Kathleen C. Passidomo – Legislative Update – April 2, 2021

This Thursday marked the halfway point of the 2021 legislative session. This week, the Senate Appropriations Committee met to discuss the proposed 2021-2022 state budget. Chair Kelli Stargel outlined the priorities funded in the budget, including key investments in child welfare, water quality improvements and environmental restoration.
Beginning next Monday, April 5, all individuals aged 18 and older will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Remember, the Florida Department of Health (DOH) has offered a vaccination site locator and vaccine registration platform to help you schedule your appointment. Please continue to take the necessary health measures to ensure your safety.
I hope you all have a most blessed Good Friday and Easter weekend.

Florida COVID-19 Vaccine Update
As of Thursday, April 1, 9,136,036 vaccine doses have been administered in Florida. There are now 5,979,4461 individuals who have been vaccinated for COVID-19 in Florida.
Last week, Governor Ron DeSantis announced he would lower eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine. Beginning Monday, April 5, all individuals aged 18 and older will be eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines. You may watch the Governor’s announcement here.
Check the Florida Department of Health COVID-19 website for the latest information.

Reminder: Pre-Register for the COVID-19 Vaccine & Use the DOH Vaccine Locator
Visit the Florida Department of Health (DOH) statewide vaccine locator site and preregistration system to schedule COVID-19 vaccine appointments.
Both websites help eligible Floridians preregister for the vaccine and locate nearby vaccination sites.

COVID-19 Update: Florida Case Data
As of April 1, there have been 2,064,525 positive cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Florida, including 31,421 in Collier County, 4,452 in Hendry County and 60,679 in Lee County.
As of March 31, the state’s positivity rate for new cases is 6.1%.
To find the most up-to-date information and guidance, you can visit the Florida Department of Health (DOH) COVID-19 webpage.
For information and advisories from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), please visit the CDC COVID-19 website.

Governor DeSantis Signs Legislation into Law to Provide COVID-19 Liability Protections
This week, Governor Ron DeSantis signed Senate Bill 72 into Florida statute. This new law will shield businesses and health care providers from fraudulent or opportunistic lawsuits related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
I was grateful to take part in this momentous event. For more than a year now, business owners, employees and health care providers have endured many challenges while serving on the front lines.
When a business makes a good faith effort to adhere to safety guidelines and reopen during a period of extreme uncertainty, our laws should protect them from frivolous and costly litigation.
In addition, amidst continually changing and conflicting guidelines, many health care providers were faced with making difficult judgment calls. This law will ensure that health care providers who do the right thing are not threatened with frivolous lawsuits that hinder their ability to care for their patients.

Legislation to Reduce Fraudulent Property Insurance Claims Moves to Senate Floor
This week, Senate Bill 76: Residential Property Insurance, by Senator Jim Boyd, was presented on the Senate Floor.
With the rising cost of property insurance in Florida, Senate Bill 76 aims to provide fair and reasonable guidelines for both the insurer and the insured during the claims process.
SB 76 also helps prevent the abuse of claims by predatory attorneys and contractors. These reforms seek to reduce fraudulent claims by bad actor attorneys, public adjusters and contractors who take advantage of areas that were affected by hurricanes. The bill discourages frivolous property insurance claims and litigation by accepting the federal standard lodestar approach for calculating attorney’s fees.
This legislation ensures there is a clear understanding between homeowners and their insurance companies regarding when a roof replacement will be covered in full. It also establishes a clear and reasonable two-year time period for filing a claim.

Senate Budget Reflects Strategic Investments and Safeguards Key Government Functions
The Florida Senate’s proposed budget for the 2021-2022 fiscal year provides for key investments in child welfare, water quality improvements and environmental restoration. The budget responsibly plans for Florida’s future, despite a decline in revenues due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Senate Committee on Appropriations, chaired by Senator Kelli Stargel, approved Senate Bill 2500: Appropriations, which proposes a $95 billion balanced state budget and provides $5 billion in state reserves.
The budget proposal fully funds the Medicaid program, which increased by 730,000 enrollees as a result of the pandemic. It also maintains last year’s unprecedented level of per-student funding for K-12 education, including a $500 million allocation to increase teacher salaries.
SB 2500 provides a $50 million increase in the investment of Florida’s child welfare system and increases the minimum wage for state workers to $13 per hour, three years ahead of the timeline outlined by the constitutional amendment that passed last fall.
The budget does not include the approximate $10 billion in anticipated non-recurring federal pandemic relief funds, currently under review. This funding will be addressed later by the Florida Senate once we receive more information on our state’s overall budget outlook.

Measure to Increase Unemployment Benefits Advances
The COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on issues within Florida’s unemployment system.
The Florida Senate is taking the necessary steps to address these challenges. Senate Bill 1906: Reemployment Assistance, by Senator Jason Brodeur, passed the Senate Committee on Commerce and Tourism, chaired by Senator Ed Hooper.
The legislation proposes to increase the maximum weekly unemployment benefit from $275 to $375 and increase the minimum weekly benefit from $32 to $100, bringing Florida on par with the national average for state unemployment benefits.
“Representing a Central Florida district, my constituents were among the hardest hit when tourism came to a standstill last spring. This was an unprecedented situation that no one could have planned for, but it has brought to the forefront several important issues that should be discussed. We have a moral obligation to provide enough support to help meet some basic needs for Floridians who are out of work, through no fault of their own, and are looking for employment,” said Senator Brodeur.

Targeted Approach to Improving Lake Okeechobee Water Quality Passes
The Florida Senate is taking a strategic approach to address and improve the water quality in Lake Okeechobee and reduce damaging discharges.
Senate Bill 2516: Water Storage North of Lake Okeechobee gained approval from the Senate Committee on Appropriations.
Over the years, the Florida Legislature has appropriated unprecedented funding to address environmental restoration, and through collaborative efforts between the state and federal government, construction of the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee has been expedited.
Water storage north of Lake Okeechobee is essential to accomplish the water quality goals outlined in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. Senate Bill 2516 expedites the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project and provides $50 million in annual funding.
Senate Bill 2516 will serve to mitigate toxic algal blooms, protect against droughts, improve water quality and quantity, and preserve Florida’s unique environment for generations to come.

Legislation to Ensure Life-Saving PPE Reserves for Health Care Workers Passes Committee
In the early days and months of the COVID-19 pandemic, in Florida and across the country, there was a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE).
“Non-essential” health care procedures were temporarily halted to preserve PPE, while many frontline workers wore garbage bags and reused masks in light of the scarcity of this critical equipment.
The Senate Committee on Governmental Oversight and Accountability approved Senate Bill 1760: Personal Protective Equipment, by Senator Ben Albritton, to ensure life-saving equipment is available to Florida’s health care providers in the event of a future emergency.
SB 1760 requires the Division of Emergency Management to acquire a stockpile of PPE, such as respirators, gloves, gowns and masks, so that it may be available for doctors, nurses and other health care practitioners to purchase in the event of a declared emergency caused by an infectious or communicable disease. The bill also ensures equipment may not be resold at a higher price than it was procured.
The legislation makes certain our frontline workers have access to the supplies necessary to continue providing the best possible care for Floridians in need.

Education Committee Addresses Impacts of COVID-19 on Florida’s Education System
A year ago, students of all ages and educational institutions at every level were drastically impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Florida Senate is addressing the concerns of the students, parents, educators and schools who were forced to adapt to this evolving situation.
Senate Bill 7070: Impact of COVID-19 on Educational Institutions unanimously passed the Senate Committee on Education. SB 7070 provides protections for colleges and universities from lawsuits that decided to close campuses, and alternatively offer virtual learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bill also suspends the penalties of K-12 standardized assessment results for this year, including school grades, turnaround status and student retention, and rewards schools that improved or maintained high performance during the pandemic.

Senate Moves to Expand Veterans Preference in Employment
The Florida Senate is making it easier to hire veterans here in Florida.
Senate Bill 922: Veterans’ Preference in Employment, by Senator Danny Burgess, unanimously passed off the Senate Floor.
The legislation gives state and local governments the option to waive educational requirements for veterans applying for certain positions if deemed appropriate by the governmental entity.
By empowering state and local governments to waive educational requirements for veterans — if deemed suitable for the position — more veterans will have the opportunity to find jobs in Florida.
This legislation continues the Florida Senate’s efforts to keep Florida as the most veteran-friendly state in America.

In the News
Hendry, Glades counties send teams to vaccinate rural areas
All Floridians 18+ eligible for COVID-19 vaccine April 5; people 40+ eligible Monday
Five miles of Old Tamiami Trail removed as part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan
New programs at Collier County Schools help with students’ post-pandemic mental health, stress

As always, please do not hesitate to contact my office any time that I can be of assistance.

Kathleen C. Passidomo
Senate Rules Chair
State Senator, District 28

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