Florida Government News for December 2021

December 2021 Florida Government News

2022 Legislative Session

Florida’s 60-day annual legislative session will begin on Jan. 11 with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ State-of-the-State address and end on Mar. 11.

“Republicans are in command of the Legislature,” as USA Today Network-Florida Capital Bureau reporter John Kennedy points out. “And Gov. Ron DeSantis has their unswerving loyalty. So what the governor wants, he’s likely to get …” (USA Today Network-Florida via Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 1/5/22)

Flush with Cash

Thanks to higher-than-expected state sales tax collections received for a number of months, the 2022 legislative session will begin flush with cash. (News Service of Florida via Orlando Sentinel, 1/3/22)

The state is also benefiting from at least $3.5 billion in unspent federal coronavirus relief dollars that could be used to subsidize DeSantis’ and legislators’ wish-lists. (Politico Florida, 12/9/21)

DeSantis Releases His Budget Proposal

On Dec. 9, Gov. DeSantis released his Freedom First Budget proposal with recommendations for fiscal year 2022-2023. It totals $99.7 billion, with total reserves exceeding $15 billion. (News Release, 12/9/21)

The amount is slightly less than the current year’s approved budget of $101.5 billion. (News Release, 6/2/21)

The legislature is charged with each year passing a balanced state budget. But at least 30 days before the start of the legislative session, the governor is required to submit budget recommendations, which the legislature may use as a resource. The governor’s proposal is a vehicle from which to promote his key issues and priorities. (Citizen’s Guide to the Florida Budget, Florida Policy Institute, 2019-20)

The Proposal by Budget Area

The DeSantis Freedom First Budget website provides details by budget area. The Overview section begins this way:

“The challenges our country has faced over the last two years has [sic] placed a microscope on state leadership and response. Such scrutiny has proved Florida’s commitment to liberty, conservative governance, and economic opportunity to be a tried and true formula for success. Through strong, steady leadership, focusing on facts and not fear, Florida weathered the storm of national rises in unemployment, supply chain interruptions, and economic decline to emerge as one of the fastest recovering states in the Union.”

For narrative descriptions of the Freedom First Budget by program area, click on these links:


“The [budget’s] $1.172 billion tax cut package includes four tax holidays: a fuel tax holiday, a 7-day Freedom Week sales tax holiday, a 10-day back-to-school sales tax holiday, and a 10-day Disaster Preparedness sales tax holiday. The budget also proposes permanently eliminating the $25 fee the state charges to obtain a Florida ID Card…”

“While the governor’s recommendations for fiscal year 2022-23 include important investments in environmental conservation and K-12 education, the proposal is predicated on low taxes for wealthy residents and corporations.…”

“The budget offers a variety of proposals targeting needs in the health care sector, including a $226.5 million increase for Medicaid payment rates for health and human services providers such as nursing homes as a way to address staffing problems.”

“When the governor announced his resilience project spending list, he avoided talking about climate change. And he dismissed criticism that the spending does not address the causes of climate change.”

“The governor’s budget proposes more than $980 million to restore the Everglades and protect Florida’s water resources. It builds on an executive order DeSantis previously issued calling for $2.5 billion to be invested over four years for the protection of water resources.”

“DeSantis’ proposal would invest more direct cash payments to teachers and principals in the form of bonuses, increase per-student funding, and prioritize parental rights.”

Redistricting Update

Last month, we reviewed the progress to date on the redrawing of the state’s congressional and state legislative district maps. (Sparker’s Soapbox, 12/10/21)

Expect the Senate process to move quickly. Senate Reapportionment Committee chair Ray Rodriguez (R-Estero) plans to publish proposed maps for consideration of the full committee on Jan. 13. (Florida Politics, 12/16/21)

We found no news about the redistricting process since our last post from the House side of the Capitol.

Florida Executive Branch

Florida residents are represented in the Executive Branch of state government by an elected Governor, Attorney General, Chief Financial Officer, and Commissioner of Agriculture.
Meet the Executive Branch

From left: Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried, Gov. Ron DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis
From left: Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried, Gov. Ron DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis

As previously reported, several lawsuits have been filed by a number of states, including Florida, challenging the Biden administration’s COVID-19 rules. As they make their way through the courts, so far, it appears the states are winning. Here’s where several of the cases now stand.

Challenging the CMS and OSHA Rules

A rule issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medical Services (CMS) requires COVID-19 vaccinations for health care workers. A rule issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers with 100 or more employees to ensure each of their workers is fully vaccinated or tests for COVID-19 on at least a weekly basis.. (Sparker’s Soapbox, 12/10/21)

The U.S. Supreme Court held oral arguments on Jan. 7 on whether to allow the CMS and OSHA vaccine mandates to go into effect while appeals are heard in the courts of appeals. Regarding the OSHA mandate, according to the NYTimes, members of the Court’s conservative majority seemed skeptical that the Biden administration has the legal power to mandate that the nation’s large employers require workers to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or to undergo frequent testing. The court seemed more likely to sustain the separate requirement of the CMS mandate that health care workers at facilities that receive federal money be vaccinated. (New York Times, 1/7/21)

Meanwhile, Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration sent an email threatening health care providers with fines if they comply with the federal vaccination mandate. (Orlando Sentinel,1/5/22)

Challenging the Rules for Federal Contractors

Florida is also one of several states challenging a Biden administration mandate that required a COVID-19 vaccination for federal contractors. This month, a federal judge temporarily blocked that rule by granting Attorney General Ashley Moody’s motion for a preliminary injunction against the requirement. (Orlando Sentinel, 12/22/21)

Challenging the Rules for Head Start Preschool Workers

Attorney General Moody joined 23 other states in challenging a Biden administration rule that includes requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for workers at federally-funded Head Start preschool programs. (WUSF Public Media, 12/23/21)

That rule, too, was temporarily blocked when a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction preventing the Head Start vaccination mandate in 24 states, including Florida. (News Service of Florida via WINK News, 1/3/22)

Challenging Local School Mask Mandates

Last month, we summarized the legal back-and-forth that had taken place since Gov. DeSantis issued his Jul. 30 Executive Order to prevent school districts from requiring students to wear masks during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Sparker’s Soapbox, 12/10/21)

This month, the standoff between the DeSantis administration and federal education officials about student mask requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic ended after school districts ended their mask mandates. The U.S. Department of Education confirmed that a cease-and-desist complaint against Florida’s education department has been dropped. (Tampa Bay Times, 12/16/21)

A week later, a federal appeals court dismissed a separate suit that claimed DeSantis’ order violated laws designed to protect the rights of people with disabilities. (News Service of Florida via Orlando Sentinel, 12/22/21)

UF Free Speech Controversy: An Update

As we reported last month, three University of Florida (UF) professors sued the university after they were denied permission to serve as plaintiffs’ witnesses in a legal battle about a new state elections law (SB 90) that will, in part, make it harder for Floridians to vote by mail. (Sparker’s Soapbox, 12/10/21)

On Jan. 3, a federal judge refused to dismiss the suit, finding that the professors face a “credible threat” that future requests will be denied. (News Service of Florida via CBSMiami.com, 1/3/22

Separately, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, the accrediting authority for colleges and universities in the South, plans an onsite visit to determine UF’s compliance with its principles of accreditation. A loss of accreditation could lead to a loss of research dollars and federal aid for students, and jeopardize UF’s status as a Top 5 public university. The accreditation team is expected to present its findings to the authority’s Board of Trustees for a decision in June. (Tampa Bay Times, 2/16/21; The Gainesville Sun, 12/17/21)

Meanwhile, this week, UF President Kent Fuchs announced that he plans to step down at the end of 2022. He says he has fulfilled the commitments he made when he took the helm of the state’s flagship university. (News Service of Florida via Sayfie Review, 1/5/22; Editorial: Amid Fight for — and Against — Academic Freedom, University of Florida President to Step Down, By The Miami Herald Editorial Board, 1/5/22)

Sports Betting in Florida: An Update

In November, a U.S. District Judge ruled that the 30-year gaming compact reached between Gov. DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe last spring violated federal Indian gaming law. (Florida Politics, 11/23/21)

Despite the ruling, DeSantis kept the anticipated revenue from the agreement, estimated to be a minimum of $500 million a year for the next five years, in his budget proposal for the next fiscal year. (Florida Politics, 12/9/21)

Conservationists’ Case Tossed

A Tallahassee judge threw out a long-simmering dispute over whether state legislators misspent billions of dollars in real estate taxes — funds that were overwhelmingly approved by voters nearly a decade ago, to buy conservation land. (WLRN.org, 1/3/22)

News from Washington

All Florida voters elect the state’s two U.S. Senators.
Florida’s U.S. Senators are Marco Rubio and Rick Scott.

Key Votes in the U.S. Senate

Congress Approves $2.5 Trillion Debt Limit Increase, Sending It to Biden. (NYTimes, 12/14/21)
S.J.Res. 33 – A Joint Resolution Relating to Increasing the Debt Limit
Rubio — Nay; Scott — Nay
Passed — 50/49 on 12/14/21

Congress Passes a Bipartisan Defense Bill That Includes a 2.7% Service Member Pay Boost. NPR.org, 12/15/21
S.1605 – National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022
Rubio — Yea; Scott — Yea
Passed — 88/11 on 12/15/21

Presidential Appointments
Before adjourning in the early morning hours of its final week of the year, the Senate confirmed a “remarkable” 87 presidential appointments. Sens. Rubio and Scott voted against nearly all the ones in which votes were recorded (as opposed to voice votes), including against the nominations of Rahm Emanuel to be Ambassador to Japan (confirmed 48-21), Atul Gawande to be Assistant Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (confirmed 48-31), and Nicholas Burns to be Ambassador to China (confirmed 75-18).

That’s it for Florida government news for December! Be on the lookout for news in the coming weeks about the start of the legislative session.

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