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Florida lawmakers face redistricting, fewer tests, and abortion law ahead of 2022

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Posted at 10:22 PM, Sep 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-20 23:24:47-04

They’re back. Lawmakers have returned to the Capitol this week for meetings in preparation for 2022. Members are poised to change political districts and may take up a major abortion bill next year.

During these pre-session committee weeks over the next few months, lawmakers will ready bills and plans. Chief among them, redistricting.

Members will carve the state into new legislative and congressional districts after the latest 2020 Census count, which gave Florida an additional seat in Congress-- upping its delegation count to 28.

The GOP majority has promised a fair shake. But, Democrats worry new district lines could mean Republicans gain a supermajority in the Florida House or tighter control of the Florida Senate.

“I think as a caucus, we need to stay focused," said Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa. "And, make sure we don’t get distracted by— if you will— the culture war kind of stuff that’s going to come up.”

The GOP may also seriously consider a fetal heartbeat abortion bill, like the new Texas law. It would ban abortions around six weeks instead of 24.

Rep. Anthony Sabatini is sponsoring a version. The Clermont Republican believed the party would be more encouraged to move forward with the measure after the U.S. Supreme Court recently declined to challenge the Texas policy.

“It's time to just do a Texas did and many other states," Sabatini said. "A lot of states have passed the heartbeat bill. Texas just was the first to get to the SCOTUS, the Supreme Court.”

Progressives have already warned pushback would be fierce. Rep. Anna Eskamani said the policy won't likely survive legal challenges due to Florida's broad privacy laws. She vowed to fight the measure in the House at every step.

“There are millions of women of reproductive age who are at risk of losing access to bodily autonomy, because of these male politicians who want to continue to play politics with their lives,” said the Orlando Democrat.

Reducing Florida's number of standardized tests is another idea in the mix and likely to get bipartisan support. Gov. DeSantis has announced the intention to eliminate the annual FSA, replacing it with regular evaluations during the school year. He's tapped the legislature to draft a policy that members will likely reveal in the coming weeks.

“We believe a system of progress monitoring, where you have more streamlined periodic assessments would be more student, parent, and teacher-friendly,” DeSantis said, Monday.

Hyper-partisan bills are also likely, political experts said. With 2022 being an election year, Florida State Assistant Political Science Professor Hans Hassell expected red-meat ideas to pop up but with little follow-through.

“They can go back to their base and say, hey look, this is what we've done," Hassell said. "But there may not necessarily be this sort of the driving force behind all of this to actually see it into law, and what they're really interested in is fodder for their elected or re-election cycles.”

Lawmakers will have five more committee weeks after this one.

The 60-day session starts Tuesday, Jan. 11.