July 24, 2021

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Florida passes big mix of bills

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Legislature approved bills that will make it more difficult to vote, create tough penalties for violent protests, shield businesses from COVID-19 lawsuits, ban transgenders from girls’ sports and make it more difficult for citizens to change the constitution.

They also passed bills during the 60-day session that ended Friday that deal with bicycle seats, largemouth bass, bestiality, flying squirrels, the delivery of cocktails. They also approved a $101.5 billion state budget.

It was strange session in several ways, not the least of which was the public wasn’t allowed in the Capitol because of the coronavirus pandemic, even though Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis opened up the rest of the state to anyone and everyone. Overall, more than 270 bills were passed including just about all of the priorities of DeSantis and the Republican leadership.

A year ago as unemployment was rising and tourism slowed to a crawl, it would have been unthinkable that the state would increase its budget by nearly $10 billion. Republican Senate President Wilton Simpson said state revenue was $300 million to $400 million ahead of predictions every month.

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“By opening Florida earlier, our economy was coming back much quicker,” Simpson said. “Clearly the federal stimulus coming in helps us bolster our one-time projects.”

The state included nearly $7 billion in federal relief money in its budget. Among other items, it is being used to provide $1,000 bonuses for teachers, first responders and early learning instructors. There will also be money spent on environmental projects and infrastructure.

While many of the bills going to the governor had unanimous support, including a measure that seeks to prevent the excessive use of force by police, there were many contentious issues that Democrats were helpless to stop given the strong majority Republicans hold in both chambers.

“It’s like this constant cycle of creating fake villains for culture wars and then slaying those villains and celebrating it,” said Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani. “From voter suppression to attacking trans kids … it’s one culture war after the other, and there is no moderation between both chambers so these really bad bills make it to the governor’s desk. It’s horrifying.”

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Copyright 2021 by The Associated Press – All rights reserved.