Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of 4.30.23

Divorce lawyers could be losing a big tool if Gov. Ron DeSantis signs a bill ending permanent alimony.

Ding dong, the vacation rentals bill is dead.


This year’s Session featured less-than-average drama between the Senate and House, as GOP supermajorities in each chamber made it easy to pass most bills on the agenda. But once again, Florida lawmakers failed to come to consensus on how much leeway to give local governments to regulate short-term rental properties.

The Legislature created this mess with a 2011 law preempting local action on limiting rentals’ duration or frequency. With Florida serving as a top vacation destination, and the proliferation of short-term rental services, several neighborhood residents have had to endure unwanted visitors being loud and obnoxious, without much recourse.

The Legislature has attempted in recent years to return some power to local governments. But once again this Session, the House and Senate could not agree on language. The House stripped away local governments’ ability to fine a rental if it doesn’t comply with local regulations. The Senate wanted that authority in place.

“We all worked hard to get this to the finish line. We had a good product. It’s a shame that the House is not going to take that good product,” said Sen. Debbie Mayfield. “I stand firm that we should not be concurring with the House language and come back next year, which will probably be the fourth year or the fifth year we’ve worked on this.”

This problem will continue until the state either gives full control back to local governments, or at least allows their limitations to have some teeth.

But as of now, we’ll see you next year.

Now, it’s on to our weekly game of winners and losers.


Honorable mention: Kathleen Passidomo, Paul Renner. The two legislative leaders got a lot done this Session, a task made easier by Republicans controlling a supermajority in both the Senate and House.

Just this past week, Renner landed a major priority as the Legislature approved a measure expanding KidCare in Florida. That’s on top of earlier wins as Renner-backed bills expanding school choice and allowing for permitless carry in Florida got through the Legislature.

Passidomo also earned some major wins this Session, with perhaps her biggest push being a major affordable housing bill. And the pair also scored several major wins for conservatives as the Legislature cracked down on immigration, restricted abortion access to six weeks of gestation and limited land sales to foreign governments of concern.

Of course, this week, both Passidomo and Renner deserve credit for completing the budget without delay and wrapping Session before lunch on Friday.

Finally, though, Passidomo deserves one more shoutout for standing up on certain legislation she felt went too far. This past week saw the Senate kill a bill designed to lower the minimum age to purchase a gun back down to 18. That would’ve undone a change in the bill passed after the Parkland shooting, requiring individuals to be at least 21 to buy a firearm.

The Legislature also passed a measure restricting gender-affirming surgeries and other care for minors. That bill earned plenty of outcry from the LGBTQ community even as passed, but it was a less restrictive version than the House proposed. The Senate also watered down a bill restricting bathroom access to an individual’s sex at birth, rather than their gender identity. The measure now only applies to public buildings, while the House wanted it to apply to private facilities as well.

We’re not taking a position on what’s the right or wrong call here, as they are incredibly complex issues that have been vastly oversimplified by both sides of the aisle.

But what’s clear is that Passidomo rejected the easy temptation to pass the most extreme versions of these as possible in an effort to appeal to the base. That’s the easy route nowadays, with increased partisanship often rewarded in media and online. Standing up against the most polarized base is seen less and less in today’s politics, and Passidomo deserves credit for doing so here.

Almost (but not quite) the biggest winner: Andrew Gillum. “Acquitted.” “Deadlocked.” Gillum was happy to hear anything other than “guilty” as his trial on conspiracy and wire fraud wrapped. The former Tallahassee Mayor and 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate walked away from those charges unscathed.

The jury acquitted Gillum on a charge that he lied to federal agents about gifts he took from undercover FBI agents during a New York trip. But the jury couldn’t agree on a verdict regarding charges that Gillum and co-defendant Sharon Lettman-Hicks illegally routed campaign donations to Gillum and Lettman-Hicks’ public relations firm.

The overarching federal investigation had already netted some guilty pleas from former Mayor and City Commissioner Scott Maddox and his aide, Paige Carter-Smith. A jury found developer John “J.T.” Burnette guilty as well over the money scheme.

But Gillum was arguably the top target, and prosecutors failed to make their case.

“They quite literally tried to take everything from us,” Gillum said after the case wrapped. “And the beauty is in our system, the powers that be don’t always get to decide. Everyday people like you and me sometimes get our swing at the ball. And today the jury took it.”

The biggest winner: Florida. U.S. News & World Report released their newest state-by-state rankings, and Florida ranked No. 1 in the U.S. in terms of education. That ranking took into account states’ higher ed institutions as well as pre-K-12 schools. Florida ranked No. 14 in pre-K-12 schools, but sat at No. 1 in terms of colleges and universities.

That comes as Gov. Ron DeSantis has mounted an aggressive push to more tightly regulate curricula both in higher ed facilities and grade school. Add to that the aforementioned school choice expansion, and Republicans have gone out of their way to remake the state’s education system as they see fit.

According to U.S. News & World Report, it’s working. That’s true for now, though Democrats have warned the GOP’s increasing focus on culture war issues and encouraging movement away from K-12 public schools could drive away desirable students. The complete effects of these policy shifts won’t play out for a few more years, at least.

As for the U.S. News & World Report’s overall rankings, Florida sat at No. 10 overall behind Utah, Washington, Idaho, Nebraska, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Iowa, Wisconsin and Vermont.

Florida’s next-best ranking was its economy, at No. 7 in the U.S. The state also ranked No. 13 in fiscal stability, No. 14 in infrastructure, and No. 17 in both natural environment and crime and corrections, according to U.S. News & World Report. The state was just below average in health care, at No. 27, while sitting near the bottom in opportunity, at No. 46.

That latter category focuses on “economic opportunity, affordability and equality within a state,” per the new rankings, perhaps letting the outlet ding Florida for its high housing prices and culture war focus.


Dishonorable mention: Federal Election Commission. Former U.S. Rep. Ross Spano is paying a $30,000 fine after facing accusations he violated campaign finance law by taking $180,000 from friends and pouring it into his campaign by disguising it as a loan from his personal funds.

That happened during Spano’s 2018 run for Congress. The FEC is now just wrapping the case in 2023, four and a half years after the incident.

What took so long?

The FEC found that after taking the money, Spano loaned his campaign $164,500. Spano falsely claimed that money originated from his own funds to disguise the fact that maneuvering like that allowed his associates to get around the then cap on federal donations of $2,700 per person per election.

Spano sought re-election in 2020 amid the controversy, which was unveiled shortly after his 2018 win. But Spano lost the GOP Primary to now-U.S. Rep. Scott Franklin. And he’s been walking around untouched ever since, until now.

The FEC is right to levy this punishment — far above the actual number of dollars Spano originally tried to funnel into his campaign — to try and deter future offenders and ensure existing campaign finance laws are enforced.

But when it takes two and a half election cycles to finally step in, it does raise the question of how seriously the agency takes such violations or, alternatively, whether they are adequately equipped to investigate such offenses. This episode has been well-reported for years. The FEC should have wrapped this far sooner. That they didn’t — or couldn’t — is a problem.

Almost (but not quite) the biggest loser: Local governments. The state is once again gunning for local governments, passing legislation allowing businesses to sue county and city governments regarding policies business owners argue are “arbitrary or unreasonable.”

Whether that will stop the ordinance in question permanently will be left up to the courts. But simply filing the suit puts a pause on that local action, allowing businesses to delay the effect of any new measure they deem undesirable.

A win in court would also cost local governments up to $50,000 in attorneys fees. And even if the local government is victorious, they have to wait 45 days from the judgment to again enforce the challenged provision.

The legislation’s supporters described it last year as the preemption to end all government preemptions. It’s part of Tallahassee’s ongoing efforts to wrest control away from local governments in areas the state would rather legislate.

But now, rather than continuing to cherry-pick those topics on which the state wants control, lawmakers this year decided to hand a tool to aggrieved parties to take matters into their own hands. And the threat of a $50,000 judgment could dissuade local governments from overstepping to begin with.

The measure failed last year, in part because critics worried about the proposal’s possible chilling effect on local governments. But with the GOP holding supermajorities this time around, the measure was pushed through.

The biggest loser: Divorce lawyers. Speaking of legislation that failed last year, lawmakers have once again passed a bill to end permanent alimony in the state.

One notable difference: last year’s measure failed not in the Legislature, but failed to get past Gov. DeSantis’ veto pen.

While the Governor axed last year’s version, this year’s legislation has some significant changes. Most notably, the measure is not retroactive, meaning it does not undo existing permanent alimony agreements. Rather, this year’s version simply bans the use of such agreements in future dissolutions.

That could be enough to coax support from the Governor, as it’s unlikely GOP lawmakers would take a second crack at this issue without some assurances behind the scenes that the Governor will support it.

Sen. Joe Gruters, who sponsored the bill, and Rep. John Temple, who carried the House companion, said they met with interested parties surrounding this issue and believe they’ve reached an acceptable compromise.

“Divorce is hard,” Temple said. “It can be ugly and hurtful. What I believe this bill does is it helps make that process smoother and less ugly.”

Still, some opposed the move. “This bill does not protect future women in the decision to stay home to raise a family,” said Camille Malone of the First Wives Advocacy Group. Malone said she would be reaching out for another veto, but it doesn’t seem as though there is as much public pushback this time around.

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].


  • Elliott Offen

    May 7, 2023 at 6:47 am

    Loser: Earl Pitts
    Winner: Everyone else

  • Leonard

    May 7, 2023 at 8:10 am

    You are not giving enough credit to the Speaker and Senate President. In the last 25 years there has never been a Session that finished so smoothly….they even ended the Session before noon on the last day! That is pretty incredible. Several big winners this Session to that you didn’t mention such as Moms For Liberty and independent pharmacies…they got some very big legislation passed despite all of the lobbyist being paid for the other side. By far the biggest winner of the Session was the Governor.

  • Andrew Linko

    May 8, 2023 at 11:17 am

    The main losers are every Florida resident who buys auto or homeowner insurance. We pay a DeSantis tax and the legislature brags about only resolving issues for the Governor to advance his politics, not helping Florida citizens. Give us ‘Freedom’ not ‘Freedumb’ and allow every resident in Florida the ability to request a refund on the cost of lobbying, your campaign donations to fly all over the world, of the portions of insurance, drug costs, and all other costs we pay just for you to advance your political agenda. The legislature and the Governor had no issue calling it freedumb when they allowed the teachers’ union a refund, why not advance FREEDOM to every Florida citizen?

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