April 2020 Policy Snapshot: Florida Legislative Session Results and COVID-19 Concerns

4 Apr 2020 8:47 AM | Administrator (Administrator)

Florida lawmakers filed more than 3,500 bills for the 2020 legislative session and roughly 200 passed both chambers of the Legislature before the annual session adjourned in March.

“Our final budget is a work product the people of Florida can be proud of,” Senate President Bill Galvano said, “We fund several important commitments the Senate made in its initial budget, from fully funding affordable housing, to a meaningful pay raise for state employees, to critical funds that will preserve our environment for future generations of Floridians. Continued investment in protection of our environment and water quality, including storage and treatment projects North of Lake Okeechobee, Red Tide and toxic algae research, and septic-to-sewer conversions, as well as funds for coastal resiliency planning are all critical components of a long-term strategy to restore and protect Florida’s unique natural environment and the quality of life we as Floridians enjoy.”

Although lawmakers passed a record $93.2 billion budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year set to begin July 1st, they may return to the capitol for a special session due to the Coronavirus. “Based on our initial analysis of the (federal) CARES Act, we may need to return to Tallahassee, at the appropriate time in fiscal year 2020-21, to formally appropriate available federal funding,” Galvano wrote in a memo to Senators sent on April 2nd.

According to a preliminary analysis by the state, Florida is expected to receive $12 billion for state and local government services under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Yet, given the devastating financial impact and burden on the state’s economy from the Coronavirus Pandemic, a revision to the state budget may happen sooner than expected.

The current budget does, however, expand funding for resources for vulnerable Floridians and enables Governor DeSantis and executive branch agencies to continue aggressive planning and response to the Coronavirus. Additionally, the state’s reserves would be replenished to nearly $4 billion, enabling Governor DeSantis to ensure the state has the resources needed to address the evolving public health emergency.

As for improving the efficiency of emergency response, legislators signed off on SB 7020: Emergency Staging Areas which would develop permanent staging areas for emergencies, expediting the dissemination of crucial emergency supplies such as food, water, and fuel.

Environmental protection was a large focus in the budget with $690 million set aside for water quality restoration, including $322.6 million for Everglades restoration, $236.6 million for water quality improvements like septic to sewer and wastewater improvement programs, $50 million for Springs Restoration, and $25 million for projects to restore the Indian River Lagoon. The Florida Forever land-conservation program would also receive $100 million.

Lawmakers also passed SB 712: Clean Waterways Act which takes action based on the recommendations of the Blue-Green Algae Task Force in order to stop excess pollution and restore Florida waterways and doubles the fines for wastewater violations; SB 1414: Fish and Wildlife Activities which increases the number of free fishing days from 4 to 6 days; HB 1091: Environmental Enforcement which increases penalties for violations relating to sanitary sewer overflows; and SB 680: Shark Fins which outlaws the import and export of shark fins to or from Florida.

For public employers and companies that contract with them, SB 664: Verification of Employment Eligibility requires the use of the federal e-Verify database to determine employees’ eligibility to work in the United States. Private employers, however, would have the option of using e-Verify or a form that is already required under federal law to verify eligibility. Business could be fined $500 for violations and have their licenses suspended and three violations in three years could result in licenses being revoked.

Another noteworthy bill, HB 1193 Deregulation of Professions and Occupations preempts the regulation of mobile food dispensing vehicles (food trucks) to the state and prohibits local governments from requiring a license, registration, or permit, and prohibiting the operation of food trucks.

For more detailed information on all the bills passed, visit the Florida Senate website. You can also visit 2020 Bill Summaries, which are reports created by committee staff that give brief explanations of the legislation that passed this session in both the House and Senate.

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