Sixty Days — A prime-time look at the 2021 Legislative Session:
The Last 24
Gov. Ron DeSantis delivered the final State of the State of a first-term that has largely been defined by the pandemic, which struck the state during the final weeks of the 2020 Legislative Session. His message: “While so many around the country have consigned the people’s rights to the graveyard, Florida has stood as freedom’s vanguard.” As he continued, the Governor embraced the “vanguard” role, going on the offensive against what he called a “biomedical security state,” the “hysterical media” and unions. He also outlined some of the priorities in his nearly $100 billion budget recommendation, including another round of teacher bonuses and the creation of a new police office to enforce election laws. Here’s your nightly rundown.
Sow the seeds. Senate President Wilton Simpson outlined his chamber’s priorities in a 30-minute address, telling lawmakers they have “another chance to sow the seeds that will grow our tomorrow.”
No risk, no reward: During his opening day speech, House Speaker Chris Sprowls’ implored lawmakers to ask themselves what they are willing to risk to improve the lives of Floridians.
Lukewarm reception. Simpson and Sprowls said DeSantis’ pitch for an elections police force has its merits but stopped short of fully endorsing the plan.
‘Floridians are hurting’: U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist didn’t wait for DeSantis to step onto the podium to blast him for “pushing a partisan agenda that is making Floridians poorer, sicker, and more divided than ever.”
The peanut gallery. Florida’s Democratic Senators and minority House leadership balked at DeSantis’ claims that Floridians’ freedom has been bolstered under his administration.
Maps on the move. Senate Reapportionment Committee Chair Ray Rodrigues selected the base maps his committee will consider at a critical Thursday meeting.
Private browsing. Legislation (SB 520) that would provide a public records exemption for a state university or college president applicants’ position cleared its first committee stop in the Senate.
‘Performative political theater’: Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried disparaged the Governor’s remarks in a statement from her office, and a pitch from her campaign after the State of the State wrapped.
Big rigs, big role: Attorney General Ashley Moody and the Florida Trucking Association marked National Human Trafficking Day and highlighted truckers’ role in combating crime.
Go big or go home: The Florida Health Care Association released an ambitious legislative wish list that includes a request for hundreds of millions in additional funding.
A little stale … but safe: The FDA granted Florida’s request for a three-month shelf-life extension to roughly one million unused COVID-19 tests that expired in state custody last month.
Quote of the Day
“We have the power to make this state a better, safer, more prosperous place for all Floridians. The only question that remains is, to make that happen, what are you willing to risk?”
— House Speaker Chris Sprowls, encouraging lawmakers to challenge themselves and get outside their comfort zones this Session.
Bill Day’s Latest
Amid DeSantis’ State of the State speech, legislative Democrats expressed concerns about attacks on home rule, or local government’s ability to make decisions impacting their local area.
While most of the discussion surrounding home rule has centered on legislation blocking local governments from implementing mask or vaccine mandates, the Legislature last year also passed legislation overturning Key West referendums that banned large cruise ships from docking in their port over environmental concerns.
Now, the Key West Committee for Safer, Cleaner Ships, a group that helped push for the original cruise ship ban, is concerned about “Yellow Ships,” a term for cruise ships that are being investigated for COVID-19 outbreaks, docking in Key West ports.
Key West Committee Safer, Cleaner Ships President Evan Haskell spoke with Florida Politics about the organization’s concerns and the state of home rule.
Q: What are ‘yellow’ cruise ships?
Haskell: In response to the pandemic, the CDC has created a new monitoring program for all cruise ship traffic operating in U.S. waters. The cruise lines are obligated to report to the CDC cases of COVID on board. At yellow status, the lines are under investigation for outbreaks that are on board. Today, that status (applies to) nearly all of the cruise lines that are operating in U.S. waters. Consequently, you’re seeing ports across the Caribbean deny access. It’s also happening in Puerto Rico as well.
Q: What is Florida’s approach to dealing with these cruise ships? What does your organization think the state should do to deal with this?
Haskell: Florida’s response has been hands-off and encouraging of the industry to continue to sail. What we’re learning now is that the cruise ships that are, historically, the dirtiest on the outside for environmental violations, are now also proving to be some of the dirtiest on the inside for their passengers as well. In Key West, we should have agreements with these lines as far as the health requirements for disembarkation and local quarantine facilities. If those do exist, they’re not public, which is concerning in a public health crisis situation.
Q: How can the Legislature help deal with this problem? Are you optimistic that they will?
Haskell: The easiest solution to that would be to repeal their preemption of our local ordinances that we passed at the ballot box in a free and fair election. The remedy that we’re looking for here in Key West is simply just to allow our community to implement the commonsense regulations that we enacted, calling for smaller vessels to dock. Am I optimistic that the Legislature will help us and lean into our local community’s concerns? I am not. The movement of the Legislature seems to be in the opposite direction now, with preemption of home rule in overdrive.
If you walk through any resort in Orlando or South Florida, chances are you’ll see scores of tourists laying out in the sun, libations in hand. Is there anything that screams “relaxing vacation” more than sipping on a Mai Tai poolside?
Yes, actually: Sipping on one in the pool.
Depending on how permissive hotel staff are, you might be able to wade into the shallow end with a drink in your hand. But to order the drink, you’ll have to climb out and walk to the bar. However, in other states and the Caribbean, you wouldn’t even have to leave the water.
Poolside bars — as in, bars where a few inches of concrete separate the bottles from the water — aren’t legal in Florida. That’s ironic not only because Florida is a tourism Mecca but because the top company that designs and builds poolside bars is headquartered in the Sunshine State.
Martin Aquatic Design Engineering would love to see their designs showcased at Florida’s premier resorts, so they’ve tapped the team at GrayRobinson to help them change the arcane building codes blocking poolside bars.
Bills that would legalize them have already been filed by Clearwater Sen. Ed Hooper and Winter Springs Rep. David Smith (SB 1044/HB 719). Both would direct the Florida Building Commission to work with the swimming pool industry to develop rules that would make it happen.
The Next 24
— A bill (SB 498) to require health insurers to provide coverage for hearing aids for people under age 21 will go before the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee when it meets at 9:30 a.m. in Room 412 of the Knott Building.
— A proposal (SB 510) that would increase financial disclosure requirements for municipal elected officials will get a hearing in the Senate Community Affairs Committee when it meets at 9:30 a.m. in Room 37 of the Senate Office Building.
— A bill (SB 876) that would block would-be Evel Knievels from popping wheelies on highways, roadways, or parking lots will go before the Senate Transportation Committee when it meets at 9:30 a.m. in Room 110 of the Senate Office Building.
— Moody, Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez, members of the Florida Alliance to End Human Trafficking and business leaders will hold a news conference outside of the Attorney General’s office in the Capitol at 10 a.m. to recognize Human Trafficking Awareness Month and announce a new initiative.
— The U.S. Department of Agriculture will update its citrus forecast during a noon conference call. Interested parties can dial in via 1-855-384-4184. The participant code is 6486013.
— A presentation on the Governor’s budget recommendation will be delivered to the Senate Appropriations Committee when it meets at 12:30 p.m. in Room 412 of the Knott Building.
— Floridians for Reproductive Freedom, which advocates for abortion rights, will hold a news conference in the Capitol courtyard at 1 p.m. to urge legislative leaders to preserve abortion rights. Reps. Felicia Robinson, Anna Eskamani and Michele Rayner as well as Sen. Shevrin Jones are expected to attend alongside leaders from numerous abortion rights groups.
— Budget proposal presentations for AHCA, the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, DCF and the Department of Elder Affairs, DOH, and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs will be delivered to the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee when it meets at 2:30 p.m. in Room 412 of the Knott Building.
— The Department of Economic Opportunity will deliver a presentation on broadband internet to the Senate Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee when it meets at 2:30 p.m. in Room 110 of the Senate Office Building.
— The Senate Agriculture, Environment and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee will hear budget request presentations from the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Department of Citrus, the Department of Environmental Protection, and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission when it meets at 4:30 p.m. in Room 110 of the Senate Office Building.
— The Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee will hear budget presentations from the Department of Corrections, the Department of Juvenile Justice, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement when it meets at 4:30 p.m. in Room 37 of the Senate Office Building.
— Florida TaxWatch’s annual “State of the Taxpayer” dinner will be held at 6 p.m. at the AC Hotel Tallahassee Universities at the Capitol. Fried, Moody, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book and Sens. Jeff Brandes, Jason Brodeur and Ana Maria Rodriguez, as well as House Speaker-designate Paul Renner and Reps. Chuck Clemons and Randy Fine are expected to attend.
Also, the following committees will meet.
— The House Children, Families & Seniors Subcommittee meets at 9 a.m. in Reed Hall.
— The House Environment, Agriculture & Flooding Subcommittee meets at 9 a.m. in Room 212 of the Knott Building.
— The House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee meets at 9 a.m. in Room 404 of the House Office Building.
— The House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee meets at 9 a.m. in Morris Hall.
— The House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee meets at 11:30 a.m. in Morris Hall.
— The House Public Integrity & Elections Committee meets at 11:30 a.m. in Room 404 of the House Office Building.
— The House Finance & Facilities Subcommittee meets at 2 p.m. in Morris Hall.
— The House Government Operations Subcommittee meets at 2 p.m. in Room 404 of the House Office Building.
— The House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee meets at 2 p.m. in Reed Hall.
— The House Regulatory Reform Subcommittee meets at 2 p.m. in Room 212 of the Knott Building.
— The House Criminal Justice & Public Safety Subcommittee meets at 4:30 p.m. in Room 404 of the House Office Building.
— The House Post-Secondary Education & Lifelong Learning Subcommittee meets at 4:30 p.m. in Morris Hall.
— The House State Administration & Technology Appropriations Subcommittee meets at 4:30 p.m. in Room 212 of the Knott Building.
— The House Tourism, Infrastructure & Energy Subcommittee meets at 4:30 p.m. in Reed Hall.