Several Democratic Senators gathered on the steps of the Florida Capitol building Friday and called for a series of sweeping changes to Florida’s burdened unemployment system and election laws.
The conference served as a call for action directed at Gov. Ron DeSantis as he readies the state for Phase Two of reopening and announced Friday a “Full Phase One,” bringing gyms and large venues back online.
“While some in our state have chosen this as a time to be more optimistic, we recognize that those we represent are still in a state of crisis,” said Democratic Leader Designate Gary Farmer. “The struggles that Floridians are facing today are the direct result of two decades of failed conservative policies.”
To correct course from the “failed conservative policies,” the lawmakers echoed the need for DeSantis and legislative leaders to call the Legislature back for a Special Session.
“Let the Legislature get back to work, just as Floridians will be going back to work,” Farmer added.
The group spoke in depth about the flaws within the state’s unemployment system and laid the blame at the feet of former Governor and now U.S. Sen. Rick Scott.
“We gave everyone the burden of staying home,” Sen. Jason Pizzo of Miami said. “We all accepted it. I accepted it. But we didn’t give them the benefit of the promise that was made both by the state and the companies they work for.”
Pizzo also took issue with the slow pace by which the state is moving.
“We keep waiting to the midnight hour on all these decisions, Pizzo said. “We had to push, push, push to get an announcement that the eviction moratorium would be extended.”
Sen. Victor Torres, who represents Osceola County and portions of Orange County, also lamented the unemployment dysfunction.
Torres said he has worked with Disney workers and unions, and many of them have yet to receive checks despite supposed coordination between the company and the state.
“I call it a hoodwink,” Torres said. “Didn’t happen. Many are still unemployed and not getting their checks.”
In response, the Senators called on DeSantis to pay all claims retroactively to the day the worker was unemployed.
Additionally, they demanded raising the weekly maximum of $275 for those on unemployment to at least $400 per week and the duration extended from 12 weeks to 26 weeks.
“The Governor can fix the issue of extending the number of weeks people are eligible today with the stroke of a pen, but he refuses to do the right thing for the people of Florida,” Torres said.
Sen. Perry Thurston of Broward County said he and his Democratic colleagues expressed doubts about the unemployment system when it was implemented in 2011.
“We voted against it because we knew that it was wrong,” Thurston said. “We voted against it because it’s wrong to pay people the basic minimum that you can pay them. These are not people who don’t want to work, these are people who have been laid off.”