Sixty Days — A prime-time look at the 2021 Legislative Session:
The Last 24
Flanked by Republican leadership, including House Speaker Chris Sprowls, Senate President Wilton Simpson and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that would shield businesses and health care providers from COVID-19 lawsuits It was an unusual event — the Governor put pen to paper with backing music by Highway 85, a self-described “solid six-piece classic rock, country and R&B Variety Dance Band.” Theatrics aside, the legislation was one of the Governor’s and lawmakers’ biggest priorities for the 2021 Legislative Session. Sponsored by Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, the bills would protect any business or health care provider that makes a “good-faith effort” to comply with government health guidelines. Moreover, a plaintiff would need to prove with “clear and convincing evidence” that a defendant acted with “gross negligence” when filing a COVID-19-related lawsuit. Here’s your nightly rundown.
No papers. Gov. DeSantis said he will take executive action this week to block businesses from implementing “vaccine passports” in Florida.
Tax cut. Simpson and Sprowls unveiled a plan to slash the commercial rents tax and use online sales tax collections to offset the revenue loss.
Gut punch. Health care advocates described proposed funding cuts in the health care budget as a “gut punch” to struggling hospitals and health care providers.
Raising the bar. A resolution (HJR 61) seeking to raise the threshold for constitutional amendments to pass from 60% to two-thirds cleared House Public Integrity and Elections Committee with a largely party-line vote.
— 2,009,408 FL residents (+3,290 since Saturday)
— 37,971 Non-FL residents (+84 since Saturday)
— 15,997 Travel related
— 789,541 Contact with a confirmed case
— 21,792 Both
— 1,182,078 Under investigation
— 84,707 in FL
— 33,891 in FL
— 8,599,636 Doses administered
— 5,679,601 Total people vaccinated
— 2,537,765 First dose
— 221,801 Completed one-dose series (+12,133 since Saturday)
— 2,920,035 Completed two-dose series (+54,370 since Saturday)
Quote of the Day
“We want folks to be able to live their lives, provide opportunities for people to do different things, and then let individuals make the decisions about what they want to do. You want to go listen to the band? That’s fine.” — Gov. Ron DeSantis, on signing the COVID-19 liability shield.
Your Metz Husband Daughton-sponsored question of the day is: Florida man attempts to break into what facility in order to hang out with his friends.
As always, click here to tweet your answer with cc: @MHDFirm. The first person with the correct answer will get a shoutout in Monday’s 60 Days!
Last time, we asked: Several films including Tarzan’s New York Adventure, Return of the Creature, and Airport ’77 were filmed on location in which North Florida Spring?
Answer: Wakulla Springs.
Congrats to Samantha Sexton (@SamanthaASexton), the first person to tweet the correct answer!
Bill Day’s Latest
Democratic Caucus Co-Leader Evan Jenne and Policy Chair Representative Fentrice Driskell answered a wide range of policy questions about the House budget proposal and what’s next now that the anti-riot bill (HB 1) was passed.
What stands out about the House budget proposal?
Jenne: It is not an overly impressive budget at this point. It’s still going to take some time to dig into it. But eliminating nearly a billion dollars from the Lawton Chiles Endowment fund is a horrid, horrid idea. There are some good things in there — I happen to be a big fan of transportation projects, so I think that is a good way to spend money. I don’t want to act like it’s all doom and gloom, but like I said, it’s just a very mediocre budget. When you look at the unexpected influx of money coming in, I have some very serious concerns about giving anyone — and this is no slight against the Governor — giving any politician essentially a slush fund worth billions and billions of dollars to use as he or she sees fit. So, there are some major concerns there. Section 96 gives the Governor about $700 million in and of itself. Section 98 gives him a lot of free reign in terms of what he’s going to do with not much legislative oversight. So, that’s going to be a big issue.
The House budget proposes reducing the Sadowski Trust by two-thirds. What are your thoughts on that?
Driskell: I’m very concerned with the trust funds sweeps, especially with affordable housing. And when we speak with our community partners, for example the United Way, the United Way does so much work around the state trying to help Floridians with their housing needs. We know that Floridians who spend more than 30% or more of their income on housing, it makes them so cash strapped that they’re not always able to afford other basic necessities. And this was a problem before the pandemic; it certainly has been worsened by the pandemic. And so, sweeping the Affordable Housing Trust Fund at any amount is the wrong way to move.
The House voted to pass the ‘anti-riot’ bill Friday. What’s the next drama in the House?
Jenne: I think that there will be multiple things. We have a parental rights bill that will be up this week. I’m sure that will draw a lot of attention. But the one I’m keeping a close eye on and starting to get ready for floor debate is the elections committee bill. We did a great job here in Florida when it comes to how our elections ran. Yet, we have a Legislature that seems hellbent on making it as difficult as possible for everyone to vote. No widespread fraud, no claims even. We heard a lot of issues with, or claims of issues with, elections around the country this year, and none of them originating in Florida.
In November, Key West voters passed referendums that would cap the number of cruise passengers that could come ashore to 1,500 a day and prohibit ships with more than 1,300 passengers and crew from docking.
SB 426 by Bradenton Republican Sen. Jim Boyd would scratch out the referendums and any other current or future local rules that “restrict maritime commerce.” The bill has moved through two committees, mostly along party lines. The House companion (HB 267) has also started moving.
The legislation has sparked possibly the biggest home-rule battle of the 2021 Legislative Session, pitting home rule advocates and environmental groups against the cruise and greater maritime industry, making national headlines along the way.
Fighting against the bill are the Florida Surfrider Foundation, represented by Holly Parker Curry, the Florida Ports for Economic Independence, represented by Mark Delegal and Josh Aubuchon of Delegal Aubuchon Consulting.
Speaking during a recent committee hearing, Aubuchon said the referendums were never about banning the cruise industry altogether but imposing “reasonable limits to protect the natural environment and conserve and promote the community character of the Florida Keys.”
Two-dozen more environmental groups recently appealed to DeSantis to block the legislation if it reaches his desk. They included Sierra Club Florida, represented by David Cullen, Deborah Foote and Jessica Lewis, as well as Florida Conservation Voters, represented by Lindsay Cross, Aliki Moncrief and Jonathan Webber.
But those in favor say the referendums threaten to kill the industry and the many local businesses that depend on tourism revenues to keep afloat. One of the most vocal proponents is the Florida Harbor Pilots Association, represented by Matt Bryan, David Daniel, Thomas Griffin, Jeff Hartley, Lisa Hurley, Jim Naff and Teye Reeves of Smith Bryan & Myers and Warren Husband of Metz Husband & Daughton.
The Cruise Lines International Association, an industry trade group, has the Ballard Partners team in its corner, including firm founder Brian Ballard and lobbyists Bradley Burleson and Kathy San Pedro.
And Carnival Corporation, one of the industry’s biggest players, has Bill Rubin, Heather Turnbull, Melissa Akeson, Christopher Finkbeiner and Matthew Sacco of Rubin Turnbull & Associates on retainer.
The Next 24
A bill (SB 2010) aimed at reducing foreign influence in Florida higher ed institutions will go before the Senate Education Committee when it meets at 8:30 a.m. in Room 412 of the Knott Building.
Senate Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee Chair Lauren Book has scheduled a public workshop to discuss grandparent visitation laws in Florida. The workshop is inspired by the fallout from the murder of FSU professor Dan Markel, whose grandparents have been blocked from seeing their grandchildren. The committee meets at 9 a.m. in Room 37 of the Senate Office Building.
The Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee will decide whether to advance the confirmation process for newly appointed DCF Secretary Shevaun Harris when it meets at 9 a.m. in Room 37 of the Senate Office Building.
The Senate Criminal Justice Committee will hear a bill (SB 1156) that would prohibit enforcing the death penalty against convicts with a “serious mental illness” at the time of their crimes. The committee meets at 9 a.m. in Room 110 of the Senate Office Building.
The House Environment, Agriculture & Flooding Subcommittee will hear bill (HB 1601) that would expand the Florida Right to Farm Act to protect farmers from lawsuits. A similar measure has already cleared the full Senate. The Committee meets at 9 a.m. in Morris Hall in the House Office Building.
A bill (HB 523) to help victims of human trafficking will go before the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee at 9 a.m. in Room 212 of the Knott Building.
The House Children, Families & Seniors Subcommittee will take a bill (HB 1071) to help former foster children obtain Medicaid coverage. The committee meets at 10 a.m. in Room 404 of the House Office Building.
The House Civil Justice & Property Rights Subcommittee will take up a bill (HB 1355) that would exempt personal information on county attorneys, assistant county attorneys, and their family members from public records requests. The committee meets at 12:30 p.m. in Room 404 of the House Office Building.
The House Infrastructure & Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee hear a bill (HB 1113) to boost pedestrian crosswalk safety when it meets at 12:30 p.m. in Reed Hall in the House Office Building.
A bill (HB 157) that would require high school students to learn CPR will go before the House Secondary Education & Career Development Subcommittee when it meets at 12:30 p.m. in Room 212 of the Knott Building.
The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee will consider a bill (SB 1890) that put a $1,000 limit on contributions to political committees backing proposed constitutional amendments. The limit would only apply during the signature-gathering process. The committee meets at 12:30 p.m. in Room 110 of the Senate Office Building.
A bill (SB 1924) that would limit the duration of local emergency orders will go before the Senate Military and Veterans Affairs, Space and Domestic Security Committee when it meets at 12:30 p.m. in Room 37 of the Senate Office Building.
The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee will take up a bill (SB 360) related to fire department radio systems when it meets at 3:30 p.m. in Room 412 of the Knott Building.
The Senate Community Affairs Committee will consider a bill (SB 2008) to expand the allowable uses for county tourist-development tax dollars to include flood mitigation. The committee meets at 3:30 p.m. in Room 37 of the Senate Office Building.
A bill (SB 566) to add insurance and tax requirements for peer-to-peer car-sharing companies will go before the Senate Transportation Committee when it meets at 3:30 p.m. in Room 110 of the Senate Office Building.
The House Finance & Facilities Subcommittee will consider a bill (HB 1155) to lowering drug prices through additional pharmacy benefit managers’ regulations. The committee meets at 4 p.m. in Room 404 of the House Office Building.
A bill (HB 1395) that would exempt information on lottery winners from public record requests will go before the House Government Operations Subcommittee when it meets at 4 p.m. in Morris Hall in the House Office Building.
Also, the following committees will meet.
— The Senate Regulated Industries Committee meets at 12:30 p.m. in Room 412 of the Knott Building.
— The House Insurance & Banking Subcommittee meets at 1 p.m. in Morris Hall in the House Office Building.
— The House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee meets at 4 p.m. in Reed Hall in the House Office Building.
— The House Regulatory Reform Committee meets at 4 p.m. in Room 212 of the Knott Building.