Governor declares state of emergency: A news conference was held Monday afternoon at the Capitol, where the Governor urged Floridians to take common-sense precautions and stressed that normally healthy individuals remain at low risk of contracting the coronovirus. This press conference comes after five lawmakers were forced to self-quarantine due to their attendance at a policy conference in Washington, D.C., where people were detected as having the coronavirus. The members agreed to be tested for COVID-19 however, none of them met the federal guidelines that would prompt such testing thus, they returned back to Chambers. The House and Senate went into recess Monday afternoon while desktops and surfaces could be wiped down and disinfected. The most recent report from the Florida Department of Health shows 14 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the state, 13 residents and one non-resident. To reiterate the message from the Governor, continue to use common-sense precautions, wash your hands often with soap for at least 20 seconds, use hand sanitizer, and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
Budget Conference: Budget conferees began their first meetings Saturday afternoon ahead of the planned final week of Session. The conferees will hash out the $35 billion allocations of the general revenue that Appropriations chairs Senator Rob Bradley and Representative Travis Cummings were able to finalize. The Legislature’s allocation agreements include $13.2 billion for Pre-K education, $4.7 billion for higher education, $10.6 billion for health care, $4.7 billion for the justice system, $201.4 million for transportation and tourism, $537.8 million for agriculture and the environment, $341.5 million for government operations and $656.7 million for administered funds and statewide issues. There have also been discussions to set aside funds for the coronovirus. Governor DeSantis has requested from the Legislature $25 million to respond to the novel COVID-19 virus for supplies and personnel for case monitoring. Senate President Bill Galvano calls for at least $200 million more in the budget to address the concerns of the virus.
Employee Raise: The Republican-majority Legislature will include a 3% pay raise for state workers in the budget proposal it sends to Governor DeSantis. House and Senate negotiators decided to go with the Senates’ across-the-board raise plan over the weekend instead of the House proposal. That was to give an $1,800 bump to workers making less than $51,800 a year. The Legislature felt that the Senate proposal was the best outlined plan for state workers. Since 2008, state workers have only received two pay raises. In 2013 and 2017 state workers making more than $40,000 per year received a $1,000 raise and those making less than $40,000 received a $1,400 increase. Many workers lost 3% of their pay by a mandated pension contribution in 2011. Florida has consistently ranked among the lowest in average state employee salaries.
Sadowski Affordable Housing: Florida lawmakers have agreed to fully fund the state affordable housing program. The House and Senate agreed to spend $370 million for affordable housing initiatives which is in line with what Governor DeSantis wanted for the housing programs. In recent years, more than $2 billion have been shifted from the housing program to other state priorities. In the current year, lawmakers approved $200 million for the housing programs, including $115 million for areas impacted by Hurricane Michael. But they also shifted $125 million in housing funds to other non-housing programs. With this new budget, which begins July 1, the entire $370 million will be spent on affordable housing, which is critical in a state where many workers face high rising costs and low wages.
Intercollegiate Athlete Compensation: This week SB 646 by Senator Debbie Mayfield passed favorably on the Senate floor in a 37-2 vote. There is a companion bill in the House, HB 7051, by Representative Chip LaMarca that was temporarily postponed on second reading. This legislation allows for college athletes to make money off their name, image, and likeness. There are some distinct differences in the bills as the House version includes language that would require colleges to maintain health and disability insurance in case an athlete is injured before going pro. The Senate excluded that language. The House is set to vote on the Senate version of the bill during the last week of Session. If the bill passes favorably on the House floor, it is set to go to the Governor for signature with an effective date of July 2021. Governor DeSantis is in support of the legislation.
Update: SB 646 by Senator Debbie Mayfield was scheduled to be heard on the House floor for third reading on March 11, 2020. The bill was temporarily postponed.
State Hemp: This week SB 1876 by Senator Bill Montford passed favorably on the Senate floor in a unanimous vote. There is a companion bill in the House, HB 1063, by Representative Brad Drake. This legislation makes changes to the state hemp program including several recommendations by the Department of Agriculture to clarify regulations around the program. This bill adds hemp extract to regulated food, it provides a method to amend the state plan if needed, and it offers guidelines regarding THC and hemp extract, including restricting sales to those under the age of 21. This bill would also add hemp to the Florida Food Safety Act and require small retailers selling hemp products to obtain food permits. The House companion, HB 1063, was temporarily postponed on second reading. The House is set to vote on the Senate version of the bill during the last week of Session. If the bill passes favorably on the House floor it is set to go to the Governor for signature with an effective date upon becoming law.
E-Verify: This week SB 664 by Senator Tom Lee passed favorably on the Senate floor in a 22-18 vote. There is a companion bill in the House, HB 1265, by Representative Cord Byrd. This bill would require private employers having at least 50 employees to use E-Verify or a substantially equivalent system to verify that new hires are authorized to work in the United States. Smaller employers have another option; they may verify employment eligibility using the Form I-9, as required under current law, but must retain copies of documents used to verify employment eligibility for at least three years. The House companion, HB 1265, was temporarily postponed on second reading. The House is set to vote on the Senate version of the bill during the last week of Session. If the bill passes favorably on the House floor it is set to go to the Governor for signature with an effective date of July 1, 2020.
Update: SB 664 by Senator Tom Lee passed favorably on the House floor in a 73-45 vote.
Deregulation of Professions and Occupations: This week, HB 1193, by Representative Blaise Ingoglia passed favorably on the House floor in an 88-25 vote. This bill relates to various businesses and professions regulated by the Department of Business and Professional Regulations (DBPR). The bill, cited as the “Occupational Freedom and Opportunity Act,” does the following:
- Hair branders, hair wrappers, body wrappers, nail polishers and makeup applicators; and boxing announcers and timekeepers
- Partially deregulates the following professions, while maintaining civil and criminal causes of action:
- Talent agents and Labor organizations
- Eliminates the additional business license required for the following licensees:
- Architects and interior designers
- Landscape architects and Geologists
- Reduces the hours of training to obtain a license for:
- Barbers and restricted barbers and nail, facial, and full specialists
- Adds news ways for out of state professionals to obtain a license in the state for:
- Veterinarians, Construction and electrical contractors, Landscape architects, Geologists, engineers, certified public accountants, home inspectors, building code professionals, and cosmetologists and barbers.
This bill also adds additional reductions and/or preemptions for various things such as interior designers, dieticians or nutritionists, and food trucks. Since its original filing date, the bill has been amended to remove, change, and revise various provisions. The 88-25 vote has now moved this bill to the Senate. If the bill passes favorably on the Senate floor it is set to go to the Governor for signature with an effective date of July 1, 2020.