Sixty Days — A prime-time look at the 2021 Legislative Session:
The Last 24
On paper, the Senate and House are currently billions of dollars apart on their plans to spend federal money headed to Florida through the American Rescue plan, but Senate Budget Chief Kelli Stargel said the chambers are more aligned than they seem. “It’s not really off,” she said. “Things aren’t settled.” Currently, the House budget allocates $7.9 billion of the $10.2 billion the state is set to receive while the Senate plan sets aside just $3.3 billion. Stargel hinted that a portion of $10 billion of federal Coronavirus Relief funds could be banked rather than spent. She said the state isn’t obligated to spend the whole bankroll right away — whatever isn’t allocated will be rolled over into non-allocated general revenue. “We don’t have to make all the decisions right now, right this moment, this year,” she said. Here’s your nightly rundown.
Training day. The Senate has agreed to award $1 million to Santa Rosa County for an Airframe and Powerplant training facility in Milton.
New EOC. A million bucks to help fund new emergency operations centers in Brevard County and Mount Dora has made it into the state budget.
Home sweet home. A Hillsborough County affordable housing community could receive $1 million to continue development following Senate approval Wednesday.
Fixer-upper. After some uncertainty, the Senate has added $500K for Tampa’s historic Jackson Rooming House to its latest budget offer.
Smooth sailing. The St. Augustine Lighthouse Tower will get $484K for a restoration project — assuming it avoids another veto from DeSantis.
Curtain call. Both chambers are now aligned on a $284K request to help fund a new Sarasota Performing Arts Center.
Little White House. The Harry S. Truman Little White House in Key West will be getting a $250K paint job courtesy of the state, if the latest budget negotiations hold up.
Let’s get to work. The Senate has agreed to the House’s plan to modernize the state’s unemployment system, one of House Speaker Chris Sprowls’ top priorities.
More choices. The House approved a sweeping bill to overhaul the state’s school voucher network, marking the largest school choice expansion in Florida history.
Fight for $13. The Senate is holding firm on its plan to increase the state employee minimum wage to $13 an hour.
Cleaning crew. The Senate included $100 million for cleanup at the Piney Point industrial site in its latest budget offer.
Fresh leadership. Sen. Lauren Book has been selected to lead Senate Democrats in 2022-24 after previous Leader-designate Perry Thurston he is running for Congress.
Mega-millions. The Senate wants to devote $300 million from the American Rescue Plan allocation toward the Florida Forever trust — the most it’s seen in a decade.
Another year. Senate budget negotiators accepted a House proposal to fund VISIT FLORIDA at $50 million, but in nonrecurring funds.
Honor and remember. The House passed a bill (HB 37) years in the making that would establish a task force to preserve Florida’s African American cemeteries.
— 2,143,358 FL residents (+5,496 since Tuesday)
— 40,996 Non-FL residents (+75 since Tuesday)
— 17,102 Travel related
— 851,926 Contact with a confirmed case
— 23,444 Both
— 1,250,886 Under investigation
— 88,752 in FL
— 35,294 in FL
— 13,012,036 Doses administered
— 8,228,278 Total people vaccinated
— 2,914,093 First dose
— 530,427 Completed one-dose series (+1,706 since Tuesday)
— 4,783,758 Completed two-dose series (+112,501 since Tuesday)
Quote of the Day
“I do not believe the unemployment issue is off the table completely yet. The negotiations are ongoing.” — Senate President Wilton Simpson, on efforts to raise unemployment benefits.
Your Metz Husband Daughton-sponsored question of the day is: How many National Parks are in Florida?
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: What city was founded by Julia Tuttle — the only major U.S. city founded by a woman?
Congrats again to Paul Bebee (@bebee_paul), the first person to tweet the correct answer!
Bill Day’s Latest
Founded in 1910 with over 300 attorneys Shutts & Bowen is one of the oldest and largest law firms in the state. We talked to Matt Chait, who has been working on the COVID team at Shutts & Bowen about pandemic-related legislation and the COVID liability bill.
Florida Politics: As an attorney what kind of COVID-19-related issues have you dealt with so far.
Chait: Like many law firms we did form a COVID response team after the pandemic started to address a variety of legal issues that our clients have had or that we anticipated they might have in response to the pandemic. I’m a litigator, and so there have been a number of issues I’ve dealt with, but all of our attorneys have had to deal with some kind of COVID-related issue whether it’s related to assisting clients with PPP loans, advising clients on their role as employers through many employment questions and COVID has created issues over landlord-tenant disputes, commercial landlord-tenant disputes, where tenants have been unable to pay rent due to lockdown orders and retailers being closed. Those are just some examples of some of the COVID-related issues we’ve dealt with.
Florida Politics: What’s the most important thing to know about the COVID-19 liability bill from your perspective?
Chait: I think the most important part of the legislation first is that the plaintiff is being held to a higher standard of detail in their complaint. There’s a rule that requires that in certain kinds of cases, and that rule is being required in these cases, which is that you have to be much more detailed than a typical civil lawsuit complaint. Two is that the plaintiffs have to generally show gross negligence, which is a very high standard, under Florida law.
Florida Politics: What is the statute not doing?
Chait: It’s not deciding who is responsible. It’s just setting a standard for what a plaintiff has to show in order to make a defendant responsible. There’s no real precedent for a lot of legal issues that have been created by COVID, and the kinds of cases that this new statute addresses are no different in that there’s been a lot of sickness and unfortunately, a lot of death that has stemmed from COVID. And there have been and will continue to be more attempts by some of those victims or their families to recoup damages from businesses for that, and what the statute does is it makes it harder for them to do that but it doesn’t decide who’s responsible.
VISIT FLORIDA won’t be getting recurring dollars in this year’s budget, but it won’t be getting stiffed either.
In recent years, the tourism marketing arm has gone into the Legislative Session with some uncertainty. Last year, it didn’t get renewed or funded until the House and Senate struck a last-minute deal to send it $50 million — a third less than what the Governor and Senate wanted, but infinitely more than nothing.
The same is true this year, now that Senate budget negotiators accepted a House proposal that includes refusing the state’s tourism marketing agency an annual portion of recurring funds and instead shipping it $50 million in trust fund dollars.
It’s a win for the agency headed up by former Sen. Dana Young and represented in the Legislature by Katherine Juckett.
But it’s also a win for a host of industries and statewide associations that are banking on the tourism roaring back once the pandemic ends.
One of the most vocal proponents for keeping VISIT FLORIDA around is the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association. It has nearly a dozen lobbyists in the Capitol, including association president Carol Dover and in-houser Richard Turner. Also on the team are James Daughton, Warren Husband, Doug Bell, Patricia Greene, Allison Liby-Schoonover, Aimee Diaz Lyon and Andy Palmer of Metz Husband & Daughton.
Destinations Florida is another major ally of the tourism marketing arm, and they’ve got the team at Ballard Partners — including firm founder Brian Ballard and lobbyist Mathew Forrest — working for them in Tallahassee.
Of course, Disney is also a fan of VISIT FLORIDA. They have more than three dozen lobbyists on tap, including the teams at MHD, The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners, The Southern Group, GrayRobinson, Dean Mead, Hopping Green & Sams and Colodny Fass.
The Next 24
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried will hold a news conference alongside local officials, first responders, and health care workers to kick off the 2021 Florida State Fair. It will be held at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa starting at 6 a.m.
The House Appropriations Committee will meet at 9 a.m. The meeting notice lists one bill (HB 515), which would update now obsolete functions related to the duties of the Attorney General.
The Senate will hold a floor session at 10 a.m. On the agenda is a bill that would charge in-state tuition to out-of-state students with a grandparent who is a Florida resident (SB 1728) and a controversial measure that would create a “Parents’ Bill of Rights” (HB 241).
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.