Faced with the looming COVID-19 crisis, the Florida Legislature passed a $93.2 billion budget for the 2020-2021 state fiscal year. Lawmakers extended the legislative session almost a week beyond its scheduled conclusion in order to make last-minute budget changes, but with significant economic consequences still unfolding as a result of COVID-19, legislative leaders indicated a special session may be on the horizon.
The approved spending package includes $52.5 million for response efforts to the COVID-19 outbreak and its possible impacts on the state’s economy, with another $300 million in contingency funds that Governor Ron DeSantis can activate for emergency response efforts – all added to Florida’s existing $3 billion emergency reserve fund.
Here is a recap of several significant issues addressed during the 2020 Florida Legislative Session:
The budget included more than $22 billion in Medicaid funding, which is fairly consistent with prior years. It will not cut Medicaid base rates for hospital services but will extend Medicaid rate enhancements to select hospitals for another year.
House Speaker Jose Oliva passed two of his health care priorities aimed at expanding access to care. One bill, already signed into law by Governor DeSantis, allows advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) to practice independently of physicians under certain conditions. The other bill would enable pharmacists to treat and test for ailments like the flu and strep throat.
Many proposals promising large-scale change to the healthcare continuum fell flat, such as the creation of 72-hour recovery care centers and a repeal of the ban on specialty cardiac, cancer, and orthopedic hospitals.
A more in-depth scorecard of which healthcare bills passed and failed is available at GoodGovernmentGroup.org.
The budget included $27 billion in education funding, and lawmakers allocated $500 million to increase teachers’ salaries – a top priority of Governor DeSantis. The Legislature continued a long-running effort of expanding school choice by approving a bill to add nearly 29,000 students to the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program.
The House and Senate could not agree, however, on a broad school safety bill, marking the first time since the Parkland massacre that lawmakers did not enact new school security measures.
The budget included nearly $690 million for water quality projects, featuring more than $300 million for Everglades restoration and $100 million on the Florida Forever conservation program. Many of the water quality and appropriations measures were praised by environmental advocacy groups. Lawmakers also passed new requirements aimed at preventing blue-green algae blooms and a bill to increase fines for environmental lawbreakers.
Lawmakers continued to debate whether to maintain funding for the state’s tourism marketing agency, Visit Florida – even as COVID-19 was shutting down the state’s tourism sector and crippling its hospitality industry. In the end, they decided to reauthorize the agency through 2023, allocating $50 million for the 2020-2021 fiscal year, securing its future for at least the next few years.
A mid-session surprise shook Florida’s higher education system as House leadership proposed merging two of the state’s smallest institutions, New College of Florida and Florida Polytechnic University, into larger universities. The proposal changed several times, first merging New College with Florida State University and Florida Poly with the University of Florida, and then merging both into UF. Eventually, the Senate balked under pressure from the colleges’ students, staff, and alumni – and the proposal failed to cross the finish line.
Tort Reform & Insurance
Despite a push from business groups, lawmakers failed to enact tort reform legislation. Tort reform bills that did not survive included one addressing truth and accuracy in damages and another about ex-parte communications between doctors and lawyers.