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GOP lawmakers tally big wins in 2021 session despite strong opposition

'I think the Republicans won, but I think also Gov. DeSantis won,' FSU Professor Carol Weissert says
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Posted at 6:33 PM, Apr 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-30 18:33:49-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Sixty days and hundreds of bills later, Florida lawmakers have gaveled out for this year's legislative session.

This year saw the GOP majority push through several major agenda items, despite strong opposition.

"What's been achieved in this session -- says that this next year, 2021, the state of Florida has come roaring back," Gov. Ron DeSantis said. "We have a very long list of policy successes. There are things that have been done that will prove to be transformational."

Below are some of the things lawmakers approved:

  • COVID liability protections for businesses, schools and health care facilities
  • Crackdown on foreign influence
  • Expansion of Florida's school voucher program
  • Election reform, putting new rules in place for ballot drop boxes and mail-in voting
  • Highly controversial "anti-riot" bill, strengthening penalties against violent protesters and more
Carol Weissert
Florida State University political science professor Carol Weissert says the legislative session was a big victory for the governor.

"Gov. DeSantis needs to take a victory lap," said Florida State University political science professor Carol Weissert. "All of those issues were on his state of the state address."

Weissert called the year a victory for the governor, who personally championed a number of the policies and faces re-election next year.

"I think the Republicans won, but I think also Gov. DeSantis won," Weissert said.

Democrats, however, are frustrated. Many headed home are saying GOP colleagues advanced oppressive red meat policies, ignoring pandemic problems.

"We have people who are still trying to get on their feet while we're in the midst of a global pandemic," said State Rep. Michele Rayner, D-St. Petersburg. "Where are our priorities?"

State Rep. Michele Rayner
State Rep. Michele Rayner says lawmakers did not sufficiently help residents still suffering from the pandemic.

The minority did get police reform across the finishing line, hoping to ease tensions between law enforcement and communities of color. The policy received unanimous support from lawmakers and aimed to strengthen use-of-force training while limiting techniques like chokeholds.

"With law enforcement and community stakeholders having buy-in with this bill, I think that gives us the greatest chance we'll see it signed into law," said State Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa.

One thing almost everyone was happy with, the budget. It's a more than $101.5 billion bill -- bolstered by federal relief dollars.

"I think we have a historic budget that is going to achieve all kinds of things for Floridians," said State Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay. "We're going to have the largest, most historic education budget in history -- huge increases in spending in government-run schools. But, also a massive, historic level of growth in our school choice options."

State Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay
State Rep. Randy Fine was among the lawmakers applauding the budget passed the Legislature.

DeSantis and his line-item veto will still have the final say on that bill and many others in the coming days.

And it won't be long until we see lawmakers at the Capitol again. They are scheduled to return in two weeks to consider the new gaming pact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.