Every year, Florida lawmakers gather to debate state policies, pass new bills, and put together the next fiscal year’s state budget.
This year was no different, despite COVID-19 protocols dramatically changing the look and interactions within the Capitol.
Florida’s 2021 legislative session did feature multiple controversial bills, and as the dust settles following Friday’s sine die ceremony, the end of what was a busy two months gives us time to return and see the fate of the bills that earned coverage on WUFT.org this year.
Bills That Passed
- Civil Liability for Damages Relating to COVID-19: The highly debated legislation will provide COVID-19 liability protections to businesses during the pandemic. The bill, backed in both chambers, moved quickly. It was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis on March 29.
- Postsecondary education: This first amendment bill will require public universities to conduct annual assessments on the intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity of their campus. The bill was passed on April 7. It is now on its way to the Governor for approval. If signed, it would become effective in July.
- Combating Public Disorder: Known as the “anti-riot” bill, it grants civil legal immunity for people who drive through protesters blocking roads. Additionally, it prevents people arrested for rioting from bailing out of jail until their first court appearance. The bill was highly contested, as many feel it is directly targeting the Black Lives Matter movement. The bill was passed on April 15, and DeSantis signed it days later.
- Home Book Delivery for Elementary Students: The bill aims to address Florida literacy problems by creating the New Worlds Reading Initiative. It would be a book distribution program that would allow school districts to provide books monthly to k-5 students reading at low reading levels at no cost. The bill passed both chambers unanimously.
- North Central Florida Regional Sports Complex: Rep. Chuck Clemons requested $2.5 million in state funds for the construction of a new sports complex in Gainesville. The Appropriations Committee included $2,320,000 of the request in its final budget, but the allocation will need to survive the governor’s veto pen in June.
- Highway projects: Three controversial projects were approved by lawmakers in 2019. The bill drops one of those three planned toll roads and put the other two on review. The Senate-backed bill was passed and sent to the House in March, before its ultimate passage. It awaits a decision from the governor.
- Moments of Silence in Public Schools: This would make it a requirement for schools k-12 to have a moment of silence but prohibits teachers from making suggestions of what to do during that time such as reflection or prayer time. The bill passed the House and Senate.
- Sexual assault reporting: A push in the Florida House, HB 1189, is intended to help resolve the issue by making a number of changes to the sexual assault response teams’ statute in Florida. The bill will create four key changes to current policies.
- Click here to see a full list of the 211 bills the legislature passed and which are now up for consideration by the governor. Here’s a link to the 2021-22 budget the legislature passed last week, too.
Bills That Died
- Super voting: The bill would have allowed for “super” voting sites as a way to make in-person voting easier and more cost-efficient in future elections for all voting sites around Florida. HB635 and the Senate version of the bill, SB 774, were cut short and never received hearings.
- Regulation of medical marijuana: This proposal would have limited the amount of THC in medical marijuana. While the bill was controversial from the beginning, after DeSantis expressed disapproval, the bill stopped at the Health & Human Services Committee. Rep. Spencer Roach says he has not ruled out bringing the issue back next year.
- Surrendering newborn infants: This bill, sponsored by Sen. Dennis Baxley, would have standardized the use of newborn infant safety devices to accept surrendered newborn infants under certain circumstances. Initially, it meant “baby boxes” would be placed in locations like hospitals and emergency medical stations where a person would place the newborn to surrender them. The bill, in both House and Senate versions, changed dramatically during the second half of session, and its “baby box” portion was nixed following public pushback in committee hearings.
- Consumer data privacy: The legislation was intended to expand the Florida Information Protection act. As mentioned in the House version of the bill, it would have required “companies collecting data to provide notice to consumers about data collection and selling practices.” It would have allowed consumers to opt in or out of sale or sharing of the data. Both House and Senate versions of the bill neared a final vote in both chambers but ultimately failed before time ran out.