TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Florida lawmakers are now halfway through this year’s legislative session.
Republicans and Democrats started this session opposed on a lot of issues and not much has changed.
Three big GOP priorities already signed into law include permitless carry, universal school vouchers and tort reform.
HB 543 is a permitless carry bill that also addresses school safety concerns. The bill allows legal gun owners to carry concealed weapons without the need for a state-issued permit or the training required to get it.
“This is huge to codify and just keep moving that bar to protect our Second Amendment rights. I’m just so grateful to have the opportunity to do this,” said State Sen. Jay Collins, the sponsor of the Senate’s version of the bill.
The law will go into effect on July 1, making Florida the 26th state to allow permitless carry.
DeSantis has also said he would support open-carry legislation, and Collins says it’s not off the table.
“The open carry debate will be something we’ll continue to talk about. We’ll see where this thing goes in the future and I guess I’ll tell you, stay tuned,” Collins said.
Republicans also passed universal vouchers for private schools. HB 1 makes all K-12 students in Florida eligible for a private school voucher from the state, regardless of income.
Gov. DeSantis called it “the largest expansion of education choice not only in this state but in the history of the United States.”
The expansion also covers homeschooled students. It allows state funds to be added to an education savings account, which parents could use towards a number of school-related purchases.
Despite being law, the voucher program’s price tag remains uncertain. The House estimates $209.6 million, while the Senate estimates $217.2 million.
However, third-party nonprofits like the Florida Policy Institute warn taxpayers could be on the hook for billions. Lawmakers will have to straighten it out during this year’s budget process, which is currently underway.
HB 1 goes into effect on July 1, prior to the 2023-2024 school year.
The governor also signed HB837, which raises the threshold to bring lawsuits against insurers. It also aims to get rid of incentives to sue insurers, something republicans are hoping will lead to a drop in “frivolous litigation.”
“For a number of years, we were ranked across the country as being the No. 1 judicial hellhole,” DeSantis previously said.
GOP leaders are calling it the most significant tort reform in Florida’s history. It drew a lot of criticism from attorneys, policyholders and even a few Republicans.
HB 837 also changes Florida’s comparative negligence system to a “modified” comparative negligence system, so that a plaintiff who is more at fault for his or her own injuries than the defendant may not recover damages from the defendant.
Overall, Republican legislative leaders say they’re chalking up wins for DeSantis.
“We’ll get to his goals and we have gotten to his goals and we’ll do that as we finish out the session,” Florida House Speaker Paul Renner said.
Meanwhile, Democrats warn that the GOP supermajority is moving too fast and too carelessly.
“I think we all know what’s motivating that. I think the governor has a tremendous amount of ambition. It’s his roadshow and our colleagues are tripping over themselves to help him achieve his agenda,” Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book said.
“With the republicans in the super majority they just want to ram this legislation down the throats of the people of Florida,” said State Rep. Fentrice Driskell.
There are numerous high profile bills still on the table.
- SB300/HB7 – Reduces Florida’s current 15-week abortion ban to 6-weeks and adds exceptions for rape and incest.
- SB 254 – Limits on gender dysphoria treatment for minors.
- SB1718 – Immigration reform that cracks down on employers knowingly hiring undocumented immigrants.
- SPB7052 – Various provisions intended to increase consumer protection and insurer accountability
- HB1013 – Prohibits business entities, governmental entities, & educational institutions from imposing COVID-19 testing, facial covering, & vaccination mandates.
- HB991 – Lowers hurdle to file defamation lawsuits.
- HB1223 /SB1320 – Prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in Pre-K-8 grade.
- SB 1438 – Bans “adult live performances.”
- SPB 7050 – Imposes new rules for voter-registration groups and relaxes campaign-finance reporting rules.