In Florida politics news for July/August 2020: The pandemic continues. Schools reopen. Voting rights restoration decision may not come before November elections.
By the Numbers
Through August 29, the Florida Department of Health COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard reported:
- 11,119 resident deaths; 144 non-resident deaths
- 4,606,568 total people tested
- 621,586 people tested positive
- 13.49% cumulative percent positive
Caveat Lector (Reader Beware)
- Florida still not reporting how many hospitalized with COVID. DeSantis won’t say why. Miami Herald, 7/8/20
- Florida releases current COVID-19 hospitalization data. Miami Herald, 7/10/20
- Florida changes COVID reporting requirements, saying labs did not share negative results. Sun Sentinel, 7/15/20
- Florida’s hidden data skews COVID-19 test results. Orlando Sentinel, 7/15/20
- Florida mistake on child COVID-19 rate raises question: Can Florida’s numbers be trusted? Sun Sentinel, 7/25/20
- Medical examiners no longer required to certify COVID-19 deaths in Florida. Florida Today – USA Today Network – Florida via Naples Daily News, 8/26/20
Effects on Nursing Homes
- Industry executives say Florida’s nursing homes face ‘category 5 emergency’. Bradenton Herald News, 7/20/20
- Ron DeSantis enacts new emergency rules on senior COVID-19 patient transfers. Florida Politics, 7/20/20
- Nursing homes soon may get visitors after 6-month lockdown. All that is left is DeSantis’ approval. Sun Sentinel, 8/26/20
Effects on Workers
Amid staggering job losses in March and April, Florida’s unemployment system was the slowest in the country to process claims. In August, we learned why:
- Gov. says Florida’s unemployment system was designed to create ‘pointless roadblocks’. NPR News, 8/6/20
As of August 28, Florida had paid out $14.6 billion in unemployment claims to 1.9 million claimants, and 93 percent of eligible claimants had been paid, according to the state’s Reemployment Assistance Claims Dashboard.
While most of the claims backlog has been cleared, the system itself is still struggling. Just 49 percent of claims received were filed through the troubled unemployment system; 51 percent were filed through paper and a “mobile friendly site.”
- Florida adding back work requirements for food stamps despite pandemic. Orlando Sentinel, 7/27/20
- DeSantis extends relief from job searches through Sept. 5 for Florida’s unemployed. Sun Sentinel, 7/28/20
- 600,000 Florida customers are behind on their electric bills. How will that end? Miami Herald, 7/29/20
- Unemployment rate rises amid COVID-19 pandemic recession. News Service of Florida via WUSF Public Media, 8/25/20
- Florida becomes 33rd state to sign up for Trump’s extra unemployment payments. Forbes, 8/26/20
- Florida’s initial unemployment claims drop sharply to new COVID-19 low. Sun Sentinel, 8/27/20
A global research firm predicts that 749,000 Florida households — nearly half of all rental units — are at risk of eviction over the next four months. Citing that research, the nonprofit Florida Bar Foundation estimates that 530,000 eviction filings could follow the moratorium’s expiration.
- Eviction cases pile up in the courts while tenants wait to see whether DeSantis extends moratorium. Sun Sentinel, 8/28/20
Effects on the Economy
- State Health Care Secretary Mayhew predicts ‘significant’ gap in Medicaid budget. News Service of Florida via Florida Politics, 7/22/20
- Florida ended fiscal 2020 with $1.9 billion shortfall in forecast revenues. The Center Square | Florida, 7/27/20
- Agencies told to look at ways to cut budgets. News Service of Florida via WUSF Public media, 8/11/20
- Estimate of Florida transportation revenues reduced by $1.5 billion over the five-year DOT program. Florida Tax Watch, 8/11/20
- Florida tourism numbers plummet by over 60 percent in second quarter. News Service of Florida via Panama City News Herald, 8/17/20
Reopening the Schools
Gov. Ron DeSantis and his Education Commissioner, Richard Corcoran, are locked in a legal battle with the state teachers’ union over Corcoran’s Emergency Order requiring schools to reopen five days a week in August or risk losing state funding. Emergency Order here. Teacher’s Union complaint here.
- Florida’s public schools must reopen, offer 5-day-a-week, on-campus option, state says. Orlando Sentinel, 7/6/20
- Florida teachers sue as DeSantis distances himself from school openings. Politico Florida, 7/20/20
The question before the courts: “Is the state mandate for schools to reopen amid the coronavirus unconstitutional?”
- Judge to decide whether schools should reopen amid coronavirus outbreak. Tallahassee Democrat, 8/21/20
- Richard Corcoran says no-show teachers could be ‘terminated. Florida Politics, 8/22/20
- Florida judge: Reopening public schools ‘disregards safety’. Associated Press, 8/24/20
- State’s appeal of school reopening ruling leaves Florida school districts in limbo. The Center Square | Florida, 8/25/20
- Judge lifts stay on own injunction, restores Florida school boards’ reopening authority. The Center Square | Florida, 8/27/20
- School reopening order back on hold. News Service of Florida via Sun Sentinel, 8/28/20
The 1st District Court of Appeal has refused two requests to fast-track the case to the Florida Supreme Court.
All school districts outside of Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, which were exempted from Corcoran’s mandate, had either opened or plan to reopen on August 31.
Since final briefs in the case aren’t due until Sept. 9, a decision won’t be finalized until nearly all school districts have reopened.
2020 Legislative Session
In a typical year, the governor would have acted on all the bills passed by the Legislature in the 2020 session that ended March 19th well before now. But this year, things aren’t normal. Gov. DeSantis asked the Legislature to delay sending him bills to act on so he could deal with the coronavirus, and in the months since its final adjournment of the session (“adjournment sine die”), bills have slowly been making their way to his Office.
In the last days of June, DeSantis quietly signed several bills and vetoed others:
- New E-Verify law requires government employers, some others to check immigration status of new hires. News Service of Florida via News-Journalonline.com, 6/30/20
- Gov. DeSantis signs environmental bills, adds penalties to polluters. Orlando Sentinel, 6/30/20
- DeSantis quietly signs controversial bill requiring parental consent for abortions. News Service of Florida via Sun Sentinel, 6/30/20
- Governor OK’s bill easing regulations on occupational licenses. Florida Politics, 7/1/20
- Florida becomes first state to protect DNA from life, disability insurers. Florida Politics, 7/1/20
- Florida to utilities: Fix sewage systems or pay 50 percent higher fines. The Center Square | Florida, 7/1/20
- DeSantis cuts money for prison updates, hepatitis C treatment. Tampa Bay Times, 7/2/20
- DeSantis vetoes guardian training program funds. USA TODAY NETWORK – Florida Capital Bureau via theledger.com, 7/1/20
As of August 29, 26 bills remain to be presented for signature. Since most have effective dates of Oct. 1 or Jan. 1, 2021, supporters argue there’s no harm in putting off decisions while he deals with the pandemic.
- Vaping industry awaits DeSantis’ decision as 25 other bills linger due to coronavirus. Orlando Sentinel, 7/22/20
News from the Legislative Branch
On March 19th, the Legislature passed a record $93.2 billion budget amid great uncertainty about the effects of the coronavirus. But it it quickly became clear that the budget’s assumptions fell short of reality, and legislators will likely be faced with the need to make budget cuts at some point.
Despite frequent requests from Democrats, however, the governor and Republican legislative leaders have shown no willingness to consider it before the November elections.
- Florida legislators call for special session to address soaring covid-19 cases. Spectrum News 13, 7/3/20
- DeSantis again nixes need for Florida Legislature to convene special session. The Center Square | Florida, 8/10/20
- Florida faces $5.4 billion deficit. Governor says addressing shortfall can wait. Miami Herald, 8/15/20
News from the Executive Branch
Given the challenges of the coronavirus, the politicization of voting-by-mail, and concerns about election interference, the voting process and the state’s preparedness for it were in the news these past months:
- Elections official appointed by Florida’s top Trump supporter says president is wrong about claims of mail-voting fraud. Sun Sentinel, 7/7/20
- Vote-by-mail lawsuit in Florida dropped with both sides claiming victory. The Center Square | Florida, 7/20/20
- State, advocacy group reach deal on blind voters. WLRN, 7/28/29
- Masks will be encouraged but not required at Florida polling places. Orlando Sentinel, 7/30/20
- Postal controversy continues to fuel Florida mail ballot concerns. News4Jax.com, 8/17/20
- Florida legal battle over digital ballot records goes to appeals court. News Service of Florida via WLRN.org, 8/24/20
- Florida counties agree to save digital ballot images if there’s a presidential recount. Tampa Bay Times, 8/25/20
- Report shows 18,000 mail-in ballots rejected in Florida in March primary, and 538,000 nationwide. Orlando Sentinel, 8/25/20
In other Governor’s Office news:
- Gov. DeSantis makes 75 Judicial Nominating Commission appointments. The Florida Bar, 7/4/20
- State allocates $5.2M for Lake O study aimed at reducing algal blooms. Florida Politics, 7/28/20
- Gov. DeSantis appoints two more judges, notching 100 in first term. Florida Politics, 8/20/20
- DeSantis overstepped authority in picking justice but no going back now, Florida Supreme Court rules. Orlando Sentinel, 8/27/20
- Florida quietly publishes medical marijuana edibles rules. Tampa Bay Times, 8/27/20
- Florida boards that govern water use languish as DeSantis leaves vacancies unfilled. Miami Herald, 8/28/20
- State trial over Florida opioid epidemic set for … 2022. Tampa Bay Times, 7/16/20
Commissioner of Agriculture
- Florida agriculture commissioner applauds federal aquaculture areas while environmentalists fight them. Naples Daily News, 8/23/20
Chief Financial Officer
- CFO Jimmy Patronis intervenes, says Citizens Florida will not drop unpaid policies next month. Florida Politics, 7/26/20
- Jimmy Patronis breaks personal goal, returns $1 billion worth of unclaimed property to Floridians. Florida Politics, 7/27/20
News from the Judicial Branch
The “smart growth” advocacy group 1000 Friends of Florida is appealing a Circuit judge’s decision that tossed out a challenge to a 2019 state law that opponents say will prevent people from fighting local development decisions.
Under the law, losing parties in lawsuits about development orders can be forced to pay the attorney fees of “prevailing” parties — a change that opponents say creates huge financial risks for citizens who want to challenge local government approvals of development plans.
- Challenge to state development law continues. Florida Politics, 7/22/20
In other Judicial Branch news:
- Florida ‘bed tax’ fight goes to Supreme Court. News Service of Florida via WLRN News, 7/6/20
- Challenge to Florida’s vertical integration marijuana law to get second Supreme Court hearing. The Center Square | Florida, 7/15/20
- Challenge to dog racing ban goes to appeals court. News Service of Florida via News4Jax.com, 7/21/20
- Florida Supreme Court to hear smoking death damage suits that could set national precedents. The Center Square | Florida, 8/17/20
- Appeals court rules against pregnant teen in test of Florida’s parental consent law. News Service of Florida via Miami Herald, 8/18/20
Voting Rights Restoration for Felons
Challenges to the constitutionality of the law that effectively halted implementation of Florida’s 2018 Voting Rights Restoration Amendment continued during July and August. (For the backstory on this important case that will determine whether or not 1.4 million returning Florida citizens will be able to vote in the November elections and beyond, see Voting Rights Restoration Efforts in Florida, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, 8/18/20.)
In July and August:
- Voting rights of some felons in Florida in question after appeals court ruling. Washington Post, 7/8/20
- U.S. Supreme Court won’t intervene in Florida felons voting case, barring 85,000 from primary. The Center Square | Florida, 7/16/20
- Ex-Florida Supreme Court judges should withdraw from felon voting-rights case, Dems argue. News Service of Florida via Orlando Sentinel, 7/22/20
- Federal appeals court considers whether to uphold Florida felon voting law. Politico Florida, 8/18/20
It is unclear if the court will make a decision before the November elections.
- Florida legal fees pile up — to $1.7M and growing — in challenge to felon voting law. And state taxpayers foot the bill. News Service of Florida via Sun Sentinel, 8/26/20
- Florida outlines felon voting rights. The Gainesville Sun, 8/17/20
- Constitutional Amendment 4/Felon Voting Rights. Florida Division of Elections
For state-by-state approaches to felon disenfranchisement and rights restoration, see Felon Voting Rights, National Conference of State Legislatures, 7/28/20.
Sen. Marco Rubio
- Senate Intel Committee acting chairman Rubio vows to protect whistleblowers following Vindman retirement over ‘bullying’. The Hill, 7/10/20
- How Marco Rubio runs Trump’s Latin America policy. Politico.com, 8/3/20
- Congress passes Wilson, Rubio bill to study societal forces affecting Black men. Miami Herald, 7/27/20; Rubio Press Release, 8/14/20
Sen. Rick Scott
- Opinion: Sen. Scott taking the lead to eliminate drunk driving through technology. by Helen Witty, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) via Miami Herald, 7/21/20
Federal Actions Benefiting Florida
- House OKs WRDA water bill with South Florida water projects for Indian River Lagoon, others. Treasure Coast Newspapers, 7/29/20
- NOAA selects federal gulf waters off Florida as one of the first aquaculture opportunity areas. Sens. Rubio and Scott and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried praised the decision. Florida Daily, 8/23/20
That’s it for Florida Politics News for July/August 2020! Stay safe, everyone!