The 2022 Florida regular legislative session is in the books. The Legislature had four constitutionally mandated duties this year: pass a budget and pass new state House, state Senate and U.S. congressional maps after the recently completed Census. Three of the four jobs were completed, but the Congressional maps remain in limbo.
DeSantis has promised to veto the legislatively approved Congressional maps, setting up a showdown. Expect the Legislature to be called back to Tallahassee in the coming weeks by the governor for a special session after he follows through on his veto threat.
Here are some observations from the session:
1. DeSantis dominated. Basically, everything the governor asked for, the Legislature delivered. DeSantis wanted COVID liability protections for businesses and health care facilities, an immigration bill, a bill banning critical race theory from schools and businesses, a new State Guard, a new office to investigate election fraud, a Parental Rights in Schools bill, a cut to the gas tax, more money for teacher raises, first responder bonuses, water quality projects and cancer research. He got it all. DeSantis may be the most powerful chief executive in modern Florida history.
2. Surgeon general: Remember the kerfuffle over DeSantis’ pick for Surgeon General, Dr. Joseph Ladapo? Ladapo was heavily criticized by Democrats for openly questioning various COVID mitigation measures. He also offended many by refusing to wear a mask for a meeting with Senator Tina Polsky, a South Florida Democrat enduring treatments for breast cancer. After Senate President Wilton Simpson wrote a memo to senators criticizing Ladapo for the mask incident, some wondered whether the Senate would confirm his nomination. The governor’s pick was ultimately approved on a strictly party line vote.
3. Budget history: Thanks to a booming state economy and an unprecedented influx of federal dollars from the COVID stimulus package, the Legislature had more revenue to work with than at any time in the state’s history. They weren’t afraid to spend it. The final budget clocked in at $112.1 billion, which was $12 billion more than DeSantis had proposed. Expect a “Red Wedding” from DeSantis, where he exercises his line-item veto authority at historic levels to cut billions from the plan approved by the Legislature.
4. Universities won: In February, I wrote a column urging the Legislature to hold the state university system harmless from budget cuts because prior investments have made it the top ranked system in the country. Fortunately, the Legislature took an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach. In fact, the Legislature poured more money into the system, increasing overall state university spending by a whopping 12%. They also funneled over $1.4 billion into deferred maintenance and construction at the 12 state university campuses, a particularly wise investment for the University of Florida and Florida State University, which have many older buildings.
5. Local connection: North Florida saw spending for springs protection increase from $50 million to $75 million, a noticeably large increase for this annual line item. You can start to see the influence of incoming Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, on budget items important to this region.
6. Public schools: Traditional public schools and teachers were a big winner. The base student allocation, which is the basic funding mechanism for all 67 school districts, was increased by over $200 per student, the largest in years, and the total combined spending on our public schools increased by 7.5%. Teacher salaries continue to rise quickly, with the minimum salary for teachers now set at around $47,500, and there is plenty of money for veteran teachers to receive a big bump in pay as well.
Rob Bradley is an attorney and current chairman of the governing board of the St. Johns River Water Management District. Rob is managing partner of Bradley, Garrison & Komando, P.A., an Orange Park law firm. He represented the north Florida region in the Florida Senate from 2012-2020, serving as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations from 2017-2020, where he crafted three state budgets, each in excess of $90 billion. Rob has been married to Senator Jennifer Bradley, R-Fleming Island, for 26 years.