State lawmakers return to Tallahassee Tuesday for the 2019 legislative session.
There’s a new governor in the statehouse this year as representatives and senators prepare to make decisions on issues ranging from permitting law enforcement officers to use drones to letting patients smoke medical marijuana.
Osceola County will be represented by Rep. John Cortes (D-Kissimmee), Sen. Victor Torres (D-Kissimmee), Rep. Mike La Rosa (R-St. Cloud) and Rep. Josie Tomkow (R-Polk City).
Here are nine big issues to watch during Florida’s upcoming 60-day session.
Budget: Gov. Ron DeSantis is proposing a $91.3 billion budget this fiscal year – which kicks off July 1 – with plans to increase funding for education and water-quality projects while cutting taxes.
But DeSantis’ plan is only a proposal at this point, as state lawmakers will arrive in Tallahassee with their own priorities and requests.
Many in northern Florida will seek recovery money following Hurricane Michael, while continued school safety funding will likely be a popular ask statewide.
Environment: After algae and red tide scares in Southeast and Southwest Florida last year, DeSantis said he’ll tackle water quality this session.
He’s proposed a $625 million package that addresses Everglades restoration and other water-related issues.
Health care: Some House Republican leaders have said they want to reduce regulations in the health care industry, arguing that taking a free market approach would help hold down costs. The House is focusing on a variety of issues, including “certificate of need” regulations that help determine whether hospitals and other types of facilities can be built.
At a recent visit to the Villages senior living community, DeSantis touted a proposal aimed at allowing lower-cost prescription drugs to be imported from Canada
Hurricane Michael: Lawmakers will need to address big costs as northern Florida recovers from the Category 4 natural disaster that hit in October.
Recovery expenses could be as high as $2.7 billion, according to media reports.
The federal government is expected to reimburse many costs - but that will take time. The state also faces issues like helping the region’s severely damaged timber industry and bringing tourism back to the ravaged region.
Insurance: The insurance industry and business groups are lobbying heavily to make changes in the controversial insurance practice known as assignment of benefits (AOB), where policyholders can sign over benefits to contractors.
Insurers argue abuse and litigation are driving up property insurance rates, while AOB supporters claim the practice helps make sure insurers correctly pay claims. A key part of the debate focuses on limiting attorney fees.
Medical marijuana: Facing heavy pressure from DeSantis, lawmakers may end a ban on smoking medical marijuana. The ban - included in the 2017 medical marijuana law that resulted from majority voter approval in the 2016 General Election - was found unconstitutional by a circuit judge. DeSantis has since threatened to drop an appeal if the Legislature does not eliminate the ban.
Orlando Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith co-sponsored the first recreational marijuana bill last week with a representative from Miami. Recreational use of marijuana is currently legal in 10 states, with New Jersey soon to become the 11th.
It’s unclear if the bill will go anywhere, or how lawmakers will address other medical marijuana issues that have resulted in litigation.
School choice: DeSantis and Senate leaders have outlined proposals that could lead to a major expansion of school choice, including the creation of a voucher-type program funded directly by taxpayer dollars.
The House and new Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran support the idea, but Democrats and teachers’ unions will fight the expansion. These groups may face a major battle though, as Republicans control both legislative chambers and the governor’s office.
School safety: Following the one-year anniversary of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting in Parkland, lawmakers will re-examine laws that boost school safety.
The most controversial issue will be a proposal to expand the school “guardian” program that allows trained classroom teachers to carry guns. A state commission created last year recommended allowing armed teachers, and DeSantis has voiced support for this in the past as well.
Transportation: The Senate president has said highway projects will be a top priority.
Proposals could include extending the Suncoast Parkway toll road from the Tampa Bay region to the Georgia border, creating a multi-use corridor - including a highway - from Polk County to Collier County, and extending the Florida’s Turnpike west of Interstate 75.
Local Osceola County lawmakers are set to introduce some major bills of their own.
Sen. Victor Torres has filed or co-sponsored at least 18 bills, including:
• Humanitarian assistance to the government of Venezuela.
• Rent control measures.
• Establish the “Healthy Florida Act” and create comprehensive universal single-payer healthcare coverage and cost control system for state residents.
Rep. John Cortes is authoring or sponsoring at least 14 bills, including:
• Funding for a Kissimmee Public Safety Training Facility.
• Good Samaritan Village of Kissimmee flood mitigation funding.
• Funding for Kissimmee bridge housing for the homeless.
Rep. Mike La Rosa is introducing or sponsoring at least eight bills, including:
• Funding for the Hispanic Business Initiative Fund Outreach Program.
• Funding for the downtown St. Cloud revitalization project.
• Funding for the Transition House homeless veterans’ program.