Tuesday, January 14th, marked the opening day of Florida’s 2020 legislative session. The Senate, House of Representatives, and Cabinet joined together for the State of the State address delivered by Governor Ron DeSantis, and each chamber heard opening day addresses from their presiding officer: Senate President Bill Galvano and Speaker of the House Jose Olivia.
During the 60-day legislative session, the Senate will continue working to prioritize issues such as education, healthcare, infrastructure, the environment and the many other needs of our state while also working to pass a fiscally responsible, balanced budget.
Senate Honors Victims, Recognizes Survivors and First Responders of NAS Pensacola Shooting
During the ceremonial opening sitting of the 2020 legislative session, the Florida Senate honored the victims, survivors, and first responders impacted by the December 6, 2019 shooting at Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola. Senate President Bill Galvano led the Senate in the recognition and thanked Senator Doug Broxson for his efforts to ensure family members of the victims, survivors and first responders were honored during the Senate’s first sitting of the 2020 legislative session.
Everglades, Guardian Program and Mental Health are Top Priorities
Click here to read a recent conversation I had with Florida Politics. I discuss my focus, priorities and optimism as we begin the 2020 legislative session.
Guardianship Reform Bill Passes Children and Families’ Committee
On Wednesday, I presented and passed Senate Bill 994 in the Senate Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee.
SB 994 creates protections for Florida’s most vulnerable adults against guardians and prevents abuse and exploitation.
This legislation was created in collaboration with Secretary Richard Prudom of the Department of Elder Affairs and active stakeholders in the guardian program. These participants included attorneys, Clerk of Courts, professional and public guardians and advocates for wards under guardianship.
If passed, this bill would make important changes for Florida’s guardianship program to help restore public trust, improve transparency and prevent the exploitation of those under the care of a guardian.
This bill would increase protections for individuals under guardianships by:
- Eliminating conflicts of interest;
- Ensuring the vulnerable adults’ finances are protected; and
- Prohibiting the guardian from signing “do not resuscitate” orders for a ward without permission from the court.
Specifically, the proposed legislation:
- Requires a court considering the appointment of a guardian to inquire and evaluate potential conflicts of interest;
- Prohibits a guardian from consenting to an order not to resuscitate on behalf of a ward without permission from a court;
- Prohibits a professional guardian from petitioning for her or his own appointment unless the petitioner is a relative; and
- Increases reporting requirements for guardians.
SB 994 will now go to a second committee of reference, the Judiciary Committee.
You can read more on the background surrounding the bill here: New Florida Legislation Aims to Toughen Guardianship Laws
Watch me discuss the bill on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/FLSenateGOP/status/1217485261619310592
Legislation to Protect Florida’s Environment and Infrastructure Advances
The Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources approved Senate Proposed Bill 7024: Florida Forever, providing at least $10 million annually from the Florida Forever program to purchase land and add conservation easements in areas struck by hurricanes. The bill also provides Florida Forever funding for wildlife crossings and requires the Department of Environmental Protection to work with other state agencies and water management districts on projects intended to conserve land in coastal areas subject to flooding as a result of sea-level rise.
This legislation aims to aid in hurricane recovery for the Panhandle area ravaged by Hurricane Michael in October 2018 while also ensuring long term coastal resilience.
Senate Education Committee Takes First Step Toward Increasing Teacher Pay
The Senate Committee on Education unanimously supported Senate Bill 1088: Teacher Salary Enhancement by Senator Manny Diaz, Jr. This legislation creates a new operating categorical fund and requires each school district to use the appropriated funds to increase teacher salaries as prescribed by the Legislature in the state’s annual budget. The Florida Senate values Florida’s teachers and this legislation paves the way for teacher pay increases.
Legislation Working to Divert Girls from the Juvenile Justice System Passes Committee
The Senate Committee on Criminal Justice approved Senate Bill 1056: PACE Center for Girls by Senator Wilton Simpson. This legislation creates Florida statue authorizing the Department of Juvenile Justice to contract with PACE Center for Girls to provide services including education, counseling, training, and advocacy to girls and young women as an alternative to commitment and institutionalization. This legislation would also allow for future recurring funding for these services, provided funds are appropriated.
The PACE Center for Girls (PACE) is a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide girls and young women an opportunity for a better future and is recognized as a national model for reducing recidivism and improving school success, employment, and self-sufficiency. PACE has 21 centers in Florida, which serve over 3,000 girls and young women per year. Several girls from PACE joined Senator Simpson for his bill presentation and shared personal testimony about how the program has made a positive impact on their lives.
Committee Approves Bill to Improve Access to Benefits for Disabled Veterans
The Senate Committee on Governmental Oversight and Accountability approved Senate Bill 936: Disability Retirement Benefits by Senator George Gainer. This legislation eases the requirements for proof of disability for a veteran in the Florida Retirement System who is receiving care at a federal Veterans Health Administration facility. Currently, a veteran is required to receive certification of proof of total and permanent disability from physicians licensed in Florida or the state in which the veteran works. SB 936 would allow a veteran to obtain proof of disability from a physician regardless of the state that physician is licensed in. This legislation will improve access to benefits for disabled veterans and continues Florida’s efforts to remain the most-veteran friendly state in the nation.
Update on Vacation Rental Legislation
On Monday, the Senate Innovation, Industry and Technology Committee advanced Senate Bill 1128 to regulate vacation rentals at the state level.
Since the bill’s filing, I’ve received a number of emails from residents, business owners and elected officials on both sides of the issue. Some have sought local control, some preemption and others have argued for no regulation altogether.
I do believe there needs to be a state preemption on local government regulation of vacation rentals because the issue is of statewide concern. There must be uniformity in regulation and enforcement.
I also believe the state needs to set parameters and the regulations of the vacation rentals.
The original legislation that preempted local ordinances, HB 883, was passed in 2011 while I was serving in the Florida House. Due to concerns raised by then Senator Richter, myself and other legislators in areas with high volume vacation rentals, we specified that this prohibition would not apply to local laws, ordinances or rules adopted on or before June 1, 2011.
I supported that bill because of the “grandfather clause,” as the City of Naples and Collier County believed to have local ordinances in place to address the issue.
The bill does not disturb the 2011 “grandfather” provisions, and this preemption would not apply to local laws, ordinances or rules adopted on or before June 1, 2011.
Still, I believe there needs to be a state preemption of vacation rentals — similar to the state preemption for Uber and other ride share services — because there must be uniformity in regulation and enforcement for the safety and wellbeing of others.
Environment and Preservation Committee is Updated on DEP Resiliency Programs and on Disaster Mitigation Projects
On Monday, the Senate Environment and Preservation Committee received an update from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) about their ongoing resiliency programs.
The committee also heard from Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) on their disaster mitigation projects across the state.
The Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection, with new beach regulation and management components, will strive to achieve a synergetic goal to protect and manage our coastal resources. Their focus will be to maintain optimal quality, longevity and health of these resources over time.
The Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection was created by an executive order signed by Governor DeSantis.
The office currently oversees 4.9 million acres of submerged and coastal lands, and manages distinct protection programs for Florida’s coastline.
DEO has led the state’s efforts to create the federally required State Action Plan to be submitted to the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
The plan provides a high-level strategy on how federal funding will be allocated to effectively address the needs of eligible communities’ disaster mitigation. DEO has developed this plan in partnership with state and local partners involved in mitigation and resiliency efforts.
The plan is due to HUD by February 3.
Appropriations Subcommittee Holds Confirmation Hearing for State Surgeon General
The Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services met on Wednesday for a confirmation hearing for Surgeon General Scott Rivkees. The committee voted to recommend approval of Dr. Rivkees.
In his capacity as Surgeon General, Dr. Rivkees will oversee the operations of:
- The state health office;
- 67 county health departments;
- 22 area offices for the Division of Children’s Medical Services;
- 12 regional offices for the Division of Medical Quality Assurance;
- Nine area offices for the Division of Disability Determinations; and
- Four public health laboratories.
The committee also passed Senate Bill 58 by Senator Book. SB 58 would create the Prescription Drug Donation Repository Program within the Department of Health (DOH). This program would work to facilitate the donation and distribution of prescription drugs and supplies to eligible patients in the state.
Rules Committee Passes Memorial to Urge Congress to Improve Veterans’ Care
On Wednesday, the Senate Rules Committee met and passed a number of bills including Senate Memorial 420 by Senator Diaz.
SM 420 is a memorial to the Congress of the United States and the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
The memorial urges Congress and the VA to ensure that the VA MISSION Act of 2018 is implemented in a manner consistent with the legislative intent and purpose of the act.
The purpose of the VA MISSION Act of 2018 is to overhaul and improve health care access to veterans. This overhaul would offer options of VA and non-VA health care services, veterans’ homes, access to walk-in VA care and prescription drug protocol.
The memorial requests that Congress and the VA meet the law’s deadlines in a timely matter to ensure veterans’ access to the highest quality of care both from inside and outside the Veterans Health Administration System.
Welcome to the Florida Senate
The Florida Senate welcomed the following groups to the Capitol:
- Epilepsy Florida
- Consortium of Florida Education Foundations
- Florida Baptist Children’s Home and One More Child
- Florida Small Business Development Center Network
- Hillsborough County
- Moffitt Cancer Center
- Palm Beach County
- Pasco County
- Pinellas County
- Rural Counties (Bradford County Development Authority)
- Volusia County
On Tuesday afternoon, I visited with Jose Castillo, a nurse anesthetist from Naples. Jose is currently serving his colleagues in a statewide leadership role as President of the Florida Association of Nurse Anesthetists.
I was glad to sit down with members of The Immokalee Foundation and discuss their hard work in sustaining educational opportunities and programs for children and young adults.
I was honored to have had the opportunity to speak to tech leaders from the Computing Technology Industry Association (Comp TIA) at their Legislative Fly-In event this week.
As always, please do not hesitate to contact my office any time that I can be of assistance.
Kathleen C. Passidomo
Senate Majority Leader
State Senator, District 28