The Florida Legislature, the lawmaking branch of the state government, will begin its 60-day regular session next Tuesday. The session will end on March 8, unless extended by a joint resolution. During this time, 160 legislators, composed of 40 senators and 120 representatives, will debate and vote on hundreds of bills that affect the lives of millions of Floridians.
House Speaker Paul Renner has said his priorities for the 2024 session would include an increase in the number of health care providers in the state, improve access to mental health care, and to begin conversations that will ensure Florida’s independence in energy, pharmaceuticals, and food.
What are the Key Issues?
The 2024 legislative session is expected to be a busy and contentious one, as lawmakers tackle a range of issues that affect the state and its residents. These are largely issues that have festered for years under Republican majorities in the legislature and Republican governors since 1999.
Some of the key issues that will likely dominate the agenda are:
Abortion: After passing a six-week abortion ban in 2023, Republican lawmakers and Governor Ron DeSantis are facing legal challenges from pro-choice groups and the federal government. The bill, which would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, is one of the most restrictive in the nation and could trigger a Supreme Court review. The bill includes some very limited exceptions for rape or incest, which are only valid if the fetus is not more than 15 weeks, and the woman provides a restraining order or police report. It also requires parental consent for minors and mandatory counseling for women seeking abortions. Of note, a Florida Atlantic University poll in May 2022 found that 67% of Floridians supported legalized abortion in most or all cases, and a University of North Florida poll in November 2023 found that 62% of Florida voters would support a proposed constitutional amendment to protect abortion rights. This is why Republican lawmakers are trying to make it harder for constitutional amendments to pass by raising the threshold from 60% to two-thirds (66.66%, repeating of course).
Climate Change: Florida is one of the most vulnerable states to the effects of climate change, such as sea level rise, extreme weather, and biodiversity loss. Lawmakers are considering several bills that aim to address the environmental and economic impacts of climate change. While some, such as Representative Eskamani’s proposal to ban offshore drilling, promote renewable energy sources, and create a condominium windstorm pilot program are designed to assist working class Floridians, others tend to favor those with coastal properties. Credit where it’s due, Governor DeSantis has taken steps to harden Florida’s coastline against rising sea levels. As laudable as that is, he continues to reject the scientific consensus surrounding man-made global warming, which limits Florida’s ability to take needed measures. After all, Florida is the most vulnerable region of the world, after China, to climate disasters. As if to rub salt in the wound, Senate Republicans are supporting an “EV tax” that would require electric-vehicle owners to pay extra registration fees as more people convert to electric and hybrid vehicles.
Education: Education is always a hot topic in the Legislature, as lawmakers debate how to fund and improve the state’s public schools, colleges, and universities. Here, we see proposed bills by Republican lawmakers designed to further loosen regulations by expanding school choice programs that have been abused by funding Disney tickets and video game consoles, while prohibiting certain speech in the classroom. Senate Republicans have also proposed a bill to eliminate Florida’s third-grade retention rule, allowing students to move on to fourth grade without passing the state reading test, and would also allow high school students to graduate without passing certain exams. For their part, Democrats have offered proposals to increase teacher salaries and support economically disadvantaged school readiness programs. These bills reflect the different visions and values of the Republican and Democratic parties when it comes to education. Republicans favor more competition, innovation, and accountability in a more privatized education system, while Democrats favor more investment, equity, and quality in the public education system. Both sides claim to have the best interests of the students, parents, and educators at heart, but they often disagree on how to achieve them.
Health Care: Health care is another major issue that affects millions of Floridians, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Democrats will continue to push for Medicaid expansion (Florida is one of only 10 states that have not accepted federal funding to expand Medicaid access) and pregnancy support and wellness services. For their part, Republicans are offering anti-vaccine proposals such that the administration of vaccines is not included in public health emergency declarations, and several bills attempting to limit healthcare access by existing Medicaid patients. They have also announced the “Live Healthy” proposal, which is designed to grow Florida’s health care workforce. This comes in direct contrast to the Governor’s budget proposal, which proposes cutting 1,000 state jobs, primarily in the already over-burdened Department of Health.
Voting Rights: After the 2020 election, which saw record turnout and no major fraud or irregularities, some lawmakers are seeking to change the state’s voting laws, claiming they are necessary to ensure election integrity and security. However, critics argue that the proposed changes are aimed at suppressing the vote of minorities, young people, and other groups that tend to favor Democrats. Previously passed changes include limiting the use of drop boxes, requiring more frequent requests for mail ballots, and restricting the ability of third parties to assist voters. In this session, Republicans are attempting to increase the threshold to pass a constitutional amendment from 60% to 67%, because polling shows that approximately 64% of voters support a constitutional amendment protecting abortion access.
These are just some of the issues that will be discussed and debated in the 2024 session. The outcome of these issues will have a significant impact on the future of Florida and its people. Stay tuned for more updates and analysis as the session progresses, as we conduct deep dives into specific issues throughout the first two weeks of the regular session.
Air Force veteran, writing about the intersection of domestic policy and national security, especially as it effects his home state of Florida.