Florida Government News for July 2021

Florida Government News July 2021

Coronavirus Update

Top Stories

The Cruise Ship Battle

Attorneys for the DeSantis’ administration are asking a federal judge to reject arguments by Norwegian Cruise Line that a state ban on so-called “vaccine passports” is unconstitutional. A hearing is scheduled for Aug. 6 in Miami. (News Service of Florida via WLRN, 7/28/21)

Despite Florida’s win to date, however, all major cruise lines intend to voluntarily remain in compliance with the CDC’s guidelines for resuming cruises, according to both the CDC and the trade organization Cruise Lines International Association. (WLRN, 7/28/21)

The Mask Battle

As we wrote last month, mask mandates in Alachua and Palm Beach Counties drew legal challenges last year that resulted in conflicting appellate-court decisions.

Meanwhile, a new state law (SB 2006 — Emergency Management) gave the governor the power to block cities and counties from requiring people to wear masks or requiring proof of vaccination. (Naples Daily News, 7/29/21)

But as coronavirus cases surge, Florida mayors are fighting back. The mayors of Miami-Dade and Orange counties have instituted mask mandates at indoor county facilities. And in Orange County, home to Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort, all 4,200 nonunion county employees will be required to be fully vaccinated by the end of September. (Associated Press, 7/29/21)

More legal challenges are expected.

Masks in the Schools

With the start of school approaching, the CDC recommended indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. (USA Today, 7/27/21)

In response, Gov. DeSantis on Jul. 30 issued an Executive Order banning school boards from implementing mask mandates, and threatening to withhold funding. (Executive Order, 7/30/21)

Some question the Governor’s authority to overrule local school policy. They cite Article 9, Section 4 of the Florida Constitution, which states: “The school board shall operate, control and supervise all free public schools within the school district.” (WUSF Public Media, 8/3/21)

As of now, at least four school districts in the state are pushing ahead with mask mandates, defying DeSantis’ threat to withhold funds. They are the districts of Broward, Leon, Duval and Alachua counties. (Washington Post, 8/4/21)

DeSantis in Other News

Responding to Surfside

On Jul. 12, Gov. DeSantis repeated his promise to review condo association regulations in light of the deadly building collapse in Surfside. Asked whether the state would consider tightening fiduciary controls on condo associations, he said everything would be on the table during next year’s Legislative Session. (Florida Politics, 7/12/21)

$1.1 Billion in Federal Medicaid Funding

The DeSantis administration is asking the federal government for an additional $1.1 billion in additional Medicaid dollars available through the American Rescue Plan. Florida’s decision to do so runs counter to previous years, when Republican leaders were skeptical about tapping into additional federal money for healthcare. (News Service of Florida via Miami Herald, 7/13/21)

Ending Roe v. Wade

Gov. DeSantis in July joined with ten other Republican governors in an amicus brief in a case by the state of Mississippi that aims to put abortion law into the hands of the states. (Tampa Bay Times, 7/29/21)

Mississippi’s attorney general told the U.S. Supreme Court on Jul. 22 that Roe v. Wade was “egregiously wrong” and should be overturned. She urged the justices to allow a controversial law that bars most abortions after 15 weeks to go into effect. (CNN, 7/22/21)

Boycotting Ben & Jerry’s

Siding with Israel in a controversy surrounding Ben & Jerry’s decision not to sell its ice cream in the “Occupied Palestinian Territory” as defined by the United Nations, DeSantis has added Ben & Jerry’s parent company, Unilever, to Florida’s List of Scrutinized Companies that Boycott Israel. (DeSantis News Release, 8/3/21; Guest Essay by Bennett Cohen and Jerry Greenfield via NYTimes, 7/28/21)

Florida in the Courts

Florida’s sports betting plan with the Seminole Tribe has been hit with a legal challenge. The suit contends, in part, that the structure of the plan is an attempt to get around a 2018 state constitutional amendment that requires voter approval of gambling expansions. (News Service of Florida, 7/5/21)

The National Rifle Association (NRA) has appealed a circuit court ruling upholding the constitutionality of a Florida law that prevents people under age 21 from buying guns. One of the issues in the case is how to apply a landmark 2008 U.S. Supreme Court decision known as District of Columbia v. Heller. (News Service of Florida via South Florida Sun Sentinel, 7/7/21)

Attorney General Ashley Moody is suing Google for illegally and unfairly maintaining a monopoly on the app store for Android devices. The attorneys general of several jurisdictions have also joined the suit, which is one of many actions taken against Google by the Florida Attorney General’s Office. (The Capitolist, 7/9/21)

The controversial new “anti-riot” law (HB 1) that was arguably a centerpiece of Gov. DeSantis’ legislative agenda this past session has led to several lawsuits. This month, Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker ordered the state to meet with the plaintiffs to resolve the matter. But attorneys for Attorney General Moody and Gov. DeSantis declined to participate, saying mediation won’t be productive. (Florida Politics, 7/14/21

Florida will receive more than $1.3 billion from the settlement of opioid lawsuits it and several other states had filed against pharmaceutical companies. Attorney General Ashley Moody was one of the lead voices in the multi-state effort. (Florida Politics, 7/21/21; DeSantis News Release, 7/21/21)

A group of attorneys has sued to force Florida to restore the $300 weekly extended federal unemployment benefits that the state ended before they were set to expire in September. Florida is one of 26 states that ended the benefits early, saying they incentivized people not to work. (Spectrum News, 7/26/21)

Challenges to Florida’s new election law will be heard by a federal judge in January. The law (SB 90), among other things, imposes restrictions on voter-registration organizations; creates identification requirements for voters seeking vote-by-mail ballots; and establishes restrictions on the availability and use of drop boxes. Orlando Sentinel, 7/27/21

This and That

The State Board of Education adopted new civics and Holocaust education standards, a move pushed by Gov. DeSantis. Critics worry the new standards are an effort to whitewash history and prevent schools from tackling difficult subjects such as slavery. Critics also dislike the standards’ references to religious beliefs, and say they fail to offer broader lessons on the “ramifications of prejudice, stereotyping and racism,” as state law requires. (Orlando Sentinel, 7/14/21)

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried has suspended 22 concealed weapons licenses held by people charged in connection with the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol. As part of her role, she oversees the state’s licensing division, which has the authority to immediately suspend someone’s concealed weapons permit if that individual is charged with a felony or some other disqualifying offense. The agency can revoke a license upon conviction. (News4Jax.com, 7/27/21)

Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee has rejected a call by a GOP state representative to hold ‘forensic audits’ of the 2020 election results in the five biggest counties in Florida. “Florida’s election in 2020 was accurate, transparent, and conducted in compliance with Florida law,” she said in a written statement. “Florida has already conducted both pre- and post-elections audits, and we are confident in the security and integrity of our 2020 election.” (Spectrum News 13, 7/28/21)

Florida students struggled more on the state’s standardized tests this spring compared to counterparts tested before the pandemic, with scores dropping most sharply in math. Lower scores, blamed on a “COVID slide,” were expected after the pandemic disrupted the education of thousands of students, many of whom studied online for at least some of the 2020-21 school year. (Orlando Sentinel, 7/29/21)

Florida is paying a private contractor $3.6 million to help issue $1,000 bonus checks bearing the governor’s logo to teachers, principals and first responders. Not sending the money directly to local governments to disburse to their employees as with previous teacher bonuses has prompted accusations that DeSantis is using the bonuses to score political points. (Tampa Bay Times, 7/29/21)

With red tide and other water crises being reported across the state, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried has announced a new Clean Water Initiative to increase accountability, transparency, and coordination. Among the “first-ever” practices put in place are in-person site visits in coordination with agriculture stakeholders instead of relying on voluntary self-reporting when it comes to compliance. (WINK News, 8/2/21)

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.

The Federal Election Commission has ended its investigation into whether Sen. Rick Scott violated federal campaign laws during his 2018 bid for U.S. Senate. The 3-3 split decision along party lines comes despite the Commission’s general counsel concluding there was reason to believe Scott broke the law. (Tampa Bay Times, 7/16/21)

Seventeen Republican senators voted to advance the $1 trillion infrastructure bill. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott were not among them. (CNN, 7/28/21)

Sen. Rubio filed the PRESERVE Online Speech Act, which would require internet companies to publicly disclose within seven days any requests from the U.S. or foreign nations to moderate, censor, or otherwise limit speech, except for certain law enforcement proceedings. Four other Senators signed on as immediate co-sponsors, including Sen. Scott. (Florida Politics, 7/30/21; the Bill)

Sen. Rubio has also filed the DISCOURSE Act, a separate bill that would gut social media companies’ legal immunity regarding content posted to the platforms if they censor specific viewpoints or create and develop content, “including through algorithmic amplification.” (Florida Politics, 7/30/21; the Bill)

That’s it for Florida government news for July! Stay safe and enjoy the summer. I’ll be back in October with my next recap.

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