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Florida lawmakers spar over pace, purpose at midway mark of legislative session

'This is the fastest session that I've ever witnessed,' Dr. Susan MacManus says
Posted at 6:49 PM, Apr 10, 2023

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — We've reached the midway mark of this year's controversial and, at times, confrontational legislative session. After a short Easter break, lawmakers are back this week — and the GOP is expected to keep passing bills that could include further restrictions on abortion.

The first 30 days saw approval and signing of four high-profile policies; limits on insurer lawsuits, universal vouchers for private schooling, a massive workforce housing bill, and the permitless concealed carrying of firearms. Each is set to take effect in the coming months.

"We are absolutely man-handling the Democrat party in the state of Florida," Christian Ziegler, Florida GOP chair, said.

Ziegler told us recently Republicans were delivering on a perceived mandate following a sweep of the pivotal 2022 midterms. The party won supermajorities in both chambers of the Legislature and every seat in the Florida Cabinet, including the governor's office. Ziegler felt Floridians wanted the slate of GOP bills.

"They're thirsty for the conservative principles that are being pushed and policies that are being pushed from Tallahassee," Ziegler said, "and the freedom that's being protected and promoted here in Florida."

The latter half of the session will likely bring more controversy at a similar pace. Lawmakers expected to consider a six-week abortion ban immigration reform cracking down on those knowingly hiring undocumented, removing unanimous jury consent for the death penalty, and expanding restrictions on teaching sexual orientation and gender identity through eighth grade.

"This is the fastest session that I've ever witnessed in all my years of following politics," Dr. Susan MacManus, University of South Florida politics professor emerita, said. "And that's a long time."

MacManus said the GOP was moving fast for two possible reasons. First, the governor's expected White House run, giving him wins to tout on the campaign trail. Second, Republicans finally have the seats needed to get their big goals across the finish line. But could such controversial issues cost them at the 2024 ballot box?

"That's the big question mark," MacManus said. "Certainly, Florida Democrats are looking at it, and they understand from results of the last election their turnout was terrible."

The message from the minority caucus is already making moves in that direction.

"If I could try to encapsulate the theme for this session into a single word— it would be unpopular," House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, said.

Driskell said her party needed to improve communication of its values, while also linking Republicans to polarizing policies like abortion restrictions.

"We really have to galvanize this moment and make sure that we translate it into turnout," Driskell said.