The state budget gets voted upon Thursday morning, and The Capitol will soon become as deserted of people as humanly possible.
Many staffers and lobbyists and others drawn to the swirl of the Sine Die celebration will be back home or elsewhere.
In the era of coronavirus, The Capitol is unsafe. Though not immune from colds and flu in any given year, this year is different. Provisions will be made for older Senators who are more at risk of getting the virus.
Next year’s budget and Session will be different from this one. The red meat legislation that has been part and parcel of many years won’t be the focus.
No, the focus will be survival.
A state predicated on tourism, and the service industry is seeing those sectors punched in the teeth right now, and commercial real estate will take a hit too, and so on.
People often complain about bills as a “solution looking for a problem.”
That kind of legislation is the luxury of an unserious time, one driven by froth and posturing.
We are now in very serious times. The 2020 legislative campaigns might be a dialogue on that. For sure, policy coverage going forward will be.
This week, Bold looks at what Duval, Clay, and Nassau legislators accomplished in Tallahassee this Session.
It will be interesting in 14 months, when the post-2021 Session Bold manifests, to compare notes between before and after COVID-19 changed life as we know it.
Sen. Aaron Bean was involved in several bills of note this year, but one that got buried in the rush of end-of-Session laws-are-passing-bills-are-dying stories, you’ll see evidence of any time you are on the road.
Nineteen new license plates will be on the road.
Among the contemplated plates: Special Olympics, Florida Golf, the “Live the Dream” license plate, and an “In God We Trust” tag. Also available: a “Don’t Tread on Me” Gadsden flag motif.
Fallen Law Enforcement officer plates are in play, as is a “Beat Childhood Cancer” and a “Donate Life” tag.
An Auburn University plate, a favorite of House sponsor Rep. Jamie Grant, is in; as is a University of Georgia tag. And also on the sporting tip, plates for Dan Marino and the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp.
Also contemplated: a Ducks Unlimited plate, a hat tip to former Agriculture Secretary Adam Putnam‘s current sinecure.
Beekeepers and Rotarians also have a tag of choice, as do “Medical Professionals Who Care.”
Additionally, among the honored the Highwaymen: “a group of 26 African American artists [who] used vivid and bright colors to display the beautiful untouched Florida landscape.”
The 2020 Legislative Session for Senate Democratic Leader Audrey Gibson lacked the drama of 2019.
Gibson, leading the caucus for a second year, led the charge to quell some of the more provocative ideas from the House.
Her legislative agenda (at least in terms of filed bills that passed) was modest.
The main accomplishment: elder-abuse fatality review teams, supervised by the Department of Children and Families.
These teams would look at “fatal and near-fatal” incidents of elder abuse.
Members of the team could include people with a wide swath of life experience, from police officers to funeral directors.
Another critical bill she and Rep. Kim Daniels carried: relief for Clifford Williams.
Williams, a Jacksonville man, was locked up for a 1976 murder that a recent review concluded he did not commit. The state is poised to pay Williams more than $2 million, the culmination of a heavy lift that saw the former death row inmate in Tallahassee frequently.
Senate budget chair Rob Bradley is leaving the Senate this year, but not without having done more than his share to help the state gear up for being walloped by the economic impact of coronavirus.
The coronavirus issue required nearly a third of a billion dollars reserve on top of $52 million of allocated state and federal money, Senate budget chair Rob Bradley said.
“There are resources there if the Governor needs them,” Bradley said.
The scaled-back tax package, teacher pay raises about $100 million below what the Governor sought initially, and Medicaid reversions helped to come up with that extra money for the coronavirus pandemic.
Bradley also championed legislation, including a ban on local sunscreen bans, a home rule measure that crashed up against the rocks of public safety in the eyes of Tallahassee legislators.
Rep. Travis Cummings, the House Appropriations Chair from Clay County, did not file anything beyond budget and collective bargaining bills.
So his metrics this Session are a bit different from virtually every other state Representative.
However, running the House side of the budget process means that he had a different set of obligations to deal with.
The coronavirus situation became a looming threat as Session moved forward this year, and estimates of what might be needed to fight it went up … from $10 million to $52 million in combined state and federal money … to an additional reserve of more than $300 million.
However, Cummings may be best remembered for an interaction he had one day in committee.
A regular commenter, Greg Pound, ranted about the LGBTQ community.
Cummings had enough of the “offensive … stuff coming out of [Pound’s] mouth.”
He cut off the speaker, telling him his time was up even as Pound continued to try to bait him, calling sergeants to handle getting the gadfly out.
Praise came in from all sides: media, Republicans and even Democrats.
“In a long Session, that moment will be remembered by those who saw it — a few dozen in the room, and a few dozen more on Florida Channel,” was how we summed it up a few weeks back in Bold.
However, the incident garnered national publicity, acclamation for the blunt-spoken Cummings, no liberal by any stretch, but someone who prizes decency and dignity.
One of the best in the game today, he is for now taking a break from elected politics. The region will be poorer for it.
The watered-down version that ultimately earned legislative approval would allow many businesses to decide whether to use the federal E-Verify system to check the immigration status of new hires, rather than a statewide mandate some had preferred.
However, for Republicans looking for this year’s equivalent to the ban on sanctuary cities, the E-Verify issue was it … and it’s now suitable for campaign mailers.
Byrd, behind both sanctuary cities and E-Verify bills, thanked House Speaker Jose’ Oliva for letting representatives create a member-driven bill.
For Byrd, potentially in the mix to run for Aaron Bean’s Senate seat in 2022, these conservative bona fides will help on mailers and the like during the primary campaign that likely will decide the deep-red district.
Though House District 12 Rep. Clay Yarborough doesn’t have a splashy win this Session with the mailer value of E-Verify, he nonetheless brought several bills home.
Legislation allowing for a prescription drug donation repository program is headed to the Governor’s desk. So too are affordable housing reforms. Likewise, legislation allowing family of decedents to access bank accounts with petty cash in them passed.
And his Guide to a Healthy Marriage didn’t even need to become law: he worked out a deal with the Florida Bar to where it was included in their literature.=
On the policy side, Yarborough had enough wins to highlight.
He also got the following approps requests through.
HB 2113 Arc of Jacksonville – Transition to Community Employment and Life, $300,000
HB 3989 YMCA of FL’s First Coast for the Immokalee Unique Abilities Center, $500,000
HB 4337 Family Support Services of North FL – Services to At-Risk Youth, $650,000
HB 2769 Knoweldge is Power Program (KIPP) – Jacksonville, $2,000,000
HB 4281 Operation Empowered Parent, $100,000
HB 4885 Teach for America, $250,000
HB 4713 Autonomous Vehicle AV Technology, Workforce, and Economic Opp., $1,000,000
HB 2767 COJ Pedestrian Crossing Installation, $750,000
Housing discrimination targeted
When Rep. Tracie Davis, a Democrat representing House District 13, looks back at her Session, she will be able to point to a couple of different accomplishments.
HB 175, a bill that targeted housing discrimination, aligns Florida and federal Fair Housing Acts by allowing complainants more access to administrative remedies. In Florida, they were the last resort.
CS/HB 199, another bill she was behind, creates “Donna’s Law” to remove the statutes of limitations and permit prosecution to start at any time for any sexual battery offense involving a victim younger than 18 at the time the offense is committed.
The bill applies only to a qualifying offense committed on or after July 1, 2020.
Rep. Kim Daniels had some high-profile wins and losses in 2020, as she cut a swath through the Capitol as the leading (or at least most vocal) “Blue Dog Democrat.”
The wins include a bill requiring parental consent for youth abortions, a position informed by her own experience as a teenager who had a disastrous procedure of her own. Daniels sponsored that bill, advocating for it strenuously on the House floor. She also backed a related “parental rights” bill heavily.
Daniels did not have unfettered success, though. Her push to get Bible study in schools was pulled. And her bill to get a mandatory moment of silence in schools passed the House but did not get a Senate hearing.
But her high profile wins should be useful in theory as she faces two primary challengers (activist Connell Crooms and community organizer Angie Nixon) in August.
A forgettable session is in the books for Rep. Wyman Duggan, who got just one bill through in 2020.
“HB 469 removes the subscribing witness requirement for instruments conveying a leasehold interest in real property. Instruments conveying a freehold interest still require two subscribing signatures,” reads the bill analysis.
While that’s a significant bill, it’s a small payoff for spending much of the year in Tallahassee.
HB 417, which would have ended the long-standing and frustrating practice of vessels lingering in the Ortega and Cedar Rivers, was a local priority for which he had high hopes.
But that, along with most of what Duggan wanted, was “indefinitely postponed and withdrawn from consideration.”
Duggan’s predecessors, Jay Fant and Daniel Davis, did not serve the full eight years. Fant was not aggressive in even filing bills by the end.
Duggan does face a general election challenge, but unlike his 2018 opponent, who had deep pockets, 2020 challenger Tammyette Thomas does not.
Rep. Jason Fischer didn’t get everything he wanted this Session.
A bill he carried that would have relegated vacation home regulation to the state of Florida died after Gov. Ron DeSantis said that would probably be better determined on the local level.
His push to cut the communications services tax hit the rocks of coronavirus. The pared-down tax package was the last stop for that.
That’s a recurrent push; it will be back next year.
His push for an elected Duval County School Superintendent died in committee in the House, “indefinitely postponed” on the agenda one anonymous afternoon.
Locals who had an existential fear of or irrational hope that the bill would sail through with ease never considered the miasma of the committee process. However, it was just that slow tracking that killed the momentum the bill seemed to have.
Fischer was able to get drone use expanded, however; the uncrewed aircraft will now be usable by state officials to combat invasive species, mainly in the Everglades.
Jags make significant changes
The identity of the Jacksonville Jaguars defense changed in the span of just one week. Some new faces are joining the team through free agency, two marquee players are leaving, while another is staying, at least for the time being.
On the offensive side, Gardner Minshew is now officially the starting quarterback after Nick Foles was traded to the Chicago Bears for a draft pick. Foles signed a four-year $88 million deal just a year ago before being injured and ultimately losing his job to Minshew.
The defense is undergoing a more significant overhaul. Linebacker Joe Schobert comes to Jacksonville from Cleveland where he spent his first four years. His free-agent contract is reportedly for five years and $53.8 million.
Speculation centered around moving Myles Jack from inside linebacker to outside following a subpar season. The addition of Schobert appears to confirm that thought.
“Getting him (Jack) comfortable is really what my main goal is and putting him in a spot where he can go and play and maybe not have to worry about a lot of other people,” head coach Doug Marrone said.
The Jaguars also sought to shore up the losses of cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye by signing Darqueze Dennard from the Cincinnati Bengals to a three-year, $13.5 million deal. Dennard was a former first-round pick out of Michigan State in 2014.
Heading out is Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell, who heads to Baltimore in a trade that netted the Jaguars only a fifth-round draft choice. The deal appears so one-sided that some analysts figure the team must be freeing up salary to sign other free agents, or have enough that will make Yannick Ngakoue decide he wants to stay.
Jacksonville recently placed the franchise tag on Ngakoue that gives them more time to convince him to hang around or make a deal to trade him. Earlier this month the rising star defensive end told team officials he was not interested in signing a long-term deal with the Jaguars.
Though other changes are still certain to come, the Jaguars look much different than they did seven days ago.