Bill Watch 2022: A quick look at this year’s legislation in the Sunshine State

All bills have now been acted on by Gov. Ron DeSantis, with many set to go into effect next month.

The historic Old Florida State Capitol sits in front of the current Capitol.

The historic Old Florida State Capitol sits in front of the current Capitol. Photo by Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images

July 1 is when many state laws and the record $109.9 billion budget for 2022-23 go into effect – all products of the one regular and two special legislative sessions. In all, over 3,600 bills were filed this year, with 280 local and general bills passing both chambers.

As of Monday, June 27, Gov. Ron DeSantis had acted on the last of the bills, approving 269 and vetoing 11

Capitol watchers from both sides of the aisle agreed that the regular legislative session was filled with “culture war” legislation even more than previous years, including a ban on abortions more than 15 weeks after conception and a “Stop WOKE Act” to combat purported bias in college classrooms both of which are being challenged in court. Two more special sessions followed, on redistricting and then insurance. 

With all bills now disposed of, City & State takes a look at some that won Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signature and others that got killed by his red pen. 

SIGNED INTO LAW

SB 4-C/SB 6-C by Sen. Jennifer Bradley: A bill that was added to the special session for redistricting removed a carve-out for Disney that was added to the previous year’s free speech law. That legislation was aimed at Twitter, Facebook and other social media who were perceived as singling out conservative speakers for “deplatforming,” the suspending or removing of users. But Disney ran afoul of DeSantis and legislative leaders for speaking out against the “Don’t Say Gay” law. Bye bye, exemption. And Disney continued to be taken to the woodshed via another special session bill that dissolves the company’s quasi-governmental district by June 2023. Encompassing 38 ½ miles in Osceola and Orange counties, the Reedy Creek Improvement District was created to allow Disney to handle issues from land use and wastewater services to fire protection and transportation without interference from local governments. DeSantis has said details such as who would be responsible for the $1 billion in debt held by the district would be resolved by new legislative leadership after the fall elections. Effective dates: July 1/Upon becoming a law. 

SB 2-D/SB 4-D by Sen. Jim Boyd: The second of two special sessions called this year resulted in bills aimed at dealing with the state’s property insurance crisis. DeSantis was spurred into action after hearing of homeowners losing coverage and getting hit with large premium increases. Companion legislation changed state law on roof damage and placed new requirements on condominium buildings and associations, including tighter requirements for inspections, after the deadly collapse last year of the Champlain Towers South tower in Surfside. But the new laws are now tied up in lawsuits over their constitutionality. Effective date: Upon becoming a law. 

HB 461 by Post-Secondary Education & Lifelong Learning Subcommittee: Bright Futures, the state's merit-based college scholarship program, now requires varying amounts of volunteer service. The final staff analysis explains that his measure would "allow high school students graduating in the 2022-2023 academic year and thereafter to meet the volunteer service requirements ... through 100 hours of paid work." It adds: "By authorizing paid work as an option ... , the number of students who may now qualify for an award under the program may increase." Effective date: Upon becoming a law. 

SB 520 by Sen. Jeff Brandes: A measure decried by open government advocates shields information about applicants to become presidents of state colleges and universities from public disclosure. The law creates a public-records exemption for identifying information about applicants for the leadership posts until the process reaches the finalists stage. Similar bills were filed several times in recent years, with some versions also including provosts. Backers say top-notch candidates might be hesitant to apply if their current employers could find out. Opponents counter that it goes against Florida’s history of open government and could benefit politically connected candidates. Effective date: Upon becoming a law. 

SB 898 by Sen. Linda Stewart: Also known as "Miya's Law," the bill requires apartment landlords to conduct background checks on all employees. The background-checks bill is named after Miya Marcano, a Valencia College student who was killed in September. The suspected killer, who later committed suicide, worked as a maintenance worker at her Orlando apartment complex. The measure also forbids hotels and motels from charging an hourly room rate except as a late checkout fee. The goal is to prevent sex trafficking. Effective date: July 1. 

HB 1119 by Rep. Jackie Toledo: The measure is informally known as the “Markel Act,” named after Florida State law professor Dan Markel, who was gunned down outside his home in 2014 amid a bitter divorce and custody battle. After his death, his ex-wife cut off all contact between her two sons and Markel’s parents. Under current Florida law, “a grandparent may be awarded visitation rights under very limited circumstances, such as when a minor child’s parents are deceased, missing, or in a permanent vegetative state,” according to a staff analysis. The bill creates a presumption “that the grandparent who is the parent of the child’s deceased parent is entitled to reasonable visitation with the grandchild.” Effective date: July 1. 

HB 1557 by Rep. Joe Harding: Its supporters want it to be known by its official name, the “Parental Rights in Education Act.” The bill’s critics gave it the name it’s more commonly known by: “Don’t Say Gay.” Among other things, it bans public school teachers from teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through 3rd grade. But those who spoke against the bill said it may “stigmatize LGBTQ youth and banish discussions of their lives and families from the public school classroom,” as the Tallahassee Democrat reported. The public debate got vituperative when some bill supporters retorted that those who opposed it also supported “grooming,” the practice of “becoming friends with a child in order to persuade the child to have a sexual relationship.” Effective date: July 1. 

VETOED 

HB 265 by Rep. Mike Gottlieb: This bill would have increased the value of vehicles protected from legal claims in bankruptcy proceedings, increasing the exemption of debtors’ interests in motor vehicles to $5,000, up from $1,000. DeSantis wrote that the measure could incentivize people to seek bankruptcy protection: “Although it may be time to consider increasing the outdated exemption amount, this increase should apply to all persons who can claim Florida exemptions, whether in or out of bankruptcy, so that people are not incentivized to file for bankruptcy, which has long-lasting, negative consequences for a person’s credit history.” 

HB 741 by Rep. Lawrence McClure: The measure, backed by Florida Power & Light, would have introduced major changes to “net metering,” which involves billing arrangements between people who own solar panels and their utility companies. Generally, customers get credit on their electric bills for excess energy generated from their solar panels. The bill aimed to lower the amount of credit going to rooftop-solar owners, essentially a boon to utilities and their bank accounts. In his veto message, DeSantis cited inflation, saying “the state of Florida should not contribute to the financial crunch that our citizens are experiencing.” 

SB 1796 by Sen. Joe Gruters: For the third time in the last 10 years, a governor has said no to an attempt to overhaul state law by eliminating permanent alimony. This year's veto by DeSantis was among the last of the bills he acted on. His veto message said if the bill "were to become law and be given retroactive effect as the Legislature intends, it would unconstitutionally impair vested rights under certain preexisting marital settlement agreements." This year’s measure would have established a cap on payments based on how long a marriage lasted. 

SB 2508 by Appropriations Committee: This controversial measure tied to Everglades restoration, even after being watered down during the regular legislative session, continued to draw concerns about potential wetlands destruction. Senate President Wilton Simpson pushed to pass the bill, but DeSantis’ veto said it could still hinder the Everglades restoration he has supported since taking office in 2019. “While the bill that was ultimately passed by the Legislature is an improvement over what was initially filed, SB 2508 still creates unnecessary and redundant regulatory hurdles that may compromise the timely execution and implementation of Everglades restoration projects, water control plans and regulation schedules,” he wrote

SB 2512 by Appropriations Committee/HB 5011 by Rep. Jay Trumbull: These measures, known as “conforming” bills, were part of the 2022-23 state budget. One would have allocated $31.3 million for two airplanes to transport state leaders and another would have created a $1 billion pot of money to serve as a hedge against increased government costs driven by inflation. In veto letters, DeSantis wrote that the proposed airplane purchases were “an inadvisable expense, especially under current economic conditions” and that the fund “could exacerbate inflation by promising more public sector funds to pay more for supplies of materials, while also competing with other projects throughout the state. It also reduces the need for state agencies to make tough decisions with the funds already appropriated.” 

The News Service of Florida contributed background to this report. 

NEXT STORY: Florida wasn't the only state that passed LGBTQ-related laws this year

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