The end of session is just the beginning as Florida’s thorniest issues are far from settled

by | May 10, 2023

  • The 2023 legislative session in Florida has come to an end, leaving a range of unresolved issues, such as property insurance reform, alimony alterations, electric vehicle taxation, “Big Tech” crackdown, abortion, and recreational marijuana.
  • It will be necessary to monitor data points to measure the effectiveness of new policies and find innovative and fair solutions to fund transportation infrastructure, as Florida moves toward greater EV adoption.
  • It is crucial to stay engaged in the democratic process and advocate for policies that reflect our values and promote the common good.

Now that the curtain has fallen on Florida’s 2023 legislative session, a myriad of legislation, failed bills, and potential ballot issues continue to stir in the Sunshine State’s political cauldron. Among the hot topics still simmering are the state’s radically overhauled property insurance market, new regulations on pharmacy benefit managers, alimony alterations, the open question of electric vehicle taxation, a so-called crackdown on “Big Tech,” and the endless political scrums surrounding abortion and recreational marijuana.

Don’t forget, too, the massive overhaul of education, with universal school vouchers, and new commitment of $150 million every year to affordable workforce housing.  Will those high priority bills actually end up making a difference?  We won’t know for a while, but it’s wise to keep an eye on those data points to measure their effectiveness.

Issues to keep an eye on:

Property insurance reform (HB 837)– While the legislature expended a considerable amount of effort in years prior to shore up the state’s rapidly deteriorating insurance market, and the fact that Florida’s rates are about three times higher than property insurance premiums in other states, the general consensus this year was that still more needed to be done. The culprit chosen by the legislature: trial lawyers. Reduce insurance fraud, litigation, and reinsurance costs, and the state’s property insurance market will fix itself.

Or so the thinking goes.

Lawmakers got rid of one-way attorneys fees, and introduced mandatory binding arbitration agreements. But that, critics say, goes too far and puts too much power into the hands of insurance companies who can then abuse their customers.

So how do we measure success?  The aforementioned property insurance rates are a good starting point. But seeing how they’re set a year out, it’ll be a while before we know if its working. We more immediate ways to measure success. One method can be simply keeping an eye on property insurers in general. Fewer failures, and perhaps even some new entrants into the market, could be a strong indicator of success. Another metric worth keeying a sharp eye on: the growth of the state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corporation.

So far though, Citizens just keeps growing. The state-backed insurer has grown steadily and now has 1.28 million policies, up from 1.27 million policies last week and 1.26 million policies two weeks prior. While that may not sound like a lot of growth, consider Citizens had 851,006 policies in April 2022 and just 589,041 policies in April 2021.

Property Insurer Accountability – The other side of the coin to the state’s property insurance overhaul, this bill recognized that much of the reforms were one-sided and potentially harmful to consumers. That sentiment was backed up by the fact that after Hurricane Ian, state officials have been buried in complaints about insurance company abuses heaped on victims of the historic storm. In response, lawmakers passed a series of measures aimed at giving regulators more teeth to enforce the law, while also giving consumers a bit more umph in the tug-of-war that inevitably results from the insurance claims process.

Critics argue that there’s wasn’t enough accountability to begin with, and the law didn’t go far enough. We’ll keep a eye on Ian claims and other metrics to gauge how the new law is working.

The so-called Big Tech crackdown – Passed and signed into law by DeSantis, SB 262 is an attempt by Republican lawmakers to “protect” citizens from the perceived negative impacts of “Big Tech.” But the anti-business measure, populist rather than conservative in origin, is deeply flawed and may ultimately harm small business owners in Florida far more than it protects users from big tech companies.

The bill includes an opt-out provision for targeted advertising, allowing consumers to deny tech companies the opportunity to serve target ads. While it sounds good on the surface, the actual “harm” it purports to solve is virtually non-existent, and it will ultimately only make the larger tech companies more powerful at the expense of mom-and-pop small businesses who will now have to pay even more in order to advertise their goods and services to the public, while the big tech companies still rake in the marketing dollars.

Exactly what problem did SB 262 actually solve?

Electric Vehicle registration fee died in the House – Senate Bill 1070, which aimed to impose a new registration fee on electric vehicle (EV) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) owners in Florida, died in the Florida House, likely due to the GOP majority’s reluctance to support new taxes – and make no mistake, the unimaginative SB 1070’s $200 annual registration fee for every electric vehicle was exactly a tax – and the proposed amount to be paid was significantly higher than the amount of gasoline taxes paid by the average Florida driver.

Still, the growing EV market – Florida ranks 2nd in the nation for the number of EV’s on the market – and the lack of gas tax revenue from EV owners, is a growing problem. A recent federal report estimated a $140 billion federal Highway Trust Fund deficit by 2031.

Let’s face it: a brand new, exorbitant flat tax was never gonna pass the GOP controlled House in Tallahassee. But alternative solutions abound, including an odometer-based, per-mile taxation system that could create a more equitable solution. As the state moves toward greater EV adoption, the ongoing hunt for innovative and fair solutions to fund transportation infrastructure guarantees that we haven’t seen the last of this issue.

Other big questions still looming:

Alimony reform – For the fourth time in recent memory, lawmakers approved another bill that weakens the institution of marriage by making it more financially lucrative for primary earners to walk away from their spouses. Period. Previous Governor Rick Scott vetoed the bill during his second term, and Governor DeSantis has vetoed it twice. Hopefully, he’ll ignore the lobbying and focus on the simplest question: does the bill strengthen the institution of marriage or not?

Abortion – Last year, Florida went from being one of the most restrictive states in the southeast, to the most liberal, when the US Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling overturned Roe v. Wade. That ruling triggered automatic abortion bans in several neighboring states, which, prior to the ruling, had more permissive laws on the books than Florida. Republicans, under pressure to advance more protections for the unborn, stopped short of a complete ban and instead restricted abortion to the first six weeks of pregnancy.

Legal abortion advocates, though, aren’t having it. A handful of groups recently announced plans to band together in an effort to gather signatures and enshrine legalized abortion into the state’s constitution. Other conservative states have tried to go in the opposite direction, by removing the right to an abortion from their respective constitutions, but voters blocked the effort. But are there enough legal abortion advocates in Florida to do the same?  Will 60 percent of voters come out to support a legal right to abort?

Legalizing recreational marijuana – Florida-based medical marijuana company Trulieve is on its way to investing $50 million into the Smart & Safe Florida political committee, aiming to legalize recreational marijuana for all adults. The committee will likely surpass the threshold requirement for signatures to place the issue on the 2024 general election ballot. If the “Adult Personal Use of Marijuana” proposal is approved, individuals aged 21 and older will be permitted to possess, purchase, or use marijuana products for non-medical purposes.

Despite Governor Ron DeSantis’s and some lawmakers’ opposition to full legalization, if Trulieve succeeds in getting the issue on the 2024 ballot, state lawmakers won’t be able to stop it directly. Florida’s business community, hospitality, and tourism sectors plan to decide a course of action on the matter this summer, with concerns about workplace safety, employee productivity, and brand reputation. Expect to hear more on this in the weeks and months ahead.

1 Comment

  1. Stan

    Good summary and initiatives to keep an eye on in the future.

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