Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book knows Democrats are fighting an uphill battle in the GOP-controlled Legislature. But she wants her caucus to be more on the offensive in pushing through priority legislation this Session.
“One of the big pieces of feedback when I came in as the leader was, ‘We’ve got to really be on offense. What are the things that we’re fighting for?’” Book told Florida Politics in an interview last week.
“Going into the Session, while we will obviously be focused on playing good defense, we will also be on the offense with really great pieces of legislation that Floridians truly do need.”
Book said her caucus plans to highlight some of those bills after Gov. Ron DeSantis’ State of the State address. Book said those measures will be focused on four principles she has heard most in speaking with constituents leading up to the 60-day Session.
Those four principles are: strengthening Florida’s economy, keeping Floridians healthy — such as through increased health care access, school investments for children and protecting a woman’s right to choose — improving the environment, and protecting communities from gun violence and discrimination.
“What we’ve done is use these four core principles, or guiding beliefs, that we heard most about from our constituency,” Book said of Democrats’ 2022 Session plans.
That effort has led to a slate of bills Book said she’ll be looking to highlight during the next 60 days. That includes a bill from Sen. Janet Cruz to lower insulin prices, a measure from Sen. Loranne Ausley to increase access to broadband in rural communities, and legislation from Sen. Linda Stewart implementing recommendations from the state’s Blue-Green Algae Task Force.
Sen. Victor Torres is also joining Rep. Marie Woodson in trying to make it easier for military members trained as nurses to transition into civilian health care work. And. Sen. Lori Berman and Rep. Mike Grieco are teaming up on “Greyson’s Law,” which would give judges more authority to remove a child from a home because of threats directed at a spouse.
“All of these pieces are working on prevention, keeping our communities safe and fighting for Floridians’ everyday needs,” Book said.
As Leader, Book will also be responsible for heading Democrats’ efforts to push back against Republican measures that her caucus opposes. One proposal Book highlighted comes from DeSantis, who hopes to set up a new office to investigate election fraud.
“I don’t know that we have any issues with elections and that that’s a good use of our time or resources,” Book countered, arguing Floridians’ priorities lie elsewhere.
Book also emphasized her desire to fight against local preemption measures and any legislation further limiting abortion rights in the state. While it’s unclear how far Republicans will go in prioritizing base issues in an election year, Book knows there will be battles this Session.
“I think that it always tends to be pretty contentious,” Book said of Session time. “I do think with the Governor on the ballot, they’re a little bit more mindful of some of those pieces. But I do believe that there will be some of those red meat issues that tend to come before the body.”
Democrats and Republicans are playing nice in some areas though, such as redistricting. Democrats were largely satisfied with the Senate’s first draft proposals of the new map to be in effect this upcoming election cycle. Book too added her praise for those leading the decennial redrawing effort.
“I’m very proud of the process so far,” Book said. “I think that it has been fair and I look forward to seeing those maps on the floor and making sure that fair districts, where people are represented in a transparent way, are there.”
Book recognizes her priority this Session will be ensuring her members’ bills are given a fair shake during the committee process and beyond.
“I’ve come to learn that in this new role that I have, it’s less about my stuff and more about making sure that all of our members get their stuff heard and done.”
While Book is emphasizing her role as Leader, she has a few legislative goals as well. Book has filed a bill looking to expand access to hygiene products for girls in school and has brought back a measure to make diaper purchases tax-free in Florida.
One major piece of legislation Book will front is a bill to further reform the Florida Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Association (NICA).
NICA is supposed to help compensate parents whose infants suffered injuries during child birth. Lawmakers unanimously approved a bill last Session adding reforms after reports showed families often struggled to receive their fair share of money from the state. But Book said there’s more to be done.
“The bill went a long way last Session. There is still a long way to go,” she said.
Book’s legislation (SB 1050) would further increase compensation available to families in myriad forms. She said she worked on the legislation after many meetings during off time with families and the new NICA leadership.
“I think we all agree that these families are entitled to these benefits and we need to make sure that they receive the benefits that they deserve,” Book said. “It’s our responsibility to make sure that we’re not nickel-and-diming these families.”