Sixty Days for 3.7.23 — A prime-time look at the 2023 Legislative Regular Session

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What’s inside? All things Session.

Sixty Days — A prime-time look at the 2023 Legislative Regular Session:

The Last 24

The 2023 Legislative Session kicked off with Gov. Ron DeSantis delivering his annual State of the State speech. The Governor enters this Session arguably more powerful than ever after his resounding re-election victory last November — something he said “vindicates” his approach to governing — and Republican legislative leaders are poised to deliver him a string of wins in the next two months that is guaranteed to keep his name in the headlines. DeSantis urged lawmakers to pass an expansive agenda to ban transgender care for minors, impose lawsuit restrictions for businesses, crack down on illegal immigration and grant protections to teachers while preventing union dues from being automatically deducted from their paychecks. Here’s your nightly rundown.

Presidential priorities: Senate President Kathleen Passidomo opened up the 2023 Legislative Session by declaring that the “eyes of the nation are on Florida this year.”

Speaker speaks: House Speaker Paul Renner outlined an expansive agenda, while indicating he also supports the Governor’s and Passidomo’s priorities.

Air quotes: Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book says DeSantis’ agenda is about anything but ‘freedom.’

No dice. DeSantis said he would not support a controversial bill (SB 1316) that would require bloggers who write about politicians to register with the state.

Sequel support: The Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee got at least a conditional backup from DeSantis for recently filed legislation expanding the ‘Parental Rights in Education’ law.

No context: New legislation in the House and the Senate would protect monuments of war from not just defacement and removal but attempts to offer historical context.

Back at you: Sen. Geraldine Thompson wants to amend a bill “canceling” the Democratic Party to nix the GOP as well.

High-stakes test: The American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network wants bipartisan support for bills (SB 1218, HB 805) that would require the Agency for Health Care Administration to pay for biomarker testing under the state’s Medicaid program.

Teacher reax: The state’s largest teacher union said the Governor painted a “rosy picture” in his State of the State address, but the public education system “might be better characterized as a patch of thorns.”

Heartbeat bill: A “heartbeat” bill (SB 300) filed in the Senate could impose one of the strictest laws against abortion in the country.

Ban panned: The new legislation to ban abortion after six weeks of pregnancy earned a long denunciation from Planned Parenthood.

Quote of the Day

You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

— Gov. Ron DeSantis, concluding his State of the State address.

Bill Day’s Latest

3 Questions

The Governor and the Republican Legislature are pushing many conservative priorities this Session, and with a supermajority in both the House and Senate, there’s nothing standing in their way. In a Tuesday news conference, House Democratic Leader Fentrice Driskell spoke with reporters about the GOP agenda and how her caucus will work to have a voice this Session.

These questions were asked by three different reporters who attended Driskell’s news conference on the First Floor of the Capitol.

Q: In the 24 years that the Republicans have controlled the Governor’s office and the Legislature have you seen a Governor more politically ambitious?

Driskell: I don’t think any of us have ever seen the erosion of a separation of powers like we are experiencing right now. I am very concerned about the precedent this will set for future administrations. The Legislature needs to get back to being the Legislature.

Once the Governor inserted himself into the redistricting process and drew completely new congressional maps and we watched the legislature acquiesce — neither the House nor the Senate did anything to stop it — we knew we were truly living in a new time and all this is driven by his ambition.

I think there are those in leadership who want to be close to this Governor because they view him as rising in power. But the people who pay the cost and the brunt of this are everyday Floridians. Every one of the Governor’s culture wars has an economic cost built into it. Each and every one of them.

Q: There is talk here about fighting for what Democrats believe in. However, you don’t have the numbers. So, what can you tell your constituents with respect to Republicans getting what they want? They will get what they want when it comes 60 days from now. So how do you deal with that? What do you tell your constituents about that?

Driskell: We do have to be obvious about the math of the vote count. We do not have a majority. We have a super minority, which means we cannot stop bad legislation from happening with a mere vote. But we are here to be the minority and by God we know how to do that well. To push for transparency, to push for accountability and to tell the people of Florida what is really happening in Tallahassee.

All of this needs to be basically litigated in the court of public opinion. This six-week abortion ban, let me tell you, I think they have bitten off more than they can chew. I do not think that Floridians are going to be happy about this. It does not poll well. Frankly, I am surprised to see the Governor go with such a dramatic and drastic measure.

And so, while we don’t have the vote to stop it, we cannot stop fighting because I fundamentally believe that our caucus actually represents the values of most Floridians. Our policies are wildly popular. We just got to translate that success electorally.

Q: The Governor said just now that many of the affordability issues (facing the state) might be occurring because of lawsuits and litigation. What do you feel about that?

Driskell: Look, the Republicans have been in charge of the Legislature and the Governor’s mansion in totality since 1998. And if there’s anything to be done on affordability, it would be them to do it.

I think that they try to use tort “reform” as the solution any time they see rates increase. But they don’t focus on the things that they could do. Let’s talk about the Sadowski Affordable Housing Fund Act. We know that at least $2 billion in resources that should have been going to affordable housing all these years has been diverted to give the wealthiest tax breaks here in Florida and to give away tax breaks to corporations.

So, the Republicans need to own it and bear some of this blame and responsibility before they try to point the finger anywhere else and cut off Floridians’ access to the courts.

Let’s be honest, right? People might not understand everything about the legal system. But they know what happens when they are injured. They know what happens if their insurance company doesn’t look out for them and process their claim in a timely manner.

And so, we don’t need to be talking about restricting Floridians’ access to courts. We need to be talking about real solutions.

Lobby Up

Lawmakers are again considering legislation (HB 1509/SB 1550) to place more regulations on pharmacy benefit managers.

PBMs negotiate with drug manufacturers on behalf of insurance companies to purchase drugs at reduced prices or promise additional rebates.

They have been pejoratively referred to as “middlemen” due to “spread pricing” — a term describing the practice of charging an insurer one price for a drug and paying the pharmacy a lower cost while pocketing the difference.

In 2018, lawmakers approved limited regulations on PBMs, requiring them to register with the Office of Insurance Regulation. The legislation also banned so-called “gag clauses,” which prevented pharmacies from selling drugs to patients at a lower price than the one negotiated by their insurer’s PBM. Proponents of that provision claimed that in some cases, the negotiated price was higher than it would be for an uninsured patient.

Lawmakers have sought further PBM regulations in the years since, and last year passed a bill — now law — that outlined and revised how PBMs can audit pharmacies and established a route by which businesses could appeal certain findings, among other things.

The Governor is paying more attention to PBMs heading into the 2023 Legislative Session, and earlier this year vowed he and the GOP-controlled Legislature will pass “the most comprehensive transparency legislation in regards to prescription drugs” this year.

Under the 2023 bill, PBMs would be required to disclose certain contracts, whether they have a stake in any pharmacy, and to obtain a certificate of authority to continue operating as an administrator — those who do not would face a $10,000 fine.

The bill also includes provisions that would require certain drug manufacturers to notify the Department of Business and Professional Regulation if the price of a drug goes up 15% or more within a 12-month period or 40% or more within a three-year period. The notification must include “a complete description of the factors” leading to the price increase.

Many pharmacy groups are keeping tabs on the bills, including the American Pharmacy Cooperative. The organization represents more than 1,800 member pharmacies in 26 states and has consistently criticized PBM practices such as spread pricing.

It recently re-upped a lobbying deal with the team at Gunster, including Ron Brise, Julie Fess, Sha’Ron James, Corrine Maro and Larry Williams.

The National Association of Chain Drug Stores, which issued a statement saying the legislation “will finally hold PBMs accountable and work to restore balance to this broken system,” also has a team in the Capitol. Their lobbyists are Gregory Black and Brian Jogerst of Waypoint Strategies.

Some of the biggest pharmacies in the business have their own representation. Walgreens is represented by Brian Ballard and Christopher Hansen of Ballard Partners, while CVS is represented by Edgar Castro, Chris Dudley, James McFaddin and Monte Stevens of The Southern Group as well as Nick Iarossi, Ron LaFace, Megan Fay, Maicel Green, Ashley Kalifeh and Scott Ross of Capital City Consulting.

The Florida Pharmacy Association, which represents the pharmacy profession, is also a top stakeholder. Its lobbying team includes Ron Book and Kelly Mallette as well as Claudia Davant and Amy Bisceglia of Adams St. Advocates.

Breakthrough Insights

The Next 24

8 a.m. — The House Ethics, Elections & Open Government Subcommittee will consider a resolution (HJR 31) that would ask voters to approve an amendment to the state constitution that would make School Board elections partisan. Room 102, House Office Building, The Capitol.

8:30 a.m. — The Senate Appropriations Committee on Health & Human Services will consider a bill (SB 112) that would allow Medicaid beneficiaries with serious mental illness to bypass “fail first” procedures. Room 412, Knott Building, The Capitol.

8:30 a.m. — The Senate Appropriations Committee on Transportation, Tourism & Economic Development will take up a bill (SB 198) calling for the dissolution of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority. Room 110, Senate Office Building, The Capitol.

11 a.m. — The House Commerce Committee will take up a bill (HB 3) that would prohibit the consideration of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investment strategies for state investment and retirement funds. Room 212, Knott Building, The Capitol.

11 a.m. — The House Infrastructure Strategies Committee will consider legislation (HB 109) that would give Florida residents a month’s head start to book reservations at state parks and block third-party ticket sellers from buying passes. Room 404, House Office Building, The Capitol.

11 a.m. — The Senate Appropriations Committee on Education will consider a bill (SB 202) that would offer taxpayer-funded school vouchers to all students regardless of family income. Room 412, Knott Building, The Capitol.

1 p.m. — The House Education & Employment Committee will consider bills that would offer taxpayer-funded school vouchers to all students regardless of family income (HB 1), would place a two-term limit on School Board members (HB 477), and would simplify the legal process needed to stay informed after students on Individual Education Plans (IEPs) enter a new phase at age 18 (HB 19). Room 17, House Office Building, The Capitol.

1 p.m. — The House Judiciary Committee will consider sweeping legislation (HB 837) that makes changes to how lawsuits are filed and litigated in Florida. Room 212, Knott Building, The Capitol.

1 p.m. — The House State Affairs Committee will take up a bill (HB 627) that would add hundreds of millions of dollars to state programs targeting affordable and workforce housing solutions while banning local governments from imposing rent controls. Room 404, House Office Building, The Capitol.

1:30 p.m. — The Senate Rules Committee will consider several bills, including measures that would allow charter school students to participate in private school sports programs (SB 190) and another that would allow combat medics to obtain nursing credits through the state’s colleges and universities (SB 274). Room 412, Knott Building, The Capitol.

4 p.m. — The Senate will hold a floor session. Senate Chamber, The Capitol.

Also, the following committees will meet.

8 a.m. — The House Water Quality, Supply & Treatment Subcommittee meets. Room 404, House Office Building, The Capitol.

1:30 p.m. — The Senate Select Committee on Resiliency meets. Room 110, Senate Office Building, The Capitol.

6:15 p.m. — The Senate Special Order Calendar Group meets. Room 401, Senate Office Building, The Capitol.

Full committee agendas, including bills to be considered, are available on the House and Senate websites.

Staff Reports


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