Legislative Update – March 19, 2021 – Kathleen C. Passidomo

This week, the Florida Senate passed COVID-19 liability protections for businesses and health care providers in a 24-15 vote. The Florida Senate also passed legislation seeking to protect farmers from nuisance lawsuits and unlawful claims. Both of these measures are critically important to our state as we recover from COVID-19 and plan for our future.
There are 42 days remaining in the 2021 Legislative Session, and we have a great deal of work to do. Chief among them is the state budget. Due to the economic downturn, our state is facing a decrease in revenue, and we must do more with less.
I will keep you updated as budget allocations are released, and the state budget takes form.

Florida COVID-19 Vaccine Update
As of Thursday, March 18, 6,993,528 vaccine doses have been administered in Florida. There are now 4,570,538 individuals who have been vaccinated for COVID-19 in Florida.
On Friday, Governor Ron DeSantis announced he will lower eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine to age 50 starting next week.
Beginning Monday, the following populations will be eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines:
· Long-term care facility residents and staff;
· Persons 50 years of age and older;
· Health care personnel with direct patients;
· K-12 school employees of all ages;
· Sworn law enforcement officers 50 years of ages and older;
· Firefighters 50 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 19, there have been 1,999,257 positive cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Florida, including 30,468 in Collier County, 4,392 in Hendry County and 58,577 in Lee County.
As of March 18, the state’s positivity rate for new cases is 5.02%.
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 Delivers COVID-19 Liability Protections for Businesses, Health Care Providers
Since day one of the COVID-19 pandemic, Florida’s health care providers put their health at risk to serve their fellow Floridians. In addition, Florida’s business owners worked tirelessly to stay open while adhering to changing safety guidelines and regulations.
The Florida Senate passed Senate Bill 72: Civil Liability for Damages Relating to COVID-19, by Senator Jeff Brandes, to shield businesses from fraudulent or opportunistic lawsuits related to the COVID-19 pandemic and offer protection from civil liability for health care providers who have served Floridians during the pandemic.
When a business makes a good faith effort to adhere to changing safety guidelines to reopen during a period of extreme uncertainty, our laws should protect them from frivolous and costly litigation. We must also work to ensure that health care providers are not threatened with unmerited lawsuits that hinder their ability to serve their patients.
As our state continues to fully reopen and recover, Senate Bill 72 works to separate the serious and merited claims from the fraudulent and unfair claims brought against a Florida business or health care provider.

Florida Senate Takes Action to Improve Child Welfare System
Ensuring the safety and stability of children in Florida’s foster care system is imperative. The Florida Senate unanimously voted to approve Senate Bill 80: Child Welfare, by Senator Jason Brodeur. The measure increases protections and consistency for children in out-of-home care by expanding existing laws related to sibling and transition placements.
The Florida Senate recognizes the relationships young children develop with out-of-home caregivers and siblings of the child’s biological family members. The bill works to reduce trauma from abrupt or frequent placement changes that remove children from safe, successful placements.
Senate Bill 80 also requires that a quick reference “FACE sheet” be created to summarize the status of each child’s case and goals moving forward.
“Our goal is to reduce the trauma children face when they are moved, sometimes abruptly, from one out-of-home placement to another,” said Senator Brodeur. “These are vulnerable young children who have been neglected or abused and we want to make sure they have the stability of a safe, permanent living situation as soon as possible.”

Heightened Protections for Victims of Domestic Violence Approved by Florida Senate
The Florida Senate approved two bills, by Senator Ileana Garcia, to heighten protections for victims of domestic violence as well as the advocates working at domestic violence shelters.
Senate Bill 70 provides a new criminal offense to further protect the locations of the Department of Children and Families (DCF) certified domestic violence centers. Senate Bill 68 exempts from public record the personal information and addresses of DCF domestic violence shelters’ current or former staff, domestic violence advocates and their families.
When victims of domestic violence seek refuge, it is imperative that, for their safety, their location remains confidential. With the passage of Senate Bill 68 and Senate Bill 70, survivors will be safer from their abusers.
Florida has 41 DCF certified domestic violence centers that provide crisis intervention and support services to adult victims of domestic violence and their children free of charge.

Legislation Promoting Civic Education Passes Florida Senate
The Florida Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 146: Civic Education, by Senator Jeff Brandes.
This legislation aims to help students gain civic experience both inside and outside of the classroom by requiring the Florida Commissioner of Education to develop criteria for a nonpartisan civic literacy practicum that may be incorporated into Florida high school United States Government courses.
Senate Bill 146 aims to promote civic literacy in Florida, enable students to engage in civil discourse, and provide more opportunities to equip high school graduates with sufficient knowledge of America’s civics.

Vietnam Veterans Honored by Florida Senate
To memorialize the sacrifices and experiences of those captured or missing in combat during the Vietnam War, the Florida Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 416: POW-MIA Veterans Bracelet Memorial, by Senator Danny Burgess.
The legislation establishes the memorial, which will be funded and administered by the Big Bend Chapter 96, Vietnam Veterans of America, and will be placed on or near the Florida Capitol Complex.
The Florida Senate is committed to ensuring Florida remains the number one state in the nation for our military and veteran communities, and their families.

Legislation to Modernize Right to Farm Protections Passes Florida Senate
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, 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. The Florida Senate approved this legislation, which seeks to update this important law so existing farm work and complementary agritourism activities are protected.

New Tax Exemption Bill to Help Elderly Live Independently Passes Senate Committee on Children, Families, and Elder Affairs
On Tuesday, Senate Bill 224 by Senator Lori Berman unanimously passed its second committee stop.
SB 224 exempts the purchase of certain items that assist individuals in living and aging independently in their homes from the sales and use tax.
Specifically, the bill exempts the following items from the collection of the sales and use tax:
· Bed transfer handles selling for $60 or less;
· Bed rails selling for $110 or less;
· Grab bars selling for $100 or less; and
· Shower seats selling for $100 or less.
The bill specifies that the exemption only applies to purchases of these items made for personal or noncommercial use.
SB 224 will be heard in the Committee on Finance and Tax next.

Back-to-School Sales Tax Holiday Up in Final Senate Committee
Senate Bill 598, by Senator Keith Perry, creates the 10-day Back-to-School Sales Tax Holiday to help ensure students have the tools and supplies necessary to be successful in the classroom.
From Friday, July 30, 2021, to Sunday, August 8, 2021, the bill would eliminate taxes on items, including:
· clothing and footwear costing $60 or less;
· backpacks costing $50 or less;
· school supplies costing $15 or less; and
· personal computers and accessories costing $1,000 or less.
Next, SB 598 will be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Bill to Increase Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Passes Its First Senate Committee
Senate Bill 874, by Senator Jason Brodeur, passed its first committee Wednesday. The legislation requires the DOH, in collaboration with the Department of Elder Affairs (DOEA) and the Alzheimer’s Association, to use existing, relevant, public health, and community outreach programs to incorporate and disseminate information to health care practitioners on Alzheimer’s disease.
The educational materials must cover:
· The importance of early detection and timely diagnosis of cognitive impairment.
· Utilization of a validated cognitive assessment tool.
· The value of Medicare annual wellness visits for cognitive health.
· The use of the Medicare billing code for care planning for individuals with cognitive impairment.
· Methods to detect early warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.
· Methods to reduce the risk of cognitive decline, particularly among individuals in diverse communities who are at greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.
The bill will be heard next in the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services.

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