With Sunday’s Super Bowl matchup in the rearview, those inside Florida’s political arena are gearing up for another week of Session. While many around the state recover from breaking their New Year’s diet resolution for the fifth time during the big game (who’s counting?), others are ready to sink their teeth into the weeks ahead now that the 2022 Legislative Session has inched past the halfway point and is now “down to the short rows.”
As the 60-day terminus begins to solidify on the horizon, many inside the political process are fastening their seat belts as they look to get their legislative agendas across the finish line before entering a new race as the campaign cycle shifts into gear. With hot-button issues nearing their destination, here is a snapshot of important issues that could impact Florida’s major industries:
15-Week Abortion Limit (HB 5/SB 146)
The GOP-controlled legislature is fast-tracking a proposal that would prohibit doctors from performing abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The bill, sponsored by Representative Erin Grall, passed in the Health and Human Services Committee on Thursday and now heads to the House floor next week for a final discussion. A companion bill, pushed by Senator Kelli Stargel, is also nearing approval in the Senate.
The legislation is one of the most controversial issues of the 2022 Legislative Session and has the support of Governor Ron DeSantis, who has signaled in recent weeks that he would sign the bill if the Republicans got it across the finish line.
Arguably the most important pillar of DeSantis’ legislative agenda, the bill would quell woke indoctrinations that permeate throughout classrooms and companies. Known as the “Individual Freedom’ legislation, the proposal seeks to eliminate lessons and training that promote critical race theory (CRT).
The controversial topic has quickly emerged as a boiling point in today’s politics. The ideology of CRT redefines the concept of “racism,” arguing that it is cooked into all systems of society and is the foundation that America was built on. The core tenets that fall under the umbrella of CRT include ideas such as collective-guilt and systemic institutions.
Critics argue that the bill is an attempt to ‘whitewash’ history — specifically, teachings surrounding oppression and slavery in America. But proponents say the bill does not suppress minority voices, noting that the legislation only takes aim at schools and companies, like Bank of America, which claims the U.S. is a system of “white supremacy.”
Both proposals state that instructors can have conversations surrounding racial oppression, segregation and discrimination, but add that teachers cannot co-opt lessons to “indoctrinate” students. Additionally, the bill provides parents with a “private right of action” to sue school districts that teach CRT.
Spearheaded by Representative Bryan Avila, HB 7 now heads for a full vote in the House. SB 148, sponsored by Senator Manny Diaz, has one more committee stop in the Senate before going to a vote on the floor.
Parental Rights in Education (HB 1557/SB 1834)
In line with the prior entry, the contentious legislation “may not encourage classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.” The bill would also give parents the ability to sue schools that violate any provisions of the law.
Dubbed the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill by critics, Democrats say the measure will harm LGBTQ kids. Supporters, however, argue that parents should be the only ones responsible for teaching their children about sexuality and issues surrounding identity.
The proposals are sponsored by Senator Dennis Baxley and Representative Joe Harding and have the backing of DeSantis.
Election Integrity (SB 524/HB 7061)
Looking to add another feather to the Governor’s cap, Republican lawmakers are pushing legislation that would establish a police unit to fight voter fraud.
The bill adds new rules on mail voting that proponents argue will safeguard future elections. In particular, it would create an Office of Election Crimes and Security under the Department of State to investigate election fraud. The proposal would also require every vote-by-mail voter to write identification numbers on mail ballots and create a new envelope for mail ballots.
Proponents say the measure will further protect elections statewide, while those against it argue the bill is in response to former President Donald Trump claiming that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him.
“What’s wrong with being the most secure elections in the entire nation. I mean, who’s afraid of being too secure,” said Senator Travis Hutson, one of the bill’s primary sponsors.
Hutson’s version was recently approved in the Senate Committee on Ethics and Elections Committee, while the House counterpart, sponsored by Representative Danny Perez, sits in the Appropriations Committee.
Alleviating Squeeze on Citrus (SB 1000/HB1291)
Citrus farmers have been plagued by a string of invisible enemies, with “citrus greening” and recent cold snaps dealing a major blow to the backbone of Florida’s agriculture industry. And with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) updating its outlook, projecting Florida will now only produce enough oranges to fill 43.5 million 90-pound boxes — which is down from a January estimate (44.5 million boxes) and the season’s first forecast in October (47 million boxes) — it’s was clear that the staple commodity needed a lifeline.
Growers may get a reprieve thanks to a bill in the House and Senate that will carefully tailor rates for fertilizer use based on the needs of individual citrus farms.
The proposal, pushed by Senator Ben Albritton and State Representative Lawrence McClure, would allow certified agronomics professionals to customize nutrient application plans for Florida’s beleaguered citrus industry. The bill would also keep accountability measures in place, and give citrus growers — who are also grappling with a fertilizer pandemic — a pathway forward.
Legislation aimed at safeguarding consumer data privacy is swiftly moving through the legislature again. The measure, similar to last year’s data privacy bill that ultimately died in the Senate, would give consumers the right to review and correct their data and opt-out of its sale or sharing.
The bill, however, has drawn opposition from the business community who fear it will cost companies still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. Business groups like Florida TaxWatch, Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida Retail Federation, also fear the “private cause of action” and a provision in the legislation would allow only plaintiffs who prevail to recover attorneys’ fees and costs.
The House proposal, sponsored by Representative Fiona McFarland, was unanimously approved in the Commerce Committee last Thursday. Its counterpart is led by Senator Jennifer Bradley.
Immigration Enforcement (HB 1355/SB 1808)
The Republican-led legislature is moving forward with a measure that looks to crackdown on illegal immigration while also placing the crosshairs on local governments that contract businesses to transport undocumented immigrants into the state.
The legislation, another top priority for DeSantis, is sponsored by Representative John Snyder and Senator Aaron Bean, was unveiled during the height of the southern border crisis. Republicans say the pair of bills are in response to the continued failure by the federal government to address lingering issues at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“We know, through a complete dereliction of duty, the federal government has allowed the Southern border to be an open stream,” Snyder said last week after his bill cleared the House Criminal Justice & Public Safety Subcommittee with a 12-5 vote.
Snyder’s version now sits in the State Affairs Committee, while its companion bill in the Senate is scheduled to appear before the Appropriations Committee.
Historic Budget (SB 2500/HB 5001)
Supported by stimulus dollars, the House and Senate are on pace to pass a record budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Following a proposed $105.3 billion spending plan in the House, the Senate moved forward with its $108.6 billion package on Wednesday. Both packages have some key differences other than their price tags.
Notably, the House plan would create a $2 billion fund to help address inflation-related costs, while the Senate blueprint includes a $1.46 billion increase for public schools ($24 billion) and funds that would increase low-paid state workers’ pay to $15 an hour.
Florida’s redistricting process remains in political limbo after DeSantis’ latest ultimatum.
The Republican governor remains at odds with lawmakers in both chambers after they approved maps that would keep a North Florida congressional district intact. The district, represented by U.S. Representative Al Lawson, a Black Democrat, stretches 200 miles from Tallahassee to Jacksonville. Opponents argue that removing the district violates the Voting Rights Act. DeSantis disagreed last Friday, telling reporters that the North Florida district is gerrymandered while hinting that he may veto the map.
“We will not be signing any congressional map that has an unconstitutional gerrymander in it, and that is going to be the position that we stick to,” DeSantis asserted. “Just take that to the bank.”
DeSantis surprised the legislature last month — and many in his party — after he submitted his own congressional map that would favor Republican candidates in at least 18 of the 28 districts in the state, two more seats than a map proposed by the Senate. The map would also reshape a district held by U.S. Representative Val Demings.
After the Senate ignored the late appeal, DeSantis called on the Florida Supreme Court to weigh in on whether the district was protected under Florida’s voter-approved standards. The conservative high court quickly responded, rejecting his request for an advisory opinion, citing the governor’s request was “broad and contains multiple questions that implicate complex federal and state constitutional matters and precedents interpreting the Voting Rights Act of 1965.” Following the court’s decision, the House set in motion a Republican-friendly map — which left Lawson’s 5th Congressional District untouched — prompting DeSantis to hint that he may veto the proposed map.
Despite Republicans doing some heavy-lifting to get DeSantis-backed issues across the finish line, the surprise wrench creates uncertainty surrounding redistricting and pits the potential 2024 GOP presidential candidate against members in his party.