Courtesy of The Orlando Sentinel
Published January 15, 2020
TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Ron DeSantis rides into his second
legislative session with high approval ratings, universal support from the
GOP-led Legislature and even grudging praise from some Democrats.
But his political clout is likely to face its toughest
test yet in the 60-day legislative session that begins Tuesday, as he
pursues an agenda that some of his fellow Republican lawmakers could push
DeSantis wants to sign a bill requiring businesses to use E-Verify to check
the citizenship status of potential hires, something Gov. Rick Scott
campaigned on but GOP lawmakers declined to pass in 2011. Senate President
Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, has already criticized the plan.
DeSantis also has an ambitious spending plan, including pay raises and
bonuses for teachers; pay increases for prison guards; and mental health
funding increases for schools. While some lawmakers are supportive of those
plans, warnings from state officials that an economic slowdown could be on
the horizon means some might be wary of big spending.
Lawmakers are also poised to clash over abortion bills, how to tweak the
state’s medical marijuana laws and how hard to crack down on school
districts out of compliance with school safety laws.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has an ambitious agenda for the
2020 session that starts Tuesday. He may face some pushback from his
fellow Republican lawmakers.
DeSantis’ biggest stated priority this year is a boost in teacher pay in the
form of permanent raises and bonuses, but it also comes with the largest
price tag of $900 million.
The first part of DeSantis’ plan would set aside $603
million to establish a minimum $47,500 annual salary for all teachers. The
second piece would put $300 million toward offering teachers a bonus of up
to $3,750 if their school’s annual grade increases by 6 points. Principals
would be eligible for a maximum bonus of $5,000.
There’s near-universal agreement among Republicans and Democrats that
teacher pay should go up to address a teacher shortage that has plagued
districts throughout the state. But the parties differ greatly on how much
to give, meaning lawmakers could give DeSantis’ plan a makeover before it
gets to his desk.
Some Republicans, such as House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, initially
scoffed at the cost of the package. And Democrats and teachers unions said
the raises, while welcome, would be unfair to veteran teachers who make just
more than the $47,500 threshold and would miss out on a raise.
The partisan battle over HB 265/SB 404 is already one of the bitterest
contests of the legislative session. The bill would require girls under age
18 to receive permission from their parents or guardians before receiving an
abortion. Current law only requires parental notification.
Opponents of the bill, which include most Democrats and abortion rights
activists, argue it could carry implications for all of Florida’s abortion
laws and even access to abortion itself. That’s because the measure will
almost certainly spark a lawsuit, and if the newly installed conservative
majority on the Florida Supreme Court upholds it, it would overturn a
precedent and allow for more aggressive abortion restrictions.
Lawmakers passed a similar parental notification requirement for minors in
1988, but the Supreme Court struck it down, pointing to the state
constitution’s expansive privacy rights provision. Abortion-rights opponents
have argued ever since that ruling was made in error.
Republican sponsors of this year’s bill say it’s different than the one
struck down by the court since it has an option for a minor to petition the
courts for a waiver if she is the victim of rape or incest. The bill passed
through the House last year but never gained traction in the Senate. This
year, however, Galvano has signaled his support, and the bill is already
moving in that chamber.
DeSantis’ budget recommendation calls for $91.4 billion in spending, about
$418 million more than the current year. It includes $22.9 billion for K-12
schools, about $1 billion more than this year, with $100 million for mental
health counseling in schools.
Another DeSantis’ priority is a hike in environmental spending, with his
$625 million recommendation part of a planned $2.5 billion increase over
three years. It includes $50 million for beach restoration, $50 million in
springs restoration and $100 million for Florida Forever, a state lands
Concerns over limited funds could lead lawmakers to scrimp on spending
increases in critical areas, such as the Department of Corrections. DeSantis
and Senate leaders have said they want to give prison guards raises to stop
the department’s high turnover rate and reliance on overtime.
Florida’s tourism marketing agency is once again on the chopping block.
Oliva sees no use for the department, calling $30 million of its $50 million
budget a “waste” in a recent op-ed in the Tampa Bay Times. He argued
tourists would likely flock to Florida anyway, and local tourist development
councils already use bed taxes for their own marketing efforts.
Visit Florida officials and its supporters, which include the tourism
industry, DeSantis and Senate leaders, say the program is vital to the
state’s economy and helped bring in more than 120 million visitors last
DeSantis is calling for extending Visit Florida for another eight years and
keeping its funding level at $50 million, but the House’s stance means the
agency is likely only to be extended for another year, if at all.
The case of Rebecca Fierle, a guardian for more than 400 elderly patients
who signed a Do Not Resuscitate orders without her client’s permission in at
least one case and allegedly double-billed AdventHealth hospitals for her
services, has brought focus on the state’s entire guardianship program.
Fierle was routinely appointed as guardian to elderly patients by judges
with little justification, taking advantage of loopholes in the system.
Lawmakers will attempt to close those this year.
Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, is sponsoring SB 994, which would prevent
guardians from signing DNR orders without specific court authority and
require judges to ask potential guardians about conflicts of interest with
prospective clients. Guardians also would be prevented from petitioning to
become guardians of a specific ward themselves unless they were related to
In addition, DeSantis included a $6.4 million increase for the Office of
Public and Professional Guardians in his budget recommendation, which would
nearly double its budget to $14.7 million.
A statewide grand jury investigating school safety wants the Legislature to
get tough on districts that don’t follow the law.
In a scathing report, the grand jury found districts aren’t fully carrying
out school-safety requirements. It also faulted districts for not accurately
reporting campus crime data. The panel recommended that the Legislature give
the Florida Department of Education more power to investigate and punish
school officials who aren’t following the law. Penalties could span from
withholding pay to removal from office and referral for criminal charges.
Republican state Sens. Joe Gruters and Tom Lee have filed a bill that would
require businesses to run new hires through the federal E-Verify system to
check if they are eligible to work. Making those checks mandatory was a key
campaign promise made by DeSantis, a close ally of President Donald Trump.
But business groups oppose the requirement, saying it would hurt Florida’s
economic growth and industries struggling to find workers. During the 2019
session, DeSantis scored a victory when the Legislature passed a bill
banning sanctuary cities that offer protections to undocumented residents.
That measure, though, wasn’t as consequential as the E-Verify bill as
Florida does not have any sanctuary jurisdictions, according to the U.S.
Department of Justice.
Bills have been filed that would change how Florida’s medical marijuana
market operates, ending the “vertical integration” model that caps the
number of licenses and requires companies to handle cultivation,
distribution and retail from seed to sale.
Other measures would waive the $75 fee for a medical marijuana card for
service-disabled veterans, implement workplace protections for medical
marijuana patients and add sickle cell anemia to the conditions eligible for
medical marijuana treatment.
The biggest change to the state’s marijuana laws could come if an initiative
to legalize recreational pot makes it on the ballot for the 2020 election.
Make it Legal Florida has certified 251,319 of the 766,200 signatures it
needs to get the item on the ballot. The question would also have to pass a
review by the Florida Supreme Court.
As a crucial swing state, Florida is in the crosshairs of hackers looking to
influence the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.