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Here’s what happened Thursday in the Florida Legislative session

Two days are left in the regularly scheduled 60-day legislative session. Here’s what’s happened Thursday.
Florida representatives work through a legislative session, Wednesday, April 28, 2021, at the Capitol in Tallahassee.
Florida representatives work through a legislative session, Wednesday, April 28, 2021, at the Capitol in Tallahassee. [ WILFREDO LEE | AP ]
Published Apr. 29
Updated Apr. 30

TALLAHASSEE — The 60-day legislative session is nearly over. Lawmakers could agree Friday on the one thing that they are required to do, pass Florida’s state budget, and go home.

But no matter what happens next, the 2021 session has already felt more consequential than recent sessions. Perhaps not since the 2011 session, when tea party Republicans flexed their muscle after being swept into office for the first time, have so many important — and divisive — bills been passed.

Here’s what happened.

Election reforms targeting voting by mail, drop boxes passes Florida Legislature

The Florida Legislature approved along party lines a multitude of changes to the state’s elections laws Thursday night, including a ban on possessing multiple vote by mail ballots and restrictions on the use of ballot drop boxes.

Relenting on a number of ideas that were strongly opposed by county elections supervisors and Democrats, the bill now heading to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk is far less onerous than what Republicans were proposing over the last month.

The bill does not ban drop boxes, an idea DeSantis endorsed earlier this year.

Florida Legislators pass more restrictions on local regulations

Despite warnings from opponents that the state is asking for more than it can handle, Florida legislators sent bills to the governor this week that preempted local government regulation of utilities and clean energy regulation.

Each of the efforts was opposed by local governments and environmental organizations, especially those in major urban areas which have been more aggressive than the Florida Legislature in advancing policies with sustainable energy practices. They say that local communities are better suited to make those decisions.

“Clearly the theme of the 2021 Florida legislative session is taking power away from Floridians and consolidating it within the Legislature,’' said Michelle Allen of Food and Water Watch, an environmental advocacy group on Thursday.

Attempt to bar school from banning vaccinated teachers fails

A Miami state senator on Thursday tried to emulate the “vaccine passport” initiative but in reverse, sponsoring a proposal to prevent schools and businesses from requiring people to not get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Miami, filed an amendment after he said state education officials told him Centner Academy did not violate any policy or law when it informed parents of its anti-vaccination policy for teachers and staff and spread misinformation to children about the potential risks of vaccination.

“So right now, this is it. My district is counting on us to push back against this quackery,” Pizzo said.

The amendment failed on a 19-19 vote, keeping the proposal off the underlying bill, which includes a ban on “vaccine passports” sought by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Senate Health Policy Chairman Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, and Sen. Jennifer Bradley, R-Fleming Island, did not vote, though they were in the Capitol on Thursday. Three Republicans — Sen. Jeff Brandes, of St. Petersburg, Senate Education Committee Chairman Joe Gruters, of Sarasota, and Sen. George Gainer, of Panama City — joined Democrats in favor of the amendment.

‘Good start’: Senate passes police reform

HB 7051 passed the Senate with a unanimous vote Thursday. It now heads to Gov. Ron DeSantis for his signature.

Related: Florida’s police reform bill touted as “good start’ by Senate, heads to DeSantis

Delay on student athletes likeness

Tucked into a contentious bill that passed Wednesday night that included a ban on transgender athletes from women’s and girl’s sports was an amendment that will delay, for a year, a much-publicized reckoning for college athletes.

Last year, Florida lawmakers passed legislation that would give athletes the right to make money off their “likeness” — photos or autographs that produce revenue. Considered landmark legislation for correcting what many considered a gross inequity, Florida led the nation in this type of legislation. It was to go into effect July 1, 2021, far ahead of states like California and Colorado.

“I really think it is Florida leading the way on this,” DeSantis said last year.

Welp. Lawmakers added three lines last night in a massive education bill that delayed the legislation from taking effect. For one year.

It didn’t take long for the backlash.

FSU quarterback McKenzie Milton, a former UCF star, said he has faith in DeSantis to “make this right!”

Related: McKenzie Milton, D’Eriq King oppose Florida’s name, image and likeness delay

Even U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz weighed in.

‘Times have changed’

Lawmakers for years have considered changing state law requiring local jurisdictions to publish legal notices in certain newspapers, like the Tampa Bay Times.

On Thursday, they passed a bill that does just that. Here’s how.

Senate takes up police reform

Senators consider new training standards for law enforcement officers under a bill that’s a response to the national reckoning on policing practices after the killing of George Floyd. They’ll take up HB 7051. which passed the Florida House 113-0 and has been a rare example of bipartisanship.

The bill sets statewide use-of-force standards for Florida law enforcement officers. It targets the use of choke holds, adds more oversight on investigations into deaths caused by police and requires officers to be trained on “de-escalation” techniques.

“This is the sort of work product that we come up with when we’re willing to put partisanship aside and try to focus on policy that will help make our communities safer,” said Tampa Democratic Rep. Fentrice Driskell, who, on behalf of the House’s Black Caucus, led negotiations on the legislation with House Republican leaders.

But some Senate Democrats have voiced concerns that the legislation doesn’t go far enough.

Related: Florida Senate to consider police reform, but Democrats say it ‘doesn’t go far enough’

Senate Democrats regroup

Florida Sen. Lauren Book.
Florida Sen. Lauren Book. [ WILFREDO LEE | AP ]

Democrats make up just 16 of 40 senators in the upper chamber and have struggled to matter this year. On Wednesday, they replaced their leader, Gary Farmer, a Lighthouse Point lawyer, with Lauren Book, a children’s advocate from Plantation.

They meet this morning to discuss the upcoming floor session.

DeSantis on shield law for sugar growers

Acres of sugar cane burn behind homes in Belle Glade. This is part of what is called "pre-harvest burning" to remove the outer leaves of cane stalks before harvesting.
Acres of sugar cane burn behind homes in Belle Glade. This is part of what is called "pre-harvest burning" to remove the outer leaves of cane stalks before harvesting.

The Florida House last week sent Gov. Ron DeSantis a bill that gives the agriculture industry protection from lawsuits related to long-term health damage. Supporters of the measure, including the sugar industry, call the legislation “Right to Farm.” Opponents argue the measure gives growers immunity from practices that might harm nearby residents.

DeSantis signed the bill Thursday morning.

Related: Florida lawmakers pass bill to shield sugar farmers from lawsuits

Auto insurance: The end of ‘no fault’?

Heavy traffic is seen along the Memorial Causeway as beach goers head to Clearwater Beach Tuesday, March 16, 2021.
Heavy traffic is seen along the Memorial Causeway as beach goers head to Clearwater Beach Tuesday, March 16, 2021. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]

The Florida Senate may take up for the final time an overhaul of the state’s automobile insurance laws.

On Monday, the Florida House voted 99-11 to repeal the state’s “no-fault” laws and require every motorist to carry bodily injury coverage, a move that could lower rates for some, but raise rates for others. Who wins? Who loses? Nobody really knows.

Related: Florida’s close to overhauling auto insurance, ending ‘no-fault’

Voting: What changes are Republicans considering?

A poll worker wears personal protective equipment as she monitors a ballot drop box for mail-in ballots outside of a polling station during early voting, Friday, Aug. 7, 2020, in Miami Beach.
A poll worker wears personal protective equipment as she monitors a ballot drop box for mail-in ballots outside of a polling station during early voting, Friday, Aug. 7, 2020, in Miami Beach. [ LYNNE SLADKY | AP ]

The Florida House voted Wednesday for an overhaul of the state’s elections system. It includes a requirement that voters present ID when leaving vote by mail ballots in drop boxes.

The bill now goes back to the Florida Senate, which has approved its own overhaul of the state’s system.

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