Tuesday marked the beginning of Florida’s 2023 legislative session, which runs for 60 consecutive days and concludes on May 5. With a 28-12 majority in the state Senate under President Kathleen Passidomo and 85-35 majority in the House under Speaker Paul Renner, Republicans will likely approve most of fellow Republican Governor Ron DeSantis’ top priorities as he gears up for a widely anticipated presidential campaign.
Gov. DeSantis has proposed a $114.8 billion budget outlining a variety of proposals for this session, many of which he shares with legislative leaders. The following are some of the issues the two legislative chambers will likely address during the 2023 session:
Legislators have already filed several bills related to behavioral healthcare. Rep. David Smith’s Behavioral Health Efficiency Bill (HB 1095) calls for a review of current funding structures for behavioral health by the Department of Children and Families and Florida’s Managing Entities. The bill has been referred first to the Children, Families & Seniors Subcommittee, and a Senate companion (SB 1016 by Sen. Darryl Rouson) was also referred to multiple committees.
SB 112 by Health and Human Services Appropriations Chair Gayle Harrell aims to remove step therapy protocols for Medicaid recipients who have serious mental illness. The bill, whose House companion is HB 183 by Rep. Karen Gonzalez-Pittman, would apply only to the state’s Medicaid managed care plans and not to commercial health policies or policies sold in the state group insurance program. Advocates believe the bill will significantly help women experiencing postpartum depression and people with depressive disorders. The Health Policy and Health and Human Services committees both approved the bill unanimously during pre-session meetings. It now travels to the Fiscal Policy committee.
Prescription Drug Reform
The Prescription Drug Reform Act (SB 1550) by Sen. Jason Brodeur aims to reduce the cost of prescription medications by targeting pharmacy benefit managers. The proposed legislation would require drug manufacturers to report estimated cost increases for certain medications each year by a specific date, as well as enhance the transparency of contracts between pharmacies and pharmacy benefit managers. The bill calls for an appropriation of $1,500,000, and is linked to Sen Brodeur’s SB 1552, which provides an exemption from public records requirements for examination and investigation reports and work papers relating to pharmacy benefit managers. A similar bill, HB 1509, has been filed in the House by Rep. Linda Chaney.
According to the Florida Department of Health, overdoses involving fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine, caused more than 6,150 deaths in 2020. To tackle the rising number of fentanyl-related deaths, Rep. Christine Hunschofsky filed HB 165, which would legalize fentanyl test strips by declassifying them as “drug paraphernalia.” Additionally, SB 354 by Sen. Danny Burgess and HB 355 by Reps. Brad Yeager and Danny Alvarez would increase criminal penalties for fentanyl trafficking.
House Judiciary Chair Tommy Gregory has proposed HB 837, a sweeping civil litigation reform package that includes eliminating “one-way attorney fee” provisions, which now require insurance companies to pay legal fees and costs if they unfairly deny or underpay a claim. The bill has already passed as a committee substitute in both the Civil Justice and Judiciary committees. Its companion in the Senate, CS/SB 236 by Sen. Travis Hutson, passed the Banking and Insurance committee this week and will now be heard in the Judiciary committee.
Another bill, SB 1304 by Sen. Colleen Burton, would prohibit adult children of residents in nursing homes and other senior living facilities from collecting non-economic damages for claims over their parents’ care. The bill would also prohibit expert witnesses from testifying on a contingency fee basis. It was introduced just this week and has been referred to two substantive committees in the Senate, though its House companion, HB 1029 by Sen. Randy Maggard, will be heard in four committees.
In an effort to address the state’s affordable housing crisis, Senate President Passidomo has introduced a plan to expedite the permitting process and increase funding for key programs such as the State Housing Initiatives Partnership Program (SHIP) and the State Apartment Incentive Loan (SAIL) program. These programs were designed to provide funds and low-interest loans to local governments and developers to create and preserve affordable homeownership and multifamily housing for low-income families. The legislation is contained in CS/SB 102 by Sen. Alexis Calatayud and unanimously passed all its committees and the entire Senate this week. It is in Messages to the House, where its companion bills still have a number of committee stops.
The proposed plan also encourages the renovation of older properties, specifically targeting mixed-use and urban infill development. If the plan is enacted, the state would incentivize businesses by providing them with sales tax exemptions in return for workforce housing and would swap monthly fees for security deposits to make affordable housing more accessible.
As its population keeps growing, Florida will need to balance land development with environmental sustainability. To address that concern, Gov. DeSantis proposed allocating $614 million for restoration projects in the Everglades and $370 million for improving water quality in vital regions, as recommended by the Blue-Green Algae Task Force.
In addition to these allocations, the governor’s proposed budget also includes $50 million to protect Florida’s springs, $65 million to counter blue-green algae and red tide, and $85 million for the continuing response to the Piney Point wastewater containment disaster that impacted Tampa Bay.
Workforce and Education
Gov. DeSantis has proposed $1.6 billion in funding for early childhood education and $1 billion for teacher salary increases. Additionally, his budget includes $624 million for workforce and trade training programs to better prepare Floridians for high-earning jobs. The governor has also proposed $100 million for the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund, which partially funds workforce training projects.
Lawmakers filed several education bills for consideration in the legislative session. Among the most prominent is HB 1, a top priority of House Speaker Renner, which would make every Florida student eligible for scholarships that could be used for private school tuition and other expenses. HB 1 is on the Education Quality Subcommittee’s agenda for March 10. The Senate companion bill (SB 202), filed by Sen. Corey Simon, has already passed the Senate Education PreK-12 Committee and the Education Appropriations Committee. Another bill, SB 244, introduced by Sen. Alexis Calatayud, aims to expand opportunities for teacher recruitment and retention and clarifies teachers’ rights. SB 244 was introduced in the Senate on March 7 and is on its way to the Appropriations Committee on Education.
Second Amendment advocates are pushing for Florida to reduce restrictions on carrying guns. Sen. Jay Collins filed SB 150 to allow lawful gun owners to carry concealed weapons without a permit. The bill was narrowly approved by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee and is currently awaiting action by the Fiscal Policy Committee. However, it has drawn criticism from both sides: Some Second Amendment supporters believe the bill doesn’t go far enough in allowing open carry, while gun violence prevention groups argue that reducing restrictions on gun ownership may lead to more gun violence. A similar bill, HB 543 by Reps. Bobby Payne and Tyler Sirois, has already passed all its committee references and is now awaiting action by the full House.
HB 1617, filed by Rep. Kiyan Michael, and similar SB 1718 by Sen. Blaise Ingoglia aim to expand the use of the e-Verify system, which verifies workers’ employment status. Neither bill has had a committee hearing to date.
Lawmakers are considering several ways that the state could use its surplus tax revenue, including temporary tax “holidays” for consumers and businesses. Proposals include school-related tax holidays for clothing, school supplies, and electronics, as well as the permanent elimination of sales taxes on items for infants and toddlers, such as cribs, strollers, clothes, shoes, and diapers.