Florida Government News for October 2021

Florida Government News October 2021

Florida Legislature

Although the 2022 Legislative Session does not begin until January 11, House and Senate committee meetings have started in preparation for the session. The first three weeks were introductory and informative in nature with practically no legislation being heard. (League of Women Voters of Florida Capitol Report, 10/27/21)

In the third week of committee meetings, Republican Kathleen Passidomo of Naples was officially selected as the next Florida Senate President for the 2022-2024 legislative term. (Florida Politics, 10/19/21)


Special Session Called for Nov. 15

“Your right to earn a living should not be contingent upon COVID shots,” said Gov. Ron DeSantis. He has asked the Legislature to provide protections for employees facing termination because of COVID-19 vaccine mandates, to reaffirm that government entities including school districts may not fire an employee based on COVID-19 vaccine status and that violating government entities should be held accountable, to require employers’ broad liability protections to be reevaluated if they harm employees through vaccine mandates, and to provide greater protections to parents to manage the health care decisions of their children, including the freedom to opt their children out of mask mandates. (DeSantis News Release, 10/21/21)

Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Senate President Wilton Simpson released a joint statement of support.

“Florida will respond to this gross overreach by the federal government,” they wrote. “[W]e will review the Governor’s specific proposals as well as discuss our own ideas for legislative action, including whether now is the time for Florida to withdraw from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and establish our own state program. We believe that by doing so, Florida will have the ability to alleviate onerous federal regulations placed on employers and employees.” (Joint Statement, 10/21/21; The Center Square | Florida, 10/22/21)

In a second news release setting Nov. 15 as the date for the start of the session, DeSantis backed off from stripping COVID-19 liability protections from businesses that impose vaccine mandates on their workers. (Orlando Sentinel, 10/29/21; DeSantis News Release, 10/29/21)


Redistricting Underway

Last month, lawmakers officially began the decennial process of redrawing the state’s Congressional and Legislative district lines ahead of the 2022 elections. (Sparker’s Soapbox, 9/29/21)

Since then, Democrats’ and allied groups’ requests for public hearings — even virtual ones — before the maps are crafted have gone unheeded. A decade ago, redistricting leaders devoted four months to more than two dozen such hearings, but this year’s leaders say a pandemic-related time crunch makes it impossible. (Miami Herald, 10/14/21; WMFE.org, 11/1/21)

Meanwhile, much of a recent meeting of the House Redistricting Committee centered around the question of what, exactly, constitutes partisan mapmaking. (Florida Politics, 11/2/21)

With Democrats holding a slender 220-212 advantage in the U.S. House over Republicans, a congressional district map that helps elect one or two more Republicans could help give the GOP control of the chamber. (Orlando Sentinel, 10/6/21)


Florida Executive Branch

From left: Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried, Gov. Ron DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis
From left: Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried, Gov. Ron DeSantis,
Attorney General Ashley Moody, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis

Opposing the Mandates

October saw the escalation of the months-long verbal and legal battles between the State of Florida, led by DeSantis and Attorney General Ashley Moody, and parents, schools, businesses, and the federal government over vaccine and mask mandates.

Rather than summarize the back-and-forths, here are some of the most noteworthy news stories I read over the course of the month. Click through and skim the full stories.

Masks

Vaccines


Elections Supervisors Say Democracy “Under Threat”

As Republicans throughout the nation continue to refuse to acknowledge former President Donald Trump’s re-election loss to Joe Biden nearly a year ago, Florida’s supervisors of elections are pleading with candidates and elected officials to tamp down the rhetoric. (News Service of Florida via NWFDailyNews.com, 10/24/21; FSE Statement, 10/25/21)


More “Elections Integrity Reforms”

Days after Roger Stone threatened to challenge him if he didn’t conduct an election audit, DeSantis said he will ask lawmakers to create a new office to investigate and prosecute election-related fraud. He also plans to ask them to increase the criminal penalty for ballot harvesting from a misdemeanor to a third-degree felony. (News Service of Florida via WLRN.org, 11/3/21; Tampa Bay Times, 11/3/21)


Florida Bars Professors From Testifying

Two University of Florida (UF) political science professors who were involved in helping uncover the Florida Legislature’s “redistricting scandal” a decade ago have accused Republican leaders of using outside contracts to intentionally shield redistricting data and mapping details from the public. (Tampa Bay Times, 10/8/21)

Weeks later, the UF ordered them and another professor not to testify as expert witnesses in a lawsuit to overturn the state’s new law restricting voting rights. (NYTimes, 10/29/21)

In recent days, reports of other faculty restrictions by UF have surfaced. (Tampa Bay Times, 11/2/21)

The accrediting organization for UF has said it will investigate whether “academic freedom” and “undue political influence” accrediting standards were violated. (Miami Herald, 11/1/21)

The university defended its actions and the governor’s office denied involvement, as news of the incidents spread nationwide. (Miami Herald, 11/1/21)

UF said it was “immediately appointing a task force to review the university’s conflict of interest policy and examine it for consistency and fidelity.” (Miami Herald, 11/1/21)

By week’s end, UF withdrew its objections to the professors’ paid testimony. (Tampa Bay Times, 11/5/21/; NYTimes, 11/5/21)

Despite the university’s reversal, the professors filed a federal lawsuit Friday alleging their First Amendment rights were violated and asking the court to strike down the school policy that led to a “stifling of faculty speech against the state.” (Tampa Bay Times, 11/5/21)


More on the New Surgeon General

As we reported last month, on Sep. 21, DeSantis named Dr. Joseph Ladapo as Florida Surgeon General and Secretary of the Florida Department of Health. One of his first acts was to repeal DeSantis’ mask mandate rule and replace it with one that leaves the option for masking in schools to parents and legal guardians. (Sparker’s Soapbox, 9/29/21)

Before being named Surgeon General, Ladapo was granted a professorship at the UF College of Medicine. Weeks later, “a trove of emails provided to the Gainesville Sun open a window to the compressed timeline and high pressure involved” in that hiring. (USA Today Network-Florida via Tallahassee Democrat, 10/29/21)

Ladapo’s combined pay from the Department of Health and UF — $362,000 a year — is a 52 percent raise over his more experienced predecessor, Scott Rivkees, and about $50,000 more than what he made in his previous position. The UF position made it possible for the state to pay Ladapo more than the $250,000 maximum allowed for agency heads by the Florida legislature. (Tallahassee Democrat, 10/12/21)

Separately, Ladapo made national news when he refused a request to put on a mask and was ultimately asked to leave the office of state Sen. Tina Polsky, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in August. (Florida Politics, 10/24/21; People, 10/27/21)

“Having a conversation with someone while wearing a mask is not something I find productive, especially when other options exist,” he said on Twitter about the incident. (Orlando Sentinel, 10/26/21)


Other Executive Branch News


In the Courts

Challenges to Florida’s “Anti-Riot” Law

As we reported last month, a federal judge temporarily blocked enforcement of a key part of Florida’s controversial “anti-riot” law, a centerpiece of DeSantis’s legislative agenda in the last session. The suit by the Dream Defenders, the Florida NAACP, and other organizations said the law chills their free speech and right to protest. (Sparker’s Soapbox, 9/29/21)

This month, the state appealed that ruling. (News Service of Florida via Orlando Sentinel, 10/8/21)

The City of Tallahassee and eight other Florida cities are also pursuing legal challenges to the rule. (Tallahassee Democrat, 10/14/21)


Challenges to Florida’s Elections Law

As reported previously, 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. (Sparker’s Soapbox, 8/5/21)

This month, a federal judge said the challenges could proceed, setting the stage for a showdown over Republican legislators’ efforts to make it more difficult for Floridians to vote by mail and for organizations to conduct voter-registration drives. (News Service of Florida via WLRN.org, 10/8/21)

Subsequently, the state asked a federal judge to block subpoenas that would require seven Republican Florida legislators and a representative of DeSantis’s office to testify about the law. Citing “legislative privilege” and “executive privilege” in his decision, a federal judge agreed. (Miami Herald, 10/27/21; Tampa Bay Times, 11/5/21)


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.

Key Votes in the U.S. Senate

S. 1301 – Increase of Public Debt Limit — Increasing the public debt limit in an amount that was projected by the Treasury Department to be the amount of debt needed through early December 2021 to not reach the public debt limit.
Rubio – Nay; Scott – Nay
Passed 50/48 on 10/7/21

H.R. 5305 – Extending Government Funding and Delivering Emergency Assistance Act — Making continuing appropriations for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2022, for providing emergency assistance, and more.
Rubio – Nay; Scott – Nay
Passed 65/35 on 9/30/21


That’s my summary of some of the top Florida government news stories for October! Have a good November!

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