January 5, 2021
The upcoming 2021 Florida Legislative Session will play out against a backdrop of daunting economic and social challenges, and with new leaders setting the direction and priorities. On November 17, 2020 the Florida Legislature met for Organization Session, where newly elected members were sworn in, Senator Wilton Simpson (R-Trilby) was officially elected to serve as Senate President, and Representative Chris Sprowls (R-Tarpon Springs) was chosen to preside as Speaker of the House. The 2021 Legislative Session will commence on March 2, 2021 and is scheduled to conclude on April 30.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to loom over Florida’s economy and politics. Governor DeSantis and legislative leaders have predicted that the pandemic will have a significant impact on virtually every budget and policy debate during the 2021 Legislative Session. Problems with Florida’s unemployment system have made national headlines, while at the same time demonstrators continue to gather to protest police brutality and advocate for the defunding of local police departments. As our state grapples with the continuing spread of COVID-19 as well as the distribution of promising new vaccines, matters relating to the delivery of health care services are expected to arise often during policy discussions this session. All of these issues will likely be at the forefront as legislators face significant pressure from their constituents during this uncertain time.
In the remarks delivered after his designation as Senate President, Senator Simpson reinforced the Florida Senate’s commitment to a “business friendly” environment. In providing some clarity as to his priorities for the upcoming legislative session, President Simpson indicated the need for investments in Florida’s environment with a focus on water issues and septic-to-sewer conversion.
Speaker Sprowls has indicated that he intends to address a variety of criminal justice issues during his tenure as Speaker. In his address to the Florida House, Speaker Sprowls placed emphasis on the importance of ensuring “law and order” while also hinting at the introduction of possible measures regarding the issue of transparency as it relates to special taxing districts.
Over the last several months, COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on our state’s economy, causing a significant decrease in incoming tax revenue and substantial reductions to the current fiscal year budget. While all budget silos are looking at significant funding cuts, there has been some indication by legislative leadership that the higher education budget is likely to see significant reductions in funding, and a possible increase in the cost of tuition at state universities is also on the table this year.
While it is still uncertain what the 2021 Legislative Session will look like from an operational standpoint, we now know how interim committee weeks will operate. The Florida Senate and House recently released their COVID-19 Protocols for interim committee weeks. The Senate protocols include not allowing members of the public to attend committee meetings unless invited by the committee. Remote viewing and testimony rooms will be set up at the Leon County Civic Center for the public to view meetings and virtually address Senate committees. For the month of January, Senators are to avoid in-person meetings and instead utilize virtual technology. The House will be implementing alternating committee meeting schedules, 1-hour breaks between committee meetings to disinfect the meeting rooms and socially distanced audience seating in committee meetings limited to meetings where bills are being discussed. An online registration system will be utilized for members of the public that wish to provide testimony and seating will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. Written testimony will also be permitted. We expect that COVID-19 protocols for the Legislative Session will be similar to the protocols for interim committee weeks.
Despite the challenges all of us will face regarding access to the Capitol during committee weeks and during session, rest assured that the LLW Legislative Team will remain laser-focused on our clients’ legislative priorities and meeting their needs. Drawing on the strong relationships we have built, we will be proactive in engaging leadership, setting up meetings on issues of concern, and continually updating clients on our progress.