Takeaways from Tallahassee — On to 2022!

Blue Tally Takeaways (5)
The hankie has dropped ... Session is over. Next up — 2022!

On to 2022!

Good morning, Florida! T-255 days till the 2022 Legislative Session begins. That may seem like a lot, but after the whirlwind of the last 60 days, it’ll be here before you know it.

One person who’s going to be busy for the foreseeable future is Gov. Ron DeSantis. While lawmakers may have introduced 12% fewer bills and PCBs this year, they got 31% more across the finish line.

Another 255 days, and we do it all over again. Image via Colin Hackley.

Here’s the story in numbers …

2021:

— 3,140: Bills and PCBs filed.

— 2,632: Amendments filed.

— 3,788: Votes taken.

— 39: Floor sessions.

— 275: Bills passed in both chambers.

Compared to 2020 …

— 3,578: Bills and PCBs filed.

— 2,596: Amendments filed.

— 4,223: Votes taken.

— 40: Floor sessions.

— 210: Bills passed in both chambers.

___

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Peter Schorsch, Drew Wilson, Renzo Downey, Jason Delgado, Haley Brown and the staff of Florida Politics.

Take 5

The “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:

Lawmakers finalize budget at $101.5 billion — For the first time in state history, the budget will top $100 billion. That’s $9.3 billion larger than the current year’s $92.2 billion budget, an increase Florida can attribute almost entirely to the state’s pandemic response. Among the gains is a $4.3 billion boost to account for an additional 1 million Medicaid enrollees and $2.8 billion in federal stimulus for child care. “It’s a lot,” House budget chief Jay Trumbull told members. The budget outlines $6.7 billion in American Rescue Plan spending too, adding to the state’s tab. In that funding are bonus checks to the state’s first responders.

Transgender athletes, seaports bills revived — Republicans brought legislation to ban transgender women from playing in women’s sports back from the dead Wednesday and passed it through the House and Senate. Simultaneously, Republicans revived preemption legislation to undercut a local referendum in Key West regarding cruise lines, complicating the final week of the Session. The “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” tacked on a school choice bill, drew impassioned and emotional debate from both sides of the aisle. The seaport preemption was added at the last minute to a transportation package after it had apparently stalled in the House.

Legislature passes DeSantis’ priorities, including elections bill — The Legislature passed the GOP’s bill to increase election fraud prevention measures over complaints from Democrats and Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes. Thursday evening, the House agreed to the Senate’s language along party lines after holding out against most of those provisions for days. Democrats in the House only had less than three hours to review what Republicans had decided to agree to. Lawmakers also passed a bill to crack down on “censorship” by social media platforms. A late addition to that bill included a carveout for theme parks, meant to free Disney Plus from the regulation. Lawmakers also approved a ban on vaccine passports. All three measures were priorities of DeSantis.

DeSantis extends COVID-19 state of emergency — With hours remaining in the state of emergency, DeSantis issued another 60-day extension on Tuesday. However, he warned the state to prepare to resume nonemergency operations. The extension also includes new language addressing vaccine passports and schools. Two days later, Surgeon General Scott Rivkees quietly pulled back most of the public health advisories and recommended that government services should be in-person going forward. Both moves hinged on the growing share of vaccinated Floridians. Data released Friday shows that 8.8 million Floridians have received at least one shot.

DeSantis signs Right to Farm Act update — In a ceremony with farming and legislative leaders Thursday, DeSantis signed an update to Florida’s Right to Farm Act, a priority of Senate President Wilton Simpson. Several members changed their votes on the bill from no to yes after farmers from the Everglades explained why they need the measure. Ultimately, the bill passed over opposition from seven representatives and one senator, all Democrats. Several of the Governor’s priorities went unheard during long pauses in the Senate on Wednesday, leading to some questions of whether the Senate President intentionally held up those bills as leverage to get DeSantis to sign the farming proposal. Simpson denied intentionally holding them up when asked by reporters.

Coronavirus numbers

Positive cases:

— 2,191,695 FL residents (+36,376 since April 23)

— 41,823 Non-FL residents (+640 since April 23)

Origin:

— 17,544 Travel related

— 874,282 Contact with a confirmed case

— 23,905 Both:

— 1,275,964 Under investigation

Hospitalizations:

— 90,489 in FL

Deaths:

— 35,858 in FL

Vaccinations:

— 14,443,458 Doses administered

— 8,808,680 Total people vaccinated

— 2,625,579 First dose

— 548,323 Completed one-dose series (+17,173 since April 23)

— 5,634,778 Completed two-dose series (+611,660 since April 23)

Sham CC scam

Hundreds of Florida residents victimized by a credit card scam are getting refunds, Attorney General Ashley Moody announced Friday. 

With the Federal Trade Commission, Moody’s office filed a joint action against E.M. Systems & Services over bogus credit card interest rate reduction schemes targeted at consumers. 

In all, $11 million is being refunded to victims, with refunds averaging about $995 each. More than 11,000 consumers are receiving full refunds, including 812 Floridians. 

Ashley Moody helped secure Florida’s share of $11 million in refunds from a credit card scam.

“These fraudsters knowingly exploited the trust of Florida consumers in order to earn a dishonest dollar — through deceptive telemarketing on false promises of debt reduction,” Moody said. “I’m proud to work with the Federal Trade Commission to return lost money to hundreds of Floridians victimized by this deceptive telemarketing scam.”

Under the scheme, defendants charged between $695 and $1,495 in upfront fees to provide sham services the company claimed would reduce customers’ credit card interest rates. The company promised to refund consumers if their rates weren’t lowered but didn’t follow through.

Consumers who have questions about the redress payments or who did not receive a payment but believe they are eligible should contact the refund administrator, Epiq, at (800) 239-6082.

Instagram of the week

And the winners are …

Florida celebrated Black History Month in February, but on Monday, First Lady Casey DeSantis announced the winners of this year’s Black History Month student contest. DeSantis also announced three teachers who received an Excellence in Education award. 

This year’s contest theme was “Community Champions — Celebrating the Contributions of African Americans in Florida’s Communities.” The Florida Lottery sponsored it, but it was still a contest of skill, not chance. Contest categories were art and essay. 

Casey DeSantis announces the winners of Florida’s Black History Month Essay Contest.

“Our state’s rich and vibrant history continues to be shaped by the leadership and contributions of Florida’s African American community,” DeSantis said in a news release. “The Governor and I are honored to celebrate this year’s Black History Month student and teacher award winners and their achievements. It is our hope that today’s award recipients continue to share their gifts and serve as inspirations across our great State of Florida.”

Winners receive a four-year Florida College Plan scholarship provided by the Florida Prepaid College Foundation.

Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran also released a statement.

“African Americans have contributed greatly to the history of our state, and I thank Gov. DeSantis and First Lady DeSantis for hosting the 2021 Black History Month student and educator contests,” Corcoran said. 

Harper Schuknecht from Sebring won for the middle school essay category. Schuknecht wrote about Joseph E. Lee, one of the first Black Floridians to practice law in the state, who served as a judge as well as in the Florida House and Senate.

Tax holidays galore

On the final day of Session, lawmakers approved a sweeping tax package (HB 7061), delivering tax relief to Florida families through, among other provisions, three tax holidays. 

Two are returning holidays — one for back to school and another for disaster preparedness ahead of Hurricane Season. Another provides a tax relief period for Floridians to enjoy the outdoors as life begins to return to normal amid the waning pandemic. 

“This last year has been quite a challenge for Florida families as they make decisions about how best to educate their children during the Pandemic,” said Senate President Simpson

Wilton Simpson praises the passage of a sweeping tax bill with several sales tax holidays. Image via Colin Hackley.

The back-to-school holiday will be longer this year than years in the past. It creates a 10-day “back-to-school” sales tax holiday from July 31 to August 9 for clothing, footwear, and backpacks costing $60 or less, school supplies costing $15 or less, and the first $1,000 of the sales tax price of personal computers or personal computer-related accessories.

The disaster preparedness holiday will run May 28 to June 6 for supplies including flashlights and lanterns costing $40 or less; radios costing $50 or less; tarps costing $100 or less, coolers costing $60 or less, batteries costing $50 or less; and, generators costing $1,000 or less.

The new “Freedom Week” holiday applies July 1 — July 7 for admissions to music events, sporting events, cultural events, specified performances, movies, museums, state park annual passes, and fitness facilities for events held from July 1 — December 31. 

The package also expands the tax credit for affordable housing, and provides a permanent tax exemption for independent living items.

Helios grant

The Department of Education has announced a grant from Helios Education Foundation to create additional enrollment opportunities for students in the Florida College System.

The first phase of the grant will provide $300,000 to finance and fast-track summer courses for 2020 and 2021 high school graduates to enroll in associate degree programs. An additional $600,000 will target students enrolling in fall 2021.

“This generous grant, funded by Helios Education Foundation, will open the door to higher education to students who may think that their dream is out of reach or only for those more financially fortunate — students like me when I was college age,” Corcoran said in a statement. “My attendance at my local colleges is truly what set me on the path to success. A special thank you to Helios Education Foundation for their generosity and sincere care for the education of our young people.”

Helios grants will help Florida high school graduates rise above pandemic-related challenges.

The Florida Student Success Center, launched by FCS in 2018 in partnership with Helios Education Foundation, will use the grant to incentivize students to enroll in programs to find a job or prepare them to transfer to a four-year institution.

“I encourage our seniors and graduates from the class of 2020 who have not yet started college to contact their local college’s financial aid office and take that first step today!” said FCS Chancellor Kathy Hebda.

Helios Education Foundation has invested in Florida’s students, particularly first-generation, low-income and underrepresented students, since 2006.

“This grant helps high school graduates from the classes of 2020 and 2021 rise above pandemic-related challenges, enroll in postsecondary education and benefit from the transformational power of education,” said Helios Education Foundation President and CEO Paul Luna.

Permanent collection

The jersey of Outgoing Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz will soon hang in the rafters of the Florida History Museum, Secretary of State Laurel Lee announced this week.

“(Moskowitz) and his dedication to Florida will be part of our State’s history,” Lee tweeted. “Today, we accepted his official [Florida State Emergency Response Team] jacket for our permanent collection of important historical objects at the Museum of Florida History. Thank you, Director Moskowitz, for your service.” 

Moskowitz, a Democrat and former House member, assumed the role shortly after DeSantis, a Republican, took office in 2019.

Jared Moskowitz will be memorialized in the Museum of Florida History. Image via Twitter.

As director of emergency management, Moskowitz likely expected to focus on events such as hurricanes.

Instead, he oversaw Florida’s emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The task proved to be a logistical challenge — as well as politically fraught, as Florida became an early epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Despite the circumstances, Republicans and Democrats alike praised Moskowitz’s leadership. 

Moskowitz’s wife and two sons continued to live in Broward County while he ran the Tallahassee-based agency.

“He’s worked extremely hard, and his family is almost a world away in some respects,” DeSantis once told reporters at the Capitol. “Tallahassee down to Broward, it’s not like you can just hop on a plane all the time and get down there.”

Closing loopholes

After a loophole was discovered in Florida’s sex offender law, Plantation Sen. Lauren Book, a survivor herself and supporter of victims’ rights, brought a law to fix the issue.

Two courts have ruled that due to a technicality in Florida sex offender law, a Tampa man who served prison time for molesting two young girls does not have to register as a sex offender until he pays a fine imposed as part of his sentence — a loophole which Book’s bill fixes.

Book filed a Senate bill (SB 234) in response to the oversight in Florida law, which has allowed sex offenders to avoid registration by failing to pay fines.

Lauren Book closes a loophole in Florida’s sex offender law. Image via Colin Hackley.

The Senate unanimously passed the bill Tuesday. The bill was unanimously passed by the Florida House earlier this month.

“We are fixing a legal loophole that has allowed at least one child predator to avoid registration. Despite a history of preying on young kids, this man was able to live freely and interact with unsuspecting children in person and online,” Book said in a statement. “When Gov. DeSantis signs this bipartisan bill into law, Florida’s children and communities will be safer.”

The man in question, Ray La Vel James, was sentenced to 15 years in prison and ordered to pay a $10,000 fine for molesting two young girls, ages 8 and 11, at a community swimming pool. According to the Tampa Bay Times, James had a reputation for hanging around children, bringing toys to the pool, and inviting young girls to play with him.

“This man is the very definition of someone who should and must be on the sex offender registry and subject to things like community monitoring and residency restrictions,” Book said in a committee meeting. “But because of this legal loophole, he could live right next to a community pool if he so chose. Or a school — or day care. He could be chatting with children online, and we would have no idea because he is living his life freely, despite a history of preying on young kids.”

Attorney General Moody, State Attorneys, the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association, the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence, and others support the measure.

School rules

The Senate took up and unanimously passed a House bill (HB 149) Monday that would change the discipline process for students with disabilities and test out a new video monitoring program in special education classrooms passed the full House.

House Democratic Co-Leader Bobby DuBose and Book carried the bill.

In the past, Book and DuBose worked together on similar legislation, though they fell short. Last year, DuBose’s House version moved through the committee process and earned unanimous approval in the House, but the bill died after being sent to the Senate.

Bobby DuBose and Lauren Book team up to help change discipline procedures for students with disabilities.

DuBose and Book released a statement once the bill passed the Senate after it had already passed the House. 

“I am pleased to see this monumental piece of legislation finally pass through the Legislature. Parents can finally breathe a sigh of relief … knowing their child will not experience the unnecessary trauma of being restrained, secluded, or put in another harmful situation by school personnel. This will be the first step in ensuring that schools are a safe environment, where our students can learn and feel protected,” DuBose said in the memo.

This year’s House bill revises requirements for the use of seclusion and restraint as punishments for a student with disabilities.

“Students deserve to be safe at school, and parents deserve peace of mind,” Book said in the memo. “While the majority of our special education school professionals provide caring and safe learning environments for students with disabilities, we have unfortunately seen serious abuses committed as well.”

Child safety legislation 

Book also carried two bills aimed at reforming the child welfare system and protecting vulnerable youth successfully through the legislative process — both heading to the Governor’s desk in the waning days of April’s Child Abuse Prevention Month.

The first (SB 96) is a Committee bill from Children, Family, and Elder Affairs, which Book chairs, that would strengthen abuse reporting requirements, provide additional supports for foster parents, establish multidisciplinary legal representation for parents and children in the dependency system, require critical incident rapid response teams to investigate child sexual abuse allegations, and more.

Lauren Book notched two wins to protect vulnerable youth.

“No system is perfect, but when it comes to child safety, that’s exactly what we should strive for — because the alternative is simply unacceptable,” Book said. 

The second bill (SB 1508), “Serena’s Law,” was inspired by a survivor of child sexual abuse who discovered that her perpetrator had passed background checks and was volunteering at organizations for at-risk youth — despite having a restraining order against him. 

The bill closes a loophole that allows perpetrators’ restraining orders to be unsearchable as a byproduct of protecting the victims’ identity. 

“Serena’s Law will keep children safe by making sure restraining orders for child sexual abuse show up in background checks,” Book said.

The bills are personal for Book, herself a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. 

Bike safety

Florida has a title no state wants. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crowned Florida as the deadliest state in the country for cyclists reported bike fatalities. 

But a bill aimed at boosting bicycle safety is now ready for the Governor’s desk. 

The bill (SB 950) passed the House in a 114-0 vote Tuesday after passing the Senate in a 39-0 vote last week.

Parkland Rep. Christine Hunschofsky and Book both carried the bill in their respective chambers. Hunschofsky said bike fatalities were the impetus for the bill. 

Christine Hunschofsky represents one of the most dangerous regions for bicyclists. Image via Colin Hackley.

“Broward County is one of the top-ranking counties in Florida for bike accident fatalities. This is not a statistic we want to be a leader in, and I am pleased to have successfully passed this bill with Sen. Book to make our roads safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. By practicing road safety, we can lower the number of accidents in Florida and so that people can enjoy biking and walking outdoors safely,” Hunschofsky said in a statement.

The driver’s license test bank, under the bill, will have more questions related to bicycle and pedestrian safety for drivers to answer. 

The bill also provides requirements for a vehicle overtaking a bicycle occupying the same travel lane and instructs groups of bicyclists riding through intersections.

Genetic counselor vetting

Sen. Shevrin Jones is thanking his colleagues in the Senate and former colleagues in the House, after the Legislature approved a measure dealing with the less regulated trade of genetic counseling.

Those counselors can help advise families — including those seeking to have a child — about their risk for certain genetic disorders. This year, Jones introduced a measure (SB 1770) requiring genetic counselors to be licensed by the state.

At issue are counselors who may not have received rigorous training, possibly steering families toward bad information. Jones’ bill changes that, requiring genetic counselors to complete an application with the state for a two-year license.

To keep patients safe, Shevrin Jones championed a bill to license genetic counselors.

“This issue is an important, yet little-discussed component of health care as genetic counselors are widely used across the state, yet not recognized currently as licensed health professionals. As such, some provide such counseling without formal training, leaving patients to receive subpar, inconsistent treatment,” Jones said.

“As genetic medicine is transferred from the research laboratory to clinical practice, the state of Florida has a responsibility to ensure the competency of genetic counselors that will be called upon to incorporate the evolving technologies of genetic medicine. Education, training, and licensure are key steps in that process, and I appreciate my colleagues’ recognition of the need for action in this area.”

Before obtaining a license, an individual must have a master’s or doctoral degree in genetics training. Applicants must also pass an approved certification exam establishing them as a genetic counselor or a medical or clinical geneticist.

The Senate approved the measure via a 36-4 vote Monday. On Wednesday, the House followed up with a 116-1 vote.

Building bridges

The Senate’s passage Monday of a bill to help service members transition to civilian life prompted a statement by the Florida Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Mark Wilson

The Senate passed House Bill 435 (HB 435), which creates a statewide awareness and employment program built on the Department of Defense SkillBridge Program, allowing service members to gain workforce training at private businesses while on active duty as they are transitioning out of the military. The program designates Veterans Florida as the state’s principal SkillBridge assistance organization to employers and transitioning service members.

Wilson said he’s looking forward to more veterans joining the state’s workforce. 

Mark Wilson is cheering the passage of a bill to help service members transition to civilian life.

“The Florida Chamber of Commerce is thrilled to see HB 435 pass off the Senate floor unanimously. With 402,000 jobs looking for qualified people and 475,000 people looking for jobs, we can further bridge the gap and address Florida’s workforce needs with the help of Veterans Florida and the SkillBridge coalition to increase Florida’s economic activity and grow Florida’s economy from 17th largest in the world to 10th largest by 2030,” Wilson said.

“The Florida Chamber encourages Gov. DeSantis to sign this legislation, proving Florida is invested in upskilling and transitioning its service members toward achieving gainful employment in Florida.”

When the bill passed the House, active veterans currently serving as members on the House floor applauded the bill’s passage during the floor Session.

Florida is home to 20 military installations and 65,267 military personnel. Florida also has the nation’s third-largest veteran population, with roughly 1.5 million veterans.

Clerks say thanks

Florida’s Court Clerks and Comptrollers’ had some priority legislation this Session, and the House just passed it. The Senate already passed the measure last week, which means the bill heads to the Governor’s desk.

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.

In a statement, the Honorable Tara Green, Clay County Clerk of Court and Comptroller and 2020-2021 FCCC president, thanked lawmakers for helping carry their priority bills this Session.

Tara Green celebrates priority bills for Florida Court Clerks and Comptrollers. Image via Twitter.

“This legislation will greatly benefit our ability to begin fixing the way our services are funded, so we can better help individuals and businesses who interact with the justice system. I want to sincerely thank Sen. Jim Boyd, Rep. Webster Barnaby, Rep. Chuck Clemons and Sen. Ed Hooper, as well as the rest of our legislative partners for their support. We look forward to working with Gov. DeSantis to see these priorities signed into law,” Green said in the memo.

In the memo, the group said as Florida’s population has grown, funding for Clerks’ offices has decreased sharply due to the instability of the fines-and-fees-based payment system that brings in revenue. Clerks’ offices operate on a cash basis, month-to-month, relying on the fines, fees, service charges, and court costs they collect to fund critical public services.

“For years, Florida Clerks of Court have had a real challenge with an unsustainable system that weakens their ability to serve the residents who need access to the justice system,” Boyd said. “I was happy to partner with them as a bill sponsor to support this thoughtful legislation, and I am pleased with the progress we achieved toward ensuring their services continue to be available to Floridians.”

A shot in the arm

Lawmakers have passed a measure allowing pharmacists to give 7-year-olds flu shots, drawing praise from the Florida Retail Federation.

“Florida retail pharmacies play an important role in delivering vaccines safely and effectively at locations convenient to Floridians,” said FRF President and CEO Scott Shalley. “This measure is critical to ensuring Floridians have access to health needs, during a global pandemic and well beyond.”

SB 768, sponsored by Sen. Dennis Baxley, passed the Senate 29-11 before passing the House 112-4. Rep. Juan Fernandez-Barquin sponsored the House companion measure.

Dennis Baxley wants pharmacists to give more shots in arms. Image via Colin Hackley.

The legislation follows DeSantis’ emergency order last year to allow retail pharmacies to administer approved immunizations and vaccines on the Adult Immunization Schedule by the CDC during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are thankful to the bill sponsors, Sen. Baxley, Rep. Fernandez-Barquin, as well as Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez, for their leadership to ensure a safer, healthier Florida beyond the pandemic,” Shalley added.

In debate on the House floor, Fernandez-Barquin promised to continue building off the legislation in future years.

“I think that this bill is a real shot in the arm for the health care needs for our state,” joked Rep. Tyler Sirois.

If signed, the measure will go into effect on July 1, 2021.

Election security praised

The Tea Party Patriots Action group applauded the Legislature this week for passing a controversial election security bill. 

The bill (SB 90) aims to put “guardrails” around mail-in ballots and change election administration law. Despite outcry from Democrats, Republicans asserted their measure would increase election security and confidence.

“Election integrity is one of TPPA’s most important priorities,” said Tea Party Patriots Action Honorary Chairman Jenny Beth Martin. At the federal level, we are opposing HR 1, the Corrupt Politicians Act, and at the state level, we are urging common-sense reforms that make it easier to vote and harder to cheat. 

Jenny Beth Martin gives a big thumbs-up to Florida’s election reforms. Image via AP.

That proposal — carried by Rep. Blaise Ingoglia and Sen. Baxley — follows former President Donald Trump‘s election loss to President Joe Biden in November.

Notably, Georgia Republicans received considerable pushback after passing a much stricter election law bill. The passage led to Democratic outcry nationwide and prompted the MLB to relocate the All-Star Game out of Atlanta. 

“Georgia has already passed legislation doing that, and now Florida is on the verge of doing the same,” Martin added. “We need to restore public trust in our elections. We thank the Florida legislators who voted for this bill, and we look forward to having Gov. DeSantis sign it into law.”

The bill will take effect upon becoming law. 

PCA-OK

A bill to bolster Florida’s nursing home workforce passed both chambers of the Legislature this week.

The Personal Care Attendant Program has been around since last March when approved by the Agency for Health Care Administration when the pandemic was exacerbating nursing centers’ staffing challenges.

As nursing homes tried to keep residents safe, they had to take an abundance of caution with staff calling out due to illness of themselves, family members, or just stress. The PCA program created a pathway for individuals to learn the skills to become Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA) while helping with the nursing home worker shortage,

Legislation, sponsored by Sen. Aaron Bean and Rep. Sam Garrison, extended that program.

Aaron Bean ushered in a necessary expansion of Florida’s nursing home workforce.

LeadingAge Florida, an advocate for high-quality senior living, aging services and care, released a statement praising the bill’s passage.

“The workforce shortage in long-term care is an ongoing challenge that the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated. The PCA program is a valuable way to recruit more people to work as certified nursing assistants (CNAs) and promote job growth,” LeadingAge President and CEO Steve Bahmer said in the memo.

Nearly 2,000 individuals have been hired as a PCA since the program began, and over 85% of those who have taken the CNA exam have advanced into permanent positions as CNAs.

Transparency at home

A bill updating laws for the state’s homeowner’s associations rules passed both chambers. It now awaits the Governor’s signature. 

The bill (SB 630) would update emergency powers of community association boards during a state health emergency, giving the groups flexibility about posting meeting notices and streamlines community association documents and operations.

The bill also aims to increase transparency by requiring associations to provide a due date for homeowners to pay fines to the association, mandating timely notices, and adding voting records to the list of official documents that associations must maintain as official records, among other things. 

Homeowner’s associations will have more emergency powers, thanks to a proposal by Anthony Rodriguez. Image via Colin Hackley.

The legislation was a priority of Chief Executive Officers of Management Companies (CEOMC). CEOMC represents over 18,000 licensed, professional community association managers who manage more than 14,000 community associations.

CEOMC Executive director and lobbyist Mark Anderson released a statement on the bill’s passage.

“We are very thankful to Reps. Jason Shoaf and Anthony Rodriguez and their Senate counterparts, Sens. Dennis Baxley and Travis Hutson, for successfully carrying this important bill across the finish line today,” he said.

“Once signed by Gov. DeSantis, this critical and time-sensitive legislation will ensure Florida’s community associations are pandemic-safe, more transparent, streamlined, modern and affordable,” Anderson said in the memo.

Veterans’ COVID-19 hotline

The Florida Veterans Foundation is receiving $245,000 from the state to help fund its COVID-19 crisis hotline.

Lawmakers included that appropriation in their 2021-22 budget proposal passed Friday.

The foundation, led by CEO Lew Wilson, is a nonprofit organization created by the Legislature in 2008 to assist Florida’s more than 1.5 million veterans.

“The Florida Veterans Foundation thanks the Legislature for developing a pro-veteran budget that includes $245,000 for the Foundation’s COVID-19 crisis hotline,” Wilson said in a statement. “This statewide program will greatly assist Florida veterans who have been impacted by the pandemic, from worsened mental health problems to joblessness and PTSD issues.”

Danny Burgess, goes to bat for veterans suffering through the COVID-19 pandemic. Image via Colin Hackley.

Among the FVF’s other programs are an Emergency Crisis hotline explicitly for veterans, offering 24-hour help to prevent veteran suicides and support veterans suffering from opioid addiction.

Wilson thanked Simpson, Sprowls and health care budget leaders Bean and Rep. Bryan Avila for providing that funding despite the “tough decisions” lawmakers faced with this year’s spending plan. He also thanked military veterans in the Legislature and other partners — namely Sen. Danny Burgess and Reps. Fiona McFarland, Kevin Chambliss, Sam Killebrew and Jackie Toledo — for advocating for veterans.

“This funding comes at a critical time to assist the Foundation with meeting their needs and further demonstrates why Florida is the most veteran-friendly state,” Wilson said.

Tardive Dyskinesia Awareness Week

Rodriguez and Rep. John Snyder met with the Florida Behavioral Health Association CEO this week to recognize Florida’s upcoming Tardive Dyskinesia (TD) Awareness Week. 

TD is an involuntary movement disorder that can develop after taking medications to treat bipolar disorder, depression and schizophrenia. 

DeSantis in April signed a proclamation declaring May 2 — 8 as TD Awareness Week. 

Anna Maria Rodriguez seeks to raise awareness of Tardive Dyskinesia, an involuntary movement disorder. image via Colin Hackley.

“I am so honored to join Florida’s mental health community in recognizing TD Awareness Week during the first full week of May,” said FBHA CEO Melanie Brown-Woofter. “It is so important that we continue to raise awareness around this involuntary movement disorder, which significantly impacts people physically, emotionally and socially, and continue to educate our citizens about mental health.”

TD impacts roughly 600,000 people in the United States.

The effects of the disorder can be severe. 

“The uncontrollable movements of TD, which can affect the face, torso and/or other body parts, may be disruptive to people’s lives due to the symptoms and may have an impact on their physical, emotional and social well-being,” the FBHA explained in a news release. 

Learn more information about the condition online here

Funding spared

A mental health advocacy group is applauding the Florida Legislature for maintaining mental health care funding in the budget.

Lawmakers threatened mental health care cuts during budget negotiations, but reductions to mental health and substance abuse programs didn’t make it into the General Appropriations Act.

Lawmakers used the state’s revenue and COVID-19 relief funds for mental health and substance use providers, directed opioid settlement funding to evidence-based programs such as Medication Assisted Treatment, and targeted additional funds to further engage minority populations in community-based services related to mental health and substance use.

Melanie Brown-Woofter is relieved after mental health in Florida was spared the budget ax.

In a memo, the Florida Behavioral Health Association (FBHA) said the group “applauds” the Florida Legislature for restoring “crucial funding that supports programs for thousands of Floridians who are facing mental health and substance use challenges.”

The memo included a statement from FBHA president and CEO Melanie Brown-Woofter.

“Facing unprecedented economic uncertainty this session, the Florida Legislature demonstrated support to our most vulnerable citizens by prioritizing the lifesaving mental health and substance use services they depend on,” Brown-Woofter said.

“With so many of our friends and neighbors suffering from the stresses of this prolonged pandemic, FBHA and our statewide members are truly grateful to work with state legislators who invest in health care services that provide hope and a path forward for those in need.”

Capitol Directions

Staff Reports


One comment

  • Amy Kelly

    May 1, 2021 at 10:37 am

    I know Governor DeSantis recommended a $1000 teacher bonus to thank teachers for returning to work during this pandemic. I also read that Randy Fine was trying to push against this. Did the bonus get the final approval?
    Thank you , from a poor teacher in Florida

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Publisher: Peter Schorsch

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Jason Delgado, Drew Dixon, Renzo Downey, Rick Flagg, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Andrew Wilson, and Kelly Hayes.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704