Florida lawmakers push through bills in last days of legislative session

Lawmakers in Tallahassee pushed through several more bills Thursday night in the last week of the legislative session before packing up to go home Friday.

It’s been a busy two months for legislators, passing bills on guns at church, approving a bill to raise the legal age for vaping to 21 years old and elections restrictions. Thursday night lawmakers passed a new elections bill that includes limiting the use of ballot drop boxes, requires separate absentee ballot requests for each election, and enforces stricter, more partisan rules for who can collect drop-off ballots and who can observe ballot counting.

Late Thursday night, lawmakers also passed a bill that would make permanent a ban on COVID-19 vaccine passports and approved a plan to crack down on large social-media companies that block users from their platforms.

Another change waiting for Governor Ron DeSantis’ signature is a pandemic mainstay, selling alcohol to-go with takeout orders. Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association’s general counsel Samantha Padgett said booze to-go helped businesses keep their doors open.

"I think what this does is continue to give our customers options. I think we’ll see customers having varying levels of comfort as society comes back online so to speak," said Padgett.

MORE: ‘No-fault’ auto insurance repeal bill advances in Florida legislature

Police killings of black men and women in 2020 brought attention to police reform, and state lawmakers answered by passing a bill on use of force training that limits chokeholds.

"Many people have said that we haven’t gone far enough, but this is a step. I just believe that we can continue to build upon this work here," said State Senator Randolph Bracy, D-Ocoee.

There is also a contentious education bill waiting for the governor’s signature. One amendment to the bill delays a law allowing student-athletes to cash in on endorsement deals. Backlash popped up on Twitter from football coaches at the University of Miami and Florida State University, who are calling for the governor to veto.

A second last-minute amendment to the same bill would ban transgender athletes from women and girls sports teams. If the bill becomes law, Florida could risk losing money. The NCAA pulled out of North Carolina for its bill restricting bathroom access for transgender people.

The countdown for the governor to sign any of these bills into law or veto them begins when he formally receives them. If DeSantis does not sign the bills, the bills become law.