We are now back in Tallahassee for Week 5 of the 2020 Legislative Session! Below you will find your update from Week 4, along with a few upcoming events we invite you to join us for.
Keep in mind that our Weekly Updates our 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 on the Florida Channel.
Special thanks to those who joined us for Orlando’s Annual Dragon Day Parade earlier today, too!
Team Anna will be attending two upcoming community events. We encourage you to learn more by clicking on their respective graphics below.
WATERMARK WAVE AWARDS
Thank you Watermark Online readers for nominating us to be Favorite Local Politician AND Favorite Local Ally for Equality! It’s an honor to be your advocate, both in Central Florida and Tallahassee! Online voting is open now until Friday and you can vote for the final winners via this link. Cast your ballot soon — it’s good practice for November!
Now onto to your Weekly Legislative Session Update —
AID TO PUERTO RICO
On Friday the Democratic-controlled U.S. House passed a $20 billion-plus aid package for Puerto Rico, where a swarm of earthquakes last month set back the island territory’s slow, troubled recovery from the hurricane devastation of 2017. Unfortunately, the White House has promised to veto the legislation, charging the island’s government of mismanagement and weak financial controls. As we continue to wait for action by the federal government, here’s a quick way you can give towards Puerto Rican relief efforts.
ENSURING LGBTQ PROTECTION FOR ALL FLORIDIANS
This has been a whirlwind week for LGBTQ equality in Florida.
The ongoing work to advocate for LGBTQ inclusivity in Florida’s private voucher school program has continued for us. Three weeks ago the Orlando Sentinel reported that at least 14 percent of Florida’s nearly 147,000 scholarship students attended private schools last year where homosexuality was condemned or, at a minimum, unwelcome. As stated in the Orlando Sentinel, “The Sentinel found 83 schools that refuse to admit LGBTQ students or could expel them if their sexual orientation or gender identity were discovered. Some also refuse to educate students whose parents are gay or to hire staff who are gay. Another 73 schools call being gay or transgender a biblical sin but do not explain how those views play out in admissions or student discipline decisions.”
We filed legislation back in August 2019 to help address this problem and eliminate LGBTQ discrimination as a predetermination of admission into a tax-credit funded private school. The bill has yet to be given a hearing, and since then more companies have decided to end their contributions into this program, signaling frustration with the voucher system’s inaction on addressing LGTBQ inclusivity for children and their families. Recently Fifth-Third Bank returned to the voucher system, signaling an internal agreement was made between their company and AAA (the voucher processing organization). It should be noted that the agreement did not include any commitment on LGBTQ inclusivity.
Last week we joined others in meeting with Step Up For Students, the state’s larger voucher processing organization. It was a good meeting, and I am hopeful that a solution will be found soon that ensures no child in who participates in Florida’s voucher system will face discrimination. Here’s a Twitter thread from the Orlando Sentinel that outlines some of these recent events too.
In addition to advocating for LGBTQ inclusivity within Florida’s voucher system, another committee heard a bill to jail doctors for providing life-saving care to vulnerable transgender teens (which by the way, is seen to be linked to suicide rates among trans-youth). After compelling Q&A by lawmakers and powerful personal testimony the bill is dead. Deep gratitude to House District 47 constituents Sally and Asher who came to Tallahassee to testify. Representative Amy Mercado — who is the mom of a transgender daughter — also shared powerful personal testimony that you can watch here.
Later in the week, House Speaker Jose Oliva was asked questions from the media about the Competitive Workforce Act, popular bipartisan bill that would ban LGBTQ discrimination in the state. The Speaker said it wasn’t a major problem — leading to more pressing questions from reporters. You can watch the full interaction here.
STATE BUDGET TO BE DEBATED
The only constitutional duty of the legislature is to pass a balanced budget. Last week lawmakers in their respective appropriation committee presented and debated both the House and Senate budget proposals. This week we will debate the different budget silos on the House Floor.
Some of our state funding priorities include increased pay for all teachers and support staff, state raises, affordable housing, arts and culture funding, mental health funding, reducing the APD waitlists, securing additional judges for Circuit 9, fully funding the needs of our National Guard, supporting our caregivers, and so much more. You can click here to learn more about the proposed budgets.
LIFTING UP MENTAL HEALTH
Since 2008, more than 60,000 U.S. veterans have taken their own lives, with more than half of those deaths via firearms. This is a heart wrenching statistic, and reinforces why investment into mental health programs for Floridians of all ages and backgrounds matters. It also once more elevates the all-too-common connection between suicide and gun access.
PROTECTING OUR WATER
The South Florida Water Management District has officially approved a plan to buy about 20,000 acres in the Everglades, a deal that would block exploratory oil drilling on part of the property. This is great news, but we still have a lot of work to do in protecting Florida’s natural resources. We spoke to WFSU about this last week, and you can listen to our radio interview at this link. The legislature is also moving forward a bill that would increase sewage spills fines, creating more harsh penalities.
Last week the Florida House also passed a modest but important bill that would increase the penalties for anyone who killed black bears out of season. The bill (HB 327) would make it a first-degree misdemeanor to kill a bear or possess a freshly killed bear during a closed season, up from a second-degree misdemeanor. (Of course, we would prefer bears not be hunted at all).
WELCOMING LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS TO FLORIDA
It was wonderful to welcome the League of Women Voters of Florida (LWVF) to Tallahassee last week! As a longtime League member myself, it’s always a joy to discuss hot topics and dive deep into policy with our LWVF members!
In Orange County there continues to be dialogue over the consideration of a new penny sales tax to go towards transportation. But in Tallahassee that option for local governments is being tested in the Florida Supreme Court. Four Florida Supreme Court justices heard oral arguments on Wednesday over whether or not the tax intended to improve Hillsborough County’s infrastructure is constitutional. Since Jan. 1, more than $207 million in collected sales tax has been sitting dormant. You can learn more here. Meanwhile, we met with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to touch base on state transportation projects taking place in House District 47, including the I4 Ultimate Project. You can see a breakdown of these projects in the photo below. Right now FDOT is spending a little over $72 million in transportation projects in our district.
BREWERIES AND DOGS
As you might already know, dogs are not allowed inside of breweries in Florida, though legislation moving in our chamber could change that. You can read the Orlando Sentinel’s review of this issue here, and know that we fully support allowing dogs to be in our breweries, giving small businesses decision making power on if, when, and where dogs would be welcome.
REDUCING PLASTIC WASTE
We are proud to sponsor legislation to restore home rule on the regulation of plastics, allowing local cities and counties to control plastic usage in their communities. This is our second session in a row sponsoring this bill, and we joined advocates from Surfrider and other organizations for Rise Above Plastic and to push for proactive environmental protection policies. The event not only focused on our bill but advocates were also supporting efforts to limit smoking on beaches and public parks, along with other environmentally focused bills.
MAKING ORLANDO AN AUTISM FRIENDLY CITY
It was amazing to meet with the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities in our Tallahaasee office this past week, to learn more about their impact, budgetary needs, and plans to push Orlando towards becoming an Autism Friendly City! CARD has our full support to help make this a reality.
TAXES & WORKERS PROTECTIONS
This past week we saw the Orlando Sentinel publish a series of articles focused on different tax breaks corporations are lobbying for. This includes a $2 million tax break for rental car companies and a window manufacturer. The Orlando Sentinel also dived deep into a major preemption bill that is being pushed by Florida’s tourism and restaurant industry. You can read that article here, and watch our debate against that bill here.
In related news, Florida’s tourism industry created a PAC to fight John Morgan’s $15 minimum wage amendment on the 2020 ballot. The new political action committee, called Save Florida Jobs, has raised $50,000 from the National Restaurant Association and $5,000 from Red Lobster. Read more here.
Last week we met with refugees who came to the Florida Capitol to advocate in support of refugee resettle programs. These programs are fully funded by the federal government, but it is important that state leaders support resettlement programs and to welcome refugees.
Last week we met with more than 30 advocacy groups at our Tallahassee office! This included our local realtors, dentists, nurses, environmental advocates, cultural organizations, faith-based organizations, and so much more! Thank you for coming to see us in the Florida Capitol!
DIAPER ACCESS FOR ALL
We are proud to be advocates for diaper access, to support eliminating sales tax on diapers, and to organize diaper banks in House District 47. Last week we had the chance to meet with leaders from the National Diaper Bank Network, and will be visiting a local Diaper Bank back in Central Florida soon, too!
State of the Latina & Florida Muslim Day at the Capitol
It was an honor to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our latinas/latinx community members for Florida’s 3rd Annual State of the Latina, and to host a press conference to mark Florida Muslim Day at the Capitol! Our state’s diversity is its strength.
WELCOMING MAYOR BUDDY DYER
It was wonderful to get a surprise visit from Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, and to have Mayor Jerry Demings in Tallahassee. We are proud to work hand-in-hand with local governments in an effort to solve some of our region’s most challenging problems.
This past week also marked Alzheimer’s Awareness Day at the Capitol. Florida has the second-highest prevalence of people with Alzheimer’s, with 540,000 residents diagnosed. It is critically important that we support those directly impacted and their families through both policy and funding. Thank you for coming to see us, for sharing your stories, and for being such incredible advocates.
FIGHTING FOR HOME RULE
This past week the Orlando Weekly published an in-depth report on the fight for home rule in Florida, and how corporations have used preemption as a means to eliminate local ordinances they don’t like for their bottom line. We firmly believe that the best government is a government that’s closer to people and it’s important for voters to understand how much of your local rights, how much local control has already been lost.
CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM
This week saw a major day of action with formerly incarcerated people and families of the incarcerated coming to the Florida Capitol to share their story and support criminal justice reform. It was an honor to meet families and hear their stories — we are proud to support improvements to our state prisons and policies that focus on rehabilitation versus only incarceration.
FLORIDA WOMEN’S LEGISLATIVE CAUCUS MEETING
I love finding opportunities to work across the aisle with our Republican colleagues and am proud to serve in the Florida Women’s Legislative Caucus! During last week’s meeting we focused on upcoming women’s suffrage events and discussed potential legislation to endorse as a Caucus.
ABORTION ACCESS UPDATE
Senate Bill 404 has passed the Florida Senate and will be heard in the Florida House soon. Click here to listen to my live interview with NPR’s Florida Roundup to learn more about this bill and the hilden agenda by those who oppose abortion to use SB404 as a vehicle towards banning abortion in the state.
In related news, a so-called “parents’ bill of rights” (HB 1059) is one step closer to the House floor after being approved by a committee Thursday. You can read more about this bill here, but know that it could limit sexual education in schools in cases where a parent objects to the subject matter and could make it easier for parents to opt-out of vaccinating their children. It also potentially endangers LGBTQ youth.
MATERNAL MORTALITY RATES
Florida ranks 32nd out of the 50 U.S. states in terms of the highest maternal mortality rates. The state had a maternal death rate of 28.1 per 100,000 live births from 2013 to 2017, according to federal data released by America’s Health Rankings. According to the Orlando Sentinel, Orange County lags behind in reducing maternal mortality rates too. You can read more here but know that we are never not talking about prenatal and postnatal care, and are committed to increasing access to health care for all expecting parents.
TESTING IN MULTIPLE LANGUAGES & EDUCATIONAL STANDARDS
We are co-sponsors on bipartisan legislation to allow Florida’s students to take state tests in their native language and though the bill is incredibly popular among lawmakers and stakeholders, it has not received one hearing in the Florida House. Meanwhile, the Department of Education is ending Common Core and are in the process of putting into place “B.E.S.T. Standards.” DeSantis is calling his plan a “return to the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic” — you can read more about these new standards here and here.
On Thursday, the LeRoy Collins Institute released a study on Florida’s charter schools. According to the institute, the report, labeled “Florida Charter Schools: Not as Good, Or as Bad, as Advertised,” offered mixed marks on charter schools delivering “both good and not good news to critics and supporters of charter schools alike.” You can read that report here.
BACK HOME IN HOUSE DISTRICT 47
It was a busy week back in House District 47! Our team attended a panel discussion at the Central Florida International Trade Office, we attended an event hosted at Rollins College by March For Our Lives, joined United Against Poverty for a strategic planning session, and supported Harbor House by marching in Walk a Mile In Her Shoes.
I got back to the district late on Thursday and spent my day meeting with constituents and speaking at Monarch Learning Academy in College Park! On Saturday we stopped by Paws in the Park and Elevation Scholars’ preliminary interviews. We also joined Florida USAR Task Force 4 to learn more about our local emergency responders and how they need our support via the Florida Legislature.
SERVING OUR CONSTITUENTS
We are proud to support our constituents no matter the issue or challenge. Please be sure to always reach out if we can be of service, and never be afraid to ask for help.
Before we close your Weekly Legislative Session Update we wanted to honor the fact that this Friday will be the two year mark of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. We honor those who are no longer with us through action.
Representative Anna V. Eskamani