This week the House and Senate met in Tallahassee for a weeklong Special Session. During the Special Session, the Legislature passed several bills related to hurricane relief, insurance, student funding, support for Israel, sanctions against terrorist regimes, and security infrastructure to guard against antisemitic violence.
HB 1C – Disaster Relief
The state legislature has given final approval to a $416 million measure (HB 1C) that aims to provide additional aid to rural areas affected by Hurricane Idalia and address a backlog of residents seeking home-improvement grants. The measure includes $176.17 million for the My Safe Florida Home program, which offers matching grants to help homeowners reinforce roof-to-wall connections, upgrade roof coverings, and improve doors and windows. The funds are expected to cover over 17,600 applications already submitted to the program. Additionally, the bill allocates $75 million to provide low-interest or interest-free loans to agriculture and aquaculture producers, $37.5 million to assist timber owners, and $50 million for hurricane repair and recovery projects in designated counties. It also includes $25 million for the Hurricane Housing Recovery Program and offers tax breaks on agricultural equipment, fencing and building materials, and fuel used for agricultural shipments and debris removal related to Hurricane Idalia. The measure now awaits Governor Ron DeSantis’s approval.
HB 3C – Family Empowerment Scholarship Program
The state legislature has approved a bill that temporarily lifts the cap on participation in a voucher program for students with disabilities. The measure, part of the special legislative session, is awaiting Governor Ron DeSantis’ approval. The focus of the bill is on the Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities program, which had a cap of 41,000 students this year. The bill would eliminate the cap for this year and allow the Florida Department of Education and voucher-administering organizations to determine the maximum number of vouchers available. Starting next school year, the program will use a formula to determine the maximum capacity, increasing annually by three percent of the state’s exceptional student education (ESE) membership.
The bill was prompted by a waiting list of around 8,900 students seeking vouchers. Lawmakers argue that providing opportunities for families with unique-abilities children is the right thing to do. The deadline for families to apply for vouchers would be December 15, 2023. The cap on vouchers was seen as a fiscal constraint, with varying degrees of student needs affecting the amount of the vouchers. The average scholarship amount this year is $9,900, but it may exceed $20,000 in the Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities program. Lawmakers may revisit the estimation of program participation and scholarship costs in the 2024 legislative session to ensure a more accurate assessment.
HB 5C – Scrutinized Companies
The Florida legislature has passed a bill (HB 5C) that aims to expand restrictions on state investments in businesses with ties to Iran. Currently, the State Board of Administration is required to divest from “scrutinized” companies connected to Iran’s petroleum industry. The new measure would extend these investment restrictions to other industries, including finance, construction, manufacturing, and textiles. The exact number of affected companies is unknown, but proponents argue that it is crucial for Florida to demonstrate that it does not support Iran financially. However, some Democratic lawmakers question the effectiveness of the bill, considering the existing wide range of federal sanctions against Iran. Governor Ron DeSantis is expected to sign the bill into law, as he has been advocating for increased sanctions against Iran.
HB 7C – Security Grants
The Florida legislature has approved a bill (HB 7C) that allocates $15 million in grants for enhancing security measures at Jewish day schools and preschools. The funds can be used for various purposes such as installing lighting, security cameras, fencing, and shatter-resistant windows. An additional $10 million will be provided to these schools for nonhardening security measures, including hiring security personnel and training them on threat awareness, emergency procedures, and first aid.
The bill also includes $20 million for the state’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which can be utilized for improving security at other types of organizations as well.
Senate sponsor Alexis Calatayud emphasized the global problem of anti-Semitism, while Senator Jason Pizzo expressed concerns about the adequacy of funding for protecting Jewish schools. However, Calatayud assured that funding issues can be addressed in the regular legislative session in 2024, starting in January.
Overall, the bill aims to make the necessary investments to enhance security at Jewish schools and combat anti-Semitism.
SR 8C – Support for the State of Israel
The full Senate unanimously approved a special session resolution (SR 8C) sponsored by Senator Lori Berman, which condemns the Hamas attack on October 7 and expresses support for Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign nation. The resolution also supports Israel’s right to defend itself and protect its citizens, calls for an end to financial support for Iranian-backed Hamas and other terrorist organizations, and condemns threats against Jewish people and institutions in Florida and worldwide.
HR 9C – State of Israel
House Resolution 9C, which declares unwavering support for Israel and condemns Hamas for its attack on Israel, was passed unanimously by the Florida Senate. The resolution aims to strengthen the bond between Florida and Israel, as Florida has one of the largest Jewish populations in the country. State Representative John Snyder authored a bill that expands the list of businesses with ties to Iran, imposing economic sanctions on Iran and ensuring Florida does not invest in terrorism. The resolution passed the House without a nay vote.
HR 11C – Support for Israel and Condemning Hamas and Anti-Semitism
The successful resolution, HR 11C, introduced by Palm Bay Republican Rep. Randy Fine, called for the United States to stop funding Palestinian-affiliated organizations. It also condemned anti-Semitic rhetoric expressed by protestors on college campuses and other locations. During the discussion, one Democrat questioned whether the measure’s call to halt funding would include humanitarian aid going to Gaza. Rep. Fine responded firmly, stating that the aid is being diverted to support Hamas fighters. The bill received overwhelming support, passing with a vote of 103-3, with three Democrats opposing it.
HB 31C – De-escalation and Cease-fire in the State of Israel and Occupied Palestine, Protection of Constitutional Rights, and Advocating for Dignity and Safety of Residents
House Resolution brought by Jacksonville Democrat Rep. Angie Nixon would have called for an immediate de-escalation and cease-fire in the State of Israel and occupied Palestine, supporting the protection of the constitutional rights of Floridians, and advocating for the dignity and safety of residents in every community. However, it was rejected by House members and ultimately failed.
BILLS OUTSIDE OF THE CALL OR REFUSED TO BE HEARD
The Republican-controlled House in Tallahassee rejected an attempt by Democrats to expand the ongoing special session to include bills addressing rising housing costs, property insurance crisis, expanding Medicare for children, and curbing gun violence. The special session was initially called to address support for Israel, boost security at Jewish day schools, and take punitive measures against companies doing business with Iran. House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell expressed concern about the time-sensitive crises, including the termination of medical coverage for vulnerable individuals. The Republican House voted against admitting the bills to the special session call. The procedural move to expand the call of a special session requires a two-thirds vote in favor of the motion. The following bills were outside the call or refused to be heard:
HB 21C Affordable Housing – this legislation also known as the “Keep Floridians Housed Act,” would have strengthened an assortment of protections for renters in Florida.
HB 29C Insurer Accountability – this legislation would have forced insurance companies to reveal more details of their finances to state regulators. This bipartisan idea was proposed last session, but Republican leadership refused to pass it.
HB 17C Medicaid and Florida Kidcare Programs Expansion – this legislation would have required the Department of Children and Families to create an online dashboard to publicly share specific data on these programs. It also proposed waiving premiums for certain enrollees in the Kidcare and Florida Healthy Kids program based on their family income. It would have also sought to prohibit certain charges for these families and make revisions to the eligibility and duration of coverage for Medicaid optional payment.
HB 23C Public Safety – this legislation would have required training program hours required for school employees to be certified as school guardians. Additionally, it would have added more requirements to individuals who have a concealed weapon or concealed firearm license. Furthermore, the bill would have mandated each law enforcement agency to create and maintain an active assailant response policy, required the Office of Safe Schools to develop a behavioral threat management operational process, and mandate the Department of Education to establish the Florida Safe Schools Canine Program.
HB 15C Historically Black Colleges and Universities – this legislation would have provided increased security measures at public and private historically Black colleges & universities.
HB 19C Evictions During Emergency Conditions – this legislation would have prohibited the eviction of a tenant during an active hurricane watch or actual hurricane.
HB 25C Hate Crimes – this legislation would have mandated the reporting of hate crimes and expanded the definition of hate crimes to include gender and gender identity.
HB 27C Homeowners’ Insurance Payment Assistance – this legislation would have created a new emergency grant program to help people pay their insurance bills. Floridians could qualify for grant worth $2,500 – or however much their premium was increased since Ron DeSantis was elected governor. Which is ever greater.
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This publication is for general information only. It is not legal advice, and legal counsel should be contacted before any action is taken that might be influenced by this publication.
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