OUR POSITION: The Florida Legislature completed its 2021 session last week, on time, and with a handful of controversial bills approved. We are giving the legislators a passing grade on their work.
There were hits and misses this year in the Florida Legislature’s 60-day run to put its stamp on the state’s economy and policy.
We believe lawmakers approved bills that were a constitutional stretch — regulating social media giants and approving an anti-riot bill that all but give a green light for motorists to run over protestors with no penalty. There were also a number of good things coming out of the session such as an attempt to lower homeowners insurance premiums, help for cities threatened by rising seas, more broadband coverage for rural areas and raises for many state employees.
Here’s our take on some of the good bills passed:
• To slow down soaring home insurance rates the Legislature passed a bill that would allow only two years, instead of three, to file a claim. The bill also prohibits contractors and public adjusters from soliciting homeowners to file claims, to get a new roof for example — a practice that was costing insurance companies millions.
• Lawmakers approved a plan to expand broadband access in “unserved” parts of the state. Both the House and senate passed HB 1239 unanimously.
• The Florida House and Senate agreed to send $250 million in federal funds to offset COVID-19 impacts to the cruise ship industry and cargo ship companies.
• A law to increase a juvenile’s ability to expunge their arrest record was passed. That bill will help those who were arrested and charged as a young person escape that blot on their record which now can hinder their chances to get a good job and move on with their lives.
• One bill we are especially pleased with is the repeal of a multi-billion-dollar toll road expansion plan. We have written that the time is just not right to commit that much money to a road that cuts through the heart of environmentally sensitive land, especially in Southwest Florida. The bill did, however, still call for possible improvements to U.S. Highway 19, from the Suncoast Parkway up to Interstate 10 in Madison County, by 2035, and for the state to extend Florida’s Turnpike from Wildwood, where it currently ends, to a “logical and appropriate terminus.”
• Lawmakers have agreed to spend an additional $95 million a year to provide more people with intellectual and developmental disabilities access to services they need to remain independent.
There were other bills and policy changes we like including the governor’s commitment to fighting rising seas levels and to build a reservoir to keep Lake Okeechobee’s algae-filled water from escaping to the Gulf Coast shores.
Some bills we weren’t so pleased with include:
• A bill that would overrule a decision by Key West residents to control how many cruise ships dock there. The law was overwhelmingly approved by citizens but lawmakers, thinking they know better than the people who live there, passed a retroactive law that precludes a city or county from imposing on the cruise ship industry.
• The bill seeking to put restraints on social media giants who would cut off accounts of anyone they don’t believe is following rhetorical guidelines. This was a bill favored by Gov. DeSantis that we believe will be challenged and possibly declared unconstitutional. We don’t understand how a government can tell a private company how to conduct its business.
• The infamous “anti-riot” bill that Gov. DeSantis forced through, with plenty of help, is not needed. Most of the language in the bill about what will be illegal already is illegal. It gives the police more power to arrest people who are not participating in looting and burning, makes it more difficult for them to be released from jail and says, in so many words, that motorists have the right of way in a protest. The bill is a path to instigate problems that Florida has not seen before.
Overall, we give the Legislature a B- on its performance this year.