News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE —With just days left in the 2024 legislative session, House and Senate budget negotiators are trying to bring a spending plan in for a landing while bills are hurtling toward the finish line.

Some big-ticket budget items have been agreed upon, such as $28.4 billion to fund Florida’s public schools and a $200 million boost to a pot of money aimed at furthering efforts to increase teacher salaries.
As the second-to-last week of the regularly scheduled session came to a close, unresolved issues started getting “bumped” to each chamber’s budget chiefs, marking the next phase of the negotiation process.
A conference committee sent unresolved health and human services issues to Senate Appropriations Chairman Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze, and House Appropriations Chairman Tom Leek, R-Ormond Beach, for further negotiations. Unresolved issues in other areas of the budget also went to Broxson and Leek by Thursday.
House Health Care Appropriations Chairman Rep. Sam Garrison, R-Fleming Island, said the health- and human-services conference committee broke off talks, at least in part, because the Senate did not make an offer about funding lawmaker-proposed projects.
“Without the member projects on the Senate side, you can’t negotiate against yourself,” Garrison said. “I do mean that everything is relative. So, in order to have a complete holistic negotiation process, we’ve got to be able to have everything in play.”
House and Senate budget leaders also came close to finalizing a spending plan for the state prison system that includes providing about $100 million for repairing Florida’s aging correctional institutions and building new housing units at prisons.
The Senate originally proposed issuing bonds and spending $100 million annually over the next 30 years, for a total of $3 billion, to build prisons and repair infrastructure.
House leaders, however, balked at taking on debt for new prisons.
“We just didn’t have an appetite to bond,” House Justice Appropriations Chairman Chuck Brannan, R-Macclenny, told reporters Wednesday afternoon.
Under the proposal, total spending on the state Department of Corrections — which houses roughly 90,000 inmates — would top $3.5 billion in the 2024-2025 fiscal year.
A budget for the 2024-2025 fiscal year, which will start July 1, needs to be finished Tuesday for the legislative session to end as scheduled on March 8. That is because of a required 72-hour “cooling off” period before lawmakers can vote on the budget.


In the race to the finish line, numerous bills were on the cusp of passing. Policies such as college tuition breaks for high-school dropouts and a ban on cultivated meat received approval from one chamber, setting up a deluge of proposals that could get final passage next week.
For example, senators on Thursday voted 26-10 to pass a measure (SB 1084) that, in part, would ban the sale of what Gov. Ron DeSantis has described as “fake” meat.
Under the bill, the sale and manufacture of cultivated meat, which often is called lab-grown meat, would be prohibited in the Sunshine State.
Bill sponsor Jay Collins, R-Tampa, said research over time might show cultivated meat is viable, but right now “there’s no guarantee of safety for the consumer.”
“We believe that our beef grows from a cow on the ground that eats grass, generates beef when we slaughter it. Same thing with pigs, same thing with chickens,” Collins, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said. “This (cultivated meat) is a product grown in the lab.”
But Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, pointed to cultivated meat as an “emerging industry” that has drawn interest from Israel and China, and argued that the ban will result in technology companies deciding against locating in Florida.
“The cultivated meat industry is in its infancy, but it’s clear that it could become an important part of meeting an increasing demand for protein as a worldwide population grows and certainly it is in this state,” Polsky said.
A House version of the bill (HB 1071) is ready for consideration by the full chamber.
The Senate also approved a measure that would provide tuition and fee waivers for students who have dropped out of high school and pursue diplomas and workforce credentials at state colleges.
The measure (SB 7032), which needs House approval before it could go to the governor’s desk, would establish what would be known as the Graduation Alternative to Traditional Education, or GATE, program within the state Department of Education.
Bill sponsor Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, characterized the bill as a way to give second chances to high-school dropouts.


With the 2024 presidential elections looming later this year, lawmakers on Friday passed a measure that would require disclaimers on political advertisements that are created using generative artificial intelligence.
Senators on Friday voted 32-0 to give final passage to a House bill (HB 919), putting it in a position to go to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk. The House passed the measure in a 104-8 vote earlier this week.
Under the bill, political ads that contain “images, video, audio, graphics, or other digital content” created using artificial intelligence would have to include a disclaimer that reads: “Created in whole or in part with the use of generative artificial intelligence (AI).”
The measure also would create a first-degree misdemeanor for violations. Penalties would be applied to people who pay for, sponsor or approve advertisements that use AI without including such disclaimers.
The proposal also seeks to direct the Florida Elections Commission to craft rules that would allow for expedited hearings related to complaints regarding violations of the bill.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Negotiations on a new state budget started to move into the next phase Wednesday, with unresolved issues being sent to House and Senate budget chiefs.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “We must acknowledge that pushing the unhoused out of sight isn’t a solution. It is a failed attempt to sweep a societal problem under the rug.” — Rep. LaVon Bracy Davis, D-Ocoee, on a measure (HB 1365) passed by the House Friday that would prevent homeless people from sleeping in public.