During the fall semester, Florida’s 12 public universities are set to return to normal, after a full school year of COVID-19 disruptions.
“An early evening news release signed by Syd Kitson, chairman of the university system’s Board of Governors, and Marshall Criser, chancellor of the system, said the 12 public universities ‘expect to increase classroom occupancy to pre-COVID capacity by the 2021-22 academic year and return to pre-COVID operations. Further, we anticipate returning to full in-person participation in athletic and social activities on our campuses, including fan participation in stadiums and arenas,'” News Service of Florida reported.
Governor Ron DeSantis signed an elections reform bill into law Thursday and opposition groups have already filed lawsuits against it. The new law, known as SB90, sets in place limits on access to ballot drop boxes and well as requiring those same ballot drop boxes to be monitored by an employee of the supervisor of elections’ office.
Additionally, voters who wish to request an absentee ballot will have to do so each general election cycle.
On Wednesday, Governor Ron DeSantis announced that on May 30th, he will be reinstating the work search requirements for jobless Floridians seeking unemployment benefits. In April, DeSantis and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) extended the work search waivers through May 29th which allows applicants to receive benefits without reporting their weekly search for jobs to the DEO in the form of job applications.
Before the waivers were established in March 2020, individuals who were unemployed and looking for benefits had to complete and report five job applications to a registered career center or directly to the DEO. With the reinstatement of the work search requirements at the end of the month, and the denial of SB 1906 that would have increased the amount of weekly benefits and decreased the number of job applications required to report on a weekly basis, the process in attaining unemployment benefits will go back to how it was before the pandemic.
On Thursday, Governor Ron DeSantis signed an elections reform bill into law, causing much debate over the new law’s contents.
The bill, SB 90, designed to ensure election integrity, has been the subject of debate for weeks since the Florida Legislature was passing the bill through committees. The bill will install new requirements for ballot drop boxes as well as mail-in voting, specifically voters who wish to vote absentee will have to ask for a ballot each general election cycle. Also, the drop boxes will need to be staffed by an employee from the supervisor of elections’ office whenever the box is receiving ballots, and times to access the drop boxes will be limited.
On Tuesday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced that he would sign an executive order to set the date for the special election to replace recently deceased Congressman Alcee Hastings who represented Florida’s 20th Congressional District. The date scheduled for the special primary election is November 2nd, 2021; and January 11th, 2022 for the special general election.
Since the death of Hastings, Democrats have been pressing DeSantis to set the dates for the special election. One candidate, Rev. Elvin Dowling, filed a federal lawsuit to force DeSantis into setting the date. In past circumstances when a special election was necessary, the average amount of time between a seat becoming vacant and being filled is approximately 4 months, whereas the seat left vacant by Hastings will remain unfilled for approximately 9 months.
After weeks of debate, Florida lawmakers passed insurance reform bills at the tail end of session. In the end, lawmakers passed legislation potentially leading to rate increases for customers of the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp.
Legislators also took steps to reduce the amount of roof-damage claims and lawsuits due to concerns of hurricane damage claims being filed long after the storm.
A lawsuit filed by two police officers after separate use-of-force incidents claiming that they are entitled to protection under Florida’s recently-adopted Marsy’s Law Constitutional amendment will head to the state Supreme Court for a decision.
“A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal last month sided with two Tallahassee police officers, who argued that, as victims, they were entitled to privacy protections included in Marsy’s Law,” WFSU reported.
Florida Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Jimmy Patronis announced his reelection bid for 2022. Patronis made the announcement by posting a video entitled “Let’s Keep Florida Open,” where he touted his work to get Florida’s economy back open after the COVID pandemic. Patronis and his family own the famous Capt. Anderson’s restaurant in Panama City, a point he made in the video while highlighting the work his family did to provide all they could for the families they employed during the pandemic.
On Monday, May 3rd, former Florida State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced on Twitter that she will be running for the U.S. Senate against current Senator Marco Rubio in 2022.
With the help from George Soros, a billionaire who contributed $1.4 million into political committees supporting her, Ayala was the first African American State Attorney in Florida’s history after a surprising defeat over former State Attorney Jeff Ashton in 2016. Once in office, controversy swarmed as she banned prosecutors from pursuing the death penalty in her district. Although Ayala was seen as a pioneer in anti-death penalty reform to Democrats, Republicans criticized her actions and pushed for the Florida Supreme Court decision in 2017 that established that the death penalty may not be refused in capital murder cases.
U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist (R-13) is set to make a “major announcement” from St. Petersburg. It has been rumored he is announcing his candidacy for governor, evidenced by Crist teasing a run back in February.
In an interview with Jim DeFede on Facing South Florida, Crist said he is focused on his work in Congress, but he’s open to launching a campaign.
Recently, multiple reports have chronicled how Florida has been a hotbed for GOP fundraising efforts ahead of the 2022 election cycle.
“Florida, with its deep bench of wealthy GOP donors, has become central to House Republicans’ early playbook for reclaiming the majority,” POLITICO reported at the end of April. “… Florida is a fundraising goldmine. It is, afterall [sic], where wealthy donors – and TV personalities – flock to homes in Palm Beach, Naples, Boca Grande and other high-income areas.”
As time expired in the Florida legislative session, a consumer protection bill died. The bill, HB 969, would have given consumers more control over data collected by large companies would have required businesses in Florida to tell consumers what data has been collected and how it’ll be used.
The bill drew much opposition from the business community, and were glad to see the bill expire this session. Companies like Apple, Target, Quicken Loans, and Walt Disney Parks hired a total of 343 lobbyists to work on killing the bill.
On April 25th, 2021, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), extended the deadline for work search and work registration waivers that made unemployment benefits more easily attainable to unemployed Floridians in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a result of the pandemic causing unemployment to increase, these unemployment benefit waivers were originally issued in March 2020 as part of the state of emergency that was established in Florida by Governor DeSantis that was originally set to expire on April 24th, 2021.
The Florida Supreme Court announced on Saturday that former Florida Supreme Court Justice Joseph W. Hatchett died in Tallahassee on Friday, April 30, 2021 at age 88.
Hatchett became the first African American to serve on Florida’s highest court when he was appointed by Governor Reubin Askew in 1975. Hatchett was Florida’s 65th Justice since statehood was granted in 1845.
In a year that saw a social justice movement, a pandemic, and an increase in violent crime, police relating shooting deaths in Florida in 2020 were up 51.5 % when compared to the previous five years. In contrast, police related shootings nationwide were up just 3.4%.
The numbers come from the Washington Post police related shooting database which began logging information in 2015. The data shows that from 2015 to 2019 Florida averaged approximately 61.4 police related shooting deaths per year. In 2020, there were 93 police related shooting deaths, a 51.5% increase.
In the waning moments of the 2021 Florida legislative session, elected officials amended a bill (SB 1028) that will allow college and university athletes to profit from their names and images beginning July 1, 2021.
On Wednesday lawmakers added a provision that would have pushed back the effective date of the name, image and likeness law until 2022 due to concerns with the NCAA.
On April 14, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried posted a video to social media displaying her medical marijuana card. In the video, Fried reminded viewers medical marijuana was passed by 71 percent of Floridians through a ballot initiative in 2016. The medical marijuana issue was a calling card for Fried’ campaign in 2018, and it has been reported Fried has a financial interest in the marijuana industry. However, Fried followed up the clip with a 15-minute interview with Jim DeFede at Facing South Florida where she said she was approved for a medical marijuana card due to a sleeping disorder.
The Florida Legislature passed SB 1080, installing new vaping regulations, sending it to the desk of Governor Ron DeSantis. The bill will also raise the smoking and vaping age to 21, falling in line with federal standards.
Bill sponsor, Rep. Jackie Toldeo (R-60) said the bill is necessary to encourage Florida’s youth to stop vaping.
On the second-to-last day of the legislative session, the Republican-controlled Florida state Senate Thursday passed a new law aimed at election integrity.
After SB 90 passed the Florida House Wednesday with a vote of 77-40, it did the same in the Senate Thursday by a vote of 23-17. It was passed mostly along partisan lines, with one Republican state Senator, Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, breaking with his party and voting against the measure.
Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees said fully vaccinated Floridians should go maskless despite the CDC’s recommendations regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rivkees rescinded previous public health advisories on Thursday through a three-page advisory saying state offices should return to in-person working environments and long-term mask-wearing can cause unintended consequences.
Florida State University (FSU) failed to disclose foreign relationships, gifts, or contracts among university entities and now faces a U.S. Department of Education (DOE) inquiry.
In a letter obtained by the Florida Capital Star to FSU President John Thrasher on January 15, the DOE notified the university of an inquiry into potential violations of Section 117 of the Higher Education Act of 1965.
Florida Republicans resurrected a ban on transgender women from competing in women’s sports and attached it to a bill related to charter schools. Last week, Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-22) said her bill, which would’ve banned transgendered athletes from women’s sports, was unlikely to move forward due to constitutional requirements to balance the budget.
However, Stargel did not resurrect the bill, but Rep. Kaylee Tuck (R-55), added the ban as an amendment to SB 1028. Stargel did voice her support for Tuck’s amendment.
The Florida House passed SB 100 yesterday, a repeal bill of the Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance (M-CORES) program. The program was a priority of former Senate President Bill Galvano to build new toll roads as part of an infrastructure plan connecting Florida’s metro areas.
The bill will cancel the Heartland Parkway, connecting Polk and Collier counties.
On Monday, the Florida Senate passed SB 1028 which would allow Florida’s colleges and universities to sponsor an unlimited number of charter schools. Under current law, colleges and universities can, through the Florida Department of Education’s approval, sponsor one school.
A state university is permitted to work with a school district to develop a charter school but can only sponsor one. Now, there is no limit to the amount of charter schools an institution can sponsor.
The Florida Senate Monday passed a bill that would provide $200 million in state funds for school choice voucher programs, sending the bill to the desk of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).
As reported by The Florida Capital Star last week, the Florida House passed HB 7045 by a margin of 79-36, with four Democrats joining the Republican majority. The voucher program will allow 60,000 more students in Florida to attend an alternative to public school, usually in low-income areas.
The Florida House passed HB 7051 unanimously, a police reform bill, designed to be a bipartisan, compromise piece of legislation satisfying the requests of conservatives as well as social justice advocates.
One of the main staples of the bill is amending current use-of-force protocol for law enforcement officers. Each police force and law enforcement agency in the state will now be required to have a use-of-force standard. This would, in essence, create a statewide minimum standard, including methods to de-escalate situations. Chokeholds are banned unless the officer “perceives an immediate threat of serious bodily injury or death.” If another officer is witnessing excessive use of force, they will now be required to intervene.
The federal government is standing in the way of Florida restaurants that are in desperate need of employees as the COVID-19 pandemic winds down, and Floridians look to dine out.
“The biggest challenge out there is the federal government and the state government are going to continue with this unemployment, because that is truly creating the incentive to not work right now,” said Bill Casper, who owns 60 McDonald’s restaurants in the Tampa area. “And, how do you blame somebody? You can make more money on unemployment—and so, we’ve got to be at least above that.”
After a week of negotiation, Florida’s lawmakers reached a deal determining spending difference for Florida’s $92.2 billion budget.
One of the largest contingents of the budget has been allocated for education. Twenty-two billion dollars of the budget is dedicated to school spending, which includes one-time $1,000 bonuses for all K-12 teachers and principals. The proposal is backed by Governor Ron DeSantis.
On Monday, April 26th, 2021, the Florida Senate voted 23 to 17 in favor of of a controversial bill (SB 90) regarding election administration and its tightening grip on mail-in voting. SB 90 includes changes to the current Election Code like, supervising and reducing the number of mail-in ballot drop boxes used by a supervisor of elections, and requiring voters to submit an application for a mail-in ballot every two years rather than every four years.
Democrats in the Florida Senate who voted against the bill say that SB 90 retains voting restrictions that that are unnecessary and will have disproportionate negative effect on Hispanic, Black, and older voters. They also commented on how the proposed measures of the bill is in reaction to the voting fraud allegations made by former President Trump in the 2020 elections.
On April 23rd, 2021, the Florida House of Representatives voted 109 to 3 for a bill (HB 7061) that was originally proposed by the Ways and Means Committee on April 18th, to provide multiple sales-tax “holidays” and other tax-related adjustments developed to explicitly impact both businesses and families alike.
If the bill is successfully passed, the first sales-tax holiday would be the “Disaster Preparedness” holiday from May 28th, 2021, through June 3rd, 2021 that allows supplies specifically for disaster preparedness to be exempt from sales-tax and county discretionary sales surtaxes. Items exempt include:
The guaranteed income movement – which advocates for providing cash to low-income families with no restrictions on how they can spend it – is coming to Florida.
This year the Gainesville City Commission voted to implement a guaranteed income pilot program slated to begin in October. Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe has been part of a national initiative, “Mayors for a Guaranteed Income,” to supply monthly, direct cash payments to people who are struggling. The Gainesville pilot program would begin by giving cash to people with criminal records and who are looking to rehabilitate their lives.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried recently appeared on Facing South Florida, with Jim DeFede and responded to questions related to medical marijuana, Governor DeSantis and her political future. Provided below is a summary of the interview. Jim Defede: You ran on legalizing medicinal marijuana and you want to move…
The Florida Legislature passed a bill instituting a “parental bill of rights” and sent it to the desk of Governor Ron DeSantis.
The bill, HB 241, worked its way through the Florida House and then passed through the Florida Senate on Thursday. It was passed on a nearly party-line vote, with Sen. Lauren Book (D-32), the lone Democrat, siding with Republicans and voting to approve the bill.
For the last month, U.S. Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-FL-02) has been embroiled in investigation and public scrutiny since a New York Times story broke detailing an alleged illicit relationship Gaetz had with a 17-year-old girl and being a part of sex trafficking.
Immediately, Gaetz went public about the accusation by appearing on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson and flatly denied the entirety of The Times’ report and claimed the allegations are part of an extortion plot.
The Florida Legislature is working through two pieces of legislation aimed at curbing foreign influence in Florida’s colleges and universities, primarily research institutions.
The Florida House has already passed HB 7017 unanimously and sent it to the Senate for consideration. The bill will require state agencies and political subdivisions to disclose foreign grants and donations of over $50,000 or more to the state. Also, all donations of any size will be required to be reported from seven hostile nations. Among those nations deemed hostile are: China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria, and Venezuela.
On Thursday, April 22, 2021, the Florida Senate approved a “moment of silence” bill (HB 529) that was previously approved by the Florida House of Representatives on March 18th of this year regarding the requirement of all school districts to enforce a 1-2 minute moment of silence for students of all grades at the beginning of each school day, specifically during first-period class times.
The House approved the bill with a 94-24 vote while the Senate approved the bill with a 32-6 vote. After Thursdays approval, the bill moves on to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis where he will make final actions regarding the bill.
Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is expected to reach an agreement with the Seminole Tribe to bring sports betting to the Sunshine State, as well as expanding current gambling rules.
“The broad parameters of the deal — as confirmed by multiple sources — are that the Seminole Tribe would control sports betting in the state and would offer it at their casinos, including the Hard Rock locations in Hollywood and Tampa,” according to POLITICO. “But sports betting would also be allowed at existing tracks and other poker rooms around the state where the tribe and other gambling operators would split the revenue generated.”
On Thursday April 22, 2021, The Florida Senate unanimously passed a bill (SB 1906) that will increase the benefits for unemployed Floridians. From a maximum weekly payment of $275 to $375, the bill also increases the maximum amount of weeks a recipient can receive these benefits from 12 weeks to 14 weeks and is calculated monthly rather than annually. The maximum amount of benefits a recipient receives in a benefit year jumps from $6,325 to $9,375.
As far as aspects of the bill regarding recipient application, it allows for applicants to use a “base period” that is different than the one that the individual is in, at the time of applying. Instead of the required base period that includes the wages made in the last year up until the time of the application, an applicant can now choose the most recent base period that is prior to the one that the he or she is in.
Governor Ron DeSantis signed HB 1, known as the “anti-riot bill” on Monday, and is now facing a constitutional challenge. The challenge was filed Wednesday and the civil rights attorneys behind the challenge are saying the new laws unconstitutionally “seek to arrest the peaceful expression of free speech.”
The bill is designed to enhance penalties for criminals committing acts of violence during riots.
The Florida House is taking up a bipartisan, compromise police reform bill today. The bill would increase the amount of training for law enforcement officers and correctional officers.
The bill, HB 7051, has been a product of House Republican leadership, the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, and key voices within law enforcement to try and limit the use of chokeholds only under instances when on-site officers perceive immediate threats of serious bodily injury or death to themselves or other people. It would also require other officers to intervene when they witness other officers using excessive force.
A bill that was both supported and opposed on the grounds of accountability passed the Florida House Wednesday.
HB 7045, which will combine two school choice voucher programs and expand eligibility for parents too choose where their children go to school, passed by a vote of 79-36. It will expand Florida’s voucher program to enroll 60,000 more students.
Earlier today, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis met with Chairmen of the Governing Board of the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Chauncey Goss, Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Noah Valenstein, and CEO of The Everglades Foundation, Eric Eikenburg to announce a unanimously approved agreement between the SFWMD Governing Board and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that will advance the construction of phase two of the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir Project.
The EAA Reservoir Project includes two major phases or ‘features’ according to Governor DeSantis: one being a treatment wetland that cleans water, and 10,500 acre above-ground reservoir that will store excess water from lake Okeechobee. Governor DeSantis noted that they “initiated the final phase of construction for the C43 reservoir” and were “near completion of the C44 reservoir and storm-water treatment area” that began initial construction in April of 2020 which was 12 months earlier than scheduled.
Tallahassee-based civil rights attorney Ben Crump falsely claimed on Twitter yesterday the victim of the police-involved shooting in Columbus, OH was unarmed. As bodycam footage was released, it found the victim, a 16-year-old black female, Ma’Khia Bryant, was wielding a knife and threatening two other females.
Some on social media were outraged at the lethal use of force by the officer, including Crump who said on Twitter, “As we breathed a collective sigh of relief today, a community in Columbus felt the sting of another police shooting as @ColumbusPolice killed an unarmed 15yo Black girl named Makiyah Bryant. Another child lost! Another hashtag. #JusticeForMakiyahBryant.”
The superintendent of the Broward County School District has been arrested and charged with perjury, according to several reports.
“Broward County Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie was arrested Wednesday morning by Florida’s top law enforcement agency, according to records,” The Sun-Sentinel reported. “The sole charge is listed as perjury in an official proceeding.”