By Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — Florida lawmakers Wednesday reached the halfway point in this year’s 60-day legislative session. The House and Senate have passed high-profile bills involving issues such as affordable housing and school vouchers, but major issues remain to be resolved. Here are snapshots of 10 big issues:
— ABORTION: After the U.S. Supreme Court last year overturned Roe v. Wade, the Republican-controlled Legislature is moving forward with a proposal to prevent abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. The Senate passed the proposal (SB 300) this week, and the House is expected to follow suit. Critics say the measure would virtually ban abortions in Florida.
— AFFORDABLE HOUSING: Lawmakers quickly passed a priority of Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, to try to make housing more affordable for workers. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the plan (SB 102), which includes providing incentives for investments in affordable housing and encouraging mixed-use developments in commercial areas.
— BUDGET: The House and Senate this week approved record budget proposals, setting the stage for negotiations on a final spending plan for the fiscal year that will start July 1. The Senate proposal tips the scales at $113.7 billion, while the House proposal totals $113 billion. Lawmakers also are expected to negotiate a package of tax breaks in the coming weeks.
— DEATH PENALTY: Pointing to Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz receiving a life sentence, lawmakers are expected to eliminate a requirement for unanimous jury recommendations before judges can impose death sentences. The Senate has passed its version of the bill (SB 450), and the issue is ready to go to the full House.
— ELECTIONS: Refueling what has become an annual battle, the Senate this week began moving forward with a bill (SPB 7050) that would make wide-ranging changes in elections laws. A House version has not emerged, but the Senate bill includes imposing further restrictions on voter-registration groups and relaxing campaign-finance reporting rules.
— GUNS: DeSantis this week signed a measure (HB 543) that will allow Floridians to carry guns without concealed-weapons licenses. Called “constitutional carry” by supporters, it will do away with a decades-old licensing process, which has included requiring that people undergo firearms training and background screening to carry concealed weapons.
— IMMIGRATION: In one of DeSantis’ priorities, the Senate has started moving forward with a bill (SB 1718) that targets illegal immigration. The proposal includes beefing up sanctions against businesses that hire undocumented immigrants and increasing criminal penalties for human smuggling. A similar bill (HB 1617) has been filed in the House.
— LAWSUIT LIMITS: After a lobbying fight, lawmakers passed a bill aimed at helping shield businesses and insurance companies from costly lawsuits. DeSantis signed the bill (HB 837), a priority of House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast. The bill includes changes such as shortening the time to file negligence lawsuits and largely eliminating “one-way” attorney fees.
— LGBTQ ISSUES: Part of a series of LGBTQ-related bills, the Senate this week passed a plan (SB 254) that would bar doctors from providing treatments such as puberty blockers and hormone therapy to transgender minors. The House has passed a bill (HB 1069) that would expand a prohibition on instruction about gender identity and sexual orientation in schools.
— SCHOOL VOUCHERS: In a major change in Florida’s education system, lawmakers passed a bill (HB 1) that will make every student eligible for taxpayer-funded vouchers that could be used for private-school tuition and other expenses. The bill, which has been signed by DeSantis, includes ending income requirements that are part of current voucher programs.