Florida Government News for May 2021

May 2020 Florida Government News

DeSantis signs $100 billion budget; cruise ship battle continues; 30-year gambling compact signed; League of Women Voters challenge new voting law; U.S. history standards targeting critical race theory proposed

In this post, I’ll recap important state news made after the April 30 close of the legislative session, and other highlights of the month. But first, my final update on COVID-19 in the state.

COVID-19 News

Vaccinations

Downloaded from www.nytimes.com on 6/7/21

Forty percent of Florida residents are now fully vaccinated and 50 percent have had a least one dose, up from the 30 and 43 percent comparable figures last month. (NYTimes, 6/7/21)

Florida’s figures are comparable to the nation as a whole, in which 41 percent of residents are fully vaccinated and 51 percent have had at least one dose. (NYTimes, 6/7/21)

By age group, 88 percent of Florida residents age 65 and older, 51 percent of those age 18 – 64, and 19 percent of those age 12 – 17 have had at least one shot of the vaccine. (NYTimes, 6/7/21)

New Cases

At the end of the month, Florida stopped reporting the daily number of cases, deaths and vaccinations in the state. Instead, it will post weekly reports in a new format with condensed information on Fridays. (Miami Herald)

On May 28, in the last of its daily reports, Florida reported 2,338 new cases and a 7-day average of 2,280 new cases. (NYTimes, 6/7/21)

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The current state of emergency due to the pandemic is scheduled to expire on June 26, and Governor Ron DeSantis has indicated that he does not plan to extend it. (News Service of Florida)

Policy Changes

The Cruise Ship Battle

In March, Gov. DeSantis forbid businesses including cruise lines to require proof of vaccinations from customers and employees. (South Florida Sun Sentinel)

In April, Attorney General Ashley Moody, backed by DeSantis, filed a lawsuit challenging the restrictions imposed by the CDC seeking to force the reopening of the state’s cruise industry. (South Florida Sun Sentinel)

U.S. government lawyers countered that Florida has no standing to sue and that the CDC, not the state, has the power to regulate cruise ships sailing from American ports. (South Florida Sun Sentinel)

A federal judge was to hear arguments in early June. (WLRN)

Post-Session Developments

Gaming Compact

In a special session held the week of May 17, the Florida legislature approved a sweeping new 30-year gambling deal negotiated by DeSantis between the State of Florida and the Seminole Tribe of Florida. (South Florida Sun Sentinel)

The deal is a win for DeSantis and for Florida’s coffers. “The breakdown of the 2010 compact has denied the state of Florida any revenue derived from the Seminole Tribe’s ongoing gaming operations,” said DeSantis in a statement. “With this new compact, the state will now see a large stream of reoccurring revenue to the tune of billions of dollars over the next few years.”

Specifically, the agreement will generate a minimum of $2.5 billion in new revenue for the state over the next five years and an estimated $6 billion through 2030, according to a DeSantis news release.

No Casinos, a group that has opposed gambling expansion in Florida before and since the 2018 vote, vowed to challenge the compact in court. In 2018, 72 percent of voters passed a state constitutional amendment that requires any expansion of gambling to go to a statewide vote. (Florida Politics)

The Tribe says the deal doesn’t require voter approval since the amendment doesn’t govern gambling on tribal land and sports betting will go through computer servers on that land. (USA Today Network-Florida)

Despite overwhelming bipartisan support in the legislature, the deal was not without its politics. According to Editorial: Shame on secretive senators for hiding gambling intentions in the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Miami, asked why the compact allows the tribe to oppose a non-tribal casino only if it’s within 15 miles. “Pizzo asked this knowing that Donald Trump’s Doral country club lies precisely 15.2 miles from a casino on the tribe’s Hollywood reservation. A casino license in Miami is the answer to many of Trump’s financial problems.”

The U.S. Department of the Interior has 45 days after DeSantis signed the bill ratifying the compact to approve or reject the agreement or allow it to go into effect without the federal agency’s action. (Florida Politics)

The Budget

On June 2, DeSantis signed a $100 billion budget after vetoing $1.5 billion, including $1 billion in federal money for an emergency response fund that he said had strings attached that made it unusable. (WINK News)

The emergency fund was to have been created with American Rescue Plan money, and federal guidance requires those funds to be used to support COVID-19 response efforts, for “immediate economic stabilization,” and to address “systemic public health and economic challenges that have contributed to the unequal impact of the pandemic.” (Florida Politics)

Governor’s Vetoes

In addition to the $1 billion emergency fund, the Governor vetoed:

For a compete list of the 2021 vetoes, click here.

New Laws

A number of measures became law with the Governor’s signature this month. They include:

  • a broader ban on local governments for gun regulations — A new law makes local governments pay up to $100,000 if they are sued for imposing gun regulations. (Tampa Bay Times)
  • landmark sea level rise bills — The bills represent Florida’s “most robust plan” ever to address the threats posed by future flooding, House Speaker Chris Sprowls said. (Tampa Bay Times)
  • a transgender sports ban — “We believe in the state of Florida protecting the fairness and integrity of women’s athletics,” DeSantis said at the signing. He signed the bill on first day of LGBTQ Pride Month. (Orlando Sentinel)
  • a law that gives developers a break on impact fees —It “makes it virtually impossible for local governments to require that new development pays its own way,” said growth-management organization 1000 Friends of Florida. (News Service of Florida)
  • laws to combat Chinese influence at Florida universities — The bills were spurred by incidents of Chinese nationals working at Florida colleges stealing sensitive materials and designs of military equipment.(Orlando Sentinel)

Court Challenges Ahead

Several new laws will be challenged in the courts. Among them are challenges to laws that:

In Other Florida Government News

Proposed New U.S. History Standards

Is “critical race theory” a way of understanding how American racism has shaped public policy, or a divisive discourse that pits people of color against white people? (What Is Critical Race Theory, and Why Is It Under Attack?, Education Week, 5/18/21)

Florida is one of several states that is seeking to ban or limit schools from teaching that racism is infused in American institutions. (NYTimes)

On June 10, the State Board of Education will consider a proposed rule that says teachers “may not define American history as something other than the creation of a new nation based largely on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.” The proposal also aims to ensure teachers do not “indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of view” that is inconsistent with state standards. (News Service of Florida)

According to Gov. DeSantis, “(History) needs to be taught accurately, it needs to be taught in a fact-based way not an ideological-based way. If we have to play whack-a-mole all over this state stopping this critical race theory, we will do it.”

The Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, opposes the proposed rule.

And despite the fact that School Board elections in Florida are nonpartisan:

Moody Loses Immigration Case

This month, a federal judge refused Attorney General Ashley Moody’s request for a preliminary injunction in an immigration lawsuit that she filed in March against the Biden administration. She quickly filed an appeal. In her lawsuit, Moody contends that the Biden administration’s directives threaten public safety in the state. (South Florida Sun Sentinel)

Fried Amends Financial Disclosures

This month, Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried amended two separate financial disclosure forms, reporting earning substantially more money from her lobbying business than she initially disclosed — money that in part came from work she did on behalf of a Gainesville-based nursery that was eventually acquired by a medical marijuana company. (Politico Florida)

Then she filed to run for governor. (CNN)

After that, the chairman of the Leon County GOP filed an ethics complaint against her. And Sen. Joe Gruters, chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, called on the Florida Legislature to investigate the matter. (Florida Politics)

Judicial Branch

The Florida Supreme Court this month affirmed the state’s vertical integration medical marijuana model, essentially delivering a blow to small companies hoping to enter the state’s $1 billion-plus medical marijuana industry. (Politico Florida)

That’s it for Florida government news for May! Stay safe!

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