TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — State lawmakers returned to work Tuesday amid a long list of critical needs, ranging from teacher pay to the environment to hurricane recovery.
Here are nine things to know about the 2020 legislative session.
There is only one job that lawmakers have to do: Pass a budget. But not just any budget. Florida, like most states, requires that the budget be balanced.
Most of the broad strokes of what this will look like are already in place; however, the finer points and the last-second rush to fund projects will, as in years past, comes down to the last days.
“Spending is not caring; solving is caring.” Those were the words of Speaker of the Florida House Jose Oliva as he opened the session.
To read between the lines, the speaker is making it known that he has no intention of funding every project or request that comes across the table. This is his final year as speaker, and Oliva is looking to go out without breaking the bank.
On Monday, thousands of teachers rallied outside the state Capitol in Tallahassee for better pay. Gov. Ron DeSantis has said he’d like to raise starting teacher pay, and the Florida Senate has already advanced a bill to do so. But questions remain in the House here, and Oliva has been focused on keeping a tight budget.
In his remarks, DeSantis laid out three points for K-12 education: recruiting and retaining great teachers, promoting educational choice, and measuring results through accountability.
The first part will require money. The second part is a continuation of trends started under former Gov. Jeb Bush. The last part is a hint at what the Florida Department of Education has been working on as it scraps the “sunshine standards” for new standards.
In 2019, the Florida Legislature passed a bill to allow the importation of prescription drugs from Canada. In the meantime, the Food and Drug Administration has started to clear the way. But there’s just one snag: Our friends to the north.
Canada maintains low drugs prices though strict price controls and has, thus far, not been too interested in allowing Florida to piggyback on its socialized medicine.
Oliva blasted what he called the “health care industrial complex,” saying it is “the greatest threat to our solvency” and even going as far as to call hospitals, medical device manufacturers, and pharmaceutical companies the “great robber barons of our time.” Expect significant scrutiny of the health care industry this session.
Another point raised by the governor had to do with cities and sewage spills, with DeSantis saying, “too many municipalities have failed to invest in needed upgrades to their water infrastructure in part because it is cheaper to violate the law and pay a nominal fine.”
This is an issue raised by Rep. Randy Fine of Brevard County, who has been working to add more teeth to state regulations on what happens when cities and counties fail to maintain wastewater systems and those systems fail, sending sewage into waterways.
Florida lawmakers are boasting about the state’s robust growth. Florida will grow to more than 21.5 million residents this year, pushing close to 23 million by 2025.
Much of that growth is from people relocating from other states, this presents both an opportunity and a challenge to state lawmakers who pride themselves on low taxes and friendly regulations. More people will stress resources and infrastructure.
Florida’s long-term financial outlook is not quite as rosy as lawmakers would like. Cuts to corporate taxes coupled with increasing demands for spending on health care, the environment and education are creating a less-than-sunny outlook for 2021 and beyond.
Do lawmakers try and tackle some of this in 2020, or do they kick the can down the road to the next Legislature that will be elected in November?
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