Senate proposes elections law changes
Photo by Dan Dennis on Unsplash
By Jim Saunders
News Service of Florida
April 3, 2023
TALLAHASSEE — In the latest effort to revamp elections laws, the Florida Senate on Monday released a 98-page bill that includes proposed changes ranging from clamping down on voter-registration groups to relaxing campaign-finance reporting rules.
The bill (SPB 7050), which Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, described as “pretty robust,” will go before the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee on Tuesday.
The proposal likely will refuel a debate that has repeatedly divided Republicans and Democrats during the past few years. Florida ran relatively smooth elections in 2020 and 2022, but Gov. Ron DeSantis and other GOP leaders have called for making changes to prevent potential fraud and other irregularities.
Democrats, however, have accused Republicans of trying to make it harder to cast ballots with changes involving issues such as voting by mail.
The Senate bill immediately drew criticism Monday from Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat who called it “absurd to drop a 98-page elections bill with just a 24-hour notice for its first hearing.”
“Not only is it absurd, but it’s undemocratic and clearly designed to avoid public scrutiny,” Eskamani said in a prepared statement. “We should be introducing election reforms that make it simpler for people to vote and get registered to vote; not policies that make it harder."
The bill, in part, would make a series of changes related to voter-registration groups. For example, it would shorten a timeframe from 14 days to 10 days for the groups to deliver voter-registration applications to elections officials.
It also would increase fines for voter-registration groups that turn in applications late and would require the groups to provide receipts to applicants. In addition, the bill could lead to third-degree felony charges if people collect voter-registration applications for the groups and keep personal information about voters.
The bill deals with myriad other issues, including voter address changes, the authority of the state’s Office of Election Crimes and Security and requests for vote-by-mail ballots.
It also would ease campaign-finance reporting requirements for candidates and political committees. Under current law, candidates and committees have to file monthly reports during off-election years and until shortly after the campaign-qualifying period in election years. They have to file more-frequent reports closer to elections.
Under the bill, they would be able to file reports quarterly until qualifying time. At that point, they would resume the current reporting schedule.
The bill also would take a step to help protect election workers. A Senate staff analysis said current law does not include a specific criminal penalty for threatening or harassing election workers.
But the bill would make it a third-degree felony to intimidate, threaten or harass election workers as part of efforts to interfere with their duties or to retaliate against them.
Republican efforts to revamp elections laws ratcheted up in 2021 after former President Donald Trump lost his re-election bid in 2020.
A federal appeals court is considering a constitutional challenge to a 2021 state elections law that opponents argued was intended to discriminate against Black voters. A panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in September.