Florida lawmakers face challenges as 60-day session begins

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – Coronavirus, budget issues, riot legislation and trying to rule over big tech companies will be among the issues lawmakers address in their 60-day session that begins on Tuesday.

But the same will be true for bike seats, take-out alcohol and baby boxes.

More over 2,500 bills were tabled before the 2021 session. While most do not pass, the Legislature will be grappling with a wide variety of issues under the leadership of new Republican leaders, House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Senate Speaker Wilton Simpson, while determining how to do business in the event of a pandemic.

The budget is the only bill lawmakers must pass, and lawmakers won’t receive the latest revenue estimates until after the start of the session. One factor they won’t consider is potential federal COVID-19 relief funding.

“We were told late last year that the federal government was going to give money to state governments, and they didn’t. I don’t think you can count on Washington to do anything good. Lots of clowns in Washington and they don’t do much, ”Simpson said.

Governor Ron DeSantis has proposed $ 96.6 billion for the fiscal year starting July 1, or $ 4.3 billion more than the current budget. That might be too optimistic given the financial crisis Florida suffered during the pandemic.

“It’s just not doable, it’s unrealistic, and most importantly, it won’t happen,” said Democratic Representative Evan Jenne, a member of the House Appropriations Committee.

Senate Appropriations Committee chair Kelli Stargel also said the budget year will be difficult.

“While we have all been relieved to see revenue collections exceed estimates in recent months, it’s important to remember that our starting point for planning this budget was a shortfall of $ 2.7 billion. Said Stargel, a Republican. “Small gains do not negate the challenge that awaits us. Reductions will be necessary. “

A priority for DeSantis, Sprowls and Simpson is to adopt protections for businesses and healthcare facilities that would protect them from lawsuits against COVID-19.

“What our bill says is, ‘Look, if you’re trying to do the right thing, if you’re following the direction of the state or the CDC, we want to make sure that you have a sense of what. securitySprowls said.

Speaker says he wants protections to be the first law to pass, with a bill that would make it a crime to profit from a pandemic by making false or misleading marketing claims about personal protective equipment or availability or access to a vaccine.

Another priority for DeSantis and the Republican leaders is a so-called riot bill that would tighten penalties for crimes committed during a violent protest, would not allow those arrested at such a protest to be released from prison before a first court appearance and would create new crimes. for having organized or participated in a violent demonstration.

DeSantis came up with the idea after a summer of nationwide protests to draw attention to police violence against African Americans. But he has since pointed to the Jan.6 riot on the U.S. Capitol as a reason to support it.

Still, Democrats say he’s trying to crush the voices of groups like Black Lives Matter.

“This law would disproportionately harm communities of color trying to exercise their constitutional rights,” said Democratic Representative Dianne Hart. “This will give bad actors in law enforcement and the criminal justice system additional weapons to harm, incarcerate and kill black and brown Floridians.”

Republican leaders will also target big tech companies like Twitter, Facebook and Amazon. DeSantis calls them …

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