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8 bipartisan bills to watch in the 2022 Florida legislative session

Compromise? Agreement? In Tallahassee? Apparently ... yes.
Published Jan. 7
Updated Jan. 7

TALLAHASSEE — Election fraud, transgender athletes, rioting, vaccine mandates. Those wedge issues engulfed hours of debate in Florida’s Legislature last year, generating scores of national headlines. Republicans, who hold the governor’s mansion and daunting majorities in the state House and Senate, got their way on each issue.

Yet as lawmakers head back to Tallahassee for their annual 60-day session that begins Tuesday, there remains several policy areas in which Republicans and Democrats see room for compromise — or even agreement. Here are eight bipartisan measures to watch.

Medical Marijuana

During the 2021 legislative session, a measure to limit the potency of medical cannabis led to some of the most contentious partisan dust-ups of the session.

While that bill failed, its sponsor, Rep. Spencer Roach, R-North Fort Myers, is back this session with a new bipartisan proposal. Andrew Learned, D-Brandon, is the bill’s co-sponsor.

“Neither of us, no activist, no stakeholder, is getting everything they want in this proposal,” Learned said at a December news conference. “But that is the nature of compromise.”

Among other things, the bill would make it illegal to sell consumable hemp products such as “Delta-8″ to Floridians younger than 21. Some lawmakers worry those products, which can induce euphoric effects similar to traditional cannabis, could be — under current state law — sold to children. The measure would also make the medical cannabis program more convenient for patients by allowing registration cards to last two years instead of one.

Its sponsors say the measure is a bipartisan olive branch meant to improve Florida’s medical marijuana program. It’s unclear, however, whether top Republican leaders support the various measures.

Spokespersons for House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, and Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, did not respond to specific questions about the proposal. Gov. Ron DeSantis’ spokesperson, Christina Pushaw, said he is “monitoring” the bill.

Telehealth

In 2019, the Legislature passed a sweeping bill that defined “telehealth” — the practice of allowing medical professionals to observe patients virtually — in state law. Still, the legislation, which had bipartisan support in the state House and Senate, did not allow doctors to consult with patients via phone call.

The next year, the coronavirus pandemic led to a surge in popularity for telemedicine. Now, Sen. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, is sponsoring a measure to reverse the ban on telemedicine over the phone.

So far, the measure has passed unanimously in two Senate committees. A companion bill in the House has yet to be heard. In a texted statement, Diaz said he believes the measure has bipartisan support because it provides access to telemedicine to Floridians who are not tech-savvy. However, Diaz said he’s unsure House leaders are in favor of the measure. Sprowls’ office did not respond to specific questions about the measure.

Diaz’s bill is not the only telehealth measure set to be heard this session. The medical marijuana bill would allow physicians to recertify medical marijuana patients via the computer — a practice that was allowed under a DeSantis administration emergency order for more than a year earlier in the coronavirus pandemic.

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Juvenile expunction bill

A measure that would allow tens of thousands of juveniles to clear their criminal records after completing a behavioral program is already gaining bipartisan support.

Last year, the same measure breezed through the committee and floor votes with little to no pushback from lawmakers.

DeSantis, however, vetoed the bill after he raised public safety concerns about it giving what he said would be an “unfettered ability to expunge serious felonies.”

His veto surprised many lawmakers, including Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, who sponsored the bill last year and is pushing it again this year in a way he believes will address the governor’s concerns.

If approved, and signed by DeSantis, the measure would allow about 27,000 minors to request that their criminal records be expunged following the successful completion of a diversion program for misdemeanor and some felony offenses.

Ending several spring tests

DeSantis wants to revamp the state’s education system by eliminating several annual exams and replacing them with shorter “progress monitoring” tests throughout the year, which would be tailored to individual students.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers have signaled a desire to reimagine the state’s testing system, but friction could arise when the details emerge.

While some assessments would go away under the governor’s proposal, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran has said that other elements of the school accountability system will remain the same, including school grades, teacher evaluations based in part on student performance, and turnaround plans for struggling schools.

Nursing home revenue transparency

Every year, the state sends nursing homes tens of millions of dollars in Medicaid reimbursement. That money supports the bottom line of one of the state’s most powerful industries.

This year, House Republicans and Democrats alike say the nursing home industry must be more transparent about its revenues. A proposal sponsored by Jay Trumbull, R-Panama City, would require nursing homes and their home offices to submit audited financials to the state annually.

Florida hospitals, which get hundreds of millions in state Medicaid reimbursements, have been submitting these financials since 1992.

Nick Duran, D-Miami, who sits on the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee, said Democrats support the proposal because the party’s organized labor base has long contended the nursing home industry puts profit above all else.

In a text message to the Times/Herald, Trumbull said Republicans support it because it makes fiscal sense to look at how a large industry that receives taxpayer money is spending its money.

A payroll boost

Bonuses and pay raises: something Democrats and Republicans can get behind.

For the third year in a row, DeSantis is seeking $1,000 bonuses for classroom teachers and principals. And for the second consecutive year, he is seeking $1,000 bonuses for first responders and law enforcement officers.

DeSantis is also proposing $600 million to maintain and meet the goal of raising teachers’ minimum salary to $47,500 a year. School personnel — like guidance counselors, reading coaches, bus drivers and librarians — are excluded from the state’s bonus program. Veteran teachers are not guaranteed a pay raise under the governor’s initiative.

The exclusions are likely to draw some debate during the 2022 legislative session, but overall, the pay initiatives are likely to draw bipartisan support from lawmakers.

Social media literacy

It’s a short bill, but it has fans on both sides of the aisle. A two-page measure co-introduced by Democrats and Republicans in both the House and the Senate would require schools to teach students about social media.

HB 361 and SB 480 would set statewide standards for teaching social media literacy for the first time in state history. The state would add that curriculum to other mandatory lessons such as the history of the U.S. and the importance of free enterprise to the American economy.

“This bill is intended to empower, not just our parents by providing this material, but also make sure children are aware of the long-lasting risks that are inherent with having, essentially, the world at your fingertips,” said Sen. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, at a November committee meeting.

Prescription drug importation

In 2019, lawmakers passed a bill directing the state to form a plan to import safe, inexpensive medications from Canada. Of all the measures on this list, this was perhaps the most controversial, with some two dozen Democrats voting against it in 2019. Still, the bill passed with help from conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats alike.

The bipartisan vibes extend to the federal government as well — at least on the surface. The Trump and Biden administrations both outwardly supported the idea of importing Canadian drugs.

However, the Biden administration has yet to approve Florida’s importation proposal, which was submitted in November 2020. A spokesperson for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said the government does not comment on pending proposals.

Cody Farrill, a spokesperson for Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration, said the Biden administration has set up a call for states with importation plans on March 31. It’s unclear whether that means significant progress on the federal end.

“Will Florida receive approval prior to this call?” Farrill wrote in an emailed statement. “Only time will tell.”