Ahead of next year’s annual Florida legislative session, Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book said she is bracing for a “tough session” in leading badly outnumbered Democrspants through potentially divisive abortion and gun policy debates against an even bigger Republican majority.
Florida turned deep red in last month’s election, which cost Democrspants a few more seats in the Legislature and scaled up a Republican supermajority, meaning that GOP lawmakers control more than 60% of both the state Senate and House.
“We’re diminished in numbers. We’re limited in what we can do, we know that,” sspanid Book, D-Dspanvie, who wspans first chosen spans the minority pspanrty’s Senate leader last year. “But what we can do is keep our head up and fight to do the best that we can to create policies that are the best for Floridians.”
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Book believes that bipartisan measures involving protecting children or removing the diaper tax would pass in the Florida Legislature. On measures they oppose, Book said Democrats will “fight back viscerally, strongly, passionately, strategically.”
That fight got even more difficult in the Florida Senate in November. After losing five more seats, the GOP majority now has a 28-to-12 vote advantage over Book’s Democratic caucus. But Book said she remains undaunted.
“It is important for my caucus to focus on the areas that we can agree on to pass good, sound policy for our constituents,” Book said.
Session 2023’s top issues: abortion and guns
Next year’s session is scheduled to start in March, but the small Democratic contingent in Tallahassee will get an idea of what they are up against this month with yet another special session on hurricane insurance.
Following the devastation from Hurricane Ian and Florida’s property insurance crisis, Book is not sure whether the complexity of the topic can be fully handled in the short time period.
She emphasized that the past special session for property insurance was not enough to solve a “big, complex problem,” especially when the solution comes down to making sure that more private insurers are properly funded to be able to provide insurance to a lot more Floridians.
“It’s going to take more time than what they want to allot and give to fix the issue,” Book said.
In the spring, however, reproductive rights and gun policy are expected to be some of the most hotly debated topics among legislators.
Republicans are expected to revisit abortion restrictions, which ban the procedure after 15 weeks, and potentially harden their rules on it. Other states have enacted further restrictions on abortion after Roe v. Wade was overturned this summer, but Florida Republicans have not openly discussed specific measures they may pursue.
State Rep. Mike Beltran, R-Lithia, said he expects the Legislature to push a bill that would restrict abortions after six weeks. Former Republican state Rep. Anthony Sabatini, who gave up his seat to run for Congress, had called for a special session to enact a full abortion ban in Florida after the Roe decision was overturned. That call went unheeded, however.
Republicans may also revisit Florida law in a way that potentially would aid Gov. Ron DeSantis if he were to run in for the 2024 Republican presidential primary.
House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, and Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, said last week that they are open to revising Florida’s resign-to-run law, which requires officials seeking another office to resign at least 10 days before they qualify if two terms would overlap. Passidomo said if a Florida governor is running for president, then she thinks “he should be allowed to do it.”
There has also been talk of a potential open carry firearms policy, which is allows people who can legally possess a gun to openly display it.
DeSantis said earlier in the summer in May that a so-called “constitutional carry” measure would be signed before he finishes serving as governor. “I can’t tell you exactly when, but I’m pretty confident that I will be able to sign ‘constitutional carry’ into law in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said in April. “I can tell you that before I am done as governor, we will have a signature on that bill.”
Book also is concerned about legislation targeting “trans individuals in our state,” especially since a large focus has been put on banning drag shows for kids and after Florida’s medical boards banned gender-affirming care.