Winners and losers emerging from the 2023 Legislative Session
When a political party has a supermajority in both chambers of the Legislature, the ultimate outcomes from the Legislative Session don’t come as much surprise.
With the GOP firmly in charge, this Session was rife with headaches for Democrats, from restrictive abortion measures to what critics describe as renewed culture wars in education to long-sought changes to tort law.
This year’s Legislative Session, like many in conservative states throughout the nation, was marked by headline-grabbing bills.
The most high-profile of these may have been the GOP’s successful effort to implement a six-week abortion ban, a move that is sure to ignite critics on the Left fighting to protect reproductive freedom.
There was also an expansion to last Session’s Parental Rights in Education bill, which critics labeled the “Don’t Say Gay” law. It has been taken up in other conservative Legislatures across the country, particularly in the South. Not satisfied with the initial prohibition on gender or sexual orientation education through third grade, lawmakers this year expanded it until high school and added language restricting the use of gender pronouns in the classroom under certain circumstances.
The Legislature also passed long-sought changes to tort laws, particularly regarding personal injury protection and property insurance claims. Supporters herald it as historic reform needed to drive insurance prices down, while critics argue it’s a hand-out to a greedy insurance industry.
But beyond the top-of-mind issues debated in these 60 days, lawmakers were also busy finding consensus on less controversial measures, such as the finally successful compensation for Robert Earl DuBoise who was wrongly imprisoned for 37 years for a rape and murder he didn’t commit. Lawmakers, responding to a loophole that prohibited DuBoise from receiving compensation from the state, authorized $1.85 million.
With nearly 1,700 bills filed this Legislative Session and more than 300 of those passed, there were bound to be myriad winners and losers.
Florida Politics consulted with industry insiders, political savants, consultants, lobbyists and others intimately familiar with The Process to compile the definitive list of this year’s Legislative Session winners and losers.
Kathleen Passidomo — In the Naples Republican’s first year with the Senate President’s gavel, Passidomo achieved critical wins at a crucial time for her Southwest Florida home. That included billions in hurricane recovery and the passage of a priority affordable housing bill, the Live Local Act. The Senate President secured improved access to Florida’s Wildlife Corridor, fresh investments in technical and workforce education, and pushed consumer protections from bad players in the insurance world who victimized more than a few constituents. She also won battles on tort abuse she’s waged with the Florida Bar since her days in the Florida House.
But her most important achievements may be the controversial measures she quietly stopped. The Senate was no rubber stamp. With signature composure, Passidomo scuttled efforts to lower the gun-buying age and nix in-state tuition for Dreamers and ensured a six-week abortion bill included exceptions for victims of rape and incest. Negotiations on a ban on gender-affirming care on minors stretched to Day 59 as Passidomo insisted on grandfathering in those who already started treatment, and so onerous restrictions on private coverage could be vetted out.
Despite passing the biggest one-year wave of socially conservative laws in recent memory, the Senate remained a cooling force. And as only the third woman ever to lead the Senate, she achieved this by being the only lawmaker in Tallahassee with the stones to bring her concerns directly to the Governor.
We’d be remiss if we did not give a special shoutout to ultimate communications pro, Katie Betta, who is never too busy to answer a reporter’s question, but that’s only if she hasn’t gamed out ahead of time what the media will likely need.
Paul Renner — The Speaker summed it up best when asked who the one big winner was in this Session: standing up for children and defining childhood. From education and universal choice to protecting life, $250 million in teacher salary increases, removing tech and social media from phones in the classrooms, adjusting school start times, and leading on tax relief for young families. As for his first Regular Session, it will most likely go down in history as one of the most collaborative between the two Chambers and the Governor. Speaker Renner was true to his word in making the Senate priorities, his priorities, and noted that every House Democrat had dollars approved in the budget. First-term members ran key issues, Committee Chairs led their Committees, and bipartisan legislation was embraced by the entire body. Chief of Staff Allison Carter and her team got things done and with strong comms messaging from Andres Malave, it was a true win for Floridians.
Jimmy Patronis — The Governor isn’t the only statewide elected who gets seemingly everything he asks for. This year, the CFO and State Fire Marshal had a lengthy wish list — he asked lawmakers to exorcize a three-letter bogeyman from state investment funds, pass a toothy law cracking down on auto glass AOBs, and top off the My Safe Florida Home program with a hundred mil. Check, check and check. Those are the headliners of Patronis’ “Keep Florida Free” brag board, but he flexed his influence to get an extensive list of other bills and line items across the finish line, from eye-grabbers like the insurer accountability bill to a small feel-good bill setting up a direct support organization to help firefighters get new and better safety equipment. The Panama City Republican has earned an above-the-fold spot in W&L every year he’s been on the Cabinet, and if 2023 is any indication, he’s got a few more appearances left in him.
Ashley Moody — Attorney General Moody scored some key wins this Regular Session and was a vital supporter of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “law and order” agenda. Bills to protect human trafficking victims, increase penalties for fentanyl dealers and restrict the types of crimes eligible for bail were top priorities for Moody that all crossed the finish line.
“This Legislative Session is one for the record books,” Moody said. “We worked hard with our great legislative leaders to pass important public-safety bills that protect human trafficking survivors, punish illicit fentanyl dealers, strengthen bond laws and help allocate the more than $3 billion we secured through our historic opioid litigation. I want to thank House Speaker Renner, Senate President Passidomo, and every member who voted in favor of these important measures that will help us build a Stronger, Safer Florida.”
Wilton Simpson — Agriculture Commissioner Simpson has a lot to crow about for his agency, which scored wins across the board this Session. There’s the TEAM card from HB 1279, which farmers can use for tax-exempt purchases, instead of the previously required forms that had to be filled out and submitted. The bill also requires public institutions and their food service contractors to give first preference to Florida-grown food and specifies that the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) takes the lead in developing the state’s aquaculture industry. HB 1279 does a lot more too, including expanding FDACS’ authority to regulate food storage and enforce the Department’s rules on things like mislabeling and violations of agency rules. Other legislation, HB 7063, halts counties levying special assessments on agricultural lands unless the assessment is for debt service. Aiding the state’s citrus industry, the Legislature passed $49.5 million to help with infrastructure, research, propagation and replanting.
Meanwhile, the push for land conservation succeeded with the passage of several measures, including restricting foreign ownership of agricultural land, dedicating $100 million in the Land Acquisition Trust Fund for the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program, and securing $4 million for Land Acquisition Trust Fund efforts reforesting public and private lands. FDACS also has the authority now to investigate and penalize financial institutions that keep records on people’s firearms and ammunition purchases. Workers at FDACS took a win too, with a 5% across-the-board pay increase and $12 million added to the Department for salary and benefit deficiencies along with recruitment and retention issues.