Kathleen Passidomo – Legislative Update – March 27, 2021

This week, the Florida Senate Committee on Appropriations, chaired by Senator Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland), released Senate Bill 2500, the General Appropriations Act, a proposed state budget for the 2021-2022 fiscal year, as well as the implementing bill and conforming bills associated with a balanced budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
Due to COVID-19 and the related economic downturn, there is a projected shortfall of state revenue. Therefore, we must do more with less.
“We have a constitutional responsibility to pass a balanced budget in good times, and in difficult times. Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, revenues that fund our day-to-day government are down, and we know we have some big expenses on the horizon, which means we had to make difficult choices throughout the budget,” said Senate President Wilton Simpson.
Our top priority is to support our communities to recover and rebuild successfully beyond the pandemic. We must also continue to keep our communities safe and protect our most vulnerable populations.
We welcome input and feedback from stakeholders and constituents. This is a process, and we will make adjustments to reflect the changing needs of our state and new information about revenue projections for the year ahead.
There are 34 days remaining in Florida’s Legislative Session. I will keep you updated as the state budget takes form.

Florida COVID-19 Vaccine Update
As of Thursday, March 25, 8,071,096 vaccine doses have been administered in Florida. There are now 5,346,471 individuals who have been vaccinated for COVID-19 in Florida.
This week, Governor Ron DeSantis announced he will lower eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine. Starting next Monday, individuals aged 50 and older will be eligible. Beginning, Monday, April 5 all individuals aged 18 and older will be eligible to receive the vaccine.
You may watch the Governor’s announcement here.
Beginning Monday, March 29, the following populations will be eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines:
· Long-term care facility residents and staff;
· Persons 40 years of age and older;
· Health care personnel with direct patients;
· K-12 school employees of all ages;
· Sworn law enforcement officers 40 years of ages and older;
· Firefighters 40 years of age and older; and
· People who are “extremely vulnerable” to the virus with a completed state form signed by a physician.
As more vaccines become available, eligibility continues to expand. Check the Florida Department of Health COVID-19 website for the latest information.

Pre-Register for the COVID-19 Vaccine & Use the DOH Vaccine Locator
The Florida Department of Health (DOH) launched a 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 March 25, there have been 2,027,429 positive cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Florida, including 30,820 in Collier County, 4,429 in Hendry County and 59,501 in Lee County.
As of March 24, the state’s positivity rate for new cases is 5.58%.
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.

Florida Senate Takes Aim at Fixing Unemployment System
The Florida Senate recognizes the hardships Florida’s families and businesses have endured during the pandemic and is actively working to provide solutions, beginning with fixing Florida’s unemployment system.
Senate Bill 50, by Senator Joe Gruters, passed the Senate Floor and will prevent unexpected tax hikes on Florida businesses, while replenishing the Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund.
Unlike brick and mortar businesses here in Florida, out-of-state retailers or marketplaces that sell products online do not always remit the sales tax for each purchase. Compliance for remitting Florida’s sales tax has historically been extremely low.
This legislation simply ensures marketplaces and out-of-state retailers collect the owed sales tax at the point of sale for remote purchases, and remit these taxes to the state, just like in-state retailers. This measure helps to create a fair climate for our state’s businesses.
Senate Bill 50 directs these funds, approximately $1 billion of uncollected sales tax from out-of-state retailers, to be collected and deposited into Florida’s Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund for the next four years, or until the Trust Fund is replenished to pre-pandemic levels.
Replenishing the trust fund will prevent an unforeseen 700% increase in unemployment taxes facing businesses while ensuring that the fund remains solvent for employees when they need to claim their benefits.
Additionally, next week the Senate Committee on Commerce and Tourism will consider Senate Bill 1906: Reemployment Assistance, by Senator Jason Brodeur.
SB 1906 will increase the maximum weekly unemployment benefit from $275 to $375. These measures will help our state as we continue working towards a full economic recovery.

Legislation Honors Fallen Law Enforcement Officers
A hero remembered is never forgotten. Senate Bill 1716, by Senator Ed Hooper, honors the legacies of Deputy Michael J. Magli, Sergeant Brian LaVigne, and Officer Jesse Madsen, three Florida law enforcement officers who were killed in the line of duty earlier this year.
Deputy Magli served the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office for eight years. Sergeant LaVigne served more than 30 years with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. Officer Madsen served 16 years as a Tampa Police officer and served three tours in Afghanistan with the U.S. military.
The legislation renames a portion of County Road 611, East Lake Road, in Pinellas County as “Deputy Michael J. Magli Memorial Road,” a portion of State Road 60 in Hillsborough County as “Sergeant Brian LaVigne Road,” and a portion of Interstate 275 in Hillsborough County as “Officer Jesse Madsen Memorial Highway.”
The Florida Senate unanimously passed this legislation on the Senate Floor.
The Florida Senate is proud to honor Florida’s law enforcement officers who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of others.

Comprehensive Higher Education Measure Passes Senate
The Florida Senate approved Senate Bill 52: Postsecondary Education, by Senator Ray Rodrigues, a measure to improve Florida’s postsecondary education structure.
The legislation ensures college tuition exemptions for students in the care of the Department of Children and Families, increases access to dual enrollment, creates a framework to reward exceptional university staff, and enhances professional development options for teachers.
“This comprehensive legislation addresses a broad range of issues related to higher education in Florida. Dual enrollment helps our students make the most of their high school experience with a head start towards earning higher education credits and credentials. We will also increase access to dual enrollment opportunities for students in public, private, or home education settings. Provide more options for teachers to complete their continuing professional development, and give the flexibility needed for the Florida Postsecondary Comprehensive Transition Program to better support students with unique abilities,” said Senator Rodrigues. “Our universities should be able to reward exceptional employees without being required to consider across-the-board bonuses. This legislation also authorizes universities to create individualized bonus structures for their best employees.”

Pro-Consumer Legislation Approved by Senate
Senate Bill 56: Community Association Assessment Notices, by Senator Ana Maria Rodriguez, unanimously passed the Florida Senate.
Senate Bill 56 provides additional notice requirements for condominium, cooperative and homeowners’ associations when collecting assessments by these community associations.
This legislation ensures condominium owners are informed of assessment changes enacted by their associations and will help to reduce late-fees caused by the inconsistent delivery of assessments.
These changes will keep unit owners, especially seniors, properly informed if the delivery method of a statement of account transitions to e-mail delivery.
The bill also increases the payment deadline for a condominium or cooperative unit owner from 30 days to 45 days after receiving an association’s Notice of Intent to Record a Claim of Lien in order to avoid the filing of a claim of lien.

Committee Advances Measure to Combat Human Trafficking in Florida
The Senate Committee on Criminal Justice unanimously approved Senate Bill 1826: Human Trafficking, by Senator Manny Diaz, Jr., in an ongoing effort to end human trafficking in Florida.
The legislation expands the definition and scope of “human trafficking,” to better ensure traffickers are brought to justice for this form of modern-day slavery.
SB 1826 also provides that certain communications between a victim and a human trafficking victim advocate or trained volunteer are confidential so individuals may feel comfortable sharing their experiences and receiving these critical services in a private setting.

Bill Proposal to Allow “Cocktails-to-Go” Up on Both Chamber Floors
Senate Bill 148, by Senator Jennifer Bradley, received its second reading on the Senate Floor this week. The legislation would allow restaurants to package alcoholic drinks or bottles as part of to-go meals.
The companion bill, House Bill 329, by Representative Josie Tomkow, has been calendared for a second reading on the House floor.
The bill aims to support restaurants by allowing alcoholic drinks or bottles as part of take-home meals.
The bill limits the “to go” option to licensed restaurants, caps individual container sizes at 32 ounces and requires motorists to place the drinks in locked compartments, vehicle trunks or an area behind the last upright seats in vehicles.

It’s Women’s “HERstory” Month!
February marks Women’s History Month, or as some have labeled it: Women’s HERstory Month. I am proud to be a woman in the Florida Senate and to be part of the amazing women over the years who have played a role in shaping our state.
Women like Edna Giles Fuller, the first female elected to the Florida House, paved the way for the rest of us. Illeana Ros-Lehtinen was later elected to the Florida Legislature, and she is responsible for creating many of the education programs our students benefit from today.
Today, women serve in many leadership roles in the Florida Senate, including Appropriations Chair, Rules Chair and Majority Leader.
Read the recap by the USA Today Network for a tribute to many of these Florida women!

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