Winners and losers emerging from the 2021 Legislative Session

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They all can't be winners. Here is the definitive list of who's up and who took a fall.

The ending of a Session is never a surprise. It’s like harvest season. What you get at the end is the result of months, maybe even years of tilling, planting, watering, tending, and shepherding.

Against the odds and despite many challenges, the 2021 Legislative Session ended on time. The House Speaker and the Senate President were together for the iconic dropping of the hankie. There weren’t any strained smiles or forced compliments. They stood side by side, thanking each other as much as they talked about themselves.

It was not happenstance. It was the yield of the field.

It’s hard to say when the first seeds were planted, but if you asked the Speaker or the President, they might tell you their trip to Tel Aviv marked the beginning of this productive relationship.

Those two men in the Holy Land could not have been more different. The young, telegenic Speaker-designate with a bright mind and prosecutorial mastery. A 54-year-old adopted chicken farmer who is more of a road scholar than a Rhodes scholar.

If not for the voters who sent them to Tallahassee, their paths would likely have never crossed.

Those familiar with the Israel trip noted that an unlikely friendship began during the downtime in between the Governor’s signing of one Memorandum of Understanding after another.

Both men, we are told, spoke about how they wanted to do things differently. It’s the same familiar hope of all presiding officers, but one usually remains hopeful or turns into regret.

To commemorate that goal, both men signed their own Memorandum of Understanding, this one on the back of a napkin with a BIC rather than ceremonial parchment and a fountain pen.

From Tel Aviv to Tallahassee.

What neither man knew was what they would face. A pandemic. Plummeting revenues. A dump truck of nonrecurring dollars backing up in the middle of Session. A Governor with his sights set on The White House. The violent clashes of “woke” society.

There were many opportunities to derail this Session. There were times when the Senate seemed ahead, and times where the House was in the lead. Detractors and critics did their best to publish midgame scores hoping that one side would kill another’s priority. To their credit, the Speaker and the President managed to stay true to their chambers, working it out instead of blowing it up.

What resulted was a Session where there were enough wins for everyone.

It was a fruitful harvest. To the surprise of many observers, both sides did exactly what they set out to do. With respect. With understanding.

It’s been a long time since we have seen a Session like this one. It didn’t happen by accident. What began in Tel Aviv bore fruit in Tallahassee. Like what they did or not, both sides accomplished what they set out to do. With another Session to go, we will see what the second harvest will be.

Here is Florida Politics’ definitive list of the Winners and Losers emerging from the 2021 Legislative Session.

Biggest winner

Ron DeSantis — Just as the national Republican Party remains under the thumb of the Mar-a-Lago resident-in-exile, the Florida GOP is now the party of Gov. DeSantis.

Basically, whatever DeSantis wants, DeSantis gets. That much is clear with the smashing victories the Governor scored during this year’s Legislative Session.

He wanted an aggressive anti-bill with much stiffer penalties for violators. Even against arguments that it violated free speech and targeted minorities, the Republican-controlled Legislature served it up.

DeSantis demanded and received a bill that outlaws some travelers to prove that they had received vaccinations against COVID-19. The “vaccine passport” bill is another major victory for the Governor.

At Sine Die, it was all smiles; the biggest was from Ron DeSantis. Image via Colin Hackley.

He received broad condemnation for his early handling of the pandemic, but Florida’s less aggressive response now is seen by many as the model states should follow.

DeSantis railed against alleged censorship by so-called Big Tech and got the punitive measures he wanted.

The bill targets five major tech companies — Google, Apple, Twitter, Facebook and Amazon. They could be fined up to $250,000 per day if they remove statewide political candidates from their platforms for more than 14 days.

That may not stand up to court challenges, but the Governor doesn’t seem concerned about that. It’s all about the talking points he heads to the 2022 reelection campaign — and maybe something larger in 2024.

Besides, if a higher court overturns any of his priorities, DeSantis can rail about activist judges. He wins either way.

It’s hard to remember that DeSantis’ approval ratings sank 25 points last summer, falling five points underwater in October. Since then, though, he has been on a steady climb, increasing to 55% approval in mid-April.

His star also is ascending on the national stage, and it seems like a foregone conclusion that a national campaign is in his future. If what’s-his-name doesn’t run in 2024, DeSantis is seen by many Republicans as the heir apparent.

The Governor’s performance in this year’s Session solidified his conservative cred. He has a regular national megaphone on Fox News, which is where this former relatively obscure congressman attracted the attention of “He Who Shall Not Be Named.”

That propelled DeSantis to the Governor’s Mansion, and he took it from there.

This Session was a warning to any Democrat considering a challenge against him next year. Democrats face enough trouble winning statewide races anyway, but going against the DeSantis juggernaut may be a political suicide mission.

Winners

Ben AlbrittonThe Senator from rural Florida, whose district encompasses five counties and includes part of three more, served as Chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Environment, and General Government. He kept his head down, focused on getting his priorities across the finish line, and developed a thoughtful budget that invests record amounts in restoring Florida’s environment. He was a champion of farmers, rural communities, water resources, children and jobs. Stay the course, Sen. Albritton. You’re on the right track.

Vance Aloupis, Erin Grall — This could easily be Part Deux of the win for Florida kids, but Reps. Aloupis and Grall deserve a shoutout for their tireless work to improve the lives of the youngest among us. Aloupis’ pre-legislative career was solely focused on improving early childhood education, and that hasn’t changed since he joined the Legislature two years ago. And, whether you love her bills or not, Grall is nothing short of a ringer when it comes to getting bills passed. Her win streak was on the line, however, when the long-sought VPK accountability bill was still waiting on a final committee hearing heading into the last week of Session. Undeterred, she got the bill through, and it’s a good one. As a team, she and Aloupis patiently, diligently, and thoroughly crafted a bill that would bring the equivalent of A-F grading — and the accountability that comes with it — to the state’s voluntary prekindergarten system, improving a system that has remained largely static since VPK system launched in 2001. Years down the line, HB 419 will be remembered as one of the most significant advancements to early childhood education in the history of Florida.

Mark Anderson — Normally, lobbyists don’t get singled out in Winners & Losers. Before you write us to ask why so-and-so didn’t get a nod, ask yourself this: Did they go “Full Anderson?” And by that, we mean did they perfectly time millisecond of public testimony to advocate for a client during budget talks? That kind of move takes guts. And it produces results. The solo lobbyist snagged $13 million in client appropriations, helped long-sought legislation modernizing HOA rules, and regulating home-based businesses. Quite the Session.

Aaron Bean — Capitol watchers agree: Give the Senate President Pro Tempore the gavel more! Known for his outsized personality, Bean moves the agenda like no other with his rapid-fire style, keen sense of humor and grace. A key ally for Senate President Wilton Simpson, he rallied from missing opening day because of COVID-19 to flying through conference reports on Day 60. And don’t forget: Ted Lasso is actually art imitating real-life Aaron Bean.

With humor and grace, Aaron Bean rallied back from a late start to become one of the most effective players in 2021. Image via Colin Hackley.

Brewster Bevis — He’s a machine. Even with the limitations on in-person testimony, the SVP of Associated Industries of Florida, was everywhere that meant anything for Florida business. He was a leader early on in the pandemic, bringing together 30 associations and businesses to form the RESET Task Force and provide the Governor and Legislature with thoughtful solutions to help Florida’s business community rebuild from COVID-19. Among them were COVID-19 liability protections, an early winner in the Legislative Session that garnered widespread support and earned a quick signature from DeSantis. Later on in Session, Bevis was a sniper aiming to defend the commercial rent tax cut and weaken the data privacy measure to something businesses could stomach. All in all, Bevis earned a lot of wins for Florida businesses this Session.

Lauren Book — The Plantation Senator is by far the most effective member of the Democratic Caucus. Her bills make it into law. And, more often than not, she’s fighting for people who need a fighter in their corner. Since joining the Senate in 2016, she’s carried numerous bills centered on punishing the perpetrators of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse and ensuring abuse victims have access to the services they need to recover and lead a normal life. In 2021, she successfully carried bills that would help foster kids find permanent homes, prevent victim public records shields from protecting criminals, and require local health departments to set up sexual assault response teams. She’s also one of just three Senate Democrats with a committee chair. In the closing weeks of Session, Book was elected Minority Leader-Designate. Her ascendance was met with near-universal praise. And last week, she got to take the job early after Sen. Gary Farmer was given the boot after a disastrous election cycle followed by an equally disastrous Session. Book has her work cut out for her, that’s for certain. But equally certain is that she’s better prepared to lead the Senate Democrats to success than any other caucus member. And when her term is over, she’ll be better positioned to win higher office than any Democrat in the state.

Randolph BracyBracy was the point man not only on police reform, but also $30 million for the African American culture stuff, education on the Ocoee Election Day massacre and fighting Confederate holidays. And, if he decides to run for Governor (or Val Demings’ Congressional seat), his voice will be missed in The Capitol.

Danny Burgess — It’s easy to call Burgess a winner. The well-liked Zephyrhills Republican carried a host of priority legislation during his first year in the Florida Senate. He shepherded a repeal of Florida’s no-fault auto insurance across the finish line, a feat in and of itself. Burgess also carried the Senate version of the anti-riot bill (HB 1). When the Senate took up the House bill, Burgess spent hours answering questions and taking the arrows that came with being the bill sponsor with grace. Burgess also chaired the Senate’s Select Committee on Pandemic Preparedness and Response, carrying bills to focus on emergency management in the wake of the pandemic. If that doesn’t warrant naming Burgess the “Rookie of the Year,” we don’t know what will.

Manny Diaz Jr. — No longer just the man in the Senate on education, the Hialeah Republican helped push through the physician assistant scope of practice expansion bill (HB 431) through the Senate. He also helped navigate an expansion of vaccines and pharmacy scope of practice. He also helped pass a significant expansion of school choice in Florida. In short: Diaz helped lead the charge in the Senate on key victories.

Nick DiCeglie — Senator … excuse me … Rep. DiCeglie served as a model in efficiency this Session. If a House member gets a couple of bills passed in a single Legislative Session, that’s considered a win. After all, members of the lower chamber only have so many bill slots. Somehow, DiCeglie managed to ship six bills — either his version or a Senate companion — to the Governor’s desk. They’re substantive, too. One requires local governments to utilize competitive bidding processes when contracting city, town or county projects. Another would limit how quickly local governments could raise impact fees. And still one more would slash restrictions on craft distilleries and level the playing field with other states. If the second-term Rep. from Indian Rocks Beach can push through a half-dozen bills in the House, imagine what he’ll be able to do when he makes the jump up in 2022.

Fentrice Driskell — She had a standout Session, frequently appearing as the face of House Democrats on a wide variety of issues. Her floor debate skills were top-notch, too. But her landmark accomplishment was her ability to reach across the aisle and get something done on police reform. Was it everything that Democrats and the Black Caucus asked for? No, but they were never going to get that. But it seemed for a moment that they weren’t going to get anything at all, so call it a first step if you must, but it’s nothing short of a monumental win for the House Democrats’ policy chair. Can you imagine another member getting the Speaker to make that deal?

Dane Eagle — The former Representative took over an agency in disarray last September and quickly rolled up his sleeves to bring about reform. The Department of Economic Opportunity has said a lot over the past year, but for a while, it was mostly words. After Eagle came in, the agency started backing its promises of progress up with actions. The Legislative Session saw Eagle appear in over a dozen House and Senate hearings to answer for the faults of past leadership and offer bipartisan solutions on how DEO could move forward. He even authored an agency bill bold enough to warrant sponsorship by the Senate President Pro-Tem. Notably, the bill makes him a Secretary — rather than a director — with the power to appoint deputy and assistant secretaries and create offices within the agency to move quickly to address any future emergencies. The bill passed unanimously in both chambers and is awaiting the Governor’s signature.

The Gardiners — The scholarship program for children with unique challenges may be no more, but the legacy Camille and Andy Gardiner lives on. With grace and determination, they will continue to make sure those families that have children with unique challenges continue to be served, no matter the incredible pettiness in both Chambers. We know the Gardiners will ensure these children can continue without loss of program access or scholarship benefit. To those who ended the program: Be vigilant. We know the Gardiner family will be.

Blaise Ingoglia — The Spring Hill Republican is a conservative favorite who isn’t afraid to buck the establishment. As Chair of the powerful House Commerce Committee, Ingoglia made his mark on key issues this Session, from support for small businesses to property insurance reform. He has also quickly become one of the Governor’s go-to guys in the House. This year, he ran point on the election reform and Big Tech de-platforming bills and he delivered on both. He’s got one more Session left before he terms out in the House, but he’s already building up a solid war chest and, clearly, some strong alliances in higher office who will surely come out to support him when he announces the next step in his political career.

Blaise Ingoglia regularly bucks the status quo, and it pays off nicely. Image via Colin Hackley.

Tom Leek — A legislator like none other, Leek proved his worth again this Session by guiding the Pandemic and Public Emergencies Committee and was a key player in budget negotiations. A trusted ally of Rep. Paul Renner, this Ormond Beach Republican will play a key role in guiding the House for years to come. And what else would you expect from one of the few legislators who has been a part of House Leadership — part of the Corcoran, Oliva and Sprowls leadership teams — since his election.

Lauren Melo — This Collier County freshman grabbed the bull by the horns, passing a key piece of Speaker Chris Sprowls workforce reform package and a bill aimed at preventing domestic violence. She was a staunch advocate for her bills, including pushing through telehealth reform. On top of it all: She secured $25 million for the Immokalee Armory. Keep your eyes on this freshman.

In on the win: Immokalee Armory.

Carol Marbin Miller & David Chang — The Miami Herald journalists penned a series of articles this Legislative Session that led to action. Their “Birth & Betrayal” series exposed some of the flaws in the Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Association (NICA). It was powerful reading, and though the series did overlook some of the context for why NICA was started and the problems it addressed, it did inspire quick action to fix the problems it created. Their work kick-started the conversation and led to Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis calling on the Office of Insurance Regulation, which he supervises, to look over NICA’s books. Lawmakers also quickly approved a bill (SB 1786) to boost initial payments to the parents of children accepted into the NICA program from $100,000 to $250,000.

In on the win: Parents of children injured at birth. Bill sponsors Burgess and Lauren Book in the Senate and Traci Koster and Fiona McFarland in the House.

Ashley Moody — The 2021 Legislative Session was a success for the Attorney General’s Office, with Moody knocking several big priorities out of the park. She went to bat for the elderly and disabled adults, championing legislation prohibiting someone who committed abuse or neglect from inheriting anything from the victim. She not only backed bipartisan police reform (HB 7051) but also supported legislation to close a loophole in Florida’s sex offender law (SB 234). The wins for the Attorney General’s Office kept coming: bills to tackle racketeering, human trafficking, and clarifying the duties the Attorney General cleared the Legislature. Plus, she helped to make sure canine cops were able to get emergency treatment if injured in the line of duty. A winning Legislative Session heading into a reelection campaign? The future looks bright. 

In on the win: Rep. Colleen Burton (HB 1041); Rep. Fentrice Driskell (HB 7051); Sen. Lauren Book (SB 234); Sen. Tom Wright (SB 388); Sen. George Gainer (SB 776); Sen. Jason Brodeur (SB 1040); and Sen. Manny Diaz (SB 1826).

Jim Mooney — The freshman lawmaker deserves a definite attaboy for putting party politics aside and speaking up for the people of Key West. We had almost forgotten that Rep. Spencer Roach was not the representative from Monroe County, given the very well-researched debate on a local Key West matter and constitutional law course provided via the ports amendment tacked on to the transportation bill. Still, Mooney asserted himself as a solid representative who knows who elected him and who he has to answer to when he goes home.

First-termer Jim Mooney gets a “W” by stepping up for Key West. Image via Colin Hackley.

Toby Overdorf — Man, it must feel good to be Overdorf. The Stuart Republican was the prime sponsor or co-prime sponsor of seven bills that passed the Legislature this year. Jet fuel bill: passed. Bill tackling the Florida Building Code: Passed. Bills addressing restitution, human trafficking, wildlife racketeering, code enforcement and ratifying Department of Environmental Protection rules? You guessed it: Passed, passed, passed, passed and passed. If 2021 looked this good, what is Overdorf going to do in 2022?

In on the wins: Rep. Elizabeth Fetterhoff (HB 401), Rep. James Vernon and Sen. Gayle Harrell (SB 354/HB 495), Sen. Diaz (SB 1826), Sen. George Gainer (SB 776), and Sen. Jennifer Bradley (SB 60).

Kathleen Passidomo — There was drama in Senate Rules and on the Senate Floor (see: Jeff Brandes, Gary Farmer, etc.), but none of it came from the Rules Chair. The Senate President-designate remained calm, cool and collected throughout the Legislative Session. She upheld the rule of law — and that of the Senate Rules book — when procedures and protocols were challenged. And if she was rattled, she certainly did not let it show. The Florida Senate will be in good hands when she takes the rostrum come Fall 2022.

Jimmy Patronis — It was another stellar Session for Florida’s CFO, who advocated for a host of consumer safeguards. The Panhandle Republican was one of the most vocal supporters for COVID-19 liability protections, garnering support from across the state for the measures to protect not only businesses but also health care workers. Patronis also pushed bills that curb pesky telemarketers, prohibits individuals working for entities covered by the State Risk Management Trust from retaliating against sexual harassment victims, and targets insurance fraud. And last but not least: He made continued to advocate for firefighters, driving legislation to relieve firefighters of cancer-related medical costs. All hail the Chief!

Paul Renner — Calm, cool and collected, the House Rules chairman ran the Chamber like a well-oiled machine. He used his clout as the House’s top floor general to negotiate fair terms in periods both fair and foul, and helped shepherd Sprowls’ priorities through The Process. If Renner’s time as Rules chair is any indication of what to expect as Speaker, we look forward to seeing what he and Sen. Kathleen Passidomo can do when they take over their respective chambers in 2022.

Alex Rizo — Remember back in 2017 when the Legislature OK’d civic literacy requirement for K-20 education? Since then, there have been questions about what postsecondary students need to do to be considered civically literate. This Hialeah Republican decided to conquer the need for clarity during his first year in the Legislature. Backed by a small, yet persistent, group of Tallahassee Community College teachers who insisted postsecondary students needed to take some coursework, Rizzo carried legislation to do just that. This is a freshman to be proud of.

Ray Rodrigues — The Estero Republican was a force during his time in the House, and his legislative acumen easily translated to the upper chamber. Simply put, Rodrigues is a closer. If he had an alter ego, it would be Mariano Rivera. He brought bills to the finish line in the Senate that never found traction before. His intellectual diversity survey is the kind of bill that a couple of years ago the Senate rejected out of hand. In 2021, it made a beeline to DeSantis. The crackdown on social media companies? Done — and Rodrigues became the face of one of the Governor’s top priorities. Another W: The Parents’ Bill of Rights. The freshman Senator even got the newspaper industry on board with the modernization of public noticing requirements. Rodrigues has quickly developed a reputation for his willingness to get in the thick of complicated policy.

Both in the House and (now) the Senate, RayRod is a closer. Image via Colin Hackley.

In on the win: He was helped along the way by lobbyists Michael Thomas Barrett (parental rights), Barney Bishop (academic diversity) and Mario Bailey (public notices). Reps. Erin Grall and Rep. Randy Fine also deserve a nod for shepherding Rodrigues’ bills in the House, though it helps that Rodrigues paved the way for them in past Legislative Sessions.

Darryl Rouson — Few people worked harder in the Senate this Session on substance abuse, mental health and issues affecting the African American community than the St. Petersburg Democrat. Rouson used firsthand experiences with substance abuse to deliver a number of wins: Exposing the disproportionate impact on communities of color, increasing FTE’s and give a solid footing to the Office of Minority Health and Health Equity. He guided SB 404/HB 183 with Rep. Kamia Brown in the House. Rouson was behind SB 630 — Peer to Peer Specialists — that creates more opportunities for those in recovery. While SB 630 advanced through all committees (and off the Senate floor) it died in the House. Undeterred, Rouson is vowing to bring it back next year. Also, he used his position as chair of the influential Agriculture Committee to push through the issue of Urban Agriculture (SB 628) after it couldn’t get a hearing in the Senate last year. Bracy and Rouson teamed up to get the widely-celebrated $30 million for African American Culture. And finally, Rouson served as lead Senate negotiator for the first part of the $33 million OPIOID Settlement, along with Rep. Colleen Burton in the House.

Jackie Toledo — The Tampa Republican was a constant presence behind the lectern all Session long, and the bills she lifted through committee hearings and floor votes addressed issues that impact the lives of all Floridians. Bringing accountability to PBMs, in particular, has been Toledo’s top priority for a couple of Sessions. Undeterred by powerful insurance and drug company interests who prefer the status quo, Toledo went to bat for everyday Floridians who are sick and tired of paying an arm and a leg for their prescription drugs because a PBM has negotiated a deal more beneficial for themselves than for patients. After falling short last year, Toledo carried a PBM bill — with actual teeth — through to the Governor’s desk. She also empowered and protected survivors of human trafficking with legislation that relieves the costs of expunging records for victims and creates an advocate program to help guide them through the recovery process. Her track record led the House Speaker to put her in charge of one of his key priorities — a bill creating scholarships to attract top-tier talent to Florida’s workforce. Once again, she delivered.

Donald Trump — He may have lost the election, but he won in Florida. Actually, he is still winning in Florida. The Legislature essentially codified his post-November gripes into law. He complained about mail ballots (not in Florida, but still), and now new rules are restricting them. He railed against Big Tech for downplaying the Hunter Biden sideshow and, eventually, banning his accounts. Now they’ll face fines if they try that again in the future. And he cast the post-George Floyd Black Lives Matter protests as nothing more than riots, leading lawmakers to pass a bill that’ll make Floridians nervous even to assemble peacefully. Trump may be a Florida transplant, but the Legislature certainly rolled out the welcome mat.

Mark Walsh — On Wednesday morning, it looked like the seaports preemption issue had been sunk. The newspaper articles had already been written, and the locals were already celebrating — heck, we even featured an interview with one of the chief opponents, Captain Will Benson, in Wednesday’s edition of Sixty Days. But, as many have noted this week, “What’s dead may never die.” Walsh, the business developer who operates the Key West pier, seemingly resurrected the issue with the stroke of a pen — a big stroke, yes, but a stroke nonetheless. After his $1 million check to DeSantis’ political committee cleared, the preemption resurfaced as an amendment to an unrelated transportation bill, the sponsor of which voted against the seaports bill earlier this Session. As they say, “he who has the gold makes the rules.”

American Flood Coalition — This nonpartisan group of cities, elected officials, military leaders, businesses and civic groups was a Day 1 supporter of the Always Ready bill. The organization advocated for concepts of the bill, which ensures the state is adapting and responding to the reality of higher seas, stronger storms and more frequent flooding.

In on the win — House Speaker Sprowls, who championed the issue of resiliency before the 2021 Session even gaveled in; Coral Gables Republican Rep. Demi Busatta Cabrera, who served as the main House sponsor; and Estero Republican Sen. Rodrigues, who championed the bill in the Senate.

Americans for Prosperity — They’re no strangers to the winner circle, and 2021 was no different. Americans for Prosperity scored by working the process, engaging in grassroots outreach and a steady stream of mailers supporting priority bills. Among the victories: The school choice bill (HB 7045) will increase educational opportunities for Florida families by expanding access to scholarships and streamlining options. A bill (SB 768) allows pharmacists to administer certain vaccines and treatments and make it possible for more Floridians to receive needed protection from vaccines, never more top of mind than right now. Other wins: Removing barriers for physician assistants and expanding health care services (HB 431), and building support for forward-thinking policy reform (HB 7051) by preventing officers from using excessive force. Kudos to Skylar Zander and the entire AFP Florida team.

In on the win: Rep. Fine and Sen. Diaz for sponsoring HB 7045; Sen. Dennis Baxley for sponsoring SB 768; Rommel for sponsoring HB 431, and Reps. Cord Byrd and Fentrice Driskell for sponsoring HB 7051.

Randy Fine was behind a major school choice bill, which delivered a big win for Americans For Prosperity. Image via Colin Hackley.

Autonomous delivery vehicles — Lawmakers cemented Florida’s standing as the most autonomous vehicle-friendly state in the nation when they OK’d a bill to allow the use of low-speed autonomous delivery vehicles on the roadways. But the bill doesn’t just address driverless deliveries; it also cleans up language that doesn’t make sense for driverless vehicles. In an era where we’re all spending a little bit too much time online shopping, we welcome any measures to make our deliveries go a little smoother.

In on the win — Brandes, who not only carried the bill in the Senate but has also been a longtime champion of autonomous vehicles and first-termer McFarland.

Barbers — A few months into the pandemic, people were so desperate for haircuts that they would have happily booked an appointment for a wash and trim in a back alley. But just because the customer is willing doesn’t mean the barber is able. Florida law only allows barbers to cut hair in registered barbershops. Not even a house call, unless the client has a health condition that would keep them from coming to the shop. That’s changing thanks to HB 855, which will allow barbers to pack their go-bag and come to you. Barbers will still need to hold a valid license from the state to offer their services outside of licensed establishments, and the bills do not change any of the current licensing requirements. The lack of complexity made it an easy sell in the Legislature — it passed both chambers with unanimous votes and is ready for DeSantis’ signature.

In on the win — Bill sponsors Rep. Daisy Morales and Sen. Linda Stewart, Americans for Prosperity, and The Institute for Justice.

Confusion — The last bill of Session dealing with home-based businesses almost brought the Legislature to its knees when a rules challenge was filed on a vote in the Senate. Here we are 24 hours later … does anyone have any idea what happened to the bill? Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?

In on the win: Whoever monetized the YouTube clip from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

Construction industry — The construction industry is on fire right now, and their successes during the 60-day Legislative Session proved it’s good to be one of the state’s legacy industries. The industry saw a big win with the passage of a massive public works bill (HB 53). Sponsored by Rep. Nick DiCeglie, the bill overhauls the construction bidding process for local public works projects. Industry officials also advocated for necessary changes to the Florida Building Code, all the while fighting a massive battle to keep full replacement insurance policies in Florida.

In on the winCarol Bowen, with Associated Builders and Contractors of Florida; the Florida Home Builders Association’s Rusty Peyton and Dane Bennett, plus Carlton Fields’ Kari Hebrank and Scott Jenkins; Florida Roofing and Sheet Metal Contractors and the team of Chris Dawson, Katie Flury, Chris Carmody and Robert Stuart with GrayRobinson.

Court clerks and comptrollers — For years, Florida’s Clerks of Court and Comptrollers have dealt with an unsustainable funding model that has affected their ability to support courts and provide constituent services fully. During this Legislative Session, Clerks and their legislative team successfully pushed legislation that took a significant first step toward a more stable budget and received nonrecurring funds in the GAA to assist with the expected backlog of cases to the pandemic. Legislative priorities for the group included budget reserves to help clerks plan for emergencies like COVID-19, the ability to roll over yearly budgets, more payment plan options, and efficiencies that streamline local jury administrative costs. Mission accomplished — on all fronts.

In on the win: Bill sponsors Sens. Jim Boyd and Ed Hooper, Reps. Webster Barnaby and Chuck Clemmons and the lobbying team, which includes Marty Fiorentino, Davis Bean, Joe Mobley, Mark Pinto and Shannan Schuessler of The Fiorentino Group as well as David Browning, Mary DeLoach, Nelson Diaz, Nicole Kelly and Clark Smith of The Southern Group, and in houser Jason Harrell.

Cow manure — Normally, Keyna Cory talks about solid waste and recycling; this year, she had a new passion … cow manure! Sen. Brodeur and Rep. Byrd passed legislation about renewable energy, and it included anaerobic digester in the term “renewable natural gas.” Cory testified in committees about a project in Okeechobee where her client, Brightmark, is partnering with Larson Dairy Farms and JM Larson Dairy. They are placing four anaerobic digesters that will convert 230,000 tons of dairy manure per year from 9,900 cows into renewable gas.

Florida cows (and their byproducts) came out on top in 2021.

DJI — A bill that worked its way through the Legislature this year would expand the scenarios where law enforcement agencies could use drones. Currently, police can bust out the drones when executing search warrants, tracking down escaped prisoners, or in “imminent loss of life” situations. SB 44 adds in traffic management, evidence collection, and crowd monitoring. More airtime means more drones, and that invariably means more money in DJI’s pocket. As of last year, DJI accounted for more than two-thirds of the world’s consumer drone market.

Craft distilleries Forget Red Solo Cups; it’s time to break out the shot glasses. Lawmakers gave Florida’s craft distilleries the tools to compete with the big boys this Session by greatly expanding production caps and opening the door for them to sell their drinks in more ways. Similar to the early days of the craft beer boom, Florida distilleries are already pumping out top-quality beverages, but aficionados have a hard time getting their hands on them. Now, they simply need to show up at the door to snag a taste of primo whiskey, vodka or whatever new concoction is in vogue.

In on the win: Sponsors Sen. Travis Hutson and Rep. DiCeglie. And the team at Corcoran Partners — Michael Corcoran, Jacqueline Corcoran, Matt Blair, Ralph Criss and Andrea Tovar — who deftly repped the St. Petersburg Distillery Company.

Engineers — Helping Floridians during hurricanes and other emergencies had started to become a losing proposition for engineers because of the increasingly litigious environment. It had become a losing proposition for Florida, too — since 2017, the number of professional engineer structural-specialist volunteers has dropped by 60%. The American Council of Engineering Companies of Florida and the Florida Engineering Society sought to reverse the trend this Session, and lawmakers got on board, passing a bill that would protect urban search and rescue engineers from liability lawsuits simply for helping out in the wake of a disaster. A bonus: $50 million to expedite construction on water storage north of Lake Okeechobee — that’ll give more than a few engineers a paycheck.

In on the win: Bill sponsors Sen. Jennifer Bradley and Rep. Kaylee Tuck, CFO Patronis for his vocal support. Jon Johnson, Travis Blanton and Darrick McGhee of Johnson & Blanton and Jeff Littlejohn and Mark Thomasson of Littlejohn, Mann and Associates for piloting the lobbying effort. Also, a tip of the hat to Edie Ousley of Yellow Finch Strategies for leading the organizations’ public affairs.

The Family Law Section of The Florida Bar — What would a Legislative Session be without a fight over alimony reform? The Family Section of The Florida Bar once again fought back against so-called reforms (SB 1922 and HB 1559), saying they would dramatically change statutes and have a ripple effect on previously settled cases, future cases and harm children and families impacted by divorce. Shout out to the team of Matt BryanLisa Hurley, and Jeff Hartley with Smith, Bryan & Myers; and Sarah BascomLyndsey Brzozowski, and Kelsey Swithers at Bascom Communications.

In on the win — The First Wives Advocacy Group, the Florida American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, and most importantly, all the families and divorcees who don’t have to agonize over what changes would do to their lives.

Farm Share — With thousands upon thousands of Floridians struggling to make ends meet during the pandemic, Farm Share stepped up to the plate and dramatically increased the amount of food provided to those in need. The state’s largest food bank distributed more than 104 million pounds of food and served more than 86 million meals to Floridians in 2020. No doubt this hard work contributed to the Legislature’s decision to fully fund the organization, allowing the organization to continue to do good works.

In on the win — Farm Share CEO Stephen Shelley, lobbyist Jim Naff and the fine folks at Sachs Media.

Lawmakers give a needed boost to Farm Share, one of Florida’s best charity programs.

Florida Association of Children’s Hospitals — It was a rough year for hospitals, but the Florida Association of Children’s Hospitals once again went to bat for their members. The backbone of the state’s pediatric health care system, the Florida Association of Children’s Hospitals fought tooth and nail to secure much-needed allocations for their 15-member hospitals. They continually told lawmakers, “don’t cut our capacity to care,” and lawmakers definitely heard their plea.

In on the win — lobbyist Michael Cusick

Florida Association of Health Plans — For the FAHP, winning means battling back attempts to change business practices used by the state’s health plans so that plans can continue to ensure affordable access to medical services and prescriptions. The organization also demonstrated the value of the Medicaid Managed Care program and supported the state’s holistic approach to providing Florida Medicaid members quality care. Bonus points: The U.S. District Court upheld the law banning outrageous billing by air ambulances, a 2020 FAHP priority.

Florida Association of Managing Entities — The skyrocketing number of Floridians experiencing mental health issues, like depression and anxiety, has been a side effect of the pandemic. And now, more than ever, Floridians need access to behavioral health care services. The Legislature stepped up to the plate to fully fund behavioral health services, ensuring Floridians can lead lives to their fullest potential. Hat tip to First Lady Casey DeSantis, who has prioritized mental health services since moving into the Governor’s Mansion.

In on the win — FAME CEO Natalie Kelly and Sachs Media.

Florida Association of Insurance Agents — In a Legislative Session that was overall unkind to other insurance groups, FAIA came out for the better. The association headed into Session with five bills on its radar and the entire set made it to the Governor’s desk. The biggest of them all was the property insurance revamp package that bounced back and forth between the chambers in the closing days of Session. But FAIA, along with many others, scored big when DeSantis signed the fast-tracked COVID-19 liability shield. Their slate also included homeowner and community associations reforms, and a pair of consumer protection bills championed by CFO Jimmy Patronis.

In on the win: In-house lobbying team Kyle Ulrich, BG Murphy and Laura Boyd Pearce as well as contract lobbyists Dean Cannon, Kirk Pepper and Joseph Salzverg of GrayRobinson and Richard Reeves of RLR Consulting.

Florida Chamber of CommerceRemember the COVID-19 liability shield? Before the American Rescue Plan passed and before vaccines were available to anyone under 65, it happened so long ago that you might have forgotten. That’s because the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s team of Mark Wilson, David Hart, Frank Walker and Carolyn Johnson got to work early, sitting down with lawmakers and getting the Governor and legislative leadership on board. Would COVID-19 lawsuits have really bogged down the courts and killed the recovery? Thanks to the Chamber, we’ll never have to find out.

In on the win: Sponsors Sen. Brandes, Reps. Lawrence McClure and Colleen Burton; Patronis; the contract lobbyists at Smith, Bryan & Myers and the longtime tort reform champions at Delegal Aubuchon Consulting.

The Florida Channel — Hats off to the Florida Channel for providing gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Session without skipping a beat. Those in The Process are grateful for their long hours covering committee meetings, floor Sessions, news conferences and more. They’ve provided much-needed transparency during the most unusual Session in Florida’s history. 

In on the win: Thank you, Beth Switzer and the entire Florida Channel team! 

Florida Education Association — The most-hated union in the Republican-controlled Legislature was able to defeat another union-busting bill this year. This time, lawmakers wanted to add another step before dues could be withheld from union member paychecks. Despite Republican sponsors arguing the proposal was common-sense, it was objectively nonsensical — union members already must request dues be withheld, but the proposal would have required another form asking if they are really, truly, 100% sure that’s what they want under the auspices of “protecting their paychecks.” Teachers showed up to the Capitol and fought back, and they were successful. The icing on the cake? Lawmakers set aside $550 million — $50 million more than last year — to fund teacher pay raises, and they granted the Governor’s request to use federal funds to send teachers $1,000 bonus checks. For as much as lawmakers want to stick it to FEA, they keep on winning.

In on the win: In-house lobbyists Tina Dunbar, Catherine Boehme, Stephanie Kunkel, Chadwick Leonard, Yale Olenick and Eric Riley, as well as Jonathan Kilman, Carlos Cruz, Cesar Fernandez and Elnatan Rudolph of Converge Government Affairs.

Florida farmers — They’re humble, and they don’t like the spotlight. But if someone threatens their mission of providing the food that feeds the world, they’ll show up to fight. With the growing threat of litigation, Florida farmers came out in full force for legislation to enhance Florida’s Right to Farm law and nip nuisance lawsuits in the bud. The Florida Ag Coalition, led by Nancy Stephens and Adam Basford of the Florida Farm Bureau, worked hard behind the scenes to share the stories and voices of Florida’s farmers with state lawmakers. For centuries, Florida’s farmers, growers and ranchers have produced and harvested fresh, wholesome produce to feed families. With this law in place, our farmers can continue to focus on what truly matters: putting food on our tables.

In on the win: Simpson, a farmer himself, and voices from farming communities: Mayor Joe Kyles of South Bay, Mayor Steve Wilson of Belle Glade and Mayor Keith Babb of Pahokee, among others, and sponsors Sen. Jason Brodeur and Rep. Jayer Williamson.

Wilton Simpson goes to bat for Florida farmers, which is hardly surprising since he is a farmer himself. Image via Colin Hackley.

Florida for Care — In the successful fight against efforts to decrease and limit the potency of medical marijuana, there is no individual or organization as engaged as Florida for Care. There is also no small irony to this fact: just four years ago, Florida for Care, headed by Democratic strategist Ben Pollara was the single biggest thorn in the side of Florida’s MMTCs. This Legislative Session, it arguably saved their entire industry from certain devastation. 

In on the win — Thousands of Floridians who bombarded the Legislature with calls and emails, medical marijuana doctors who stepped up for their patients, Brandes and Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith for dunking on the bill in committee. And — even though the Governor wasn’t on board — the THC cap gave Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried some material for a few totally-not-campaign videos.

Florida Health Care Association — Representing nearly 700 long-term care facilities, the Florida Health Care Association pushed legislators to priorities nursing home residents and the staff who care for them. Add these to the win column: Legislation (SB 72) to provide COVID-19 liability protections for health care workers, including long-term care providers, and a bill (HB 485) to make personal care attendants a permanent part of the state’s long-term care workforce. Led by Emmett Reed and chief lobbyist Toby Philpot, the association worked closely with state leaders to protect some of the state’s most vulnerable and secure full funding for Florida’s nursing center.

In on the win: Simpson, Sprowls, sponsors Sen. Brandes (SB 72), Rep. Sam Garrison, Rep. Michele Rayner, Sen. Bean (HB 485), Sen. Kelli Stargel, and Rep. Jay Trumbull.

Florida Healthy Start Program — The Florida Legislature has the backs of Florida mothers and their children, extending Medicaid benefits to 12 months postpartum. This provides critical medical access to prevent maternal deaths and improve health outcomes. The Legislature further showed their support by including a $22 million boost in recurring funding for Healthy Start services for Medicaid eligible pregnant women and young children; $10.3 million to cover current shortfalls for Healthy Start Medicaid Services; and $750,000 for Nurse-Family Partnership home visiting services. If this is how the Legislature celebrates Healthy Start’s 30th birthday, what will they do for 31?

In on the win: Florida Association of Healthy Start Coalitions CEO Cathy Timuta and 32 coalition leaders; lobbyist Brian Jogerst and Sachs Media.

Florida Home Builders Association — Florida’s homebuilders have something to cheer about this year: A bill that ensures market predictability for the construction industry. Sponsored by Rep. DiCeglie and Sen. Gruters, the bill requires impact fee increases to be phased in at no more than 50% over a four-year period. Three cheers to FHBA CEO and chief lobbyist Rusty Payton, Director of Governmental Affairs Dane Bennett and Kari Hebrank with Carlton Fields.

In on the win: Legislative staffers extraordinaire Victoria Brill and Brendan Burke.

Florida Hospital Association — It was a banner year for the Florida Hospital Association. As the state’s hospitals worked double (maybe even triple, quadruple) time to treat an influx of patients, the FHA fought for COVID-19 liability protections ensuring hospitals were protected from frivolous lawsuits. The association pushed back against proposed cuts to Medicaid reimbursements and worked to repeal an Oliva-era change to community benefit reporting. And let’s not forget all the proposals that fell flat and never cross the finish line.

In on the win: President and CEO Mary Mayhew and VP of Public Affairs David Mica Jr.

Florida’s kids — Florida’s kids will be provided a second chance thanks to a bill that will allow kids who complete post-arrest diversionary programs for felonies and other arrests beyond a minor’s first offense to get their records expunged. That means over 26,000 kids won’t need to come up with an elevator pitch on why employers and college admissions staff should look past their criminal records and give them a chance to succeed.

In on the win: Bill sponsors Sen. Keith Perry and Rep. David Smith as well as the SPLC lobbying team, which includes in-housers Carrie Boyd, Safia Malin, John Paul Taylor, Oliver Torres and Poy Winichakul as well as Albert Balido of Anfield Consulting. Also, Christian Minor of the Florida Juvenile Justice Association.

Florida Justice Reform Institute — In a year of complex legal issues, they stood in the camera’s glare and got things done. Their signature win came early on in Session with the passage of COVID-19 liability protections. When they were first pitched, few people could explain what they were and why they were needed — in fact, very few liability cases had been filed when the law went into effect. Now, because of their prescience, COVID-19 liability won’t be the next gold rush for plaintiffs’ attorneys. Also, FJRI landed a big-time win outside of the Capitol Complex when the Florida Supreme Court decided to adopt the federal summary judgment standard, which had been a longtime priority for the organization.

Florida parents — Thousands of involved and engaged parents of Florida who weighed in to assert their rights as parents to raise their children without undue restrictions on transparency by the government. A multiyear effort resulted in the final passage of Florida’s Parents’ Bill of Rights, which enshrines in one statute and protects their parental rights. Patti and Jim Sullivan of ParentalRightsFL.org have championed this cause for over a decade and were joined in 2018 by education advocacy heavyweights and FCSBM Past Presidents Bridget Ziegler, Erika Donalds, Shawn Frost, and Tina Descovich (now with Moms for Liberty.org) for the beginning of the final push to passage. Vero Beach Republican Grall first filed the bill in 2019 and has carried it in the House every year since. Senate Sponsors have included Sens. Gruters and Stargel, with Rodrigues bringing it across the finish line.

Florida Police Chiefs Association — Just like Florida Sheriffs, police scored a win once DeSantis signed the anti-riot bill into law. While that’s the headliner this Session, it’s hardly their only win. Police chiefs also pushed for tougher penalties on “swatting” (also known as the worst prank ever) and got them through. And an expansion on how they can use drones was cleared for takeoff. But police chiefs also shared a win with the Black Caucus by coming to the table on the use-of-force reform package. With staunchly pro-police Republicans controlling the Legislature, there was little chance of them “losing” — lawmakers were never going to “defund the police” or put an end to qualified immunity — and that makes their participation in the conversation all the more meaningful.

In on the win: In-house lobbyists Amy Lynn Mercer and Jennifer Pritt as well as Leslie Dughi, Fred Karlinsky and Timothy Stanfield of Greenberg Traurig and David Marsey of Rumberger Kirk & Caldwell.

Florida retailers — Retailers have spent years pushing for the state to adopt “e-fairness” legislation, and they finally got their wish this Session. SB 50 was a top priority of the Florida Retail Federation. And it was a three-for-one special. In addition to leveling the playing field for Florida brick and mortar shops, the measure will save businesses money on unemployment taxes since the collections will refill the unemployment trust fund. After that, it will fund a cut to the commercial rent sales tax. FRF can give three cheers to its lobbying team, which includes in-housers Scott Shalley, Jake Farmer, Lorena Holley, Grace Lovett, as well as French Brown of Dean Mead and Jon Johnson, Travis Blanton, and Darrick McGhee of Johnson & Blanton.

In on the win: Sponsors Gruters and Rep. Chuck Clemons, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and the Florida League of Cities.

Joe Gruters and his e-fairness bill get a huge thumbs-up from Florida brick-and-mortar retailers.

Floridians (rightly) opposed to alimony reform — The age-old issue of whether to reform Florida’s alimony system or not once again taking center stage this Session, with the conversation over 50-50 timesharing/custody agreements joining the fight. In the end, the legislation stalled out in the Senate Rules Committee, with the sponsor vowing it would return next Session. Advocating against the legislation was The Family Law Section of The Florida Bar, which has consistently fought the changes saying they would have a ripple effect on previously settled cases, future cases, and harm children and families impacted by divorce.

In on the win: Matt Bryan, Lisa Hurley and Jeff Hartley of Smith, Bryan & Myers, and Sarah Bascom, Lyndsey Brzozowski and Kelsey Swithers at Bascom Communications. However, the real winners are the families and divorcees who don’t have to agonize over what this change would do to their lives, at least not until the issue comes back again, as it always does.

Florida Roofing & Sheet Metal Contractors Association (FRSA) — Florida Roofers entered Session in the crosshairs as issues mount and rates rise in Florida’s property insurance market. A few unscrupulous contractors landed the entire trade in a massive industry food fight stuck between insurance industry titans and the Florida Trial Bar. FRSA navigated the tepid waters of SB 76 with precision and perseverance, and with support from an all-star coalition of stakeholders, including the Associated Builders and Contractors of Florida and the Florida Homebuilders Association. Ultimately, all of the provisions roofers fought against were stripped out of the insurance reform legislation that passed the Legislature (SB 76). Way to “raise the roof” during the 2021 Legislative Session!

In on the win: Lobbyists Chris Dawson, Christopher Carmody, Katie Flury and Robert Stuart of GrayRobinson.

Florida Sheriffs Association — When DeSantis, Simpson and Sprowls announced support for the “Combating Violence & Disorder Act” in September, they did it flanked by sheriffs in Polk County. HB 1 had the strong support of the Florida Sheriffs Association every step of the way. When Sen. Burgess had to make a compelling point in his closing argument to get it through the Appropriations Committee, he simply read the sheriffs’ letter of support. Sheriffs made a powerful case that they would defend every citizen’s right to protest peacefully. HB 1 would further support those individuals by removing the criminal element who attempt to turn peaceful events violent. When HB 1 was signed into law, there was no better place than in Polk County with Sheriff Grady Judd and many members of the Florida Sheriffs Association. 

In on the win: David Ash of DLA Consulting; Brian Bautista, Rachel Cone, Chris Dudley, Mercer Fearington and Clark Smith of The Southern Group; Jennifer Green, Melanie Bostick and Timothy Parson of Liberty Partners of Tallahassee; Ryan Matthews and Angela Drzewiecki of Peebles, Smith & Matthews; and Eduardo Gonzalez and William McRea of Sun City Strategies.

Florida TaxWatch — It’s safe to say the nonpartisan watchdog is a winner. Several of their long-standing priorities got top billing this year, including e-fairness, which President and CEO Dominic Calabro and his team have been outspokenly championing since the internet was little more than a series of tubes. Better yet, the online sales tax bill delivered on three other TaxWatch priorities: refueling the re-employment trust fund, slashing the business rent tax, and a technical fix to modernize the sales tax process, changing the estimating process to a rounding rather than bracket system. FTW also provided key backup in the fight for COVID-19 liability protections. Their research — timely and thorough, as always — paved the way for the passage of SB 72 back in March. Their pandemic economic recovery recommendations made over the summer, their quick-turnaround economic impact of the data privacy bill (which the Legislature used to craft a better and more targeted final product), and the critical questions they asked about the controversial M-CORES toll road plan adds the repeal to its pile of victories. Clearly, Florida TaxWatch is a force to be reckoned with.

In on the win: Taxpayers, who can trust FTW, will make sure the hard-earned money they send to Tallahassee is being used responsibly.

Florida wildlife — The Florida Wildlife Corridor program will soon be a reality. The new program will send $300 million in federal coronavirus relief money to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to purchase lands connecting Florida’s greenways so that endangered species such as Florida panthers can safely navigate an increasingly urbanized state. The push began more than a decade ago when photographer Carlton Ward Jr. trekked from South Florida to north of I-4 and discovered that despite the copious amount of greenspaces around the highway, there was no feasible way for wild animals to travel between them freely. Numerous expeditions, hundreds of miles worth of treks, and Ward’s well-timed NatGeo feature lit a fire under lawmakers. Add in the American Rescue Plan, and there was no reason to put it off any longer.

In on the win: Florida panthers, bears and all manner of fauna. Also, lobbyists Oscar AndersonChris Dudley and Seth McKeel of The Southern Group and Brian BallardBrad Burleson and Jan Gorrie of Ballard Partners, who helped the Bellini Better World Foundation bring it home.

Floridians with rare diseases — Lawmakers gave Floridians suffering from diseases that mystify even the best doctors reason for hope this Session with the passage of a bill creating the Rare Disease Advisory Council. Nearly as rare as their afflictions was the level of bipartisanship surrounding the bill creating RDAC. Few if any people familiar with the Legislature would have predicted before Session that House Democratic Co-Leader Bobby DuBose and staunch Republican Sen. Baxley would be pushing for the same policy. But the fact that they teamed up on the effort shows how needed this panel truly is — and how amazing it is that this often-forgotten group of Floridians is getting the attention they deserve.

In on the win: The National Organization for Rare Disorders, which helped hammer it home by sharing the ways RDACs have enabled other states to help those with rare diseases.

George Floyd’s legacy — Kudos to Florida lawmakers for taking a bipartisan approach to addressing police conduct this year. Passed in the days after the guilty verdict in the Floyd case, the bill (HB 7051) calls on law enforcement agencies across the state to examine the use of force, including chokeholds, and requires officers to be trained on when the use of force is appropriate. It’s a good first step toward criminal justice reforms. Do the right thing, Gov. DeSantis: Sign this bill.

In on the win: DuBose; Reps. Driskell, Kevin Chambliss, Dianne Hart, Yvonne Hinson, Dotie Joseph, Travaris McCurdy, Anika Omphroy, Felicia Robinson, Geraldine Thompson, Patricia Williams, Marie Woodson and Tracie Davis; and Sens. Bobby Powell, Randolph Bracy, Audrey Gibson and Shevrin Jones.

George Floyd’s legacy was felt in Florida’s 2021 Session. Image via AP.

Health care heroes of SEIU 1991 The nurses, doctors, and health care professionals of the SEIU 1991 union at Jackson Memorial Hospital historically haven’t had much of a presence in Tallahassee. That changed this year. They lobbied up and launched an aggressive campaign to mobilize their membership to help them defeat bills that would have monkeyed around with their retirement benefits and put their union in jeopardy by making it harder to collect dues. These professionals — or health care heroes, if you will — have spent the past year on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. If anyone deserved a W this year, it was them. And they got it.

In on the win: Elnatan Rudolph and Anna Farrar of Converge Government Affairs, who led the union’s communications and strategy efforts and union head Martha Baker for her deft mobilization campaign.

FRLA — Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the ability to sell drinks for takeout and delivery has provided a critical lifeline to restaurants struggling to make ends meet while dining rooms were shuttered. A year in, there have only been upsides. So, why not get rid of the expiration date? That’s what FRLA sought out to do this Session. FRLA President Carol Dover worked alongside association membership, lawmakers, food delivery platforms such as Uber Eats, and others to hammer out language that would keep the revenue stream open. There were competing proposals in the House and Senate, but lawmakers were able to come to a compromise on the second-to-last day of the Legislative Session. Cheers to that!

In on the win: Uber, Anheuser-Busch, The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, the Florida Independent Spirits Association and contract lobbyists Jim DaughtonWarren HusbandDoug BellPatricia GreeneAllison Liby-SchoonoverAimee Diaz Lyon and Andy Palmer of Metz Husband & Daughton.

Hatzalah — Some may think of it as obscure, but the volunteer ambulance bill couldn’t be a bigger deal in Miami-Dade’s Hatzalah community. They prohibit local government from charging licensing fees or banning the operation of faith-based, nonprofit volunteer ambulance services. Though there are few volunteer ambulance services in the state, one of them — Hatzalah — is of great importance in South Florida’s Jewish community since it understands and caters to the community’s religious sensitivities. Despite resistance from private ambulatory companies, fire chiefs, and some firefighters, Hatzalah persevered.

In on the win: Lobbyists Bill Rubin, Heather Turnbull, Jacqui Carmona and Erica Chanti of Rubin Turnbull & Associates.

HCA Healthcare — Early calls to slash Medicaid base rates would have been a smack in the face to the hospital workers who served tirelessly on the front lines throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. And they would’ve had an outsized impact on HCA Healthcare, which provides 20% of the state’s Medicaid hospital care. Lawmakers must have remembered that not all heroes wear capes, reinstating base rates and allocated additional funding to account for the surge of 850,00 new Medicaid patients in Florida.

In on the win: Simpson; Sprowls; Sen. Stargel; Reps. Trumbull, Bryan Avila and Danny Perez, and lobbyists Bill RubinHeather TurnbullLori KillingerAmanda StewartJeff JohnstonErica ChantiFrank and Tracy Mayernick, and Sachs Media.

House staff — Amid a worldwide pandemic, Sprowls cast an audacious vision for his staff and members: build the most well-prepared, accessible, and engaged legislative body Florida has ever seen. Thanks to the work of dozens of House staffers — from information technology to graphics and committee staff — for the first time, 38 House freshmen members were able to participate in comprehensive, hybrid in-person and online orientation and training sessions. Legislator University featured an extensive series of classes on everything from how bills are written and how a budget is developed to active shooter training, ethics and House protocols. In all, 50 online seminars guided legislators through the Florida Legislative Process. The public also benefited from this process as every virtual class was recorded and posted online. The House’s approach to Session included a unique public engagement process made available through a new in-house technology solution for committee appearances and written testimony. When people arrived at the Capitol, the new Legislative Welcome Center, staffed by the Clerk’s office, served as their first friendly personal interaction for committee meetings and House Gallery access, as well as a source of guidance through the new processes. Together, these efforts were instrumental in shaping the tone and tenor of a House Session that was effective and accountable to the people of Florida.

In on the win: The COVID-19 Diagnostic Testing Team Dr. Rita Smith, DNP, APRN and the Department of Health staff, Director Jared Moskowitz and the staff of the Division of Emergency Management, in partnership with StatLab Mobile, provided quick-turnaround diagnostic testing services that were critical at preventing the spread of COVID-19 at the Capitol during the Session.

L3Harris — After losing out on the contract to build out the next generation Statewide Law Enforcement Radio System, the Melbourne-based radio company did everything in its power to stop Motorola from breaking ground. It worked. Now, there’s $465 million coming their way over the next 15 years, thanks to a sweetheart deal pushed by the Senate. As they say, “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.”

In on the win: Police; lobbyists Brian Ballard, Jeff Atwater and Carol Bracy of Ballard Partners, and Michael Corcoran, Jacqueline Corcoran, Matt Blair, Eric Criss and Andrea Tovar of Corcoran Partners; and AT&T, because the new system will tap into its First Net tech.

L3Harris did everything it could to stop Motorola from rolling out a statewide public safety communications system. It worked.

Lennar Homes — Homebuilders got a big win in the reclaimed water bill (SB 64), which included a provision that incentivizes the reuse of residential graywater — think gently used water from your sink, shower or washing machines — in the Sunshine State. The tech works like this: It sends water you use in your shower or sinks through a residential graywater system. That system then cleans the water, which is reused in your toilet — thus reducing consumption of potable water in your home. Not only a big win for Lennar, but also for efforts to conserve water. Mind blown.

In on the winJeremy Susac, Lennar’s VP of government affairs, and the Capital City Consulting team of Nick Iarossi, Dean Izzo, Ashley Kalifeh, Andrew Ketchel, Ron LaFace and Chris Schoonover.

LIBRE Initiative — The Hispanic arm of Americans for Prosperity-Florida started the Session on the right foot when it hired Daniel Martinez. From there, they just kept racking up the wins. They helped to pass a major expansion of school choice, worked with Democratic members of the Legislature to ensure barbers can legally work out of their homes and helped pass a bill ending the patchwork system of occupational licensing by preempting it to the state.

In on the win — Rep. Fine and Sen. Diaz for sponsoring HB 7045; Rep. Daisy Morales for sponsoring HB 855; Rep. Mike Giallombardo for sponsoring HB 403; and Rep. Joe Harding for sponsoring HB 735.

The lobby corps — Heading into Session, the situation seemed dire. The budget shortfall was thought to be in the billions, and lawmakers were expected to shave funding for state agencies across the board and take a hacksaw to the member project list. Instead, they passed a $101.5 billion budget — the largest in state history. That was largely on the back of $10.2 billion in federal dollars made available through the American Rescue Plan, but money is money, and “nonrecurring funding” is just a synonym for “contract renewal” in the lobbying world. An extra bonus: A Special Session on gaming is coming in two weeks. Gambling clients are signing up for help so fast; the gap is the lobbying equivalent of the Black Friday-through-Christmas Eve shopping frenzy. It’s going to be a very Merry Christmas for Adams Street.

In on the win: The state counts 1,752 registered lobbyists in Florida. If they’re not in the losers section below, chances are they’re winners.

Local Chambers of Commerce — The House passed a bill that would allow counties to spend tourist development tax money on efforts to combat sea level rise, despite concerns from the tourism industry that the change would reduce marketing dollars. Currently, tourism development taxes — also known as “bed taxes” — are reserved for tourism promotion and advertising, beach improvements and convention center and stadium upgrades. While tourism interests fought hard against the bill, they could only convince two lawmakers (Ocoee Democratic Rep. Brown and Merritt Island Republican Tyler Sirois) to vote against the bill. Luckily, for local chambers of commerce, at least, the proposal got no play in the Senate.

In on the win: The tourism industry, which won’t be losing funding key to its continued recovery.

Metropolitan Ministries — A jewel of the Tampa Bay community, this nonprofit provides services to help homeless and at-risk children and families in the region. Providing services to the 32,000 homeless men, women and children in Tampa Bay communities is no easy job, but the good work of these good people was rewarded this Session with a $5 million appropriation to build a new campus in Pasco County.

In on the win: Hooper.

Moffitt Cancer Center — Moffitt is one of the most respected cancer treatment institutions in the country, and thanks to a last-minute amendment tucked into this year’s tax package, it’s about to be able to treat a lot more patients. The Tampa-based center currently receives about $15.6 million of the state’s cigarette tax collections each year, but its share is set to jump to an estimated $26.9 million next year and $38.5 million in the 2024-25 fiscal year. The additional funding will help fund Moffitt’s planned expansion, a comprehensive new cancer research and treatment center on 800 acres it recently acquired. Once complete, Moffitt will be able to treat upward of 100,000 patients a year.

In on the win: Lobbyists David Browning, Nicole Kelly and Sydney Ridley of The Southern Group, Ron Pierce, Kaitlyn Bailey, Edward Briggs and Natalie King of RSA Consulting and Corinne Mixon of Rutledge Ecenia.

Natural gas industry — In cities across the country, local governments are banning natural gas. But the progressive measures have resulted in higher prices and rolling blackouts (see: California). More than 70,000 businesses and 700,000 homes across Florida depend on direct-to-consumer natural gas. If banned, these homes and businesses would be forced to retrofit their buildings to the tune of thousands of dollars. The Legislature weighed in this Session, passing a preemption to prevent local governments from banning natural gas and giving Floridians peace of mind that their gas-powered appliances will turn on again tomorrow. The legislation had widespread support from a coalition of business owners, homeowners and veterans called Power Florida Forward. As a bonus, the Legislature allowed Florida farms to harvest renewable natural gas and solar energy.

In on the win: Sponsors Rep. Josie Tomkow and Sen. Hutson, Dale Calhoun and the Florida Natural Gas Association, Laura Crouch and Holly Moore of TECO and Peoples Gas, and Sen. Brodeur for carrying the renewable natural gas bill.

Lawmakers run interference for the natural gas industry, preventing local bans.

Neighbors — Once again, lawmakers pitched bills that would strip local governments of their right to regulate vacation rentals on their own turf. It’s been the ultimate home-rule battle for several Legislative Sessions; after all, it centers on what people can do with their homes. What started as an outright preemption was watered down committee by committee. By the end, the proposal mostly centered on requirements that property owners register with the state and that rental platforms collect sales tax. The proposal didn’t manage to make it to the floor in either chamber. Still, Rules Chair Passidomo said it was a bill she “would love to hear,” and if it doesn’t happen next year, it likely will when she takes over as Senate President for the 2023 Legislative Session. For now, however, neighbors can celebrate their W.

Office of the Senate Sergeant at Arms — New Senate Sergeant Damien Kelly and his team, led at the Civic Center by Michelle Milligan, coordinated remote public testimony for Senate Committee Meetings. The team tirelessly greeted often frustrated and angry members of the public and lobby corps with an endless amount of polite professionalism that reflected Simpson’s commitment to providing the opportunity for members of the public to virtually address Senate committees in a safe, socially distant manner. Team members Maurice Mathis, Sam Warren, Rebekah Henderson, and others became fixtures of Senate meetings, seen on camera coordinating the flow of testimony and communicating with committee chairs back at the Capitol. Dr. Rita Smith, DNP, APRN and her team at the Department of Health’s Mobile Testing Unit worked seven days a week providing rapid antigen and PCR COVID-19 tests to lawmakers, professional staff, and members of the media. As vaccinations became available for various age groups, they also coordinated mobile vaccine stations for legislators and staff.

In on the win: The public, who were able to stay involved in the process without coming down with the virus.

Parental rights advocates — It has been a long time in the making, but this year Florida lawmakers listened to thousands of parents and passed the Florida Parents Bill of Rights. The bill prohibits the government from infringing on the fundamental right of a parent to direct the upbringing, education, health care and mental health of their own children. A passion project for Patti and Jim Sullivan, the duo behind PaternalRightsFL.org fought for the past decade for these changes. Kudos to lawmakers for remembering parents have rights too.

In on the win: Florida Coalition of School Board Members Past Presidents Bridget Ziegler, Erika Donalds, Shawn Frost and Tina Descovich; Rep. Grall; and Sens. Gruters, Stargel and Rodrigues.

Parents of students with disabilities — Parents have been pleading with the state for years to ban the use of seclusion rooms in schools and put strict limits on the use of restraints that can cause injury, stress, and trauma to students with disabilities. Many lawmakers have listened — a measure that would have fit the bill cleared the House last year before dying in the Senate. This year’s effort, HB 149, didn’t meet the same fate thanks to a bipartisan push by lawmakers who had promised parents they would get it done. They delivered, with both chambers voting unanimously for the bill. Now, a signature from the Governor is all that remains before the much-needed reforms go into effect.

In on the win: Sponsors DuBose and Rene Plasencia as well as Book and Rodrigues. Also pitching in on the effort were Reps. Evan Jenne and Matt Willhite.

Physician assistants — Maybe they didn’t get solo practice, but that’s just about the only thing excluded from the massive scope-of-practice expansion passed by lawmakers this year. The measure, HB 431, increases the number of physician assistants that a doctor can oversee from four to 10; removes some paperwork requirements; allows PAs to accept direct payment; and authorizes PAs working in certain specialties to prescribe a two-week supply of psychotropic medications to patients under 18. That’s just a sample of the many provisions in the robust bill approved by the Legislature.

In on the win: The Florida Academy of Physician Assistants and their lobbying team, including Gary Rutledge, Andrew Rutledge, Corinne Mixon, Diana Ferguson, Richard Lindstrom and Jessica Janasiewicz at Rutledge Ecenia.

Police reform — The Legislative Black Caucus made passage of a police reform bill a high priority. The media often wrote it off as a lost cause within the Republican-controlled Legislature, but the Black Caucus quietly worked with stakeholders, such as the Florida Sheriffs Association and others, to find common ground. Led by Driskell and under the steady guidance of Sprowls, HB 7051 unanimously passed the House. Sen. Bracy made sure to bring the bill home in the Senate, and police reform did not become another issue kicked down the road for another day. The Black Caucus says the bill is just a first step, but after it seemed the Legislature would take no action on police reform, it’s nothing short of a giant leap.

Port Canaveral — Despite the resurrection and passage of the seaport preemption bill in the waning days of Session, the language that passed the Legislature wasn’t as narrow as what made it through committee but it would only have a mild impact on Port Canaveral, or any seaport that isn’t named Port of Key West, really. But Port Canaveral has millions of reasons to celebrate. The biggest? It’s set to get a chunk of the $250 million in ports relief funding lawmakers set aside in the budget. The port — which pulled in nearly 5 million cruise passengers a year pre-pandemic — also scored big on the other side of the Capitol Complex by working with the Governor’s Office to modify the Department of Health’s vaccine guidance to include non-Floridians working in Florida so that the port could work with cruise ships to vaccinate crew members.

In on the win: Lobbyists Dean Cannon, Christopher Carmody, Christopher Dawson, Katie Flury, Robert Stuart and Jason Unger of GrayRobinson.

Postpartum moms on Medicaid — The first year after a baby is born is crucial — not just for the child, but for the mother, too. Currently, low-income mothers were provided 90 days of Medicaid coverage after they give birth. After that, they’re on their own. That’s about to change. Halfway through the Legislative Session, House Speaker Sprowls announced he wanted to quadruple the coverage window. The plan was met with enthusiastic support from most Republicans and nearly all Democrats — Sprowls credited Rep. Kamia Brown for convincing him that the change was needed. Sprowls didn’t get the nod from Senate President Simpson or Gov. DeSantis before unveiling the plan, but he put his weight behind the $240 million expansion and got it into the budget. New and expecting mothers, rejoice.

Quicken Loans — A burdensome loan application process is so 2019. Back then, people had to leave the house and track down a notary or — gasp — go to a bank! Most of the loan approval process had already started transitioning from pen and paper to zeros and ones, but notaries were a sticking point, especially for online companies such as Quicken Loans. That’s set to change now that the Legislature has passed bills (HB 121/HB 483) that, when combined, make for the most customer-friendly online notarization framework for customer documents in the country.

In on the win: Sponsors Rep. Sam Garrison and Thad Altman, and lobbyists Jeff Sharkey and Taylor Biehl of Capitol Alliance Group. 

Rural and unserved Floridians — In Speaker Sprowls speech on opening day, he challenged the Legislature to inject energy into rural communities by promoting them as destinations for remote work. To bridge the rural digital divide, the Legislature passed The Florida Broadband Deployment Act of 2021. Broadband providers have already expressed their commitment to connecting unserved Americans through a multibillion-dollar build-out initiative, but this bill is a good step to help speed up deployment by establishing common-sense regulations over utility poles owned by municipalities. In addition, the bill creates a funding mechanism for existing and future broadband projects by directing the Florida Office of Broadband to formulate a strategic plan to increase broadband service and establishing a grant program for providers seeking to connect unserved areas of the state. The 804,000 Floridians without available broadband service will be joining us online in no time.

In on the win: Bill sponsors Rep. Tomkow and Sen. Burgess. Telecommunications companies such as Charter Communications, which has a lobbying team including Bill Rubin, Heather Turnbull, Melissa Akeson, Erica Chanti and Christopher Finkbeiner of Rubin Turnbull & Associates, French Brown of Dean Mead and Joanna Bonfanti and Ron Brise of Gunster Yoakley & Stewart.

Josie Tomkow plays a major role in expanding broadband to rural Floridians. Image via Colin Hackley.

School board members — The House toyed around with a measure to eliminate pay for school board members. It was controversial, of course, and lawmakers eventually killed it. But rather than die, it morphed into a more familiar foe — term limits. Republicans in the Legislature have long thought school board members should be subject to the same eight-year limit that exists for lawmakers. Home-rule advocates have railed against the idea, arguing that local residents should decide how long a school board member can hold office, either by voting them out or passing a referendum instituting term limits. The measure almost appeared on the ballot in 2018 but was struck down by the courts ahead of the election — that’s why there was no Amendment 8. HJR 1461 would have put it the question before voters in 2022, but it ultimately died after the Senate failed to take it up. Consider it two wins in one for school board members, who not only get to keep their jobs, but their paychecks too.

In on the win: BillieAnne Gay.

School choice families — Much of the debate on the school choice package centered around whether the legislation would be the death knell for public schools, but let’s not lose sight of who the bill really benefits: Working-class parents who want their children to attend a school reflecting their heritage, but who struggle with the cost. Tip of the hat to Teach Florida, a coalition of Jewish day schools that saw the bill as a way to help families and organize a petition drive in support. Many hands make light work, but Teach Florida’s efforts were a reminder that everyday voices matter.

In on the win: Teach Florida’s lobby team of Brian Ballad, Brady Benford, Amy Bisceglia, and Wansley Waters.

State employees — Gators fans are familiar with the adage “What must be done eventually, should be done immediately.” That was Senate President Simpson’s approach to raising the minimum wage at state government jobs. State employees had a future win in the bank thanks to the minimum wage amendment voters approved last year, but Simpson pushed to get them most of the way to a $15 an hour wage five years ahead of schedule. His reasoning? The state should lead, not follow. The end result is that employees currently making the state minimum $8.65 an hour will get a 50% raise on July 1, and those how are earning somewhere between that and $13 an hour will see some extra cash in their pocket just in time for “Freedom Week.”

SpaceX — The next time you see a hunk of debris falling from the sky, reach for your phone — it’s about to be the law. A bill rocketed to the Governor’s desk would require Floridians to return any space debris they find to its rightful owners. The bill was a priority of SpaceX, which has been launching rockets from the Sunshine State with increasing frequency. They’ve also shown they have the means to reuse rocket parts — April marked the first time the company reused one of its Dragon capsules. And when the crew comes back to Earth … well, when a future crew comes back to Earth … they’ll get a wide berth under another bill OK’d by lawmakers this Session. If SB 1086 gets a signature from DeSantis, FWC and law enforcement would be able to block off a landing spot with up to a 500-yard radius. The policy wins should keep the company launching rockets from the cape and bringing high-tech jobs to the Sunshine State for a while.

In on the win: State Rep. Tyler SiroisJeff Sharkey and Taylor Biehl of Capitol Alliance Group, the go-to lobbyists for SpaceX and Elon Musk’s portfolio of other high-tech companies.

Step Up for Students — School choice has never been easier, thanks to passing the House’s school choice bill (HB 7045) and neither is finding a scholarship. The bill streamlines the scholarship programs to clarify to parents what is available and expands eligibility to provide more educational opportunities to children and families. That’s good news for Step Up for Students, the state-approved nonprofit funding organization. But let’s be honest: The real winners are the parents and children who benefit from these important programs.

In on the win: Sprowls, Reps. Fine and Fischer; Simpson and Sen. Diaz; Step Up for Students’ John Kirtley and Doug Tuthill; lobbyists French Brown and Chris Moya; and the team at Bascom Communications.

St. Petersburg — The Sunshine City scored big this Legislative Session when lawmakers OK’d a bill that would allow St. Pete and other coastal cities to be proactive in identifying potential derelict vessels and removing them from the water before they sink or stray from the dock. But if one win wasn’t enough, the city can also add a bill that slashes restrictions limiting how and where food is grown and distributed to the win column.

In on the win: Council Member Brandi Gabbard, who made the urban agriculture bill (SB 628) a priority, plus sponsors Sen. Rouson and Rep. Rayner. An extra tip of the hat to Rep. DiCeglie, who was able to secure state funding for the Florida Holocaust Museum. The St. Petersburg-based museum remembers and educates visitors about the Holocaust, genocide and human rights.

Tampa General Hospital — One of Tallahassee’s favorite go-to spots for all things innovative and solutions-oriented in the health care world deserves a “winner” label this Session. When the Senate was looking for health and safety protocols ahead of committee weeks and Session, they looked to Tampa General. TGH CEO John Couris sent in the TPRO team to develop appropriate but realistic protocols for the Senate to reopen safely. While other states struggled to navigate policymaking during the pandemic, Florida’s Legislature frequently met, allowed for public input, and developed and passed a balanced budget on time — an incredible accomplishment even without the challenges of COVID-19. They could not have done it successfully and avoided widespread illness without the expertise of Tampa General.

TBARTA — The Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority didn’t die, but it doesn’t have a reason to bust out the confetti. Brandes put the oft-maligned authority in the crosshairs this year with a bill that would have snuffed it out, but it didn’t get a single hearing, and no companion bill was filed in the House. Consider it a reprieve because all indications are Brandes won’t back down — at the end of Session, he blasted TBARTA as the “appendix of Tampa Bay’s transportation organizations.” Translation: It doesn’t do anything. It probably won’t be able to convince him otherwise. Still, TBARTA higher-ups would be smart to spend the next seven months developing a tight five justifying their existence to the rest of the Legislature.

In on the win: Ron Pierce, Natalie King, Kaitlyn Bailey, and Edward Briggs of RSA Consulting Group and Alan Suskey and RJ Myers of Suskey Consulting.

Truckers — The fast repeal of the M-CORES toll road plan is good news for all drivers. Honestly, who wants to be nickeled and dimed every time they need to go a few miles down the road? Whatever it would cost you, it would cost truckers more. Still, they would have gotten some benefit out of it — namely, it would have allowed them to bypass a lot of the rundown or two-lane roads that slow their roll. If only there were a way to get the benefits of new roads without the drawbacks of M-CORES. Turns out there is — the repeal bill (SB 100) also has a provision redirecting millions of dollars in transportation funding to upgrade and four-lane miles of rural two-lane roads with high truck traffic.

In on the win: The Florida Trucking Association and lobbyists Oscar Anderson, Rachel Cone, Chris Dudley and Sheela VanHoose of The Southern Group.

Turo — Car sharing is still a novel concept in many pockets of the state, but that could soon change now that the state has set up a framework for the industry. Turo is often described as the “Airbnb for cars.” Indeed, the market leaders in their respective industries do have a lot in common. But the fact that Turo’s listings have wheels adds wrinkles. Insurance is the big one — owners don’t want to be on the hook for the bill if a renter gets into a fender bender. But like other market disrupters, car sharing is also fighting against the old guard. In this case, car rental companies and airports making money off them. After years of trying, Turo and erstwhile competitors GetAround and Drift were able to get lawmakers on board with a plan that sets standards for taxes, insurance, and minimum maintenance record requirements. The finished product works for insurers and the industry, allowing people who need a set of wheels to snag them down the block rather than at the terminal.

In on the win: Lobbyists Warren Husband, James Daughton, Douglas Bell, Patricia Greene, Allison Liby-Schoonover, Aimee Diaz Lyon and Andrew Palmer of Metz Husband & Daughton.

Uber — Cheers! Since the start of the pandemic, Uber has seen its delivery arm grow to what is now a $10 billion-plus business. It also worked hard to support restaurants by launching a series of new products, including alcohol delivery in Florida, aimed at helping it optimize delivery operations while providing more flexible ways for them to reach customers. With the passage of the ‘cocktails-to-go’ bill, alcohol delivery is here to stay. That means restaurants will keep their new revenue streams and Floridians will keep getting their favorite cabernet at home. And Uber, of course, will benefit too. The premier ride-sharing app also partnered with Walgreens to make it easy for Floridians to book a vaccine appointment through the app and donated 20,000 free rides to help underserved communities in South Florida access their vaccine distribution centers. Uber keeps stepping up to help when we need it most, and we couldn’t be happier about it.

COVID-19 gave Uber’s delivery arm a major boost.

Mixed bag 

Jeff Brandes — The St. Petersburg Republican was far from winless this year. Notably, he piloted the COVID-19 liability legislation to the Governor’s desk, kept the proposed 2nd DCA building in Pinellas, led the charge against the failed data privacy bill, and snuffed out THC caps. But he was also on the losing side of more 39-to-1 votes than any other Senator. It’s clear he’s not a favorite in the Senate President’s office, as evidenced by his open criticism of leadership decisions such as the committee assignment swap for the anti-riot bill. Mavericks will always have a spot in the Florida Senate, but unlike past senators who have claimed that mantle — think Jack Latvala or Tom Lee — Brandes doesn’t have the numbers to build a winning coalition. That left him to take stands without anyone to turn to for backup.

Randy Fine — The Brevard County Republican had big wins on school choice and he is “in on the win” on many of the issues above, but there are few members in the House who rub colleagues the wrong way more than him. He’s often getting into fights on Facebook and Twitter, and while he’s quick to dish out barbs, he’s just as quick to shut the conversation down and hit the block button. Fine will tell you that’s just who he is and being this way is how he gets things done. There’s no denying that he’s right, but he’s only partially right. If he wants to run for the Senate or Bill Posey‘s seat in Congress one day, he’ll have to find a way to speak softly and carry a big stick rather than speak loudly and beat the crap out of everyone who questions him.

Randy Fine is a winner on many issues, but he also rubs some people the wrong way. Image via Colin Hackley.

John Morgan — The Orlando mega-lawyer has shown he knows how to dead-lift a ballot amendment. Medical marijuana seemed like a pipe dream before he took the reins, as did the “Fight for $15.” Well, both made the state constitution with ease, thanks to Morgan‘s largesse. Unfortunately for him — but not so much for his fortune — the Legislature passed a bill that would effectively block him from ever getting another amendment on the ballot. Still, the fact that so effectively stomped on the Legislature’s policymaking authority that they had to think up the so-called “anti-John Morgan bill” only adds to the legend.

Florida Realtors — There’s a right way to make your case and a wrong way. The Florida Realtors chose the wrong way. Despite Republicans holding a sizable majority in the Legislature, and despite many of those same Republicans snagging endorsements and campaign donations from the Florida Realtors’ political arm during the election season, the state’s largest trade association decided to rely on its association president, a Democrat, for its messaging strategy this Session. They ping-ponged between threatening the Legislature and castigating it over its plan to raid the affordable housing trust to pay for wastewater and sea level rise initiatives. The Realtors are indeed consistent advocates for affordable housing funding and generally a welcome ally for the Sadowski Coalition. But there were times this Session where the Sadowski crew wanted to pretend they had never met.

Locals — Just like every Legislative Session, there was no shortage of preemption bills in 2021. Lawmakers sought to overrule local ordinances regulating everything from house paint colors to the size of cruise ships that can drop anchor. The latter was among the home-rule bills that passed — and it only did so through an 11th-hour amendment to an unrelated bill. In reality, a supermajority of preemption bills failed to make the finish line and even more failed to make the starting line. Local officials and residents can breathe a sigh of relief … until committee weeks start in a few months, that is.

Nursing home residents — They’ve had a rough go of it the past year. They spent months unable to hug their grandchildren, living in fear of the coronavirus sneaking into their homes and wreaking havoc. The pandemic has led to staffing shortages at long-term care facilities, too, but the state lets facilities fill the gap with personal care attendants. During this Session, lawmakers made permanent the pandemic order allowing PCAs to sub in for Certified Nursing Assistants. The good news: it will help solve staffing shortages. The bad news: PCA certifications may as well come in a box of Cracker Jacks.

Trial lawyers — They took some licks this year. The biggest was with the COVID-19 liability bills, which passed with little credence paid to trial lawyers’ concerns. The property insurance reform package, which at one point seemed like it would stall out, was another gut punch. But they didn’t go winless. Lawmaker’s passed bills reforming NICA, repealing the no-fault insurance system (albeit with some bad faith reform), allowing private market enforcement of phone solicitation. Meanwhile, the data privacy bill failed. It wasn’t the Session trial lawyers had hoped for, but they could have done a lot worse.

In on the win: The Florida Justice Association’s Jeff Porter.

Biggest loser

The Florida ConstitutionRepublicans claim to embrace both the U.S. and Florida constitutions, but some of the measures they passed during this year’s Session seemed to ignore both documents.

Start with the “anti-riot” bill, a DeSantis priority in the wake of last summer’s widespread protests over the murder of Floyd in Minneapolis.

The Governor demanded (and received) aggressive new measures allegedly designed to combat rioters. Critics — and they are numerous — say the law really is an attack on the First Amendment right of free speech.

Biggest loser: Florida’s Constitution takes a beating in 2021.

That right, by the way, was the cornerstone of another constitutional overreach — a law passed to punish Big Tech firms that don’t allow people like Donald Trump and other conspiracy-toting firebrands to incite riots with their lies.

The anti-riot law mandates that anyone arrested at the scene of a violent protest must be held in jail without bond until their first court appearance. Opponents say, hey, wait a minute. What about someone who was peacefully protesting but got caught in a police sweep?

And who’s to say what qualifies as a riot? The bill says that even shouting threats at officers or anyone else can land an offender in the slammer.

Civil rights lawyers already filed a lawsuit against the measure.

A legal challenge is also likely against the Big Tech bill.

The law, another DeSantis priority, provides stiff fines for companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter to remove user accounts that violate their standards. Republicans claim that it is censorship of conservatives, and they won’t have it.

The courts may have other ideas.

Those major companies are not, as of yet, regulated monopolies by the federal government. Thus, they are protected by that pesky First Amendment.

The Governor ought to know this. He graduated with honors from Harvard Law School and served as a JAG officer in the U.S. Navy.

Losers 

Dennis Baxley — First, let’s give him credit for reaching across the aisle and getting the Rare Disease Advisory Council bill passed. That’s it for the positives. The Ocala Republican carried, bar none, the most regressive slate of bills of any lawmaker in either chamber. In recent memory, the only lineup that can go toe-to-toe with Baxley’s 2021 portfolio is, well, Baxley 2020, or 2019, or 2018, or … you get the picture. The thing is, the only thing worse than Baxley’s ideas are his ability to get them passed. He pitched an awful election bill that would have banned ballot drop boxes. The bill that passed stinks, sure, but in the end supervisors just need to by a Ring doorbell. His higher-ed package attempted to end Bright Futures as we know it by forcing students to think more about their future paychecks than their passions, even though Baxley’s own degree is in … wait for it … psychology. All that was stripped out of the bill, which died anyway. And he was shameless in pushing his vendor-driven “baby box” bill, which was also (there’s a theme here) watered down to the point it didn’t even require baby boxes anymore. Baxley is a lot like Trump because he has really bad ideas, but he’s spectacularly bad at making them happen. Let’s hope it stays that way.

Gary Farmer and Anthony Sabatini — This isn’t meant to conflate Farmer’s inept leadership with Sabatini’s overt racism, but these were the two lawmakers most criticized across FlaPol’s expanded universe. Both were near-weekly appearances in the down arrow section of Capitol Directions. Both were veritable factories for boneheaded quotes. Both represent some vile, slimy aspects of our modern culture — for Farmer, it’s misogyny, no points for guessing which Rep. Blackface is the poster child for. And both very much deserved every inch of negative press they got from every corner of the state’s press corps. They can take solace in the fact that they will soon be forgotten — Sabatini after his congressional campaign inevitably ends in a shellacking and Farmer when his term ends in 2022, assuming he doesn’t quit in embarrassment.

Anthony Sabatini and Gary Farmer: Representing the vile, slimy aspects of our modern culture.

Nikki Fried — She took a stand on several bills and was on the losing side almost every time. Some won’t hurt her — in fact, the elections bill will probably bolster her narrative on the big bad Republicans in Tallahassee. But she flubbed several opportunities to score easy points, most notably on the “Right to Farm” bill. C’mon. She’s the Agriculture Commissioner. Even if she hates the bill, she needs to smile, nod and issue a boilerplate statement praising it, otherwise it looks like she wants farmers to get sued left and right. Her not-campaign campaign videos also failed to impress. There were some solid zingers in there, sure, but if she’s up against Charlie Crist or Val Demings next year, she’ll need to do better. Much better.

Bill Galvano — In short, the 2021 Legislative Session was not kind to past Senate Presidents. Lawmakers overhauled the state’s school choice offerings, ditching the scholarships named after former Presidents John McKay and Gardiner. It also shifted focus away from southern water storage, a priority of former President Joe Negron. Their signature priorities live on, however. That’s not the case for Galvano, whose vision of a sprawling toll road network was repealed just two years after it was passed into law with the support of many of the same lawmakers who would later vote to kill before the first road crew ever clocked in. Sure, some vestige of it survives by way of a road to Madison County, but that’s almost more insulting than a full repeal — when was the last time anyone went to Madison by choice?

In on the loss: Repeal sponsors Harrell and Reps. Ben Diamond and Williamson.

José Oliva — No one misses you, and everyone likes Rep. Perez.

Rick Scott — That cash that’s keeping the state budget in the black? Yeah, Florida’s junior U.S. Senator wants lawmakers to send it back. Scott often sounds like a broken record, and it can be a good thing if he’s stuck on his “jobs, jobs, jobs” script. But on this point … what the heck was he thinking? Refusing $10B to own the libs isn’t a winning strategy. Not now, not ever. And luckily, nobody in Tallahassee could hear the pleas coming from his Washington office 1,000 miles away. Or maybe they could, but he has become easier to ignore now that he’s not in the Governor’s Mansion.

Senate Democrats — Democrats were uniquely pathetic this year, especially in the Senate. In what was widely described as an “Own the Libs” Session, well … the libs got owned. Senate Democrats looked absolutely powerless as bills eroding voting rights, chilling free speech and banning transgender girls from sports all passed with little fanfare. Their most pitiful moment came in the final hours of Session when they plunged into chaos over their singular achievement … stopping a public records exemption bill. The weakest Session in recent memory capped off by a leadership coup. Be better.

Kelli Stargel — It’s probably dangerous to name the all-powerful Chair of the Senate Committee on Appropriations a loser but we’re not appropriations lobbyists, so … we’re going to say it: The Senate budget chief gets an L. Why? She all but punted on the influx of billions from the federal government. Can you imagine how creative J.D. Alexander or Joe Negron would have been with all of that money? She was also the lead sponsor of arguably the ugliest bill of the Legislative Session — the trans sports ban. And, it turns out, she’s a pretty bad appropriations lobbyist herself. She wanted a new DCA building in Lakeland and couldn’t seal the deal.

Spencer Roach — Blame the last name, but the Lee County Republican ended up holding the dime bag on THC caps. By the time the policy proposal burned out late in Session, Roach had become the outspoken face of the effort, arguing that regulating the potency of cannabis would save the medical marijuana industry, while everyone in the business said it would bankrupt it and drive patients to the streets. The Governor made clear he was not a fan of the policy well before Roach acknowledged it was dead. The Senate was a wee bit friendlier to THC caps this Session, but the reality is it was likely dead from the start. Though calling his foray into cannabis policy a waste of time undersells the impact it would have on patients, it pales in comparison to the anti-transgender rhetoric he spewed. The Lee County lawmaker spent a good chunk of Session pontificating on what bathrooms transgender K-12 students should be allowed to use. He even alleged allowing them to use the “wrong” bathroom could lead to rapes. Someone put him in a time machine and ship him to Raleigh because this kind of talk is unbefitting of a member of the Florida House in 2021 … or ever.

In on the loss: Ride-alongs in his THC effort includes anti-cannabis activist Dr. Bertha Madras and Senate champion Rodrigues, who pushed the issue two years ago in the House. 

Despite the last name, Spencer Roach screwed the pooch on THC caps. Image via Colin Hackley.

Beachgoers — The butts are staying on the beach. And not the good kind. Lawmakers once again flirted with passing bills that would allow local governments to ban smoking on beaches — or any publicly owned outdoor space — but the measure was snuffed out after it went unheard in the Senate Rules Committee. The matter is of particular significance in Florida’s top beach destinations, which vie year in and year out for a high ranking on the vaunted Dr. Beach rankings. Banning cigs would amount to some free points, a boatload more visitors, and a more enjoyable experience for all.

In on the loss: Lungs, tourism revenues, and Gruters, whom we sincerely hope brings the bill back and gets his win next year.

China — The communist nation is a constant punching bag for Florida politicians. U.S. Sen. Scott regularly castigates the country — and companies or sports leagues that do business with it. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio does the same. But while the Florida delegation’s efforts to punish China have been largely rhetorical, state politicians are taking concrete actions. Lawmakers greenlit bills this Session that would make trafficking in trade secrets a felony and require higher ed and research institutions to disclose any ties they have to “countries of concern,” a designation that includes Russia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, and Syria. Both measures have DeSantissupport. Accuse Florida of back seat driving U.S. foreign policy all you want, but consider these a done deal.

In on the loss: Rep. Mike Beltran and Sen. Bradley for the trade secrets bill and Grall and Diaz for sponsoring the foreign influence bill.

Criminal justice reform — The Senate Appropriations Committee is where criminal justice bills went to die. Despite strong support for several proposals and torrents of phone calls and emails from everyday Floridians, Stargel, the Chair, refused to schedule all but a handful of bills to soften some of the most punitive sections of Florida’s criminal code. Unfortunately, a bipartisan measure that would reform gain-time rules and make it easier for convicts to get certain professional licenses was among the bills to fall short. Criminal justice reforms didn’t fare much better in the House, although that should be expected with a former prosecutor as Speaker.

Florida film and television industry — The golden age of television is still going strong. In fact, the pandemic has more people glued to their TV than ever. But, once again, the Legislature punted on setting up a program to lure film studios — and high-wage jobs — to the Sunshine State. Despite dozens of lawmakers seeing film production rebates as a no-brainer, the resistance — shout out to Sen. Gainer and Rep. Ingoglia — is still lapping up the “corporate welfare” rhetoric to deny the proposal an opportunity to be heard in committee. The film industry would love nothing more than to leave Georgia behind, but it looks like we’re going to keep seeing that peach in the end credits of our favorite movies and shows.

Florida patients — Heading into the Legislative Session, there was a lot of talk this year that lawmakers would finally produce some savings for Floridians who need to take out another mortgage every time they pick up their prescriptions. Unfortunately, it was just talk. Lawmakers failed to pass legislation that would curtail health plans — and much-maligned pharmacy benefit managers — from using “copay accumulator programs,” which block any assistance from manufacturers from counting toward a patient’s deductible and overall out-of-pocket costs. Why? So health insurers and PBMs can keep raking in cash at the expense of sick Floridians.

In on the loss: Patient organizations such as the Hemophilia Foundation of Greater Florida, the Florida Hemophilia Association, and The AIDS Institute. They pushed hard for reform but fell short. Onto the 2022 Legislative Session.

Motorola — They say a verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. Well, neither is a written contract. Not if it’s with the state of Florida, at least. Motorola learned that the hard way. Despite having the better tech, submitting the better bid, and delivering the next-gen police radio system that their competitor can’t hold a candle to, they lost. Worse yet, L3Harris — who won the war despite losing the contract battle — got their sweetheart deal codified into law. It all goes to show that you can’t rest on your laurels, especially when you think you’ve won.

Verbal agreements are dicey; Motorola found out that written ones can be dicey, too.

Newspapers — It’s been a rough go for the newspaper industry: declining ad revenues, dwindling staffs and corporate consolidations. And 2021 wasn’t any better. After years of fending off attempts to remove legal notice provisions, the Legislature passed a compromise bill that allows any newspaper with at least 10% of readership in a given county or municipality to post paid legal notices. This shift allows free newspapers — and online publications — to get in the ad revenue game. Not a total loss for the newspaper biz, but another blow to an already struggling industry.

Putting a name on it — Florida lawmakers were quick to erase history this year, passing legislation to strip the names of notable Floridians from a host of scholarships and endowment funds. Gone is the Lawton Chiles Endowment Fund, established in 1999 to fund health programs. The Gardiner Scholarship, named to honor former Florida Senate President Gardiner, and the McKay Scholarship, named after former Senate President McKay, were consolidated into the Family Empowerment Scholarship program. A diamond may be forever, but in the Florida Legislature, a legacy isn’t.

Textbook publishers — Student and parent uproar killed the most-maligned cuts to Bright Futures this year, but the scholarship program still got a trim. Up to now, the cushiest flavor of the popular program — reserved for the highest-performing students in the state — included a $600 stipend to help pay for textbooks. Well, not anymore. As any college student (or parent of a college student) will tell you, books aren’t cheap, and that $600 check already stretched the definition of “stipend.” In some majors, it’s more of a down payment. Now that it’s gone, well … have you thought about investing in a used book store?

The unemployedWith the Legislative Session ending a Senate proposal to boost unemployment benefits appeared dead as it hasn’t moved forward in the House. But Simpson said he intends to work on the proposal during the 2022 Session. In part, the proposal would increase maximum weekly unemployment benefits from $275 to $375. “It’s probably my fault that it may not be alive,” Simpson said. “I really liked the bill. I’m committed to it. I think it’s the right thing to do. When you think about the things we did accomplish, it’s one thing we may not accomplish.” Simpson and Sprowls have been able to pass many priorities during this year’s Session. But the hike in unemployment relief was opposed by House leaders and DeSantis. “I think in balance, we’ve done a lot of really good things this year,” Simpson said. “And I think it’s really easy to say, ‘Hey, well, what about that issue that we didn’t get done?’ And it (jobless benefits) is a big issue. It was a big issue for me. And it’s something that next year, I’ll probably start a little earlier on. Well, I was the one that wanted it to pass, and it didn’t get done. So, I’ll take credit for the non-passage there.”

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Orlando Rising and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.



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