As with any session, there were a number of bills that were gutted, jettisoned or lacked the support to pass. Of the 1,861 bills filed, about 10 percent, or 196, passed the Legislature.
As for the budget, educators secured a $783 million boost to K-12 funding for public schools, with $364 million for possible teacher pay raises. Environmentalists celebrated that nearly $683 million was earmarked for water quality, although many are unhappy with a new toll road project.
The healthcare portion of the budget totaled $37.7 billion, including $28.4 billion for Medicaid, which will cover nearly four million Floridians. Despite efforts to cut base rates by over $100 million, our hospitals will see a slight increase in Medicaid funding as $9 million was redistributed from rate enhancements to base rates.
With lawmakers gone and Tallahassee returning to normal, here are 10 key issues that lawmakers tackled – and approved legislation for – this session. Some are still awaiting the governor’s signature.
Certificate of Need deregulation legislation removes a requirement that general hospitals and hospital-based services, such as rehab beds, obtain approval from the state to build or expand. Additionally, ambulatory surgery centers will now be allowed to keep patients for up to 24 hours, including overnight stays. These reforms were far better for Florida’s community hospitals than what some lawmakers originally proposed, which included 72-hour ASC length of stays and removing CON restrictions on Specialty Hospitals.
Floridians may be able to get cheaper prescription drugs from Canada, thanks to new legislation that would need approval by the federal government. At a recent Oval Office meeting, President Trump directed federal officials to work with Florida on the plan, which Gov. DeSantis supported.
Patients who get their doctor’s approval for medical marijuana can now smoke it legally. While voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot question in 2016 to legalize marijuana for medical use by patients, the Legislature later passed a bill banning it in smokable forms. The 2019 legislation was an early legislative win for DeSantis, who wanted lawmakers to repeal the ban on smokable medical marijuana – and got it in March.
Hurricane Michael Funding
Lawmakers stepped up to provide $220 million in aid to a Panhandle area still recovering from devastating Hurricane Michael last October, bringing the state total for recovery efforts to $1.8 billion. The issue was deemed critical after federal disaster aid for North Florida beaches hit by the Category 5 hurricane stalled in Congress. Many in the region have said they need more money just to remove fallen trees and for farmers to plant fall crops.
Firefighter Cancer Benefits
Firefighters will receive health care benefits, or death benefits paid to their families, if the firefighter suffers from certain types of cancer. Under the new law, counties will pick up an estimated $3 million in costs, with the state paying about $920,000 for firefighters diagnosed with 21 types of cancer. The firefighter insurance legislation had been proposed in Florida for the past three years and finally passed on its fourth try this year. Florida joins more than 40 other states that provide such coverage.
Texting While Driving Ban
Police will be able to stop drivers for texting while driving, making it a primary offense, with a first violation bearing a $30 fine plus court costs. Florida would join 43 other states that classify texting while driving a primary offense. The law would also require cell phones only be used in hands-free mode in school zones and construction zones with workers present.
Sanctuary Cities Ban
A ban on sanctuary cities was one of the more controversial bills debated this year with emotional testimony from both sides. The legislation, supported by DeSantis, would prohibit so-called ‘’sanctuary cities’’ – communities that don’t cooperate with federal immigration officials by detaining inmates to be possibly deported. Opponents called the bill “anti-immigrant’’ while others said it ensured accountability. After much debate, the measure was approved.
New Roads and Transportation
A controversial bill that calls for the largest road-building project in decades would create three new toll roads: extending the Suncoast Parkway to Georgia, extending Florida’s Turnpike to the Suncoast Parkway, and creating a new toll road from the Naples to Orlando areas. Environmentalists said the new roads could disrupt Florida panther habitats. Others asked why no studies were done and basic questions left unanswered. Even if the roads aren’t built, the plan is to move $135 million in general revenue into the state’s transportation trust fund in three years.
Last year’s session was overshadowed by the tragic school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. This year, a controversial bill would allow classroom teachers to be armed if school districts opt-in to a “Guardian program” after undergoing training with a local sheriff’s office. Many school districts have declined to create such programs, putting law enforcement officers in schools instead.
Assignment of Benefits Reform
This bill would reform an insurance industry practice called “assignment of benefits” or AOB, for short. With AOB, property owners needing repairs often signed over their rights to benefits to contractors who then secured payment directly from insurance agencies. Supporters said an increase in residential water-damage claims from hurricanes led to rampant abuse of the practice, which led to fraud, lawsuits, unfinished repair work and ultimately, higher premiums for policyholders.