The Florida Legislature will tackle issues including affordable housing, the death penalty and school board races when its regular legislative session opens Tuesday morning.
You need to make at least $50,000 annually to afford housing in Southwest Florida, and thousands of people have been priced out of rentals. The average price of a two-bedroom apartment is $2,300 in Naples, $2,000 in Fort Myers and $1,800 in Punta Gorda, according to apartments.com.
Legislators say they want to make living and working in paradise more budget-friendly. That means making home and apartment rates more affordable for low- and middle-income people. A bill under consideration would incentivize investing in affordable housing and encourage mixed-use developments in struggling communities. It would also put more money into programs like SHIP and offer sales tax exemptions to businesses that offer workforce housing.
“My number one initiative is to tackle the problem of lack of workforce housing, and we have some creative ideas to address that,” said Senate President Kathleen Passidomo.
Then there is the budget. Gov. Ron DeSantis proposes a $114 billion package with raises for teachers and state workers and funds for Everglades restoration.
Changes to the death penalty are also on the table. House and Senate bills would allow death sentences based on the recommendation of 8 of 12 jurors. Those bills came from the outrage when Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz was sentenced to life in prison because the death penalty has to be a unanimous decision.
“It’s as cold and calculated as a killing can possibly get, so that death penalty was 100% warranted for the specific case,” said Hunter Pollack, the brother of one of Cruz’s victims. “And the fact that it wasn’t because the current law has it so that you need a unanimous jury to get the death penalty is shameful. And that’s why this upcoming session, we’re going to work so that you need less jurors to be able to sentence a sicko like Nikolas Cruz to death.”
DeSantis wants measures passed against undocumented immigrants in Florida. He’s asking lawmakers to pass legislation that expands E-verify and bars out-of-state tuition waivers for students living in the state illegally. Legislators will also consider passing a bill that shields businesses and insurance companies from costly lawsuits.
Critics argue such a bill would harm the ability of injured people to go to court.
“It is families across the state that suffer when they have to pay more for goods and services because businesses are having to pay for a legal system that is out of balance,” said Republican Rep. Tommy Gregory.
“This bill would be bad for consumers because we are very concerned that it could cut off or curtail the access to courts that Floridians rely on now,” said Democratic Rep. Fentrice Driskell, House Minority leader.
Business and insurance groups have lined up behind the pla, while plaintiffs’ attorneys and other opponents argue the changes would harm people who deserve to be compensated for injuries.
Changes are also on deck in education. First, Republican lawmakers want to make school board races partisan. They are also considering 8-year term limits for school board members, down from the current 12 years. School vouchers are also on the table. A bill would make every Florida student eligible for vouchers that could be used for private school tuition.
DeSantis has proposed a series of tax breaks to help parents. Sales tax holidays would become permanent for things like cribs, strollers and clothing for infants and toddlers. Parents would also get a break on taxes on school, supplies, and electronics.