This edition of the “LWVFL Capitol Report” includes highlights of the Florida League’s legislative work from April 14, 2023 through April 23, 2023.
Session At A Glance
The seventh week of session moved quickly with legislative leadership fast tracking their priorities on the House and Senate floor including anti-ESG legislation, DEI programs in higher education, and LGBTQ+ restrictions.
Governors Agenda Dominating Legislature
Lawmakers closely aligned with Governor Ron DeSantis have made significant strides during the current legislative session. They have passed one of the most stringent abortion bans in the country, removed the need for permits to carry concealed weapons, expanded school vouchers, and provided legal protection to insurance companies. The Governor’s agenda is not yet finished, as they plan to impose restrictions on immigration laws and limit transgender healthcare. Governor DeSantis is treating his mandate as a call to action.
Furthermore, in his ongoing feud with Walt Disney World, he is calling for new laws to be passed to control the park’s development and address concerns about its “woke” corporate ethics. He has proposed inspecting Disney rides and potentially raising tax rates for the entertainment giant, among other actions. Democrats have criticized the governor’s actions, stating that he is more interested in seeking retaliation than good governance.
The House and Senate are poised to start conferencing on budgets between chambers starting Monday, April 24. The House and Senate passed separate budgets earlier this month and the two chambers are now working on allocating how much of the available money will go toward each section of the budget for the coming fiscal year. The next step involves conference committees to finalize an agreement. Issues that can’t be agreed on by the joint budget conference committees are “bumped” to each chamber’s Appropriations Committee chairs who try to work out the sticking points. In some cases, the differences may be decided by the House speaker and the Senate president. The result is called the Conference Committee Report, which is open for 72 hours before each chamber adopts and votes on the final version of the budget. The regular legislative session is scheduled to adjourn on Friday, May 5.
The Florida Board of Education has extended its ban on teaching topics related to sexual orientation and gender identity in classrooms. The ban, which was originally passed by the Legislature last year for grades up to grade 3, has now been expanded by the Board to include all grades up to 12, except for health education classes. The Board also removed four standards from the curriculum in social studies and psychology classes in high school, including one that required students to compare and contrast gender identity and sexual orientation. This move is seen as a violation of the “Parental Rights in Education” law passed last year. Meanwhile, the Florida Senate has passed a proposed constitutional amendment that seeks to make school board elections partisan races from November 2026. The amendment will now be put to a vote, and it will require 60% of the voters to vote yes for it to come into effect.
Senate Bill 266, the ‘Diversity, Equity and Inclusion’ bill was amended on Thursday in the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee. The committee passed the bill seeking to prevent colleges and universities from spending money on diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, initiatives. The bill states that “general education core courses may not distort significant historical events or include a curriculum that teaches identity politics,” referring to critical race theory, or CRT, which is an academic framework that denotes that systemic racism is part of American society.
Opponents, including Miami Gardens Democrat Sen. Shev Jones, called the legislation “racist at its core.” But the sponsor of the bill, Fort Pierce Republican Sen. Erin Grall, claimed the proposal ensures that students aren’t being taught one point of view, arguing that such programs can be discriminatory. At its previous committee stop, the measure was amended to remove the words “diversity, equity and inclusion,” but on Thursday, a successful amendment reintroduced a ban on funding for such groups and programs within schools.
The proposal also gives the Board of Governors, which oversees the state university system, more control over school curriculum and university presidents the power to hire faculty. Critics fear it could lower Florida’s nationally recognized academic ratings in higher education. The measure is a priority of Gov. Ron DeSantis and is now ready to be considered by the full Senate.
On Wednesday, the Florida House of Representatives passed the amended version of SB 254 that bans gender-related medical care for minors. The bill imposes criminal penalties on doctors who violate the ban and restricts state funding for such treatments. Additionally, new restrictions are placed on treatments for transgender adults, including the requirement for physicians to obtain informed written consent from patients while physically being in the same room as the patient. Changes to the bill require minors to stop using medication such as puberty blockers and hormone therapy by the end of the year. Private health insurers and HMOs are also prevented from covering certain treatments, including puberty blockers, hormone therapy, and sex reassignment surgery. Furthermore, Floridians are precluded from changing their birth certificates. The bill is backed by Governor Ron DeSantis and state Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, while opponents argue that the restrictions infringe on the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. The bill will now be returned to the Senate for final approval due to the recent changes made to it.
The House unanimously passed HB 111 that would require the Resilient Florida Grant Program to provide funding for local governments to conduct feasibility studies and pay for permits for natural remedies to flooding and sea-level rise. The legislation, filed by Democratic Representative Christine Hunschofsky of Coconut Creek, also expands funding to include water management districts that support local government adaptation planning. It would also require public entities to conduct a study on sea-level impact projection (SLIP) if any structures or infrastructure that are potentially at risk are located within an area vulnerable to sea-level rise. The measure defines an area at risk of sea-level rise as any place expected to be below the tidal flooding threshold within the next 50 years, considering the highest of two local sea-level rise projections. The proposal now heads to the Senate, where a similar companion bill (SB 1170) is expected to be considered in its third and final committee of reference on Thursday.
Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement
Governor Ron DeSantis has signed a new law that will allow a death sentence to be recommended with a minimum vote of 8-4 from jurors in capital cases. This is the lowest threshold for death penalty verdicts in the country. However, the jury must unanimously find at least one aggravating factor beyond reasonable doubt for the death penalty to be imposed. The legislation was signed after a jury recommended life imprisonment for Nikolas Cruz, the shooter in the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre. Florida is now one of only two states, alongside Alabama, that do not require jury unanimity for death sentence recommendations.
Priority Election Bill Update
House Bill 7067/Senate Bill 7050
House Bill 7067 was heard by the House State Affairs Committee on April 19. The League waived in opposition. Senate Bill 7050 was heard by the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee on April 20. League President Cecile M. Scoon testified on behalf of the League.
These two harmful bills make major changes to third-party voter registration regulations and make additional changes to vote-by-mail, voter registration, voter IDs, and election administration.
These bills dramatically increase fines and put in place harsh deadlines for community organizations like the League, making it even harder and more intimidating for them to continue supporting voters. The changes are designed to have a chilling effect on voter registration groups. The fines coupled with shorter deadlines will especially impact smaller organizations who are often closest to marginalized communities. This is all deliberately designed to have a chilling effect on community-based voter registration.
These bills require community voter registration groups to provide a receipt to the voter and this receipt must include the name of the individual who registered the voter. After the targeting and prosecution of mistaken voters over the past year by the state’s election police, it appears the state is now looking to target people out in the community helping voters.
These bills attempt to pass the buck and put responsibility on the voter to navigate the labyrinthine election code to determine their voting eligibility. If you have to hire a lawyer to determine your eligibility, that is clearly an unfair barrier to voting. Determining eligibility is and should be the responsibility of the state.
These bills reduce the time that a voter has to request a ballot be mailed to them and also require voters to file cumbersome emergency affidavits just to pick up a vote-by-mail ballot from the Supervisor of Elections office during early voting. Even one change to policies relating to vote-by-mail can create confusion and a number of minor changes can add up creating significant barriers. Election officials are still having difficulties implementing vote-by-mail provisions from the last two election bills. These changes are unnecessary and will cause confusion.
The bills increase the administrative and reporting burdens on already under-staffed and under-resourced election offices, adding a host of additional requirements with increasingly tight timeframes and fiscal obligations. At the same time, it reduces oversight on electioneering organizations and campaign finance by reducing their reporting requirements.
Please continue to watch for and respond to Action Alerts from LWVFL regarding this harmful legislation!
League Action on Legislation
House Bill 1421/Senate Bill 254: Treatment for Sex Reassignment
Senate Bill 254 Treatment for Sex Reassignment by Yarborough was read for a third time and passed in both the House and Senate. SB 254 establishes regulations regarding sex-reassignment procedures and prescriptions, which includes the prohibition of state funds being used for such treatments and the establishment of requirements for informed consent for patients 18 years of age or older. The bill also criminalizes the provision of sex-reassignment prescriptions or procedures to patients under 18 years of age, except for qualifying exceptions, and limits providers to allopathic or osteopathic physicians. Additionally, the bill requires practitioners to have their license suspended if they are arrested for violating the prohibition. Facilities providing surgery must also attest that they do not offer or provide sex-reassignment procedures or prescriptions to children, except those qualifying for the exception under the bill. If any provision of the bill is deemed invalid, the remaining provisions can still be enforced. The bill takes effect once it becomes law. Thank you to those who responded to LWVFL’s Action Alert regarding this legislation.
House Bill 931: Postsecondary Education
House Bill 931 by Representative Roach was placed on the Special Order reading on 4/25/2023 following its passage in the Education and Employment Committee on 4/19. The League waived in opposition to this legislation. HB 931 requires that each OPPE organize, publicize, and stage debates or group forums that address a range of public policy issues. The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently struck down mandatory political loyalty oaths, particularly in the education setting. To ensure that faculty, staff, and students at Florida’s public postsecondary educational institutions are hired or admitted based on merit rather than ideological perspective, the bill prohibits the use of political loyalty tests in the institution’s hiring, admissions, or promotion processes. Public postsecondary educational institutions are prohibited from requiring or soliciting a person to identify a commitment to or support a partisan, political, or ideological set of beliefs or other specified ideologies or movements.
House Bill 999: Postsecondary Education Institutions
House Bill 999 by Representative Andrade was voted favorable in the Education & Employment Committee 15-5. The League waived in opposition to this legislation.The bill bolsters the authority of university presidents to select and hire the provost, the deans, and all full-time faculty for the university. The president may only delegate this authority to specified university personnel. Additionally, the university board of trustees must have procedures to review the university president’s selection and reappointment of his or her executive management team. To ensure that faculty, staff, and students at Florida’s public postsecondary educational institutions are hired or admitted based on merit rather than ideological perspective, the bill prohibits the use of statements, pledges, or oaths, except those to uphold state or federal law or constitutions, in the institution’s admissions, hiring, employment, promotion, tenure, disciplinary, or evaluation processes. The bill clarifies that public postsecondary institutions are not required to change accrediting agencies or associations more than once and provides additional protections for postsecondary education institutions from retaliatory and adverse actions by accrediting agencies and associations.
Senate Bill 1538: Implementation of the Recommendations of the Blue-Green Algae Task Force
Senate Bill 1538 by Senator Stewart was voted favorable by the Appropriations Committee on Agriculture, Environment, and General Government 14-0. The League is in favor of this legislation. SB 1538 requires that each project listed in a new or revised basin management action plan (BMAP) with a total cost exceeding $1 million must be monitored to determine if it is working to reduce nutrient pollution or water use, or both, as intended. The monitoring assessments must be completed expeditiously and included in each BMAP update.