Legislative Update – April 11, 2021

Legislative Update – April 11, 2021

This week, the Florida Senate passed the proposed $95 billion state budget for the 2021-2022 Fiscal Year. The budget aims to support Floridians as we continue to recover and rebuild from the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, the budget includes funding for key initiatives that will benefit our state beyond the pandemic.
Priorities include support for new workforce opportunities, projects to help address the rising sea level and Everglades restoration, and major investments in Florida’s infrastructure.
The Florida House passed its proposed budget this week, too. Budget negotiations will begin as early as next week to resolve differences and produce a consensus budget before April 30 for the Governor’s consideration.
As the budget process progresses, legislation continues to move through the process. It is important to note that bills as originally filed oftentimes change dramatically in committee hearings due to input from the public and committee members. SB 86 on Bright Futures is such an example (see my comments below). If you are interested in following the course of any piece of legislation go to the Florida Senate website: https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bills/2021.

Florida COVID-19 Vaccine Update
As of Thursday, April 8, 10,732,071 vaccine doses have been administered in Florida. There are now 6,942,405 individuals who have been vaccinated for COVID-19 in Florida.
As of this Monday, 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.

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 9, there have been 2,111,807 positive cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Florida, including 32,138 in Collier County, 4,507 in Hendry County and 62,224 in Lee County.
As of April 8, the state’s positivity rate for new cases is 6.66%.
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.

Senate Unanimously Approves Balanced Budget with Major Investments in Infrastructure, Environment
The Florida Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 2500: Appropriations, the Senate’s proposed budget for the 2021-2022 fiscal year. The $95 billion budget includes key investment infrastructure, water quality improvements and environmental restoration, child welfare, and an increase in the minimum wage for state workers.
The balanced budget includes $5 billion in reserves to responsibly plan for Florida’s future as the economy recovers from the COVID-19 Pandemic.
The budget proposal fully funds the Medicaid program, which increased by 730,000 enrollees as a result of the pandemic and maintains last year’s unprecedented level of per-student funding for K-12 education, including a $500 million allocation to raise teacher salaries. The budget also provides for a $50 million increase in our investment in the 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.
Additionally, the Senate approved conforming bills associated with the balanced budget that make comprehensive investments in Florida’s infrastructure and environment. Senate Bill 2512, Documentary Stamp Tax Distributions, forms a three-part infrastructure plan to prioritize funding in state and local affordable housing programs, mitigate the impacts of sea-level rise, and enhance wastewater programs, including septic-to-sewer conversions. The new framework provides that affordable housing programs would receive approximately $200 million. Programs established to mitigate the impacts of sea-level rise and enhance wastewater programs would each receive approximately $111 million.

Senate Prioritizes Legislation Expediting Water Storage North of Lake Okeechobee
Senate Bill 2516: Water Storage North of Lake Okeechobee, works to improve the water quality in Lake Okeechobee and reduce damaging discharges.
The legislation expedites the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project, providing for water storage north of Lake Okeechobee, and secures $50 million annually to ensure the success of this transformative policy.
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.

Measure to Replenish Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund, Cut Business Rent Tax Sent to Governor’s Desk
The Florida Senate recognizes the hardships Florida’s businesses have endured during the ongoing pandemic. Senate Bill 50: Taxation, by Senator Joe Gruters, passed off the Senate Floor and prevents an unexpected tax hike on Florida businesses, creates a fair playing field with out-of-state businesses, ensures necessary compensation is available for Florida workers seeking re-employment and cuts Florida’s business rent tax by $1 billion.
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. 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 create a fair climate for our state’s businesses, where everyone plays by the same rules.
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 impending 700% increase in unemployment taxes facing businesses while ensuring that the fund remains solvent for employees when they need to claim their benefits. Once the Trust fund is replenished, additional funds collected from out-of-state retailers will go toward reducing Florida’s business rent tax rate from the current 5.5% to 2%.
Cutting the business rent tax by 3.5% will lower taxes on businesses by over $1 billion. Florida is the only state to charge sales tax on commercial rentals of real property. This meaningful tax cut will lower operating costs for Florida businesses while helping decrease new businesses’ startup costs.

Legislation Safeguarding First Amendment Rights, Combating Violence Passes Committee
In the last year, violence and destruction from dangerous riots have plagued our state, Washington D.C., and cities around the country.
Now, the Florida Legislature is taking action to ensure public safety and preserve the First Amendment right of all Americans to peacefully protest. House Bill 1: Combating Public Disorder, presented by Senator Danny Burgess, passed the Senate Committee on Appropriations.
House Bill 1 upholds the rule of law and protects law enforcement officers from violent attacks.
The legislation increases criminal penalties for violence, burglary, and destruction during a riot, allows law enforcement to prohibit individuals from blocking traffic and obstructing roadways if a permit has not been obtained, provides for a six-month mandatory sentence for battery against a law enforcement officer during a riot, creates a process to reject efforts to defund the police, and makes doxing a first-degree misdemeanor. The Florida Senate is committed to ensuring individuals’ First Amendment right to peacefully protest. Rioting, violence and destruction only silence those protesting peacefully, and will not be tolerated here in Florida.

Measure to Combat Human Trafficking in Florida Advances to Senate Floor
The Senate Committee on Rules 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.
The legislation also provides that certain communications between a human trafficking victim advocate or trained volunteer with the victim are confidential. This will help individuals feel more comfortable sharing their experiences and receiving these critical services in a private setting.

Measure to Stabilize Florida’s Property Insurance Market Passes Senate
With the cost of property insurance in Florida increasing rapidly, the Florida Senate passed legislation to stabilize Florida’s property insurance market. Senate Bill 76: Property Insurance, by Senator Jim Boyd, addresses several issues surrounding the rising cost of property insurance in Florida. Specifically, the bill clarifies options for insurance coverage related to roof damage and replacement, creates a uniform period for filing a property insurance claim, requires that the insured party provide notice to the insurance company before filing a lawsuit, and changes how attorney fees are awarded in property insurance litigation.
“We want to make certain that Floridians have access to property insurance that is both reliable and affordable. Right now we have a situation in our state where homeowners are paying more for their property insurance, and yet insurance companies are suffering massive losses,” said Senator Boyd. “One of the biggest drivers of rate increases is the extraordinary number of roofing claims in Florida. This bill provides a needed update to roofing policies to both protect homeowners and prevent the abuse of claims by predatory attorneys and contractors.”

Senate Passes Statewide Flooding and Sea-level Rise Resilience Plan
The Florida Senate this week passed Senate Bill 1954, Statewide Flooding and Sea-level Rise Resilience, by Senator Ray Rodrigues.
SB 1954 establishes statewide resiliency programs that assess and address inland and coastal flooding and sea-level rise.
The bill creates the “Resilient Florida Grant Program” within the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which will provide funding, subject to appropriation, to local governments for the costs of resilience planning and projects to adapt critical assets.
The bill further creates the “Comprehensive Statewide Flood Vulnerability and Sea Level Rise Data Set and Assessment,” to be updated every five years. The DEP must develop a statewide data set necessary to determine the risks to inland and coastal communities, including statewide sea level rise projections; and develop a statewide assessment, based on the statewide data set, which identifies vulnerable areas, infrastructure, and critical assets.

Comprehensive Legislation to Improve Emergency Response Efforts Passes Committee
The ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic has highlighted several areas where the Florida Legislature can make improvements to benefit our state moving forward.
Senate Bill 2006: Emergency Management, by Senator Danny Burgess, updates the State Emergency Management Act to better address the threat posed by a pandemic or other public health emergency. This legislation passed the Senate Committee on Rules, chaired by Senator Kathleen Passidomo, its final committee stop before consideration by the full Senate.
Last year, Senate President Wilton Simpson announced the creation of a new committee, the Select Committee on Pandemic Preparedness and Response, chaired by Senator Burgess. The committee reviewed a wide range of issues regarding the state response to the pandemic, and this legislation is one step in addressing the gaps that were identified.
The bill provides for additional oversight and transparency regarding exercises of the executive branch’s and local government’s emergency powers to protect the individual rights of all Floridians while keeping our communities safe. It ensures the Division of Emergency Management (DEM) maintains a stockpile of personal protective equipment.
Senate Bill 2006 also requires the DOH to create a state public health emergency management plan and for DEM to incorporate it into a comprehensive emergency management plan.

Senate Passes Comprehensive Plan to Invest in Florida’s Infrastructure
The Florida Senate today passed Senate Bill 2512, Documentary Stamp Tax Distributions, and Senate Bill 2514, Resilient Florida Trust Fund. These conforming bills associated with the state budget establish the statewide plan to fund key infrastructure programs.
Senate Bill 2512 funds key infrastructure priorities; including critical wastewater programs, affordable housing, and mitigating sea-level rise, without raising taxes on Floridians.
This comprehensive proposal modernizes our documentary stamp tax distribution by dedicating a steady stream of funding to address these three critical areas of public policy.
SB 2514 creates the Resilient Florida Trust Fund within the Department of Environmental Protection and provides that the trust fund is established as a depository for documentary stamp revenues dedicated to resiliency projects as provided for in SB 2512.

Legislation to Provide Students With Improved Career Planning Tools Passes Senate Florida
On Thursday, Senate Bill 86, Student Financial Aid, by Senator Dennis Baxley passed the floor.
Since the Bright Futures Program was established, it has been modified many times, to include increases in investments. In 1997, the state funded $69 million in scholarships. This year’s budget invests $651 million of state resources into Bright Futures. When Bright Futures was first established, the funding was based on the cost of tuition, but today the program includes more support, such as the cost of books.
Over the last several weeks, I have received a number of emails on this bill, many from people who expressed concerns about the original version and were not aware of revisions made in recent weeks. The originally filed version did not contemplate reducing funding for Bright Futures. Instead, it tied the funding for each student to whether or not they were enrolled in a degree program that would lead to them getting a job once they graduated. That provision caused a great deal of concern to me and to students and parents all over the state.
I and many of my colleagues spoke with the bill sponsor to share these and other concerns about the bill. As a result the bill was amended dramatically.
The current version of the bill does not limit any student in their choice of degree selection or the courses they may take. The bill provides that the scholarships will be funded through an amount annually specified in the General Appropriations Act (GAA). The budget recently passed by the Senate fully funds Bright Futures Scholarships at current levels.
The updated Senate Bill 86 that passed the Senate floor this week provides a framework for Florida students and families to make more informed decisions about educational options and expands avenues of eligibility for merit-based financial aid scholarships.
Senate Bill 86 requires the Board of Governors (BOG), State Board of Education (SBE) and the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida (ICUF) to create and publish a list, by December 31, 2021, of programs and certificates that will not directly lead to jobs.
University students will also have access to the real-world outcomes of state university graduates by academic area, and students will be able to explore post-graduation median salary, debt, loan, and continuing education information before declaring a major.
The bill provides additional eligibility options for the Bright Futures Scholarship Program beginning for graduates of the 2021-2022 academic year.

Senate Committee to Meet Next Week on Three Proposed Gaming Bills
Next Monday, the Committee on Regulated Industries will meet to discuss three new proposed bills related to gaming in Florida.
As a member of the committee, I will participate in discussions regarding the following proposals: the creation of a Gaming Control Commission, the decoupling of jai alai, harness and quarter horse racing, and conform Florida statutes to the constitutional prohibition on greyhound racing.
Senate President Simpson recognizes that Florida is a diverse state and that Senators and constituents have many different opinions, beliefs and convictions regarding gaming. The fact remains, gaming is a voter-approved industry that has contributed billions of dollars to our economy for education, health care and infrastructure while providing hundreds of thousands of jobs to Floridians for nearly 100 years.
I will continue to keep you updated as discussions progress.

In the News
Collier CARES app launching to connect people with essential services
Minor league baseball: Fort Myers Mighty Mussels to open season with limited attendance

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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