The Florida Capitol on Jan. 20, 2021. Credit: Michael Moline/Florida Phoenix
Protecting affordable housing, voting rights and Florida elders while fighting corporate “handouts” funded by taxpayers are among the top priorities of Florida Democrats as they head into another legislative session as the underdog minority party in both chambers.
In a 2022 legislative online kick-off rally Monday, Democratic legislators pledged to support people-centered policies in the session that begins Tuesday. Scores of Florida Democratic organizations participating across the state in “The People’s Rally” expressed their support for those and other issues.
The kick-off rally comes a day before the GOP-controlled chambers will open the 2022 legislative session with the traditional pomp and circumstance, even as COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations rise and no public-health safety mandates are in place in the Capitol to reduce the spread of the virus.
The state House and Senate initial sessions Tuesday will merge by 11 a.m., making way for the annual State of the State address, when Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis will outline the agenda he wants lawmakers to approve.
Those initiatives include another annual effort to reach his goal of $47,500 for starting public school teachers, $5,000 signing bonuses for police officers who move to Florida from out of state, and legislation to allow parents to sue if their kids are taught CRT (critical race theory) in Florida public schools.
Meanwhile, Democrats in the House and Senate have petitioned DeSantis to declare a state of emergency on housing affordability. In a Dec. 16 letter, Orange County Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, Sen. Gary Farmer of Broward County, and 22 other state lawmakers called on the governor to “crack down on landlords who are taking advantage of the pandemic to engage in price gouging.” Smith said Monday that rent increase of 20-40 percent across the state are forcing households out of their housing.
“We know this is an emergency in Florida,” Smith said on Monday.
The Democrats want “consumer protections for Floridians subjected to unconscionable rent increases” which define increases of 10 percent or more above average as price-gouging and to make those protections retroactive to cover the last 12 months.
In regard to voting rights, Democrats are pushing back against new election laws adopted last year that make voting by mail in Florida more difficult.
For example, Sen. Tina Polsky of Broward and Palm Beach counties and Rep. Ben Diamond of Pinellas County are sponsoring bills to let voters indicate on their voter registrations if they wish to be sent a mail-in ballot, rather than having to repeatedly request them from local election offices.
The Polsky-Diamond bills also would require the governor to consult with local election supervisors to set dates for special elections such that no seat be left vacated for more than 180 days, as occurred after the death of Florida Democratic Congressman Alcee Hastings. The seat has been open for nine months, leaving his constituents without representation and leaving the U.S. House of Representatives with one less Democratic vote. DeSantis scheduled the special election to succeed Hastings — it will be today — despite criticism that he should have set it to be held months sooner.
“There is no representation for about a million citizens,” Polsky said in announcing her bill on Jan. 6. “There was no reason for this to happen. … It should not have been left open for so long.”
Democrats also hope to prevent gerrymandering in the redrawing of Florida’s congressional and legislative district boundaries, as Republicans who outnumber them on redistricting committees 2:1 take the lead.
Regarding tax policy, Democrats are concerned about Senate Bill 1090, sponsored by Sen. Joe Gruters, who also is chairman of the Florida Republican Party of Florida. He redefines corporate income taxes.
Democratic state Rep. Anna Eskamani of Orlando said Monday the bill calls for such large changes in corporate tax policy that state revenue estimators have not yet been able to quantify it.
Democratic state Sen. Jason Pizzo, representing part of Miam-Dade County, has filed bills to unravel all of the COVID laws that were passed in a special session of the Republican-controlled Legislature in November. Those bills overturn and prevent any local governments from imposing mandatory COVID-19 safety protocols such as the wearing of face masks in public places, among other things.
Phoenix editor Diane Rado contributed to this report.
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