Broxson says 2022 session 'a good one'
The Florida Legislature’s 2022 regular session is in the books.
“We had a record amount of money to spend, and we put almost $9 billion into the ‘Rainy Day’ fund," said Sen. Doug Broxson. "So Florida, unlike many other states, is extremely blessed in that we have a strong economy,” said Broxson.
Aided by $37 billion in federal money, lawmakers passed a record $112 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 — literally at the 11th hour of the session. That, despite it being — under state law — the only bill, which requires passage in a regular session. One issue was Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order, stripping $200 million from 12 school districts in Democratic counties that ignored his mask mandate.
“The House had in the budget a penalty for the 12 school districts that did not comply with the governor’s executive order, and ours dealt with it much differently,” Broxson said. “And it took a while to work all that out. Really, we weren’t punishing people, we were punishing students, and that was something that we simply did not want to do.”
Broxson, who chairs the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on education, points to a record spending amount for both K-12 and higher education.
“With a lot of emphasis on early learning, primarily reading before the third grade; and those are things that we need to concentrate on,” he said. “We have too many young people that cannot read as they go through school, and that’s just an albatross around their head (sic) that they’ll never get rid of.”
Numerous bills drew controversy, among them the one dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” — the more formal name is the Parental Rights in Education Act. It orders lessons on LGBTQ may not be held in Pre-K-through-3, and not in a way that’s not age-appropriate in grades 4-12.
“We want to emphasize that the ABC’s is always what we’ve done well in K-12, and that’s exactly what the bill does,” Broxson said. “Let the moral issues be handled by parents or guardians, and let the schools teach math and arithmetic and reading and all the things that help people maneuver through life.”
Another controversy deals with passage of a bill to limit abortions to within 15 weeks — a virtual carbon copy of a law passed in Mississippi last year, which is now before the U.S. Supreme Court. The question is, what happens to the Florida law, if the justices strike down its Mississippi predecessor? Broxson believes it will also face a court challenge.
“What we’re going to see is perhaps go back to the 24 weeks rather than the 15 weeks, that’s in current law; that’s the big change,” he said. “I think the Supreme Court of the U.S. will look at it; they’ve certainly given some indications that they have a much different perspective on abortion than maybe some of the previous courts have.”
Looking closer to home, Broxson says it was a good session for projects and issues affecting Northwest Florida — barring any assault by DeSantis and his veto pen — including for the University of West Florida.
“We were able to get them some money for cyber; and for some repairs they need to do on campus,” Broxson said. “Pensacola State College — we’re beefing up their truck education program. And, frankly we were very fortunate — most of the projects we requested were funded — to get through this year and hopefully get in a better position for next year.”
Redistricting, based on data from the 2020 Census, also passed, but the lines drawn for the U.S. House are facing a promised veto by DeSantis. The maps for the and Florida House and Senate — no such challenges.
“The Senate and House maps have already been approved by the [Florida] Supreme Court, and there’s no challenges from any lawsuit,” Broxson said. “We thought we drew a fair map according to the law, and the governor feels very strongly that we could have done better. We’ll see how that works out.”
Democrats in general and Black legislators in particular, see DeSantis’ agenda, on which he got almost everything he wanted, as a way of drumming up political support by creating division. DeSantis is seeking reelection as governor, and positioning himself for a possible presidential run in 2024.