Florida convened its 2022 legislative session on Tuesday, January 11. The Florida Legislature begins its 60-day session in January of even-numbered years to wrap up earlier ahead of the fall elections.
Last year’s legislative session was marked by mask requirements and public access restrictions within the Capitol Complex to keep the public and Florida’s leaders safe from COVID-19. This year, Capitol staff will not enforce those rules, which should lead to increased access to the lawmaking process for Floridians and lobbyists alike.
Florida’s legislative agenda often follows national political trends – and many expect the 2022 session to follow that pattern with debate on social issues and COVID-19 response likely to dominate upcoming weeks in Tallahassee.
Governor Ron DeSantis has proposed a $99.7 billion “Freedom First” budget that would increase spending on a wide range of initiatives including education, election security, law enforcement, and the environment. The budget calls for $1,000 bonuses for teachers and police, along with doubling the state’s “rainy day” fund in preparation for unexpected events like hurricanes or economic downturns.
Governor DeSantis’ proposal would also designate $660 million for continued Everglades restoration and $270 million to make the state more resilient ahead of gradually intensifying weather events, such as hurricanes and flooding. It would increase teachers’ starting salaries, provide $188 more per-student funding for schools, and pay school bus drivers more.
Critics, including gubernatorial challengers, have argued that Governor DeSantis’ budget does not spend enough to address issues such as healthcare, climate change, and education.
The budget proposals must be reviewed and approved by the Legislature, but if this session is anything like recent sessions, expect legislators to adopt a large majority of the “Freedom First” budget.
Federal COVID-19 relief funding and higher-than-anticipated revenue estimates have given state lawmakers a pleasant but surprisingly tricky challenge: they must decide how to spend extra money. Surplus revenue may lead some lawmakers to promote pet projects in their home districts, demonstrating value to voters but making consensus harder to forge.
Lawmakers will consider several healthcare bills, including expanding the use of telehealth, modernizing nursing home staffing requirements, and establishing uniform requirements for visitation in healthcare facilities. They’ll look at extending pandemic-related legal protections for hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare providers. Options to attract and retain healthcare workers amid severe shortages of trained medical staff is also a priority.
Gov. DeSantis’ proposed state budget includes $1.8 billion in additional Medicaid funds to bridge the difference between reimbursement rates and the actual costs of providing care. There are no cuts to Florida hospitals included in the governor’s budget. The proposed budget would not expand Medicaid eligibility but would provide $198 million more in Medicaid reimbursements for particular home- and community-based healthcare providers.
Legislative leaders will revisit how to reimburse hospitals that treat Florida’s most vulnerable, low-income residents. For several years, about two-dozen “safety net” hospitals have received additional funding from a patchwork of state and federal sources, many intended to serve the same purpose. During the same period, the state’s other 200 hospitals received little more than Medicaid base rates. One proposal would shift about $300 million in automatic rate enhancement funds to Medicaid base rates, more closely aligning the amount of Medicaid care each hospital provides with how much it is reimbursed.
As Florida’s population grows and ages, state leaders project an ever-worsening shortage of medical professionals – with nearly 18,000 more doctors and 59,000 more nurses needed by 2035. Lawmakers will explore various ways to ease the strain, likely led by greater state funding to help train new doctors and nurses.
Beyond Governor DeSantis’ proposals to increase spending on education, the Legislature will consider a proposed constitutional amendment to turn local school board elections into partisan contests. If approved by voters, the amendment would reverse a 1998 vote that made those elections nonpartisan.
The Legislature will also consider measures to expand school choice, prohibit the teaching of critical race theory, require public comment periods during all local school board meetings, and eliminate K-12 standardized tests – now, state lawmakers are considering using a progress monitoring system three times a year in the fall, winter, and spring. The goal is to provide timely, actionable data on student learning to teachers and parents.
Homeowners insurance rates continue to skyrocket in communities across Florida for reasons that range from climate change to repair fraud to inflated labor and material costs. With fewer carriers underwriting new policies, many Florida homeowners have discovered that their only option is the state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp.
Due to this, Citizens now insures a record number of homeowners, raising concerns about its financial stability if a major storm were to strike Florida. As a result, lawmakers will likely revisit property insurance regulations to help stabilize housing costs.
Gov. DeSantis has called on the Legislature to establish an Office of Election Crime and Security. This first-of-its-kind office would report to the governor-appointed Secretary of State, with over 50 employees dedicated to investigating “irregularities” and prosecuting election crimes in future elections. The governor also wants greater penalties for ballot harvesting.
Lawmakers will again consider bills to allow gun owners to possess firearms on college campuses and in legislative hearing rooms, along with full open carry of guns in all public spaces. Lawmakers may also propose repealing a law enacted after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings that raised the minimum age of gun ownership to 21 years old.
Prompted by rising gas prices, Gov. DeSantis has proposed a five-month suspension of all state gas taxes. Beginning July 1, such a move would save drivers 27.3 cents per gallon.
Lawmakers will likely revisit the state’s corporate tax rates with Florida businesses now facing a $1 billion tax increase. In response to the tax base expansion measure contained in the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the Florida CIT tax rate has been reduced twice since 2018 and was at 3.5 percent last year. However, without legislative action, the rate will remain at its original 5.5 percent in 2022.