TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — After brutal defeats in the November midterms, Florida Democrats return to the Capitol with super minorities in both chambers this March.
The GOP's even stronger control of the Legislature will likely further marginalize Democrats, but that doesn't mean members will forego their goals when the regular session begins.
For Republicans, who have supermajorities in each chamber, members are promising a lot in 2023. Their goals include further tax breaks, more work to curb "woke-ism" in the state's education system and perhaps permitless carry of firearms.
Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, told us recently that Democrats won't compromise on priorities, despite their weakened position.
"We'll focus on the issues that matter most and leave the culture wars aside," Driskell said.
The leader detailed a few 2023 priorities as the caucus returns to work in the lower chamber. Among them, preventing further abortion restrictions and working to fix Florida's shortage of teachers.
"Democrats have been warning about this for years," Driskell said. "We need to pay our teachers what they are worth. In my home county of Hillsborough, it's to the point where the school district is contemplating a four-day work week."
Driskell was optimistic about bipartisan criminal justice reform, saying lawmakers have been able to come together on the issue in the past. Specifically, she wanted to see a policy that would better ensure gainful employment for those with criminal histories.
The leader also believed there was room for GOP cooperation on what she called an "affordability crisis" as Florida's population and residential prices climb. Driskell was hoping for a boost to the state's affordable housing fund, though Republican leaders are targeting a different approach.
"Somebody who is working for a business — a secretary making $55,000, maybe $60,000 a year — can't afford to live anywhere on the coast," Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, said.
Passidomo has said she wants to add more workforce housing to Florida. Her plan would offer breaks to developers who turn commercial shopping centers into residential spots.
"We're going to incentivize— we're going to use a stick and a carrot," Passidomo said.
While there seems to be a path for cooperation on the topic. Democrats have filed several bills that face a more uncertain future:
- Strengthening Florida's red flag law, allowing parents or guardians to seek firearm restrictions for a loved one
- Formal repeal of the prohibition on same-sex marriage in state statute
- A compact allowing out-of-state psychologists to practice in Florida under certain circumstances
Florida's GOP committee chairs will ultimately choose if any of these bills get a hearing. They start reviewing legislation in the coming weeks and months.
Lawmakers are expected to file a lot more bills before the regular session begins. Right now there are about 100 pieces of policy on the docket. That number will likely grow to several thousand by the time lawmakers gavel in on March 7.