Florida's Top Ten 2021 Legislative Issues
For more detailed coverage on any of the issues listed below, read Amy Keller's Legislative Preview in the March issue!
During last year’s COVID lockdowns, Governor Ron DeSantis issued an executive order allowing restaurants to sell carryout alcohol beverages, and two bills are pending in the Senate to make cocktails to go permanent.
After a summer marked by protests in a number of U.S. cities over the killing of George Floyd, DeSantis proposed a Combatting Violence, Disorder and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act to impose stricter punishment for protesters who engage in violence. Republican lawmakers filed the 51-page bill Jan. 6, hours after an angry mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol. The anti-riot legislation — which has the backing of Simpson and Sprowls — would increase penalties for people who destroy property, injure police officers or block roadways during a protest, and it creates new offenses: A “mob intimidation” provision, for instance, would make it a first-degree misdemeanor when three or more people act with “common intent, to compel or induce” through force or the threat of force another person to “assume or abandon a particular viewpoint.”
A 10-year battle over short-term vacation rentals will be back this year. The Florida League of Cities is pushing for a return to local control of vacation rentals and supports a partnership between the Department of Business & Professional Regulation and local governments to regulate the properties. The group is also keeping an eye on legislation related to home-based businesses and wants to keep jurisdiction of such ordinances at the local level.
Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis is calling for legislation that would give consumers the ability to “opt-out of having their personal data being harvested and sold by big tech companies.” He says he wants companies to be required to disclose what information they collect, how they safeguard it and who they sell it to — and that consumers should be able to sue big tech companies (those with revenue exceeding $25 million) that don’t comply with such requirements. DeSantis also recently called on lawmakers to find ways to prevent social media platforms from censoring speech. Rep. Danny Burgess has a filed a bill that would require social media sites to provide notice within 30 days to users who’ve had their accounts suspended or disabled and explain why they were punished.
Under the mantle of the Restore Economic Strength through Employment & Tourism Task Force, a broad coalition of business groups has suggested lawmakers consider a range of tax breaks, including a brief sales tax holiday on food and drinks sold by restaurants as well as reductions in the corporate income tax, the communications services tax and taxes levied on commercial property leases.
Democrats want to overhaul the state’s unemployment compensation system. Legislation by Reps. Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando) and Sen. Bobby Powell Jr. (D-West Palm Beach) would give the Department of Economic Opportunity a three-week deadline to determine if someone is eligible for benefits. It would also boost weekly benefits from the current $275 to $500, double the maximum eligibility period from 13 weeks to 26 weeks, open eligibility to self-employed workers and create ways to apply for assistance — but the proposal faces a tough road in the GOP-controlled body.
House Speaker Chris Sprowls, Senate President Wilton Simpson and DeSantis have signaled that they will address the risk of flooding caused by sea-level rise. At the Florida Chamber Foundation’s Transportation, Growth & Infrastructure Solution Summit in December, Sprowls said that Florida needs to focus on flood mitigation measures, including grant funding that would allow localities to pay for projects; DeSantis’ budget proposal includes $1 billion to establish a four-year Resilient Florida grant program that would do just that. Simpson has said he’d like to see more money dedicated to septic-to-sewer conversions, and he suggested the state concentrate more on northern Everglades restoration instead of the reservoir project south of Lake Okeechobee. DeSantis is pushing for $473 million for Everglades restoration and $260 million for other water-related projects, including springs restoration and combatting red tide.
Efforts are underway again to make it harder for Floridians to amend the state Constitution. Rep. Rick Roth (R-West Palm Beach) has filed a joint resolution that would increase the percentage of votes required to approve an amendment from three-fifths (60%) to two-thirds (66.7%), though an amendment could be repealed or revised with the same percentage of votes with which it was originally passed. An interesting aside: The record voter turnout in Florida in the 2020 elections will also make it harder to get a constitutional amendment going. To get an amendment on the ballot, Florida requires signatures equal to 8% of the preceding presidential election. Before the 2020 elections, that threshold was 766,000 signatures. Going forward, it will take 885,000 signatures.
Under an emergency order issued in October, pharmacists and pharmacy interns are allowed to administer FDA-approved vaccines, including the COVID-19 vaccine, to consumers. The Florida Retail Federation would like lawmakers to make the change permanent.
The House Pandemics & Public Emergencies Committee, has advanced a bill sponsored by Rep. Aridan Zika (R-Land O’Lakes) that would crack down on fraud schemes related to COVID-19 vaccines, making such scams a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
The Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida, which represents 14 hospital systems that provide most of the hospital care to the state’s Medicaid population, is imploring lawmakers not to cut Medicaid reimbursement rates amid the pandemic and to replicate other states’ programs to “draw down” untapped federal Medicaid funds.