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Florida’s 2018 Legislature was the least productive in two decades

At least, if you count by the number of bills passed.
[LANGSTON TAYLOR]
Published Mar. 14, 2018
Updated Aug. 27

After 62 days in Tallahassee during the 2018 session, Florida’s Legislature passed 196 bills. That’s the fewest number in at least 21 years, according to state records.

The Senate passed just 85 of its bills, 10 fewer than it did in 2017 and hundreds less than it regularly passed in the early 2000s. The House passed 286, an above-average number for sessions during Gov. Rick Scott’s tenure that reflects the relatively more activist nature of House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

But getting bills through both houses proved difficult. Forty-six percent of bills that passed one house (excluding one-house resolutions) failed to get out of the other. That’s the highest failure rate since 1998, the earliest year for which records were available.

Count includes concurrent resolutions but excludes one-chamber resolutions. Data available at flsen.gov.

The low numbers come after a steady decline in that time span. The trend is going clearly toward fewer bills sent to the governor’s desk. Whether a session is in an election year or not makes little difference in the total number.

In the late 1990s, legislators passed as many as 500 bills in a session. That reflected a waning era where the Legislature was led by mostly Democratic leaders, said Darryl Paulson, USF St. Petersburg professor emeritus.

But since the Republican takeover in 1998, legislatures are increasingly uninterested in passing bills.

“Every piece of legislation is looked at as something that impinges on individual freedoms,” Paulson said.

“Oftentimes, they judge themselves by, ‘The less we do, the better off Floridians are.’”

Republicans, he said, want to pass the budget, the relatively few priorities set by leadership and ... not much more.

This 20-year-trend deepened even though 2018 was a session that demanded action.

RELATED COVERAGE: Florida Legislature 2018 -- What passed and what failed

After the Parkland shooting on Valentine’s Day, survivors, law enforcement officers and gun-control advocates forced lawmakers to pass measures addressing gun violence and school safety. They had no choice but to pass something on the issue. And they did.

But it sacrificed precious time.

“I’m sure at least 10 percent of the session—10 percent of their time—was consumed by that one major issue that nobody could anticipate,” Paulson said.

Lawmakers planned to spend 2018 on education reform and hurricane preparation and had directions to tackle opioids, wildfires and sexual harassment. All of those issues took a backseat to the unforeseen gun debate.

Or at least, that’s what Republican leaders said when much of what they had said they had planned to pass didn’t.

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