Manny Diaz ends Session with wins on education, health care bills

But could this Session be his last as a Senator?

With the hankie dropping Monday, Republican Sen. Manny Diaz Jr. will walk away from the 2022 Legislative Session successful on several major pieces of legislation key to the GOP’s agenda this year.

As has been true for much of his time in the Legislature, Diaz’s focus this Session was once again on education. Diaz backed two major bills that earned bipartisan support.

One measure (SB 1048) replaced Florida’s annual standardized testing structure with a new progress monitoring program. Students will be given three tests throughout the school year. The first two will aim to gauge their learning progress. The third and final test will still be given early enough for students to utilize summer school if necessary to meet state standards.

Students will also be able to spend only up to 5% of class time on state testing under the measure. The new guidelines will be installed for the 2022-23 school year for students in pre-K through the 10th grade.

The effort was a priority for Gov. Ron DeSantis. But Diaz also said there is more to come in shaping the new program.

“This is a process that is beginning at the 30,000-foot level, and there’s going to be a lot of work to do,” he said.

Another bill (CS/HB 395), to which Diaz served as Senate co-sponsor, required high school students to learn about the victims of communism. Starting in the 2023-24 school year, those students will hear at least 45 minutes of instruction to learn “how victims suffered under these regimes through suppression of speech, poverty, starvation, migration and systemic lethal violence.”

The measure also sets up a “Victims of Communism Day” on Nov. 7, the anniversary of when Vladimir Lenin stormed the Russian capital and overthrew the government, establishing the former Soviet Union.

A third big education measure Diaz backed was more controversial. He was the Senate co-sponsor on HB 7, which aimed to combat “woke ideology” in school lessons and corporate trainings.

The bill bars lessons and training that make individuals feel they are inherently racist, sexist or oppressive because of their race, color, sex or national origin. While the bill doesn’t explicitly name critical race theory, it’s a clear follow-up to the Governor’s calls to push back on the theory, which says that systemic racism continues to impact societal structures to this day.

Democrats hammered the bill throughout the legislative process, arguing the legislation could halt important, yet difficult, discussions for students about racism in America. But Diaz countered that notion. He argued the legislation isn’t banning discussion about slavery, lynching or other racist atrocities, but is simply trying to ensure teachers don’t instruct students to feel guilt about the past based on their background.

“They need to know those facts. We’re not trying to cover them up,” he said of students. “But we need to provide students that can think and debate and form their own opinions.”

Outside of the education sphere, Diaz also successfully pushed through legislation (SB 312) allowing telehealth to be used to prescribe Schedule III, IV and V substances.

The bill appeared to be dead late in Session over a debate between the House and Senate over whether telephones could be used for telehealth prescriptions. The Senate wanted to make that option available. But senators ultimately accepted the House language, which continues barring the use of telephones, with Diaz saying his colleagues were committed to bringing back an audio-only option in legislation next year.

A question remains as to whether Diaz will still be a Senator next Session. Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran announced last week he would be stepping down. Diaz has been a DeSantis ally, and was notably the only GOP Senator to vote against a congressional redistricting plan that DeSantis has repeatedly panned. Diaz is rumored to be a contender to succeed Corcoran as Education Commissioner.

If 2022 was his last Session as a Senator, it was a productive one in terms of pushing GOP policy. But in addition to those higher-profile bills, Diaz also helped shepherd through millions in appropriations requests. That included $9 million in projects in Hialeah and $3 million in Hialeah Gardens appropriations.

Ryan Nicol

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to [email protected].


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