Florida lawmakers may drag their state back in time
The fifth and final question facing the Florida Legislature as it begins the state's 2024 lawmaking session.
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Florida’s Republican-controlled Legislature opens its 2024 session in just a few minutes. So without ado, here’s the fifth and final of five big questions that state lawmakers will answer over the next 60 days.
But first, in case you missed the first four:
Question 4: How much power does Big Ag have right now?
And, finally, Question 5:
How far backwards can Florida lawmakers take their state?
Let’s take a quick trip back in time. To the spring of 2001, just a few months after Florida’s infamous failures during the 2000 presidential election
That’s when former Gov. Jeb Bush signed the “Florida Election Reform Act of 2001.”
The Republican governor signed the legislation after it sailed through the state’s GOP-controlled Legislature. The sponsor was Bill Posey, who is now a member of Congress. Marco Rubio, now the state’s senior U.S. Senator, voted for it.
Among other changes, Florida’s new election-reform law lifted restrictions on absentee voting — allowing, for the first time, any Floridian to vote by mail, if that was what was most convenient for them.
Some people even called it “convenience voting.” And it was widely seen as deadly to Democrats’ chance of ever regaining power in Florida. “Republicans have always been favored by absentees,” a lawyer for 2000 presidential election loser Al Gore, told Vanity Fair a few years later.
But then Democrats started voting by mail en masse during the Covid-19 pandemic, and Donald Trump decided to demonize the practice. So now some Republicans in the Florida Legislature want to reinstate the sort of restrictions on mail voting that Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio did away with two decades ago.
This is not an isolated example.
Jump ahead seven years, to the spring of 2008, when then-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist signed House Bill 7135 — a sweeping energy-policy package that put Florida at “the forefront of state-level climate actions at the time.”
It, too, had flown through the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature. The House and Senate both approved it unanimously. Supporters included Rubio; Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis; and current House GOP Leader Michael Grant (R-Port Charlotte).
Now, many of those policies were later rolled back amid gas-industry lobbying under Rick Scott, who replaced Crist in 2010. But some small pieces remain in place today — like laws declaring Florida’s intention to combat climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ordering procurement policies that encourage the purchase of “climate-friendly products.”
But even those final few vestiges of Florida’s once-historic climate law may be erased this year.
And not even Rick Scott’s legacy is safe from a revanchist Florida Legislature.
Move forward another decade, to March 2018. That’s when — less than a month after a 19-year-old shot and killed 17 students and staff at a high school in Parkland — Scott signed the “Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act.”
Among other things, the bill made some very basic gun-safety changes. It raised the legal age to buy any gun to 21. And it established a three-day waiting period to buy some guns.
Now, this bill passed by much narrower margins: 67-50 in the House, 20-18 in the Senate. But it did so with the support of top Republicans — including current House Speaker Paul Renner (R-Palm Coast) and Senate President Kathleen Passidomo (R-Naples), as well as their incoming successors, Rep. Danny Perez (R-Miami) and Sen. Ben Albritton (R-Wauchula).
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly called Jeb Bush Florida’s first Republican governor since Reconstruction. I managed to forget not one but two other GOP governors: Claude Kirk (1967-1971) and Bob Martinez (1987-91). Bush was the first Republican governor to win *re-election* since Reconstruction. My apologies to both Kirk and Martinez for the mistake. And my thanks to legendary Florida journalist Bill Cotterell for flagging the error.