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RECAP: Running in Place-Legislative Debrief


Running in Place:  Florida Lawmaking Takes
Back Seat to Politics

What did the Florida Legislature accomplish during the 2024 session? With all eyes on the elections, it's unlikely the Legislature will make big waves like last year.

As we prepare for the 2024 elections, the public affairs forum explored recent laws enacted by Florida:

In earlier years, the Legislature worked closely with Gov. Ron DeSantis on his priorities. However, DeSantis hasn’t been as involved this year and suspended his presidential campaign shortly after the session began. The session focused more on the wishes of the Senate president, the House speaker and committee chairs on issues like health care.

Read full review below.

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Jason Garcia is one of Florida’s leading investigative journalists and the publisher of “Seeking Rents,” a newsletter and podcast that explores the ways businesses influence public policy. The winner of multiple state and national awards, Garcia is the author of “Big Profits, Tiny Taxes,” which exposed how corporations dodge taxes, and a 2021 series about dark money used in a “ghost candidate" election scheme.

“Seeking Rents” examines the many ways that businesses influence public policy across Florida, from city halls to the state Capitol. “Rent-seeking" is a term in economics that describes when a corporation uses its political influence to turn tax laws and public policy in its favor.

Originally from Toronto, Garcia graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park. As an investigative reporter for the Orlando Sentinel, Garcia wrote an award-winning series on corporate-tax avoidance and led an investigation into a statewide “ghost candidate” election scandal that exposed the role of operatives for utility giant Florida Power & Light and sparked a criminal investigation in Seminole County.

Prior to that, he was an associate editor for Florida Trend, covering state politics and business for the business-news publication.

Skyler Swisheris a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel and covered the 2024 session of the Florida Legislature. He has been reporting on most of the hot-button issues that affect Florida voters. Recent stories include Disney’s legal and power struggles with Gov. Ron DeSantis, abortion and barring children under 16 from social media platforms.

He previously covered politics, health and other topics at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and the Daytona Beach News-Journal and was a reporter for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel for five years, covering politics, elections and Mar-a-Lago. He worked as a health and projects reporter for four years for the Daytona Beach News-Journal and spent six years as an education and government reporter for The Columbia (TN) Daily Herald.

Swisher grew up in Memphis and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and political science from the University of Tennessee.

Aubrey Jewett

Jewett is an internationally recognized expert on American and Florida politics and is currently the Assistant Director and Associate Professor in the School of Politics, Security and International Affairs at the University of Central Florida. Jewett received his Ph.D. in Political Science from Florida State University and B.A. in Social Science Education from the University of North Florida.

Jewett is co-founder of the Lou Frey Institute of Politics and Government at UCF whose

primary mission is civic education.

Jewett has published numerous journal articles, book chapters and scholarly books. He is co-author of Politics in Florida 5th edition from the Florida Institute of Government Press and Peppertree Press and of Political Rules of the Road (University Press of America). 

Jewett received the Leon Weaver Award for his study of ballot invalidation in Florida during the 2000 presidential election. He was selected and served as an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellow in Washington, D.C.

Jewett has won numerous awards for teaching, advising and service excellence and has helped to secure over $1 million in state and federal grants, primarily to promote civic education.

Moderator: Fred Lauten currently works as a mediator and arbitrator at the law firm of Upchurch, Watson, White, and Max. He joined the firm in January 2020. He served as Chief Judge of the Ninth Judicial Circuit from 2014-2019. Prior he was the Administrative Judge of the Circuit Civil Division and the Circuit Criminal Division of the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court.


Judge Lauten has also presided over the Complex Commercial Litigation Division. He has presided over the Violation of Probation Division, Circuit Criminal Division 17, a Circuit Criminal Division in Osceola County and served in every division in the Orange County Court. Judge Lauten served on the bench for 26 years.

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By Judi Hayes
As we end another legislative session, it’s worth a look in the rearview mirror. What, if any, progress was
made? Are there signs of change in the air? On March 13, Hot Topics took on these questions and more
with “Running in Place: Florida Lawmaking Takes a Back Seat to Politics.”
Moderator Frederick Lauten, retired chief judge of the Ninth Judicial Circuit, introduced the panel:
Orlando Sentinel’s Skyler Swisher, journalist Jason Garcia (author of the “Seeking Rents” newsletter and
podcast), and UCF political science Professor Aubrey Jewett. 
At the forefront, the Legislature mostly skirted around reproductive rights. As the citizen initiative
Amendment 4 that would put abortion on the ballot this fall is working its way through judicial review,
the “fetal personhood” bill was stopped in its tracks by Alabama’s Supreme Court decision that
conferred personhood on embryos stored for infertility treatment. The parental notification issue is still
being legislated, while the 15-week ban on abortion was argued before the Florida Supreme Court, and
that decision could be handed down any day now, potentially triggering a near-total six-week ban. Jason
Garcia posited that the Legislature’s own extremism may have tripped them up since reproductive rights
are driving voters to the polls in unprecedented numbers and Republicans are racking up losses as a
The bill banning social media use by kids under 16 ran headfirst into the parental rights legislation that
was the hallmark of the 2023 legislative session, and it was modified to allow for some social media use
by 14- to 15-year-olds with their parents’ permission, but will likely face constitutional challenges by
social media companies. 
Gov. Ron DeSantis didn’t lay out the sweeping agenda he set forth in 2023 and was largely absent from
the legislative landscape as he unsuccessfully ran for president. As a sign of his waning influence, anti-
LGBTQ and Confederate monument preservation bills failed after overwhelmingly unfavorable public
comment. Meanwhile, Swisher said far-right figures in Florida were angry because they said moderate
Republicans were governing “like Democrats.”
But it wasn’t all bad news. The push to pass open-carry laws failed, to the relief of gun sense
organizations like Moms Demand Action. One approved bill would compensate victims of the Dozier
school for years of childhood abuse. After session ended, Equality Florida announced that it had reached
a settlement with the state in litigation surrounding the “Don’t Say Gay” bill — the deliberately vague
statute was clarified to specify that LGBTQ students and teachers should enjoy the freedom to discuss
their families and their lives, and to find help for bullying.
Local governance took hit after hit as “preemption” was the buzzword of the session. Local checks on
gas-powered leaf blowers, citizen-led initiatives, prevailing wages and workforce protections were all
preempted by the state. Another bill was approved to let 16- and 17-year-olds work more than 30 hours
a week with parental or guardian permission.
As Governor DeSantis heads into a lame-duck term, there are signs of his influence waning. He didn’t get
the money he asked for to transform New College unchecked, and he didn’t get more money to fund his
controversial migrant relocation program.
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2024 Hot Topics: Running in Place -Legislative Debrief

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