Joined by Governor Ron DeSantis, lawmakers marked the end of the 2022 Legislative Session in a “sine die” ceremony, which included the traditional hanky drop, at 1:03 pm on Monday, March 14th. After a delay in budget negotiations, which extended session past the original end date of Friday, March 11th, Florida lawmakers passed a record $112.1 billion state spending plan. Despite this being an election year, which typically means members shy away from heavier, more contentious issues, state leadership pursued numerous important policy matters for consideration – some of them controversial.

STATE BUDGET

→ Revenues: General revenue, which is made up of sales taxes, corporate-income taxes, documentary-stamp taxes and various other sources, plays a critical role in the amount of funding state legislators allocate to the upcoming fiscal year’s budget. Prior to session kick-off, the Revenue Estimating Conference, a panel of economists from both the executive and legislative branches, announced general-revenue projections well over $3 billion higher than had been expected. While projections were higher than anticipated, economists cautioned Florida could see a slow down as people use the last of their stimulus money and face possible interest-rate hikes that would affect the housing market. Even with the cautionary warning, the estimated projections, as well as a substantial amount of funds in reserves, encouraged lawmakers to pass a record budget for the fiscal year that will start July 1st.

→ General Appropriations Act: Lawmakers ultimately agreed to allocate $112.1 billion to the General Appropriations Act, also known as state budget, for the 2022-23 fiscal year – proposing an increase over last year of more than $11 billion. This proposal, which includes $3.5 billion in federal relief funding, is the largest budget in the state’s history. The annual state spending plan, which is the only bill over which Governor DeSantis has line-item veto power, includes funding increases for public schools, pay raises for state employees, and doubles down on funding provided to environmental programs. Highlights include $400 million for broadband expansion into rural areas, an increase in minimum wage for state workers to $15 an hour in addition to a 5.38% pay bump to account for inflation, and $100 million to help teachers, health care workers, law enforcement and others buy houses. Also included in the proposal is $1.4 billion for construction and deferred maintenance at state colleges and universities, $800 million to increase teacher salaries, and $200 million for the state’s Resilient Florida grant program which provides local governments funds for climate resiliency projects.

Passed unanimously through the Senate and receiving only three “no” votes in the House, the budget is ready to be sent to the desk of Governor Ron DeSantis for his careful consideration.

LEGISLATIVE INITIATIVES

→ Abortion: As one of the most divisive issues discussed this session, lawmakers listened to hours of public testimony and debate over legislation relating to abortions. A
bill that would ban Florida doctors from performing abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, with few exceptions, was approved in a near party-line vote by lawmakers. Under this new legislation, abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy can only be performed if two doctors agree on the consensus of a “fatal fetal abnormality”. If the Governor signs the legislation as expected, the law will take effect July 1, 2022.

→ Broadband: In the 2021 legislation session, language was passed to encourage broadband companies to expand into rural areas. Building on this, legislation was filed during this most recent session aiming to create a “Broadband Pole Replacement Program”, which would reimburse funds spent during the removal and replacement of existing utility poles in areas of Florida that are unserved by broadband internet service. While the “Broadband Pole Replacement Program” language failed to advance through the process, lawmakers still recognized the importance of expanding high-speed internet accessibility in Florida by appropriating $400 million of the pandemic relief dollars to rural broadband expansion.

→ Healthcare: Due to legislation passed this session, long-term care and other healthcare providers’ protection against COVID-19 related legal claims has been extended an additional year, now remaining in effect until June 1, 2023. This legislation, which was a top priority of Florida’s nursing homes, doctors and hospitals, makes clear that a plaintiff must prove gross negligence or intentional misconduct to successfully sue a health care provider for COVID-19. The Legislature advanced the bill proposal to the desk of Governor Ron DeSantis, who signed it into law on Thursday, February 24th.

→ Data Privacy: Legislation aimed to give consumers more control over personal information collected by businesses collecting and selling online data was considered, but ultimately not passed, this session. If passed, the bill would have given Floridians more control over how their online data is sold and shared, including the right to access personal information collected, the right to edit personal information collected, and the right to opt-out of the sale or sharing. While popular with voters, the bill faced opposition from business and industry associations who argued the proposal would cost Florida companies billions of dollars in compliance costs.

→ Education: Heading into this year’s session, Governor DeSantis made it clear testing reform for Florida students in pre-kindergarten through 10th grade would be one of his administration’s top priorities. He called for legislation to replace the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA) with a computer-based screening conducted three times throughout the school year aimed at measuring students’ learning progress in real-time. The bill also places a cap on class time dedicated to state testing at 5%. This bill was signed by the Governor on Tuesday, March 15th and will go into effect at the beginning of the 2022-23 school year.

Another piece of education related legislation, arguably one of the most controversial bills under consideration, was also advanced through the legislative process this year. Following Governor DeSantis’ call for the state to push back on “critical race theory” the House and Senate considered and ultimately passed legislation aimed to prohibit lessons in the classroom that make students feel they are inherently racist, sexist or oppressive because of their race, color, sex or national origin. The legislation also applies to corporate settings. If approved, the legislation would take effect in July.

→ Elections: Another priority of the DeSantis administration this session centered around election integrity. Working from the proposal the Governor released back in November 2021, the legislature considered and passed legislation that would establish an Office of Election Crimes and Security within the Department of State to combat election fraud. The legislation also increases penalties third-party registration organizations could incur for certain violations, prohibits the use of ranked-choice voting, and conforms the mailing and canvassing timeframes for all-mail-ballot elections. If signed by the Governor, this legislation would take effect upon becoming law.

→ Immigration: With a goal of strengthening immigration enforcement, lawmakers approved legislation that would prevent state and local governmental entities from doing business with companies that willfully transport illegal immigrants into the state. The bill also expands a 2019 law that aimed to ban “sanctuary cities”. If signed by the Governor, the bill would take effect immediately.

With illegal immigration enforcement remaining a top priority of Governor DeSantis, the legislature also included $12 million in the state budget to fund the transportation of undocumented immigrants out of the state.

→ Insurance: For the second year in a row, aggressive legislation aimed at reforming the property-insurance industry was filed. The legislation advanced through the Senate, but House leadership opted to postpone making changes to current law until the full impact of changes made during the 2021 session are felt by Floridians – a process that can take 18 months according to experts.

The filed legislation passed through the Senate attempted to make changes to the operations of Citizens Property Insurance Corporation – a state created not-for-profit insurance provider for eligible Florida property owners unable to find insurance coverage in the private market. Also included in the Senate proposal – perhaps the most controversial part of the proposed reforms – was language that could have increased roof-damage claim deductibles up to 2% of the overall policy limits.

Lawmakers also considered proposals to repeal the state’s longstanding no-fault auto insurance system, but the legislation was not approved.

Unable to come to an agreeable compromise, lawmakers saw insurance reform proposals fail this session even as insurance companies operating in the state reported a $1.5 billion loss last year. There are already rumors of a special session being called later this year to address these reform initiatives.

→ Local Governments: The Legislature advanced legislation that would allow businesses to sue governments over local ordinances changes. This legislation, titled the “Local Business Protection Act”, would permit businesses that have been established for at least three years, and can prove a 15% loss of income during a 365-day period due to changes in law, to sue local governments in an effort to recoup undue losses. If approved by the Governor, this legislation would immediately become law.

→ Redistricting: Due to the constitutional requirement that districts must be redrawn once every decade, state lawmakers spent considerable time this session working to determine a new set of political boundaries for Florida voters.

Unlike the congressional maps, the Legislature passed new boundaries for the 120 state House seats and 40 state Senate seats under a joint resolution, requiring approval by the Florida Supreme Court instead of review by the Governor’s Office. The relatively quick passage of these new maps, and the Court’s approval of the cartography, was considered a victory for Republican legislative leaders. With experts predicting these new maps will allow for a Republican majority in the state for the next ten years, opponents of the new legislative boundaries warn the fight may not be over.

Despite a veto warning by Governor DeSantis, the Legislature also advanced plans for the reshaping of Florida’s congressional districts. The proposed map reshapes Florida’s 5th Congressional District from a Tallahassee-to-Jacksonville configuration to a Duval County-only seat. The approved legislation also provides for a backup map in the event the redrawn districts are found unconstitutional.

If the legislation is vetoed by the Governor, the House will need 80 votes, and the Senate will need 26, to override his action. If state legislators cannot secure the needed votes, lawmakers will have to return to Tallahassee for a special session, or ask the court to draw a redistricting map, and advance a new map prior to June 17th – the final day for congressional candidates to qualify.

→ Taxes: The tax cut package proved to be one of the most anticipated pieces of legislation this session, being debated and modified in the final hours of the legislative session. A proposal, which will save Floridians more than $658 million, was ultimately agreed upon and advanced through both chambers. Included in the package are several sales tax holidays for back-to-school items, hurricane preparedness items, tools for skilled workers and tickets to cultural events, a one-year sales tax break on diapers and infants’ and toddlers’ clothing. While the Governor urged lawmakers to pass a $1 billion, five-month moratorium starting July 1st on the state’s 25-cent gas tax, the Legislature’s proposal included a one-month moratorium, starting October 1st.

→ Transportation: As budget negotiations ramped up, the House amended the one transportation bill that gained traction during the process, which included policies such as progressive design build authorization for the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and a cap of 25% on modal projects. Ultimately, the Senate withdrew this bill from consideration during the waning days of session. While this legislation failed to move through the process, FDOT did fare well in the budget and implementing language. The Legislature fully funded the Work Program at $10.8 billion, provided an additional $50 million for the Small County Outreach Program (SCOP) and Small County Road Assistance Program (SCRAP), gave the Department $40 million in rate to provide raises for Department employees and increased the Secretary’s salary.

GOING FORWARD

The state legislative process will continue in the coming weeks as measures approved by lawmakers this year are finalized and prepared for delivery to the Governor. Ultimately, out of the 3,735 bills filed, 285 passed successfully through the session process this year. These include the 2022-2023 state budget and budget implementing bills. Once the Governor receives a bill, he has a total of 15 days to either sign it into law, veto it, or let it become law without his action. The budget is the only piece of legislation over which the Governor has line-item veto power. Our team is working continuously with state policy and budget leaders on policy and appropriations issues approved during session.

Once all 2022 session work has wrapped up, lawmakers will have an extended break before reconvening in Tallahassee for committee meetings to prepare for next year’s session. The 2023 legislative session, which will be guided by incoming leaders Speaker-designate Paul Renner (R – Palm Coast) and President-designate Kathleen Passidomo (R – Naples), is scheduled to start on Tuesday, March 7, 2023.