Florida Government News for January 2021

January 2021 Florida Government News

This month, members of the Florida legislature began pre-session committee hearings on proposed bills. The 60-day session will officially begin March 2. In this post, I highlight January’s news from the state capitol.

The Legislature’s Sole Responsibility: Passing a Balanced Budget

With the pandemic wreaking havoc on the state’s economy and the future uncertain, reaching agreement on the revenue assumptions to be used in developing the state budget this year presents a particular challenge. Gov. DeSantis wanted a more-optimistic presumption than the experts proposed. Ultimately, they split the difference.

Short of raising taxes, sources of new revenue are few. But Florida is one of seven states that do not require online sellers to collect and remit the state’s sales tax. And it is the only state that hasn’t changed its online sales tax collection laws following a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows states to make sales tax remittance compulsory. Now, in an effort to shore up state revenue:

Senate President Wilton Simpson supports the move.

Among other ideas under consideration, Simpson also floated the idea of signing a new compact with the Seminole Tribe to produce more revenue from gambling (backstory):

Even if both those measures pass, major cuts will be needed to account for the shortfall. Since more than two-thirds of Florida’s budget goes to education and health care, it is likely that much of them would fall on schools and health care programs.

Late in the month, Gov. DeSantis released a “rosier-than-expected” $96.6 billion FY 2021-22 budget proposal. Its $4.3 billion increase over the current year’s budget is made possible by assuming $4.5 billion in federal COVID-relief money, a state economy buoyed by federal stimulus checks, and $17 billion in federal unemployment payments to jobless Floridians.

DeSantis’ proposal is advisory only. The Legislature is responsible for passing a balanced budget, and it has until the end of session on April 30 to do so. Still, the document is a clear statement of the Governor’s priorities and not to be ignored.

Making Public Policy: Proposed New Laws

COVID-19 Liability Protection

One of the first and perhaps most important bills to be considered this session is a tort reform bill to protect businesses against COVID-19-related lawsuits. A Florida Tax Watch research report titled The Best Defense Is a Good Offense: The Economic Impact of Protecting Responsible Floridians From COVID-Related Civil Liability concludes that “if employers’ confidence in the economy is shaken due to the absence of a liability shield, we would reduce the Florida economy by as much as $27.6 billion and more than 356,000 jobs annually.”

HB 7: Civil Liability for Damages Relating to COVID-19 provides requirements for civil action based on a COVID-19-related claim; provides that the plaintiff has the burden of proof in such action; provides a statute of limitations; and provides retroactive applicability.

That said, the devil is in the details. To date, the long-term care industry accounts for more than one-third of the more than 26,000 (as of 02/02/21) coronavirus-related deaths in the state, and:

The Governor’s “Anti-Mob” Bill

In response to police brutality protests after the death of George Floyd last May, Gov. DeSantis proposed what he called the “strongest pro-law enforcement, anti-rioting, anti-looting legislation anywhere in the country.”

The DeSantis bill was filed on January 6 in both chambers with the title “Combating Public Disorder” as HB 1 and SB 484.

Another Priority of the Governor

“We need to really think deeply about if we are a disfavored class based on our principles, based on having conservative views, based on being a Christian, based on whatever you can say that is not favored in Silicon Valley,” DeSantis said. “I think it’s probably the most important legislative issue that we’re going to have to get right this year and next year.”

Doing More for Supporters of School Choice

A sweeping school choice bill would expand eligibility for Florida’s school-voucher programs, consolidate five existing school-voucher programs into two programs, and allow parents to use taxpayer-backed education savings accounts for private schools and other costs.

About That $15 Minimum Wage …

In November, Florida voters overwhelming approved an amendment to the state constitution to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2026. Now:

Abortion; Medicaid Expansion; Vaccines; Guns

As every year, there will be many social policy-related bills introduced in the Legislature this session, and most will not make it to the floor for a vote. These bills that made the news this month are of note:

Executive Branch

Since we Floridians elect not only the governor but also the three independent Cabinet members that together make up the Executive Branch of state government, it is important to keep an eye of what each of them is doing. (See my post Who’s Running for State Cabinet in the August Primaries?) Some news of note this month:

Attorney General Ashley Moody

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis

Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried

Judicial Branch

While Florida’s appeals court justices and judges are initially appointed by the governor, their initial term of office is only extended with the approval of a majority of voters every six years. See my post On the Ballot: Merit Retention of Florida Judges for more information. In the news this month:

About the Environment

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

Senator Rubio

For Marco Rubio’s Senate committee assignments, click HERE.

Senator Scott

For Rick Scott’s Senate committee assignments, click HERE.

Key Votes This Month

That’s it for Florida government news for January. Stay safe!

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