From parental consent to school vouchers, DeSantis considers more than 7 dozen bills

89 bills landed on governors desk Tuesday and Wednesday

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A controversial proposal intended to block Key West and other local governments from imposing bans on certain types of sunscreen was among 89 bills that landed on Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk Tuesday and Wednesday.

The proposal (SB 172), which would prohibit local governments from regulating drugs and cosmetics sold over the counter, was crafted in response to plans by Key West to enforce a ban on the sale of sunscreens that contain the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate.

Key West pointed to concerns that the chemicals could damage coral reefs. Supporters of the bill, sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, and Rep.

Spencer Roach, R-North Fort Myers, said sunscreen helps prevent skin cancer and disputed that the targeted chemicals damage coral reefs.

The bill drew support from Johnson & Johnson, which makes sunscreens with oxybenzone, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Retail Federation and the Florida Society of Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery.

But critics said the measure was a threat to local home-rule powers and the need to maintain endangered coral reefs.

During this year’s legislative session, Rep. Javier Fernandez, D-South Miami, called the proposal a “gross overreaction to what has been a measured and reasonable limitation passed by the city of Key West.”

Parental consent

DeSantis has indicated he will sign a heavily debated bill that would require parental consent before minors can have abortions.

The Republican-dominated Legislature passed the bill (SB 404) in February, but it was not formally sent to DeSantis until Tuesday.

Florida has a requirement for parents to be notified before minors have abortions, but a consent requirement would be more restrictive.

The current law has a process in which minors can go to court to avoid notifying their parents about having abortions -- a so-called “judicial bypass” that also is part of the consent proposal.

The Florida Supreme Court in 1989 struck down a parental-consent law, finding that it violated a right to privacy in the state Constitution.

But supporters of this year’s proposal, sponsored by Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, and Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, have expressed confidence that it would be upheld, at least in part because of a new conservative majority on the court.

E-verify proposal

A bill that would require all government employers to use a federal electronic system to check the immigration status of new workers was also sent to DeSantis on Tuesday.

The measure (SB 664) would require all public employers -- such as local schools, public universities and state agencies -- and their contractors to use the electronic system, known as E-Verify.

Private employers who do not do business with the state government would not be mandated to use E-Verify.

Businesses that receive state-funded economic incentives, however, would be required to use the verification system. Also, government contractors would be required to use it.

Private employers who decide not to use E-Verify would be required to keep a three-year record of the documents used by workers to complete an “I-9” form, which federal law already requires businesses to use.

Until this spring, years of attempts to pass an E-Verify bill failed in the Republican-led Legislature. But the push for the verification plan this year got a political boost from the governor.

DeSantis, a staunch ally of President Donald Trump, made a crackdown on illegal immigration a cornerstone of his 2018 gubernatorial campaign.

The E-Verify bill sent to the governor on Tuesday, however, does not go as far as DeSantis initially wanted.

The Republican governor had promised a mandate for both private and public employers, but lawmakers settled on an E-Verify requirement for government employers and their contractors.

DeSantis has until July 1 to act on the measure.

Clean Waterways Act

Among the other bills that went to DeSantis on Tuesday was a measure known as the “Clean Waterways Act” (SB 712).

Senate sponsor Debbie Mayfield, R-Rockledge, said the bill provides “lasting solutions,” including setting new rules for septic tanks, increasing environmental fines and imposing records requirements on agricultural fertilizer.

However, several environmental groups said the bill doesn’t go far enough.

“Rather than stopping pollution at the source, the bill is full of bureaucratic housekeeping and weak, inadequate measures,” the Florida Conservation Voters said in a news release. “Rather than mandating strict nitrogen reduction standards for septic systems, it merely moves the regulation of septic tanks from the Department of Health to the Department of Environmental Protection. Rather than enacting stricter pollution standards for agricultural operations, it doubles down on voluntary best management practices.”

School vouchers

A bill that could help nearly 29,000 more students go to private schools was sent to DeSantis on Wednesday, as Republican leaders look to continue expanding voucher programs.

Lawmakers passed the bill (HB 7067) in March but did not formally send it to DeSantis until Wednesday.

The bill, in part, is designed to dramatically expand the Family Empowerment Scholarship program, which was created last year. The program provided 17,724 vouchers as of February -- a number that would be able to jump to more than 46,600 during the 2020-2021 academic year under the bill.

When lawmakers created the program, they capped enrollment at 18,000 students for the 2019-2020 academic year. But they also built in a formula designed to lead to expansions of the program in subsequent years.

That formula called for increasing the number of students in the program annually by an amount equal to 0.25% of the overall enrollment of public schools -- a potential increase of 7,225 vouchers during the 2020-2021 school year, according to a House analysis.

But the bill approved in March would change that formula to lead to an increase equal to 1% of the overall enrollment of public schools. That would translate into an estimated 28,902 additional vouchers during the 2020-2021 year, the analysis said.

Genetic information

The Legislature on Wednesday sent a bill to DeSantis that would block life insurers and long-term care insurers from using customers’ genetic information in making decisions about policies.

The bill (HB 1189) has been a priority of Rep. Chris Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican who is slated to become House speaker in November.

Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved the measure in March, but it was not formally forwarded to DeSantis until Wednesday.

Federal law already prevents health insurers from using genetic information in underwriting policies and in setting premiums.

But the prohibition doesn’t apply to life insurance or long-term care coverage. Supporters of blocking the use of genetic information point to privacy concerns. But the bill faced opposition from the life-insurance industry.

The bill, in part, would preclude companies from using genetic information in pricing policies.

It also would block the companies from requiring or soliciting genetic information from applicants. In addition, it would apply to disability insurers.

Deregulation, other measures

Dubbed the “Occupational Freedom and Opportunity Act,” a bill that would reduce regulations on a variety of professions was sent Wednesday to DeSantis.

Spearheaded by Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, and Sen. Ben Albritton, R-Wauchula, the deregulation bill (HB 1193) would make changes related to professions ranging from hair braiders to interior designers and addresses issues such as local regulation of food trucks.

Among the other bills sent to DeSantis was a measure (HB 1095) that would lead to term limits for the state public counsel, who represents consumers in utility issues.

Under the bill, the public counsel would be appointed to four-year terms and would not be able to serve more than 12 years. Time served by current Public Counsel J.R. Kelly before July 1 would not be counted toward the 12-year limit. Kelly has held the position since 2007. 

Also, DeSantis received a bill (HB 5301) that would create 10 new judgeships in the state. The measure would add two circuit judges in the 9th Judicial Circuit, made up of Orange and Osceola counties; one circuit judge in the 1st Judicial Circuit, made up of Escambia, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties; and one circuit judge in the 14th Judicial Circuit, made up of Bay, Calhoun, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson and Washington counties. 

The bill also would add four county judges in Hillsborough County, one county judge in Orange County and one county judge in Lee County.