Alachua County delegation bills advance, stall as session winds down

Florida Capitol Building with sign

The Florida Legislature is in the last half of its regular session with plenty of votes and billions of dollars to finalize. 

Right now, the House has a $115.5 billion draft budget. The Senate’s budget sits $400 million higher. The two chambers will reconcile those numbers in the next few weeks before it goes to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Both budgets represent a $2 billion reduction from the current year as leaders emphasize fiscal prudence in the face of reduced federal funds from COVID-19.  

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Alachua County’s five representatives have filed several bills. While some sit stagnant, several bills have moved through committee and will get heard in the upper and lower chamber.  

One representative from Palatka has also filed a $38 million appropriations request that could have a 2,000-acre impact to Alachua County.  

FL Senate District 9 Keith Perry
Keith Perry

Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, has the bill with perhaps the most momentum—and publicity. His bill, SB 258, would restrict drivers who cruise in the left lane on interstates. The bill also applies to any road with a speed limit above 65 miles per house and with multiple lanes.  

The bill has received a fair share of attention in news outlets across the state. The bill’s wording prohibits driving in the furthest left lane “except when overtaking and passing another vehicle; when preparing to exit the road, street, or highway; or when otherwise directed by an official traffic control device.” 

So, no more hitting cruise control and chilling in the left lane. The penalty is a noncriminal traffic infraction.  

The bill has passed through two committees and already had a vote of unanimous approval in the final committee. An identical House bill is already waiting to go to the floor.  

Perry filed 26 bills this session and is the co-sponsor on 24 other bills.  

One of Perry’s bills allows homeowners to use law enforcement assistance to remove squatters from private, residential property. The bill identifies a “transient occupant” as someone unable to produce a notarized lease, receipt of rent for last payment period, proof of paying outstanding taxes or written evidence of actual possession for at least seven years.  

Chuck Clemons
Chuck Clemons

This bill has passed through two of three committees before it could head to the full Senate. Criminal penalties would also be levied on anyone who detains, trespasses or occupies the property unlawfully and intentionally causes $1,000 or more in damage.  

Both the House and Senate unanimously approved a bill by Rep. Chuck Brannan, R-Macclenny. However, the two versions differed slightly after a Senate amendment. 

The Senate agreed to a conference with the House to hash out the minor differences.  

Brannan’s bill would add six judge positions—two in Hillsborough County, three in Orange County and one for the 20th Judicial Circuit.  

The senate added two more positions—one each for Santa Rosa County and the 1st Judicial Circuit.  

In total, Brannan submitted seven bills and co-sponsored three others.  

Rep. Chuck Clemons, R-Newberry, has filed three bills and is constrained by his leadership position from submitting more. Rep. Yvonne Hayes Hinson, D-Gainesville, filed six bills and co-sponsored 13 others.  

Sen. Jennifer Bradley, R-Fleming Island, has filed 26 bills and co-sponsored five more

Yvonne Hinson
Yvonne Hayes Hinson

Hinson filed a bill named Academic Freedom, HB 899. The bill increases support for bargaining units and seeks to curb outside interference.  

“The Board of Governors must ensure that state universities are free from undue political influence and interference in academic affairs, including curriculum design, faculty appointments, research activities, and administrative operations,” the bill says.  

So far, the bill has remained in a subcommittee without any action since early January.  

Bradley filed a bill that would create a council, headed by the lieutenant governor, to watch and advise on the growth of child pornography created by artificial intelligence. The bill has passed two committees and heads to the Senate floor next.  

Each senator and representative also filed appropriation requests for organizations, initiatives and projects.  

UF has over $180 million in appropriation requests filed by various legislators.  

In fall 2023, UF signaled its intention to build a 36-hole golf course in Alachua County, a few miles west of Gainesville. The plan, as presented to the Board of County Commissioners, includes construction on 580 acres while the rest of the property of the property, known as Hickory Sink, enters a conservation easement.  

Rep. Bobby Payne, R-Palatka, has filed an appropriations request for $38 million to place under conservation 2,658 acres of the Hickory Sink land. The request document doesn’t include mention of the golf course planned for the other portion of the property.  

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Real Gainesville Citizen and Voter

“Both budgets represent a $2 billion reduction from the current year as leaders emphasize fiscal prudence in the face of reduced federal funds from COVID-19.” The state could save some money if Attorney General Ashley Moody would stop filing stupid law suits against the United States of America that don’t have a chance at winning .