaining optimistic as it heads to the House floor.

“I’m new here, this is only my second session, so I would just have to have that maybe potentially naive optimism of ‘never say never’ as far as what might be successful in the last two weeks of session, as far as policy bills go,” Andrade told WFSU Wednesday.

Though the Senate could adopt Andrade’s House bill, it seems unlikely judging by Sen. Stargel’s comments. Andrade says he hasn’t spoken directly to Stargel about it, or been in on leadership-level conversations about bills in the session’s final weeks.

“People in leadership in both of the chambers are discussing what will and will not – as a freshman legislator you’re not always privy to those conversations,” Andrade said.

Stargel told the News Service of Florida she intends to “keep working on” the bill for next year. Andrade’s got two significant amendments as it was workshopped in the House. If it’s not successful this year, Andrade says he’ll be filing it again:

“If for whatever reason it doesn’t (pass) I enjoyed this so much and I’m so passionate about it now, I’d look forward to running it next year if that were the case.”

Florida last updated its laws concerning alimony a decade ago, when bridge-the-gap alimony, which Andrade’s bill prioritizes, was introduced.

Copyright 2021 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Ryan Dailey is a reporter/producer for WFSU/Florida Public Radio. After graduating from Florida State University, Ryan went into print journalism working for the Tallahassee Democrat for five years. At the Democrat, he worked as a copy editor, general assignment and K-12 education reporter.