Sixty Days — A prime-time look at the 2021 Legislative Session:
The Last 24
Gov. Ron DeSantis is poised for another successful Legislative Session on the policy front — priority bills to ban critical race theory in schools, establish an election fraud police squad, prohibit companies helping the federal government to transport undocumented immigrants to Florida from doing business with the state, roll back high-stakes testing requirements in pre-K-12 schools, and hike pay for state law enforcement officials are on track to clear the Legislature before lawmakers adjourn Friday. But the budget is another story. Lawmakers have thus far ignored his top requests, including a gas tax cut and funding for the Job Growth Grant Fund. His preferred congressional district map also faces an uncertain future. Here’s your nightly rundown.
Unfinished business. It’s the last week of Session, and there’s plenty left to do — here’s Florida Politics’ rundown of the Top-40 unresolved issues of the 2022 Legislative Session.
Money talks. Disney has faced heat for its silence on the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, but CEO Bob Chapek said the company will be “reassessing” its political contribution strategies.
A few edits. The House OK’d an amendment to a major Medicaid bill (SB 1950) passed by the Senate last week.
Mystery drug. A bill (HB 873) that would shield the people, businesses and drug formulations involved in state executions is heading to the Governor’s desk.
Five-fingers, five years. A bill (SB 1534) that would make organized retail crime a third-degree felony is teed up for a vote in the House.
READY. A bill (SB 806) that requires DOH to educate health care practitioners on Alzheimer’s disease and dementia-related disorders has cleared the Legislature.
It’s official. DeSantis signed a bill designating strawberry shortcake (SB 1006) as the official state dessert during a ceremony at the Strawberry Festival Expo Hall.
Fine, you win. The Senate removed a $150,000 appropriation for the Miami Military Museum and Memorial from the budget after the House repeatedly refused the funding.
Ruh-Roh. Federal prosecutors indicted former JEA CEO Aaron Zahn and finance chief Ryan Wannemacher on charges related to the failed attempt to privatize JEA.
Quote of the Day
“What needs a scalpel, we don’t have. We only have a sledgehammer and doing surgery with a sledgehammer is incredibly messy.”
— Sen. Jeff Brandes, on a bill that would eventually end net metering in the state.
Bill Day’s Latest
DeSantis made an eleventh-hour push last week to encourage the legislature to pass HB 687/SB 1184. The legislation would prohibit some medical regulatory boards and the Department of Health from reprimanding, sanctioning, revoking, or threatening to revoke a license, certificate, or registration of a health care practitioner for using their right of free speech without proof that it harmed a patient.
The legislation is stalled in its final committee in both the House and Senate. It is unlikely to become law unless tacked onto another bill using an amendment.
Florida Politics spoke with Dr. Bernard Ashby, a Miami Vascular Cardiologist and the Florida State Lead for the Committee to Protect Health Care, about his thoughts on the legislation and DeSantis’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Q: What are your thoughts on HB 687/SB 1184?
Ashby: As physicians, we’re held to a much higher standard than the general public, meaning that we have to support our decisions with the evidence. And what this bill does is essentially throw that out the window and allows anyone with an agenda to make recommendations without any evidence whatsoever. And we have taken an oath to adhere to a certain standard of medicine. This impacts the long-standing rule and that standard of medicine.
Q: If it became law, how would it impact medical care in Florida?
Ashby: It can place the health and wellness of Floridians at risk and allow a small minority of physicians or extremists to hijack any public health messaging that we may have, based on their own agenda, political agenda and beliefs, without having to justify why they’re saying what they’re saying. So we have seen that mixed messaging has not only confused people but there’s been deliberate disinformation out there that has made people make decisions that have placed their lives at risk. The most important one being the messaging feeding into vaccine hesitancy, which has convinced many high-risk individuals not to get vaccinated, only to eventually get infected. Unfortunately, I’ve seen that in my own practice. I’ve seen patients that, due to the disinformation that was out there, chose not to become vaccinated, then became extremely sick and passed away as a result.
Q: Why do you think DeSantis is pushing for it? How does it play into larger conversations about COVID-19 misinformation?
Ashby: This is on-brand for Gov. DeSantis, who from the beginning of the pandemic has enabled and even supported misinformation, extremists and anti-vaxxers. This is not a surprise. His messaging is about keeping Florida free, when in fact, he has done just the opposite. When it comes to protecting Floridians and allowing the local municipalities to enact measures that will mitigate the spread of the virus, instead, he acted sort of like a dictator and superseded all of the local governments and health care professionals to enact what he believes are the correct decisions, which, unfortunately, has led to 1000s of unnecessary hospitalizations and deaths as a result.
I don’t believe we’re talking enough about his gross mismanagement of the pandemic. Irrespective of his beliefs and resistance to mitigation measures, what he hasn’t done is even more telling. Hospitals during every surge were overrun. And the ICUs were at capacity, which led to not only direct deaths related to COVID-19 but excess deaths and other forms of mortality related to other conditions such as heart disease, which I’ve seen firsthand as a cardiologist, but other conditions like diabetes and cancer. With just any semblance of coordination, we could have mitigated that or even prevented that by ensuring that the hospitals would not reach capacity by 1.) decreasing the surge and 2.) boosting the capacities within the hospital systems. The fact that he just didn’t do that at all and sat on his hands was to the detriment of Floridians, and I definitely think he needs to be held accountable. In some regard, I think that these measures that he’s taking are trying to distract from his own negligence during this entire pandemic that has, again, led to countless lives being lost.
A bill that would roll back last year’s deal on legal notices cleared the House last week, and the Senate Rules Committee is set to take it up when it meets Tuesday.
Last year, lawmakers removed a long-standing rule requiring notices to exclusively appear in subscription-rich newspapers and allowed notices to be published online in addition to a local newspaper.
Initially, the 2021 bill sought to remove the newspaper requirement altogether; however, lawmakers and the Florida Press Association hammered out a deal to allow governments to continue posting notices in newspapers as well as on the Florida Press Association website.
However, HB 7049 by Rep. Randy Fine would largely undo those changes and allow notices to be “published on a publicly accessible website.” As he has in years past, Fine said the proposal means to end “government subsidies” to newspapers.
The bill would still require local governments to purchase ads in the paper once a year, informing readers that they could sign up to receive legal notices by email or snail mail.
Florida Press Association President Jim Fogler said the legislation was unexpected after its introduction. In the month since, the association has mounted a defense with Fogler working alongside contract lobbyists Kimberly Case of Holland & Knight and Jeff Kottkamp, a former Lt. Governor who has since launched a solo lobbying practice.
Gannett also has a stake in the outcome. The company is one of the largest newspaper conglomerates in the country, publishing USA TODAY and several local papers such as The Florida Times-Union, Tallahassee Democrat, Palm Beach Post and Florida Today — the paper of record in Fine’s district. Ron Book and Kelly Mallette represent them.
HB 7049’s only Senate committee reference is Rules, meaning it would be ready for a floor vote if it is advanced in Tuesday’s meeting.
The Next 24
— The Senate will hold a floor session at 10 a.m.
— The House will hold a floor session at 10:30 a.m.
— The Senate Rules Committee will meet at 2 p.m. in Room 412 of the Knott Building. The agenda includes a House bill (HB 7049) related to publishing legal notices in newspapers and a bill (HB 861) connected to Medicaid specialty designations.
— The Senate Special Order Calendar Group will meet in Room 404 of the Senate Office Building. The meeting begins 15 minutes after the floor session adjourns.