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Tax & spend
A substantial majority of Florida voters want more government investment in health care, schools, and support for families and businesses.
That’s the findings from a poll commissioned by the State Innovation Exchange. The poll, conducted by TargetSmart, found 63% of voters favor such state spending to deal with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Comparatively, just 13% advise the state to live within its means.
There’s some difference in responses based on partisanship, with 79% of Democrats favoring more significant government intervention compared to 55% of independents and 53% of Republicans. Still, across the board, voters strongly favor investment over austerity.
Results include responses from 740 registered voters between Jan. 31 and Feb. 4. Pollsters report a 4.4% margin of error.
The same survey found voters split on whether Florida is headed in the right direction as far as recovery, with 42% saying Florida was on the “wrong track” and 41% saying it’s on the “right” one. There are signs that money isn’t the only place Florida voters want the government serving a more robust role. 67% of voters strongly or somewhat support a statewide mask mandate, compared to 27% who don’t.
Voters list the pandemic as the issue they focus on the most, though notably, more independents surveyed listed the economy as their top issue. The same goes for Latinx voters, where 42% name the economy as the chief concern compared to just 24% who list the pandemic.
Democrats over-indexed the pandemic as their primary worry, with 55% calling it the top issue right now, compared to 24% of independents and 29% of Republicans saying the same.
The survey looked past COVID-19 at other issues debated in Tallahassee and found sizable majorities who think it’s a good time to tax the rich. About 56% of voters feel corporations pay too little in state taxes and 55% say the same about wealthy individuals and families.
As for specific taxes, strong majorities favor sin taxes on alcohol, sports gambling and weed (if it’s legalized). About 70% of voters want tax loopholes for corporations closed, 66% want to increase the corporate income tax and 63% favor a carbon tax.
A plurality of 49% want state sales tax charged online, compared to 39% who oppose that change. But there’s still 57% opposition to taxing purchases of mobile apps and 66% opposition to taxes on services like hair styling or legal counsel.
Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Peter Schorsch, Drew Wilson, Renzo Downey, Jason Delgado and the staff of Florida Politics.
The “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:
Manatee County vaccines brouhaha — Gov. Ron DeSantis drew the national media’s attention again this week for suggesting the state could divert vaccine resources away from Manatee County and to other more grateful counties. Controversy arose locally after Manatee County Commission Chair Vanessa Baugh announced dedicated vaccine shipments would serve seniors in two ZIP codes. Those ZIP codes, which lie within Baugh’s district, happen to be the county’s wealthiest. “If Manatee County doesn’t like us doing this, we are totally fine doing this in counties that want it,” DeSantis said. “Most people, I think, will want it. There are going to be folks who complain about getting more vaccine. But I’ll tell you what, I wouldn’t be complaining.”
DeSantis doubles down against “big tech” — DeSantis and House Republicans unveiled the second half of their big tech crackdown package Monday, a bill guaranteeing Floridians certain rights to data privacy. The bill would create the right to find out what information companies have, have the companies delete the data, ask companies not to sell the data, and sue businesses that violate those protections. Senate President Wilton Simpson voiced his full support for the plan later in the week. Tech companies have created a surveillance economy and are constantly pulling data, even from passive users, from their smartphones and other devices, DeSantis said.
DeSantis proposes election law changes — After starting the week by announcing legislative priorities, the Governor also capped it off with a proposal for sweeping election security changes. DeSantis and Republican leaders have touted Florida as the gold standard in election laws, particularly after the 2020 election. Yet, the Governor and Legislative leaders said the state should push even further. The proposed changes range from vote-by-mail ballots to drop boxes to election observers and more. Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, who had a heavy hand in crafting recent election law, said he was ready to help the Governor draft his election package. “It’s about time that we outlaw the possession of anybody else’s ballot but your own in the state of Florida,” Ingoglia said.
Business liability bill ready for vote — Republicans’ legislation creating COVID-19 liability protections for most businesses is ready for a vote on the House floor. That could be among the first proposals the chamber passes when it convenes next month. Under Rep. Lawrence McClure’s bill, liability protections would apply to organizations who make a “good faith effort” to follow government health guidelines. The House Judiciary Committee advanced House Bill 7 with a party-line 14-7 vote Tuesday. Sen. Jeff Brandes‘ version was temporarily postponed in the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee, but there’s still plenty of time for the Senate to tee up their part of the package. The House bill granting liability protection to health care providers began moving this week.
Final legislative weigh-in before Session kickoff — President Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls gave their final thoughts to the media Thursday at the culmination of the final interim committee week of 2021. Both Republican leaders claimed a victory in the battle against the coronavirus by saying that their COVID-19 protocols helped prevent outbreaks among lawmakers. Weekly testing that included both rapid and PCR tests helped identify asymptomatic individuals who could have unwittingly spread the virus to others. To keep that success going, few protocol changes are coming during Session. But in particular, Simpson declared that guests during the opening celebrations would be limited. The Senate will stay in its chamber for DeSantis’ address.
— 1,822,644 FL residents (+41,194 since Feb. 12)
— 33,783 Non-FL residents (+811 since Feb. 12)
— 14,549 Travel related
— 696,910 Contact with a confirmed case
— 19,870 Both
— 1,091,315 Under investigation
— 77,408 in FL
— 30,214 in FL
— 3,911,999 Doses administered
— 2,617,774 Total people vaccinated
— 1,323,549 First dose
— 1,294,225 Series completed (+331,221 since Feb. 12)
Guide the way
DeSantis announced the release of the 2021 Florida Military-Friendly Guide on Monday.
The guide updates Florida’s programs, policies and benefits for active-duty service members, their families and military veterans.
“The Florida Military-Friendly Guide reflects Florida’s consistent commitment to our military installations, service members, their families and veterans,” DeSantis said. “As the most military-friendly state in the nation, Florida has the back of the thousands of military and civilian families who live and work in our defense communities. We hope this guide connects our service members with the resources and support they need.”
Enterprise Florida and Florida Defense Support Task Force produce the guide.
“This edition of the guide boasts more resources than ever and reflects the hard work of the Governor and Florida Legislature,” said Jamal Sowell, president and CEO of Enterprise Florida.
New to the 2021 edition is information about a housing loan program, the “Salute Our Soldiers” Military Loan Program, recently launched by the Florida Housing Finance Corporation.
Also highlighted this year are renewed programs that have added relevance in the COVID-19 era, such as virtual school options for military families.
In a statement, DeSantis said Florida has the second-highest number of military retirees in the U.S., the third most veterans and the fifth-highest number of service members and Department of Defense civilians. DeSantis also said Florida’s military and defense industry is the third-largest economic sector in the state.
A print version of the Florida Military-Friendly Guide is distributed to Florida’s 23 major military installations.
This week, DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran listed a bundle of school districts, colleges and companies that will get a check from the state to start or expand apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs.
The money will foster programs that “upskill” Florida workers by putting them on a pathway to a nationally recognized postsecondary credential. The funding comes from the Florida Pathways to Career Opportunities Grant Program, with the current slate of grants totaling $10 million.
“The Pathways to Career Opportunities Grant Program has been a priority of this administration since Day One. Expanding registered apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs not only is a strategic investment in our state’s workforce, but it addresses the state’s skills gap, provides support for employers and residents impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” DeSantis said.
Corcoran added, “The Department of Education’s successes around expanding quality workforce education and training is, bar none, the best in the nation. Our commitment to registered apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs demonstrates this. It is also important that these training programs lead to a high-quality degree, which is why we are also focused on their connection to our higher education system.”
The awards range from $24,666 for a software developer apprenticeship in the Lee County School District to a $574,660 grant for a suite of apprenticeship programs at Lockheed Martin Corp. There are 48 awardees in all, with the average award coming in at about $210,000.
A full list of awardees is available on the Department of Education’s website.
Enterprise Florida has awarded $348,000 to 14 rural counties, DeSantis announced this week.
Those awards come through Enterprise Florida’s Rural Expansion Toolkit initiative to assist rural communities with broad-based economic engagement and capacity-building efforts.
“Many rural communities throughout the state that are seeking to attract investment need just a little bit of assistance to get them to where they want to be,” DeSantis said. “From helping with site preparedness to simple marketing, this grant from EFI will help serve that purpose and will have a significant impact.”
Site Preparation Grants will assist Florida’s rural communities with developing and enhancing sites to make them build-ready and competitive for site selection projects.
“I have deep roots in rural Florida, and we are committed to being sure all of Florida experiences recovery and has the tools for opportunity,” said Florida Secretary of Commerce Sowell, president & CEO of Enterprise Florida, Inc. “The Rural Engagement Toolkit is putting nearly $350,000 to work right now for communities implementing their specialized rural development plans.”
Enterprise Florida introduced the Rural Expansion Toolkit last fall. Each project received up to $25,000 from the fund.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried mobilized 30 Florida Forest Service personnel to assist Texas authorities in responding to the ongoing winter storm.
“My heart goes out to the citizens of Texas who are suffering through life-threatening subzero temperatures, power outages, severely iced roads and other emergencies,” Fried said. “I am pleased to authorize the deployment of our Green Incident Management Team, composed of our hardworking Florida Forest Service personnel.”
The Florida Forest Service’s Incident Management Team will mobilize to Texas on Saturday.
When they reach the Lone Star State, they will manage a resource staging area that will supply Texans with essential items, including generators, blankets and emergency supplies.
Fried notes that Florida’s four Incident Management Teams are highly trained and equipped to respond to various emergencies.
“Whether wildfires, hurricanes or other severe weather situations, our Florida Forest Service team is experienced in helping communities recover and rebuild following disaster,” Fried said. I wish them Godspeed on their journey to Texas.”
The deployment comes as Texas’ death toll continues to climb amid a winter storm.
The deployment is scheduled to last 15 days.
This week, two business owners were arrested after they allegedly hid payroll information to avoid paying more than $300,000 in workers’ compensation premiums.
Jerson Geovanny Quiroz and Reyna Elizabeth Quiroz, owners of Quiroz Carpentry Corporate, face charges of workers’ compensation premium fraud and grand theft. If convicted, they each face up to 20 years in prison.
The arrests come after a Division of Investigative Forensic Services investigation.
“It is critical that Florida businesses carry the required insurance coverage for their employees,” said Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis. Having insufficient coverage is a serious crime that puts employees at risk, takes business away from reputable contractors, and raises insurance rates for businesses across the state.”
Per a news release, Quiroz Carpentry Corporate altered its payroll to avoid paying higher workers’ compensation premiums.
Detectives said the company earned more than $1.9 million but only reported earning $55,000 when they obtained their policy.
In all, the company dodged $300,000 in workers’ compensation premiums.
“I thank my dedicated insurance fraud detectives for completing a thorough investigation,” Patronis said. “I am confident that the Office of Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle will work toward a successful prosecution in this case and hold these individuals accountable.”
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The week in appointments
Department of Business and Professional Regulation — DeSantis appointed Julie Brown as the next DBPR Secretary. Brown has been a member of the Florida Public Service Commission for 10 years and chaired the commission from 2016 to 2018. Previously, she served as an associate legal counsel at First American Corporation and as a corporate attorney at Tampa law firm Shumaker, Loop and Kendrick. She is a graduate of the University of Florida, where she earned her undergraduate and law degrees. Her appointment to lead DBPR comes a month after former Secretary Halsey Beshears announced he would step down, citing personal health issues.
Opening Day rules
This week, Senate President Simpson said the Senate’s current COVID-19 protocol would likely remain the same ahead of the 2021 Legislative Session.
Weekly testing, limited seating, and a mandatory mask mandate will remain in place during the Legislative Session, according to a chamber memo dated Feb. 17.
Senate areas will remain closed to the public.
One notable change, however, is planned for the 2021 Legislative Session’s Opening Day.
According to the memo, Senators will be permitted to bring one guest onto the Senate floor during Opening Day. All guests must be tested for COVID-19.
After the Joint Session, Senators will take part in a Senate Family Luncheon.
“Seating will be socially-distanced and limited to Senators, their Opening Day guest and children,” the memo says.
Several lawmakers have contracted COVID-19 during the interim committee weeks leading up to the Legislative Session. Simpson pointed to the positive tests as evidence of the protocol’s success at limiting spread.
“You’ve seen the success our program has had so far at identifying people with COVID — Senators, our staff,” he said.
While the COVID-19 protocols will remain, Simpson said the increasing availability of vaccines would soon help restore normalcy.
Keep it local
A pair of Democratic lawmakers are pitching a new sales tax holiday that would benefit small businesses and shoppers alike.
Think of it as “Small Business Saturday,” but better. Because that’s exactly what it is.
The bills by Miami Sen. Annette Taddeo and Tallahassee Rep. Allison Tant (SB 302/HB 637) would enhance the annual shopping holiday — always the Saturday after Black Friday — by exempting small businesses from collecting sales tax for the entire day.
The exemption would apply to all businesses that remitted less than $200,000 in sales tax to the state for the year ending Sept. 30, 2021.
“As a proud small-business owner, myself, I brought the concept of Small Business Saturday to Florida over a decade ago when I was the Miami-Dade County Chair of the Coalition of the Chambers of Commerce,” Taddeo said. “Thanks to the pandemic, small businesses have been hit particularly hard over the past year. The Small Business Saturday sales tax holiday will give a much-needed boost to Florida small-business owners as the holiday shopping season kicks into high gear.”
Tant added, “Small and independent businesses are the heartbeat of every thriving community, including Tallahassee. Creating a sales tax holiday to encourage holiday shopping at local businesses is a great way to honor these hardworking Floridians, as well as help them with COVID economic recovery.”
Florida has similar tax-free shopping holidays for disaster preparedness items and school supplies. Still, both exempt certain items purchased from any retailer rather than any item purchased from specific retailers.
Both bills were filed Thursday and have received committee references. The Senate version’s first stop is the Commerce and Tourism Committee. The House bill will debut in the Ways & Means Committee.
More, better data
Sen. Taddeo and Rep. Nick Duran have filed bills that would compel the Florida Department of Health to include more data in its daily coronavirus reports.
The bills (SB 1264/HB 989) would require DOH to issue daily reports on its website disclosing, at a minimum, aggregate testing, and vaccination data at the county level, including a breakdown of sex, race, ethnicity, and county of each individual tested or vaccinated.
“We cannot win by playing Whack-A-Mole with a virus that clearly has the advantage,” Taddeo said. “Comprehensive real-time and accurate public disclosure of where it is being found, how many are infected, and how many have been vaccinated is critical to how we deploy resources, mitigate the spread of this disease, and ultimately, prevail in this battle.”
Taddeo lamented the state’s reluctance to provide countywide reporting data, including the recent surge in the highly contagious “B117” variant, and said the Governor and state have cited “various questionable reasons” for withholding it.
“This data represents a daily snapshot of any progress we are making, as well as identifying potential health threats Floridians need to be aware of for themselves, their families and their livelihoods,” Taddeo said. “It is critically important information the public has a legal right to know.”
SB 1264 would first go to the Health Policy Committee, assuming the panel deigns to hear it. HB 989 has not yet received committee references.
The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce has named Democratic Rep. Duran as its 2021 Chamber Legislative Champion.
Miami Chamber President and CEO Alfred Sanchez and Vice President of Government Affairs Spencer Plyant presented the award to Duran earlier this week.
“When Nick Duran won office, his first act was to meet with business leaders to talk about our issues and share some of his ideas,” Sanchez said in a statement announcing the award. “Sitting in a coffee shop in Coral Gables and seeing his obvious passion for this community, I was immediately impressed and knew we had a key ally in Tallahassee.”
The group highlighted Duran’s work last Session on the “Keep Our Graduates Working Act,” which garnered approval from the Legislature and Gov. DeSantis. The measure blocks the state from denying professional licenses, certificates and permits based solely on a student defaulting or being delinquent on loans.
The Chamber backed that bill, which Duran pushed that measure in conjunction with GOP Sen. Travis Hutson.
Duran represents House District 112 in Miami-Dade County. He first won that seat in 2016 before winning reelection in 2018 and 2020. Duran won his November contest by 6 points despite the GOP’s strong performance in the county this past cycle.
Can corporation poaching be stopped with interstate compacts? Should they?
Rep. Anna Eskamani wants to. The Orlando Democrat filed HB 983, in which Florida would pledge not to float offers of tax and cash giveaways to lure companies from other states that make the same pledge back to Florida.
Her bill begins with the assumption that using state money to poach a company is bad for both states, eliciting a “race to the bottom.”
HB 983 would create a “National Board for Best Practices in Economic Development” and the basics of an agreement that Florida could sign with other states.
Signatory states would declare, “Corporate giveaways are among the least effective uses of taxpayer dollars to create and maintain jobs. Local and state leaders are in a prisoners’ dilemma in which it is in the public interest to create a level playing field for all companies without any corporate giveaways, but each level of government has an incentive to subsidize a company, generating a race to the bottom.”
Member states pledge not to offer or provide company-specific tax incentives or grants to lure away a corporate headquarters, manufacturing facility, office space, or other real estate development from any other member state.
“Corporate giveaways … are expensive, inefficient, and ineffective even in good times,” Eskamani said in a news release. “But they are absolutely destructive and utterly indefensible during the COVID-19 pandemic when working Floridians and small businesses are desperate for help.”
“Most of us don’t know much about dispatchers other than they are the voices on the other end of a 911 call. Yet, in reality, they are so much more important than just call receivers; they are a crucial part of a public safety system,” Willhite said in a Friday statement.
“When there is an emergency and you need help, 911 telecommunicators are the first people you speak with. Telecommunicators may patiently talk with our parents or grandparents the moments after they have fallen or stay on the line with us during dangerous situations as we wait for police officers or firefighters to arrive. Telecommunicators always answer the phone, and the reality is they have one of the most stressful and emotionally taxing jobs in America. It is now time that the Florida Legislature do something to recognize them.”
The measure adds a “911 public safety telecommunicator” to the list of special risk class designations under Florida’s retirement system. That designation allows those employees to retire earlier. Under normal circumstances, full benefits are paid out once the employee works 25 years, rather than 30.
“Public safety telecommunicators are unseen heroes who keep our families and communities safe, and we owe them a safe work environment,” Jones added.
“The essential services they provide are invaluable as they stabilize high-stress crisis situations that are oftentimes life or death. I appreciate all that these workers do for us each and every day and am happy to champion this bill in the Senate.”
Jones and Willhite are both Democrats representing parts of South Florida. Willhite is also an experienced firefighter.
Race Equity Challenge
Last summer, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice launched the Florida Race Equity Challenge. This week, it announced the winners.
The Florida Race Equity Challenge is a web-based, interactive experience that provides juvenile justice stakeholders with the education and tools to identify and tackle issues of race, equity, and inclusion within the juvenile justice system.
Over several months, teams in each Florida judicial circuit held webinars, completed tasks and submitted proposals for systematic changes designed to create more equitable youth outcomes. Teams included representatives from Florida’s schools, courts, law enforcement, community partners, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida.
“The level of community and stakeholder participation for our inaugural Florida Race Equity Challenge has been awe-inspiring,” said DJJ Secretary Simone Marstiller. “Congratulations to our winners and to all participants for your passion and dedication to the critical issues of eliminating bias and creating meaningful change for youth of color in our juvenile justice system.”
The Circuit 2 Team won both the “Innovation Award.” After digging through data and holding focus groups, the team launched a community-based parent support group for all local parents to help with school-related issues, mental health concerns, and understanding the benefits of civil citation and diversion programs for at-risk youth.
The Circuit 2 Team also won the “Best Breakthrough Video Award” for the video summary of its experience. It was selected based on a vote by other challenge participants.
The Circuit 12 Team won the “Policy/Practice Improvement Award” for its plan to reduce the number and disproportionality of misdemeanor assault and battery arrests by modifying their civil citation policy.
The Circuit 19 Team won the “Scalability Award.” They also focused on arrest rates, zeroing in on civil citation utilization. In digging deeper into the data, the team found many cases where it was unclear why a civil citation wasn’t issued. The team is creating an updated training video to address the issue, and the circuit is updating incentives programs to include reasons for non-issuance.
Government watchdog Florida TaxWatch released its priority list this week for the 2021 Legislative Session.
“Florida TaxWatch has the unique responsibility of influencing sound fiduciary policy on behalf of taxpayers across the state, and we do not take that lightly — especially now. The past year was one of unprecedented stress and uncertainty, and many of our friends and neighbors are still working hard to get back on their feet,” FTW President and CEO Dominic Calabro said.
“In championing these and several other key issues, we are hopeful that the current economic downturn will be reversed and that an efficient, transparent government will continue to be heavily involved in long-term recovery. We look forward to working closely with the Governor and our legislative leaders over the next 60 days and beyond to ensure this goal is achieved, proving that, with collaboration, accountability, and an unwavering sense of resiliency, Floridians can overcome anything.”
Their goals for the next two months: Ensuring the integrity of the state appropriations process and operations; maximizing existing revenue sources and reducing taxes; promoting long-term economic growth; protecting businesses and health care workers from COVID-19 liability claims; and strengthening Florida’s communications infrastructure and increasing access to telehealth.
Some of those goals are fully aligned with the Legislature, which is on track to pass liability protections as early as the first week of Session.
Other items on their list, such as preserving affordable housing funding and hammering out a new gaming compact, aren’t certainties.
FTW’s Legislative Session priorities are outlined in research reports published by the nonpartisan organization over the past year, including Bringing Florida’s Budget Back From COVID-19: A Roadmap for a Responsible Recovery and, most recently, Bringing The Sunshine State Back: the Impact of COVID-19 Across Florida’s Economy & Options for Recovery.
Across the aisle
The Institute of Politics at Florida State University will host a kickoff event with some top-tier speakers on March 1 — and everyone is invited.
IOP@FSU booked Republican U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah and Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia to Zoom in as part of its “Celebrating Civility” speaker series. Both Senators are from the moderate wing of their parties.
The duo, moderated by lobbyist and adjunct faculty member Al Cardenas, will share their thoughts about the state of American politics, bipartisanship, and the prospects for policymaking in the current Congress.
The event was initially scheduled for Jan. 12, but the riot at the U.S. Capitol forced IOP@FSU to write a rain check.
Still, the discussion will be just as relevant in March as it would have been in January. Possibly more so, as IOP@FSU’s mission is to engage FSU students, Floridians, and all citizens in the political process by promoting civil debate as well as civic engagement and research.
President John Thrasher said the new institute is uniquely positioned to educate students and encourage respectful freedom of expression.
“Now more than ever, we need to restore civility,” Thrasher said. “We’re honored that Senators Romney and Manchin are joining us for an important conversation about the future of American politics.”
The forum is free and open to the public. It will be online on March 1 at 6:30 p.m. Registration is available via the IOP@FSU website.