MidPoint: The Florida Budget & Legislative Priorities

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Norin Dollard, Tachana Joseph-Marc & Alexis Tsoukalas of the Florida Policy Institute

On Wed. January 31, 2024, MidPoint hosted analysts from the Florida Policy Institute, an independent, non-partisan organization that works to advance policies that improve the economic mobility and quality of life for all Floridians through research, outreach, and advocacy.

Education

Norin Dollard, education policy analyst, explained that the legislature will be tasked with ensuring full funding for public schools even as the cost of universal school vouchers continues to grow. For example, during a special legislative session in 2023, the Legislature voted to award additional vouchers to students with disabilities to reduce the waiting list. A bill to further increase the cap on the number of students with disabilities receiving vouchers has been introduced for the 2024 legislative session; if enacted, this will be an additional cost (about $106 million) to account for.  On a positive note, several bills have been introduced in the 2024 legislative session to expand access and affordability for child care and early learning programs, the most comprehensive being HB 1197, which would provide universal childcare vouchers for children under age 6. Given the pivotal role that quality child care and early education play in child well-being, family economic stability, and the state economy overall, this type of investment would be potentially transformative.

Child Labor

A controversial bill, HB 49/SB 1596 would undo decades of child labor protections in Florida. Analyst Alexis Tsoukalas discussed it and noted that if passed, the law would allow employers to schedule 16 and 17-year-olds to work earlier in the day; more than 8 hours per day on a school night; more than 6 days in a row—whether school is in session or not; and without mandated work breaks. This is a law promoted by the business community which wants more workers and offers “real-world” work experience of value particularly to those students who are not college-bound. Conversely, the law is opposed by  those who argue kids should stay in school to increase their economic stability in the long term, and who believe”kids must be allowed to be kids.” There are also serious concerns about child exploitation should these proposals become law.  At the time of this writing, the Florida House passed the child labor bill that would let teens work more but the legislation has key differences with the bill still moving through the Florida Senate.

Criminal Justice

FPI Analyst Tachana Joseph-Marc shared with WMNF listeners several positive proposals for criminal justice-related legislation. A bill is proposed to reduce the time in which a returning citizen released from prison can obtain an occupational license from 5 years to 3 years and a bill to loosen restrictions on the eligibility for SNAP (food stamp) benefits of those convicted of felonies.

Several anti-immigrant bills are also winding through the legislature this session including bills that would increase penalties for driving without a valid driver’s license (HB1598/SB1324) and harsher employment regulations in HB433/SB1492.

The entire show is available for listening on demand here, on the WMNF app, and as a WMNF MidPoint podcast wherever you get your podcasts.

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