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Legislative session 2022: The winners, the losers and what's been left behind

The legislative floor in Florida's state capitol building.
Wilfredo Lee
/
AP
Members of the Florida House of Representatives work during a legislative session at the Florida State Capitol, Tuesday, March 8, 2022, in Tallahassee. Florida lawmakers on Monday passed a $112.1 billion state budget containing pay raises for state workers and a gas tax suspension, striking a bipartisan agreement that closed a session characterized by high-profile partisan battles.

Florida lawmakers approved a record $112.1 billion spending plan on Monday. It’s the state's largest budget ever, and was approved on near unanimous votes with no debate. Its passage marks the end to a session dominated by a once-in-a-decade redistricting plan and heated partisan and culture clashes over policy.

On Jan. 11, 2022, state lawmakers began the legislature's annual Regular Session. Each year, legislators consider a list of priorities set by the governor, then propose and debate the bills that can become law. Debate starts in small committee hearings, and bills that succeed can continue all the way to the floor of the Senate and House of Representatives.

The Senate and the House are both tasked with hammering out a version of each bill, and then together have to agree on another final version before it's sent to the governor’s desk. Now, Gov. Ron DeSantis will decide to what to sign into law, what won't make it through and what he'll allow to became law without his signature.

Florida lawmakers' record $112.1 billion spending plan is the state's largest budget to date, and was approved on near unanimous votes with no debate. The passage of the budget marks an end of a session dominated by heated partisan and culture clashes over policy and a once-in-a-decade redistricting plan.

Issues left unaddressed include reforms to Florida's increasingly costly home insurance market and condo regulation in the wake of the collapse of Champlain Towers South in Surfside last June.

Without getting specific, the governor has implied that House and Senate budget negotiators might have been a little too generous with the spending plan, which has not yet formally been sent to him.

We’ve rounded up what you need to know about the bills that are currently awaiting the governor’s signature, what’s already been signed into law and what could be on the agenda for a future special session.

Which bills are currently awaiting DeSantis’s signature?

ABORTION: Lawmakers passed a bill, H.B. 5, that would outlaw most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy without exceptions for victims of rape or incest. The measure does carve out limited exceptions if “two physicians certify in writing that, in reasonable medical judgment, the termination of the pregnancy is necessary” to save a pregnant person’s life or avoid a pregnant person’s serious risk of “irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function” that does not include a “psychological condition.” Or, two physicians must certify in writing that “the fetus has a fatal fetal abnormality.”

DeSantis has said he agrees with a 15-week ban on abortion and is expected to sign the bill into law. The bill’s sponsors in the House and Senate modeled the measure after a 2018 Mississippi law that’s currently being reviewed by the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. The law would prohibit most abortions after 15 weeks — roughly two months sooner than what’s allowed under Roe v. Wade. In that 1973 case, SCOTUS ruled that undue burdens placed by the state on abortion before viability, at roughly 24 weeks of gestation, are unconstitutional. A ruling from the Supreme Court is expected later this year.

BAKER ACT: For years, mental health advocates have been trying to get the state to re-examine its laws around the Baker and Marchman Acts — two key pieces of law that enable people to be involuntarily committed for psychiatric evaluation. While the legislature has taken some incremental steps in the past, this year marks the biggest change yet.

The version of S.B. 1844 that passed targets two key issues that have continued to vex mental health advocates — how people are transported to facilities, and whether they can commit themselves. Historically, law enforcement has been the only entity allowed to transport people who may need to be Baker Acted, an issue that’s led to many high-profile cases of children as young as 5 years old being taken from schools in the back of police cars. Under the legislature’s change, law enforcement can now decide whether such transport is necessary. The other big change allows parents of minors to skip a court review and voluntarily check their children into facilities as long as parent and child agree.

BUSINESS AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT: A pair of bills (S.B. 280 and S.B 620) would fundamentally change the relationship between local governments and businesses. (Find out more on this episode of WLRN’s Tallahassee Takeover podcast.)

S.B. 280 would require all local governments to conduct business impact studies for every new ordinance passed. It would also let any business immediately and automatically block local laws from going into effect if they argue new rules and regulations could hurt their bottom lines. Effectively, businesses would have veto power over local lawmaking. The veto would only be able to be undone by an appeals court.

The second bill, S.B. 620, would allow businesses to sue local governments for damages if new local rules and regulations hurt their profits by 15 percent or more. Businesses would be able to recoup up to seven years' worth of lost profits from local governments if the bill becomes law.

There is no cap on damages that taxpayers might have to pay. That means taxpayers could have to subsidize millions of dollars of losses to businesses.

Opponents say these bills are an affront to the very idea of local government and local-level problem solving, and that it would effectively lock in the status quo.

Republican Sen. Travis Hutson (R-Palm Coast), who sponsored both bills, argued they were necessary to protect businesses from “rogue” local governments that harm business owners.

CRITICAL RACE THEORY, EDUCATION AND BUSINESS: House Bill 7, in the words of Gov. DeSantis, tackles issues of "corporate wokeness and critical race theory." It’s part of a national movement against teaching concepts that describe racism as a foundational concept in understanding U.S. history, something opponents argue is rarely, if ever, taught in K-12 education.

If signed, the the bill would ban school districts from teaching critical race theory, along with any other classroom discussion that could make students feel “guilt” or “anguish” about things for which they played no role. Notably, the bill would also ban feelings of guilt or anguish in corporate training scenarios, potentially impacting how businesses address issues of racism and sexism.

Republican Rep. Randy Fine (R-Palm Beach) told WLRN that the bill makes common sense. Critics have called it a distraction.

ELECTIONS: Lawmakers have given final approval to a sweeping new bill that would make a series of changes to Florida’s elections system, including creating a state office dedicated to investigating voting irregularities, which are rare and generally detected. The proposal — one of the governor's top priorities — echoed arguments that have raged for more than a year, with Republicans saying elections need to be as secure as possible and Democrats contending that the changes are aimed at making it harder to vote.

The bill would also require county supervisors of elections to annually scour voter rolls for potentially ineligible voters (currently required every other year) and increase penalties for the collection of completed ballots by a third party, often referred to as ballot harvesting, to a felony.

KEYS ANCHORING: Last year, the Legislature passed a law that said all boats anchored offshore in Monroe County must move every three months. It’s an effort to reduce derelict, or abandoned, vessels, which damage the environment and are extremely expensive to remove (last year the county spent almost $500,000 removing 80 of them). But living "on the hook" is one of the only relatively affordable ways to stay in the Keys, as well as part of the area's maritime culture and history. The law passed last year would not have taken effect until an additional 250 new moorings are added within a mile of Key West's historic seaport, where most people living aboard bring dinghies to reach shore.

This year, the legislature approved amendments to the anchoring law, reducing the number of new moorings required before it takes effect to 100. The city of Key West estimated in February there are usually about 200 boats on the hook around the island, and a recent survey found the vast majority of them are home to people with jobs in the city. The Key West city commission unanimously supported the proposed legislation back in November. The city has also ordered vessels that are being stored in its mooring field, with no one living aboard, to leave.

PARENTS RIGHTS IN EDUCATION: House Bill 1557 was one of the most controversial measures heard in this year’s legislative session. The measure, which opponents dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, would ban instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation in kindergarten through third grade. The ban would extend to higher grades as well, if lessons are not considered “age appropriate.”

The policy would also bar school districts from withholding information about students’ health and well-being from their parents, a provision critics fear would force schools to out students. The Tampa Bay Times reported the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Joe Harding (R-Williston), is using the measure to try to strike down policies in Broward and Palm Beach counties that discourage schools from revealing a child’s gender or sexual identity without their consent.

Outcry over the legislation has fueled activism across the state, with scores of students staging school walkouts, holding rallies and protesting in the halls of the state Capitol. More recent backlash over the bill measure prompted Disney, a major campaign donor, to freeze political contributions in Florida, after employees and fans hounded the company for donating thousands of dollars in recent years to all of the sponsors and co-sponsors of the bill.

REDISTRICTING: Every 10 years, the state constitution directs the legislature to redraw its political maps. The once-in-a-decade reapportionment process and the resulting map was set to be voted on in January. DeSantis complicated the process on the eve of Martin Luther King Jr. Day by introducing his own congressional district map. His proposal would eliminate the state's Black-majority congressional district. The district is represented by Rep. Al Lawson, and includes Jacksonville and Tallahassee.

DeSantis’s proposed map would eliminate two of the state’s four Black congressional seats in opportunity districts and boost the Republican seat advantage to 19-9. Voting rights groups and voters have filed lawsuits asking for judges to intercede.

If the state legislature can’t reach an agreement, the state Supreme Court will decide how the lines are drawn or appoint a special master to help make a decision.

SOLAR POWER: H.B. 781 would roll back subsidies that have encouraged people to purchase solar panels for their homes. Utility customers who generate more power than they need have been able to sell that excess power back to their utility companies. Solar power got added to the state’s energy mix, and over time more and more homeowners were encouraged to buy solar panels.

This bill intends to severely reduce the payments to solar panel owners over the coming years. Utility companies argue this reduction in payments is needed to help pay for servicing the overall power grid.

A vast majority of Floridians from all political parties wanted to keep the current payment scheme in place, according to a recent Mason Dixon poll. The bill passed along nearly party lines, with most Republicans voting in favor. However, Republican state Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) voted against it, calling it “a sledgehammer of a bill on the solar industry of Florida,” and arguing it will severely damage a growing industry and further movement towards solar power.

Utilities in Florida got a similar item placed on the ballot in 2016, but it was roundly defeated by voters. Activists are now strongly encouraging Gov. DeSantis to veto the legislation.

Florida Power & Light wrote the original version of the bill.

WATER USE: A controversial water use bill that favored the agriculture industry and utilities over the environment has been stripped of measures that drew the most criticism from environmental advocates. But one section still gives lawmakers a say in local water supplies during droughts. Critics say that could undermine the South Florida Water Management District’s work on Everglades restoration.

The last-minute measure, which underwent just a single public hearing, drew outrage from environmental advocacy groups and fishing guides after it threatened funding for an Everglades reservoir. The reservoir is intended to reduce polluted discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries and send more freshwater to southern marshes and Florida Bay.

Fishing guides drove to Tallahassee from as far as Everglades City to protest the bill after citrus farmer and Wauchula Republican Sen. Ben Albritton introduced it on Feb. 4.

Albritton said the measure was intended to give lawmakers more oversight over the sprawling water management district, which covers 16 counties and oversees the $23 billion Everglades restoration plan alongside the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. But environmentalists saw the bill as a work-around attack on rules for water shortages now being worked out by the Corps of Engineers for Lake Okeechobee.

The revised bill allows lawmakers to reject the water management district’s water shortage policy and send their version to the governor for approval. Gov. DeSantis has said that he won’t approve a bill that jeopardizes restoration.

Another governor, however, might view the request differently.

What’s been signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis?

  • Strawberry shortcake is now Florida's official state dessert, infuriating adherents of the Key lime pie (Florida's official pie since 2006). Here's a feature story from WUSF and the Sundial show where this was discussed.
  • Florida Standards Assessments, a yearly exam taken by public school students, will officially end. The assessment will be replaced with progress monitoring tests, which means students will now be administered exams at the beginning, middle and end of each school year. Critics say they hoped the bill would completely end the state’s “system of high-stakes” testing. The law will formally take effect in July.
  • People applying to become college and university presidents in Florida can now be granted anonymity, thanks to a new public-records exemption. Identifying information about finalists will now only be released near the end of search processes. Supporters say it will help attract top-notch candidates, but opponents say it goes against Florida’s history of open government and could benefit politically connected candidates. The measure comes as multiple universities including the University of South Florida, the University of Florida and Florida International University are in various stages of looking for new presidents.
  • Beginning in the 2023-24 school year, public high school students will be required to take a financial literacy course in order to graduate. The course will cover instruction on topics such as credit, credit scores, investments, loan applications and opening bank accounts. The signed bill will also reduce the number of required electives, from the current eight credits to 7 ½ credits.