Florida Government News for November 2019

This month in Florida Government news: Governor Ron DeSantis announces $91.4 billion state budget with higher starting teacher salaries and new teacher bonus program; wants increased regulation of water quality; will name two state Supreme Court justices in January. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, wins 2022-24 Florida Senate president race. For these stories and more Florida government news, read on …

Florida Government News

The Governor’s Budget Proposal

2020-21 DeSantis Budget - Florida Government News

In November, the governor outlined his budget priorities for 2020-21. But it’s the Legislature that actually crafts the budget. In fact, it’s their only constitutional duty.

At $91.4 billion, it is the largest budget ever proposed by a Florida governor and slightly more than the current year’s plan.

“The budget includes key investments in our K-12 education system, our environment and the well-being of our residents, while recommending over $480 million in savings and over $300 million in tax relief,” he said in a statement.

House Speaker Jose Oliva called the Governor’s budget “a solid base upon which to begin our budget discussions,” and Senate President Bill Galvano said it reflects “many priorities my Senate colleagues and I share.”

Education Budget

With a trillion-dollar economy and one of the largest student populations in the nation, Florida ranks 46th among all states and the District of Columbia based on average public school teacher salary. The average is $48,486 for some 176,000 school teachers.

DeSantis’ budget boosts K-12 public school funding to an all-time high of $22.9 billion, an increase of $1 billion or 4.76% over the current year. It includes a $300 per-student funding increase to $7,979, a starting teacher salary of $47,500 and new teacher and principal bonus programs. To help pay for the increased funding, local property taxes (“required local effort”) would go up almost $158 million (2.01%). Details here.

Critics say the Governor’s underlying approach to education as outlined in his recommended conforming bills has not changed. And:

Environment Budget

The DeSantis budget seeks $2 billion for the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, including the second-year $625-million installment of his four-year Everglades restoration and water quality plan. It was applauded by the Everglades Foundation but criticized by some as not doing enough.

Elections Security Budget

The DeSantis budget recommends $6.6 million for state-level election oversight activities, with a focus on cybersecurity. Included is $1.3 million to assist local Supervisors of Elections to combat cyber threats and $1.4 million for voter registration list maintenance services and voter outreach.

Other DeSantis Priorities

Environment & Growth

After taking office last January, DeSantis quickly emerged as a different kind of Florida Republican leader.

At the urging of the Governor, Everglades restoration projects such as the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir Project have been expedited. Most recently:

On the other hand, oil and gas drilling in an environmentally critical floodplain is a step closer to reality, which could put the water supply for Florida’s Panhandle at risk.

Lawmakers passed a bill last session to build more than 300 miles of toll roads and gave task force members until October 2020 to gather public input and make recommendations. Acknowledging subsequent complaints about the tight timeline:

Public Education

Test results show that 42% of toddlers who participated in Florida’s free prekindergarten program were not ready for kindergarten.

Florida’s fourth and eighth grade 2019 reading scores represented little progress from a decade ago; lowest-performing students posted some of the biggest declines.

Law & Justice

Voters overwhelmingly passed Amendment 11 in 2018. One provision in the bundled amendment made it possible for the Legislature to retroactively free people imprisoned for what were crimes when committed but, due to changes in law, are no longer crimes today. And yet:

A court ruled in July that penalizing local officials for violating a law that prohibits them from regulating firearms was unconstitutional. Now DeSantis and Attorney General Ashley Moody are appealing the decision.

Voting & Elections

Returning Citizens’ Rights Restoration

A voting rights panel set up by lawmakers has made recommendations on implementation of Amendment 4, a citizen initiative passed by voters that granted voting rights to an estimated 1.4 million former felons living in the state.

Meanwhile, as reported last month, a lawsuit that challenges a law passed last session specifying conditions for the restoration of voting rights continues. This month, in considering the Governor’s request to weigh in on the meaning of “all terms of their sentence:”

Election Security

Secretary of State Laurel Lee acknowledged that Florida’s election systems are under daily attack by foreign or domestic adversaries.

Health, Safety & Welfare

Florida regulators are proceeding with plans to import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada, a DeSantis priority, but questions persist.

Attorney General Ashley Moody wants stronger regulations to prevent vaping dealers from selling to children. She would also like to see the existing Tobacco Free Florida program expanded to warn about the impact of vaping among teenagers.

Kathleen Passidomo Elected 2022 Senate President

Senator Kathleen Passidomo - Florida Government news
Kathleen Passidomo

Senate Majority Leader Kathleen Passidomo of Naples won the race for President of the Florida Senate beginning in 2022. But Republicans must keep their majority in the Senate if she is to take office in three years.

The Florida Courts

Two Florida Supreme Court vacancies were created this month when Justices Robert Luck and Barbara Lagoa were confirmed to lifetime appointments on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.

DeSantis has said he looks for conservative judges who won’t impose their own policy views over those enacted by the Legislature. Such judges would likely uphold the GOP-dominated state House and Senate priorities on issues like abortion, state support for religious institutions, and access to the courts.

Florida Government News

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

Domestic Affairs

Foreign Affairs

That’s it for my recap of Florida government news for November. Next up: my review of government news specifically for Collier County voters.

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