By James Chan, Florida State Director
Progressive legislators and partners kicked off the 2019 legislative session with a bold Sunrise Agenda focused on the economy, affordable health care, education, the environment and a welcoming Florida.
But during the legislative session, conservatives, who control both chambers, refused to debate the priorities that Floridians identify as critical—like affordable healthcare and housing—and instead fought for priorities that rig the rules for the wealthy and big businesses and protect their own power. The legislative session showed how out of step conservatives are with the will of the people. The contrast between conservatives and progressives couldn’t be more clear.
Instead of focusing on helping Floridians make ends meet, conservatives passed legislation to ban Florida cities from requiring big developers to build any affordable housing as part of new construction. This just further lines the pockets of big businesses and the wealthy, while exacerbating the challenge in creating affordable housing in our cities and surrounding areas.
Progressive Representatives Jacquet and Joseph with Senators Rodriguez, Cruz and Stewart advanced legislation that would help improve the lives of all Floridians. The legislation which would address equal pay, paid family leave and an increase to the minimum wage was introduced but never heard in committee, debated or voted upon.
Our Health Care
Floridians are deeply concerned about the cost and accessibility of health care and prescription drugs. Instead of addressing these issues, conservatives sought to limit women’s access to health care and the right to choose by sponsoring a six-week abortion ban, a 20-week abortion ban and a parental consent law, which was voted out of the House.
Progressive Representative Cindy Polo and Senator Taddeo proposed expanding Medicaid to Floridians under 65 who are at or below 138% of the federal poverty line. This would provide health coverage to an estimated 850,000 hard-working Floridians currently lacking coverage—like single-moms working hard to support their families and adults working multiple jobs but still not making enough money to make ends meet. Conservatives shut down the proposal, refusing to even hear it in committee.
Strengthening the public education system that supports 90% of Florida students is a priority for all progressive legislators. Instead of taking steps to improve public education, address the root cause of gun violence in schools and ensure Florida is able to stay competitive and keep great teachers, conservatives prioritized arming teachers and funding vouchers and charter schools in an effort to privatize our public education.
Progressive Representative Margaret Good filed a bill that would address the critical teacher shortage. Her legislation, which had bipartisan support in the Senate, would have allowed retired educators to immediately fill substitute teacher positions helping to fill some of the 2,000 teacher vacancies across the 67 counties. The conservatives shut down this legislation and it was never heard in committee.
The red tide and the other impacts of climate change have taken a toll on our health, our communities and our economy. The short- and long-term economic and health impacts have Floridians along the Gulf Coast struggling. The conservative-controlled legislature took no significant action to help address these challenges.
Progressive Representatives Diamond, Eskamani and Good with Senator Rodriguez filed legislation to help us understand and address these critical issues that will shape our economy and health into the future. Progressives advanced legislation to create a climate change research program, develop a renewable energy plan and address water quality and a decrease in the use of herbicides that created the red tide. All these bills were introduced, but never heard in committee.
After the 2018 election, Florida again received national attention for our difficulty in making sure that every eligible voter’s ballot was counted. Instead of taking steps to modernize and secure the process for all eligible voters, conservatives made unnecessary changes to the rules for vote-by-mail—which is used by many Florida voters to avoid long lines at the polls. They also took steps to obstruct the will of the people by placing exorbitant fees and other requirements on those formerly incarcerated before they are allowed to vote. This after the progressive community worked to bring the Constitutional amendment restoring these rights to a vote—which was supported by 65% of the people in November 2018.
Finally, conservatives changed the process by which signatures are gathered by everyday Floridians to amend the state constitution. Over the last decade this process has been used by the voters to address some of Florida’s most pressing issues—from pocketbook issues to who has the right to vote—because conservative lawmakers refuse to enact the policies that reflect the will of the majority of Floridians.
While the 2019 legislative session saw little progress on issues to help everyday Floridians, progressive partners and legislators will continue to work with constituents and colleagues to build on the groundwork laid in 2019 to advance the priorities in the Sunrise Agenda.