Ten big issues from the 2020 legislative session
Christine Sexton and Jim Saunders
News Service of Florida
Florida lawmakers finished the 2020 legislative session last Thursday by passing a $93.2 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
The Republican-dominated Legislature dealt with a wide range of issues during the session and grappled with uncertainty because of the outbreak of the coronavirus.
Here are 10 big issues from the session:
ABORTION: In a major victory for abortion opponents, lawmakers passed a bill that would require parental consent before minors could have abortions. Florida law already requires parents to be notified if their daughters plan to have abortions, but a consent requirement would be more far-reaching. A 1989 parental-consent law was ruled unconstitutional, but GOP lawmakers expressed confidence the new version would be upheld.
BUDGET: The House and Senate unanimously passed a $93.2 billion budget for the upcoming 2020-2021 fiscal year. The spending plan includes $500 million to increase teacher pay, a top priority of Gov. Ron DeSantis. It also includes such things as a 3 percent across-the-board pay hike for state workers, $100 million for the Florida Forever conservation program and $50 million for the embattled Visit Florida tourism-marketing agency.
COALITION AGAINST DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: The House spearheaded an investigation during the session into the finances of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, including millions of dollars in compensation that went to the coalition’s former chief executive officer, Tiffany Carr. After the revelations, lawmakers stripped the coalition of a contract to manage money for domestic-violence centers across the state. The probe started after reporting by the Miami Herald.
CORONAVIRUS: As the novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, began spreading in Florida, it dominated the end of the legislative session. Budget negotiators scrambled to factor in the potential economic effects of the highly contagious virus, putting an additional $300 million in reserves and scaling back a proposed tax-cut package. A deep dip in tax revenues could ultimately force the House and Senate to revisit the budget and make cuts.
EDUCATION: Lawmakers agreed to spend $500 million to increase the salaries of public-school teachers, while also continuing a long-running effort to expand school vouchers. The House and Senate passed a bill that could add nearly 29,000 students next year to the Family Empowerment Scholarship voucher program. Meanwhile, lawmakers could not agree on a major school-safety bill after recommendations from a state commission and a grand jury.
ENVIRONMENT: DeSantis has made a priority of spending $625 million a year on Everglades restoration and other water-related projects. The Legislature topped that amount, setting aside about $690 million for projects in various parts of the state. Also, the Legislature decided to spend $100 million next year on the Florida Forever land-conservation program and approved a bill that will increase fines for environmental lawbreakers.
HEALTH CARE: House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, delivered on his promise to allow advanced practice registered nurses to practice independently of physicians. DeSantis quickly signed the bill, which Oliva contends will help expand access to care. DeSantis also signed another Oliva priority that will allow pharmacists to test and treat patients for the flu and strep throat. The measures drew oppositions from physician groups.
IMMIGRATION: Trying to carry out a 2018 campaign pledge, DeSantis pushed this year for requiring employers to use the federal E-Verify system to check the immigration status of new hires. But lawmakers refused to go as far as DeSantis wanted, passing a bill that would mandate all government employers use E-Verify, while making it optional for many businesses. Proposed E-Verify requirements have faced opposition from agriculture, construction and tourism industries.
INSURANCE: As incoming House speaker, Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, was a powerful figure during this year’s session. Sprowls led a successful effort to pass a bill that, if signed by DeSantis, will block life insurers and long-term care insurers from using customers’ genetic information in making decisions about policies, including pricing. Meanwhile, a renewed attempt to repeal the state’s no-fault auto insurance system died.
PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES: Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, made a priority of revamping a Medicaid-funded program known as the iBudget, which provides services that help about 35,000 people with developmental disabilities live at home or in their communities. Lawmakers passed a bill that will make changes in the program and included $241 million in the new budget to wipe out past iBudget deficits.