Podcast: Discussing Florida's 2024 Legislative Session
In this episode of our "Florida Capital Conversations" podcast series, policy advisors Kimberly Case, Tori Deal, Jon Steverson and Beth Vecchioli come together to discuss the 2024 regular legislative session in Florida. They each provide insight on a number of key legislative priorities heading into the session, including healthcare, education, infrastructure, energy, coastal resilience and insurance. This conversation also covers Florida's budget and the continued economic and population growth in the state. Additionally, the group highlights how global and national events may impact the upcoming session, specifically the 2024 election cycle.
This Tallahassee-based podcast series takes a look at the many different aspects of state and local government through the lens of experienced legal professionals. Hosted by attorneys Nate Adams and Mia McKown, these candid conversations offer a seat at the table to everyone who listens.
Nathan Adams: Welcome to our Florida Capital Conversations podcast series. Today, our subject is the 2024 regular legislative session. And our guests are, in alphabetical order, Holland & Knight policy advisors Kimberly Case, Tori Deal, Jon Stevenson and Beth Vecchioli. My name is Nathan Adams. My co-host is Mia McKown. We are so pleased that you have joined us today to consider more important issues associated with state government affecting the business community and our daily lives as Floridians. Kim, Tori, John and Beth, at least a couple of you are new to our audience. Could each of you introduce yourselves?
Kimberly Case: Sure. Thanks, Nate. I'm Kim Case, and this is my 12th year lobbying on behalf of Holland & Knight and our clients. Prior to that, I worked in state government. Ten years in the executive branch where I was a legislative affairs director for three different statewide elected officials. And then prior to that, five years in the Florida Legislature as a committee staffer and a majority office staffer.
Beth Vecchioli: Thanks, Kim. I'm Beth Vecchioli, in Holland & Knight's Tallahassee office. I'm a specialist in insurance and financial services. I lobby at the state level and also represent clients on insurance and financial services regulatory affairs. And I'm a former insurance regulator here in the state of Florida.
Tori Deal: Tori Deal, public affairs advisor here at Holland & Knight. I joined in February. Prior to joining over here, maybe most notably would be my 14 years at the Department of Environmental Protection, where I worked mostly in our regulatory programs and was an adviser and aide to numerous agency heads, most recently Secretary Shawn Hamilton. Formerly when I was at the department, is where I work with Secretary Jon Steverson, who I would naturally progress to joining over here at the firm. And I work to help our clients in multiple arenas achieve their goals by bridging the gap between government and industry.
Mia McKown: Jon, last but not least, we're glad to have you with us at Holland & Knight, but can you tell us a little bit about yourself and some of your experience in the government affairs arena?
Jon Steverson: Well, thank you, Mia. I'm somewhat new to Holland & Knight, just starting in January of this year, but certainly not new to the Florida legislature and the overall governmental process here in Tallahassee. And I'm one of the few, creature of Tallahassee, born and raised here, family all from northwest Florida. And I'm not that old, but I am a high mileage unit. I've served under three different governors and in multiple positions throughout agencies and in the private sector. As Tori mentioned, that culminated in a stint as the secretary for the Department of Environmental Protection. I've also been an executive director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District and worked in what's known as the Office of Policy and Budget for, as I said before, several different governors. And it's given me a wide array of insight to the overall legislative process and the way the executive branch works, and I'm excited to bring that here to Holland & Knight.
Legislative Session Logistics
Mia McKown: Well, when does I guess, Tori, let me ask you this, when does session start? And where are we in the process leading up to session?
Tori Deal: Yeah, thanks for the question Mia. So as most folks may know, we're right now in interim committee weeks, which started September 18, they end December 15. Following that, of course, will be 60 days of session, which will start January 9 and will end on March 8 of 2024.
Mia McKown: And that's a little bit early this year. Is that right? Sometimes we have it. It's not always the same time, is that correct?
Tori Deal: Correct.
Mia McKown: OK.
Nathan Adams: Kim, who are the prominent political figures or leaders anticipated to play a significant role in shaping the discussions during the 2024 session?
Kimberly Case: Sure. Senate President Kathleen Passidomo and Speaker Paul Renner are both in their second session as the presiding officers of each chamber, and they will play a critical role in determining policy and budget priorities for the session. I think we'll also see Senator Ben Albritton and Representative Danny Perez, who are the incoming designated leaders for the 2025-26 term, take an even more significant leadership role this session. And the other key leader to mention here is Governor DeSantis. He will begin to outline his agenda for the upcoming session, both with the release of his budget recommendations as well as specific legislation that will be unveiled in the next few weeks.
And the other key leader to mention here is Governor DeSantis. He will begin to outline his agenda for the upcoming session, both with the release of his budget recommendations as well as specific legislation that will be unveiled in the next few weeks.
Legislative Priorities: Healthcare
Mia McKown: So we know who the prominent leaders are. I guess each of you bring a unique perspective to your different topics. So what are the key legislative priorities that are expected to be addressed during the Florida legislative session in 2024? Kim, I know you have a special niche in healthcare. Can you kind of share with us like some of the areas in healthcare that you think might have some traction or get a lot of attention in this next session?
Kimberly Case: Sure, Mia. Well, I'll first start off by saying is I think rising inflation has had an impact on all of us, and we've seen significant increases in the costs of food, housing and healthcare. So I think you'll see a continued focus on pocketbook issues this session, specifically as it relates to healthcare. We've already heard from President Passidomo that one of her top priorities this year will be improving the delivery and cost of healthcare. This includes a focus on prevention and early medical intervention, the use of telehealth for some services and growing Florida's healthcare workforce amid our state's rapid population growth. Speaker Renner has also identified healthcare as a top priority, as well as a continued focus on mental health.
This includes a focus on prevention and early medical intervention, the use of telehealth for some services and growing Florida's healthcare workforce amid our state's rapid population growth.
Legislative Priorities: Education
Mia McKown: Well, and it's such a huge part of the budget, too, so it makes sense that those issues are going to be top of mind. Not to get into it, because we can have a whole podcast on telehealth. But that's definitely, I work in the arena with doctors and nurses and hospitals, and we're looking for some guidance in that area. So I think that will be interesting to follow. I know you also have, Kim, kind of a special niche and keep your eye a lot on education. And are you finding kind of the same inflation-type issue? I mean, what do you think are going to be some of the top issues in education that we should look for?
Kimberly Case: Well, I think improving Florida's education system has been a top legislative priority every year, and I think this year will be no different. Last year, we saw a focus on expanding school choice options for K-12 students. I know that just this past month we had a special session, and we saw the Legislature approved money for enhanced security at Jewish day schools. This session, one of the emerging issues that we're seeing is President Passidomo has identified the need to reduce regulations and burdensome reporting, paperwork requirements for public schools. So this year we're seeing three bills related to the deregulation of public schools already moving through the process. And I'm that as we get closer to session, there will be more bills filed that address education including some higher ed issues.
I think improving Florida's education system has been a top legislative priority every year, and I think this year will be no different.
Legislative Priorities: Infrastructure and Energy
Mia McKown: And Jon, what about infrastructure and energy? Do we expect those to have any type of traction in the next session?
Jon Steverson: Yeah, absolutely. Florida continues to invest heavily in infrastructure projects, and Florida Department of Transportation budget for the next five years totals over $68 billion in transportation investments. I think Kim touched on budget, might even discuss it a little bit more later, but the budgets have been at a historical high, all-time high for the state of Florida. And as the state continues to experience rapid growth in population and tourism, the focus must remain on critical improvements to ensure that we can meet those transportation demands. I would expect that focus to continue to be a priority through the 2024 session, and the governor's budget request that should come out any day now, it will be quite telling. As far as energy, all those moving here and visiting here obviously demand more and more from the electric utility grid, and everyone is trying to meet that demand yet remain environmentally conscious. And there have been many kind of what I'll call one-off proposals over the years as to how to best address that issue. But this year the Florida House has said they want to do a comprehensive energy package. Speaker Renner announced that the House will focus on low cost, reliable or domestically sourced energy solutions. We say, OK that's great. What all does that entail? We've heard rumors about renewable natural gas partnering up with dairies to harness that power. We talk about hydrogen, I know there's some hard utility companies looking at that. I know the Department of Environmental Protection has already kind of said, well, we might not be quite there yet. There's certainly something everyone's exploring. Florida, Sunshine State, there'll be a continued focus on solar. But we have to remember that we can't abandon traditional sources at the cost of grid security. It's quite chilly out today here in Florida, which is somewhat unusual for us. But just think about if it was actually the freeze that some of our northern states are seeing, and we all remember what happened just a couple of years ago in Texas.
As the state continues to experience rapid growth in population and tourism, the focus must remain on critical improvements to ensure that we can meet those transportation demands.
Legislative Priorities: Coastal Resilience
Mia McKown: I definitely do. No, that was not a good thing. There's a term that I've heard, Tori and first of all, probably is coastal resilience.
Tori Deal: Yes.
Mia McKown: If you could tell us for me what that means, because I've heard it kind of some buzzing for the next session.
Tori Deal: Yeah. So I think it has been and will continue to be a priority, not just for the Legislature, but your agency heads that deal with this topic, mostly the Department of Environmental Protection. So because Florida has such a unique environment that takes these heavy hits during our storms, especially our coastlines, the Legislature and the governor have given record funding to agencies that protect those resources, which in turn brings in tourism, which is a major driver for our state's growth. With that, I think it's going to remain a priority for the Legislature and the governor. Jon and I have sat in multiple committee meetings that they've addressed our coastal shorelines, how we're going to harden surrounding, but not only surrounding but new development as they move to our state. In 2021, Governor DeSantis signed Senate Bill 1954, which ensured a unified approach to Florida's coastal and inland resilience, and overall I think that the question will remain is how can we bounce back and be proactive to our hurricane events, erosion, coastal storms, flooding, instead of being reactive. I think that will continue to be a trend that you'll see throughout our state. And FDEP is going to be requesting or seeking $206 million for the Florida resilient program for 24-25.
Overall I think that the question will remain is how can we bounce back and be proactive to our hurricane events, erosion, coastal storms, flooding, instead of being reactive. I think that will continue to be a trend that you'll see throughout our state.
Mia McKown: We can't get away from the hurricanes. We're trying to be, I think, to your point, trying to be proactive is something that's going to be, that's always the challenge though, too. So the devil is in the details.
Tori Deal: Which also plays into your insurance rates, right?
Legislative Priorities: Insurance
Nathan Adams: And that's a great segue to the next subject, insurance. So, Beth, you said you were a former insurance regulator yourself. I know you practice a lot in this area. I certainly have a lot of clients that, you know, continue to see insurance, an increase in the rates, but also drops in coverage. And it's affecting companies to the point where some were rethinking whether to come to Florida at all because of the insurance issues and others who are here trying to adapt too. And so we've seen several sessions now where this has been a subject. But what do you expect in the next session?
Beth Vecchioli: Great question, Nate. Thank you for asking. First, you mentioned some of the work that was done in prior sessions. The Legislature has done a great job tackling tort reform specifically as it relates to insurance contracts. They eliminated assignment of benefits because there was so much fraud in the system due to AOBs.
Mia McKown: AOBs?
Beth Vecchioli: Assignment of Benefits. And this past special session, they allocated funds to the My Safe Florida Home program, which is really important because it's a program where consumers can get grants to harden their homes and install wind mitigation techniques and other types of equipment to fortify their home in the event of a hurricane. So they've done a lot of work already in 2022, and this year — the problem is the way insurance rates are developed, it takes a while for those reforms to work into the insurance rates. And so consumers are, you know, very concerned, as you point out, Nate, companies are having a hard time affording insurance. Consumers certainly are having a hard time insuring their homes, which is a big problem. That affects, you know, home sales, that affects a big part of our economy. So while much of the heavy lifting has already been done, unfortunately, we have to probably wipe about 12 to 18 months 'till we start seeing those premiums go down or stabilize. The good news is that there are a lot of new insurance companies that have already entered the state and become licensed, and those new companies don't have the legacy claims and expenses that the existing insurers have. And so they can offer products perhaps on a more affordable basis. We are starting to see some creativity in terms of what policies look like these days. Deductibles are changing. Some companies are offering a separate policy to cover your deductible. If your homeowner's policy has a 20 percent deductible and you can't afford that, you can get another policy that will cover your deductible in the event of a disaster. So there's all sorts of creative things that are being addressed. Several bills have already been filed in 2024 that pertain to property insurance. Our state residual market citizens property, we've seen all the headlines that it's growing like crazy. They have about 1.3 million policies now. But some of these new insurance companies and existing insurers are starting to take policies out of citizens to insure in their own companies. So that's, those are all good signs that the market is trying to stabilize and heading in the right direction. It just takes a little bit of time. Another problem that affects insurance companies is the cost of reinsurance, and unfortunately, that is not regulated. However, we do have a Florida Hurricane Cap Fund, which does provide a low level of reinsurance protection for all property insurers in the state of Florida. So they may be looking at some ways to tweak that level of protection because it is very much cheaper than what you can get in the commercial market. So that's another way that it will help stabilize some of these insurance companies. And then I would be remiss if I didn't address auto insurance, because for the last several years, we've been talking about repealing personal injury protection, our no fault auto system.
Mia McKown: I moved to Tallahassee in 2002, and I think they were talking about it then, and so it's been an ongoing debate for sure.
Beth Vecchioli: Of course, there was a bill that passed in 2021, but the governor vetoed. So they're still trying to get that bill over the finish line. It proposes to replace our current system with the bodily injury and property damage system. A lot of folks think that would be much better. And if something like that was adopted, we might see some auto insurance rates go down as well because those are starting to creep up and becoming very expensive, particularly in the line of electric vehicles, because it's very costly to repair those vehicles when they're in a car accident. And so those kind of things are also driving up insurance rates in the state.
Global Events Impacting Florida's Legislative Session
Mia McKown: In the end, money drives so many things, doesn't it? It's really interesting. Jon, we've been focusing so much of what was kind of the Florida-unique issues that this session is going to address. Does any of the national global events that are going on that we all hear, whether it's on Twitter or your nightly news, do you expect any of those type of international and global events to have any impact upon this legislative session in Florida this next year?
Jon Steverson: You know, as a peninsular state here hanging out in the Gulf of Mexico, Florida is definitely subject to storms both foreign and domestic, and we saw that with the recent special session that was called to address a whole host of items, and that went from Hurricane Idalia and dealing with the aftereffects of that. Helping local governments, helping the citizens get the help that they need in order to get back on their feet. And they've hit a lot of very small local governments. So those would need some additional assistance that you might not have seen in some other storms as well. And then while we're having a special session, let's go ahead and roll the international issue of Israel, Hamas and everything that was going on at the same time. And you saw a passage of everything from hurricane assistance to sanctions against terrorist regimes, security infrastructure to guard against violence and basically an outright support for the state of Israel. And when you look at what's happening nationally, you can't ignore that we have a governor who is running for president. Certainly that's going to continue to play in items throughout the 2024 session as his national aspirations continue. He's going to make sure that he's passing policy that benefits the state of Florida, and everybody's going to be looking to the state of Florida. All his critics are going to be trying to use that against him. So we're set up for yet another interesting legislative session.
And when you look at what's happening nationally, you can't ignore that we have a governor who is running for president. Certainly that's going to continue to play in items throughout the 2024 session as his national aspirations continue.
Nathan Adams: Kim, earlier you alluded to the budget, and I understand we're going to have a really big one this year. It will be the biggest ever.
Kimberly Case: I think so.
Nathan Adams: Can you give us an update on how you think that budget is going to look?
Kimberly Case: Absolutely. Well, first, I'll just mention how our economy's doing, that Florida's economic outlook is positive. We continue to experience growth that's driven in part by the arrival of baby boomers in Florida, as well as pro-growth policies that state leaders have enacted over the last few years. We are currently the third most populous state with more than 22 million residents, and we have, on average, 817 new people per day moving to Florida. In addition to the population growth that's helping with our economy, we're also seeing Florida's unemployment rate continue to maintain lower than the national average. I think ours was 2.8 percent in October, while the national rate was 3.9 percent. And that's actually, those numbers, it's the 36th consecutive month that Florida's unemployment rate has remained below the nation's. Our labor force has also grown by 0.2 points in October, while the national labor force rate declined 0.1 percent. And our positive economic performance has had a positive impact on Florida revenue collections. And this is where the budget comes into play. According to the latest EDR report, that's the economic and demographic research, collections are at $2.77 billion more than originally projected. And this really bodes well as the Legislature crafts the budget for next year, gives them more money to play with. Last year's budget totaled $116.5 billion, which was the highest it's ever been. And I expect that we'll see a similar number this year.
Well, first, I'll just mention how our economy's doing, that Florida's economic outlook is positive. We continue to experience growth that's driven in part by the arrival of baby boomers in Florida, as well as pro-growth policies that state leaders have enacted over the last few years.
Mia McKown: And really and truly, the budget is the only thing that the Legislature has to pass.
Kimberly Case: That's correct.
Mia McKown: When they, when they come in. But they're obviously they're going to be some issues, Tori, that are going to pass in addition to the budget. And I'm just curious on your thoughts, how might the outcomes of the 2024 session, whether it's passing legislation or not passing legislation, do you think will impact the residents of Florida in terms of healthcare, infrastructure and social issues?
Tori Deal: Sure. Yeah, so I think mostly two things come to mind for me. Affordability and accessibility will be what our leaders are looking for. Florida is rapidly growing, which we've all covered that here multiple times. But in order to retain its growth, we have to come to the table to discuss these topics that impact us the most at home. So I think we're going to see a focus on an outcome of how can we make it affordable, accessible on all our major issues so that we can keep these residents in our state, whether it's healthcare, infrastructure, insurance, affordable housing, which we saw addressed in the most recent session. But I think they'll go deeper into that. Education, energy, the list goes on. Can we make it affordable? Can it be accessible to everyone, even those that are in communities that aren't as populated as others? So that's what I'm hoping outcome will be for us citizens.
Affordability and accessibility will be what our leaders are looking for. Florida is rapidly growing, which we've all covered that here multiple times. But in order to retain its growth, we have to come to the table to discuss these topics that impact us the most at home.
Mia McKown: Exactly.
Impact of the 2024 Election Cycle and Major Ballot Issues
Nathan Adams: So we've talked about national and even international politics concerning the 2024 election cycle. I expect we're going to be able to see more and more news coverage of constitutional amendments and other updates. I just wanted to hear from you, Jon. What's your perspective on what we're going to out of the session?
Jon Steverson: Sure. You know, there's a lot of seats at stake. You mentioned the presidential election. We also have one seat in the U.S. Senate, Senator Scott's seat. In the U.S. House of Representatives we'll have 28 seats that will be up for election. Here in Florida, with the way they've split up the Senate, we'll have 20 seats coming up for election in 2024. But in the Florida House, all 120 seats. So I'm hoping that means they're going to get it done and get on out of town and get to campaigning because they've got a lot to do in a very short period of time. When you look at constitutional amendments, in order to reach the 2024 ballot, a proposed amendment must pass judicial review by April 1, 2024. And then they have to have collected and validated 891,523 signatures. So 8 percent of the 2020 total turnout in Florida by February 1 of 2024. Right now, there are 29 proposed amendments filed, but only three are really out there actively collecting signatures. And when you look at what happened nationally, especially with recent elections in Ohio, you've seen people like to place items on the ballot that they think are going to push voters to the polls, especially people of their political leanings. And I'll start with our first one that's out there that might — I guess people are planning on those to motivate folks who might otherwise have some of that motivation reduced — and that's the adult personal use of marijuana. This would allow for the full legalization of recreational marijuana, and that's something they've spent approximately $40 million so far to make this happen with signature collections. They qualified for judicial review back in April 6. So they should be on there. So we'll see if it has the impact that those people pushing it want. Another issue that I'm not going to talk much about, but certainly one that's going to drive folks to the polls, is abortion. And that one for right now, they're looking to establish abortion as a constitutional right. It has yet to qualify for judicial review. And they have not consolidated that issue around one amendment. One that's a little, I guess, more technical or kind of geeky in the environmental world is this one called, it's right to clean and healthy water. It sounds great. Everybody should have a right to clean, healthy water. But when you look at the actual wording of the amendment, it basically means no state agency could ever issue another permit for any project ever, because any permit really is a slight degradation of the overall system, even though you'll have mitigation to make up for it. And this really stems from a group called the Rights of Nature Group. And you might recall a couple of years ago, it became a big deal where they were seeking to establish legal rights for non-sentient entities so that like a lake or a stream could sue and have legal standing on its own, that it didn't have to be someone involved with that particular water body. They have approximately 30,000 signatures to date, and they got a long way to go to get that 891,000.
Mia McKown: The constitutional amendments to me are always fascinating because the devil is in the details. What may sound just what you were talking about with the water, all, you know, that the intent and purpose may be laudable, but the devil is in the detail as to how you really make that work and what the balance is. So it's always very, very interesting. Well, Nate, it sounds like we've got a busy session coming up, even though it's an election year. And it was nice to hear from everyone on that.
Nathan Adams: Yeah. I want to thank Kimberley Case, Tori Deal, Jon Steverson and Beth Vecchioli for their informative comments about the 2024 regular legislative session. And to my co-host, Mia McKown, thanks to her as well. And most of all, thanks to you for joining us today. Please plan to join us for our next Florida Capital Conversations podcast. Have a great day.