DeSantis Signs School Safety Bill

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) signed a school safety bill Tuesday that the Florida Legislature passed during its Special Legislative Session. The bill is built off of the recommendations of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission designed to make schools safer and offer resources to students and school employees.

DeSantis signed the bill on the heels of the Florida Freedom First budget where over $140 million was designated for mental health and approximately $210 million for school safety.

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DeSantis Signs Election Integrity Bill

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill earlier Monday related to election integrity. The Florida Legislature prioritized the legislation in order to ensure Florida’s elections process is safe and secure.

DeSantis signed SB 524, which creates an Office of Election Crimes and Security within the Florida Department of State and will “investigate election law violations and increasing penalties for violations of election laws.”

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Florida Legislature Passes Congressional Redistricting Map, Democrats Protest

A number of Florida’s House Democrats staged a protest on the floor of the Florida House to voice their opposition to Republicans’ efforts around congressional redistricting yesterday. Due to the protest, the Florida House’s procedures were temporarily halted. However, the protest was short-lived, and the House proceeded to approve Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ (R) proposed congressional map.

The Florida Senate had already approved the map, and the House was the map’s final stop.

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DeSantis Signs 15-Week Abortion Ban

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) signed a 15-week abortion ban into law Thursday, marking two days in a row of significant pro-life victories in the Sunshine State. Wednesday, a Florida circuit judge upheld Florida’s 24-hour waiting period for women who were seeking abortions.

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Florida Voter Fraud Case Leads to 10 Individuals Charged

Person voting in poll booth

Ten former jail inmates at the Alachua County jail are facing felony voter fraud charges after they have been accused of registering to vote and successfully casting a ballot in the 2020 presidential election. All voter registrations have been revoked.

Initially, when reports came out about five former inmates illegally voting there were two Democrats, one Republican, and two more unaffiliated voters.

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DeSantis Hints at Budget Vetoes Ahead of Signing

The Florida legislature recently passed the largest budget in state history totaling $112.1 billion and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is already hinting at vetoes to the record budget ahead of signing the appropriations.

Since DeSantis took office in January 2019, his vetoes have incrementally increased each year, culminating in $1.5 billion being slashed from 2021’s budget. However, DeSantis ensured the City of Hialeah Education Academy that they will be receiving $2.9 million from the state. DeSantis made the announcement for additional education STEM funding from the Hialeah school.

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Florida Gov. DeSantis Touts Legislative Victories

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis touted many of the conservative policy victories and personal legislative victories in a speech Monday. The speech took place during the closing of the 2022 Florida legislative session. The session, this year, had been described as a “culture war” and DeSantis and Florida’s Republicans passed a number of priorities.

One of the hallmarks were DeSantis dubbing this year’s session as “year of the parent in the state of Florida.”

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National Republican Group Seeking to Defend Florida Legislation

Ron DeSantis of Florida

The Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) announced in a memo that their 2022 priorities are to defend legislative victories by Republicans in states like Florida and the priorities of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R). In the memo, the committee derided the efforts of the President Joe Biden administration.

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Florida Legislature Passes Updates to Parkland Law

The Florida Legislature has passed HB 1421 which updates and provides additional provisions to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act originally passed in 2018. It passed without a single “no” vote from either legislative chamber.

The bill’s additions clarify expectations for public and charter schools and will institute updated training for school officers.

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Florida State House Approves New Tax Holidays

The Florida House passed HB 7071, which would codify four new sales-tax holidays for Floridians. The bill was passed unanimously and was championed by Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls (R-Palm Harbor) as the “coolest tax package.”

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Florida Governor DeSantis Proposes Second Congressional Redistricting Map

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) submitted a second round of maps for congressional redistricting earlier this week. It comes as the redistricting process has been stalled in the Florida Legislature.

The most controversial part of DeSantis’ first submission was the inclusion of boundaries eliminating District 5 as it currently stands, held by Congressman Al Lawson (R-FL-5), which stretches from Tallahassee to Jacksonville along Florida’s northern boundary with Georgia.

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Florida’s Absentee Ballot Proposal, Described as Racist, Less Stringent Than Other States

Florida legislators, led by Republican leaders, are considering changes (SB 524, HB 7067) to the absentee ballot verification process that has one critic calling the proposal  “a recipe for disaster” and another implying the new rules are racist.

Under current law, voters enclose completed mail-in ballots inside “secrecy” envelopes or sleeves before putting them inside another envelope to be mailed to county supervisors of elections or submitted at drop boxes manned by supervisors’ staff.

The new legislative proposals would require voters to put their double-enveloped ballots inside a third envelope and mark the last four digits of their driver’s license numbers, Social Security numbers, or state ID numbers – whichever number is on file with the election supervisor’s office – to be counted.

Lake County Supervisor of Elections Alan Hays, a Republican who is a former state senator, said the proposal is “a recipe for disaster.”

“Getting voters to follow instructions is not easy,” Hays told the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee on Feb. 1. “If you think they’re going to follow the instructions with all of these envelopes, you’ve got another thought coming.”

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Florida House Votes ‘Yes’ to Enact Term Limits on School Boards

The Florida House of Representatives voted to pass a bill that will enact term limits on elected public school board members. CS/BS 1467 by Florida Representative Sam Garrison (R-District 18) originally included a provision that would have eliminated salaries for school board members. However, that provision was axed after an late-arriving amendment.

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Florida Constitutional Carry Bill Likely Dead

Florida’s constitutional carry bill, HB 103, is likely dead, as the Florida legislature is over halfway through its 2022 Legislative Session, which concludes the first week of March. The bill has yet to be heard by its first committee stop or received companion Senate legislation. Rarely do bills get fast-tracked through the legislature if they have not even reached committee.

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Florida State Senate Approves Memorial to Increase National Guard Personnel

Currently operating under personnel totals appropriate to Florida’s population in 1958, a memorial passed by the Florida Senate would ask the federal government to consider increasing the size of the Florida National Guard.

SM 826 sponsored by State Sen. Tom Wright (R-FL-14) would “impel the United States National Guard Bureau to examine the resource allocations of the Florida National Guard and allow an increase in its force structure.”

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Florida Lawmakers Suspend Redistricting Until Florida Supreme Court Opinion

Florida lawmakers have suspended talks of Florida’s congressional districts until after the Florida Supreme Court issued an opinion on Congressional District 5. Florida State Rep. Tyler Sirois (R-FL-51), chair of the House panel leading the congressional redistricting, said the committee is not currently discussing the matter.

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Poll Shows Floridians Like State’s Direction

A new statewide Florida poll shows most Floridians feel the state is heading in the right direction. The poll was conducted at the tail end of 2021, lasting from November 30 through December 9 and was facilitated by TargetSmart.

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Businesses Could Sue Over Local Ordinances Under New Florida Proposal

Florida lawmakers are considering a legislative proposal that would permit businesses to sue local governments over ordinances or mandates that lead to a revenue loss of 15 percent or more. SB 280 would require local governments to do business impact analyses when considering imposing ordinances.

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Susan B. Anthony List Urges Florida Legislature to Pass Pro-Life Bill That Would Stop Late Abortions After 15 Weeks of Pregnancy

On Tuesday, the Susan B. Anthony (SBA) List announced their support for legislation in the Florida Legislature that would stop late abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, according to a press release by the organization.

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Florida Legislative Proposal Could Lead to Cameras in Public School Classrooms

Florida State Rep. Bob Rommel (R-FL-106) is sponsoring legislation that would require public school teachers to wear microphones and be video recorded in classrooms. The live stream of the classroom would also become available for public viewing.

The text of the bill also provides stipulations for if there is an interruption in the video feed.

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Legislative Proposal Would Allow Critical Comments at Florida School Board Meetings

Florida State Sen. Joe Gruters (R-FL-23) has filed legislation requiring Florida school board meetings to be publicly broadcast and recorded on video, along with the ability of parents to make their voices heard and criticize school board members.

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State Rep. Sabatini Removed from House Committee for Unexcused Absences

State Rep. Anthony Sabatini (R-FL-7) has been removed from a the Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee in the Florida House. He received two unexcused absences from the committee, when committee members are only allowed one.

Sabatini requested an excused absence from committee chair Thad Altman the day before his absence on October 21. He did not respond to Altman’s follow-up asking for an explanation.

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Florida Gov. DeSantis Announces ‘Freedom First Budget’

Yesterday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) announced his plans for Florida’s 2022 budget, which is expected to come to a total of $99.7 billion. Last year, Florida’s budget eclipsed $100 billion for the first time in state history. The slight decrease in state revenue is due, in large part, to the economy rebounding from the effects of the COVID pandemic.

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Florida House Passes Bill Ensuring Penalties Related to Vaccine Mandate

The Florida House passed HB 1B in its special session yesterday, ensuring businesses would be penalized if they require an employee gets a vaccine mandate. The bill was largely passed along party lines, however, one Democrat, Rep. James Bush (D-FL-109) joined Republicans by voting in the affirmative.

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First Maps of Florida’s New Congressional Districts Released

Florida State Capitol

The first look at Florida’s new congressional maps have been released, and Florida’s newest district could have Polk County existing within its own congressional district. Florida currently has 27 districts but gained one after the 2020 census.

Congressional District 15, which is currently occupied by Rep. Scott Franklin (R-FL-15), represents northern Polk County, southern Lake County, and an eastern portion of Hillsborough County. Franklin could be inclined to run for re-election in the newest congressional district as he is a resident of Lakeland, Polk County’s largest city.

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Florida Legislation Might Not Completely Ban Vaccine Mandates

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has called for a special session in order to ban vaccine mandates and mask mandates, but the legislation being proposed are not going as far as DeSantis initially called for.

One of the bills would require employers to provide alternatives to vaccination, and another bill would allow parents to sue school boards or districts over mask mandates. DeSantis has touted the slate of bills in next week’s special session as some of the “strongest protections for both private and public sector employees anywhere in the country.”

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Vacation Rental Battle Lined Up for Florida Legislature

Regulation over the vacation rental industry is teed up, once again for the upcoming Florida Legislative session. Sen. Jason Fischer (R-FL-4) filed legislation to grant the regulation of vacation-rental platforms, like Airbnb or Vrbo, to the state. The bill, HB 325, would remove the regulatory power away from local municipalities.

City and county governments have fought similar legislation, saying they should be able to regulate their properties on a local level.

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Albritton Wins Florida Senate President Race for 2024

Florida’s Senate Republicans have selected Sen. Ben Albritton (R-26) to be the Senate President for the 2024-2026 term. Currently, Sen. Wilton Simpson (R-10), will serve as Senate President until Sen. Kathleen Passidomo (R-28) takes over for the 2023-2024 legislative sessions.

“It’s a real honor and privilege for me to have earned the support of my colleagues in the Senate,” Albritton said to Florida Politics. “Senator Manny Diaz is a valued colleague and a friend, who puts people above politics. We share a vision for the future of Florida, and we’ll work together in the years ahead to advance policies that are in the best interest of the state of Florida.”

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Albritton Wins Florida Senate President Race for 2024

Florida’s Senate Republicans have selected Sen. Ben Albritton (R-26) to be the Senate President for the 2024-2026 term. Currently, Sen. Wilton Simpson (R-10), will serve as Senate President until Sen. Kathleen Passidomo (R-28) takes over for the 2023-2024 legislative sessions.

“It’s a real honor and privilege for me to have earned the support of my colleagues in the Senate,” Albritton said to Florida Politics. “Senator Manny Diaz is a valued colleague and a friend, who puts people above politics. We share a vision for the future of Florida, and we’ll work together in the years ahead to advance policies that are in the best interest of the state of Florida.”

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Florida State Lawmakers Open to Regulation Changes After Building Collapse

Two Florida state lawmakers predicted that the multi-story building that collapsed in Surfside, Florida may lead to regulation changes at the state level.

The legislators, who represent coastal cities in the state, both said that they want to wait for the results of the investigation into the cause of the collapse that turned the condominiums into rubble.

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Florida’s Senate Democrats Struggle with Infighting

Former Florida Senate Democrat Caucus Leader Sen. Gary Farmer (D-34) is continuing to criticize his fellow Democratic lawmakers even after he was ousted as their leader and replaced with Sen. Lauren Book (D-32).

Farmer and Book are both Democrats from Broward County, and Farmer is accusing his colleagues of “throwing votes” to Republican lawmakers and is questioning their motives.

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Florida TaxWatch Releases Budget ‘Turkey’ Report

Turkey with $100 bills in the background

Yesterday Florida TaxWatch released their annual Budget Turkey Watch Report, a report designed to ensure budget oversight and accountability toward Florida’s elected leaders. The report is a compilation of “Budget Turkeys,” which are described as “local member projects, placed in individual line-items or accompanying proviso language that are added to the final appropriations bill without being fully scrutinized and subjected to the budget process.”

The 16-page report highlights the millions of dollars spent by the Florida Legislature added to the overall state budget without the same “deliberation, debate, and accountability they deserve.”

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Florida Legislature Accepts $800 Million in Rental Assistance from Federal Government

Florida’s Historic Capitol and Florida State Capitol

More than $800 million in federal funds have been accepted by the Florida Legislature to provide Floridians rental assistance through the website, OURFlorida.com. The site began accepting applications last week.

The ‘OUR,’ standing for Opportunities for Utilities and Rental Assistance, is available to all Floridians. Both tenants and landlords may apply for the federal assistance to cover losses taken in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With federal funding available statewide, Floridians in counties with populations under 200,000 people, who were unable to receive previous rental assistance provided by the federal government, will now be eligible to apply for and receive assistance.

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Florida Voting Law Implements Grand Jury Recommendations

Ron DeSantis

Last week, Governor Ron DeSantis signed SB 90 into law. The bill, addressing elections, has been derided as a “Jim Crow” tactic and characterized as voter suppression by political opponents. However, in 2012, a grand jury taking part in an election fraud case in Miami-Dade County provided a list of recommendations to lawmakers to crack down on absentee ballot-related voter fraud. A number of those grand jury recommendations were included in SB 90.

DeSantis has praised the bill saying Florida has some of the “strongest election integrity measures” in the country.

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Special Legislative Session Slated to Iron Out Florida Gaming Compact with the Seminole Tribe

The Florida Legislature will be holding a special session to discuss the gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida on May 17. However, the tribe is not the only one with interests on the line. Multiple national and international casino gambling corporations, smaller casinos, internet gambling, thoroughbred racing, fantasy sports betting, and greyhound dog race betting are among those with interest in the outcomes of the compact.

As Florida becomes a more popular spot for gambling and betting, the state, the tribes, and invested industries are hoping previous years of tension will end in a new 30-year compact benefitting each party.

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Florida Legislature Passed Insurance Reform, Industry Future Uncertain

After weeks of debate, Florida lawmakers passed insurance reform bills at the tail end of session. In the end, lawmakers passed legislation potentially leading to rate increases for customers of the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp.

Legislators also took steps to reduce the amount of roof-damage claims and lawsuits due to concerns of hurricane damage claims being filed long after the storm.

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Consumer Protection Bill Died in Florida Legislature

William Large

As time expired in the Florida legislative session, a consumer protection bill died. The bill, HB 969, would have given consumers more control over data collected by large companies would have required businesses in Florida to tell consumers what data has been collected and how it’ll be used.

The bill drew much opposition from the business community, and were glad to see the bill expire this session. Companies like Apple, Target, Quicken Loans, and Walt Disney Parks hired a total of 343 lobbyists to work on killing the bill.

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Florida Legislature Passes Voter ID Law

People voting

On the second-to-last day of the legislative session, the Republican-controlled Florida state Senate Thursday passed a new law aimed at election integrity. 

After SB 90 passed the Florida House Wednesday with a vote of 77-40, it did the same in the Senate Thursday by a vote of 23-17. It was passed mostly along partisan lines, with one Republican state Senator, Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, breaking with his party and voting against the measure. 

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Florida Legislature Sends Vaping Regulations to DeSantis

Jackie Toledo

The Florida Legislature passed SB 1080, installing new vaping regulations, sending it to the desk of Governor Ron DeSantis. The bill will also raise the smoking and vaping age to 21, falling in line with federal standards.

Bill sponsor, Rep. Jackie Toldeo (R-60) said the bill is necessary to encourage Florida’s youth to stop vaping.

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Florida’s Transgender Athlete Ban Resurrected

Florida Republicans resurrected a ban on transgender women from competing in women’s sports and attached it to a bill related to charter schools. Last week, Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-22) said her bill, which would’ve banned transgendered athletes from women’s sports, was unlikely to  move forward due to constitutional requirements to balance the budget.

However, Stargel did not resurrect the bill, but Rep. Kaylee Tuck (R-55), added the ban as an amendment to SB 1028. Stargel did voice her support for Tuck’s amendment.

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Florida State University Failed to Disclose Foreign Relationships, USDOE Opens Inquiry

Florida State University

Florida State University (FSU) failed to disclose foreign relationships, gifts, or contracts among university entities and now faces a U.S. Department of Education (DOE) inquiry.

In a letter obtained by the Florida Capital Star to FSU President John Thrasher on January 15, the DOE notified the university of an inquiry into potential violations of Section 117 of the Higher Education Act of 1965.

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Florida Legislature Passes Toll Road Repeal Bill

The Florida House passed SB 100 yesterday, a repeal bill of the Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance (M-CORES) program. The program was a priority of former Senate President Bill Galvano to build new toll roads as part of an infrastructure plan connecting Florida’s metro areas.

The bill will cancel the Heartland Parkway, connecting Polk and Collier counties.

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Florida Bill Allows Colleges, Universities to Sponsor Charter Schools

On Monday, the Florida Senate passed SB 1028 which would allow Florida’s colleges and universities to sponsor an unlimited number of charter schools. Under current law, colleges and universities can, through the Florida Department of Education’s approval, sponsor one school.

A state university is permitted to work with a school district to develop a charter school but can only sponsor one. Now, there is no limit to the amount of charter schools an institution can sponsor.

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Florida House Passes Bipartisan Police Reform Bill

The Florida House passed HB 7051 unanimously, a police reform bill, designed to be a bipartisan, compromise piece of legislation satisfying the requests of conservatives as well as social justice advocates.

One of the main staples of the bill is amending current use-of-force protocol for law enforcement officers. Each police force and law enforcement agency in the state will now be required to have a use-of-force standard. This would, in essence, create a statewide minimum standard, including methods to de-escalate situations. Chokeholds are banned unless the officer “perceives an immediate threat of serious bodily injury or death.” If another officer is witnessing excessive use of force, they will now be required to intervene.

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Florida Lawmakers Negotiate Budget Deal

Jay Trumbull

After a week of negotiation, Florida’s lawmakers reached a deal determining spending difference for Florida’s $92.2 billion budget.

One of the largest contingents of the budget has been allocated for education. Twenty-two billion dollars of the budget is dedicated to school spending, which includes one-time $1,000 bonuses for all K-12 teachers and principals. The proposal is backed by Governor Ron DeSantis.

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DeSantis Cuts Deal with Seminole Tribe to Bring Sports Betting to Florida

Sports Book Betting

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is expected to reach an agreement with the Seminole Tribe to bring sports betting to the Sunshine State, as well as expanding current gambling rules.

“The broad parameters of the deal — as confirmed by multiple sources — are that the Seminole Tribe would control sports betting in the state and would offer it at their casinos, including the Hard Rock locations in Hollywood and Tampa,” according to POLITICO. “But sports betting would also be allowed at existing tracks and other poker rooms around the state where the tribe and other gambling operators would split the revenue generated.”

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