What happened at the Florida Capitol this week?

Published: Jan. 14, 2022 at 5:06 PM EST
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An aggressive agenda from the governor, a new abortion bill and hospitals caught between state and federal governments. It was a busy first week of the new lawmaking session.

Here is this week’s Capitol recap:

It started with Florida's governor laying out his plans for the year. During Tuesday's State of the State address, Gov. Ron DeSantis touted his ongoing feud with the White House, rejecting federal shot rules and more.

"Together, we have made Florida the freest state in these United States," DeSantis said at the top of the speech. "While so many around the country have consigned the people's rights to the graveyard, Florida has stood as freedom's vanguard."

He then pushed his nearly $100 billion budget and controversial policies like a new election crimes office or codifying a ban on teaching critical race theory.

"Florida has stood strong as the rock of freedom," DeSantis said. "It is upon this rock that we must build Florida's future."

Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during the State of the State address held in Tallahassee, Florida, on...
Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during the State of the State address held in Tallahassee, Florida, on Jan. 11, 2022.

Critics believed the agenda was all about appeasing a GOP base for reelection. Florida's Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez told us to think again.

"Florida is a term-limited state," Nuñez, a fellow Republican, said. "When you're here, you want to make a difference. That means taking bold action. That means investing in bold programs."

Floridians also got a surprise abortion bill this week, banning the procedure at 15 instead of 24 weeks. Sponsors included exceptions for fatal fetal abnormalities but not rape or incest.

Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez shares her thoughts about the governor's agenda as the legislative...
Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez shares her thoughts about the governor's agenda as the legislative session kicks off in Florida.

Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, who is handling the bill in the upper chamber, explained the reasoning.

"If you have a situation of rape or incest, that would typically be known in the first trimester," Stargel said. "You would have the ability to handle that situation."

GOP leaders have said they're open to the concept, but opponents called the idea an "extreme" restriction on health care and vow opposition.

"You can bring it on because you can mess around and find out what's going to happen," said Rep. Michele Rayner, D-St. Petersburg, during a rally on Wednesday.

Rep. Michele Rayner speaks out against a bill that would limit abortions in Florida.
Rep. Michele Rayner speaks out against a bill that would limit abortions in Florida.

Some big bills advanced in committees over the last five days, like;

  • Extended COVID liability shields for health providers.
  • Additional powers to challenge local ordinances.
  • And heightened penalties for drug dealers supplying fatal doses.

The U.S. Supreme Court also struck down federal shot rules for large businesses but not for health care workers.

Florida hospitals are now in a tough spot -- forced to either comply with the feds to keep getting Medicare and Medicaid funding or the state, which requires broad shot exemptions under threat of hefty penalties.

"It may need to be resolved in court in terms of federal preemption," said Mary Mayhew, who heads the Florida Hospital Association as president and CEO.

Mary Mayhew says Medicare and Medicaid funding hangs in the balance after the Supreme Court's...
Mary Mayhew says Medicare and Medicaid funding hangs in the balance after the Supreme Court's ruling regarding COVID-19 vaccine requirements for health care workers.

Mayhew said providers do not want to be in this position. Access to the federal dollars at risk is crucial, she said.

"The reality remains that hospitals are obligated to maintain compliance with the conditions of participation in Medicare," she said. "Medicare is such a vital program in the state, and in this country in preserving and providing access for millions of elderly Floridians."

Democrats have filed a bill to repeal the state's new shot mandate restrictions.

They are unlikely to get support from the GOP majority. Republican lawmakers have long argued vaccinations should be an individual choice.

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