The Florida Legislature is a bicameral body, meaning it has two chambers: the Senate and the House of Representatives. Comprised of 40 Senators and 120 Representatives, the Florida Legislature passes new laws, repeals current laws, and determines the budget for the next fiscal year during the 60-day session. Each chamber has its own leadership, rules, committees, and staff. The Senate is led by the Senate President, who is elected by the senators for a two-year term. The current Senate President is Kathleen Passidomo, a Republican from Naples. The House is led by the Speaker of the House, who is elected by the representatives for a two-year term. The current Speaker is Paul Renner, a Republican from Palm Coast.
The Legislature meets every year for a regular session, which usually starts in March of odd-numbered years and in January of even-numbered years. The session lasts for 60 consecutive days, unless extended by a joint resolution. The Legislature can also meet for special sessions, which are called by the Governor, the Senate President, or the House Speaker, to address specific issues. It’s important to note here that the Florida legislature has required a special session more than half of the time in the last decade.
These special sessions were required because the Republican-controlled legislature tended to spend more time on culture war issues like passing the Don’t Say Gay bill, abortion bans, and attacking Disney, than actually solving problems for everyday Floridians. When the regular session ends, and nothing has been done about important things like housing insurance, Medicaid expansion, or affordable housing, the legislature has to come back into session to try to fix it. Often, Florida Republicans use the special session for even more culture wars – such as when they spent part of last year’s special session sanctioning Iran. But hey, but at least strawberry shortcake is now the official state dessert.
The main function of the Legislature is to enact new laws and amend or repeal existing laws. The process of making laws involves several steps, such as drafting, filing, committee review, floor debate, voting, and then approval by the Governor. The process begins when a legislator sponsors a bill, which is then referred to one or more committees related to the bill’s subject. The committee studies the bill and decides if it should be amended, pass, or fail. If passed by the various sub-committees, the bill moves to other committees of reference or to the full house. The full chamber then votes on the bill. If it passes in one chamber of the legislature, it is sent to the other chamber for review. A bill goes through the same process in the second chamber as it did in the first. A bill can go back and forth between houses until a consensus is reached. Of course, the measure could fail at any point in the process.
A bill can originate in either chamber, except for appropriation bills, which must start in the House (though the senate can amend or substitute them). A bill must pass both chambers in identical form before it can be sent to the Governor, who can sign it, veto it, or let it become law without his signature.
The most important duty of the Legislature is to pass a balanced budget for the state, which is required by the Florida Constitution. The budget determines how much money the state will spend on various programs and services, such as education, health care, transportation, and public safety. The budget also sets the state tax rates and fees. The Governor proposes a budget to the Legislature, which then makes changes and passes its own version. The Governor can veto parts or all of the budget, which can be overridden by a two-thirds vote of both chambers.
See our analysis of the Governor’s Proposed Budget here.
Air Force veteran, writing about the intersection of domestic policy and national security, especially as it effects his home state of Florida.