Florida Matters: Legislative Wrapup
Lawmakers in Tallahassee are returning home after two months of hashing out bills - some of which could soon become law. Florida Matters host Robin Sussingham talks with Janelle Irwin, a reporter with Florida Politics, and Steve Bousquet, a columnist with the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and the Orlando Sentinel.
Lawmakers passed hundreds of bills and approved a record $91 billion budget. It marked the first session for Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes.
Here's some of the session's highlights:
- Republican leaders touted issues such as a $242-per-student increase in school funding and $682 million for water-quality efforts and Everglades restoration. The House and Senate also agreed on a tax package that includes back-to-school and disaster-preparedness tax “holidays.”
- At the insistance of Senate President Galvano, lawmakers approved a plan aimed at expanding or building three toll roads - extending the Suncoast Parkway from Citrus County to the Georgia border; extending the Florida Turnpike west to hook up with the Suncoast Parkway; and creating the "Heartland Parkway" toll road, from Polk County to Collier County.
- Lawmakers also passed a plan that would carry out a constitutional amendment designed to restore the voting rights of felons who have fulfilled their sentences. Critics argued the legislation was too restrictive and would prevent many felons from voting.
- The Republican-dominated Legislature continued expanding school choice, including passing a new vouchers program known as the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program. Under the program, state money will be used to send as many as 18,000 students to private schools next year. Critics contend the plan is unconstitutional, citing a 2006 Florida Supreme Court ruling that struck down a similar vouchers program.
- Lawmakers passed a wide-ranging bill designed to bolster school safety. The bill included issues, such as improving mental-health services, but almost all of the debate focused on a controversial provision that would expand the school “guardian” program to allow armed classroom teachers.