On Saturday, lawmakers passed a $91.1 billion state budget for the upcoming fiscal year that starts on July 1. Included in that budget, a $242-per-student increase in school funding and an infusion of money for Everglades restoration and water-quality projects. GOP lawmakers also funneled $1.859 billion towards Hurricane Michael relief and recovery.
Republican leaders fought hard the entire session to pump funds into Northwest Florida -- the area devastated by Hurricane Michael. Leaders like Rep. Jay Trumbull and Sen. George Gainer were directly impacted by the Category 5 hurricane, with the districts they represent still feeling the effects of the storm. Their perseverance paid off, and now people in the Panhandle can get the help they need.
Banning Sanctuary Cities
One of the most contentious issues this session, Republicans reestablished the "rule of law" when they passed a bill that will require local governments and police agencies to cooperate with federal authorities who enforce immigration law.
The legislation -- pushed by Sen. Joe Gruters and Rep. Cord Byrd -- will require local police to honor requests from federal immigration authorities to detain people who are thought to be in the United States illegally. The bill also requires local jails to fully comply with requests to hold inmates for federal immigration authorities.
The bill had been passed back and forth between the House and Senate last week. Eventually, lawmakers settled on a substantive bill that will not include the House's provision that would have fined local officials $5,000 for violating the policy.
Banning sanctuary cities is a huge win for Floridians looking to protect their families and communities from harmful actors who refuse to follow the laws in America.
Expanding School Choice
For decades, Florida has been a leader in promoting competition and customization in public education. Under Sen. Manny Diaz's leadership, that won't change anytime soon.
Diaz and other Republicans who support school choice passed legislation that will create a new K-12 scholarship that will bring relief to parents of 13,000 students on the wait list for the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, The Family Empowerment Scholarship, supported by Gov. DeSantis, will expand income eligibility so more working-class families can access schools they feel best fit the needs their kids have.
Many families make too much to qualify for the existing scholarship, but are unable to make the move financially to other zones where schools may be a better fit for their kids.
The scholarship gives more options to more families wanting to give their kids the best education possible.
Another issue that had Republicans and Democrats at odds, House and Senate leaders on the right voted to expand the "guardian program," allowing teachers to carry guns on school campuses. The bill was a response to the Parkland massacre that occurred last year when a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing seventeen students and staff members and injuring seventeen others.
Under the current program, teachers are allowed to carry guns in school if they have a role outside the classroom. Under the new proposal, school districts will have to approve the program and teachers will have to volunteer to undergo 144-hours of training and psychological evaluations. The measure that has passed both chambers opens the program up to all teachers, regardless of what role they have at the school.
This victory will not only protect kids from future mass shootings, it will act as a deterrent for bad actors who wants to harm innocent lives.
Assignment of Benefits Abuse Reform
Consumers sick of being taken advantage of by scheming contractors across the Sunshine State received a monumental victory -- courtesy of Rep. Bob Rommel and Sen. Doug Broxson -- when GOP lawmakers passed legislation aimed at curbing skyrocketing insurance costs, protecting consumers, and restoring accountability in the insurance claims process,
Under the broken system, homeowners were duped into signing over the benefits of their insurance policies to contractors and attorneys, essentially allowing them to assume the role of the homeowner. In doing so, these third-parties racked up additional costs that were not used towards the repair. This practice would then lead to fraud and frivolous lawsuits. with these contractors suing insurance companies for failing to comply, thus driving up costs for consumers across the state.
The "AOB" bill will restrict attorney fees in such cases and allow insurers to sell policies that would not be subject to assignment of benefits.
Bucking the trend that says "conservatives don't care about the environment," Republican lawmakers impacted by the red tide algae outbreak pushed legislation to show how environmentally conscious conservatives really are.
Conservatives like Reps. James Grant, Tommy Gregory, and Will Robinson fought hard all session to clean up red tide algae outbreaks that have affected districts: damaging water quality, wildlife, and even people who come in contact with it.
Because of their persistence, Republicans lawmakers, along with Sen. Gruters, passed legislation that will spend nearly $20 million by 2025 to research ways to control and eradicate the red tide blooms that devastated Southwest Florida’s beach economy for 15 months spanning 2017-2018.
While this will help communities impacted by the red tide outbreaks, it will also shift the narrative, proving that conservatives care about the environment and the place they call home.
FINAL GRADE: A-
Without question, Republicans in the state solidified this legislative session as a victory for conservatives and Floridians demanding accountability in the state. It was one of the most successful sessions for Republicans in recent memory, and Florida will benefit greatly from comprehensive legislation that will revitalize the law, expand competition, and improve the day-to-day lives of everyone in Florida.
With that said, GOP lawmakers wanted to pass a pro-life bill that would've curtailed abortion in the state, but were unable to do so. Republicans agree that this was a missed opportunity, given the fact that other state legislatures like Georgia and Ohio are protecting the life of the unborn baby.
Even so, Florida has a lot to look forward to with what transpired this session. Republican legislators went full "Avengers: Endgame" this year, and the state of Florida will greatly improve under their leadership and guidance.