Unique organizational session planned
With the election over, the 120 members of the Florida House of Representatives and 40 members of the State Senate will be in Tallahassee next week to be sworn-in to office. The coronavirus pandemic is forcing some changes to the organizational session that is usually a festive affair of various celebrations.
There are new protocols in place to help minimize personal contact and keep legislators and limited staff safe. In the House, new member orientation will take place a week from today (November 16), with the swearing-in ceremony the next day on November 17. House members will have their temperatures checked before entering the House chamber; on-site COVID-19 testing and face masks will be available. Their guests will have to undergo COVID tests and sit in the House galleries. Both the Democratic and Republican caucuses can meet. While desks aren’t being spaced for social distancing, special accommodations are being made for members with special health issues.
In the Senate, there’ll be no new member orientation nor caucuses. All Senators and staff members will be tested for COVID-19 by next Monday. New members will be allowed to have a guest accompany them onto the Senate floor for the swearing-in, while returning senators’ guests will be seated in a different room to watch a video feed of the ceremony. Desks in the Senate chamber have been rearranged to provide for social distancing.
Incoming House Speaker Chris Sprowls (R-Palm Harbor) last week announced his leadership team and committee chairs. There’s also a newly-created Pandemics & Public Emergencies Committee. While Rep. Blaise Ingoglia (R-Spring Hill) will head Commerce, there’s no listing yet for the chair of its Insurance & Banking Subcommittee. Incoming Senate President Wilton Simpson (R-Trilby) has made a few leadership appointments, but no announced chairs of committees, including Banking and Insurance.
Top of the list for legislators to deal with in preparation for the March 2, 2021 start of the formal session is the state budget and how to handle the multi-billion revenue shortfall resulting from the pandemic. While revenue estimates improved in September for the second consecutive month, they marked a 6.8% decline in tax collections from September 2019. So as of now, there’s about $3 billion less in expected revenue for the 2020-2021 fiscal year than state economists projected in January. You can read the details in this Senate Memorandum.
The Senate has also announced its interim committee meetings schedule leading to the March session. They are the weeks of January 11th and 25th and the weeks of February 1st, 8th, and 15th. Again, the 60-day session will start March 2 with a scheduled conclusion on April 30.
LMA Newsletter of 11-9-20