Kathleen C. Passidomo – Legislative Update – April 24, 2021

Kathleen C. Passidomo – Legislative Update – April 24, 2021

Today marks the 54th day of this year’s legislative session.
Both chambers continue to work on budget negotiations after a week of conferencing. Our goal is to establish a balanced budget that will help support Floridians rebuilding from COVID-19 and beyond the pandemic.
Once the budget is finalized, it must be printed and provided to each member of the House and Senate for review for a minimum of 72 hours before we can vote on the budget on the floor. Once the finalized budget is passed, we can declare Sine Die and officially end the 2021 Legislative Session.
The Senate Rules Committee, of which I am chair, held a final meeting Tuesday to review and discuss legislation before moving to the Senate floor for a final vote. As we finalize outstanding legislation and budgetary items, we are optimistic that we have advanced a series of measures that will ensure a better, brighter future for all Floridians.

Budget Negotiations Underway Between the Senate and House of Representatives
The Florida Senate and House of Representatives began budget negotiations for the 2021-2022 fiscal year budget.
The Appropriations Conference Committee is led by Senate Appropriations Chair Kelli Stargel and House Appropriations Chair Jay Trumbull, who are working together along with their subcommittee chairs to negotiate through the differences in each chamber’s proposed budgets.
The Senate and House are committed to passing a balanced budget that prioritizes key investments in infrastructure, water quality improvements, environmental restoration and education, while responsibly planning for Florida’s future as the economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senate Prioritizes Our Servicemembers, Veterans and Their Families
Several pro-veteran initiatives won approval from the Florida Senate this week.
House Bill 231: Services for Veterans and Their Families, sponsored in the Senate by Senator Gayle Harrell, authorizes the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to create the Florida Veterans’ Care Coordination Program to provide both veterans and their families with dedicated behavioral health care referral services, primarily for mental health and substance abuse. The legislation unanimously passed off the Senate Floor. Through the program, a veteran may call a separate veteran-dedicated support line to receive assistance and support from a fellow veteran who is trained to respond to the calls for assistance.
Two measures by Senator Tom Wright, Senate Bill 586: Veterans Employment and Training and Senate Bill 938: Purple Star Campuses, unanimously passed the Senate Committee on Appropriations.
Senate Bill 586 creates a coalition to help veterans as they transition into the civilian workforce, designating Veterans Florida as the state’s principal assistance organization under the United States Department of Defense’s SkillBridge program for employers and transitioning service-members. The program will help exiting military members in their last six months of service to bridge the skills they learned in the military with a civilian job in Florida and empower Veterans Florida to educate businesses, business associations and transitioning service-members on the SkillBridge program and its benefits.
Senate Bill 938 recognizes and supports the exemplary schools that aid students of military families as they transition into new schools by requiring the Department of Education to establish the Purple Star Campus Program. The measure provides Purple Star Schools with a designated military liaison, maintains a student-led transition program to assist military students in transitioning into new schools and offers professional development training opportunities for staff members on issues relating to military students.
The Florida Senate is committed to ensuring the Sunshine State remains the number one state in the nation for our military and veteran communities and their families.

Measure to Increase Unemployment Benefits Passes Florida Senate
The COVID-19 Pandemic has shed light on issues within Florida’s unemployment system and the Florida Senate is taking the necessary steps to address these challenges.
Senate Bill 1906: Reemployment Assistance, by Senator Jason Brodeur, passed the Florida Senate and is headed to the Florida House of Representatives for consideration.
The maximum unemployment benefit amount has not been raised in over two decades, and the cost of living for Floridians has grown substantially since then. The legislation proposes to increase the maximum weekly unemployment benefit from $275 to $375, and to increase the minimum weekly benefit from $32 to $100, bringing Florida on par with the national average for state unemployment benefits.
It also aims to increase the maximum duration of benefits from 12 weeks to 14 weeks when the unemployment rate is at or below 5%, and from 23 weeks to 25 weeks when the unemployment rate is at or above 10.5%. Additionally, denial of reemployment assistance solely on the basis of pregnancy is prohibited under the legislation.

Legislation Modernizing Florida’s Reemployment Assistance Program Passes Senate
Gaining unanimous support in the Florida Senate, House Bill 1463: Department of Economic Opportunity, presented in the Senate by President Pro Tempore Aaron Bean, will update Florida’s antiquated reemployment assistance program.
While the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) continues to work tirelessly to ensure benefits are provided to claimants, the state’s reemployment assistance program, known as CONNECT, was not built to process the volume of claims received during the pandemic.
House Bill 1463 establishes an Office of Economic Accountability and Transparency within DEO to provide oversight on key agency initiatives. The measure also works to modernize Florida’s reemployment assistance program by implementing a cloud-based system that is necessary for an efficient and effective operation and directs other program and claims-processing changes to promote efficiency and timeliness.

Senate Approves Legislation Providing Moments of Silence in Public Schools
The Florida Senate approved a measure to afford students the opportunity for a daily moment of reflection while at school. House Bill 529: Moments of Silence in Public Schools, sponsored in the Senate by Senator Dennis Baxley, requires teachers to hold a moment of silence at the beginning of school each day.
The legislation prohibits teachers from suggesting how to utilize the moment of silence but instead encourages teachers to discuss with families how students can make the most during this time of reflection.

Bill to Strengthen Florida’s Right to Farm Act Passes House Floor
Gaining bipartisan support on the House Floor Thursday, Senate Bill 88: Farming Operations passed in a 110 to 7 vote.
Florida’s legacy farming communities contribute to our nation’s food supply and billions of dollars to our state’s economy. Senate Bill 88: Farming Operations, by Senator Jason Brodeur and Representative Jayer Williamson, increases protections for our farmers by modernizing Florida’s Right to Farm Act.
Our state has experienced tremendous growth since Florida’s Right to Farm Act was originally passed in 1979. Both chambers have now approved this legislation, which seeks to update this important law so existing farm work and complementary agritourism activities are protected.
On Thursday, the legislation was sent to the Governor’s office for his consideration.

Online Sales Tax Bill Signed into Law By Governor DeSantis
On Monday, the Governor signed into law Senate Bill 50: Online Sales Tax by Senator Joe Gruters.
Online purchases are not tax-free. Every time government turns a blind eye on collecting taxes, we put a greater burden on the businesses and Floridians who are following the law. Making sure out-of-state businesses are collecting and remitting taxes that are owed is the right thing to do.
SB 50, effective July 1, 2021, will help to prevent an unexpected tax hike on Florida businesses, creates a fair playing field for in-state businesses, and creates a revenue stream to replenish the Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund to support Florida workers seeking re-employment.
In addition, this bill includes a plan to decrease the commercial rent tax over time, once the Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund is replenished.

Special Session Announced To Discuss 2021 Compact With Seminole Tribe of Florida
On Friday, Governor DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe of Florida executed a historic new 30-year gaming Compact.
After months of negotiations, the 2020 Compact restores the State’s relationship with the Tribe, preserves and offers new opportunities for Florida’s legacy pari-mutuel industry, and provides substantial new revenues for the State of Florida.
Some of the highlights of the new Compact with the Seminole Tribe include:
· A new 30-year term;
· Craps and Roulette;
· Additional facilities on the Tribe’s Hollywood reservation;
· Enhanced revenue sharing brackets and;
· Statewide online sports betting in partnership with the pari-mutuels.
The new Compact will need to be ratified by the Legislature. Senate President Wilton Simpon and House Speaker Chris Sprowls have agreed for the Legislature to reconvene in a Special Session the week of May 17 to provide a more thorough vetting of these important issues.
The previously discussed legislation to establish a Gaming Control Commission and to decouple greyhound, jai alai, harness, and quarter horse racing will be reintroduced during the Special Session. This will provide ample time to thoroughly discuss and address the future of gaming in our state in a more comprehensive manner.
I understand that Florida’s diverse population has differing opinions and beliefs in regard to gaming. As President Simpson mentioned, Florida has a significant gaming footprint. Therefore, it is necessary that we regulate these activities in a manner that is fair and equitable to all parties.

Florida COVID-19 Vaccine Update
As of Thursday, April 22, 13,209,897 vaccine doses have been administered in Florida. There are now 8,307,032 individuals who have been vaccinated for COVID-19 in Florida.
Remember, all individuals aged 18 and older are now eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines. You may watch the Governor’s previous announcement here.
Check the Florida Department of Health COVID-19 website for the latest information.

COVID-19 Update: Florida Case Data
As of April 23, there have been 2,196,502 positive cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Florida, including 33,400 in Collier County, 4,607 in Hendry County and 65,427 in Lee County.
As of April 22, the state’s positivity rate for new cases is 5.95%.
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.

In the News
New autism center in Cape Coral is first for Southwest Florida
Thanks A Million Harry Chapin Food Bank
New eye institute opening at Golisano Children’s Hospital this fall

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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