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Legislative Roundup: Permitless carry passes, abortion ban advances

The 2023 Florida legislative session has reached the halfway mark and lawmakers have passed, and are working on, several pieces of controversial legislation. WUWF’s Bob Barrett spoke with Rachel Witbracht, director of government relations for the University of West Florida, about some of those new laws including permitless carry.

Rachel Witbracht: Last week, Governor DeSantis signedHB 543into law which would allow anyone who can legally own a gun in Florida to carry one without a permit. Republicans say that law abiding citizens have the right to carry guns and protect themselves. And they say that most people probably will still want to get a permit because it allowed them to carry concealed weapons in states with reciprocal agreements. Democrats and gun safety advocates say that it'll make the state more dangerous, and have cited the 2018 Parkland shooting and the 2016 Pulse nightclub shootings as evidence for that. Democratic State Rep. Dan Daley, who represents the Parkland area where the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas shooting happened, tweeted that morning, "Governor DeSantis, quietly unceremoniously, and with zero pomp and circumstance, signed the permitless carry bill into law. I can't say I'm surprised by the way it was done, considering even the governor knows, must know how widely unpopular this bill is with Floridians." So he did sign this without an audience. He signed it in his office in the Capitol. There was no alert to the media, and it just kind of (got) signed.

Bob Barrett: One of the other bills that's getting an awful lot of publicity was the Senate passing the six week abortion ban. Is there any word on how that's going in the House?

Witbracht: The House passed their version, which is pretty much identical to the Senate version in their last committee, so it's eligible to be heard on the House floor. The Senate passed it last week, and it'll be sent over to the House. And last week, former Agriculture commissioner and current chair of the Florida Democratic Party, Nikki Fried and Senate Majority Leader Lauren Book were arrested outside of the Capitol outside of Tallahassee City Hallalong with a dozen others in a protest. The Democrats, of course, are fighting this. This bill does also include exceptions for rape and incest. The bill that was passed last year, which was a 15 week abortion ban, did not have those exceptions. So that is a big change. There's also from the 15 weeks to the six weeks, but then you have those exceptions as well. Senate President Kathleen Pasadomo really pushed for that last year when the 15 week abortion ban was passed, and it looks like she got that in there this year.

Barrett: Does it look like the governor will definitely sign this, or is he waffling any?

Witbracht: Absolutely. I think we're seeing a governor who is positioning himself to run for president, and this is a particularly good position for him to take for his Republican base, not only in the state of Florida, but across the nation.

Barrett: Other than those big bills, is there a lot going on behind the scenes right now?

Witbracht: Right now, we're waiting on the budget stuff to happen. Last week, the House and Senate passed their versions, which we talked about in our last interview, they're about $600 million apart in those budgets. So this poises them to go into conferencing probably starting next week.

Barrett: And are there any other bills that might be in the works that are going to make headlines?

Witbracht: I think something of interest to a lot of Floridians would be insurance reform. I saw that the Commerce Committee dropped a proposed bill that would shift a little bit of the insurer insured rights on both homeowners and car insurance. So that'll be something that we will see happen. There was a special sessionbefore this regular legislative session that kind of changed homeowners insurance. So it'll be interesting to see where they land on that.

Barrett: Okay, well, we're just past the halfway point. Still more to come.

Witbracht: Absolutely. Thank you.

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.
Rachel Witbracht serves as the Director of Government Relations at the University of West Florida. In this role, Rachel manages local, state and federal relationships, tracks and analyzes public policy and budgetary events, and acts as the university’s chief lobbyist. During her time at the university, she has fostered key associations with local and state actors that heighten UWF’s presence in Northwest Florida and the State of Florida as a whole.