By Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — Florida lawmakers next week will start the annual 60-day legislative session. Here are 10 big issues to watch:
— AFFORDABLE HOUSING: Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, has made a priority of trying to find ways to make housing more affordable for workers. The Senate could quickly pass a wide-ranging bill that includes providing incentives for investments in affordable housing and encouraging mixed-use developments in struggling commercial areas.
— BUDGET: Gov. Ron DeSantis has proposed a $114.8 billion budget for the fiscal year that will start July 1. Among other things, the proposal includes money for increasing teacher salaries, $1.1 billion for Everglades restoration and water-quality issues, 5 percent across-the-board pay hikes for state workers and additional money for targeted jobs such as correctional officers.
— DEATH PENALTY: After Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz was sentenced to life in prison, lawmakers could scrap a requirement that unanimous jury recommendations are needed before death sentences can be imposed. House and Senate bills would allow death sentences based on the recommendations of eight of 12 jurors and also give judges more authority.
— DEFAMATION: Lawmakers will consider revamping the state’s defamation laws, potentially weakening protections for journalists. DeSantis, who frequently criticizes the media, and House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, have called for revisiting the 1964 U.S. Supreme Court ruling known as New York Times v. Sullivan, which helps shield reporters from lawsuits.
— GUNS: Republican lawmakers have started moving forward with a proposal to allow people to carry concealed weapons without obtaining state licenses, an idea that supporters call “constitutional carry.” The proposal has drawn opposition from gun-control groups — and from some gun-rights groups, who say the state should allow people to openly carry guns.
— IMMIGRATION: Continuing to criticize federal border and immigration policies, DeSantis wants lawmakers to pass a series of proposals involving undocumented immigrants. Among other things, he wants to expand the use of the E-Verify system, which is used to verify the employment status of workers, and bar out-of-state tuition waivers for undocumented students.
— LAWSUIT LIMITS: With Republican supermajorities in the House and Senate, lawmakers could pass far-reaching changes to help shield businesses and insurance companies from costly lawsuits. The proposals, which target issues such as attorney fees, have touched off a lobbying fight, with critics arguing they would harm the ability of injured people to go to court.
— SCHOOL BOARDS: DeSantis has taken the unusual step of getting involved in school-board races to elect conservative candidates. Now, Republican lawmakers want to amend the state Constitution to change school-board races from non-partisan to partisan. Also, lawmakers are considering eight-year term limits for school-board members, down from the current 12 years.
— SCHOOL VOUCHERS: After two decades of gradually expanding school vouchers, lawmakers this spring could make every Florida student eligible for taxpayer-funded vouchers that could be used for private-school tuition and other expenses. The proposal would nix income requirements for vouchers and also make vouchers available to home-schooled students.
— TAXES: With the state flush with cash, DeSantis has proposed a series of tax breaks that include tax “holidays” and permanently eliminating sales taxes on such things as cribs, strollers, clothes, shoes and diapers for infants and toddlers. Among other things, DeSantis proposed two school-related tax holidays on clothes, school supplies and electronics.