Democratic lawmakers Tina Polsky and Kelly Skidmore say they’re concerned Republicans won’t sufficiently update the state’s condo regulations after the Champlain Towers South collapse in Surfside last month, killing 98 people.
It’s too early to precisely know which areas lawmakers will address when they begin meeting this fall ahead of the 2022 Legislative Session, where much of that condo reform will occur. In comments to the Democratic Club of Boca Raton and Delray Beach Tuesday night, Polsky said she’s confident lawmakers will move forward on legislation in response to the tragedy.
“We will, I’m sure, work on condo law. I know Sen. (Jason) Pizzo, who represents the Surfside area, who’s a great guy and very knowledgeable in this area, is putting together some bills,” Polsky explained.
But Polsky said she remains skeptical about whether the GOP-controlled Legislature will do enough to prevent a repeat of that tragedy. That skepticism, Polsky explained, comes from Republicans’ response to COVID-19 last Session, specifically on the issue of unemployment reform.
“The unemployment crisis was a tragedy in our state. And as representatives and senators, we were deluged with calls, and still are to this day, about how the system doesn’t work. They promised us they would do something,” Polsky said of Republicans.
She added of Democrats, “We’re sure we’re going to do something on condo law. They may not.”
In addition to the state’s online application system buckling due to a flood of applications, Florida’s unemployment payouts are among the lowest in the country. Those payments were buffered by a federal supplement during parts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last Session, the Senate agreed on a bill raising the state’s unemployment payments from $275 per week to $375 per week and extending benefits from 12 weeks to 14 weeks. That bill failed in the House, however.
Polsky and Skidmore addressed a group of Democratic activists Tuesday evening — some in person, some via Zoom. While the two expressed disdain for many GOP initiatives which moved through the Legislature last Session, they focused particular ire on a series of local preemption bills approved by Republicans.
“They grabbed power like I have never seen before,” explained Skidmore, who returned to the Legislature after a stint from 2006 to 2010. “As you guys know, this is my second go-around, so I’ve seen some power grabs. But this was really, really troubling, and we know we’re in for a lot more of that when we go back.”
Skidmore singled out the Legislature’s response to three Key West referendums limiting the size of cruise ships allowed to dock in its ports and adding environmental regulations. In response, Republicans OK’d a law revoking that authority from local governments and undoing the Key West measures approved by local residents last fall.
“That completely turned over the local referendums from a municipality,” Skidmore complained.
Polsky called Florida’s new emergency management law “the worst of all the preemptions.” That measure (SB 2006) puts limits on a local government’s emergency powers. Polsky said that move stemmed from more restrictive measures put into place during the pandemic by Democratic-controlled municipalities.
“The Governor hated how, for example, Palm Beach County had mask mandates for a very long time after he would have liked to have seen them gone,” she said Tuesday.
The legislation also banned businesses from requiring vaccinations for customers, which Polsky called a “horrible overreach” while hammering Republicans.
“They’re all about business, and they’re all about freedom and lack of regulation, but they’re telling private businesses what to do,” Polsky argued.
“I just think it’s such a horrible overreach at a time like this and very hypocritical.”