With DeSantis directing, here are five issues to watch this Florida Legislature session
TALLAHASSEE – Florida lawmakers will mostly play follow-the-leader this spring, with Gov. Ron DeSantis setting out a wish list the Republican-controlled Legislature appears eager to meet.
In other years, there has sometimes friction between GOP legislators and a governor from their own party.
But DeSantis tolerates little disagreement, and he’s unlikely to get much from Republican supermajorities in the House and Senate when lawmakers convene Tuesday for the 60-day regular session.
How Florida turned red:Changing population, weak opposition, aggressive Gov. Ron DeSantis
Get ready for more vouchers:Florida House speaker pushes to open private school vouchers to all
New targets for DeSantis?In push to the right, Florida cities and counties become focus for DeSantis and lawmakers
Here’s some of what lawmakers will focus on:
Pack your pistol − permitless carry is here
Lawmakers are poised to let Floridians carry guns, without the need for a concealed weapons permit. In a strange crossfire, though, the pro-gun bill is drawing heat from both sides of the battle over access to firearms.
So-called ‘constitutional’ carry advocates are angry because they want people allowed to openly display weapons, a step not allowed in the legislation. Supporters of more gun limits call it crazy to give more untrained Floridians the opportunity to wield guns.
But the delicately crafted ‘permitless’ compromise has the support of the Florida Sheriffs Association and other law enforcement groups, who balk at open carry. A question hovering: Will DeSantis sign a bill that doesn’t satisfy Second Amendment ideologues?
School vouchers for all
Florida’s been letting students use taxpayer money to attend private schools for years – since former Gov. Jeb Bush launched the nation’s first statewide voucher program for low-income students in 1999.
But this year, the House and Senate are poised to kick the door open completely. Effectively they are looking to free students from having to meet any financial eligibility standards to have their private school tuition paid.
Families could choose to send their voucher-backed students to private schools, or still rely on public classrooms. But opponents, including the state’s biggest teachers’ union, the Florida Education Association, warn the shift will steer billions of dollars from public schools, while also potentially re-segregating many neighborhood schools.
Lawyers and lawsuits under fire
The landscape was seeded in December, when, during a special session on property insurance, lawmakers imposed new restrictions on Floridians looking to sue their insurers over payment disputes.
Now, GOP majorities in the House and Senate are ready to approve changes that would further shield insurance companies, businesses and health care providers.
Statistics show Florida is a national leader in many lawsuit categories. But rather than identify and address failings that spark such courtroom battles, lawmakers are siding with businesses targeted in these complaints, with new restrictions on attorneys’ fees, liability when defendants are partially at fault, and “bad faith,” when insurance companies don’t properly settle claims.
Tax break bonanza
DeSantis last year signed a $1.2 billion package of tax breaks, which he cited as the biggest single giveback in Florida history.
But with his presidential campaign about to start, the governor is ratcheting up the tax breaks. Clearly trying to enhance the image of Florida’s robust economy, DeSantis has landed on $2 billion in proposed tax breaks as this year’s eye-catching total.
The governor has cited inflation as a need for a bigger break, dubbing it “Bidenflation” as he name-checks the president he thinks he’ll be facing off against next year.
Florida is awash in revenue, helped, in part, by COVID-19 federal era aid which flowed to Florida from a then-Democratic controlled Congress and President Joe Biden.
Florida’s go-go economy has made state budget-crafting simple. No surprise, DeSantis is backed by Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, and House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, on the big tax break idea.
Included would be sales tax exemptions on children’s books and toys, permanent exemptions on baby and toddler needs, kids’ sports equipment, household items and four weeks of back-to-school holidays.
Free Florida? More DeSantis clampdowns coming
Like former President Donald Trump, his one-time mentor turned presidential rival, DeSantis has built his political brand around grievances. And this spring, DeSantis is demanding that lawmakers tackle some fresh targets.
The governor has outlined plans to bar local governments from using socially conscious strategies when investing, while also getting a state law enacted that would bar the Florida Retirement System from using environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) as a factor in directing its dollars.
DEI, or diversity, equity and inclusion programs, also are set for elimination at colleges and universities, under another plan the governor is advancing. DeSantis also wants to make it easier to sue media organizations and individuals for defamation, although that legislation is aimed primarily at pushing the potentially landmark change before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The session is almost certain also to include more culture war clashes, with measures aimed at social media companies, transgender students, and parental rights legislation — attacked last year as “Don’t Say Gay,” — which could be extended through all elementary school grades this year.
John Kennedy is a reporter in the USA TODAY Network’s Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @JKennedyReport