Your Official 2020 Legislative Session Update: Week 2 Committee Meetings
We just wrapped up Week 2 of Committee Meetings and are back in Tallahassee prepping for another round of legislative hearings and meetings. Scroll down to see what happened last week, and remember that this update is thorough but it’s not all encompassing. If there’s an issue you care about that is not discussed, feel free to email me back, and let me know.
Also be sure to check out the latest episode of Bungalower and The Bus, where I served as a co-host for the week! You can click here to tune-in.
SUPPORTING FLORIDA’S VETERANS
I am honored to serve on Local, Federal, and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee (LFVA) and consider the health and well-being of our veterans to be a major priority for our state. That’s why when Steve — a House District 47 veteran — came to our office in need of affordable housing because his rent had increased, we jumped into action. By amplifying his story and working with the VA, we feel pretty confident that Steve will have a new roof over his head soon. But the fact that even veterans are not immune to the rising cost of housing reflects a much larger problem in our state, one that we are actively trying to solve for all Floridians.
This week we also met with the committee staff of LFVA to dive deeper into the needs of Florida’s women veterans. We identified some key areas of improvement that we’ll be discussing with Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs. We’ll keep you updated!
INTRODUCING OUR FALL 2019 INTERNS
We are excited to officially introduce our class of Fall 2019 Interns! Split between Tallahassee and Orlando, our interns represent some of the best young people in Florida, and their time with us will benefit not only our staff, but our constituents too!
TOUR OF WAKULLA SPRINGS
Up to 60% of the human adult body is water. Water is arguably one of the most important resources we have. It must be protected and guaranteed for generations to come. This past week we took a tour of Tallahassee’s waterways to better understand how runoff from farms and from urban and suburban communities directly impacts Florida’s Springs.
Wakulla Springs is a state treasure, though it’s not the same of what it once was, and only through the reduction of nitrates and the purchasing of conservation lands can we hope to restore it.
LEADING ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM
This past summer we made three unannounced visits to State Prisons in Florida and have committed ourselves to meaningful criminal justice reform going into the 2020 Legislative Session. Florida’s population has doubled since 1980, but our prison population has increased nearly fivefold, bringing today’s total to 96,000 incarcerated people.
Mass incarceration is very real, and several bills have been filed to improve prison environments and safely decarcerate people. This includes House Bill 189, which would reform the state’s harsh minimum sentencing laws to allow for early release based on good behavior. The Florida Department of Corrections is a chronically underfunded and understaffed department relative to the number of people in its care — reducing the prison population is one step of many for Florida.
FIRST MEETING OF WAYS & MEANS
The Ways & Means Committee had its first meeting this past week. Time was spent on listening to a presentation from Florida’s Department of Revenue to review their list of recommended legislative concepts. You can watch the full committee meeting here.
Last week I crafted an editorial focused on the potential linkage between taxation and gender. You can read my editorial at this link.
Fighting for Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice
Last week we hosted a legislative lunch and learn focused on reproductive rights for lawmakers and their staff to attend. The luncheon focused on the state of abortion acess nationally and in Florida. Tomorrow the legislative fight to protect safe and legal abortion access in Florida begins with the first hearing of anti-abortion legislation. We’ll be there to push back, and fight for bodily autonomy — no matter what.
GUN SAFETY LEGISLATION
Senator David Simmons, a Seminole County Republican, is working on legislation to prevent the sale, gift, lease or loan of an assault rifle to anyone under the age of 25. We are pleased to see a Republican step-up to discuss this issue, but think the measure should go further as no civilian should own an assault rifle. We have also been working closely with Senator Lori Berman and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to re-file legislation that would keep firearms out of the hands of domestic abusers. That legislation should be filed soon.
Back in Orlando, the Florida Democratic Party hosted an event called Cease-Fire, focused on the effects of gun violence on low income and communities of color, where shootings often don’t garner national headlines or spark movements. You can read more about that event here.
TAKING ON CLIMATE CHANGE WITH MEANINGFUL ENERGY POLICY
Energy policy is complicated, which is why we study the topic intensely, surround ourselves with clean energy experts, and aren’t afraid to ask the tough questions. This past week myself and Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez met with Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried to discuss energy policy. We asked questions around the Commissioner’s recommendation to repeal Florida’s Energy Efficiency law (something we do not support), the use of the RIM Test by the Public Service Commission (which is a cost-benefit analysis that only measures utility rates versus the Societal Cost Test which integrates energy efficiency to resource savings and non-cash costs and benefits), along with strategies to hold utility companies accountable to objectives that benefit everyday Floridians. It was a fruitful meeting, and we look forward to continuing the conversation.
FLORIDA’S HEALTH BUDGET
Last week a House health panel was asked to identify up to $624 million for possible “reprioritization.” Health Care Appropriations Chairwoman MaryLynn Magar, R-Tequesta, told The News Service of Florida the “reprioritization” exercise doesn’t mean that there will be $624 million in spending reductions across the six health care-related agencies that fall under her watch. Our suggestion? Pull back the corporate tax refunds that totaled more than $500,000 instead.
Speaking of healthcare, we wanted to make sure you saw this article focused on potential cuts to the Florida Medicaid waiver program that provides access to services for Floridians with disabilities. We oppose these cuts, and will be pushing to fully fund the program alongside advocating for increased mental health funding too.
INCREASING TEACHER PAY
On Thursday, the House PreK-12 Education budget committee focused on the current status of teacher pay in Florida. You can watch that meeting hearing here. Committee chairman Rep. Chris Latvala said the House isn’t likely to agree to an increase in local property taxes used to pay for public education. “I would assume based on past legislators that [the local property tax rate for schools] is something that we would keep rolled back,” Latvala, R-Clearwater, told reporters after the meeting. Another committee focused on VAM scores, a complaint-filled method for measuring teachers’ impact on their students’ performance.
We must pay Florida’s teachers better and treat them like the professionals they are. We’ll be fighting for both going into the 2020 Legislative session.
SALARY OF FCADV CEO TIFFANY CARR
The Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence (FCADV) plays a critical role in our state. The organization contracts with the state Department of Children and Families to oversee domestic violence programs in Florida, and provide 42 domestic violence shelters with public funds. Unfortunately there have been deep concerns around the organizations salary structure, as their longtime president and CEO Tiffany Carr was paid $761,000 in one year, raising eyebrows and questions on the organization’s financial decision making.
We have raised these concerns to the Governor’s Office, and though the Florida Department of Children and Families started a review of the coalition’s finances last summer, they have not been able to “move forward” with an audit for more than a year because FCADV will not hand over documents the department is requesting. You can read more about our concerns here, and know that we have asked House leadership to conduct an investigation too.
BACK IN HOUSE DISTRICT 47
It was wonderful to be back in House District 47 late on Thursday. We were able to join the Bungalower and the Bus podcast as a co-host, and attended the 10th Annual Celebration of Samaritan Village, a local organization focused on the fight against human trafficking.
On Friday we joined advocacy groups and Lighthouse Central Florida to mark National Blind Americans Equality Day. Then later in the day we attended a film screening at the Orlando Film Festival and stopped by IMMERSE Orlando! On Saturday Team Anna spent time with the Girl Scouts, criminal justice advocates, and the Arab American Community Center. I was also briefly in Washington DC to receive an award from the National Iranian American Council, too.
FEDERAL COURT RULING ON AMENDMENT FOUR
On Friday a federal judge issued a limited ruling that Florida cannot use a person’s inability to pay fines as a reason to deny the vote. This is an important victory for rights restoration, and though the ruling specifically applies to the 17 plaintiffs listed in the consolidated suit and means that the state cannot use the fact that those 17 plaintiffs cannot repay fines and fees as a reason to deny them the vote.
We are hopeful that this ruling also deals a heavy blow to the entire law and indicates that the measure is likely to be struck down in federal court after a trial next year.
CONCERNS WITH I4
For many of us, Interstate 4 (I4) is something we like to avoid, but rarely can. This past week the contractors for the I4 Ultimate Project asked for an extension, and we expressed our concern for delays and safety to My News 13. You can read the whole story here.
LOVE IS LOVE AT ORLANDO PRIDE
Just in case you missed it, here are photos from Orlando Pride too.
We’ll send you another legislative session update following this next round of Tallahassee Committee Meetings!
Representative Anna V. Eskamani