By Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Legislature’s 60-day session reached its halfway point Wednesday. Here are snapshots of 10 big issues in the session:
— ABORTION: The Republican-controlled House and Senate are moving forward with a proposal that would prevent physicians from providing abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The heavily debated proposal is similar to a Mississippi law that is being reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
— BUDGET: Flush with cash from federal stimulus money and higher-than-expected state tax collections, lawmakers appear headed toward passing a record budget for the fiscal year that will start July 1. The Senate last week rolled out a $108.6 billion proposal, while the House proposed a $105.3 billion spending plan.
— EDUCATION: Some of the session’s fiercest debates are playing out on education bills, including House and Senate measures that involve how race-related issues are taught in schools — an outgrowth of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ push to prevent teaching of critical race theory. Lawmakers also could address school discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity.
— ELECTIONS: The House and Senate have started moving forward with proposals that include adding steps for voting by mail and creating a state office to investigate alleged election irregularities. Republicans contend the bills would help curb fraud, while Democrats say they would make it harder for people to vote.
— HEALTH CARE AND COVID-19: Senate Republicans appear poised to approve the confirmation of state Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, who has drawn heavy opposition from Democrats because of his views on COVID-19. Lawmakers also are looking at issues such as staffing standards for nursing homes, which face worker shortages.
— IMMIGRATION: In a priority of DeSantis, Republican lawmakers are pursuing bills that seek to boost immigration enforcement and penalize companies that transport undocumented immigrants into Florida. Opponents contend, in part, that the bills could prevent unaccompanied immigrant children from being brought into Florida for care and shelter.
— INSURANCE: With homeowners seeing hefty rate increases or losing policies, it remains unclear how lawmakers will address problems in the property-insurance system. A Senate proposal, in part, targets roof-damage claims that insurers blame for increased costs. A House proposal focuses on issues related to the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp.
— LOCAL GOVERNMENTS: Calling it the “Local Business Protection Act,” the Senate passed a bill that could lead to businesses filing lawsuits against cities and counties if ordinances cause lost profits of 15 percent or more. The issue, which has drawn heavy attention from local governments, is pending in House committees.
— REDISTRICTING: Lawmakers have passed new maps for state House and Senate districts as part of the once-a-decade reapportionment process. But a map for congressional districts remains in limbo after the DeSantis administration offered a proposal that includes revamping a North Florida district that was designed to help elect Black candidates.
— TAXES: Lawmakers near the end of the legislative session will likely agree on a tax-cut package, though it remains unclear whether they will approve a DeSantis proposal to suspend gasoline taxes for five months starting July 1. Lawmakers are looking at increasing the homestead property-tax exemption for teachers, military members and first responders.