TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida lawmakers have little time to waste as they debate and finalize legislative proposals, big and small, in the waning days of the legislative session — including a state budget, a nationally watched elections bill and a so-called "anti-riot" bill that is being pushed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The Republican governor has his fingerprints on all three pieces of legislation, but especially on the anti-riot bill that has prompted some of the most intense passions from community activists, who say the bill is an attack on the Black Lives Matter movement.
The full Senate is expected to take up the proposal in the upcoming week after it was narrowly advanced during a marathon committee hearing on Friday. Democrats and scores of critics had hoped to peel away at least two Republicans from the 20-member Appropriations Committee, the only Senate committee to hear the proposal before heading to the chamber floor.
One Republican defected from his caucus, one shy from bringing the effort to a halt. And it remains to be seen if Democrats can find three other votes across the aisle to kill it — which some acknowledge is an unlikely scenario in a Legislature where both chambers are dominated by Republicans.
It would be a major defeat for the governor if the measure does not reach his desk. At a September news conference, DeSantis urged lawmakers to deliver a measure that would enhance penalties against protestors who turn violent.
Also remaining on the legislative agenda is an elections bill that is drawing national scrutiny amid efforts by Republicans in key states, including Georgia, to rewrite election rules.
A new Georgia elections law has come under fire for some of the provisions it contains, including prohibitions against handing out water or food to voters in line to vote.
One of the measures being considered by Florida lawmakers had initially included similar language, but was stricken out. But Republican-backed proposals still contain language problematic to many voting rights advocates — including proposals on who can collect ballots, identification requirements for once-routine voter registration changes and where absentee ballots can be deposited.
Like the anti-riot bill, critics contend that the election measure is intended to make it more difficult for voters of color and inexperienced voters to cast a ballot. A group of Black lawmakers have called on influential corporations to put pressure on Florida officials to back off on changes.
In comparison, the yearly debate over the state budget seems so much more tranquil, even though there are wide gaps that now need to be bridged between the respective spending proposals approved by the House and Senate.
Both chambers ratified their versions of the state budget last week. The Senate is proposing $95 billion in spending, while the House has approved a $97 billion plan.
In the remaining weeks of the session, budget negotiators will have to reconcile their differences, as well as take the governor’s own proposals into account.
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A key question is how Florida will use the $10 billion it expects to get from the federal government’s latest pandemic relief package.
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