November news centered on the elections, the coronavirus, and Florida’s upcoming 2021 legislative session.
I wrote about the winners and losers in the November Elections a few weeks ago. Now, looking a bit more analytically, here are some things Florida voters should know.
More than half of Florida’s 67 counties swung farther to the right, allowing President Trump to win the state with a margin nearly three times what he had four years ago. Trump did unexpectedly well in precincts with a majority Hispanic population, particularly Cuban-American communities of Miami-Dade County.
- Florida shifts further right. NYTimes, 11/5/20
“Conservatives trounced Democrats in nearly every contested race up and down the ticket,” wrote Politico Florida, “flipping two Miami-Dade congressional seats, gaining five seats in the Florida House, taking one seat in the Florida Senate and strengthening their hold on power going into a crucial redistricting year in 2021,” wrote McGuireWoods Consulting.
- The man with the plan: Chris Sprowls led GOP surge with out-of-the box thinking. GOP insiders point to the incoming House Speaker’s leadership guiding strategy from fundraising to community outreach. Florida Politics, 11/5/20
- Republicans maintain control of Florida Senate as lawmakers head toward two years of grappling with a coronavirus-damaged budget and redrawing political boundaries. News Service of Florida via Tampa Bay Times, 11/3/20
Of concern is the fact that candidates for three Florida Senate seats did no campaigning or fundraising, had no issue platforms, and made no effort to get votes. It is suggested that their presence in the races was intended to syphon votes from Democratic candidates.
- Evidence suggests several state Senate candidates were plants funded by dark money. Local10.com, 11/10/20
One of the three cases involved what was expected to be a close race for the District 37 Senate seat between Democrat incumbent José Javier Rodríguez and Ileana Garcia, a well-funded Republican challenger who had worked for President Trump’s campaign. After a manual recount, Garcia won by just 34 votes.
- Latinas for Trump founder unseated Florida Democrat after ‘shadow candidate’ with his surname entered the race. Washington Post, 11/20/20
- Mysterious candidate who likely swayed tight Florida Senate race under investigation. Miami Herald, 11/17/20
This is the post-election partisan makeup of Florida voters’ representatives in the U.S. Congress and Florida Legislature:
|U.S. Senate||2||0||100 U.S. Senators|
|U.S. House||16||11||435 U.S. Representatives|
|State Senate||24||16||40 State Senators|
|State House||78||42||120 State Representatives|
Through November 28, the Florida Department of Health COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard reported 18,500 resident deaths and 236 non-resident deaths, an increase of 1,852 and 30 deaths, respectively, from what I reported in my October post.
Florida averaged 7,453 resident cases of COVID-19 per day for the two weeks ended 11/28/20, more than twice the 3,499 average daily cases for the two weeks ended 10/28/20. The average positivity rate of people tested per day for the same period this month was 7.39 percent, compared to 5.17 percent for the same period last month.
As the number of cases and deaths in Florida rose throughout the month, questions continued about the state’s transparency and the accuracy of the data being shared. On November 6, the chief public information officer for the Florida Department of Health resigned, declining to say why, and all messaging was ordered to go through the governor’s office for approval. State Surgeon General Scott Rivkees hasn’t been seen publicly in months, and the governor’s failure to appear publicly to answer questions was repeatedly noted.
- ‘It’s crap’: DeSantis office ‘leaks’ state records to fuel COVID-19 death ‘conspiracy’. Miami Herald, 11/6/20
- As COVID-19 starts to spike, DeSantis’ orders limit South Florida leaders from taking action to curb virus. South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 11/9/20
- As coronavirus cases climb in Florida, health department top spokesperson resigns. Sun Sentinel via Orlando Sentinel, 11/16/20
- Florida lawmakers convene and make it official: Containing COVID-19 not their problem. Miami Herald, 11/17/20
- Florida unlikely to increase jobless benefits, even with federal aid set to expire. Orlando Sentinel, 11/23/2
- COVID-19 cases in Florida have tripled since Gov. Ron DeSantis reopened state. CBS Miami, 11/24/20
- Gov. Ron DeSantis extends order blocking business shutdowns. CBS Miami, 11/26/20
- DeSantis turns to video messages but doesn’t answer crucial COVID vaccine questions. Miami Herald, 11/25/20
- COVID infections surge in Florida nursing homes. Miami Herald, 11/29/20
This month, the state’s preliminary vaccine distribution plan was rolled out.
- DeSantis outlines state’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan, says vaccines won’t be mandated. WINK News, 11/20/20
- Vaccine disbursement to prioritize state’s long-term care facilities, Ron DeSantis says. Florida Politics, 11/26/20
- Florida looks to close book on school reopening fight. News Service of Florida via news4jax.com, 11/13/20
- Corcoran: ‘Full parental choice’ for online or on campus education expected for next semester. Orlando Sentinel, 11/18/20
- Forcing students to test in schools poses big challenge, but state isn’t budging on offering relief. Palm Beach Post. 11/26/20
State Government: Legislative Branch
2021 Legislative Session
The 2021 regular legislative session will not convene until March 2, but the Legislature held one-day organization sessions on November 17. Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, became Speaker of the Florida House and Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, became President of the Senate. Both will serve in those roles for the next two years.
From Speaker Sprowls’ opening remarks:
- “ … while I certainly cannot stop anyone from having a tantrum on Twitter, please know that there will be no place for that kind of Washington, D.C.-style conduct inside this chamber or in this House.”
- “I expect much of this session will be spent dealing with the fallout of the virus and modernizing our laws and plans to ensure we are prepared for future pandemics.”
- “We need to bring the same long-range planning and strategic discipline to our environmental programs that we bring to our transportation work plan.”
- “Poor prenatal care can result in poor health outcomes for infants, which can, in turn, impact their development. Every baby should have the opportunity to be born healthy.”
- “[W]e can do something to fix the child welfare system, to raise the quality of caseworkers, to encourage adoption, and to create support systems for older kids in foster care.”
- “[J]oin me in launching our New Worlds Initiative, where the State of Florida will partner with private donors to put books in the homes of every struggling reader or low-income child from grades K-5.”
- “We need to be the first state in the country to insist that workforce programs meet actual outcome standards [and integrate] all of our workforce programs into one unified system.”
- “[W]hile our public universities should offer a full range of degree options, it does not follow that the state should subsidize all degrees to the same degree.”
From President Simpson’s opening remarks:
- “We cannot fix our situation by simply spending down our savings account. We need to make structural changes to the budget.”
- “There will be things that we did in times of plenty that need to be eliminated in these times of lean. That does not mean all we will do is cut the budget these next two years. There will be places where we need to make investments — like our Northern Everglades, our springs, our most vulnerable children, and our state infrastructure. To do our job right we need to be thoughtful, strategic, and long-term in our vision.”
Neither leader has expressed interest in calling a special session to address the pandemic before the legislative session officially begins March 2. Sprowls, however, announced creation of a 12-member Pandemics & Public Emergencies Committee (PPEC) to coordinate the state’s pandemic response.
In other news about the 2021 session:
- Florida minimum wage hike approved by voters still faces hurdle of GOP Legislature. Florida lawmakers have a history of clouding such citizen initiatives when they oppose the policy outlined. Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 11/6/20
- Florida House and Senate minority leaders officially take their places for the upcoming legislative session. Rep. Bobby DuBose, D-Fort Lauderdale, and Rep Evan Jenn, D-Dania Beach, will co-lead House Democrats; Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale, will lead Senate Democrats. WFSU via WLRN.org, 11/17/20
- The Florida House has a new person leading the charge on education policy. Chris Latvala says he is a “proud product of public schools,” where his mom was a longtime teacher. Tampa Bay Times, 11/16/20
- Florida GOP lawmakers might map out plan to fight rising seas, similar to how the state sets road and bridge projects for five years. News Service of Florida via Orlando Sentinel, 11/23/20
- Florida lawmakers eying coronavirus liability protections for businesses. At least one suit has been filed in Miami against Publix Supermarkets, claiming wrongful death. Cap News Services via WFLA.com, 11/24/20
- Florida university tuition could increase for the first time since 2013, as state budget shortfall looms. Sun Sentinel, 11/27/20
State Government: Executive Branch
Continuing his pledge from September to “crack down on violent and disorderly assemblies” in response to police brutality protests after the death of George Floyd:
- DeSantis’ ‘anti-mob’ bill would extend Stand Your Ground lethal defense to criminal mischief, property crimes. The Center Square | Florida, 11/11/20
Acting on a 2018 DeSantis priority, the Legislature in 2019 passed a law directing the state to develop a Canadian prescription-drug importation program for certain pharmaceuticals. Now:
- DeSantis announces Florida’s submittal to import cheaper prescription drugs. The Capitolist, 11/23/20
- Canadian drug import plan in Florida draws legal challenge from pharmaceutical industry. The Center Square | Florida, 11/24/20
Although the state constitution requires the Legislature to approve state spending, DeSantis has been able to use CARES Act funds and other federal money to respond to the coronavirus without legislative oversight due to the state of emergency he declared and extended through Jan. 3.
- DeSantis has spent billions in federal cash with little oversight. And the spigot runs dry soon. Orlando Sentinel, 11/11/20
- Ashley Moody signs on to Pennsylvania ballot brief. The brief aimed to convince the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a ruling that allowed Pennsylvania elections officials to count some late-arriving absentee ballots. Florida Politics, 11/10/20
Chief Financial Officer
- Jimmy Patronis: CFO’s office returned $27 million in unclaimed property in October. Florida Daily, 11/11/20
Commissioner of Agriculture
- ‘We’re calling about your car’s extended warranty’: Nikki Fried levies $345K fine against South Florida auto warranty company. Florida Politics, 11/21/20
State Government: Judicial Branch
- Court backlog trims Florida’s prison population by 7,000 inmates in 5 months. As a result of the pandemic, the courts have developed a backlog of pending felony cases expected to take years to work its way through to the prison population. The Center Square | Florida, 11/25/20
- Florida Supreme Court won’t reinstate death penalty for killers once sentenced to execution. Two rulings add yet another twist to the years-long legal saga over whether Florida juries must be unanimous in meting out the death sentence. Miami Herald, 11/25/20
- Florida Supreme Court case from Alachua County could affect sheriffs’ budgets across state. It stems from a 2017 lawsuit over whether the sheriff could shift money within her budget after it had been allocated for a different purpose. Fresh Take Florida via The Gainesville Sun, 11/5/20
- State Appeals Court weighs mask mandate. A three-judge panel heard arguments in a challenge to an Alachua County order that raises a series of issues, including whether the order violates privacy and free-speech rights. News Service of Florida via Florida Politics, 11/24/20
M-CORES Toll Road Project
The three proposed M-CORES toll roads have been controversial since the beginning. In November:
- Florida toll roads task force reports sent to DeSantis, lawmakers. The reports say task force members could not reach any conclusions, in part because there was “no proven need.” Tallahassee Democrat, 11/12/20
- Audubon celebrates M-CORES Task Force final report. The Task Forces have protected Florida’s natural areas and rural lands from what could have been a disaster, said Audubon of Florida’s executive director. Naples Florida Weekly, 11/19/20
- Marco Rubio forecasts tough slog for Joe Biden nominees. Florida Politics, 11/18/20
- Rick Scott to lead Senate campaign arm in 2022. Florida Politics, 11/10/20
That’s it for Florida government news for November!