Dave Trecker
Committee Chair

The 2020 legislative session is now history, and Florida has a record-setting $92.2 billion budget in place for fiscal 2020-21.

The coronavirus didn’t influence much of the lawmaking, but it did influence the budget, as Governor DeSantis struggled to provide needed funding while taking into account revenue shortfalls caused by the pandemic.

The 2020 legislature passed over 200 bills and, at this writing, the governor has signed 177 of them. As always, much of the legislation was directed to local matters and non-controversial issues. But many of the bills had far-reaching implications. Here is one person’s list (with my own prejudices) of some of the most consequential, both good and bad.

HB 1005 gives local officials additional means of processing election recounts through use of independent auditing systems, a needed reform.

HB 641 paves the way for raising teachers’ pay, a DeSantis priority.

HB 7067 increases eligibility for private-school scholarships, a huge win for school choice. This opens the door to what the Wall Street Journal calls “the biggest private-school voucher expansion in U.S. history.”

SB 172 transfers regulation of all over-the-counter drugs and cosmetics to the state, a stunning blow to home rule prompted by concerns over restricting sunscreen sales.

HB 1339 requires local government to provide incentives to offset certain costs for building affordable housing – legislation some say is a gift to developers and another blow to home rule.

SB 646 allows college athletes to make money from endorsement deals, making Florida the third state to allow collegians to do so.

SB 664 requires employers to use E-Verify or other federal citizenship verification, with exemptions for construction and farm workers. This watered-down bill does little to bar undocumented migrants.

HB 969 authorizes expanded broadband access in rural areas, a move applauded for increasing internet services and spurring economic growth.

SB 404 requires a physician to have parental consent before performing an abortion on a minor (under 18 years of age). This is an explosive social issue, likely headed to the courts.

SB 712 is an omnibus water-quality bill, the most far-reaching in decades. Among other things, it triggers rulemaking for septic tanks, mandates farmers to keep track of fertilizer use and calls for state inspection of farms every two years.

High-profile legislation that didn’t make the cut includes gun control, vacation rentals, CBD regulation, mental health and fracking.

Passing bills is one part of the process. The other part is funding. You need money to make things happen. And $92.2 billion is a lot of taxpayer money. There is every reason to believe it will be spent wisely.

Governor DeSantis kept his promise to boost education and the environment by keeping intact $500 million for teacher raises and $625 for water projects. Another $100 million was allocated for purchasing conservation land. State employees got a long-awaited 3% wage increase. A particularly good move was increasing the reserve to $6.3 billion, a buffer against troubles ahead.

Some of those troubles are already here. To offset plunging revenues caused by the pandemic, the governor trimmed $1 billion from the original $93.2 billion budget. The cuts mostly affected local projects – roads, water treatment, the arts. Affordable housing took a hit, as did capital outlays for state schools. The Naples area saw over $2 million in state funding disappear.

And it may not be over. A continuing drop in revenues could prompt further cuts in state and local programs.

It’s been a rough year for Governor DeSantis and our legislators, but they’ve done a terrific job in difficult times. We owe them our thanks.

Dave Trecker

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