Q: With this year’s regular legislative session concluded, can you give us an overview?
A: I think it was a great session. Much of session was taken up with the headline issues of the day, and we have had our share. But we also passed meaningful legislation that addressed important long-term issues of the state. We addressed things like sea level rise/resiliancy, quality standards for Voluntary Pre-K programs, and literacy.
We ended up with more money for the budget than we thought we would have, and we used it on one-time spends such as investing in cybersecurity and catching up on some deferred maintenance for the Capitol rather than increasing entitlements (which would have to be funded every year).
Q: What are some of the less talked about bills that would be of interest to the community?
A: We passed legislation to reduce abuses of property tax insurance and lawsuits that are driving increases in our property insurance premiums.
We passed legislation focused on increasing Florida’s literacy rate. While we have seen steady improvement in Florida’s literacy, more than 60 percent of third graders are reading below grade level — which is not acceptable. We established the New Worlds program that will mail a book to all Florida Students reading below grade level and supply their families with online materials to help their families engage their children in their pursuit of reading mastery.
We increased funding for Florida’s K-12 schools and were able to fund a $1,000 bonus to Florida’s teachers and law enforcement officers.
We protected Bright Futures Scholarship funding and maintained our commitment to increase funding for Florida’s K-12 schools.
We passed legislation that will harden our internet connections against storm related outages and incentivize the expansion of broadband service to rural areas of Florida.
Q: What bills were passed that were directly related to the global public health emergency that was beginning as session ended in 2020?
A: We addressed the fallout of the virus by updating our laws and plans so our state is better prepared to face public health emergencies. We passed legislation to protect businesses, schools, charities, religious organizations, and healthcare providers from frivolous lawsuits.
The shut down to slow the spread of the virus triggered massive layoffs and record numbers of people who were suddenly unemployed. We reorganized the Department of Economic Opportunity and set requirements for upgrades to the Connect System to a cloud-based system to protect it from an outage caused by a surge of users.
We saw peaceful protests used as cover for riots, violence, and looting. We responded by passing HB 1 to create one of the strongest anti-mob violence laws in the country. The law protects peaceful protests, our neighborhoods and the law enforcement officers who place their lives on the line to protect us.
We saw examples of misuse of force against our citizens, most notably George Floyd at the hands of the police. We worked to pass HB 7051 Law Enforcement and Correction Officer Practices, which requires the establishment of standards for officer training and policies regarding use of force, requires quarterly reporting to the state on certain use of force incidents and investigations of backgrounds for people seeking employment as a law enforcement or corrections officer.
Q: What was your favorite bill that was passed?
A: I would say HB 5. This bill passed both the Florida House and Senate unanimously. It requires the development of a K-12 curriculum which will be a part of the regular schoolwork for both district and charter schools. It will assist students in developing an understanding of their shared rights and responsibilities as residents of the state of Florida and of the founding principles of the United States. It will develop an understanding of effectively advocating before government bodies and officials. It will include the curation of a collection of oral histories to provide portraits in patriotism based on personal stories of diverse individuals who demonstrate civic minded qualities, including first person accounts of victims of other nation’s governing philosophy. It will help them understand their responsibility for preserving and defending the blessings of liberty inherited from prior generations and secured by the US Constitution.
Q: What is the best way for our readers to contact you?
A: Readers can email me at Cyndi.Stevenson@myfloridahouse.gov or call my local office at (904) 823-2300.