This edition of the “LWVFL Capitol Report” includes highlights of the Florida League’s legislative work from April 6, 2023 through April 14, 2023.
Session At A Glance
A tumultuous Week 6 of the 2023 Legislative Session has come to an end. The week was punctuated by high profile contentious committee hearings and floor debates on issues such as gender and sexual identity politics, DEI policies, “Fetal Heartbeat” legislation and street protests on a variety of these topics.
The League was actively engaged in several of these high-profile issues and continued to raise their voices on elections, reproductive rights, education and natural resources. Here is a roundup of key legislative issues this week:
Abortion Bill Passes, signed by Governor
This week, House Bill 7 and Senate Bill 300 Pregnancy and Parenting Support was passed without any amendments, banning physicians from performing most abortions beyond six weeks of pregnancy. The full House passed new abortion restrictions Thursday amid public outbursts in the chamber’s gallery and Gov. Ron DeSantis quickly signed the measure into law.
House Republicans rejected numerous amendments filed by Democrats on Thursday and in a chamber quieted after the ejection of protesters from the public viewing gallery passed.
The measure bans doctors from performing most abortions beyond six weeks of pregnancy. It makes make exceptions in cases of rape, incest, human trafficking, fatal fetal abnormalities or if the mother is at risk of severe injury or death. To qualify for the exception, the measure requires pregnant women to prove they are a victim of rape, incest, or human trafficking by producing a police report or other evidence, in which case it would allow abortions up to 15 weeks. The bill also includes a $25 million annual appropriation to expand services provided by state-supported, faith-based pregnancy centers, including clothing, car seats, diapers, and counseling, but the requirement that the centers be run by faith-based organizations has drawn criticism. Opponents argued the government should not interfere in decisions a patient makes with a doctor, while supporters said it protects the right to life.
Nearly 60 amendments filed by Democrats all failed or were subsequently withdrawn. The amendments ranged from removing the current requirement of two doctors to prove a fatal fetal abnormality to funding rape crisis centers in the state. The unamended legislation, sponsored by Fort Pierce Republican Sen. Erin Grall and Rep. Jenna Persons-Mulicka, R-Fort Myers, passed on a 70-40 vote with some Republicans joining Democrats in opposition.
However, abortion remains legal up to 15 weeks until Florida’s Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of the previously instated ban. If you or someone you know needs an abortion, reach out at 1-800-230-PLAN or visit abortionfinder.org.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Additionally, this week, members of a Senate committee supported plans to end
“diversity, equity and inclusion” programs at universities, removing those words entirely from a bill that would have prevented state spending on such programs due to concerns about loss of accreditation. The legislation initially barred universities from considering DEI practices when hiring staff or faculty, but the Senate Appropriations Committee on Education agreed to remove the words “diversity, equity and inclusion” entirely from the bill. Instead, Republican supporters of the bill added new language that would prohibit schools from spending on programs based on theories that systemic racism, sexism, oppression, and privilege are inherent in the institutions of the United States and were created to maintain social, political, and economic inequities.
Gov. Signs Wildlife Trail Bill Into Law
Governor DeSantis signed into law on Tuesday a Senate leadership-backed proposal (SB 106) that would make a major financial investment in expanding the Florida Wildlife Corridor by connecting the corridor to Florida’s Greenways and Trails System, the Shared-Use Nonmotorized, or SUN, Trail Network and other recreational trails. The League expressed early concerns that the trails needed to be designed and developed in a way that did not adversely affect wildlife, but in general supported the bill.
Charter Schools Could Get More Public School Funding
Charter schools would get the same type of funding as traditional public schools under legislation that cleared the House Education & Employment Committee on Tuesday. The bill (HB 1259), brought by Jennifer Canady, R-Lakeland, would require public schools to share a portion of their districts’ local sales tax revenues for charter school building costs.
The shift in the funding model for school facilities would happen over a five-year period and the money would be split between charter schools and traditional public schools based on the number of students. The majority of Democrats voted in opposition, arguing that the change would result in less money and resources for traditional public schools. Fort Lauderdale Democrat Rep. Patricia Williams said the move could transfer $490 million of taxpayer funds from public schools to charter schools, adding that the legislation does not provide a plan for what would happen to the tax-funded building if a charter school shuts down. But those in support of the measure claim it would give popular charter schools a chance to expand and help more Florida students.
The proposal also gives flexibility to colleges and universities on how they use state money, including increasing the maximum wage for state university employees. Additionally, the measure would allow higher education institutions to use leftover funds from one year for other purposes within the university the next year. Lawmakers initially took that ability away five years ago but a provision in the House bill would bring it back. A Senate companion (SB 1328), sponsored by Bradenton Republican Sen. Jim Boyd, does not include the university spending language and only deals with charter school facility funding. Both bills have one more committee to clear.
League Action on Legislation
House Bill 1403 – Protection of Medical Conscience
House Bill 1403 Protection of Medical Conscience by Representative Rudman was heard and voted favorably 12-5 in the Health and Human Sciences Committee. HB1403 establishes a health care provider’s or health care payor’s right to decline to participate in any health care service, including treatment and research, which violates the provider’s or payors sincerely held religious, moral, or ethical beliefs. The bill requires health care providers and students to raise a conscience-based objection at the time when the incident giving rise to the objection occurs or as soon as practicable thereafter. The bill also requires health care providers to document the objection in the patient’s medical record. League Member Kathy Winn testified in opposition to this bill.
Senate Bill 540 – Local Government Comprehensive Plans
Senate Bill 540 by Senator DiCeglie provides that in challenges to the comprehensive plan and plan amendments, including small scale plan amendments, the prevailing party is entitled to recover attorney fees and costs, including reasonable appellate attorney fees and costs. The bill revises the statute regulating land development regulations, to provide that land development regulations relating to any characteristic of development other than use, or intensity or density of use, do not apply to Florida College System institutions. Lastly, the bill clarifies the scope of review for a local government decision to grant or deny a development order. Thank you the League members who responded to our Action Alert regarding this harmful legislation.
Senate Bill 1220 – Defamation and Related Actions
Senate Bill 1220 by Senator Brodeur has been temporarily postponed by the Rules Committee twice. The League has been present to waive in opposition both times and will continue to express opposition to this unjust legislation. SB 1220 creates and amends several statutes relating to defamation causes of action. The most significant changes purport to reduce a plaintiff’s burden of proof necessary to prevail in a defamation action.
Senate Bill 246 – Florida Kidcare Program Eligibility
Senate Bill 246 by Senator Calatayud was voted favorable 16-0 in the Appropriations Committee on Health and Human Services. SB 246 raises the income eligibility limits for the subsidized MediKids, Florida Healthy Kids, and Children’s Medical Services Network programs within the Florida Kidcare (Kidcare) program from 200 percent to 250 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL), effective July 1, 2023, and from 250 percent to 300 percent effective, July 1, 2024, subject to federal approval. League Member Kathy Winn testified in support of this bill.
SB 266 – Higher Education
Senate Bill 266 by Senator Grall was voted favorable by the Appropriations Committee in an 8-4 vote. The League waived in opposition to this bill. SB 266 dictates what courses of study college students could choose to pursue, prohibiting fields of study involving race and gender studies, it usurps faculty hiring decisions to the governors’ appointees and allows tenure to be reviewed at any time, prohibits spending on activities that promote diversity, equity and inclusion and creates new general education requirements prioritizing neoclassical education focused on Western European civilization.