“We have stepped off the field of competition and into the Senate. This is where campaigns end and governing begins.” – Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson, November 17, 2020
Yesterday was a big day for government in Florida and in Miami. We have a new School Board, Board of County Commissioners, a new Mayor who’s made history as the first Jewish and first female in the role, and the 2021 State Legislature convened in Tallahassee for Organization session.
All the events were starkly different than prior years, with COVID restrictions and testing protocols. County events were spread out through the morning with each County Commission swearing-in taking place an hour apart so the room could be cleaned between each ceremony.
For the Florida Legislature’s 2021 Organization sessions, it was all circumstance and no pomp. Nine lawmakers didn’t make it to Organization session because of positive COVID tests or quarantining due to exposure.
Most notable was the weight of the speeches that came from the leaders of each Chamber. The economic and health impacts of COVID will certainly be the focus of the 2021 Session, but they also identified the need to support the most vulnerable and that they may no longer be in office when the budget and policy changes they propose are realized.
President of the Senate, Wilton Simpson’s (R-Spring Hill) remarks, while short, made it clear his focus is on the State Budget – making strategic cuts to programs that no longer make sense for the State to fund in order to make room for critical change.
“There will be things that we did in times of plenty that need to be eliminated in these times of lean. We have less revenue, therefore we will have less government. That does not mean all we will do is cut the budget these next two years. There will be places where we need to make investments, like our Northern Everglades, our springs, our most vulnerable children, and our state infrastructure.”
House Speaker Chris Sprowls (R-Palm Harbor) spoke at length about policy change. He covered a broad range of topics, starting with a firm stance against defunding the police, the need to develop a strategic emergency preparation plan to include hurricanes and health emergencies, and then turned to quality of life issues.
He spoke about the disparities that Black women face in maternal health care, providing more support for the child welfare system, including improving the quality of case workers and strengthening the system of support for older children in foster care.
He introduced the New Worlds Initiative – a program to provide a monthly book delivery to every Florida child in grades k – 5 who struggles with reading, or is low-income, to build an at-home library.
Speaker Sprowls introduced the idea of a statewide workforce development opportunity hub integrating programs under one system that focuses on working and middle class families – recognizing that focusing on college as the only pathway to success marginalizes opportunities for so many.
The Minority Leader in the House, Rep. Bobby DuBose’s (D–Fort Lauderdale) remarks focused on policy change to support families and our environment – affordable healthcare, supporting the Florida Workforce Act, and addressing the affordable housing crisis. He ended his remarks with, “we need to be unapologetic about saying Black Lives Matter.” While Rep. DuBose will serve as the official leader of the Democratic caucus, Rep. Evan Jenne (D-Dania Beach) was named as co-leader of the caucus.
The clear message from both chambers is that the upcoming Session will be unlike any in recent memory. As Speaker Sprowls ended his speech, “we have a lot of work to do, and it’s time to get started.”
You can read the full text of both speeches below: