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Florida Government News for July/August 2020

In Florida politics news for July/August 2020: The pandemic continues. Schools reopen. Voting rights restoration decision may not come before November elections.

Coronavirus Update

By the Numbers

Through August 29, the Florida Department of Health COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard reported:

  • 11,119 resident deaths; 144 non-resident deaths
  • 4,606,568 total people tested
  • 621,586 people tested positive
  • 13.49% cumulative percent positive

Caveat Lector (Reader Beware)

Effects on Nursing Homes

Effects on Workers

Amid staggering job losses in March and April, Florida’s unemployment system was the slowest in the country to process claims. In August, we learned why:

As of August 28, Florida had paid out $14.6 billion in unemployment claims to 1.9 million claimants, and 93 percent of eligible claimants had been paid, according to the state’s Reemployment Assistance Claims Dashboard.

Weekly Florida jobless claims - week ending Aug. 22, 2020

While most of the claims backlog has been cleared, the system itself is still struggling. Just 49 percent of claims received were filed through the troubled unemployment system; 51 percent were filed through paper and a “mobile friendly site.”

Meanwhile:

A global research firm predicts that 749,000 Florida households — nearly half of all rental units — are at risk of eviction over the next four months. Citing that research, the nonprofit Florida Bar Foundation estimates that 530,000 eviction filings could follow the moratorium’s expiration.

Effects on the Economy

Reopening the Schools

Gov. Ron DeSantis and his Education Commissioner, Richard Corcoran, are locked in a legal battle with the state teachers’ union over Corcoran’s Emergency Order requiring schools to reopen five days a week in August or risk losing state funding. Emergency Order here. Teacher’s Union complaint here.

The question before the courts: “Is the state mandate for schools to reopen amid the coronavirus unconstitutional?”

The 1st District Court of Appeal has refused two requests to fast-track the case to the Florida Supreme Court.

All school districts outside of Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, which were exempted from Corcoran’s mandate, had either opened or plan to reopen on August 31.

Since final briefs in the case aren’t due until Sept. 9, a decision won’t be finalized until nearly all school districts have reopened.

News from Tallahassee

2020 Legislative Session

In a typical year, the governor would have acted on all the bills passed by the Legislature in the 2020 session that ended March 19th well before now. But this year, things aren’t normal. Gov. DeSantis asked the Legislature to delay sending him bills to act on so he could deal with the coronavirus, and in the months since its final adjournment of the session (“adjournment sine die”), bills have slowly been making their way to his Office.

In the last days of June, DeSantis quietly signed several bills and vetoed others:

As of August 29, 26 bills remain to be presented for signature. Since most have effective dates of Oct. 1 or Jan. 1, 2021, supporters argue there’s no harm in putting off decisions while he deals with the pandemic.

News from the Legislative Branch

On March 19th, the Legislature passed a record $93.2 billion budget amid great uncertainty about the effects of the coronavirus. But it it quickly became clear that the budget’s assumptions fell short of reality, and legislators will likely be faced with the need to make budget cuts at some point.

Despite frequent requests from Democrats, however, the governor and Republican legislative leaders have shown no willingness to consider it before the November elections.

News from the Executive Branch

Governor

Election law is interpreted and implemented by the Florida Division of Elections within the Department of State, one of the Executive Branch departments overseen the governor.

Given the challenges of the coronavirus, the politicization of voting-by-mail, and concerns about election interference, the voting process and the state’s preparedness for it were in the news these past months:

In other Governor’s Office news:

Attorney General

Commissioner of Agriculture

Chief Financial Officer

News from the Judicial Branch

The “smart growth” advocacy group 1000 Friends of Florida is appealing a Circuit judge’s decision that tossed out a challenge to a 2019 state law that opponents say will prevent people from fighting local development decisions.

Under the law, losing parties in lawsuits about development orders can be forced to pay the attorney fees of “prevailing” parties — a change that opponents say creates huge financial risks for citizens who want to challenge local government approvals of development plans.

In other Judicial Branch news:

Voting Rights Restoration for Felons

Challenges to the constitutionality of the law that effectively halted implementation of Florida’s 2018 Voting Rights Restoration Amendment continued during July and August. (For the backstory on this important case that will determine whether or not 1.4 million returning Florida citizens will be able to vote in the November elections and beyond, see Voting Rights Restoration Efforts in Florida, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, 8/18/20.)

In July and August:

It is unclear if the court will make a decision before the November elections.

Meanwhile:

For state-by-state approaches to felon disenfranchisement and rights restoration, see Felon Voting Rights, National Conference of State Legislatures, 7/28/20.

Florida’s U.S. Senators are Marco Rubio and Rick Scott

Sen. Marco Rubio

Sen. Rick Scott

Federal Actions Benefiting Florida


That’s it for Florida Politics News for July/August 2020! Stay safe, everyone!

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