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The Florida Legislature convenes for the start of the 2021 legislative session on March 2. As of Feb. 19, more than 2,300 bills had been filed in the state House or state Senate or both. 

If you’re new to following the state Legislature, or just haven’t watched Schoolhouse Rock! in a long time, here is a taste of what you can expect between March 2 and April 30, while the legislature is at work.

Between the session’s start and its scheduled end, how many of those bills will get through the process and become laws?

“Maybe 150 become laws, and I think I’m overstating it. Maybe 10 or 15 that have substance,” said Dr. T. Wayne Bailey, a retired professor of political science at Stetson University.

In the 2020 legislative session, 3,518 bills were filed between Florida’s two legislative chambers, and only 201 were passed into law.

The start of any legislative session brings new individuals interested in seeing what the Legislature will pass along to the governor to become law, and Bailey broke down the basics for The Beacon.

LONGTIME POLITICOS — Dr. T. Wayne Bailey and former Volusia County Council Member Joyce Cusack — who spoke with The Beacon for this story about the Florida Legislature’s 2021 session — flank retired U.S. Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, at a Cusack campaign event in 2000. Cusack went on to be elected to represent District 26 in the Florida House. Bailey and Cusack have long been involved in politics in Volusia County. Chisholm, who had moved to Florida after retiring as a representative in Congress for the state of New York, died in 2005.

Bills begin with an idea, and that idea can come from anyone — including a legislator, or a citizen who can convince a legislator to file a bill. Once an idea becomes a bill, that bill goes to the floor of either the state House or Senate.

“The bill is introduced, and the speaker of the House or the president of the Senate has the power to direct the bill to committees in the House and Senate,” Bailey said.

The bill is then sent to relevant committees — a bill dealing with schools to the Education Committee, and so on — where it will either be deemed favorable and move to the next committee assignment or back to the floor, or deemed unfavorable, where it will then die.

After making it through committee assignments, a bill is voted on by the chamber it originated in. If a bill passes with a majority in each house, per the Florida Constitution, that bill is sent along to the governor’s office. There, the governor can sign a bill into law, send it back to the Legislature with a veto, or ignore it.

“The governor has a certain number of days to act or the bill becomes a law automatically,” Bailey explained.

State Rep. Webster Barnaby (R-Dist. 27) told The Beacon about two bills he is sponsoring and hopes to see pass. The first is House Bill 1029, which would create parking spaces in public areas designated specifically for Purple Heart recipients. This bill is close to home, Barnaby said, as his son serves in the military. 

“It’s very important we protect our veterans,” Barnaby said.

The other bill Barnaby mentioned is HB 1027, which would require the Florida High School Athletics Association to adopt rules allowing for each school participating in an FHSAA event to make opening remarks of up to two minutes, of which the FHSAA would have no control. 

Among Barnaby’s concerns, he said, is protecting First Amendment rights of free speech, including the right to prayer. He hopes to see the FHSAA rules amended to allow for “any type of free speech that would motivate young people at any type of sporting event, within reason,” including prayer and motivational speeches.

Barnaby said he also wants to work on passing appropriations bills for projects in Deltona, DeBary and Oak Hill, as well as neighboring Ormond Beach in District 25.

So many bills, so little time

Of course with so many bills introduced every session, it can be challenging to tell what will make it beyond introductions. Former legislator Joyce Cusack mentioned some key clues, like whether the bill is supported by the president of the Senate or the speaker of the House. She used a bill she introduced as an example.

During the 2001 session, Cusack introduced HB 215, a bill that guaranteed parental rights to both parents of a child and ensured that both parents have access to their child’s records.

“I was in the minority party, and I was not in the leadership of any branch,” Cusack said. “The speaker liked the bill, so he moved the bill through the process pretty fast.”

Another tell, Bailey said, is to see how many committees a bill has been assigned to.

“The speaker and the president assign bills to committees. If they’re reluctant on a bill, they can assign them to as many as three or four committees,” he said. “To be heard on the floor, the bill has to be heard in all of the [assigned] committees.”

Cusack noted that a bill assigned to fewer committees is more likely to pass into law.

“If a bill has to be heard in three, four committees, it’s almost a known fact it will not pass,” she said.

With so many bills introduced, Cusack noted that even legislators recognize everything they bring to Tallahassee won’t become law.

What’s important, Cusack said, even if a bill goes nowhere, is showing constituents that you’re fighting for issues they care about.

“You have the opportunity to say, ‘I was able to get the bill heard in X number of committees,’ or, ‘I wasn’t able to get it heard based on the politics of the chamber,’” Cusack said. “But you can still say, ‘I’m working for you.’”

In one instance when she had just begun her career as a legislator, Cusack said, she spoke to a group of Stetson University students and asked them what kind of bills they would like to see her fight for. 

“Eighty percent of the kids in the class, their desire for me was to carry legislation that would legalize marijuana. This was in 2000!” Cusack recalled with a laugh. “I often smile about that, because they were far ahead of their time.”

State Sen. Jason Brodeur (R-Dist. 9) talked with The Beacon about his work in this year’s session of the Florida Legislature.

“I’ve filed over 30 bills this session and am looking forward to fighting for the residents of Volusia County,” Brodeur said. “I’m working hard to protect Florida’s most vulnerable, especially foster children with my bill SB 80. I also have legislation to expand educational opportunities like vocational training and apprenticeships for students.”

Brodeur said he’s fighting government overreach.

“SB 88 protects farmers from frivolous lawsuits, and I have several other bills to protect homeowners from burdensome over-regulation of their property,” he said.

Brodeur represents a small portion of Volusia County, mainly in the DeBary area, but nevertheless said he’s teaming up with the county legislative delegation.

“I’m also excited to work with the members of the Volusia County delegation on important local issues this session. Representative Barnaby and I will be working hard to get money to improve outdated stormwater infrastructure in DeBary — infrastructure which is deteriorating and threatens the Gemini Springs watershed,” Brodeur said.

Keeping a finger on the pulse

So how can you track bills that could pass?

While no longer a legislator, Cusack still follows the state House’s machinations and had some suggestions for people new to following bills. For one, Cusack recommended following bills online, where you can easily track where bills are and what kind of support they have.

State-run websites make this fairly easy.

“You can tell which ones pass — Did it pass along party lines? Did it pass unanimously? If it passed unanimously, chances are it’s going to make it somewhere,” Cusack said. “I don’t follow them as closely as I used to, but during the session, most bills you follow are bad bills, ones that could, from my perspective, really hurt society.”

Bailey suggested tuning into The Florida Channel, a television station in the state capital that broadcasts the Legislature on TV and online, much like the channel C-SPAN does for national politics. While it can be a bit droll watching proceedings live, Bailey said, it can be a good way to keep track of bills every step of the way.

“If you are interested enough to sit through, and you don’t have a book to read to help you go to sleep, you can watch some of those,” he said with a laugh. “They broadcast live and that makes it very good.”

When asked what bills they would be following this legislative session, Cusack mentioned HB 1, a 60-page bill (huge compared to many bills) that is supported by Gov. Ron DeSantis. It would put limits on certain types of protests, as well as increase the legal penalty for involvement in riots, among other things.

QUIET MOMENT — A DeLand High School Bulldogs team member strikes a prayerful pose during a game in 2018. A bill in the Florida Legislature this year aims to protect the right of schools to offer prayer at sporting events. It’s one of thousands of pieces of legislation filed for consideration during the 2021 session, scheduled March 2-April 30.

Bailey said he is keeping his eye on certain issues, like school choice and environmental conservation.

To watch for the types of bills that could impact Volusia County, Cusack said to look for environmental bills, bills that deal with beaches, and bills that deal with transportation and could affect Interstates 4 or 95.

The Beacon reached out to several of Volusia County’s representatives in Tallahassee, and was unable to schedule interviews with most of them at this busy time. We hope to have a follow-up story with input from the rest of Volusia’s representatives in the coming weeks.

Florida’s legislative session begins March 2 and is scheduled to end April 30. To stay up to date with individual bills, check out the online resources provided in this story and keep up with our Facebook page and Twitter feed for news on bills that affect West Volusia in particular.

While it would be difficult to know the contents of all 2,000-some-odd bills filed between the two chambers of the Florida Legislature, here are some bills The Beacon found:

HB 25 — Would require background checks for the sale of firearm ammunition.

HB 35 — Would allow municipalities to put legal notices on a government-run website instead of requiring that notices be placed in a newspaper. Read The Beacon‘s opinion about this bill HERE.

SB 1204 — Includes a number of election-related measures, including requiring the secretary of state to be elected rather than appointed and designating General Election Day as a paid holiday.

HB 177 — Would make illegal the tethering of a dog or cat outside when the owner is not present. For the first infraction, individuals would receive a warning, the second a $250 fine, and any subsequent infractions a $500 charge.

SB 1138 — Introduced by state Sen. Jason Brodeur, who represents a small part of Volusia County, this bill would prohibit pet stores from selling dogs and cats.

HB 887 — Would make counties responsible for providing at least one “dedicated lactation space,” where mothers could nurse their children, in courthouse facilities.

SB 1262 — Would require the state Division of Recreation and Parks to provide free entrance passes to military members and veterans. Service members currently get a 25-percent discount on state park entrance fees; this bill would create lifetime free admission.

HB 1 — Backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, this bill would increase penalties for certain types of actions during riots and protests. It is opposed by the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, among others, because of the bill’s potential to restrict free speech and to criminalize legal assembly, as protected by the U.S. Constitution.

There are resolutions on the table, too, like HR 145 — a purely symbolic resolution that “renounces democratic socialism in favor of true American values of individuality and democracy.”

Another symbolic resolution, SR 1074 — would reject and condemn “white nationalism and white supremacy as hateful expressions of intolerance which contradict the values that define the people of Florida and the United States.”

There are also bills that appropriate state funds to causes, projects and organizations such as HB 3211 — a bill introduced by District 27 Rep. Webster Barnaby that would appropriate $3,354,000 to the DeBary Stormwater Infrastructure Collapse in Volusia Blue and Gemini Springshed.

Another is HB 3937 — a bill introduced by District 26 Rep. Elizabeth Fetterhoff that would appropriate $500,000 to the Help Me Grow Florida Program, which would help families get access to services like behavioral and developmental screenings for children.

This is just a small sampling of bills introduced in the state Legislature for the 2021 legislative session. There are plenty more bills, controversial and not, that could potentially become laws.

Find out more using these online resources:

www.myfloridahouse.gov — Official website for the Florida House of Representatives. Browse all filed bills and search by number or bill text. This site also has information about each representative, including what committees they are assigned to and what bills they are sponsoring.

www.flsenate.gov — Official website for the Florida Senate. Browse all filed bills and search by number or bill text. This site also has information about each state senator, including what committees they are assigned to and what bills they have introduced.

www.thefloridachannel.org —The Florida Channel is a television station in Tallahassee operated in cooperation with Florida State University. The Florida Channel broadcasts sessions and committee meetings of the state Legislature live on TV and online. The Florida Channel also maintains a schedule of what the Legislature is up to and when.

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