Chamber of the Florida House of Representatives. Credit: Imani Thomas
State lawmakers are convening this week for yet another special session on a variety of issues that are priorities for Gov. Ron DeSantis — but not to Floridians who need help with other urgent needs such as affordable housing and health care, Florida House Democrats said on Monday.
Those Democratic legislators will be compelled to consider a legislative package that would broaden the state’s ability to transport migrants to other areas — an issue that sparked national attention last fall and led to lawsuits filed by advocates for immigration rights.
Other issues in the package — which could easily be pursued in the regular session starting March 7 — includes a boost for funds for hurricane victims and the issue allowing for student college-athletes to earn money for the use of their name, image and likeness.
During a virtual press conference Monday, House Democrats surmised that the Republican-led Legislature will cater to DeSantis’ agenda for Florida by pushing through legislation on those issues.
Driskell, who represents part of Hillsborough County, said,“I cannot see any logical reason” for the session.
“Why we absolutely needed to have the special session right now? There are some reasons which I think they’re trying to help the governor save face particularly around the immigration issue,” Driskell said.
“But again, nothing that I’m seeing or no rationale that that I have heard or that I think our Caucus has heard as to why these need to be the pressing issues that we take up in the special session. I think you’ll hear from our Caucus continued conversation around why we believe that every Floridian deserves a freedom to be healthy, prosperous and safe. And how that includes lowering health care costs, housing affordability and lowering property insurance rates.”
State Rep. Dotie Joseph, a Democrat representing part of Miami-Dade County, denounced the “Transportation of Inspected Unauthorized Aliens” bill as part of the governor’s “anti-immigrant agenda.”
Joseph said the state has used funds to ship asylum seekers who have “legally entered this country.”
“This week we see the legislators structural support for the governor’s anti-immigrant agenda,” Joseph said. “So he is doing all of the things because he can and you don’t have a Legislature to check him because there is no balance with that in Florida.”
“So what we’re seeing coming up in the special session is an effort to fix some of the legal concerns and give additional authority to the governor,” Joseph said. “We are going to do what we can to stand against it.”
When the House chamber opened for the first day of the special session Monday afternoon, Driskell hoped to expand the scope of the special session to include legislation on property insurance and Medicaid expansion.
She introduced HB 15, which would have created a property insurance commission that would review and study the insurance marketplace among other measures, and HB 17, which would have expanded access to Medicaid.
“Unfortunately, during that property insurance special session (in December 2022), we passed no relief that I could see that provided immediate rate relief to Florida homeowners,” Driskell said on the House floor Monday.
As for the Medicaid expansion bill, Driskell she added: “We believe that every Floridian deserves the freedom to be healthy, prosperous and safe. In order to be healthy, you need health care coverage. In order to be prosperous, you need property insurance that is affordable, available and accountable.”
Driskell’s bill would have needed a two-thirds vote from the Florida House to be included in the special session. That motion failed, so those bills will not be taken up during the session.
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