With DeSantis back from Iowa, Florida passes $117B budget on final day of 2024 session

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Lawmakers often save the most important issue for the final day of their annual session. This year in Florida, that meant raising the age for strippers to 21.

Oh, and they also passed a $117 billion state budget.

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But unlike the previous two years when GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis was gearing up to run for president, he didn’t ask as much from the Legislature. This year there were fewer divisive bills addressing issues like abortion, guns, racism and LGBTQ+ rights — and more focused on the priorities of House Speaker Paul Renner and Senate President Kathleen Passidomo.

Still, DeSantis declared victory, standing with Republican leaders after the annual 60-day session ended early Friday afternoon.

Florida used the last day of its legislative session to pass a $117B budget. (Fox News)

“Everything that we’ve set out to do, we’ve accomplished. A hundred percent of the promises have been delivered on. All our big ticket items,” DeSantis said, naming teacher pay raises and commuter toll relief as two such issues. “We got everything that we asked for and then some.”

But in reflecting on successes, the governor mostly discussed past years instead of the 2024 session. Following two whirlwind years of polarizing bills that gave DeSantis plenty of conservative red meat to take on the presidential campaign trail, the session was relatively calm and the governor noticeably more quiet.

“A big difference between this legislative session and the last two is that we didn’t have Gov. DeSantis’ thumbs on the scale as much. I think he was trying to figure out how to recover from his failed presidential campaign,” Democratic House Leader Fentrice Driskell said.

In a show of bipartisanship, the $117 billion budget passed unanimously in the Senate and 105-3 in the House, where a Republican and two Democrats opposed the spending plan that gives all state workers a 3% raise.

DeSantis spent half the session out of the state, campaigning for president in places like Iowa and New Hampshire. By the time DeSantis dropped out of the race, the Republican-dominated Legislature was well on its way to finish early, in part due to little interference from the governor.

Renner’s top priority was a bill restricting minors’ access to social media, and he eventually advanced it in the final week, The legislation will ban social media accounts for children and teens under 14 and require parental permission for 15- and 16-year-olds.

DeSantis vetoed the first social media ban for minors, but then worked with Renner on language they could agree on.

Passidomo successfully pass her top priority — a package of bills streamlining regulations and offering incentives to improve access to health care.

Lawmakers also passed bills that range from letting schools create voluntary chaplain programs and defining antisemitism in law to letting Floridians kill bears that pose threats to residents’ homes or property.

“The really, really hardcore controversial bills, I can’t think of anything off the top of my head other than the social media bill, but that was vetoed — and we, of course, passed a lighter version of it,” said Democratic Sen. Bobby Powell, noting that a proposal to protect Confederate monuments was one of the divisive bills that died.

Meanwhile strippers will have to wait until they’re 21 to seek employment — along with other employees of strip clubs and adult entertainment venues, such as dishwashers.

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There were fewer developments this year on the education front, though lawmakers did loosen child labor laws so kids who are home-schooled can work longer and later hours.

“How crazy is that?” Democratic Sen. Bobby Powell said of the new labor laws.

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