|This edition of the “LWVFL Capitol Report” includes highlights of the Florida League’s legislative work from March 27, 2023 through April 5, 2023.|
|Session At A Glance|
The fourth week of session moved quickly with legislative leadership fast tracking their priorities inclusive of but not limited to abortion, tort reform, school vouchers, and permitless carry.
The fifth week of the session marked a short week ending at noon on Wednesday, April 5, in anticipation of Passover and Easter weekend.
Concurrently, Appropriation Chairs rolled out their spending plans ahead of budget conferencing. The Senate released an initial $113.7 billion budget proposal including a 4.75% increase in funds per public school student, 3% pay increase for all state employees and $350 million in recovery grants that would go to areas impacted by Hurricanes Ian and Nicole.
|ANOTHER Harmful Election Bill Filed – GEAR UP FOR A FIGHT!|
Florida’s legislature is attempting to erect even more barriers to voter registration drives and use of mail ballots, along with steeper fines for registration groups that potentially make wrong steps and the potential that voters could see their ballots trashed.
The proposal (Senate Bill 7050) reduces the number of days a third-party voter-registration organization (3PVRO) has to deliver an application to 10 days, and any day after that they would be fined $50 per each day it is late, up to a maximum of $2,500. For each application delivered after book-closing, meaning the deadline to register in advance of any election, the groups would be fined $100 per each day late, up to a maximum of $5,000. Under existing law, 3PVRO’s are fined $50 for each application delivered to the division of elections more than 14 days after it was submitted to the third-party organization, and $100 if submitted after book closing.
There’s more: 3PVRO organizations, like the League, will be forced to provide a receipt to each applicant upon accepting possession of the application should this pass. 3PVROs will also be made to re-register with the state every single election cycle.
The bill also makes it so that all first-time Florida voters who have never been issued a current and valid Florida driver license or a voter ID card or a Social Security number would have to vote in person the first time.
The whopping 98-page committee bill was not published until 2:09 p.m. on April 3, less than 24 hours before it was to be heard for the first time — nearly halfway through the 60-day legislative session.Even with a short turn-around time, the League ensured our voice was represented at the bill’s committee hearing.
“It does seem extremely punitive to the third-party voter organizations,” said Cecile Scoon, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida. “The League is one, and we’ve trained many others. They’ve come to us and said that they can’t bear the burden that the state is unfairly putting on them with these increased fines.”
“This bill is not a recipe for a well-run election,” said Amy Keith, program director with Common Cause Florida and League member. “It severely reduces access to … third-party voting registration organizations who have long assisted with voter registration in lower-income and marginalized communities.”
Click here to watch the entire meeting(Cecile’s remarks begin around the 1 hour, 45 minute mark.)
League members must be on high alert for any action alerts or requests to membership regarding this bill. Members are encouraged to track it for themselves.
This bill is now a top priority for the League to try and fight! It is seemingly a direct attack on our important work.
|Senate Passes Abortion Ban & Occupy Tallahassee Event|
On Monday, April 4 the Senate passed Florida’s near-total abortion ban. A large scale “Occupy Tallahassee” protest ensued after the Senate vote.
Click here to see the final Senate vote tally.
The proposal (Senate Bill 300 & House Bill 7) must still be approved by the House before it reaches the Governor’s desk for signature. As it stands now, Florida currently prohibits abortions after 15 weeks. The League will continue to fight this legislation and update members on the pending House vote.
League members, including Florida League President Cecile M. Scoon & Executive Director Leah Nash, were present for an event dubbed “Occupy Tallahassee.” The event consisted of peaceful protesting to help raise our collective voice to defend reproductive freedom.
|As a reminder, the League of Women Voters of Florida believes that the freedom to peacefully protest and rally together is an invaluable part of our democracy. |
Once the sun set, remaining advocates (League members were not present) outside of Tallahassee’s City Hall (across the street from the Florida Capitol Complex) were asked to end their demonstrations. After refusing to end their demonstrations — sitting in a circle, singing “Lean on Me” — more than a dozen protesters were handcuffed and detained by Tallahassee Police Department. This group of individuals included Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book and former Agricultural Commissioner (and current Florida Democratic Party Chair) Nikki Fried. Some were forced into a van marked “prisoner transport.”
Click here to see footage of the arrests.
The arrested advocates were taken to the Leon County Jail and later released released on their own recognizance, which means they did not need to post any form of cash bail but will have to appear in court in the near future.
|League Action on Legislation|
House Bill 175: Everglades Protection Area
House Bill 175 by Representative Busatta Cabrera was heard and voted favorably 17-0 by the Agricultural, Conservation, and Resiliency Subcommittee on March 27, 2023. The League waived in support. The Everglades used to cover over seven million acres of South Florida, but human activities have reduced it to less than half its original size. The Everglades Forever Act was passed in 1994 to restore and protect the ecosystem. It established the Everglades Protection Area, which includes Water Conservation Areas and Everglades National Park. The Act requires the Department of Environmental Protection to restore and protect the Everglades, reduce excessive levels of phosphorus, pursue solutions to water quality and quantity issues, expedite plans for improving water quantity, and achieve water quality goals through stormwater treatment and best management practices.
Senate Joint Resolution 94: Partisan Election of District School Board Members
Senate Joint Resolution94 by Senator Gruters was heard and voted favorably 7-2 by the Education Prek-12 Committee on March 27, 2023. The League waived in opposition. Senate Joint Resolution 94 proposes an amendment to the Florida Constitution to require members of a district school board to be elected in a partisan race. If SJR 94 is adopted, members of district boards may not be elected on a partisan basis until the general election held in November 2026. Primary elections for purposes of nominating political party candidates to district school boards may occur before the 2026 general election. SJR 94 requires three-fifths vote of the membership of each house of the Legislature for passage. If adopted by 60 percent of the electors voting on the measure at the 2024 general election, the amendment will go into effect upon approval by the electors.
The League believes the primary objective of school board members should be to ensure the best interests of the students and schools they serve, not to cater to a particular political party or ideology. Partisan elections could also lead to greater political polarization and hinder the ability of board members to work together and make decisions based on what is best for the students and schools. Additionally, it may discourage qualified individuals who do not align with the political party of the district from running for school board positions, further limiting the diversity of voices and perspectives on the board.
The House companion bill, HB 31 by Representative Roach and Representative Sirois was read for a second time on March 30, 2023 and was placed on third reading for March 31, 2023. The proposed change would apply only to elections on or after November 3, 2026, except that earlier primaries for the purposes of nominating candidates for placement on the 2026 general election ballot are permissible.
House Bill 1069: Education
House Bill 1069 by Representative Anderson and Representative McClain was read for a second time on March 30, 2023, and was placed on third reading for March 31, 2023. HB 1069 extends through grade 8 the prohibitions from the 2022 “Don’t Say Gay” law that were through grade 3. Additionally, in grades 9-12, instruction “must be age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.” It defines the term “sex” as an immutable biological trait; prohibits public schools from referring to a person using personal titles or pronouns that do not correspond with that person’s sex; prohibits classroom instruction by school personnel on sexual orientation or gender identity until grade 9; requires district school boards to adopt and publish a specified process relating to student access to certain materials, requiring that certain materials be unavailable to students until the resolution of any objection, etc.
The League believes this legislation equates to school districts being forced to abandon their own students. By imposing severe restrictions on the kinds of discussions teachers may have with students in all grades, the bill prevents children from seeking assistance with issues that cause them distress. In America we celebrate free speech, independent thinking, and equality – these are the ideals of our nation. Trying to limit or remove those freedoms is not patriotic. It’s censorship. By taking away these opportunities, policymakers are ensuring there will be increased bullying, disrespect, and violence in public schools. Books that tell stories about LBGTQ individuals help save lives. Legislation similar that bans them threatens lives. This and other previously enacted legislation prohibits teachers from learning more about their students. With these restrictions in place, it will be difficulty for teachers to know what is age or developmentally appropriate for any one child. Teachers are already self-censoring and HB 1069 exacerbates this; it is the child who loses out.
SB 150: Public Safety – Permitless Carry of Firearms
Senate Bill 150 by Senator Collins was read for a second time on March 29, 2023 and substituted for HB 543. On March 30, 2023 HB 543 was passed and on March 31, it was engrossed. CS/SB 150 addresses firearm permitting in two ways. First, the bill provides that persons who wish to carry a concealed weapon or concealed firearm, without obtaining and maintaining a concealed weapon or concealed firearm license from the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) may lawfully do so, if they meet certain criteria. Second, the bill amends various sections of law relating to school safety and creates the Florida Safe Schools Canine Program. On Monday, April 3, Gov. DeSantis signed the bill into law behind closed doors.
The League believes the lives of all Floridians, from business owners to law enforcement, will be put at risk by this new law which eliminates the permitting process to carry a concealed handgun in public. Background checks and training are common sense measures that support public health and safety while also upholding our right to bear arms.The League has long recognized that the right to vote is meaningless without the right to vote safely. The unchecked and open carrying of concealed firearms imperils the electoral process at multiple stages, from the threat of violence at registration to voter intimidation at the polls.
House Bill 1403 & Senate Bill 1580
House Bill 1403 was heard by the House Healthcare Regulation Subcommittee on April 3 and Senate Bill 1580 was heard by the Senate Health Policy Committee on April 4. The League testified against these bills in their respective committees. HB 1403 and SB 1508 give a health care provider or health care payor the right to refuse to participate in providing or paying for any health care service on the basis of a conscience-based objection, an objection based upon a sincerely held religious, moral or ethical belief. The presence of a conscience-based objection must be noticed in writing to the health care practitioner’s supervisor or employer, the educational institution (if a student) or documented in the patient’s medical file at the time of the objection “or timely thereafter.”
The League has long held the position that health care should be available to all, we must object to this bill that we believe will reduce the availability of health services. At the very least, conscience-based objections on the part of health care providers will result in adding confusion and delays in the scheduling of services.
House Bill 19: Individual Education Plans
House Bill 19 by Representative Tant was read for a second time on March 30, 2023 and was placed on third reading for March 31, 2023. The League applauds this bill’s passage. HB 19 will allow all students who are between the ages of three and 21, and who have a disability to have the right to a free, appropriate public education. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) governs how state and public agencies provide early intervention, education, and related services to eligible children with disabilities. States receiving IDEA funds must comply with detailed procedural requirements, including identifying, evaluating, and making placements for students with disabilities and for developing an individualized education program (IEP) for each student. Florida law requires a student’s IEP team to begin the planning process and IEP development when the student is in grade seven or when the student attains the age of 12, whichever occurs first.