Today was Sine Die for Florida’s 2023 Legislative Session. The Florida Senate and our colleagues in the Florida House worked together to craft meaningful policy and pass a balanced budget for the 2023-2024 Fiscal Year. I was proud to join House Speaker Paul Renner (R-Palm Harbor) and other legislators for the traditional Sine Die “Hankie Drop,” a ceremony marking the conclusion of session for at least 100 years. The presiding officers also joined Governor Ron DeSantis to discuss the conclusion of the session.
We began session in the aftermath of a destructive hurricane season on the heels of two special sessions needed to help stabilize Florida’s freefalling property insurance market. While these issues alone could have easily monopolized the last 60 days, I am proud that with the tireless work of our Senators, and strong partnerships with the Florida House and Governor DeSantis, we are concluding today having passed significant legislation in nearly every area of public policy, along with a balanced budget, meaningful tax relief for families and seniors, and historic reserves.
This was truly the session of the Florida family as we tackled kitchen-table issues important to growing families and seniors. School choice is now a reality for every child, in every family. Education dollars follow the child, and the parents – not the government – decide where they are spent.
With our Live Local Act, more Floridians can afford to live close to good jobs, where they can raise their families in the heart of the communities they serve.
Insurance and litigation reforms with strong protections for consumers, coupled with permanent tax relief on key items will help eliminate hidden costs that increase the price of goods and services, keeping Florida affordable for those at every income level and stage of life.
We passed strong legislation to support unborn babies and parents, with safeguards to protect the innocence of childhood and let kids be kids.
And, by expanding Florida’s iconic wildlife corridor, current and future generations of Florida families will have the opportunity to experience the wonder and beauty of Florida’s heartland.
From workforce housing, to school choice, to insurer accountability, to public safety, we listened to our constituents, incorporated ideas and feedback from our communities, and made our mark with historic reforms to keep our state affordable and her people free.
Balanced Budget Invests in Infrastructure, Education, Tax Relief & Historic Reserves
On Friday, Senate Bill 2500, the General Appropriations Act, a balanced state budget for the upcoming fiscal year passed the Senate and House floor.
We continue to be in a very unique situation with our budget. We are seeing increases in revenue and record-low unemployment, yet we know Floridians are suffering greatly from inflation, and nationally our economy is projected to face some challenges.
With increases in revenue, we have the amazing opportunity to make key generational investments in many areas of our infrastructure, from workforce housing to transportation, to clean water, to our iconic Wildlife Corridor. While this is positive, we cannot ignore the economic challenges already impacting Florida families and those clearly on the horizon nationally. Rather than spending all we have, this budget holds the line, setting aside historic reserves and providing tremendous tax relief opportunities that will reduce the cost of living for Florida families in a meaningful way.
We also make critical investments to further ongoing relief and recovery efforts as we work to help Southwest Florida and other impacted communities rebuild. Coupled with the significant legislation put forward by Senator Martin, Leader Albritton, and our Select Committee on Resiliency, this budget will help our state be even more prepared for future hurricanes and other significant weather events that come with living on our beautiful peninsula.
Live Local Statewide Workforce Housing Strategy
Senate Bill 102, Housing, by Senator Alexis Calatayud, was signed into law on March 29. The legislation, entitled the Live Local Act, contains a comprehensive, statewide workforce housing strategy designed to increase the availability of attainable housing options for Florida workers who seek to live in the communities they serve.
Floridians are ready to live local, and to spend less time commuting and more time building their lives and raising their families in the heart of the communities they serve. As I travel the state, availability of workforce housing is a top issue on the minds of hardworking Floridians and retirees in every community I visit. With this comprehensive legislation, we are shutting down affordable housing stereotypes and creating attainable housing options needed by the majority of our workforce, the backbone of Florida’s economy.
The Live Local plan is the product of discussions with stakeholders over many years. With their advice and input, we are tackling this complex issue from all angles –incentivizing private sector investment, funding both the SHIP and SAIL programs at historically high levels, providing new avenues for solutions in zoning, encouraging more mixed-use developments in latent commercial areas, and enhancing public access to information about expedited permitting and public property that may be suitable for workforce housing.
In total, I am confident our legislation will improve housing options for Floridians at all income levels and stages of life, so that families don’t have to spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing, and can have the margin needed to save and build the rest of their lives.
Expanding Access to Florida’s Wildlife Corridor
Senate Bill 106, Florida Shared-Use Nonmotorized Trail Network, by Senator Jason Brodeur, expands access to Florida’s iconic Wildlife Corridor. The bill, signed into law by Governor DeSantis on April 11, connects the corridor to Florida’s Greenways and Trails System and the SUN Trail Network, as well as recreational pathways to heritage small towns across Florida.
Our wildlife corridor provides a unique opportunity to experience the wonder and beauty of Florida’s heartland. With this legislation, we have the chance not only to preserve this natural resource for future generations, but to expand access so more Floridians can walk, run, and bike from trail town to trail town, taking in all our great state has to offer.
I envision Florida’s Wildlife Corridor as a top destination for recreational tourists from across the country and around the world. As I have said before, I believe this will be Florida’s Central Park – a legacy we can be proud to leave for future generations of Floridians and visitors to enjoy.
Enhancing Public Safety, Codifying Constitutional Right To Keep And Bear Arms
Senate Bill 150, Public Safety, by Senator Jay Collins, was signed into law on April 3. This robust public safety package codifies the constitutional right of citizens to keep and bear arms and expand tools available to law enforcement and educators working to keep our communities and schools safe.
I stand with Governor DeSantis, Speaker Renner, and Senator Collins, decorated members of our military, who along law enforcement leaders from across the state, agree that eliminating the need for a concealed weapons license in the state of Florida will help more Floridians better protect themselves and their families.
This comprehensive legislation ensures our laws respect the constitutional rights of law-abiding Floridians while at the same time incorporating valuable tools recommended by law enforcement that will increase the safety of our schools and communities.
Historic School Choice, Parental Empowerment Legislation
House Bill 1, Education, sponsored in the Senate by Senator Corey Simon, Chair of the Senate Committee on Education Pre-K-12, was signed into law on March 27. HB 1 contains a comprehensive package of innovations that promote parental involvement and customized K-12 education in Florida. The legislation empowers parents to guide their children’s education by providing for an Education Savings Account for every student in the K-12 system. Incorporating recommendations from the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, the bill also takes the first step towards reducing onerous and excessive regulations on public schools.
The goal of making school choice a reality for every child across our great state has been a long time coming, and with the steadfast resolve and leadership of Governor DeSantis, Speaker Renner, Senator Simon, Rep. Tuck, and many others, school choice is here for every Florida family.
Additionally, this bill reduces some of the outdated, unnecessary, and quite frankly, burdensome regulations public schools have to abide by. By reducing red tape that burdens our traditional public schools, these institutions, which have served our communities for generations, will have a meaningful chance to compete right alongside other school choice options.
Career and Technical Education, Work-Based Learning Opportunities for Grades 6-12
Senate Bill 240, Education, by Senator Travis Hutson, furthers ongoing legislative initiatives that promote career and technical education (CTE), with a focus on work-based learning linked to local employment opportunities for Florida students in Grades 6-12.
More than a decade ago, Florida began the transformation to link education to the realities and opportunities of the economy. Under the leadership of Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford, in 2013 the Legislature passed the Career and Professional Education Act, which began the process of promoting industry certifications in K-12 education, with financial incentives for schools that help students learn skills that directly lead to jobs.
A decade later, under the leadership of President Wilton Simpson and Speaker Chris Sprowls, Florida transformed our workforce system, making it easier for consumers to access services and career planning, and to register for job training. This legislation builds on this tremendous progress by creating additional partnerships between local schools and businesses, expanding opportunities for students to gain on-the-job experience in meaningful, high-paying fields needed in our growing communities.
Increasing Consumer Protection and Insurer Accountability
Senate Bill 7052, Insurer Accountability, by Senator Hutson, contains various provisions intended to increase consumer protection and insurer accountability in Florida.
Over the last several years, during regular and special sessions, we have worked on reforms to strengthen the property insurance market in our state so policyholders have access to quality, affordable, private market property insurance. Ultimately, every homeowner needs property insurance that is reliable and affordable. When disaster strikes, we want to make sure impacted Floridians can successfully navigate the claims process and be compensated for losses in a timely manner.
This legislation continues our efforts to balance fair costs and protections for consumers while strengthening state review and analysis of the insurance market so that bad actors can be held accountable. I commend Senator Hutson for his diligence in bringing stakeholders together to put forward a strong and meaningful insurer accountability package that enhances consumer-friendly provisions of current law and increases transparency between homeowners and insurance companies.
Heartbeat Protection Act
Senate Bill 300, the Heartbeat Protection Act, by Senator Erin Grall, was signed into law on April 13. The legislation protects innocent, unborn life by prohibiting abortions after six weeks gestation, with exceptions for women who are victims of rape, incest and human trafficking, or whose baby has a devastating diagnosis of a fatal fetal abnormality.
The Heartbeat Protection Act builds on Florida’s strong track record of protecting the most vulnerable, especially the unborn, and strengthens state efforts to promote adoption and support families, with significant resources to benefit infants, young children, and parents, which we hope will encourage more Floridians in difficult and unplanned situations to choose life for their babies.
Our bill also includes strong and clear exceptions for rape, incest, and human trafficking, in addition to those already available for the life of the mother. We also clarify the existing exception for the horrible situation when parents are facing the heartbreaking diagnosis of a fatal fetal abnormality.
Comprehensive Legal Reforms
House Bill 837, Civil Remedies, sponsored by Senator Hutson, was signed into law on March 24. The bill reforms Florida’s tort laws to decrease frivolous lawsuits while protecting the rights of Floridians who suffer a loss.
When a horrible accident or incident occurs and people suffer a loss, they should be compensated quickly and fairly. The vast majority of attorneys work very hard to provide sound legal representation for Floridians in these difficult circumstances. Unfortunately, there are a few bad actors who are in the business to draw out civil cases as long as possible, collecting more and more fees from insurance companies.
Litigation drives up the basic costs of goods and services for everyone across all areas of industry and commerce.
Under the leadership of Governor DeSantis, we have taken many steps to help keep Florida affordable for growing families and seniors. This legislation furthers those efforts striking the right balance and protecting the rights of Floridians who suffer a loss, while at the same time safeguarding everyone else against the hidden costs of prolonged litigation.
Last session we defended and expanded parental rights in education, and the feedback from parents and teachers who appreciate appropriate guardrails on social issues being taught in schools is overwhelmingly positive. This year, we expanded on that good work.
Parents have the right to raise their children as they see fit, and government intervention should be a last resort. Unfortunately, all too often we are hearing about treatments for gender dysphoria being administered to children, often very young children. That’s just wrong, and we need to step in and make sure it isn’t happening in our state.
- House Bill 1069, Child Protection in Public Schools, sponsored in the Senate by Senator Yarborough prohibits classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity in Pre-K through Grade 8 and expands the role of parents in reviewing and approving instructional materials, with a clear process when a parent wants to object to specific content. The bill also protects students and teachers from being required to use language that violates their personal convictions. Specifically, the bill prohibits a school from requiring, as a condition of employment, that a teacher refers to a student or another teacher by a pronoun that does not correspond to that person’s sex. Similarly, students cannot be forced to refer to a teacher or to other students by pronouns that do not correspond to the person’s sex.
- Senate Bill 1438, Protection of Children, by Senator Yarborough, authorizes the Department of Business and Professional Regulation to fine, suspend, or revoke the license of any public lodging establishment or public food service establishment if the establishment admits a child to a live adult performance that depicts or simulates nudity, sexual conduct, or lewd exposure.
- Senate Bill 254, Treatments for Sex-Reassignment, by Senator Yarborough protects children from being subjected to sex-reassignment prescriptions and procedures. Exceptions are provided for patients with genetic or biochemical disorders as well as those with certain injuries or illnesses.