Winners and losers emerging from the 2023 Legislative Session

winners and losers of the 2023 Session
Here is the definitive list of who won and who took a fall.

When a political party has a supermajority in both chambers of the Legislature, the ultimate outcomes from the Legislative Session don’t come as much surprise.

With the GOP firmly in charge, this Session was rife with headaches for Democrats, from restrictive abortion measures to what critics describe as renewed culture wars in education to long-sought changes to tort law.

This year’s Legislative Session, like many in conservative states throughout the nation, was marked by headline-grabbing bills.

The most high-profile of these may have been the GOP’s successful effort to implement a six-week abortion ban, a move that is sure to ignite critics on the Left fighting to protect reproductive freedom.

There was also an expansion to last Session’s Parental Rights in Education bill, which critics labeled the “Don’t Say Gay” law. It has been taken up in other conservative Legislatures across the country, particularly in the South. Not satisfied with the initial prohibition on gender or sexual orientation education through third grade, lawmakers this year expanded it until high school and added language restricting the use of gender pronouns in the classroom under certain circumstances.

The Legislature also passed long-sought changes to tort laws, particularly regarding personal injury protection and property insurance claims. Supporters herald it as historic reform needed to drive insurance prices down, while critics argue it’s a hand-out to a greedy insurance industry.

But beyond the top-of-mind issues debated in these 60 days, lawmakers were also busy finding consensus on less controversial measures, such as the finally successful compensation for Robert Earl DuBoise who was wrongly imprisoned for 37 years for a rape and murder he didn’t commit. Lawmakers, responding to a loophole that prohibited DuBoise from receiving compensation from the state, authorized $1.85 million.

With nearly 1,700 bills filed this Legislative Session and more than 300 of those passed, there were bound to be myriad winners and losers.

Florida Politics consulted with industry insiders, political savants, consultants, lobbyists and others intimately familiar with The Process to compile the definitive list of this year’s Legislative Session winners and losers.

Winners

Kathleen Passidomo — In the Naples Republican’s first year with the Senate President’s gavel, Passidomo achieved critical wins at a crucial time for her Southwest Florida home. That included billions in hurricane recovery and the passage of a priority affordable housing bill, the Live Local Act. The Senate President secured improved access to Florida’s Wildlife Corridor, fresh investments in technical and workforce education, and pushed consumer protections from bad players in the insurance world who victimized more than a few constituents. She also won battles on tort abuse she’s waged with the Florida Bar since her days in the Florida House.

There is little doubt that Kathleen Passidomo was among the biggest winners in 2023.

But her most important achievements may be the controversial measures she quietly stopped. The Senate was no rubber stamp. With signature composure, Passidomo scuttled efforts to lower the gun-buying age and nix in-state tuition for Dreamers and ensured a six-week abortion bill included exceptions for victims of rape and incest. Negotiations on a ban on gender-affirming care on minors stretched to Day 59 as Passidomo insisted on grandfathering in those who already started treatment, and so onerous restrictions on private coverage could be vetted out.

Despite passing the biggest one-year wave of socially conservative laws in recent memory, the Senate remained a cooling force. And as only the third woman ever to lead the Senate, she achieved this by being the only lawmaker in Tallahassee with the stones to bring her concerns directly to the Governor.

We’d be remiss if we did not give a special shoutout to ultimate communications pro, Katie Betta, who is never too busy to answer a reporter’s question, but that’s only if she hasn’t gamed out ahead of time what the media will likely need.

Paul RennerThe Speaker summed it up best when asked who the one big winner was in this Session: standing up for children and defining childhood. From education and universal choice to protecting life, $250 million in teacher salary increases, removing tech and social media from phones in the classrooms, adjusting school start times, and leading on tax relief for young families. As for his first Regular Session, it will most likely go down in history as one of the most collaborative between the two Chambers and the Governor. Speaker Renner was true to his word in making the Senate priorities, his priorities, and noted that every House Democrat had dollars approved in the budget. First-term members ran key issues, Committee Chairs led their Committees, and bipartisan legislation was embraced by the entire body. Chief of Staff Allison Carter and her team got things done and with strong comms messaging from Andres Malave, it was a true win for Floridians.

Jimmy Patronis — The Governor isn’t the only statewide elected who gets seemingly everything he asks for. This year, the CFO and State Fire Marshal had a lengthy wish list — he asked lawmakers to exorcize a three-letter bogeyman from state investment funds, pass a toothy law cracking down on auto glass AOBs, and top off the My Safe Florida Home program with a hundred mil. Check, check and check. Those are the headliners of Patronis’ “Keep Florida Free” brag board, but he flexed his influence to get an extensive list of other bills and line items across the finish line, from eye-grabbers like the insurer accountability bill to a small feel-good bill setting up a direct support organization to help firefighters get new and better safety equipment. The Panama City Republican has earned an above-the-fold spot in W&L every year he’s been on the Cabinet, and if 2023 is any indication, he’s got a few more appearances left in him.

Ashley Moody — Attorney General Moody scored some key wins this Regular Session and was a vital supporter of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “law and order” agenda. Bills to protect human trafficking victims, increase penalties for fentanyl dealers and restrict the types of crimes eligible for bail were top priorities for Moody that all crossed the finish line.

“This Legislative Session is one for the record books,” Moody said. “We worked hard with our great legislative leaders to pass important public-safety bills that protect human trafficking survivors, punish illicit fentanyl dealers, strengthen bond laws and help allocate the more than $3 billion we secured through our historic opioid litigation. I want to thank House Speaker Renner, Senate President Passidomo, and every member who voted in favor of these important measures that will help us build a Stronger, Safer Florida.”

Wilton Simpson — Agriculture Commissioner Simpson has a lot to crow about for his agency, which scored wins across the board this Session. There’s the TEAM card from HB 1279, which farmers can use for tax-exempt purchases, instead of the previously required forms that had to be filled out and submitted. The bill also requires public institutions and their food service contractors to give first preference to Florida-grown food and specifies that the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) takes the lead in developing the state’s aquaculture industry. HB 1279 does a lot more too, including expanding FDACS’ authority to regulate food storage and enforce the Department’s rules on things like mislabeling and violations of agency rules. Other legislation, HB 7063, halts counties levying special assessments on agricultural lands unless the assessment is for debt service. Aiding the state’s citrus industry, the Legislature passed $49.5 million to help with infrastructure, research, propagation and replanting.

Meanwhile, the push for land conservation succeeded with the passage of several measures, including restricting foreign ownership of agricultural land, dedicating $100 million in the Land Acquisition Trust Fund for the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program, and securing $4 million for Land Acquisition Trust Fund efforts reforesting public and private lands. FDACS also has the authority now to investigate and penalize financial institutions that keep records on people’s firearms and ammunition purchases. Workers at FDACS took a win too, with a 5% across-the-board pay increase and $12 million added to the Department for salary and benefit deficiencies along with recruitment and retention issues.

Ben Albritton — The Wauchula Republican this year spearheaded hurricane relief to the tune of $4 billion in direct recovery, loan programs, and other responses to Hurricane Ian and Nicole. That alone would give Albritton plenty of reason to tell voters he did what they needed in Tallahassee as his region recovers from the impact of Florida’s costliest storm ever. But throughout his legislative career, Albritton also served as a voice of agriculture and a protector of children, and he tallied wins on both those fronts in 2023. The budget includes $35 million in investment into the citrus industry, which took heavy damage from Ian and has been a clear priority for the citrus farmer. Working hand in hand with groups like Florida Citrus Mutual, he pressed for support in an industry dealing with greening, imports and storm winds. But he also played a role in passing some of the strictest abortion regulations in the country. This legislative term serves as a bit of an opening act, as Albritton prepared to take the President’s gavel in 2024, and the rancher showed prowess in the halls of power rivaling the hard work among Florida’s line crops.

Ben Albritton did what his constituents needed for hurricane relief.

Danny Perez — Giving the Rules Chair and future House Speaker a W may seem trite. The GOP landed the plane on pretty much every major proposal they took up and as one of the top lawmakers in the House, Perez obviously deserves a share of the credit. But there’s more to Session than chairs and culture war issues, and Perez proved he knows what his real job is: coming through for the people of House District 116. The Miami lawmaker is bringing back cash for school infrastructure, a new pilot program to tackle the lengthy waitlist at the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, and much-needed condo reforms. All the while, he’s doing his darndest to match Renner’s unprecedented success at the polls — and a glance at House Republican fundraising reports indicates he very much could.

Nick DiCeglieDiCeglie hit the ground running in his first term in the Senate. During the 2022 Special Session, DiCeglie carried and passed DeSantis’ bill that reduces toll costs for frequent commuters. DiCeglie led the charge on a range of bills — 14 in all are headed to the Governor’s desk — including the Department of Financial Services package and bills on consumer protection, central bank digital currency and public construction. DiCeglie passed the Florida Department of Transportation package which authorized the Department to fund 100% of eligible projects in rural areas, providing critical infrastructure funding where it was previously unavailable. Having developed a reputation as one of the most effective lawmakers in the state during his time in the House, DiCeglie wasted no time bringing that same impact to the Senate. In addition to his legislative success, DiCeglie played a key role in securing $26,431,237 in appropriations for his district for projects including the Holocaust Museum, YMCA, restoration of the Weedon Island Salt Marshes, and Workforce Development in High School. In addition, DiCeglie worked closely with the Pinellas County legislative delegation and leaders at the University of South Florida to secure $24 million in critical funding for the St. Petersburg campus to expand its Marine Science Center. All these projects will improve District 18 and constituent services.

Sam Garrison — The 2026-2028 Speakership will be in strong hands with Rep. Garrison’s command of the issues. In his leadership of the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee process and in championing key education and law and order initiatives he demonstrated why he is the head of his class. In working with First Lady Casey DeSantis on mental and behavioral health care issues, Garrison has signaled he will make this a top priority in the coming years of his service.

Joe Gruters — From putting partisan School Board races on the ballot to raising the age to buy kratom, the Sarasota Republican carried a major number of bills to the finish line. And that’s during a Session when Gruters appeared to be taking the foot off the gas. Stepping away from his secondary job of running the Republican Party of Florida seems to have allowed Gruters to flex his policy muscles in a different way and that produced results. The personal accountant showed the value of relationships within GOP supermajorities he helped to create, and he secured major funding for his district, including roughly $50 million just for his district’s New College of Florida.

We’ll see how much of that spending gets past the Governor’s desk after Gruters also took the bold step of being the first sitting lawmaker to endorse Donald Trump over DeSantis. But then it’s hard to see Gruters personally losing even if DeSantis looks to kill any spending based on that grudge. The Governor can’t very well nix New College funding. And through much of Session, Gruters proved a dependable foot soldier. Of course, Gruters also seemed to become the first member of a GOP Mickey Mouse Club to take Disney’s side in a feud with DeSantis and to vote against measures like stripping the company of land-use powers and imposing monorail inspections. But we suspect there are other rewards to be had from holding that banner high.

Blaise IngogliaIngoglia is DeSantis’ conservative pit bull in the Senate. And Ingoglia delivered big results. Ingoglia scored wins on key priorities of the Governor, including the nation’s most sweeping anti-illegal immigration law, death penalty reform, and over $1 billion in family-friendly tax cuts. Ingoglia passed key legislation for Attorney General Moody attacking human trafficking. He succeeded in securing eight-year term limits for School Board members, legislation to curb the power of labor unions, and the Rapid DNA Grant fund to help the police solve more crimes. On top of that, who could forget the media frenzy he ignited with shots across the bow of Democrats and liberal activists with the Ultimate Cancel Act and the Reverse Woke Act? When looking at which Senators made the biggest impact this year, Ingoglia ranks at the top of the list.

Blaise Ingoglia did the heavy lifting for Ron DeSantis’ agenda.

Tom Leek — The highly-respected House Appropriations Chairman completed his most recent role on a Speaker’s leadership team by spending his Session guiding the House spending, crafting the nearly-$117 billion budget. “We are setting aside historic levels of reserves and have put forth a budget that responds to the needs of Floridians in a meaningful and responsible way,” said Chair Leek, who will now turn attention to his state Senate campaign for the open seat in District 7.

Jason PizzoPizzo is creating the kind of highlight reel of floor speeches and questioning that will help fuel a run for Governor in 2026. His approach is pragmatic, easy to understand and surgical. If he runs, he will be one of the strongest statewide candidates Democrats have had on the ballot in decades.

Members who deserve an honorable mention

Shane AbbottIn his first year, Abbott proved he was a strong advocate for his Panhandle district. He passed legislation to help deal with deadly fentanyl being marketed to kids, carried a major Florida Department of Transportation package, and passed legislation increasing fines for people who release deadly, venomous reptiles into the environment. However, many might not know that this independent pharmacist put his expertise to work, assisting the landmark PBM reform effort that will save Floridians on the cost of their prescriptions. He was also responsible for securing funding for school construction, rural broadband expansion and grant payment assistance.

Adam Anderson — This Pinellas Republican’s first Session proved to be a successful debut. Leadership tasked him with carrying priority legislation to regulate the use of pronouns in schools — a controversial bill if ever there was one — and he delivered. But Anderson’s first year wins weren’t all divisive. In fact, some of them were heartwarming, bittersweet and unquestionably bipartisan. Anderson’s predecessor, former House Speaker Chris Sprowls, survived Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a child. The first-term Representative’s son, AJ, did not. It’s a tragedy no parent wants to imagine and one that Anderson is doing everything he can to make sure they don’t have to. His signature win this Session takes a step in that direction by adding rapid whole genome sequencing as a covered fee-for-service benefit, and he deserves the fatherly pride that comes with the measure’s name: The Andrew John Anderson Rapid Whole Genome Sequencing Program.

Danny Burgess It’s hard to argue that any Senator works harder than Burgess. He passed more than 20 bills this Session, including important initiatives to protect kids from the dangers of social media, banning TikTok in schools and on state devices, providing care for veterans and supporting Florida’s most vulnerable citizens. He’s also trusted by Florida’s Cabinet to carry some top priorities. From banning credit card companies from using merchant category codes to identify gun sales for Commissioner Simpson, to protecting human trafficking survivors and children of sex crimes in court proceedings for Attorney General Moody — everyone knows Burgess will get the job done and do it well.

Hillary Cassel — This first-term Representative is giving her Democratic colleagues a masterclass in forging deep relationships across the aisle as well as being a well-researched and thoughtful bomb thrower from the back row. Watch this space!

Fentrice Driskell — At times it’s tough to see the positive for House Democrats, who now face GOP supermajorities after spending a decade on the brink. But one thing is clear: The House Democratic Leader is doing an expert job playing the hand she was dealt. Under her leadership, the small-but-fierce band of lawmakers fought passionately, effectively, and more cohesively than in past caucuses. And there are glimmers of hope for the future thanks to her elevating the voices of first-termers such as Reps. Ashley Gantt and Cassel, not to mention a revitalized returning Bruce Antone. It’s an unenviable job leading an opposition party that’s outnumbered three-to-one, but Democrats are heading back to their districts with their heads held high and some small but significant victories under their belts.

Fentrice Driskell did the best with the hand she was dealt.

Erin Grall — One of the smartest Senators in the chamber, Grall carried a number of big-ticket items this Session, including several top leadership priorities, and ensured they made it across the finish line. And these were not easy lifts — a six-week abortion ban, anti-ESG legislation, and a major higher education reform bill. Grall answered hours of questions on these issues and always had thoughtful responses.

Christine Hunschofsky, Allison Tant — It’s hard to be claimed a “winner” as a Democrat in the House. Yet Reps. Tant and Hunschofsky have “broken the code” of effectiveness by being professional, accessible, friendly and, most importantly, for feverishly working across party lines to help pass their priority Legislation. Tant’s signature win was a bill that would simplify the legal process needed to stay informed after students on Individual Education Plans enter a new phase at age 18 and begin the last segment of their secondary education. It’s policy informed by the Tallahassee lawmaker’s personal experience raising a son who was born with a complex physical, developmental and cognitive disability called Williams Syndrome. She worked with Republican Sen. Cory Simon to get the bill to the Governor. Meanwhile, the top accomplishment among the half-dozen Hunschofsky-backed bills waiting on a signature would decriminalize fentanyl test strips, which is a policy that she, co-sponsor Republican Rep. Dana Trabulsy, upper chamber sponsor Sen. Tina Polsky and, based on its unanimous backing, the entire Legislature, agree “will absolutely save lives.”

Jonathan Martin — First-term Sen. Martin had a big first Session, and not just because he’s 6’7”. In his first year, Martin passed 21 bills off the Senate floor. He passed a natural disaster recovery and preparedness bill that is a critical win for his community in the wake of Hurricane Ian. He delivered key wins for Gov. DeSantis — he protected the Governor’s travel records and he passed a bill to allow the death sentence for child sex predators. He fought for fairer property insurance rates for consumers, increased protections for crime victims, and notched a win on MLB player salaries. Impressive, most impressive.

Fiona McFarland — After three years of system crashes, the Legislature passed McFarland’s data privacy bill. The legislation blocks smart devices such as audio assistants from collecting data when inactive, provides an opt-out for facial recognition software, and allows consumers to access and correct personal data that gets collected by companies. While the core policy has long enjoyed bipartisan support, there was pushback over what companies it should apply to. McFarland — a matter of days after delivering a baby, no less — hammered out a deal with the Senate and stakeholders that would ensure billion-dollar companies are held to account while exempting small businesses that potentially feared onerous compliance costs. The result, accomplished through an amended SB 262, was a bill that cleared both chambers with a near-unanimous vote.

Jason Shoaf Geographically, Shoaf has one of the largest state House districts, covering 11 of Florida’s rural counties. Rep. Shoaf sponsored HB 1209, which focused on rural economic development. The bill helps rural counties get grants by removing matching requirements and funds rural infrastructure and training programs. In addition, Rep. Shoaf worked to help those struggling in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael by sponsoring HB 407 to secure $25 million in funding for the recovery of Apalachicola Bay. This “critical area of state concern” once accounted for 90% of Florida oysters. Finally, as the Chair of the Higher Education Appropriations subcommittee, Shoaf secured record funding for higher education programs around the state. A tip of the hat to Kate Deloach, Clark Smith and Rachel Cone of the Southern Group for getting HB 407 to the Governor’s desk.

Tyler Sirois — Steady, calm and even-handed, Sirois had a banner Session. As a representative for the Space Coast, Sirois delivered. He passed bills to strengthen Florida’s space industry. He also passed a bill to address seagrass restoration, a critical issue in Brevard County. Sirois proved his conservative bona fides by reversing the law prohibiting 18-year-olds from owning guns and fighting to prohibit ESG investments. He worked in a bipartisan fashion with Rep. Michele Rayner-Goolsby to protect kids from the harmful effects of social media. And he racked up millions of dollars in appropriations supporting schools, veterans, and law enforcement in Brevard County.

Definite winners

Florida Chamber of Commerce The Chamber for time immemorial banged the drum for tort reform and making Florida’s legal environment more friendly. It also served as one of the chief voices in the business world cheering school choice. It won major victories on both those fronts this cycle, the Chamber supported workforce training and affordable housing measures that cleared the Legislature this year, and the state budget teems with Chamber priorities from an I-Street Lab at UF grading Florida’s highways for a future of autonomous vehicles. A union-busting bill, dubbed paycheck protection by Chamber advocates, also made it through as Session wound down, placing more and more lines on receipts filled with accomplishments for Chamber President and CEO Mark Wilson and company. Chamber staff testified 181 times in various legislative committees, which doesn’t even mention the heavy lifting behind the scenes. It’s a no-win Florida’s most prominent business organization once again lands on the winner’s list.

Mark Wilson and the Florida Chamber can certainly notch wins in 2023.

Florida Justice Reform Institute Tort reform has never had a year like this — and may never again. In the meantime, William Large can sit back and count the ways: transformational, once-in-a-generation omnibus reform; reducing incentives to construction defect, legal advertising, telephone solicitation and windshield litigation; and limited immunity for campgrounds, skating rinks and spaceflight. Whew.

Governor’s legislative affairs staff — It’s an overused saying, but it fills this slot too perfectly to ignore: “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.” The Governor’s Office squeezed nearly every single piece of controversial policy that DeSantis could think of, including one of the most severe abortion restrictions in the country. Whether you’re 100% on board with DeSantis’ plan or not (and many are not) here are indisputable facts: Stephanie Kopelousos’ and Peter Cuderman’s job is to implement policy, not create it; they’re scary good at doing that.

AARP — In a state brimming with retirees, the premier organization representing the 50-plus crowd must monitor a monstrous amount of bills running the gamut of issues — there’s no budget silo they can ignore and there are only a few committee meetings they can skip. With so much to juggle, AARP brought in a fleet of “advocacy volunteers” to the Capitol over six weeks of the Legislative Session. An untraditional strategy, but apparently a working one since the organization closed out Session with several wins under its belt. A non-exhaustive list: the newly created Qualified Medication Aide professional designation; expanded elder abuse protections; and record funding for affordable housing. To top it off, a bill that would have made it harder to sue nursing homes went the entire Session without a committee hearing in the House or Senate.

Associated Industries of Florida With Brewster Bevis at the helm and Adam Basford serving as his right hand, AIF showed real leadership this Session on a number of high-profile issues. Most notably, the group took on billboard lawyers and won, hosting an entire forum dedicated to tort reform in the weeks leading up to Session that got key players in the room to discuss specific issues, strategies and solutions, and serving as one of the leading voices on the effort to get legislation passed to transform the legal system in Florida, leading the charge on launching a full-fledged media campaign in support of the measure.

Americans for Prosperity With its policy focus squarely on advancing the freedoms of Florida residents, Americans for Prosperity-Florida secured multiple priorities wins this Session. From freedom in education and the workforce to freeing taxpayers from unnecessary expenditures, AFP-FL scored plenty of wins this Session. Their most prominent victory was an early one — the passage of historic school choice legislation. AFP-FL has served as a leading force behind the decadeslong fight to let parents and students make the final decision about their educational needs. By Session’s end, the grassroots advocacy organization had also helped boost legislation eliminating Enterprise Florida and loosening the reins of labor unions on public employees.

Anti-abortion advocates That was … fast. It hasn’t even been a year since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, and lawmakers have already reduced the threshold for abortions in Florida twice, most recently to just six weeks into a pregnancy. While the six-week law won’t take effect until after a legal challenge to Florida’s existing 15-week limit is resolved, the new and tighter restriction DeSantis quietly signed the same day it passed is a major victory for anti-abortion advocates. Sure, it has some exceptions for cases of rape, incest and severe risk to the mother. But in practically all other circumstances it equates to an outright ban.

Affordable housing advocates This was no doubt a historic Session for affordable housing in Florida. For more than three decades, the Sadowski Coalition has been advocating for increased affordable housing resources and funding, and with the passage of the Live Local Act, which the group heavily supported, the coalition achieved its goal. Passidomo championed the issue, making affordable housing a top priority and crafting a comprehensive legislative product with real impact, and Renner and DeSantis fully supported the effort.

Beer lovers and the Florida Brewers GuildHB 1459 allows for more freedom and innovation in the craft brewing industry by eliminating registration fees for beers that never leave the tasting room. Florida craft brewers can now create, experiment and bless customers with new flavors and styles without having to pay a registration fee for brands and labels sold exclusively in their tasting rooms.

“Bloggers” — Certain comms people may hurl the phrase derogatorily, but those pundits and journalists won this year’s great war over words even without buying ink by the barrel. A defamation bill championed by the Governor died with a whimper as chambers struggled to align over such matters as anonymous sourcing. Traditional media advocates like the Florida Press Association led the fight against the bill and were helped by groups on the right like Americans For Prosperity, and the left like Equality Florida. The state’s largest editorial boards uniformly deriding the legislation may have helped — though considering the Legislature’s makeup and the bill’s press-hounded sponsors, maybe not. Regardless, it’s the independently owned media outlets living primarily in a virtual space that faced the greatest threat. Another win? Sen. Jason Brodeur’s other anti-media bill, one requiring any blog covering state government register and report monthly on its finances, never got out of the gate. And considering how quickly figures like DeSantis distanced themselves, that bill appears both dead and buried.

Boaters — There’s no shortage of drama on the high seas, and it spilled over into the Capitol this year with an under-the-radar policy battle over boat rental insurance. The battle centered on seemingly benign language requiring renters to be offered the option of purchasing insurance coverage and, should they choose to forgo it, requiring them to sign an attestation acknowledging they’d be on the hook for any damages or injuries that took place while they were at the helm. Listening to some of the shadier operators in the boat rental biz, you would think the common-sense policy would punch a hole in the hull of their livelihoods. And at one point, it seemed like they would get their way after a metaphorical “black spot” was tacked onto the legislation sponsored by Rep. Adam Botana and Sen. Ileana Garcia. But Capitol City Consulting’s Jared Rosenstein and Ashley Kalifeh were able to use a separate insurance bill (SB 418) as a life raft, and the language made it safely ashore on Day 59 of Session.

Building Owners and Managers Association of Florida — Florida is the only state that imposes a sales tax on business rent. Over the years, the Legislature has gradually reduced the tax and ratcheted it down a couple more notches this year, from 5.5% to 4.5%, after BOMA got Rep. Stan McClain in their corner. The reduction was BOMA’s top priority this Session and will save businesses a projected $215.9 million for the few months it’s in effect. When it expires, it won’t be that big of a deal, either — due to legislation passed in 2021, the tax is projected to be cut to 2% in the summer of 2024, when the unemployment benefits trust fund is replenished to pre-COVID-19 levels.

Charter schoolsThe schools that are privately run, yet part of the public school system scored access to a new pot of money — the taxes that support capital costs at traditional public schools. It will mean hundreds of millions more will go to paying for charter schools’ capital costs once the full force of HB 1259 goes into effect in five years. Democrats on the House and Senate floors launched a fierce fight against moving the funding from Public Education Capital Outlay to local taxes, but it passed its first House committee hearing with barely a whisper of dissent. Chris Moya and Charter Schools USA were in the mix. But it’s also a big win for the Foundation for Florida’s Future, which had a three-person team on this, composed of the foundation’s Executive Director Patricia Levesque, Shirley Goff and Alice Kerce. David Ramba also put in a full-court press on this. He and four other people from his company were representing Academica, a nonprofit that lays claim to being one of the state’s largest school management companies.

Caring parentsNo longer will parents need to go to court to stay involved in the education of their adult child with disabilities. Students on Individual Education Plans are entitled to stay in school until their 22nd birthday. And Democratic Rep. Tant used the power of her story of raising her developmentally disabled son to explain why the Legislature needed to pass HB 19, which made an informal route to keep parents at the table as their children finished the last segment of their education. Republican Sen. Corey Simon landed it in the Senate with a unanimous vote.

Allison Tant and Corey Simon are helping families that have adult children with disabilities.

Conservatives for Clean Energy-Florida — This group that supports “all of the above” approaches to clean energy led the effort to pass SB 284, which will allow DMS to save taxpayers money and protect the environment by considering electric vehicles for state agency fleets when their total cost is lower than other vehicles. Thanks to the leadership of Conservatives for Clean Energy Florida and the hard work of others in this space, like Advanced Energy United and Electrification Coalition, Florida is positioned to move toward a cleaner vehicle fleet while saving all Floridians.

Court Clerks — After years of entreating the Legislature to shore up their stagnant budgets, which primarily rely on portions of the fines and fees they collect, Florida’s Clerks of Court finally got thrown a bone. Lawmakers from both chambers unanimously approved a bill allowing Clerk Offices to keep about $24.1 million more per year in revenue rather than sending it to the state General Fund. It also switches Clerks’ budgeting from monthly to quarterly. While the added money isn’t enough to close the estimated $36.5 million funding gap between their needs-based budget and their current revenue-limited one, according to the Florida Clerks of Court Operations Corporation, it’s a still a positive move and confirmation that while it may not seem like it sometimes, Tallahassee is listening.

Dentists — Legislators set aside $2 million in recurring funds for a dental student loan repayment program and a donated dental services program. The loan program will be used to help dental students pay back student loans if they practice in public health programs or help out low-income patients in rural and underserved areas. The donated services program recruits volunteers to provide dental services to seniors, individuals with disabilities, or those who are medically compromised for no cost.

Carlton DeVooght — The CEO of Flagler Health had quite a Session. Building off the momentum of the 2022 Session, the nonprofit hospital in St. Johns County kicked off 2023 by launching a partnership with UF Health. In addition, during Session, DeVooght continued his push for essential mental health programs offered by the hospital across the state with the groundbreaking BRAVE program. The program, which seeks to break down the stigma associated with seeking mental health assistance and ensuring access to those mental health services by school-aged children, found a special spot in the Legislature’s heart this year as both Chambers made mental health a cornerstone of their funding. The BRAVE program won big in the “sprinkle lists” published in the closing days of Session, snagging $5.68 million from the Senate and another $1.75 million from the House. That money will allow the program to serve more students statewide and provide people of all ages with an avenue to access behavioral health services.

Robert Earl DuBoise — He went in just barely an adult, 18 years old. After 37 years in prison for a rape and murder he didn’t commit, DuBoise was exonerated by a DNA screen of previously untested crime scene samples and released back into a world that had all but passed him by. Normally, Florida would have paid him $1.85 million outright, equal to $50,000 for each year he spent behind bars. But the state’s unique “clean hands” rule blocked him from recompense. So, he sought relief through the claims bill process, an arduous route with scant success stories. Just 85 people in Florida since 1989 have been proven exonerated and released from prison. Late last month, DuBoise became the fourth person among them to receive full compensation from the Legislature. The investigation that led to DuBoise’s release also led to the identification of the two “serial killers” truly responsible for the crime. Throughout the whole process, DuBoise had a team of lawyers and consultants working for him pro bono, including Mark Delegal, Josh Aubuchon and Scott Jenkins at Delegal Aubuchon Consulting and Larry Sellers from Holland & Knight.

Robert Earl DuBoise finally gets compensation from the state of Florida.

Duval diners — Those who like the nightlife in three areas in Jacksonville and Jacksonville Beach will be able to rejoice. Thanks to legislation carried by Sen. Tracie Davis in the Senate and Rep. Wyman Duggan in the House, the “Downtown Incentive Zone,” the North Florida Keys Corridor, and the Dennis Street Commercial Corridor Area in Mixon Town are all poised to be able to expand alcohol service. The DIZ and the Keys Corridor, at Jax Beach and on Jacksonville’s Northside respectively, will be able to have smaller restaurants serve liquor with dinner. Meanwhile, Mixon Town’s allowance will be for event spaces, as that area moves toward gentrification. Bon appetit … and make ours a double!

EMPOWER Patients Another top issue in the Governor’s win column is that of PBM reform. He made it quite clear from his executive order that these predatory middlemen needed to be reined in, and after all these years, relief is finally in sight for patients. Superstar legislator Rep. Linda Chaney, along with Sen. Brodeur got it to the finish line, fighting against insurance-company-owned PBMs. One of the early coalition groups to lead on this issue was EMPOWER Patients, composed of the Florida Pharmacy Association, Florida Independent Pharmacy Network, American Pharmacy Cooperative Inc., Pharmacy Provider Service Corp., Walgreens and others. Also at the table were the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, the Florida Society of Clinical Oncology, the Florida Society of Rheumatology, and the PBM Accountability Project of Florida. They did yeoman’s work in rallying patients and independent pharmacists to share their frustrations with the outrageous costs of prescription drugs. Among those on the winning side: Newly appointed FPA EVP/CEO Helen Sairany, lead lobbyist Claudia Davant and Amy Bisceglia, along with Ron Book, Jake Farmer, Chris Hansen, Cynthia Henderson, Kelly Mallette and Larry Williams. The leads handling arguably the biggest PR battle of Session were Christina Johnson and Aly Coleman Raschid from On 3 Public Relations, as well as Sachs Media.

eVTOLs — Ferrovial, Joby, Lilium, and the rest of the cast of the Jetsons successfully defeated a ridiculous piece of legislation that would have delayed this cutting-edge technology from coming to Florida. MIA to Key West in 30 minutes? Count me in!

FamiliesMay is Mental Health Awareness Month, and coming out of the 2023 Legislative Session, tens of thousands of Floridians struggling with mental health issues will have access to more services. Thanks to a much-needed Medicaid rate increase for behavioral health services — which by far is the largest increase in decades — The Florida Behavioral Health Association (FBHA) and its more than 70 community mental health and substance use provider members will be able to stabilize their workforce and increase access to behavioral health care. Additional funding for a central receiving system strengthens and expands the critical entry point for individuals and families experiencing a crisis by giving 24/7 immediate access to care. Kudos to FBHA’s CEO and president Melanie Brown-Woofter along with Shane Messer, government relations director and, of course, The Mayernick Group, Johnson and Blanton, and Johnston and Stewart.

Families and adult guardianships HB 1119 strengthens and respects decisions made by families. The legislation corrected an unintentional and ill-advised policy requiring family members (who happen to also be legal guardians) to obtain court approval before making end-of-life decisions. Crazy, right? This bill was adeptly ushered through the process by lobbyist Bryan Cherry of Pinpoint Strategies. Lobbyists Brian Jogerst and Martha Edenfield assisted. Returning Rep. Kim Berfield did excellent work in getting through the gauntlet that is the House Health Care staff, and Sen. Colleen Burton, Passidomo, and veteran Senate staffer Allie Cleary cleared the way in the Senate.

Family dinner — Spam calls and texts are the worst, especially when they come during the precious few times we’re able to wrangle the kids to the table. Some solicitors will probably find a way to sneak by the new restrictions in HB 761, but it will deter enough of them to buy us a few minutes of family time — be sure to namecheck Cory Guzzo of Floridian Partners when you’re saying grace because his 11th-hour effort to kill a contentious amendment prevented this soon-to-be law from doing more harm than good.

Farm ShareThe many Floridians facing food insecurity — including working parents, college students, and essential workers — scored a huge victory in this year’s budget thanks to a record $6.5 million appropriation secured by Farm Share. As the nation’s No. 1 food bank, Homestead-based Farm Share works with Florida’s farmers to receive their excess produce, as well as grocery store overages and other items, and provide them to those affected by inflation, unemployment, and disaster. Farm Share distributes this food at events all over the state and through local food pantries every week, all of which will be significantly boosted by this record legislative investment.

Farm Share is getting a huge boost in the battle against food insecurity.

Florida Health Care AssociationWith the steady improvements in quality being made in Florida’s nursing centers, the FHCA set out to show lawmakers that funding investments and policies that advance quality care and address workforce shortages is what will help Florida continue leading the way in meeting the long-term health care needs of seniors and people with disabilities. This Session, the state’s largest nursing home association, led by CEO Emmett Reed, Senior Director of Policy & Reimbursement Tom Parker, and lobby team lead Toby Philpot, secured a $93 million increase to Medicaid funding to support ongoing quality advancements, along with an additional $32 million increase applied across all care centers. The team also won with another innovative workforce approach to address the nursing shortage, convincing lawmakers to authorize the use of Qualified Medication Aides (QMAs), who will be experienced CNAs specially trained to administer routine medications to nursing home residents. With nurses freed up to concentrate on higher-level care, FHCA says, they can better detect medical conditions early — leading to more successful treatment outcomes and fewer costly trips to the hospital (many of them paid by taxpayers) for residents. At the same time, with CNAs expanding their skills, nursing centers are building a pipeline of skilled caregivers that are needed to meet the needs of Florida’s elderly, now and in the future.

The Family Law Section of The Florida Bar — Led by Smith, Bryan & Myers’s Lisa Hurley, The Family Law Section of The Florida Bar notched several wins for Florida families during the 2023 Session. They collected accolades in numerous committees and on the floor of both chambers for their collaboration with members on several issues impacting family law. Importantly, they worked closely with the sponsors on Greyson’s Law, which protects children by giving the court much-needed guidance on what factors to take into account to alter parental responsibility given the threat of danger or detriment to a child. They also contributed to legislation that reforms alimony laws, clarifies laws relating to support for dependent adult children, and establishes parental rights for unwed fathers — all of which passed this Session.

Firefighters — There’s no four-alarm fire for first responder pensions, thanks to the deft work of the team at Florida Professional Firefighters. The professional association worked alongside police, corrections officers and other members of the state’s “Special Risk” class to restore the age and years of service requirements for state retirement benefits, which will allow the folks who put their lives on the line every day to start sipping Mai Tais on the beach a few years earlier. FPF President Wayne “Bernie” Bernoska and Vice President Rocco Salvatori get top billing on firefighters’ thank you cards, but they had an all-star supporting cast, too — Legislative Policy Director Meredith Brock Stanfield; Matt Cowart from IUPA; Jennifer “Cookie” Pritt from the Florida Police Chiefs; Matt Dunagan and Allie McNair from the Florida Sheriffs Association; Steve Zona and Lisa Henning from the Fraternal Order of Police; Matt Puckett, James Biardi, William Smith and John Kazanjian from the Police Benevolent Association; and Ray Colburn, Douglas Riley and Darrel Donnato from the Florida Fire Chiefs.

Fishin’ and huntin’ — Fishing and hunting have long been a way of life for Floridians — and this Legislative Session ensured its continued place in the state. This year, Florida hunters, fishers, and outdoor enthusiasts are celebrating the overwhelming passage of a first step toward preserving the industry many consider to be the very heritage of Florida. A proposed constitutional amendment by Sen. Brodeur and Rep. Lauren Melo will appear on the November 2024 ballot, giving Florida voters the opportunity to forever memorialize fishing and hunting as a public right in the Sunshine State.

Floridians with cell phones Florida has one of the worst-ranked taxes in the country for its communications services tax (CST), which is higher even than California. A bill that would set the state’s CST at the same 6% rate as the statewide sales tax, a reduction of 1.44 percentage points from its current level, didn’t make it through this Legislative Session. But bill sponsor Sen. Jay Trumbull did manage to have a concept included in the tax package that prohibits local governments from raising their local CST rates for the next three years. So, while Floridians won’t see a reduction in CST this year, they at least won’t see it go up in the near future.

Floridians who need to cover life’s unexpected expenses Nearly 40% of Americans have less than $400 saved for emergencies, which may not even cover the cost of fixing an air conditioner. HB 1267 gives Floridians more fiscally responsible options for covering life’s unexpected expenses and reaching economic self-sufficiency. More Floridians will qualify for safer loan options with monthly payments that fit into their budgets.

Florida Home Builders Association — CEO Rusty Payton and the team at FHBA nearly crossed the double-digit mark in Session wins. Their top victory, bar none, was a now-law (SB 360) sponsored by Sen. Travis Hutson delivering long-sought changes to construction defects litigation in the Sunshine State, namely by shortening Florida’s existing Statute of Repose from 10 years to seven for all construction. It would also change when the clock starts on that statute to include abandonment if construction is incomplete; a certificate of occupancy or a temporary certificate of occupancy is issued; or upon receipt of a certificate of completion from a local building department or other applicable entity. All that to say, it was a big win. But some other soon-to-be laws backed by FHBA deserve a shoutout, too, including bills that related to occupational licensure (HB 1383), a fix to continuation notices for local ordinances (SB 170), and the death of an Ill-conceived DEP stormwater rule.

Florida Juvenile Justice Association — When Christian Minor joined Converge Public Strategies ahead of Session, he made clear he’d continue helping FJJA navigate The Process. He wasn’t lying. In fact, he came forth as gold. The association successfully pushed for $22.3 million in recurring GR to boost pay for many critical jobs in the juvenile justice system, including staff at non-secure residential providers and secure residential providers as well as workers in the CINS/FINS program, all of whom will make at least $19 an hour once the fiscal year starts July 1. FJJA also convinced lawmakers to OK funding that will be used to dole out bonuses to contracted direct-care staff and pay raises to full-time classroom teachers at juvenile justice education providers. But the cornerstone win was a bill (HB 605) expanding upon last year’s juvenile expunction bill —Minor himself describes it as “Version 2.0” — to allow those who’ve had two brushes with the system (one as a child and one as an adult) to have their records expunged. Kudos to Rep. David Smith, who sponsored this year’s bill and ushered “Version 1.0” to the Governor’s desk in 2022.

Christian Minor comes through for the Florida Juvenile Justice Association.

Florida Life Care Residents Association In coordination and cooperation with Leading Age Florida, the continuing care retirement community owner/operators, residents passed their priority bill to ensure proper regulatory oversight of these communities and give them a larger voice in that process.

Florida Police Chiefs Association The FPCA passed a groundbreaking bill to require written notice and an opportunity for public comment when a municipality terminates a Chief and worked with the first responder community to restore equal retirement benefits for people hired after the 2011 cutbacks. To paraphrase Mel Brooks, “It’s good to be the Chief!”

Florida Sheriffs Association In 2018, Sheriffs worked to pass Amendment 10 so that all counties would have elected independent constitutional officers. Then Miami-Dade Mayor Danielle Levine Cava and some members of the County Commission passed an ordinance against the will of the voters to establish a competing police department that they would control. The Sheriffs took them to court, but in the end, it was the House and Senate who had the last say by passing two bills (HB 1595, HB 1373) that ended the nonsense by prohibiting the ordinance and also implementing strict penalties if elected officials attempt to duplicate these offices again. In January 2025, there will be an elected and independent Sheriff of Miami-Dade County, and it’s the direct result of the work of the Florida Sheriffs Association and the voters of Miami-Dade County.

The Florida College System Council of Presidents Thanks to the support of Gov. DeSantis, the Legislature, and Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, the Florida College System (FCS) is strong, innovative, and responsive to Florida’s industries and businesses. Educating approximately 650,000 students annually, the state’s system strengthens the quality of life for many families by preparing Floridians for high-skill and high-wage careers. The Florida College System Council of Presidents came through the legislative budget process securing $100 million in the program fund to accelerate Florida by increasing workforce and educational credentials issued to students within the great 28.

Florida KidCare Income eligibility for Florida’s iteration of the federal children’s health insurance program has remained constant since its inception in 1998. Then Rep. Renner became Speaker of the House. With Renner’s support, legislators increased qualifying income eligibility from 200% of the federal poverty level, or $60,000 annually, to 300% of the federal poverty level, or $90,000 annually. Renner also secured $76.1 million in Medicaid fee increases to better pay the pediatricians who treat the children.

FP&L, Duke, TECO — Investor-owned utilities come out on top nearly every year, and 2023 was no different. Their biggest victory played into the overarching theme of the Legislative Session: Lawsuit restrictions. A provision of a natural disaster bill (SB 250) sponsored by Sen. Jonathan Martin will shield the state’s largest utility companies from lawsuits over power outages in the wake of hurricanes and other natural disasters and, going forward, will put the Public Service Commission in charge of determining whether they are culpable for the negative effects of prolonged power outages —a favorable outcome considering PSC’s historical pro-utility posture.

Florida Realtors — The state’s largest trade association scored its first win early this Session with the passage of the “Live Local Act,” a historic affordable housing bill championed by Senate President Passidomo and swiftly signed by the Governor. But with more than a month left on the clock at the time of SB 102’s signing, Florida Realtors were able to put checkmarks next to several other items on their wish list. Honestly, we don’t have the space to list them all, but some of the big ones include a temporary cut to the commercial rent sales tax, a preemption to local rent control ordinances, and condo and insurance reforms. Props to Florida Realtors Vice President of Public Policy Andy Gonzalez, who didn’t miss a beat during his first Session on the job. Also, in on the affordable housing win, Oscar Anderson and David Browning of The Southern Group.

Florida Trucking Association Alix Miller drove tort reform home for the Florida Trucking Association, and the business community more broadly. As a priority of the Speaker, Senate President and Governor, it passed the third week of Session and signed the next day with Miller and an FTA member in the room.

Florida Wildlife Corridor — Before the 2023 Legislative Session started, Passidomo and Renner identified projects and funding for the Florida Wildlife Corridor as a top priority. The Legislature followed their lead and approved a historic $1.2 billion appropriation and passed SB 106, “Florida Shared-Use Nonmotorized Trail Network.” The funding will enable significant progress in advancing key regions in the Corridor, including Southwest Florida and Ocala to Osceola, and ensure consistent, meaningful funding for the state’s land acquisition programs. Two of the biggest boosters from Florida’s lobbying corps: Oscar Anderson and Seth McKeel of The Southern Group.

The Florida Wildlife Corridor can now enjoy considerable progress. Image via FWC/Facebook.

Galen College of Nursing Florida is facing a statewide shortage of 60,000 nurses by 2035, and legislators took a first step to address the issue last year by providing $79 million to Florida’s public nursing schools. This year, they took another step forward by adding $5 million to support high-performing private nursing schools. Galen College of Nursing, with four campuses across Florida, led the charge to make critical incentives available to accredited private institutions that meet the same eligibility requirements as the public schools last year. This sensitive solution — endorsed by the Florida Black Caucus and Florida State Hispanic Chamber — will help top-performing schools, regardless of their corporate status, expand rapidly in Florida’s highest-demand markets, addressing the state’s ever-increasing need for nurses.

Graduating seniors — Florida’s high school graduation rate may be at a post-pandemic high, but about one in eight students don’t earn the test scores needed to walk across the stage. Part of that is due to the goalposts shifting over the past few years, which saw the pandemic, and, in some regions, devastating storms disrupt the school year. Seniors in the 2020 and 2021 classes got a pass on standardized test scores, but that ended in 2022. There’s something to be said about ensuring those who get a diploma actually earn it, but there’s also the reality that these students had to confront the same challenges as the seniors who got their tassels last year. It’s a distinction that Sen. Simon and Rep. Ralph Massullo recognized and acted upon. Though the Department of Education was hesitant at first, the lawmakers were able to broker a deal to allow current seniors to use the same concordant scores for graduation as their slightly older peers and get it onto the books via an amendment to HB 1537. Most lawmakers say they care about students but Simon, in particular, deserves praise for walking the walk on this issue and several others in his debut Session.

Eric Hall — The Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary was able to get a top legislative priority (SB 7014) across the finish line. Carried by Rep. Berny Jacques and Sen. Jonathan Martin, the bill would establish The Florida Scholars Academy to streamline and improve educational opportunities for students in the department’s residential facilities. This program has the potential to help more than the children placed in DJJ facilities. According to DJJ’s recently released “Pathway to Impact” report, evidence shows that juvenile offenders who attain professional certifications or are placed on a pathway to a college education are far less likely to reoffend, which is an outcome that benefits all Floridians, both through increased public safety and a far less costly tab to run the criminal justice system.

High school athletesKudos for the Legislature’s last-minute amendment to HB 225 to increase the participation cap to allow students at private schools without athletic programs the ability to continue to play sports at their locally zoned sports programs.

Insurance customers and “Fix the Cracks” partners — Problems in Florida’s insurance industry are not unique to the property market. Predatory auto glass claims and litigation are adding to the crisis. But the exploitation by some glass vendors and lawyers is about to end with the passage of a bill lawmakers hope will protect insurance consumers, the ones ultimately paying for fraud. SB 1002 was a priority for CFO Patronis and was championed by Sen. Stewart and Rep. Griffitts. Partners in the Fix the Cracks initiative — which organized to support the policy and highlighted auto glass facts throughout Session — included the Personal Insurance Federation of Florida, National Insurance Crime Bureau, International Association of Special Investigation Units, Florida Justice Reform Institute, Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, American Property Casualty Insurance Association and National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies. The collective effort to support and pass meaningful reforms to address the glass harvesting and litigation crisis in Florida puts “Fix the Cracks” on the list of winners.

Florida gets closer to ‘fixing the cracks.’

James Madison Institute — The Tallahassee-based think tank is one of the top progenitors of conservative policy in the nation and has spawned many imitators since Stan Marshall founded it in 1987. But 2023 will go down as one of JMI’s most successful sessions to date. A key reason: HB 1. The Renner priority is the largest expansion to school choice since Florida introduced the concept to the U.S. public education system, and JMI isn’t fooling when it calls the universal voucher plan “the hallmark of 35 years of work.” That alone makes JMI a winner, but they tallied up some additional wins with the passage of the sweeping torts bills, the so-called “paycheck protection” legislation, and the ban on using ESG considerations in state investments.

Ali Kessler — Turning unimaginable tragedy into positive action, this Broward County woman fought to change Florida’s parental custody laws after they failed to prevent her abusive, unhinged ex from killing her 4-year-old son, Greyson Kessler, in a 2021 murder-suicide. Less than two years later, with the help of Boynton Beach Sen. Lori Berman and Hollywood Rep. Hillary Cassel, she succeeded in passing “Greyson’s Law,” which provides additional factors courts must weigh when determining custody or time-sharing, including evidence — or reasonable belief by a parent that they or their child is in imminent danger — of domestic violence, sexual violence, neglect, abuse or abandonment. According to Kessler, the bill is just the beginning. “Though there is still a lot more reform that needs to happen in our family courts,” she said, “this is a good start.”

Kids in school zones — The Legislature recognized the importance of protecting kids and crossing guards in school zones and passed a bill that allows local governments to use automated speed-detection systems with cameras to enforce school-zone speed limits. The legislation was sponsored and advocated for by a pair of great moms in the Legislature who are looking out for all of Florida’s children — Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez and Rep. Traci Koster.

Land conservation — To have an idea of the inevitability of stronger land conservation policies for Florida, consider that this Session had at least nine bills specifically dedicated to state land acquisition and even more that included land acquisition and conservation proposals. There’s the $100 million annually dedicated to Florida Forever, a long-sought bipartisan goal for the program. During the conservation easement process, the dollar amount necessitating a second appraisal moves from $1 million to $5 million, streamlining the effort. There’s only so much space available in Florida, and these measures, along with the Nonmotorized Trail Network, preserve land for agriculture and wildlife.

LeaseLock, Rhino, Obligo and more — The second time was the charm for a measure (HB 133) to give landlords the option to charge a nonrefundable monthly fee in lieu of a security deposit. These fees, often about $25 to $50 a month, allow renters to get into an apartment without paying a lump sum security deposit, which is often the equivalent of a month’s rent, which has breached the $2,000 mark in many Florida metros. Supporters of the bill, sponsored by Rep. Jim Mooney this year and last, argued that it was a good stopgap for renters while the state continues to work on long-term policy to boost the number of affordable housing units in the state. Opponents panned the measure as potentially exploitative, mainly because the fees are non-refundable. But the 2023 bill made clear that renters would need to be made aware of and understand that before inking a deal and, further, requires landlords to let their tenants terminate the agreement at any time if they decide they would rather pay the security deposit. Either way, expect to see the LeaseLock logo pop up next time you go apartment hunting.

LeadingAge Florida — The organization came through in a big way for the Continuing Care Retirement Communities it represents. Their keystone accomplishment was legislation sponsored by Sen. Clay Yarborough and Rep. Jenna Persons-Mulicka that made several edits to a 2019 law put in place after a pair of Tampa Bay-area CCRC’s declared insolvency. Namely, the bills (HB 1573, SB 622) require OIR to conduct required examinations within a specified time and limits the lookback period; allows for earlier access to capital during expansions; streamlines the annual audit process; and allows access to reserve funds with notification to OIR. The House bill cleared the Legislature on the penultimate day of Session with a unanimous vote in the Senate and now heads to the Governor.

“Living wages” Minor league ballplayers got the short end of the bat — maybe. DeSantis likely has a soft spot for them and could veto. But for tens of thousands of other Floridians who enjoy locally mandated “living wages,” their paychecks are safe for now. Lawmakers were considering a bill that would have prohibited counties and municipalities like Miami-Dade from enforcing ordinances requiring contractors to pay employees more than the state’s minimum wage, which is currently $11 per hour but will rise to $15 over the next few years. Such bills have circulated the Capitol for years. And as was the case with those other measures, legislators ultimately decided against making the change — except for minor leaguers, again. The Legislature dug out a hole for them.

Minor league players could get a reprieve with a DeSantis veto. Image via Sanibel Sun, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Major League Baseball — In a Session chock full of conservative hot potatoes, exempting a class of workers from minimum wage protections was a second-tier controversy at best, but it did raise eyebrows. The messaging game was rough at times. It doesn’t help when franchise owners firmly in the 1% point to free breakfasts and bus tickets as proof their players should make less than $11 an hour. There are some nuances here, though. Namely, tracking hours is a nightmare. Try-hard players who dream of making the majors often (and by their own volition) spend extra hours in team training facilities honing their craft. If the minimum wage applied — and it doesn’t, as far as the feds are concerned — they’d need to account for that somehow on their timecards. Then there’s the issue of what these players could or should be on an hourly wage at all since their time investment varies wildly based on their position, skill level, affiliate level, and even injuries. The unintended consequence of not exempting minor leaguers could have been major cuts to their hours and severe restrictions on their use of club facilities, which could potentially kill their chances of making it to the big leagues.

Mayo Clinic Comprehensive Care Center — The Casey DeSantis Cancer Research Program (and its predecessor) has been limited to Florida-based National Cancer Institute (NCI) recognized academic cancer programs and programs working toward NCI designation. Mayo, which is based in Rochester, Minnesota, struck the statutory requirement that the academic cancer centers be Florida based. That change opens the door wide-open for them to participate in the program. Oh, and legislators agreed to add an additional $27.5 recurring funds million to the pot.

Chris Moya — The Dean Mead lobbyist has built a reputation as one of the top advocates for student-centered educational policy in the state Capitol. He bolstered that reputation in the 2023 Legislative Session, helping shape possibly the most consequential piece of policy signed by the Governor in years: Universal school choice. Renner obviously deserves the lion’s share of credit for the transformational education bill, but there’s no denying that Moya’s work over the past decade helped set the stage for HB 1. Meanwhile, charter schools can also thank Moya for his work on bills that clarify their entitlement to local tax initiatives that fund traditional public schools (HB 1259) and state funding for learning pods and private tutoring that will ensure all kids receive an education tailored to their specific learning needs (HB 443). What’s more, Moya’s accomplishments came amid a Session that began only days after his wife, Liz Moya, died after courageously battling multiple sclerosis, breast cancer, and pulmonary fibrosis. That he was able to help get these policies across the finish line during a period of intense grief is a testament to his care for, and dedication to, Florida’s children.

Natural gas It was the year of natural gas. When the Joe Biden administration hinted at a ban on gas stoves, DeSantis added gas stoves to his freedom agenda. Now with HB 1281, gas stoves are protected. You can even buy a gas stove tax-free, thanks to the tax package. Also in the tax package, commercial fleets can continue to fuel up with CNG and LNG tax-free. And new RNG facilities can buy equipment and machinery tax-free. FNGA was on a mission to Save Our Stoves, but they got so much more across the finish line than that.

New College of Florida Record funding for the college in the budget makes them a winner. Collectively, in the last 90 days, Interim President Richard Corcoran has successfully steered nearly $50 million to the college. Funding includes recurring and nonrecurring dollars, as well as PECO funds for campus improvement projects. This level of funding hasn’t been seen at the college for 20 years or more.

Oral Health — Legislators passed historic funding to promote oral health and increase access to dental care in Florida’s underserved communities. This includes the passage of funding to implement Florida’s dental student loan repayment and Donated Dental Services programs, which the Florida Dental Association (FDA) has been championing since these programs were passed into Florida statute in 2019. The dental student loan repayment program will help dentists practice in public health programs serving low-income patients in designated rural and underserved areas, and Donated Dental Services connects volunteer dentists and dental labs to provide dental care at no cost to individuals who are age 65 and up, have disabilities, or are medically compromised and cannot afford care. Florida legislators’ recommended budget also included support for the FDA Foundation’s 2024 Florida Mission of Mercy two-day dental clinic event and a sales tax exemption on oral hygiene products.

Oyster Shooters — Years ago, you couldn’t drive through the Panhandle without seeing a gruff guy selling bushels of oysters wrapped in those iconic blue plastic nets. You can still find them here and there, but the industry has had a rough go. It’s sad but true: you’re more likely to find a bounty of cold, fresh oysters at a bar in Annapolis than one in Apalachicola. But that could change in the coming years now that lawmakers are putting cash into increasing oyster and clam nurseries and hatcheries along the Gulf Coast. When that day comes, grab an extra net-full for lobbyists Jim Spratt and Natalie Kato, who came up big during budget negotiations.

Palm Coast — Is anyone surprised that the House Speaker’s district came out a winner? No. But we’ll still state their wins for the historical record. The 51-year-old city scored a whopping $54 million in the budget approved by lawmakers, with the chief appropriation being a $25 million check to extend the Matanzas Woods Parkway westward into an area ripe for development. The other big one: $18.4 million for top-to-bottom makeover for a stretch of Old Kings Road, including widening, beautification, new sidewalks, streetlights and water quality improvements. The area can also expect to see two new and improved fire stations.

Pediatric specialty and subspecialty care — The Legislature included critical funding for pediatric care in the state of Florida in this year’s recommended budget. This includes $54 million in nonrecurring funding for Florida’s four nonprofit, specialty-licensed children’s hospitals, which include Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Nemours Children’s Hospital in Orlando, Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami and Wolfson Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville. These hospitals are ranked as No. 1, 2, 3 and 4 with the highest Medicaid volume in the state and with the highest level of acuity, meaning the children they treat have the most complex and critical diagnoses. The Legislature’s support helps ensure that all Florida children can access world-class, specialized pediatric care.

Osborne ReefMore than 2 million tires were dumped off the beaches of Fort Lauderdale in the 1970s, celebrated at the time with the dropping of a gold-painted tire into the ocean. The attempt to create a biodiverse habitat using old tires was a mistake made with bad science, and legislation headed up by Rep. Chip LaMarca and Sen. Bryan Avila gives a push to clean up. HB 641 requires the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to produce a comprehensive look at the situation with an eye to getting the job finally done. DEP has to report back to the Legislature on the condition of the remaining Osborne Reef structure, any steps taken toward restoration, the number of tires retrieved, the number of tires remaining underwater, and the estimated timeline for the project’s completion.

Chip LaMarca advances a push to clean up Osborne Reef.

Physician Assistants (Florida Academy of PAs)HB 1133 passed during a Session when few health care practitioner groups proactively passed legislation. The legislation from Rep. Alex Rizo and Sen. Bryan Ávila ensures that PAs avoid bureaucratic red tape and become licensed without snags. Corinne Mixon and Monica Rodriguez worked on this legislation.

Recycling — One piece of legislation that passed with large, bipartisan majorities looks to be a first step toward solving the long-term management challenges posed by gypstacks. The legislation calls for a study to determine how suitable phosphogypsum is for use as a road base material. A win-win for Florida’s economy and environment.

Rural Floridians — Bills sponsored by Sen. Nick DiCeglie and Rep. Josie Tomkow cleared the Legislature and earned the Governor’s signature, paving the way for continued expansion of broadband access in rural communities. The bills (SB 626, HB 1221) level the playing field in the broadband industry by subjecting rural electric cooperatives to the same regulation as public utilities. The bill requires broadband businesses to comply with FCC rates, terms and conditions for pole attachment access. Its passage came despite opposition from internet service providers and rural electric cooperatives. That’s in addition to more than $165 million in broadband grant awards to nearly 170,000 homes and small businesses announced under the Department of Economic Opportunity and Gov. DeSantis’ leadership. It follows years of progress in increasing broadband access in rural communities, including a $400 million investment last year to the Broadband Opportunity Grant Program last year and the creation of that program the year before. Under the bill creating that program, municipal electric utilities were required to offer broadband service providers discounted rates for any new post attachment necessary to make broadband service available to unserved or underserved communities.

RV enthusiastsThe idea is that they’re your state parks paid for with your tax dollars, so you should get a little assistance when it comes to booking time at one of those parks. The Legislature passed HB 109 in early April to give state residents a one-month jump on everyone else in the world. Reservations for Florida residents open up 11 months in advance, and for nonresidents, 10 months in advance. That advance timing applies to state park cabins, campsites, and RV, tent, boat and equestrian sites. While it generated grumblings from outside the state, like from Georgians, the new policy, advocated for Sen. Ed Hooper, Rep. Jennifer Canady, and the lobbying team at Dean Mead, drew appreciation in the Legislature as a win for Floridians, especially for those who like to see the beauty of their state via recreational vehicle.

The memory of Tyre Sampson — Just over a year after a 14-year-old boy fell to his death from an amusement park ride in Orlando, lawmakers have OK’d a bill carrying his name that should help to prevent another such tragedy. Members of both chambers unanimously approved “The Tyre Sampson Act,” sponsored by Sen. Geraldine Thompson and LaVon Bracy Davis, to set new standards for ride safety. The bill adds new signage requirements, including information on height/weight restrictions and medical conditions that would keep passengers from riding. It also would require ride operators to report major ride modifications after a ride has already received a permit, require training for ride operators, and allow investigators to show up unannounced for ride inspections. Of note, the bill doesn’t apply to major theme parks like Disney World, Universal Orlando or Busch Gardens. Nekia Dodd, Sampson’s mother, said she believes those changes “will save another child’s life.”

Safelite — Lawsuits over windshield repairs in Florida have risen 6,000% in the last decade, a trend attributed to the state’s permissive but soon-to-change policy allowing assignment (AOB) of benefits in auto glass claims. With lawmakers scrambling to find ways to lower insurance rates across multiple business sectors, it was no surprise to see the issue taken up this Session. The result is a bipartisan measure by Sen. Stewart and Rep. Griffitts nixing AOBs, prohibiting repair shops from offering incentives to customers for making claims and adding some light guardrails against “steering,” a federally prohibited practice in which a company handling repair claims directs claimants to its own businesses. The losers in this are undoubtedly the small, out-of-network shops that used AOBs to seek full payment from insurers that shortchanged them. Just as unambiguously, the true winner — not counting claims courts that’ll look forward to more flexible schedules soon — is glass repair giant Safelite whose subsidiary, Safelite Solutions, answers the phone for several car insurers and, surprise, surprise, ends up getting a lot of the jobs. Credit is due to Capital City Consulting partner Ashley Kalifeh, who successfully advocated for the measure amid no shortage of criticism from advocacy groups and mom-and-pop shop owners who argued it will only strengthen Safelite’s hold on the market.

School choice advocates Led by AFP-FL, Step Up for Students and the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, these advocates scored the movement’s biggest prize: tax-funded vouchers to attend private schools regardless of family income. HB 1 has the potential to touch every one of the state’s 3 million K-12 students. It represents the biggest expansion of school choice in the country, a top priority of Renner’s and numerous others aligned against what’s long been seen as the government’s monopoly on primary and secondary education. The legislation’s progress provided some standout moments for two Republicans: first-term Sen. Simon and Rep. Kaylee Tuck, who’s in her second House term. The legislation hit the finish line virtually untouched with a team that included Skyler Zander, Mary McDougal, Brady Benford, Doug Bell, Kirk Pepper and James Daughton. Corcoran Partners fielded a seven-person team in the effort representing LiFT Academy/University, a Seminole-based school focused on special education. That team included: Michael Corcoran, Jacqueline Corcoran, Matt Blair, Samantha Sexton Greer, Bethany McAlister, Will Rodriguez and Andrea Tovar.

Kaylee Tuck provided backup in the biggest win for school choice in Florida.

Simon Wiesenthal Center Funding for Museum of Tolerance — Lawmakers secured $2.5 million for The Simon Wiesenthal Center, an internationally renowned Jewish human rights organization, to build two mobile versions of their Museum of Tolerance, dedicated to challenging visitors to understand the Holocaust in both historic and contemporary contexts. The retrofitted buses will travel to K-12 schools throughout the state interactively educating children on issues like the Holocaust, Civil Rights, etc. Its Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem also just hosted Gov. DeSantis on his recent visit to Israel.

Skating rinks “Bounce, rock, skate, and roll.” That was one of the theme songs for the Legislature this year, which went round and round with the “Roller Skating Rink Safety Act.” The measure, sponsored by Clay Yarborough in the Senate and Susan Plasencia in the House, is intended to help rink owners get insurance by clarifying liability responsibilities, and shifting burdens of safe skating to patrons while requiring proprietors to maintain a safe and secure space. Special credit goes to Chanel Bellotto, the owner of Lakeland Skate World, who spoke on behalf of the Roller Skating Association at a number of Committee stops.

Space X One of the most-read science fiction authors in the modern era put it best: “Space is dangerous. … If you want to play it safe all the time, go join an insurance company.” That may seem callous in the context of a bill providing civil immunity for companies such as SpaceX in the aftermath of a rocket launch failure. But it’s not wrong. SpaceX, Blue Origin and other aerospace companies won a victory this Session with the Legislature approving a bill that grants them more liability protection from civil lawsuits if crew members are killed or seriously hurt. The current Space Shuttle era language needed to be updated to reflect the dramatic expansion of commercial spaceflight activities using private as well as government astronauts. Sen. Tom Wright, who sponsored the legislation, called it an important step in adapting state law to fit with the evolution of Florida’s space industry. SpaceX is a longtime client of Jeff Sharkey and Taylor Biehl of Capitol Alliance Group.

Tesla — A bill (HB 637) that went the distance this Session at one point would have unraveled part of the business model that helped Tesla become the top-selling electric vehicle company in the United States. Unlike other car companies, which sell through franchise dealerships, the relatively new-to-the-biz manufacturer relies on direct-to-consumer sales. That put them potentially on the losing end of the Florida Automobile Dealers Association’s plan to block Motor City outfits from adopting the same approach, which would devastate an important cog in the state economy. Capital Alliance Group’s Biehl and Sharkey once again came up big for their client by engaging directly with FADA and hammering out a deal adding language to the bill confirming manufacturers are authorized to hold a franchise dealer license for direct-to-consumer sales of EV’s if the manufacturer is not prohibited under Florida law. If the jargon threw you for a loop, the only thing you need to know is that both sides are walking away happy, and your local Tesla gallery isn’t going anywhere.

State employees — After a yearslong drought during the Gov. Rick Scott era, the public sector is in line for yet another across-the-board pay raise under the DeSantis administration, this time 5%. While a fatter paycheck is nice, the 2023-24 state budget included a host of other pot sweeteners for the public servants, most of them in the Florida Retirement System. They include a bump in the Retiree Health Insurance Subsidy from $5 a month to $7.50 a month; an 8-year DROP; the elimination of the DROP “window’ a boost in the DROP interest rate from 1.3% to 4%; and a 2% increase in state contributions to retirement plans. Some of these items are tertiary benefits from first responders’ lobbying efforts. And while some of the sought-after policies — including the restoration of cost-of-living-adjustments for FRS recipients — failed to make it into the final budget, Renner and House Budget Chief Tom Leek made clear they will renew their push in 2024.

Beth Sweeny — Flagler College’s Director of External and Government Relations is driving back to St. Augustine with millions of reasons to celebrate. The institution hit the jackpot in the House sprinkle list, landing $2.9 million for the Flagler College Institute for Classical Education. That money will supplement $1.75 million for the institute and an additional $5 million in recurring funds in the base budget, which will serve as carry-over for previous funds thus far allocated but unspent. Meanwhile, the historic Hotel Ponce de León, which houses the college that was recently recognized as having one of the most campuses in the U.S., is due to receive even more — lawmakers set aside $35 million for an extensive renovation and remodeling project for the structure, which will allow students to continue enjoying the retro-luxe living experience for another 135 years.

Teach Florida — The education advocacy organization Teach Florida has been a tireless advocate for expanded educational options and was privileged to be part of the momentum behind Florida’s historic education victories. Representing Florida’s Jewish day schools and supported by the work of Sachs Media, they worked closely with Renner and other legislative leaders to champion universal school choice legislation and other key priorities, including a record $5 million in security funding to help their community feel safe and secure learning environments. One thing is certain: This year will go down in history as one of the best for education in Florida history, and Teach Florida’s network of parents, educators, and students was proud to be part of it.

Uber — No question that tort reform was a major issue this Session, but one industry has been relentlessly targeted by billboard lawyers throughout the State, leading to increased insurance costs negatively impacting Florida rideshare users. Uber took a major public stand against the trial lawyers and worked tirelessly for tort reform. It took a few years but kudos to Javi Correoso and Giovanni Castro for helping deliver this win.

Dana Young — The House’s initial budget included zero funds for VISIT FLORIDA. The public-private tourism marketing group ended up with $80 million in the final budget, a $30 million increase on the current year. For that alone VISIT FLORIDA President and CEO Young can take a victory lap, even though HB 5 moved the group completely under the Department of Commerce, dropping the “private” from its public-private moniker.

Waterways (Indian River Lagoon, St. Lucie River and Caloosahatchee River) — Both the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie waterways are set to receive an infusion of cash — to the tune of $125 million for Legislature is poised to provide as much as an additional $4.3 million for septic to sewer conversion, which will help dismantle these literal ticking turd timebombs that are primary contributors to coastal water quality issues. Additionally, the funding includes support for the Indian River Lagoon. This includes funding for projects and a set of stricter regulations to assist the beleaguered waterbody. Around $14 million involves muck dredging in the Grand Canal and Eau Gallie River. The Legislature also passed an environmental package, notably advanced by Sen. Brodeur, Reps. Toby Overdorf and Kevin Steele. HB 1379 contains enhanced nitrogen reduction requirements for septic tanks and new septic-to-sewer conversion mandates targeted at the Indian River Lagoon and several other Florida lagoons.

Mixed bag

Ron DeSantis — No question that most will see DeSantis as the big winner of Session. At face value, he is. He got everything he wanted. Therein is his problem. As a candidate for President, he now has to own an insurance crisis, an attack on a beloved business for exercising its First Amendment rights, an abortion ban, taking away local government control, and attacks on union workers. I’m sure I forgot something. The bottom line is that DeSantis’ wins may turn into losses for him as he attempts a return to Washington.

What may seem like a win for DeSantis is more of a mixed bag.

Jason Brodeur The Lake Mary Republican won back-to-back election cycles but has remained a political target the whole time. Still, Brodeur secured big wins for Florida’s Wildlife Corridor, and he managed to land the ship on regulating pharmacy benefit managers, a major win for mom-and-pop drug shops over CVS and other giants. In the last days of Session, he scored a bipartisan achievement in the Senate adding licenses for Black cannabis farmers into legislation. But it was his fights against the media that landed the Senator in nasty headlines nationwide. A bill forcing registration requirements for bloggers drew reactions ranging from ridicule to horror, and DeSantis quickly distanced himself. Meanwhile, a defamation bill he carried for the Governor died a slow and whimpering death.

Disney — Sure, the Legislature continued its full-scale war on Disney. But along with the Governor, they also gave Disney everything it needed for a strong First Amendment case. Disney is about to become the national face of standing up to big, abusive government. I somehow suspect their next movie will have a villain named Ron in it.

Airbnb — It wouldn’t be Session without a good ol’ fashioned vacation rental food fight. Some could argue Airbnb is a winner since they did beat back another push to give locals more control over rental regulations. But it came down to the wire — the bill wasn’t declared dead until Day 60, and it only failed because the House overplayed its hand when it kicked the bill back to the upper chamber. This is nothing new, of course. Vacation rental regulations have come down to what’s essentially a coin flip for the past five years, and there’s no indication 2024 will be any different. Probability will catch up to them eventually, it’s just a matter of when — or, more realistically, how much cash they want to dump into re-election campaigns and lobby firms to maintain the status quo.

Florida Association of Rehabilitation Facilities — The group went into Session with hopes of a rate increase for providers serving clients in the iBudget Waiver. They got it … kinda. Though the organization lobbied hard for an across-the-board increase, lawmakers weren’t sold and instead chose to boost rates for providers serving clients who meet the level 3 criteria, meaning they have severe behavioral needs. Sure, it’s better than nothing, but it falls far short of outright victory. Here’s hoping FARF is able to look back on Session through a “glass-half-full” lens while they regroup and begin the push anew next Session.

Florida State University — Maybe they’ve got the University of Florida’s number on the gridiron, but they keep finding ways to lose what should be considered a home game — “Choke at the Capitol,” anyone? After landing more funding than UF for probably the first time ever last year, the follow-up effort fizzled as the resurgent Gators lobbying team bounced back this year and fed into their little-brother complex with massive wins in the budget. There is only one Flagship University. All in all, lawmakers approved around $350 million in new funding for the Gators and around $175 million for FSU — it’s basically a 2-to-1 chomping ratio. Go ahead and say it: “It’s Great to be a Florida Gator.”

Gun ownersOn July 1, the “Gunshine State” will become the 27th state in the country to allow the concealed carry of a firearm without a government permit. It’s not open carry, which purists argue is the only condition truly deserving of the “constitutional carry” title; the new law is still a huge step forward for gun rights advocates like the measure’s Republican sponsors, Sen. Jay Collins and Reps. Chuck Brannan and Bobby Payne, who argued a permit is an unwarranted “permission slip” that infringes on Second Amendment rights. GOP lawmakers also pushed through another measure that will bar credit card companies and other financial institutions from marking firearm and ammo purchases with special classification codes — a move proponents argue will keep banks from discriminating against gun buyers and that critics say will impede gun crime investigations.

Jay Collins moves Florida closer to ‘constitutional carry.’

Miami Beach — The city’s many outdated but recognizable buildings gained a little reprieve in the waning days of Session when a pair of related bills that threatened to open an enormous portion of its iconic architecture to demolition fell just shy of the proverbial finish line. Miami Beach wasn’t alone in being targeted — the bills concerned coastal communities across the state with buildings in flood-prone areas that aren’t up to FEMA standards. But with 2,600 locally designated historic sites at risk, it undoubtedly had the most to lose. As for why the outcome is a “mixed bag”: Anyone with even a passing understanding of the Process knows, the issue is far from settled. A tighter and meaner version of the legislation is likely already in the works.

Losers

Anyone who isn’t a White, Christian, conservative man — Can’t talk about homosexuality during sex ed. Can’t have an abortion, even if not having one might kill you. Can’t point out that Rosa Parks was asked to give up her seat because she was Black. Can’t have your business here without being attacked if you speak out against the government’s discriminatory bills. The “free” state of Florida is becoming less and less free for anyone who doesn’t subscribe to a rigid right-wing ideology.

Legislative independence — The separation of powers, and the reputation of the Legislature, have suffered after leadership gave DeSantis the keys to the kingdom to run his campaign ramp-up/headline-grabbing culture wars. It was most stark last year during redistricting, but the Governor’s influence was strong all Session long this year. Every whisper on Adams Street is that this excessive power will fade as Trump’s momentum rolls on, but the damage has been done to those who care about the institution. Leaders like Jim King, Tom Lee, Daniel Webster or Tom Feeney would never have handed over the reins this completely.

Webster Barnaby Does anyone want to do an internet search for Rep. Barnaby and mutants this year? The Representative, who barely survived a Primary against a colleague last fall, belittled the stature of the whole Legislature when he compared transgender people to “demons” and “imps” from the dais. He also completely mangled a metaphor dismissing trans folks as mutants from the X-Men — seemingly unaware the superheroes were always an allegory for persecuted minorities in America and he piled on the marginalized class — like Sen. Robert Kelly with real-world vitriol. In a year when an astounding number of attacks were leveled against the LGBTQ community, the lowness of Webster’s demagoguery stood out.

Count Webster Barnaby as among the bigger losers from the 2023 Session.

Fabian Basabe It’s been nothing but bad press for the socialite-turned-politician who won his seat in the Legislature last year by less than 240 votes. Basabe hardly knocked anyone’s socks off with his meager list of bills, but he found other ways to distinguish himself in Florida politics — though not how he likely hoped. Basabe, a Republican who ran as a moderate promising to work across the aisle, sided with the GOP hardline on a slew of bills critics say were designed to marginalize the LGBTQ community, of which he’s said he’s a member. He voted to expand the state’s Parental Rights law to restrict LGBTQ-inclusive instruction through eighth grade. He backed a bill known colloquially as Florida’s “anti-drag” legislation. And while he abstained from voting on Florida’s incoming prohibition on abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, he voted against amendments meant to soften the measure’s effects and subsequently blamed Democrats’ unwillingness to compromise on the issue for why the ban is so harsh. He’s also under investigation for allegedly slapping an aide. It’s no wonder he was greeted with jeers and comparisons to New York Congressman George Santos while participating in Miami Beach’s Pride parade last month by constituents whose demand that he resign has only grown louder in recent weeks.

Access to mental health treatment — Florida’s patients with serious mental illness will continue to struggle with barriers to care after HB 183 fell short of the House floor, though its SB 112 counterpart passed unanimously. This legislation sought to limit step therapy practices for serious mental illnesses. Step therapy is a common insurance practice that forces patients to fail on one or multiple medications before they can access their physician-prescribed treatment, leaving patients struggling as they wait for approval to get the effective treatment. A recent study showed step therapy practices for major depressive disorders alone costs Florida $275 million annually in medical, workforce productivity, and suicide costs to step therapy practices. Physicians, businesses, and mental health advocates will continue to advocate for legislators to address critical barriers to mental health treatment in the 2024 Legislative Session.

Enterprise Florida Enterprise Florida survived Richard Corcoran and José Oliva, but not Renner. Previous House Speakers sought to eliminate the public-private business recruitment group, but it was Renner who pushed it across the line in HB 5, which moved much of the group under the Department of Commerce. EFI, as the group was known, was created in 1996 and hailed by business-friendly Republicans. But strict free-market conservatives, prodded by groups like Americans for Prosperity and Skyler Zander, AFP State Director for Florida, argued giving tax incentives to businesses, one of EFI’s main tasks, was an unfair market intrusion by the government.

Paul Renner accomplished what previous Speakers couldn’t.

ESG — It’s a good bet that most of the more than 660,000 members of the Florida Retirement System had never heard of investing based on environmental, social and governmental scores. But when DeSantis and Patronis began speaking out against ESG investments and activist corporate board members who push those policies, it soon led to a ban on socially minded investments. Patronis removed $2 billion state investments in BlackRock before the Regular Session began, and lawmakers followed through by banning such investments by state or local governments, as well as ESG-minded bonds.

LGBTQ+ community — Unfortunately, the message behind every queer-bashing bill this year appeared to be ‘get used to it.’ The Legislature passed bills barring gender-affirming care for minors, punishing businesses that allow children into drag shows, and criminalizing transgender people peeing in bathrooms aligned with their identity. That’s before even considering bills that passed allowing medical professionals to discriminate based on religious beliefs, a policy most problematic to LGBTQ+ individuals seeking medical care. It makes you pine for the days when all lawmakers wanted was for teachers to stop saying gay, an infamous restriction now extended through eighth grade by the Legislature and 12th grade by the Board of Education. Never mind preferred pronouns, LGBTQ+ Floridians were left wondering if soon they’ll be acknowledged at all.

Florida Keys Lawmakers representing the Florida Keys have tried for years to set it up so they don’t have to ask for a funding earmark every year for environmental protections in the area. The change wouldn’t cost the state anything. Florida’s budget already sets aside $20 million yearly through the Keys Stewardship Act. But the way it’s arranged now requires yearly requests that are basically a formality. For the third straight year, a lone Senator and Representative representing the area asked for that apportionment to instead be made automatically through the state Land Acquisition Trust Fund, which as its name suggests helps local governments acquire, restore, manage and improve conservation and recreational land. And for the third straight year, that request was left dead in the water.

Gainesville Regional Utilities — GRU’s reputation isn’t exactly sterling, but it has made strides over the past several years to improve its bond rating, pay down debt, and rebuild trust after the biomass plant boondoggle of yesteryear. But lawmakers representing the area seized on the outdated narrative to pass a bill yanking control away from locals and handing it to the Governor. It didn’t matter that most claims made about GRU were demonstrably false and in most cases laughably so — the utility actually has a better financial rating than FPL or Duke Energy, and it likewise has the lowest general fund transfer rate of any public utility in the state by a wide margin. In the end, the Legislature bought the phony narrative and passed a bill that will indubitably stab Gainesville residents right in the wallet and in all likelihood lead to a private takeover within a few years.

HART The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit authority could be facing dissolution after lawmakers gave the OK to a bill (HB 1397) authorizing a study considering just that. The measure, sponsored in the House by Rep. Lawrence McClure and in the Senate by Sen. Burgess, requires the Florida Department of Transportation or its consultant to study the potential dissolution of the transit agency. The bill comes after months of turmoil at HART, including serious management problems many believe are affecting operations and transit access for residents and visitors who rely on the agency’s bus service. The bill did not specifically reference that investigation or problems with the agency, but instead questioned whether a change in governance could yield greater efficiencies and provide better service for transit users. And if the study finds that’s the case, HART’s days could be numbered.

Hillsborough taxpayers — Hillsborough County residents won’t see a refund this year for sales tax paid through the voter-approved transportation sales tax. Lawmakers failed to agree on how to refund the nearly $570 million collected through the All for Transportation sales tax voters approved in 2018, which was canceled after the Florida Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional in February 2021. The Senate, in its budget package, called for a refund plan similar to what DeSantis had recommended in his proposed budget. Under the Senate plan, the Department of Revenue would have taken refund requests through February. Any remaining funds after those requests would have been earmarked for infrastructure projects on county or city roads within Hillsborough County. That plan notably did not include transit spending and didn’t mention sidewalks. But the House didn’t meet the Senate on its plan, so the refund measure is dead for at least another year.

Hotel industry It fought to strip language from anti-human trafficking legislation that would offer greater protections for survivors. While they may have been successful in watering down the bill, the message it sends on where the industry stands when it comes to trafficking is certainly NOT a winning one.

Insurance customers — Insurers got what they wanted in a Special Session in December and again this year with limits placed on lawsuits against insurance companies. But it’s not clear when — or if — some of the changes will translate into lower rates. Lawmakers would not take up any changes to Florida’s Hurricane Catastrophe Fund that could have resulted in lower reinsurance costs for domestic insurers which could have dialed back rate hikes being pursued by companies this year.

Job creators Lawmakers made it harder to hire with new regulations on small businesses. Anyone who manages a payroll already has to deal with the IRS, I-9 verification, general liability, workers’ comp, unemployment taxes and other burdens. Now we have to add E-Verify to the checklist.

Local governments — Picture this: You’re a City Council member and constituents have complained for months about music being blasted from a nightclub just outside a residential neighborhood. You and a majority of the Council passed an ordinance banning music above a certain decibel level. The nightclub owner sues, alleging the ordinance is “arbitrary or unreasonable.” And just for that, the city has to let the blaring music persist for 45 days while a court sorts it out. If the city loses the suit, it could be on the hook for up to $50,000 in attorney’s fees. If it wins, the ordinance could again be blocked if the plaintiff obtains a stay of the lower court’s order or another business files a substantively different but identically targeted lawsuit. Elected officials across Florida won’t have to imagine much longer if the Governor signs a bill, appropriately named “Local Ordinances,” that will make such a scenario possible.

Maury Hernandez Florida lawmakers once again declined to take up legislation that would clear $10 million to Hernandez, a former Broward Sheriff’s Deputy who suffered permanently debilitating injuries in an entirely preventable shooting more than 15 years ago. That’s despite Hernandez’s more than sympathetic case — the man who shot him during a traffic stop should have been in prison but wasn’t, thanks to the negligence of a rookie parole officer — and the fact he traveled to Tallahassee to plead his case before lawmakers. But maybe next year will be different. According to Passidomo’s Office, the claims bill lawmakers filed on his behalf has been drafted improperly for years. His lawyer said this year was the first time anyone heard about it.

School Board members — Less than a year after their terms were limited to 12 years, the Legislature came back and gave the terms another four-year haircut with the passage of HB 477. Committee-level protests from Democrats soon died in the face of arguments that even the President has an eight-year limit in office. The Florida League of Cities was on the case, and so was GrayRobinson, representing Gainesville, Greenacres, Kissimmee, Maitland, Mount Dora, Marion County, Miami-Dade County, Metroplan Orlando, Rockledge and Vero Beach.

Septic tanksFloridians spoke, and the Legislature listened, establishing a framework and funding to expedite the removal of coastal septic systems in the Indian River Lagoon and Caloosahatchee waterways.

Social media — The Legislature was not kind this Session to social media platforms, which got the heave-ho at the state and local levels through bills aimed at curbing their influence on youths and reducing threats to state security. Beginning July 1, access to social media and their apps is to be blocked from the devices and Wi-Fi of public schools, thanks to a bill by Sen. Burgess and Rep. Brad Yeager that will also prohibit students from accessing their phones during class time and require districts to develop lessons on the effects and potential risks of social media. Another bill Burgess ran with Rep. Carolina Amesty will codify an emergency order DeSantis issued last year banning state, county and municipal employees from installing apps created and maintained in China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria or Venezuela on their government-issued devices. That means no WeChat, Weibo or TikTok, which Patronis called “digital fentanyl.”

Danny Burgess sees success with a block on social media for public schools.

TeachersThe most underappreciated and underpaid workers in Florida will now have to do more to maintain their unions so that they can collectively bargain for enough money to be able to afford the rent on their tiny apartments. With a teacher shortage already undermining education in Florida, expect this Session to worsen the problem.

TikTok — TikTok can add Florida to the list of governments banning its platform from government devices and networks after lawmakers approved a bill (SB 258) to codify DeSantis’ previous executive order doing just that. The bill takes aim at the short-form video app TikTok, WeChat messenger and other applications created and maintained in a “foreign country of concern.” Seven are listed in statutes: Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria and Venezuela — and China, where the companies that own the aforementioned apps are headquartered. The bill prohibits the installation and use of those and other such apps that “present a security risk” on state, county and municipal-issued devices, wireless networks and virtual private networks. That includes all state and local agencies, colleges and universities. It also asserts the right of government entities to remotely wipe and uninstall prohibited applications from “compromised” government-issued devices.

Trial lawyers — It doesn’t matter whether you see it as “reform,” a handout to insurers, or a mix of both. Trial lawyers took a beating. Business groups have long pointed to “excessive” and “frivolous” litigation as a key driver of homeowners’ insurance cost increases, while plaintiffs’ attorneys maintained that their services wouldn’t be necessary if insurers simply paid policyholders what they were due. The truth likely falls somewhere in the middle. Either way, a broad swath of businesses and industry groups including AIF, the Florida Retail Federation, Chris Dudley and Miller for the Florida Trucking Association, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Uber’s Javi Correoso and Giovanni Castro, joined forces to get the torts bill through the Legislature. The Governor signed it so fast, that many of the bill’s proponents had to repurpose their pro-signing ads into “thank you” campaigns. The result: Trial lawyers across the Sunshine State are in a fetal position sucking their thumbs.

Undocumented immigrants — What’s there to say? At this point, the 2019 ban on so-called “sanctuary cities” seems quaint, but even then, it was plainly apparent then that the Governor would continue pushing anti-immigrant policies. The next step was to institute E-Verify, which powerful business interests could only slightly water down. Now, he and pliable GOP lawmakers have passed a bill that will subject people to felony charges for harboring an immigrant, even a blood relative. Catholic Bishops and other religious groups pleaded with lawmakers and appealed to the Governor’s as-yet-unconfirmed sense of basic human decency to soften the proposal to no avail. But they needn’t flip far into their bibles to understand what’s happening: DeSantis 2024 is carrying out its decree against them, and many such plans he still has in store.

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises Media and is the publisher of FloridaPolitics.com, INFLUENCE Magazine, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Previous to his publishing efforts, Peter was a political consultant to dozens of congressional and state campaigns, as well as several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella. Follow Peter on Twitter @PeterSchorschFL.



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