By Jim Saunders, Christine Sexton, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — The 2020 legislative session will start Jan. 14 as House and Senate members gather to hear Gov. Ron DeSantis’ State of the State address.
Lawmakers will take up a wide range of issues during the 60-day session, along with negotiating a budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
Here are 10 big issues to watch during the session:
ABORTION: The Republican-dominated Legislature is considering a controversial proposal that would require parental consent before minors could get abortions. Florida law already requires parents to be notified if their daughters plan to have abortions, but a consent requirement would be more far-reaching. The full House could vote early in the session to approve the proposal, which also is moving forward in Senate committees.
BUDGET: DeSantis has proposed a $91.4 billion budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year, touting plans to set minimum teacher salaries at $47,500 a year and to continue addressing environmental issues. DeSantis’ proposal is a starting point for the House and Senate, which will make changes as they negotiate a final version. Lawmakers also will consider potential election-year tax cuts, with DeSantis proposing sales-tax “holidays” for back-to-school shoppers and for hurricane preparations.
CRIMINAL JUSTICE: Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Mark Inch has warned that the “status quo is unsustainable” in the state prison system, which faces problems with staffing, health-care costs and crumbling facilities. DeSantis, in part, wants to give pay bumps to many correctional officers to try to help retain them. Lawmakers also are expected during the session to consider a series of proposals that would revamp sentencing laws.
EDUCATION: DeSantis has dubbed 2020 the “year of the teacher,” as he pushes a $602 million plan to set minimum teacher salaries at $47,500 and seeks to put in a place a new $300 million bonus program for teachers and principals. But legislative leaders have expressed concerns about the costs of proposals and what Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, has described as “practical” issues. Those issues include the longstanding practice of teacher salaries being set at the local level rather than at the direction of the Legislature.
ENVIRONMENT: Since taking office last year, DeSantis has focused on trying to address water-quality issues, including toxic algae booms and red tide in Southeast Florida and Southwest Florida. He wants to continue moving ahead with plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year on Everglades restoration and other water-related projects. But lawmakers also will face pressure on issues such as climate change and boosting spending on the Florida Forever conservation program.
HEALTH CARE: So long as Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, leads the House, revamping the health-care industry will remain a priority. The House this year will continue pushing to allow advanced practice registered nurses to provide care independently of physicians, though the Senate has opposed such proposals in the past. The chambers are looking at making changes related to pharmacy benefit managers, which serve as a sort of middlemen between drug manufacturers and pharmacies. The pharmacy-benefit manager proposals come as lawmakers seek to curb prescription drug prices.
IMMIGRATION: DeSantis has made a priority for this year’s session of requiring businesses to use the federal E-Verify system to prevent undocumented immigrants from getting jobs. Lawmakers during the 2019 session passed another DeSantis priority of banning so-called sanctuary cities. But Galvano has balked at the E-Verify proposal, which also could face major pushback from the state’s agriculture, tourism and construction industries.
INSURANCE: With the growing popularity of genetic testing, lawmakers will consider a proposal that would block insurance companies from using genetic information in making decisions on life-insurance and long-term care policies. Supporters of the proposal point to privacy concerns, but insurers fought the issue during the 2019 session. The insurance industry, meanwhile, is lobbying for a proposal that would prevent auto-glass shops from offering incentives for motorists to make windshield-repair claims.
PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES: The Legislature will closely examine how the state provides Medicaid services to people with developmental and intellectual disabilities and whether an existing program, dubbed the “iBudget,” should be scrapped. The iBudget program is designed, in part, to help people live as independently as possible in their homes or in their communities. But the costs of care annually exceed the amounts of money lawmakers set aside. Also, 21,800 people with disabilities are on a waiting list for services.
VISIT FLORIDA: The future of Visit Florida could be determined during the session, as Oliva continues pushing to eliminate the tourism-marketing agency. Oliva argues the state does not need Visit Florida to draw tourists, but DeSantis and the Senate have backed the agency. Lawmakers during the 2019 session cut Visit Florida’s funding from $76 million to $50 million, leading to layoffs. DeSantis has proposed maintaining the agency’s funding at $50 million in 2020-2021.