Florida lawmakers are gearing up for the 2020 session, which begins on Tuesday, January 14th, and runs for 60 consecutive days. While the two chambers have been meeting off and on since September, relatively few bills have made it through the entire committee process and are ready for passage.
After a successful 2019 session for leadership in both the House and Senate – and with an election looming this Fall – many insiders predict a quiet legislative session this spring. 2020 is also the final year at the helm for House Speaker Jose Oliva and Senate President Bill Galvano, meaning the priorities of incoming chamber leaders Chris Sprowls and Wilton Simpson are already top of mind for legislators and other influencers.
However, it’s only the second session for Governor Ron DeSantis, and if his track record holds, his administration could see some significant policy and budget accomplishments again this year. Constitutionally, the state must only address one item before adjourning sine die – passing a balanced state budget.
Expectations for 2020
Criminal Justice and Education
Top of the list for both the Governor and legislators is addressing funding concerns for two of Florida’s most challenging public policy issues: criminal justice and education. Described by many as an agency in crisis, the Department of Corrections could get a boost in the form of pay and reduced workload for corrections officers. And if reformers have their way, policy changes like mandatory minimums, gain-time equivalent, and even marijuana decriminalization could result in significant future savings that can go back into the system. But whether these controversial measures can get done remains to be seen.
On education, Governor DeSantis wants a minimum teacher salary of $47,500 and to revamp the state’s teacher and principal bonus system. The state’s largest union has yet to support the proposal, but if lawmakers can find the funding, teacher pay will be going up. Other priorities by education leaders include teacher professional development and early learning.
Another Governor priority – leftover from his initial campaign platform – is passing a deregulation package. This past year, Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Halsey Beshears led a “deregathon” to gather input on how Floridians can access professional careers more efficiently and help employers grow their businesses, while maintaining the safety of the public.
On healthcare, industry leaders are preparing for a food fight on how to address the rising cost of pharmaceutical drugs and the increasing cost of healthcare generally. Last legislative session saw a number of meaningful free market reforms that were priorities of the Florida house. This year, the house may be following up on those reforms.
Governor Ron DeSantis has expressed a desire for Florida’s employers to utilize the E-Verify system to cut down on the hiring of illegal immigrants. This issue may become contentious as there is not unanimity within leadership in the legislature to address this.
As always, water quality and protecting the state’s natural environment will be a key issue in Capitol budget negotiations. Everglades restoration, in particular, has been a priority of Governor DeSantis’s administration and will likely continue to be part of his platform. Other topics, like the health of Florida’s coral reefs, are also getting attention from legislators.
A comprehensive gaming package is in the early stages of being discussed between the presiding officers and Governor Ron DeSantis. For the past eight years, gaming reform has died under the weight of opposition from warring industries. However, this year there is renewed interest to pass the Seminole Gaming Compact and address inequities in Florida’s gaming system, while modernizing laws on gaming taxes and sports betting. Further complicating things is a recent constitutional amendment that requires citizens to vote on any expansion of gambling in the state, though lawmakers have questions as to whether that includes sports betting.