Florida lawmakers return this week to Tallahassee after eight months — but it won’t be until next year that legislators begin to assess the wreckage left by the coronavirus pandemic.
Florida has nearly 900,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 17,000 coronavirus-related deaths, and the damage done by COVID-19 to the state’s economy has blown a hole in the state budget. The financial hit would be worse if not for billions of dollars in federal aid.
Here’s what we know: Legislative leaders have expressed an interest in enacting some sort of liability protections for businesses impacted by the coronavirus.
But what we don’t know yet is whether there will be any substantial review of the actions taken by Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ administration in response to COVID-19. It’s also unknown if the experiences of the past year will prompt legislators to reverse Florida’s public-health infrastructure’s years of attrition.
Incoming Senate President Wilton Simpson, a Republican from Trilby, and incoming House Speaker Chris Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican, will formally take over during Tuesday’s Organization Session.
They may lay out an ambitious agenda for 2021, or they may just outline their aspirational goals for the next two years. Simpson is expected to push for continued changes to Florida’s beleaguered child welfare system. He also was the sponsor of a bill that spells out (sort of) what happens if Obamacare is struck down. The measure, however, doesn’t address what would happen to health-insurance premiums if the Affordable Care Act goes away. When Simpson pushed the bill through in 2019, he said lawmakers would address the issue later.
The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation has not responded to The News Service of Florida’s inquiries about what happens if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the federal health care law.
Despite ongoing criticism from Democrats, GOP legislative leaders have largely remained content with the approach that DeSantis has taken to COVID-19: no mask mandate, forcing schools to offer in-person instruction and rapidly reopening the economy.
A host of protocols designed to minimize the spread of infection among legislators will be in place during this week’s one-day Organization Session. The measures include COVID-19 testing, encouraging the use of face masks and limiting the number of people in the House and Senate chambers.
As COVID-19 positivity rates and hospitalizations tick up in Florida, the state could surpass 1 million total COVID-19 cases early next year. If another big wave hits between now and the regular 2021 Session that is scheduled to begin in March, will that prod Republican lawmakers into action?
Republished with permission of The News Service of Florida.