Lawmakers in Tallahassee work on final bills to leave committee, and few surprises expected in Michigan primary.

McConnell announces he'll step down as Senate leader

Mitch McConnell announced Wednesday that he will step down in November as the leader of the Senate Republican conference, capping off his tenure as the longest-serving Senate party leader in U.S. history.

McConnell’s announcement not only marks a milestone for the Kentucky Republican, but also signals a changing of the guard in the Senate Republican caucus — a departure from the brand of conservatism founded by Ronald Reagan in favor of the populism of Donald Trump.

It was a point that he acknowledged in his remarks on Wednesday afternoon as he prepared to bid farewell to the power he’s wielded for nearly two decades. He reflected on his early time in the Senate, which “helped shape my view of the world,” particularly noting “the irreplaceable role we play as the leader of the free world.”

“It’s why I worked so hard to get the national security package passed earlier this month — Believe me, I know the politics within my party at this particular moment in time. I have many faults. Misunderstanding politics is not one of them,” he joked. “That said, I believe more strongly than ever that America's global leadership is a central to preserving the shining city on a hill that Ronald Reagan discussed. As long as I'm drawing breath on this earth, I will defend American exceptionalism."

McConnell, who turned 82 last week, acknowledged that a recent family tragedy — the recent death of his wife Elaine Chao’s younger sister, Angela — offered him a moment of introspection.

“When you lose a loved one, particularly at a young age, there's a certain introspection that accompanies the grieving process,” he said. “Perhaps it is God's way of reminding you of your own life's journey, to reprioritize the impact of the world that we will all inevitably leave behind. I turned 82 last week. The end of my contributions are closer than I prefer.”

He also expressed his gratitude toward his wife, who served in the last two Republican administrations as labor secretary under George W. Bush and transportation secretary under Trump, as well as to Reagan, whose virtues and leadership he extolled.

“For 31 years, Elaine has been the love of my life,” he said. “And I'm eternally grateful to have her by my side.”

“My career in the United States Senate began amidst the Reagan Revolution,” he said. “Truth is when I got here, I was just happy everybody remembered my name. President Reagan called me Mitch O'Donnell. Close enough, I thought. My wife Elaine and I got married on President Reagan's birthday, Feb. 6. It's probably not the most romantic thing to admit, but Reagan meant a lot to both of us.”

Gender ID bill dies in Senate

HB 1639 is a bill that would have required that someone’s biological sex, not gender, be listed on state IDs and health insurance plans. But the head of the Florida’s Department of Motor Vehicles beat lawmakers by sending out a memo that says Florida residents can only identify by their sex at birth on their driver’s license. 

The LGBTQ community calls these moves discriminatory, and they were out in full force today to make their voices heard. 

They say the move is unfriendly to the LGBTQ community.

“We’re in a really volatile time and a really unstable time so it’s just really hard to exist as a trans person in Florida,” Ame Leon said.

Several Democrats joined Leon on the capitol steps. Together they’re raising issue with several Republican-led bills.

“It’s not just an issue of equality. It’s also in issue of economics. If we want to attract talent to this state, then we have to be welcoming to every type of family,” Rep. Anna Eskamani said.

Wednesday’s rally happened in the closing days of legislative session.

“We’ve noticed that there’s a lot of confusion in the land apparently of what is a woman and what is a man,” Rep. Dean Black said.

There is good news for advocates. After weeks of debate in the House and Senate, Senate President Kathleen Passidomo confirmed Wednesday that the bill is dead in her chamber.

“That bill is still stuck in committee. Per Senate rules, we don’t take bills out of committee,” she said.

The session is slated to end on March 8.

Lawmakers address the short-term rental industry in Florida

Visit Florida estimates that the vacation rental market in Florida is worth more than $1 billion per year. It’s an industry that affects many in our communities, either as a property owner, or a vacationer, perhaps staying at a gulf coast beach.

But a bill passed by the state Senate this legislative session is focused on giving more regulatory power to the state when it comes to vacation rentals.

The bill’s sponsor says it will help cut down on rowdy renters, while local leaders say it’s simply government overreach, and that the cities can regulate themselves.

“The reason why this place is so fantastic is that we have a solid 5 blocks of main street with parks all around it. The main street is full of bars, restaurants, all kinds of offerings,” Jason Patino said.

He like to talk up the city of Gulf Port   

“Where else in Florida do you have a beautiful downtown strip and a beautiful beach right next to it?” He asked.

He’s a real estate agent, and it’s part of his job. But he’s also heavily invested in short-term rentals of his own.

“All of the people here, they aren’t residents. This money that’s transacting right now, that couldn’t be happening without a vacation rental market.

He says the city is changing all the time. He’s starting to see younger families move in or rent here for a vacation.  

Short-term rentals are regulated by the city they are in, but SB 280 would push regulating short-term rentals like Airbnb and VRBO to the state level.  

It could regulate how many people can stay in a property, rental registration and impose fines if an owner is in violation.  

Patino sees this as the state government overstepping its power.  

“So you have to ask yourself, is the state going to identify what best for this vacation home market? Do you think anyone in Tallahassee knows what’s happening here right now?” He said.

Republican Sen. Nick Diceglie is a sponsor of the bill.  

“When our founding fathers enshrined these ideals in our form of government almost 250 years ago, they couldn’t possibly have imagined how innovations like VRBO or Airbnb would lead modern day communities to question the proper role of government in regulating the use of private property. I doubt they envisioned endless streams of drug and alcohol-infused ragers, loud music, and trash disturbing quaint beachfront streets, either. So here we are,” he said.

Indian Rocks Beach Mayor Joanne Kennedy said several cities are concerned about the bill.  

“We don’t think this is a one size fits all issue. And we do have designations in all of the communities. For example, in Indian Rock Springs, we have commercial tourism, we have mixed use,” Kennedy said.

Patino said the bill favors the hotel industry, and this is state government overreach.

“Why do they want to take over something they couldn’t understand? Tallahassee has no idea what the local populace of Gulf Port Beach needs, but the council here does,” he said.