Florida Legislative Update - February 2021

McGuireWoods Consulting

Governor’s Budget Released

Last week, Governor Ron DeSantis released his “Florida Leads” budget proposal for 2021-22. Despite the pandemic and an estimated deficit of more than $2.6 billion, the Governor is recommending a total budget of $96.6 billion—$4.3 billion higher than the current year’s budget. The Florida Legislature has begun hearings on these recommendations which will ultimately result in the passage of the July 1 fiscal year budget.

Highlights of the Florida Leads budget proposal include:

  • $2.6 billion for pandemic response and relief
  • $65 million in proposed tax cuts
  • $625 million for Everglades restoration and the protection of water resources
  • $50 million for Florida Forever land acquisition program
  • $12.9 billion for K-12 education (would be the highest ever)
  • $233 million for workforce and affordable housing programs
  • $50 million for VISIT Florida marketing efforts
  • $178 million to fight the opioid epidemic
  • $9.47 billion for the State Transportation Work Program
  • $6.6 billion in total reserves

Read more budget highlights here.

Bills to Watch

Legislative session is just one month away and yet more than 1,000 member bills have already been filed. Bills will continue to roll in until the March 2 bill filing deadline. Significant legislation filed to date includes:

Online retailers (“Wayfair”): SB 50 by Senator Gruters passed its first committee unanimously and has two more committee stops. HB 15 by Rep. Clemons has only two committee references. Although the bill seems to have much broader support than previously, it is by no means a slam dunk. Read more on this issue here.

COVID-19 liability protection: SB 72 by Senator Brandes and HB 7 by Rep. McClure both passed their first committees on party lines. This is the number one priority of most businesses in the state of Florida, as well as many in the medical community who fear a flood of lawsuits related to the pandemic. The House bill is up again this week. 

Increased penalties for rioters: Officially titled “Combating Public Disorder,” HB 1 by Rep. Fernandez-Barquin passed its first committee on a party line vote. This bill adds penalties to riots and lawless behavior. 

Sports betting: SB 392 and 396 by Senator Brandes have been filed which would be a dramatic departure from the ban on sports betting that currently exists in Florida. 

To-go alcohol: SB 134 by Senator Brandes and HB 329 by Rep. Tomkow have been filed. These bills would allow alcohol take out, as was temporarily legalized during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Marijuana legalization: SB 710 by Senator Brandes and HB 343 by Rep. Smith have been filed. Every year, the legislature revisits key portions of the MMTC laws in Florida related to the number of licenses, acceptable THC levels, and court case remediations.

Medicaid expansion: Multiple bills in each chamber have been filed to expand Florida’s Medicaid program. However, there is little interest within the leadership circles of the legislature to address this in 2021.

Still to Come

Finally, we still expect bills to be filed reforming data privacy laws. A major re-write of consumer privacy laws stands to jeopardize not only technology companies, but financial services, healthcare entities, and thousands of small and medium-sized businesses that rely on digital marketing and advertising to conduct business. Read more on this issue here.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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