TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida legislative session ended today with some progress, things that should never have been done, and much work left to be accomplished. SPLC Action Fund will continue to work on issues essential to our democracy with our various coalition partners and the communities we work alongside, particularly communities of color and Indigenous communities.
On the plus side, the House and Senate passed Senate Bill 274 and Senate Bill 166, which would expunge the nonjudicial arrest records of children who have successfully completed diversion programs for criminal offenses and provide for confidentiality of related arrest records exemption, respectively.
“This legislation will allow children to enter adulthood without the stain of a criminal record,” said Carrie Boyd, policy counsel for the SPLC Action Fund. “This bill was passed in a bipartisan manner, and we hope it can be a model of what can be done moving forward.”
Other legislation that would increase the time incarcerated people earn toward sentence reduction for good behavior and reestablish parole did not get votes in the full House and Senate but will be reintroduced next year. SPLC Action Fund condemns the passage of House Bill 1. It attempts to silence protesters and allows the Governor and Cabinet to overrule local governments that reallocate law enforcement budgets for much-needed services in their communities.
SPLC Action Fund also condemns the twelfth-hour passage of Senate Bill 90, the anti-voter bill which, among other provisions, will limit groups from providing food and water to voters standing in line, restrict who can collect and drop off absentee ballots, and limit the use of drop boxes.
“HB 1 and SB 90 are a direct backlash to the tremendous mobilization of communities of color around issues of racial injustice, police brutality, and voter restrictions. They drew not from reality to justify their passage but from white supremacist online disinformation ecosystems. Instead of encouraging civic engagement, HB 1 and SB 90 criminalize participation in our democracy in an odious and destructive way,” Boyd said.
The legislative session also ended with the passage of Senate Bill 48, resulting in an unprecedented $200 million expansion of Florida’s private school voucher scheme. Florida diverts far more funding to private schools than any other state in the country. Meanwhile, lawmakers approved a paltry $38 increase in per-student spending under this year’s education budget.
“Parents of public schoolchildren should be outraged by this bill and demand that all legislators take more seriously their obligation to maintain and invest in our public schools,” said SPLC Action Fund Managing Attorney Bacardi Jackson. “Lawmakers have a duty to offer school-age children a quality education free from discrimination, not to send money that should be going to public schools to unaccountable private schools. This policy is wrong-headed and significantly undermines our public education system and the families who send their students to traditional public schools.”
Despite the continued devaluing of our public schools, the Florida legislature took some small steps under Senate Bill 590 to reduce the risk of unlawful Baker Acts against children in school. However, the bill missed an opportunity to require parental consent before their child is sent to mental health hospital for evaluation and treatment.
“We applaud the bill’s requirements for schools to employ de-escalation strategies, notify parents if their child is Baker Acted and collect certain data, among other provisions that could help curb some of the current unnecessary and unlawful uses of the law,” Jackson said. “However, we would have liked to see more emphasis placed on parental consent. This is a deeply traumatizing experience for children of all ages and the decision should be made in concert with parents and caregivers.”