TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — It was an exhaustive first week of the legislative session in Tallahassee.
Gov. Ron DeSantis gave his state of the state address amid speculation a White House run is coming. There was a surprise six-week abortion ban bill, and senators approved a massive affordable housing plan.
Here are five Tallahassee takeaways that happened this week.
DESANTIS' BIG SPEECH
DeSantis is out with a new book and traveling to states like Iowa. Plus, his campaign has started pumping out new ads that look presidentially focused. It sure seems like DeSantis is interested in the nation's top spot, but he's got a legislative session to deal with first.
At least half of DeSantis' big speech Tuesday was a reflection on his first four years in office. He touted his resistance to COVID-19 mitigation, like shot requirements, his work on "parental rights" in schools, speedy hurricane recovery and a budget surplus.
"Florida is No. 1, and working together, we will ensure that Florida remains the No. 1 state in these United States," DeSantis said.
The other half was the governor's big GOP-backed goals for 2023, which some see as an attempt to bolster his political fortunes in a presidential primary. DeSantis, this year, is seeking to continue his fight against critical race theory in higher education, bring permitless carry to Florida and further curb illegal immigration with a sweeping bill.
IMMIGRATION BILL ARRIVES
SB 1718 would fine businesses that knowingly hire undocumented migrants and bolster citizen verification requirements for employers to ensure more use of the E-Verify system.
State Sen. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, is carrying the upper chamber's version of the legislation. He called it the "strongest and most robust" anti-illegal immigration bill in the United States. The lawmaker was hopeful it would push other states to enact similar legislation.
"Pushing back on the federal government," Ingoglia said. "Hopefully, force the federal government to do something about the open borders and fix the legal immigration system."
SURPRISE ABORTION BILL
A surprise abortion bill sucked up most of the oxygen this week. The proposal would take Florida's current ban at 15 weeks and cut it down to just six. That's around the time cardiac activity can be detected but before many know they're pregnant.
"It is effectively an outright ban," House Minority Leader Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, said.
Democrats vowed a war. Driskell called SB 300 a "dramatic and drastic measure." She noted her party lacked the votes to stop the bill but called on voters to litigate the policy in the "court of public opinion."
Republicans, however, seem more aligned on the issue than in previous months. That's in part due to Sen. President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, supporting the bill, saying its exceptions for rape and incest were the lynchpin.
UNIVERSAL VOUCHERS GETTING CLOSE
The GOP plan for universal school vouchers is getting closer to the governor's desk despite an uncertain price tag and ongoing criticism that it'll benefit those who can already afford private schooling.
The measure got through its final House committee Friday morning, with one Democrat joining Republicans in support. If signed into law, the plan opens up taxpayer-funded scholarships to all Florida students, regardless of income or ability. Homeschoolers can also get access to the funds to pay for things like education equipment or tutors.
Supporters have said they're creating an opportunity for families to craft education however they'd like, ensuring state dollars follow the child.
"This bill delivers on a promise that many of us have made for a long time," Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, said. "That every student should get every dollar for every choice that they and their parents think best for their child."
Many Democrats have opposed the plan. One big concern is the cost. The House estimates $210 million for the expansion. However, nonprofits said the program would cost billions.
Others think the program will draw too many dollars from public schools in favor of private facilities that lack academic standards. Rep. Joe Casello, D-Boynton Beach, felt the program would benefit too many who are already paying tuition.
"Heck, Tiger Woods' kids could qualify for [school] vouchers," Casello said. "Does this make sense? We're losing sight of what the voucher program was, the disadvantaged, to give them an equal opportunity in education. This is taking all the guidelines off that."
The bill now heads to the House floor for consideration. The Senate's version passed its second to the last committee this week. It still lacks a price estimate.
LIVE LOCAL GETS GREEN LIGHT
The upper chamber also unanimously approved that massive affordable housing bill off the floor on Wednesday evening.
It uses a variety of tax incentives and programs to spur private developers into creating more workforce housing. The"Live Local Act" is a major policy of Passidomo. She has said the goal is to get more people to live where they work.
"Now, the whole state is almost in a housing crisis," Passidomo said. "We've got to do something."
There have been concerns the bill limits local government powers on rent control, but even some critics feel the benefits outweigh the costs.
The House gets the "Live Local Act" bill next, and Passidomo expected a vote in the coming weeks. DeSantis has said he supports the measure, as well.