Sixty Days — A prime-time look at the 2021 Legislative Session:
The Last 24
An insider bid that led to the resignation of two higher-ups at the Florida Department of Education is getting more scrutiny. Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office said Tuesday that Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel is reviewing an investigation conducted by DOE Inspector General Mike Blackburn that concluded two department leaders applied for a state contract to take over Jefferson County schools on behalf of a company they privately managed. The agency deemed the move unethical and unlawful. The investigation, however, overlooked evidence that suggests DOE had already guided the bid toward a company led by former Republican Rep. Trey Traviesa of Tampa. Here’s your nightly rundown.
Read a book. Gov. DeSantis announced the state is distributing free books to 81,000 students as a childhood literacy initiative prioritized by House Speaker Chris Sprowls begins to take root.
Taking it to the streets. Florida Democrats are mounting yet another effort to expand Medicaid coverage to uninsured childless adults. This time they want voters to decide.
Loud and proud. The House Local Administration and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee approved a bill (HB 499) that would require professional sports teams to play the national anthem ahead of every home game.
Consent matters. A bill (SB 868) that would make it rape to sexually assault someone who is too drunk or stoned to know what is happening — whether the perpetrator provided the intoxicants or not — cleared the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.
Wetlands win. A bill (HB 761) that seeks to help the state acquire critical wetlands is on to its final committee stop after earning unanimous approval in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee.
An ounce of prevention. Florida could soon launch a Veteran Suicide Prevention Pilot Training Program under a bill (SB 1712) OK’d by the Senate Military and Veterans Affairs, Space, and Domestic Security Committee.
Rent relief. The state-run program built to distribute federally funded emergency rental assistance has seen a massive spike in payouts after getting off to a slow start.
Hazard pay. A bill (HB 1421) that would withhold salaries for school superintendents if schools they oversee don’t comply with safety requirements advanced through the House Early Learning & Elementary Education Subcommittee.
Pledge pin. The Senate Transportation Committee unanimously approved a bill (SB 364) to drop the number of necessary pledges to 2,500 for all specialty license plates. It could open the door for out-of-state school plates for Auburn University, the University of Alabama and the University of Georgia.
Quote of the Day
“There was no book that I read that brought me to who I am. Even your children: I don’t care what you may try to do to think you are protecting them. The one thing you are obligated to do, like my mother and father did, is to love them for who they are.”
— Sen. Shevrin Jones, on legislation that would allow parents of school children to object to library books with LGBTQ characters.
Bill Day’s Latest
Washington County residents voted in a referendum last week to end dry laws in its county, allowing the sale of hard liquor within county lines.
About 30% of registered voters in the county participated in the referendum, with residents backing the change 2/1. The issue got on the ballot after Advance Washington County (AWC), a local economic development committee, drafted a petition that garnered signatures from over 25% of registered Washington County voters.
Evan Power, chairman of chairs the Republican Party of Florida and a political consultant, advised AWC on the initiative. He also counseled on a similar change in Jackson County in 2017.
Florida Politics spoke with Power about the change in Washington County and its effect on the area’s economy.
Q: How did the process to get Washington to become a “wet” county work?
Power: The process starts with you having to gather 25% of the registered voters to sign a petition, asking for the ballot questions to be asked. And, you know, registered voters are not always active voters, so 25% is a pretty high threshold. So they gather those voters, you get them to sign a petition, and then from there, the county commission orders an election, and then the voters get to vote on the ballot initiative. For this process, It started with a mailing campaign where basically, every registered voter got mailed a petition asking them to sign it. But it was summer with low turnout and all the fun stuff that happens. So Advance Washington County ended up spending a lot of time sending people door to door to talk to voters and get them to sign up and go to events getting people to sign this petition so that they can turn them in.
Q: Both wet referendums in Jackson and Washington county were done by mail. Why was it done this way, and did it impact the results?
Power: Well, I think when you look at special elections, they are generally poorly attended. I think in a lot of places, you get 10 to 12% turnout. What we saw in Jackson and Washington was about a 35 to 37% turnout with voters. So that (mail voting) allows more voters to have their voices heard. And the second part of it is, you know, many of your voting places are voting precincts aligned with churches in those counties. And some of the opponents of the change happen to be pastors of some of those churches, so it’s smarter for the proponents to have people vote in their own home, rather than necessarily go to those places to vote in person.
Q: The primary reason proponents of the change cited were positive economic impacts in Washington County. How will this impact its local economy?
Power: I think you obviously have a better array of restaurants and venues if they can offer alcohol by the drink, as opposed to not being able to do that. You also see some positive impacts on the interstate exits where the development will occur, because there’s a lot of traffic coming in through the panhandle, going to the beaches, especially in Washington County. It’s a very beach-heavy area. So people are going to be able to stop, enjoy restaurants, hotels and development there. That happens because those restaurants and hotels have the option to offer liquor by the drink. So I think that will help the community also raise revenues for tax by having further development, which will continue to improve their economic situation moving forward.
Some new businesses succeed, others fail. Tampa Bay Wave’s goal is to set new ventures up for success.
The incubator provides entrepreneurs with guidance, mentorship, exposure, cost savings strategies, client introductions, and classroom training. Since 2013, Tampa Bay Wave has raised more than $445 million in capital and helped more than 400 businesses, creating more than 3,000 jobs.
As the name implies, the organization takes groups of businesses in waves — whenever the program announces a new class, hundreds of companies apply, but only 15 or so make the cut.
Each cohort shares a common theme. For example, past business accelerator classes have focused on women-owned tech companies and cybersecurity. Tampa Bay Wave hopes its next class will be comprised of veteran-led startups, and it would like a bit of cash in the state budget to facilitate the process.
Tampa Bay Wave has hired the team at RSA Consulting Group to help get the project included in the 2022-23 budget. Lobbyist Melody Arnold — RSA’s lead on the client — says the veteran-run businesses that are eventually accepted into the accelerator program would be connected to resources at NASA and Veterans Florida in addition to the training and benefits the organization has provided to its past cohorts.
Arnold said Tampa Bay Wave “really puts Florida on the map as a great place to launch your startup.”
The pitch is helped along by Tampa Bay Wave’s solid track record. Success stories include prescription delivery service MedZoomer, mortgage adviser Home Lending Pal and PikMyKid, a platform that makes the process of picking kids up after school safer.
The Next 24
— The House Judiciary Committee will consider a bill (HB 287) that would increase penalties for evidence tampering in capital meets at 8 a.m. in Room 404 of the House Office Building.
— The House State Affairs Committee will consider a bill (HB 215) that would allow places of worship to remain open during states of emergency when it meets at 9 a.m. in Room 212 of the Knott Building.
— The Senate Agriculture Committee will take up a bill (SB 1832) that would create a pilot program to provide incentives to growers who donate fresh fruit and vegetables to food-distribution operations when it meets at 10 a.m. in Room 110 of the Senate Office Building.
— A bill (SB 170) that would create a 90-day public records exemption for lottery winners will go before the Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee when it meets at 10 a.m. in Room 37 of the Senate Office Building.
— The Senate Health Policy Committee will consider whether to advance the confirmation process for Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo when it meets at 10 a.m. in Room 412 of the Knott Building.
— The Senate Agriculture, Environment and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee will consider legislation (SB 1400) related to the implementation of the Heartland Headwaters Protection and Sustainability Act when it meets at 3:30 p.m. in Room 110 of the Senate Office Building.
— A bill (SB 1048) that would replace the standardized testing system in public schools with a progress monitoring program will go before the Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee when it meets at 3:30 p.m. in Room 412 Knott Building.
Also, the following committees will meet.
— The House Education & Employment Committee meets at 9 a.m.in Morris Hall.
— The House Redistricting Committee meets at 1 p.m. in Room 404 of the House Office Building.
— The Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee meets at 1 p.m. in Room 412 of the Knott Building.
— The Senate Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee meets at 1 p.m. in Room 110 of the Senate Office Building.