By Jim Saunders ©2024 The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — Florida’s annual 60-day legislative session reached its halfway point Wednesday. Here are updates on 10 big issues in the session:
The House and Senate have proposed spending plans that top $115 billion for the 2024-2025 fiscal year, which will start July 1. The proposals set the stage for negotiations on a final budget in the coming weeks. Gov. Ron DeSantis proposed a $114.4 billion budget, down from $119.1 billion in the current year.
The Senate during the first week of the session passed a combination of bills designed to reduce regulations on public schools, a priority of Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples. A key issue has been potential changes related to state-mandated exams. House proposals are pending.
In another priority of Passidomo, the Senate passed a wide-ranging plan aimed at increasing the number of physicians in the state and expanding access to health care. For example, it would increase state-funded medical residency slots for new physicians. A similar proposal is moving through the House.
With homeowners continuing to struggle with increased property insurance rates and losing policies, it remains unclear whether lawmakers will make significant insurance changes. A series of proposals would effectively expand access to coverage through the state’s insurer of last resort, Citizens Property Insurance Corp.
The House passed a plan that would loosen work restrictions for 16- and 17-year-olds, such as eliminating a restriction on them working more than 30 hours during a week when school is in session. The Senate is considering a bill that would not go as far as the House version. For example, it would not include the 30-hour change.
After repeated battles in recent years about issues affecting LGBTQ people, bills this year include a House proposal that would require driver’s licenses and identification cards to reflect a person’s sex assigned at birth and impose requirements for health insurers who cover treatments such as hormone therapy for transgender people. There’s also a controversial flag bill.
With voters possibly deciding in November whether to allow recreational use of marijuana, the House and Senate are moving forward with proposals that would impose limits on the amounts of euphoria-inducing THC in pot products. The limits would take effect if a recreational-use constitutional amendment passes.
House and Senate committees have supported proposals that seek to prevent local governments from removing or destroying historic monuments from public property. The proposals come amid debates in places such as Jacksonville about removing monuments erected to honor the Confederacy.
House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, has made a priority of a plan that, in part, seeks to prevent minors under age 16 from creating social media accounts. The House passed the plan, and the Senate has started moving forward with a similar proposal. Renner argues social media harms the mental health of children.
DeSantis has called for $1.1 billion in tax breaks, including holding six sales-tax “holidays” on such things as back-to-school items. His proposal also would provide an exemption on certain taxes, fees and assessments on property insurance policies. Lawmakers will negotiate a tax package alongside the budget.