Coronavirus Update & Your Official 2020 Legislative Update: Week 9
We have been back in Orlando since early Saturday morning and have been focused on responding to the coronavirus crisis. Click here for your Central Florida Coronavirus Guide. We have been updating this document twice a day, and are committed to helping as many people as possible navigate this pandemic. More recently the Governor and Orlando Mayor Buddy have put into place restrictions impacting bars, restaurants, and beaches. You can read more about those changes here.
We are also still in the Legislative Session — no budget was passed and we are scheduled to return to Tallahassee on Thursday to approve Florida’s state budget from the 2020–2021 fiscal year. Below you will find your Official 2020 Legislative Update from Week 9.
Missed a weekly update? Click on these respective links to catch up: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4, Week 5, Week 6, Week 7, and Week 8.
Keep in mind that our Weekly Updates have been thorough but will never be all encompassing to what happens during the 2020 Legislative Session. Please consider keeping up to date with us in real time through our social media accounts including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You can also watch Committee Meetings and Floor Sessions live and archived on the Florida Channel.
In an effort to encourage social distancing we will not be promoting any upcoming events. Soon we will announce our post Legislative Session Debriefs which will be hosted virtually. Several events from last week have already been canceled, including our Persian New Year Party.
Now onto your Weekly Legislative Update…
FINALIZING FLORIDA’S STATE BUDGET
One of the biggest priorities last week was the finalization of Florida’s State Budget. Conference Committee meetings between our two chambers took place, and a final budget was released late on Sunday. You can find budget documents here and the state budget ready for lawmaker approval here.
Budget highlights include: Protecting the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund, 3% pay raise for all state employees, $500 million towards increasing teacher pay ($400 million for increasing base salary, and $100 million to support veteran teachers with compression), and a $40 increase in base student allocation for schools. The Florida Department of Corrections will see additional funding, arts and culture funding has remained at the 800% increase we secured last legislative session, Visit Florida will continue to be funded, Florida Forever will be funded at $100 million, and the House has backed away from plans to eliminate 500 positions from the Florida Department of Health, as the state prepares for the COVID-19 contagion.
We filed several local funding requests this session and though not all of our projects made it to the budget process, several did and are outlined below.
HB2265 Restoring Central Florida’s Urban Wetland Corridor with IDEAS for Us: $98,000
HB4277 The Center: Lgbt+Center Orlando — Mental Health Counseling: $40,000
HB2137 Adult Literacy League — Improving the Lives of Central Floridians through Literacy and Education: $25,000
HB9095 Heart of Florida United Way Orlando United Assistance Center (Heart of FL Pulse): $50,000
HB3615 Pulse National Memorial and Museum: $680,000
There was some fear that coronavirus would lead to a reduction of teacher pay. We advocated to trim down the corporate tax breaks instead and that’s exactly what happened. Florida does have additional money in reserves that can be used during a State of Emergency.
FIGHTING FOR TEACHER PAY
In addition to securing funds to help increase teacher pay in the State of Florida, we also needed to secure the best policy to serve as a vehicle for teacher pay increases. Unfortunately our Republican colleagues filed an amendment to do this that was anti-local government, anti-collective bargaining, and gave veto power to the Commissioner of Education.
Amendments filed on third reading require ⅔ approval, which the Republican Caucus does not have. Democrats voted against the amendment which led to its failure and negotiations. Unfortunately that deed did not go unpunished, and many Democrats saw their bill temporarily postponed because of it.
We ultimately did secure language later in the week that was more friendly towards both teachers and local school boards.
SCHOOL SAFETY MEASURES
School safety was another issue of importance for the last week of the legislative session.
The Florida Legislature passed a bill that requires all district and charter schools to have panic alarms in an effort to cut down the response time in case of a school shooting or other emergency. The bill, called “Alyssa’s Law,” was taken up at the request of Parkland parent Lori Alhadeff whose daughter, Alyssa, was killed during the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018. Radio problems and miscommunications plagued the response to the Parkland shooting, and likely delayed the arrival of help. Read more here.
One bill that did not pass was a larger school safety package, that included changes to Florida’s on-campus safety requirements and the Kaia Rolle Act, which would have set a statutory limitation on arresting minors at seven. You can read more here. We’ll be back next session to continue advocating for kids like Kaia, and to end the school to prison pipeline.
PRIVATE SCHOOL VOUCHERS
Another education fight has been the expansion of private school vouchers. Myself and Representative Carlos G. Smith have been advocating for more accountability of the program, and for LGTBQ inclusivity policies. Three amendments were filed by Representative Smith and each failed. You can read more about our advocacy and this latest voucher expansion program here.
FLORIDA’S TAX PACKAGE
Two weeks ago, we filed several amendments challenging and removing the corporate tax giveaways that were stacked in Florida’s tax package. Our amendments failed, but they sent a clear message to leadership on what our legislative priorities should be, and resulted in one of the most robust debates on taxation we’ve seen in a long time.
When the tax package came back to us from the Florida House it was completely trimmed down, resulting in more state revenue being available for coronavirus response. Though the package did not have much relief for working families, I was pleased to see the removal of corporate tax breaks designed to only serve the state’s largest companies.
VERSION OF E-VERIFY PASSES
Last week, the Florida Legislature also voted to send a weakened E-Verify bill to Governor DeSantis. Many business groups and immigrants rights advocates came out against the proposal, saying it would be a major hit to Florida’s top industries that rely heavily on undocumented workers, like tourism and agriculture. Sen. Joe Gruters, a Sarasota Republican who doubles as the state’s Republican party chair, said while the bill isn’t perfect, “it’s a great start.” “The bill we passed today is a big win for the base,” he told the Herald/Times after the earlier version of the bill was voted on Monday. The bill requires E-Verify for all public employers in the state along with contractors and subcontractors. However the bill does not require E-Verify for private employers or those hired in private residences. I voted no on the measure, as I do not think it’s appropriate for Florida to pass immigration policy until we have comprehensive federal immigration reform.
TAMMY JACKSON ACT & CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM
Despite bipartisan momentum, the Florida legislature utterly failed to address sentencing reform or prison reform. The final bill to pass this legislative session as the clock struck midnight, and indeed the only criminal justice bill to pass this legislative session was The Tammy Jackson Act. The SunSentinel said it best: “For pregnant women in jail, a measure of dignity comes far too late.” A bill headed to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk will ensure that pregnant women are afforded basic protections of respect, dignity and humanity behind bars.
CITIZEN BALLOTS & VOTER SUPPRESSION
Sadly, the Senate voted to further restrict citizen’s sacred right to direct democracy, and the House shortly thereafter approved the legislation. Due to our efforts, the final language is watered down as compared to its original proposal, and what the House passed. However it does move the goal posts further down the line to what effectively would become “the ballot for billionaires.” Under the bill, election supervisors would charge initiative organizers to verify each petition signature, a cost expected to be less than a dollar. The trigger for judicial review would jump to 25% from 10% of total signatures required to make the ballot and those signatures must come from one half, instead of one quarter, of the state’s congressional districts. There will also be a disclaimer on the ballot indicating if the proposal will have a positive, negative, or indeterminate impact on the state budget. The League of Women Voters issued a statement urging Governor Ron DeSantis to stand with citizens over corporations, and veto the ballot initiative bill. You can watch our debate against this bill here.
We did however have a few key victories as it pertains to voting rights. We were able to stop efforts to revamp Florida’s poll watching protocols — efforts designed to open the floodgates for voter intimidation. Similarly, in the final hours of the legislative session a nefarious amendment came attached to HB 491, we were able to stop that bill as well.
This session we were very successful in stopping the majority, and most dangerous preemption bills, and those efforts will continue throughout the summer and elections.
However, during the final week legislation, narrowly-written preemption legislation that would prohibit the ban of certain chemicals in sunscreen passed the Florida House. There was bipartisan opposition to this bill, and we noted how even the Governor’s Office has a website that contends chemical sunscreen has negative effects on marine life.
Also during the final week, tucked into a larger water package included a preemption on the “rights of nature” movement — a charter question coming to Orange County and passed in a few municipalities. I voted no on both of these bills.
In late February the Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD) submitted its report on the application by Nestle Waters to take 1.5 million gallons a day from Ginnie Springs to sell as bottled water. The staff recommendation was to deny the permit based on incomplete information in several areas supplied by the original permit owner or Nestle. As a result Nestle (Seven Springs Water Company) filed a petition for administrative hearing on this denial and the District forwarded the petition to the Division of Administrative Hearings (“DOAH”) for consideration by an Administrative Law Judge as required by law. Things are likely delayed now because of coronavirus, but we will continue to keep you posted.
Last week we also joined fellow lawmakers in hosting a press conference focused on climate change. You can read more here.
SCOPE OF PRACTICE CHANGES & OPERATIONAL LICENSING LEGISLATION
Qualified nurse practitioners will be able to independently operate primary care practices without an attending doctor’s supervision under a bill (HB 607) passed by the Legislature and signed hours later by Gov. Ron DeSantis. The Governor also signed into law HB 389 which will allow qualified pharmacists who enter into agreements with doctors to treat chronic conditions like asthma, arthritis and obesity, as well as test for and treat ailments like the flu, strep throat, lice and skin conditions like ringworm and athlete’s foot. Both of these bills were priorities for the Speaker of the House. Read more here.
The legislature also passed a bill to reform some areas of occupational licensing. This same bill also removes penalties for failure to pay student loans that existed for many licensed professionals. You can read more here.
EARLY EDUCATION & CHILD WELFARE LEGISLATION
Legislation to reform Florida’s early education program passed the Florida House but not the Florida Senate. My debate in support of giving more attention to early education can be watched below. However, legislation to improve accountability of the Department of Children and Families (DCF) did pass and is on its way to the Governor’s desk. This bill would appropriate more than $5.3 million to DCF for the next fiscal year to implement some of the bill’s provisions which include moving toward a “prevention” model and creating the Office of Quality Assurance and Improvement within the organization, shoring up foster care and adoption services. The office would have 125 employees, of which some positions are already there, and others would need to be created. You can read more here.
The legislature also passed Jordan’s Law, legislation that would implement training protocols for officials involved in the child welfare process including case workers, police officers and first responders to identify head trauma in very young children. It would also incorporate policies to reduce case burden for social workers and other logistical reforms aimed at increasing safety. Read more about Jordan’s Law here.
DEFEATED THC CAP ON MEDICAL CANNABIS
In the waning hours of the 2020 legislative session, a contentious provision that would have established a potency cap of 10% THC for medical marijuana patients under 21 died in the Florida Legislature. After being stripped out of a larger healthcare bill in the Florida Senate on Friday afternoon, the House unanimously passed a version of the bill without the controversial cap.
FLORIDA COALITION AGAINST DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
In late 2019 we submitted a letter to the Speaker of the House and Chair of the Public, Integrity, and Ethics (PIE) Committee about our concerns with the financial decisions of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence (FCADV). Our concerns were taken seriously, and soon the PIE Committee would hold hearings of subpoenaed witnesses who were staff and board members of FCADV. You can read about those hearings at this link.
The Governor then signed into law legislation that removes FCADV from Florida Statute, leading to the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to issue a termination of contract to take place within 60 days. Two weeks ago DCF began their transition and met with staff of FCADV while also maintaining communication with our local shelters.
Last week the Department of Children and Families (DCF) launched a lawsuit against its once-sole-source provider of domestic violence services alleging several wrongdoings on the part of the agency and its former CEO. You can read more about this lawsuit here.
Please stay healthy and safe —
Representative Anna V. Eskamani
PS: Polls are still open today for several local races in House District 47 and the Presidential Primary. We asked the Governor and Secretary of State to delay these elections because of coronavirus but our concerns were not heeded. You can learn more about today’s elections here.