TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Week three of the legislative session saw a major GOP goal getting signed, a war of words between Gov. Ron DeSantis and former President Donald Trump, plus the advancement of legislation banning gender dysphoria treatments for minors.
Here are your takeaways from Tallahassee.
TORT REFORM GETS INK
A measure addressing what the governor calls Florida's status as "a judicial hellhole" now has his signature.
The governor signed the bill during a private gathering at his office, Friday. In a statement, he repeated the monicker and vowed the state would benefit.
"Florida has been considered a judicial hellhole for far too long, and we are desperately in need of legal reform that brings us more in line with the rest of the country," DeSantis said. "I am proud to sign this legislation to protect Floridians, safeguard our economy and attract more investment in our state."
The Senate's GOP majority gave final legislative approval Thursday afternoon with four Republicans siding with Democrats, who were mostly opposed.
The bill aims to ease the state's affordability crisis by further targeting what supporters call a glut of frivolous litigation against insurers — driving up costs. Among its provisions, the policy eliminates "one-way attorney fees," limits fee multipliers and amends Florida's "bad faith" law raising the hurdle to bring a claim against an insurer.
Critics have labeled the bill as a gift to insurance companies, warning it'll cut access to the courts by making litigation too expensive to seek.
"After four years in Tallahassee, and two special sessions, Ron DeSantis continues to ignore the worsening property insurance crisis in Florida," Florida Democratic Party spokesperson Devon Cruz said. "Now, he's signing legislation that makes it easier for insurance companies to rip off their policyholders and get away with it."
VOUCHERS READY FOR DESANTIS
A GOP plan for universal school vouchers is headed to the governor's desk. The measure got through the Senate with a party-line vote Thursday.
If signed into law, the plan opens up taxpayer-funded scholarships to all K-12 Florida students regardless of income or ability. Parents will be able to use them to send their kids to private schools in the state. Homeschoolers can also get access to the funds to pay for things like ed equipment or tutors.
Supporters have said they're creating an opportunity for all families to craft education however they'd like, ensuring state dollars follow the child.
"We're going to put our foot on the peddle as we start the process of re-envisioning educating our kids," Sen. Corey Simon, R-Tallahassee, who is sponsoring the bill, said. "And who is going to be driving the bus? The parents."
Many Democrats have been opposed, concerned over the cost, in part. The House and Senate have estimated hundreds of millions in new spending while nonprofits say billions.
Others think the program will draw too many dollars from public schools in favor of private facilities that lack academic standards and oversight.
"To have something so expensive without any kind of agency analysis whatsoever, neither on the House side or the Senate side, screams not wanting to be accountable — not wanting to set guardrails, not wanting to set benchmarks, with a huge blank check," Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Hollywood, said. "In a supermajority that's supposed to be fiscally conservative, I'm here to tell you you're not."
The governor has had some reservations about giving the vouchers to those who can already afford private tuition, but he said recently it wasn't a deal breaker. He's still expected to sign it.
AFFORDABLE HOUSING, TOO
A plan to make Florida's housing more affordable is ready for the governor. Called the "Live Local Act," the massive bill contains various programs and incentives to generate more workforce housing and rentals in the state.
It passed its last legislative hurdle, the House, with broad bipartisan support — 103 to 6 — Friday.
The idea was spearheaded by Sen. President Kathleen Passidomo and supporters said it will bolster the development of housing in commercial and mixed-use zoned areas, "addressing Florida's dire need for affordable housing inventory."
"The 'Live Local Act' is a transformational, market-driven combination of policies that provides attainable housing options for Floridians at every income level and stage of life," bill sponsor Rep. Demi Busatta Cabrera, R-Coral Gables, said. "As our state continues to grow, we must ensure hardworking Floridians can live near good jobs, schools, hospitals and other critical community centers in homes that fit comfortably within their household budgets."
There was some opposition to the measure. Some members took issue with its preemption of local government rent caps.
BAN ON TREATMENTS MOVES
The GOP-controlled Legislature's crackdown on gender dysphoria treatments for transgender minors cleared its first House committee Wednesday with a split vote.
Republican backers said they're fighting to protect children from "an ideology masquerading as medicine" while LGBTQ+ advocates warn lives are at risk without the care.
If signed into law, the bill bans hormone therapy, puberty blockers and surgeries for transgender minors. Physicians face third-degree felonies for violation.
Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, has promised the policy since last year. He considers the treatments "child abuse."
"It is not health care to cut someone's body parts off," Fine said in committee. "That is not care."
However, his bill goes well beyond a ban on care and also includes the following:
- Cuts insurance coverage of the therapies for adults
- Forbids the use of public funds for them
- Creates a path for lawsuits against the practice
- Allows courts to weigh in on child custody when gender dysphoria treatments are a factor
- Limits change to a person's gender on their birth certificate.
In public comment, a handful of people spoke in support of the changes. Most of them were concerned there wasn't enough research to back the use of the treatments.
"These treatments are experimental," Ryan Kennedy with Florida Citizens Alliance said. "They are dangerous, and have a lot of long-term side effects."
But doctors, families and others pushed back.
"This bill overrides parents' rights to seek health care for their children — potentially lifesaving health care," Jon Harris Maurer with Equality Florida said.
Maurer and others pointed to wide support for the treatments from groups like the American Medical Association and others. Democrats offered backup in the debate.
"We need to get out of everybody's business," Rep. Kelly Skidmore, D-Delray Beach, said. "These are health care decisions, just like abortion"
Republicans didn't budge, sending HB 1421 to its last committee before reaching the House floor. The policy has a similar version in the Senate. It too is one committee away from the chamber floors.