It was another year of failed aspirations for some state lawmakers – for progressive wet-dream legislative goals and nightmarish conservative policy proposals alike.
Had state Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, gotten his wish with HB 7117, a bill he sponsored, Florida would have embarrassingly become the first state to regulate THC levels in medical marijuana. If the cards had fallen in favor of HB 1335, a proposal sponsored by state Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, minors in the Sunshine State would have been required to obtain parental consent before getting an abortion.
Luckily, those pieces of legislation failed. As did a few sound, reasonable proposals: A bill to ban fracking in Florida, which was sponsored by state Sen. Ben Albritton, R-Wauchula, and backed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, sputtered out and died in session in late April. So did a bill that would have barred life insurance companies from using genetic tests to determine coverage after it had cleared the Florida House.
That's just the beginning. Here's our breakdown of some of the 2019 Legislature's duds.
So long, Constitution Revision Commission
Republican lawmakers, including DeSantis, have thrown fit after fit over how much was accomplished on the November ballot via the Constitution Revision Commission, a 37-member committee that convenes to review and propose changes to the Florida Constitution every 20 years. In fact, some lawmakers were so angered by the CRC's effectiveness – such as the passage of Amendment 4, which restored voting rights for felons in Florida who weren't convicted of murder or sexual offenses – that they attempted to do away with the panel altogether. The Senate actually passed two measures targeting the CRC. But, much to their dismay, the Florida House wasn't having it.
Your uterus, their business
The Legislature wouldn't be on-brand if conservative lawmakers didn't file at least one measure threatening women's bodily autonomy. So it's safe to say it didn't come as a shock when the House approved a measure along party lines that would have required parents' written and notarized consent before minors could obtain an abortion, upping the ante from the state's existing law that already requires parental notification.
The bill stalled this time around, but not by much: It was only one vote shy of the required supermajority that would have sent it directly to the Senate floor for a vote, which would have enabled it to avoid two committees in the Senate.
"The attempt to move from parental notification to parental consent is very much grounded in a political motivation to make abortion access more difficult while disempowering young people," says state Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, a former Planned Parenthood official. "This effort to pass parental consent, in my eyes, was less grounded in good policy and making life better for young people, and more grounded in testing our conservative Supreme Court [in Florida]."
Your genes are their genes
Under Florida law, health insurance companies are prohibited from using genetic information to determine a person's coverage. A House version of a bill filed this session, which was advanced in place of a similar bill filed in the Senate, would have banned the use of genetic information in canceling, limiting or denying life insurance policies. The difference between the House and the Senate's proposals: The Senate version would have allowed for DNA testing companies such as 23andMe to be required to get permission before selling someone's DNA to insurers. The House version nixed that altogether. However, the Senate decided not to take up the measure at the end of session.
'Duck, duck, duck ... liberal!'
Some Republican state lawmakers have a bone to pick with so-called "liberal indoctrination" on college campuses, likely in part due to the huff-and-puff scenarios we've seen play out on liberal arts and Ivy League campuses across the nation in recent years. (Clap twice, dear reader, if you recognize the name "Jordan Peterson.")
The proposed bill would have required public universities in Florida to survey students' and faculty members' political beliefs annually, which is G-rated Orwellian at best. The House liked the idea, as the measure was approved in that chamber. Academics weren't as keen on it. And in the end, the Senate said to hell with that sort of quackery, too.
Matthew Lata, a professor at Florida State University and member of the United Faculty of Florida, calls the campus survey proposal "completely subjective."
"The reasoning behind it is based on a highly partisan assumption," Lata says. "The language that was used by the bill's supporters are talking points that you can find on a website at any number of conservative think tanks. There were no details about who was going to write it, [or] what kind of questions would be on it. They said it was supposed to be nonpartisan and scientific, but the fact is it's based on a partisan premise."
You've got to be fracking kidding me
For a moment, considering the clout DeSantis has gathered with his environmental policies since taking office, it seemed as though there was a chance that the Legislature would ban "hydraulic fracturing" – fracking – in Florida. DeSantis even included it on a list of environmental proposals that he's pushed for since taking office in January.
Then came the controversy in the Legislature: A proposal to ban the practice cleared two Senate committees, only to not be taken up by two other panels. Meanwhile, a House version of the proposal didn't make it through its assigned committees, either.
Why? Well, for one, the measure didn't go far enough – it didn't ban a drilling technique called "matrix acidizing," which is similar to fracking in that it uses many of the same chemicals, but instead dissolves rocks with acid rather than pressurized liquid.
"Another unfortunate reflection of session is that we did not pass one active bill on addressing environmental protection or environmental regulation," Eskamani says.
Sure, she continues, the Legislature managed to allocate more funding towards the state's ongoing issues with water quality such as red tide and blue-green algae, "but we didn't pass one bill on actually increasing regulations on pollutants, on holding the private sector accountable for sewage spills ... and we did nothing to ban fracking."
'You can only get a little high, OK?'
In introducing their reasoning behind a piece of legislation that attempted to put a 10 percent cap on THC levels in medical marijuana, lawmakers cited a very bunk study in the journal The Lancet Psychiatry. The study's authors claimed high levels of THC could lead to psychosis among patient surveyed who were already dealing with prior issues relating to mental health before using cannabis (our emphasis, of course.)
Amazingly, the House still managed to split on the plan, despite the fact that more than two years ago roughly 71 percent of Florida voters approved of medical marijuana in a 2016 ballot amendment, and even though the state's newly elected Republican governor signed legislation that repealed the state's ban on smoking medically prescribed cannabis. Thankfully, for the sake of patients' rights, the Senate refused to go along with it.
"I filed an amendment to try to get rid of that cap and, of course, the amendment failed," state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, told Orlando Weekly last month during session. "I think lawmakers tend to want to implement [medical and legal marijuana] policies themselves, rather than be aided by voters to do that. And that's what I've argued for: I'm like, 'Hey, don't wait for the ballot initiative to come, or voters are going to just approve this and force your hand.' Why not just set up the framework now?"
Nurse practitioner powers
Florida, with its surplus of elderly citizens, is facing a critical physician shortage. By 2025, the state's shortage of physician specialists is expected to grow to at least 7,000, according to a study conducted by the Teaching Hospital Council of Florida and the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida. That's why a proposal that would have allowed advanced registered nurses and physician assistants to work independently of doctors was a top priority for House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes.
However, the Florida Medical Association made a point to put their foot down on the issue, which was enough to convince the Senate to nix the proposal in the end.
In states that allow the practice, says Susan Lynch, CEO of the Florida Association of Nurse Practitioners, "Nurse practitioners, they go out into rural areas, they open practices, they develop innovative ways to care for patients. ... And not only does that happen, but as a result the cost of state insurance programs go down, access to health care for people improved, health of people improved [and] overall quality of life improved."
The Senate thought raising Florida's minimum age to purchase tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21 – a measure referred to as "T21" – was such a good idea that they didn't even take the time to debate the bill before overwhelmingly approving it, which more than likely had something to do with teenagers these days getting their kicks on Juul vapes. The proposal would have also preemptively banned local jurisdictions from passing their own ordinances that dealt with the minimum age (another one of those bans on bans the Legislature loves so much). But the House, again, wasn't about it, as the chamber neglected to take up the issue at the end of the session.