June 13, 2023

10 Things to Know About the 2023 Legislative Session

The Florida House and Senate wrapped up their regular session work on May 5, 2023, after passing a $117-billion budget — a 6.4 percent increase over the current fiscal year — and approving measures that will substantially impact K-12 public education, immigration, and other issue areas.

Below, FPI summarizes 10 items of interest — including various pieces of legislation and budget appropriations — that will affect shared prosperity in the Sunshine State.

1. The Florida Legislature estimates $2 billion will be spent on universal private school vouchers. 

Earlier this year, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law House Bill (HB) 1, legislation creating a universal voucher program. The bill was fast-tracked through the legislative committee process despite unanswered questions surrounding the cost of opening up eligibility to every K-12 family in the state, including the wealthiest Floridians and home-schoolers. 

This enormous funding loss diverted from public coffers to private schools is occurring while the state’s K-12 public school system continues to be ranked as one of the most underfunded in the nation, and Florida continues to face a severe teacher shortage. 

Initially there were two voucher expansion proposals — one moving in the Florida House (HB 1) and another in the Florida Senate (SB 202). The House estimated a fiscal impact of $209 million, whereas the Senate estimated a fiscal impact of $646.5 million. The state budget that eventually passed both chambers includes $2 billion to pay for HB 1’s universal  vouchers in its FEFP calculation. This is $600 million more than what was spent on Florida’s Family Empowerment Scholarship (FES) program for school year 2022-23. There is also $350 million in the back of the General Appropriations Act for cost overruns due to vouchers. Still, this is roughly $1 billion lower than estimates compiled by FPI and the Education Law Center, who anticipate that the cost of the FES and Florida Tax Credit Scholarship programs could balloon to at least $4 billion in the first year alone under HB 1.

This enormous funding loss diverted from public coffers to private schools is occurring while the state’s K-12 public school system continues to be ranked as one of the most underfunded in the nation, and Florida continues to face a severe teacher shortage. 

2. The tax package for Florida’s upcoming fiscal year includes a permanent sales tax exemption on some everyday goods, including diapers and baby products.

As FPI has previously noted, sales taxes disproportionately impact people struggling to make ends meet. The Sunshine State, which relies heavily on sales tax to pad the General Revenue Fund, has one of the most upside-down tax systems in the nation: people struggling to make ends meet pay the most in state and local taxes when measured as a share of household income. That is why Florida lawmakers’ inclusion of a permanent sales tax exemption on diapers — for both adults and children — along with various child and baby products and oral hygiene items is an important step toward making Florida’s upside-down tax code fairer. 

Although this is not a targeted tax relief measure — i.e., it is available to everyone regardless of income — the permanent exemption on everyday items, which will cost about $226 million on a recurring basis, should still help offset the sales tax burden for families with low-to-moderate income.

Unlike permanent sales tax exemptions, however, sales tax holidays, which were also included in the FY 2023-24 tax package to the tune of $550 million, will provide little relief to Floridians.

3. The Florida House and Senate voted unanimously to raise the income ceiling for KidCare eligibility. 

As FPI pointed out in a previous blog post, Florida's child health program, KidCare, is already “extraordinarily fragmented and complex.” It includes four distinct components: Medicaid, MediKids, Florida Healthy Kids, and Children's Medical services, each with different age and income eligibility limits. 

Further, Florida has one of the highest rates of uninsured children in the nation. When children lack health care coverage, the chance that they will grow into healthy and productive adults is diminished

Under HB 121, the income eligibility cap for KidCare premium subsidies would increase from 200 percent of the poverty level ($49,720 for a three-person household) to 300 percent ($74,580 for a three-person household), increasing access to crucial health care coverage to families across the state. The legislation is especially critical with the sunsetting of federal continuous coverage protections, which had ensured that children (and adults) were able retain Medicaid benefits during the pandemic without having to re-enroll.

4. Florida has enacted one of the most alarming anti-immigrant measures in recent history. 

Shortly after Florida’s legislative session drew to a close, the governor signed SB 1718 into law. The measure, which takes effect July 1, 2023, has garnered national and international attention. While there are over a dozen policy areas covered by the bill, FPI analyzed the ones below.

Asking Hospital Patients’ Immigration Status Could Cause “Chilling Effect” on Public Health

The law requires hospitals that accept Medicaid (nearly every hospital in Florida, over 320) to ask all admitted patients and emergency room visitors their immigration status at intake and then report the collective data and associated costs to the state. Notably, SB 1718  states that hospitals must inform patients that care will not be impacted, reports will not include personally identifiable information, and an option to decline response must be on intake forms. Still, the new law could cause a chilling effect that instills fear and deters people from seeking care.

New E-Verify Provisions Could Cost Florida Billions

The measure also subjects Florida’s private employers with 25 or more employees to the federal E-Verify system and fines them $1,000 per day if they fail to use the system three or more times within two years. Starting July 1, businesses will have to use this system for new hires, and if they discover one of their employees is undocumented, they must fire them. Replacing workers in immigrant-dominated industries is an ongoing challenge, particularly amid Florida’s severe labor shortage. FPI estimates that without undocumented workers, employers across six major industries would lose 10 percent of their combined workforce and the wages they contribute along with them. As a result, Florida's GDP could drop by $12.6 billion in a single year, or 1.1 percent. Cutting workers’ spending power means that state and local tax revenue will drop as well.

FPI estimates that without undocumented workers, employers across six major industries would lose 10 percent of their combined workforce and the wages they contribute along with them.

Measure Includes New Felony Charges for Everyday Floridians

Additionally, under SB 1718, anyone who transports into the state someone they knew (or should have known) was an immigrant without a documented status could be charged with a felony. This “human smuggling” provision was originally much worse and could have impacted nearly anyone who traveled within the state or lived with undocumented Floridians. FPI, in coalition with advocates, pushed the Legislature to adopt changes so that only transportation into the state was adopted into law. (See FPI’s decision tree for more detail on potential charges.) 

5. The Florida Legislature preserved in-state tuition for undocumented students. 

Back in February, Gov. DeSantis introduced his broad anti-immigrant proposal, which included a repeal of Florida’s bipartisan 2014 tuition equity law. This popular law requires that colleges, universities, and postsecondary institutions waive out-of-state tuition for certain undocumented students who graduated from a Florida high school.

Fortunately, this provision was left out of the final legislation (SB 1718), thanks in large part to the work of advocacy groups and undocumented youth committed to preserving tuition fairness. In the 2021-22 academic year, 6,500 Florida undergraduates received waivers under the tuition fairness law.

In a recent report, FPI explained that while the cost of waiving out-of-state fees for undocumented students —- or “Dreamers,” after the federal DREAM Act —-  is nominal, it leads to significant economic benefits. For example, Floridians with an undergraduate degree have income roughly double that of people in the state with a high-school diploma. As a result, they are better positioned for economic stability, and their increased skills and earnings help Florida address key labor shortages and stimulate its local and state economies. 

6. Lawmakers missed the opportunity to enact commonsense occupational licensing reforms.

People with criminal records face numerous barriers to economic mobility, including roughly 379 occupational licensing laws and regulations that restrict or ban people with past convictions from accessing certain social and economic opportunities. 

In a recent analysis, FPI found that enacting common-sense licensing reforms could have yielded fiscal savings ranging from $60.8 million to $152 million during FY 2020-21 and FY 2021-22. This includes: eliminating the moral character clause, which bestows licensing boards with broad discretionary power to disqualify applicants with criminal pasts based on their moral character; allowing for criminal records to be used as grounds for the denial of licensure only if the past conviction is directly related to the profession; and reducing the required training hours for certain occupations. 

While 2023 legislation (HB 489) represented a step toward reforming Florida’s occupational licensing system — the bill would have reduced the time frame during which a licensing board could use a criminal conviction as grounds to deny an application, and it would have allowed for applicable credits received while incarcerated to be used towards the general licensing training requirements — the legislation never made it to a floor for a vote. 

7. Lawmakers approved measures that will further erode tenants’ rights in Florida. 

The Sunshine State is one of the least affordable places to live in the nation: to afford a one-bedroom rental home at fair market rent, a person paid $10 per hour (the state’s minimum wage for most of 2022) would need to work 86 hours per week.

Florida also ranks first in the country for the percent of people who are rent-burdened (over 30 percent of income is spent on rent) and severely rent-burdened (over 50 percent of income is spent on rent).

During a time when many renters are struggling to make ends meet, lawmakers approved a measure, the Live Local Act, which includes — among other provisions — a permanent statewide ban on municipal rent control measures. 

In a recent blog post, FPI noted that removing voters’ rights to advocate for rent controls in their municipalities and municipalities’ ability to establish rent controls “in all but the direst of situations is taking away one of the most effective tools still left in tenants’ toolbox.”

During a time when many renters are struggling to make ends meet, lawmakers approved a measure, the Live Local Act, which includes — among other provisions — a permanent statewide ban on municipal rent control measures. 

The Florida House and Senate also passed legislation (HB 1417) that — if signed into law — will effectively preempt the landlord-tenant relationship. This means that the various tenants’ rights measures that counties have passed, many of which have come through local referendums, would be legally voided under HB 1417.

8. While Florida’s large reserves helped to shield crucial public services from budget cuts, lawmakers must do more to prepare for future recessions. 

Discussions around funding allocations in the FY 2023-24 budget were centered largely around the state’s historic reserves, as FPI pointed out in a recent statement. Florida currently has about $4.1 billion in the Budget Stabilization Fund for declared emergencies; also, due to Gov. DeSantis’ $4-billion Moving Florida Forward infrastructure initiative, approximately $11.7 billion in unallocated general revenue. However, reserves provide only a temporary increase, and Florida could be particularly vulnerable to future disasters — whether economic recessions or hurricanes — given the state’s over-reliance on the sales tax.

FPI has outlined 14 steps that lawmakers can take to raise $3.5 billion in revenue, improve Florida’s long-term economic outlook, and reduce the state’s dependence on volatile sources of general revenue. The Legislature could then invest these dollars in well-resourced public schools, safe and affordable housing, reliable transportation infrastructure, clean water and energy, and a robust safety net. For example, by enacting combined reporting and ensuring that corporations are paying their share, the state could see $1.1 billion annually in new revenue.

9. For the 31st year in a row, the Florida Legislature has not raised cash assistance levels.

A critical part of Florida’s safety net is Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Funded jointly by the federal government and the state, TANF is the only statewide cash assistance program in Florida that helps families with children. 

However, cash assistance levels have remained stagnant for roughly three decades. The maximum benefit payment for a family of three (the average size of a TANF assistance unit in Florida) has remained fixed at $303 since 1992, which is more than 80 percent below the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) and makes it unlikely that a family can meet the basic needs of children participating in the program.

Further, as FPI has pointed out, under TANF “family cap,” the state limits, or outright denies, TANF assistance to babies born to current program participants. For the first baby born to someone already receiving TANF for another child, the state cuts the amount of assistance that the family would otherwise receive by 50 percent. For the second or subsequent child after that, the state denies the baby all financial assistance. The family cap law is rooted in the myth that a woman receiving assistance has additional children to get more benefits and is an extension of historical attempts to exercise reproductive control over Black women

10. Several new measures will narrow the scope of access to care.

Florida has one of the highest rates of uninsured residents in the nation and ranks near the bottom on various measures of health and well-being. Further, the end of federal COVID-era protections has resulted in 250,000 Floridians being disenrolled from the Medicaid roster as of May 2023.

Despite the urgent need to ensure that people have access to affordable, quality health care coverage, lawmakers have approved several measures that will make it harder for people in the state to access the care they need.

As noted earlier in this blog post, Florida’s new anti-immigrant law includes a provision that will require hospitals that accept Medicaid to ask all admitted patients and emergency room visitors their immigration status during intake, which will create a chilling effect and could deter people who are undocumented from receiving medical care. (It is important to note that there is a right to decline to answer when this question is posed, however.)

The governor also signed into law bills that give health care providers the right to opt out of any service for which they have a “conscience-based objection” (SB 1580), ban gender affirming care for youth and create new barriers for adults (SB 254), and ban abortion after 6 weeks (SB 300). These laws will restrict access to critical care for millions of Floridians. 

Downloadable Resources

There are no attachments currently.
No items found.