Sixty Days — A prime-time look at the 2021 Legislative Session:
The Last 24
The Senate’s bill to rewrite state elections laws to make it harder for Floridians to vote by mail is on its way to the chamber floor. The bill, SB 90, faced hours of debate in the Senate Rules Committee last week, but today was considered for less than 30 minutes before passing its final stop. The controversial bill at one point would have banned drop boxes, but the provision was softened to allow election supervisors to use drop boxes during early voting hours so long as election workers have eyes on them. The bill also introduces new signature matching requirements for mail ballots that critics say could lead to thousands of voters being purged from the voting rolls. Here’s your nightly rundown.
Bigger … and better? The House readied themselves to vote on a bill (HB 7045) that would dramatically overhaul Florida’s school voucher network, including a merger of two state scholarships for disabled students.
Honor and remember. A bill (HB 37) directing the Department of State to create a 10-member Task Force to identify unmarked or abandoned African American burial cemeteries is now ready for a full House vote.
Groins stiffed. The latest House budget offer would send $875K to help restore the groin field on Madeira Beach, but the Senate has eliminated the funding entirely.
— 2,137,862 FL residents (+5,554 since Monday)
— 40,921 Non-FL residents (+91 since Monday)
— 17,058 Travel related
— 848,936 Contact with a confirmed case
— 23,382 Both
— 1,248,486 Under investigation
— 88,521 in FL
— 35,209 in FL
— 12,814,856 Doses administered
— 8,143,599 Total people vaccinated
— 2,943,621 First dose
— 528,721 Completed one-dose series (+1,603 since Monday)
— 4,671,257 Completed two-dose series (+85,319 since Monday)
Quote of the Day
“I want to make sure that Floridians understand that the Republicans that have run for office to represent a fair election process in the state of Florida, not one Republican supervisor has stood up and said they support this piece of legislation.” — Sen. Jeff Brandes, on the controversial elections bill (SB 90).
Your Metz Husband Daughton-sponsored question of the day is: What city was founded by Julia Tuttle — the only major U.S. city founded by a woman?
As always, click here to tweet your answer with cc: @MHDFirm. The first person with the correct answer will get a shoutout in 60 Days!
Last time, we asked: An American flag from the rubble of 9/11/2001 is now housed at what location in Walt Disney World?
Answer: Epcot’s American Pavilion.
Congrats to Paul Bebee (@bebee_paul), the first person to tweet the correct answer!
The House is set to vote on a school voucher bill (HB 7045) that expands scholarships to more students. The program helps students with disabilities obtain scholarships for nonpublic schools. But opposition to the change comes from families who already use the program and from the family of former Senate President Andy Gardiner, the lawmaker from Orlando for whom the Gardiner Scholarship is named. We spoke with Camille Gardiner about the issues.
What is the Gardiner Scholarship for?
Gardiner: The scholarship was created to help families that have students with the most significant disabilities to have educational opportunities for their sons and daughters. They can use the scholarship for tuition, curriculum, therapy and any other educational-type needs.
What would be the impact of House Bill 7045 on the Gardiner Scholarship program?
Gardiner: One of the biggest issues with House Bill 7045 is combining the McKay Scholarship and the Gardiner Scholarship. Because of the combining, 94% of the Gardiner kids on the scholarship will lose money. And it’s not just the funding, also they’re putting a cap on it for 20,000 students. Gardiner has a very specific list of diagnoses that are covered — Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, just to name a few. With the McKay scholarship, it’s much broader. It could be someone that has anxiety, or ADHD or a speech impairment or a physical impairment. So, you’re opening this opportunity up to lots more people, and then you’re limiting the number of scholarships, you can have students that have ADHD competing for a limited spot with a student that has Down syndrome or autism. If we want to expand that’s fine, but I don’t feel like they should be competing for a limited number of spots.
The bill’s sponsor Rep. Randy Fine said current Gardiner Scholarship recipients would be “grandfathered in.” Does this address the concerns of parents?
Gardiner: I think anytime you have a grandfathering clause that indicates there is something for new applicants that’s not as good, there’s a concern. Nine out of every 10 families are going to lose money.
The medical cannabis industry is celebrating today. No, not because it’s 4/20 … at least not exclusively because it’s 4/20.
They’re also celebrating because it appears the effort to cap THC levels in medical cannabis is dead for the 2021 Legislative Session.
The proposal went nowhere in the Senate, but the House bill (HB 1455) made it through two committee stops and still needs approval from the House Health and Human Services Committee, but it failed to make the committee’s agenda.
“I think the bill is effectively dead,” sponsor Spencer Roach, a Fort Myers Republican, said this week. “Anything is possible, and nothing is ever really dead until Sine Die. But right now I don’t see a path forward.”
A lot of people contributed to the bill’s fate — DeSantis telling reporters he was down on the proposal last month certainly factors in. But so do the efforts of the many lobbyists representing the state’s medical marijuana industry.
The biggest cannabis retailer in Florida, Trulieve, has more than a dozen lobbyists in the Capitol, including Brian Ballard of Ballard Partners; Nick Iarossi, Ron LaFace, Megan Fay, Andrew Ketchel, Scott Ross and Christopher Schoonover of Capital City Consulting; Amanda Fraser and Katie Webb of Colodny Fass; Brecht Heuchan of The Labrador Company and Sean Pittman of the Pittman Law Group.
Another major player, MedMen, is represented by David Barmore of Runway Strategies as well as Jonathan Kilman and Cesar Fernandez of Converge Government Affairs of Florida. There’s also the industrywide association, the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida, which is represented by Jeff Sharkey and Taylor Biehl of Capitol Alliance Group.
The Next 24
The Senate Democratic Caucus will meet at 9 a.m. It will be livestreamed on Zoom.
The Senate will hold a floor session at 10 a.m. The agenda includes bills (SB 7076/SB 7080) that would create a Gaming Control Commission and end the requirement that pari-mutuels hold races or jai alai games in order to operate card rooms or offer other forms of gambling, a process known as “decoupling.”
Also, the following committees will meet.
— The Senate Special Order Calendar Group will meet in room 301 of the Senate Office Building. The meeting begins 15 minutes after the floor session adjourns.