Priorities for the 2023 Legislature

The following editorial was published in The Daily Sun on March 3, 2023.

OUR POSITION: The Florida Legislature opens its 2023 session this week and among the dozens, maybe hundreds, of issues its members will address there are a few we urge our lawmakers to make a priority.

The Republican-led Florida Legislature will no doubt take advantage of a powerful position when its members take their seats this week.

Not only do Republicans enjoy a distinct numbers advantage over Democrats when the roll is called, but they have a budget flush with surplus cash to work with. And, as if that isn’t enough, they will be following the lead of an ambitious governor who believes he has a mandate — enforced by his easy election win in 2022 — to project his will on all Floridians.

There is no doubt, this session will be stamped for approval by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

While we don’t agree with some of decisions the governor has made in an obvious power grab, we believe he and the lawmakers have some good ideas to move Florida forward. If the Legislature can put aside its fascination with stocking local government bodies and school boards with more conservative members, it has a chance to make a real difference in the everyday lives of Floridians.

Here are a few of the priorities we would urge legislators to focus on:

  • Affordable Housing. There is no issue even close to the seriousness of the lack of rental units that people of moderate incomes can afford in Florida. The same goes for home buyers.

Florida has been a magnet for decades for people and families who want lower taxes, sunshine and reasonably priced housing. We still have attractive taxes and sunshine but other costs — home insurance for example — have soared.

Nothing is hurting Floridians more, however, than what they have to pay for housing. In January, the median sales price for a home in the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton Metropolitan Statistical Area was $485,000.

Rents have skyrocketed everywhere. Floridians are spending 37.4% of their income, on average, for rent. But that is low for most areas, including Southwest Florida. It is not unusual for a twobedroom apartment in Charlotte or Sarasota counties to cost between $1,500 and $2,000 a month. DeSoto County has the same problem — but even fewer housing options.

Anyone who asks why we have so many job openings for restaurants, hotels and hospitality workers, along with teachers and law enforcement personnel can blame it on high rents. People who traditionally have filled so many of those jobs have moved — many of them to other states.

We don’t have easy answers but the Legislature must take action to ease this problem.

  • Budget. Gov. DeSantis has pledged surplus funds to pay for raises for teachers and that is a good thing. Those raises must be across the board and not just for new hires. More money for prison guards and law enforcement is another target for lawmakers.
  • Conceal weapons. Lawmakers need to step back and reconsider a bill endorsed by DeSantis that would allow people to carry concealed weapons without a permit or firearms training.
  • Lawsuits. Republicans are toying with the idea of more protection for businesses and insurance companies from lawsuits. We believe the protections being discussed will hurt ordinary citizens who are wronged by a business or insurance company. It also does not make sense to us for this type of protection while making it easier for people to sue journalists for defamation — an idea that infringes on rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.

There are a number of other important targets — like the Everglades restoration, rising seas and crowded roads.

When the session ends, we believe there should be more hope for all Floridians to live the life they expect in a healthy, affordable state.

 Image Credits: Diane Rado