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Politics / Issues

Florida's legislative session is entering its final week

Florida legislature
News Service of Florida
/

The 60-day legislative session is dwindling to its final week, and bills will soon start piling up on Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk.

But many important issues remain unresolved — namely, agreement on a new state budget.

The Senate last month proposed a $108.6 billion budget for the fiscal year that will start July 1, while the House pitched a $105.3 billion spending plan. Negotiators will have to bridge that difference.

Conference committees met this week but left numerous issues unresolved, which means House and Senate budget chiefs will have to iron the details.

“I just think we ran out of time,” Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Chairman Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, said as health-care negotiators were unable to agree on a series of issues.

Crafting a budget is the only constitutionally required duty of the Florida Legislature.

If lawmakers want to see the traditional hanky drop on time, House and Senate leaders will need to finish a budget by Tuesday to end the session on March 11. That is because of a required 72-hour “cooling off” period before the House and Senate can vote on the budget.

DeSantis’ priorities, and veto power, loom large over the budget-writing process.

So far, lawmakers have not agreed to some of DeSantis’ requests, such as suspending the state’s gasoline tax for five months starting in July and providing $100 million for the state’s Job Growth Grant Fund, which the governor can distribute to infrastructure projects and workforce-training programs.

Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, was asked by a reporter Thursday night about whether excluding the governor’s priorities could lead to increased vetoes.

“Collectively what the House and Senate will produce, I believe, are substantial wins for this state,” Simpson said. “And I think when the sum total of what gets completed by next Friday (March 11) is completed, then I think the governor will not see this as wins and losses, because maybe he advocated for something that didn't happen. We advocate in the Senate for maybe a dozen items, two dozen items, that won't happen. Is that a loss? That same position for the House. And so, I don't think there's wins and losses here."

ABORTION LIMIT PASSES

A bill headed to DeSantis’ desk would prohibit doctors from performing abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, an issue that was one of the most bitterly disputed of the 2022 session.

The Senate on Thursday night passed the measure (HB 5) in a 23-15 party-line vote that was the culmination of hours of debate over two days. The House passed the bill last month in a 78-39 vote along almost straight party lines.

The measure would make an exception to the 15-week restriction for instances of a “fatal fetal abnormality,” or a terminal condition that is incompatible with life outside the womb, if two physicians certify that such an abnormality exists.

Democrats voiced strong objections to the bill not including an exception for victims of rape or incest. House and Senate Republicans rejected proposed changes to the measure that would have added such exceptions.

The governor on Friday confirmed that he intends to sign the bill.

“I think the protections are warranted, and I think that we’ll be able to sign that in short order,” DeSantis said during an appearance in Jacksonville.

At nearly the same time DeSantis remarked on the proposal, President Joe Biden decried the Legislature’s approval of the bill.

“Last night, the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature passed a dangerous bill that will severely restrict women’s access to reproductive health care. My administration will not stand for the continued erosion of women’s constitutional rights,” Biden said in a tweet.

The bill, which would take effect July 1 if signed by DeSantis, closely resembles a Mississippi law that is under review by the U.S. Supreme Court. The case could determine whether the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling on abortion rights is scaled back or overturned.

Republican sponsors of the bill have repeatedly said the Supreme Court’s weighing of the Mississippi law was a factor in the decision to propose the 15-week restriction.

BLUFF CALLED?

The Legislature on Friday approved a pair of redistricting maps aimed at placating DeSantis’ desire to condense a sprawling North Florida congressional district held by Al Lawson, a Black Democrat.

The plan includes a “primary” map and a “backup” map, which would be used if courts reject the primary version.

But before House and Senate lawmakers passed the proposal (SB 102), DeSantis objected to it.

DeSantis vowed in a tweet to veto the proposed maps, saying that they would be “DOA” — dead on arrival — if they reached his desk. The governor later doubled down on his tweet, saying his “legal folks” have concerns about the proposal and that he doesn’t “bluff.”

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