Controversial issues spanning from guns to abortion will be on the Florida Legislature’s agenda during the 2019 session that starts Tuesday.
State legislators will decide whether teachers should be allowed to carry guns at schools. Patients could be authorized to smoke medical marijuana. Sports betting could be legalized. New restrictions on abortion could be approved.
The fate of suspended Broward Sheriff Scott Israel’s political career hangs in the balance.
The session will provide a test for recently elected Gov. Ron DeSantis. The new GOP governor will need to work with the Republican-controlled to implement his agenda.
He wants to clean up Florida’s waters, lower health care costs and expand school-choice programs.
Here are some issues to watch.
Classroom teachers who voluntarily undergo training could be allowed to carry guns.
Last session, the Florida Legislature authorized arming non-teaching school employees, such as administrators, guidance counselors and librarians. Classroom teachers were left off that list.
But the state commission investigating the Parkland shooting recommended that including teachers could save lives. Law enforcement often doesn’t have time to stop a shooter because most mass shootings are over in a matter of minutes, the panel concluded.
The state’s largest teachers union, the Florida Education Association, opposes the proposal, arguing that educators should be focused on teaching — not providing armed security.
Another bill would allow some people to carry guns on college campuses, which are considered “gun-free zones” under Florida law. That measure would apply to people with concealed weapons permits, who must be at least 21 years old and demonstrate competency with a firearm.
Efforts also are underway to repeal the gun control provisions passed last year in response to the Parkland massacre. Those items included raising the age to purchase a rifle from 18 to 21 years, a statewide three-day waiting period to buy a long gun, a “red-flag” provision that makes it easier for law enforcement to seize guns and a ban on bump stocks, a device that allows guns to fire more rapidly.
Democrats are also pushing gun control legislation, but they’ll likely face an uphill climb.
One bill would expand the state’s red-flag law and allow family members to petition the courts to take away the guns of a person deemed to be dangerous to themselves or others.
Scenes of Florida’s waters filled with guacamole-thick algae dominated Florida’s midterm elections.
DeSantis promised voters he’d be the governor who would clean up the state’s polluted waters. He made the environment the topic of his first major executive orders as governor.
He is calling on the Legislature to allocate $2.5 billion over the next four years for Everglades restoration and protection of Florida’s waters, a $1 billion increase in spending over the previous four years. DeSantis is also asking for a ban on fracking, a method of oil- and gas- drilling that has been criticized by environmentalists.
Legalizing marijuana for medical use received widespread support from Floridians in 2016, garnering about 71 percent of the vote.
While the drug is available in pill, edible, vape and oil form, smoking was banned in a 2017 bill passed by the Legislature.
A Leon County judge ruled that the smoking ban is unconstitutional in response to a legal challenge.
DeSantis has announced he will not appeal that ruling, putting pressure on the Legislature to lift the smoking ban.
Bills have been filed to legalize marijuana for recreational use, but the chances they will pass are slim. DeSantis has said he opposes legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes because he thinks it will make it easier for children to obtain the drug.
Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, wants to legalize sports betting in Florida, an activity he says already goes on unregulated and untaxed.
Gambling legislation historically has faced a difficult path in the Legislature. The state has an agreement with the Seminole Tribe — which is up for renewal — that grants it gambling exclusivity.
Voters also approved Amendment 3 in November, which requires statewide voter approval for expansion of “casino gambling.” Whether sports betting qualifies as “casino gambling” is a gray area, but it’s possible Florida voters would need to sign off before sports betting is allowed.
DeSantis is pushing a major expansion of voucher programs that provide state-funded scholarships for students to attend private schools.
Supporters of these programs say it gives parents the option to leave a failing public school. Critics argue such programs divert money from the public system into private schools that are not regulated by the state.
Galvano said he would like to look at cutting back on mandatory standardized tests.
Democrats want a 13 percent, across-the-board raise for teachers.
House Speaker José Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, is supporting legislation that would reduce regulations for opening new hospitals.
One example would scale back or scrap entirely the “certificate-of-need” process that providers must go through to open new hospitals and health care facilities. To help lower costs, legislators will consider promoting telemedicine and allowing nurses and physician assistants to provide more care.
One item that likely won’t gain traction this year is expanding Medicaid to cover more poor, uninsured Floridians.
DeSantis recently unveiled a proposal to import prescription drugs from Canada to lower health care costs.
DeSantis fulfilled a campaign promise when he suspended Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel. His agency faced criticism that deputies bungled tips before the Parkland shooting and failed to rush toward the gunshots when responding to the massacre.