We just completed the second week of committee hearings in Tallahassee. Several committees met this week to hear briefings about the data-driven efforts to regrow Florida’s economy and strengthen tourism in the state. We also received updates on the modernization of Florida’s highways.
Next week, the Republican Caucus of the Florida Senate will meet to elect a Senate President for the 2022-2024 legislative term. I am extremely humbled and honored to be nominated. I am also grateful for the support of my colleagues in the Senate, my professional staff in the office and the constituents of District 28. Thank you for the opportunity to serve our great state. If you are interested to tune into the ceremony next week, I’ve included information below on how to view the livestream.
The Senate Republican Caucus Meeting and Senate President Designation is Next Tuesday
The Republican Caucus of the Florida Senate will meet on Tuesday, October 19, 2021, at 3:00 p.m. in the Florida Senate Chamber to officially select the next President-Designate for the 2022-2024 Legislative Term.
You may tune in to watch the event at 3:00 p.m. on Tuesday, October 19 at https://thefloridachannel.org.
History of Women Presidents of the Florida Senate
Next Tuesday, during the Senate President designation ceremony, I will be the third woman ever elected to serve as Senate President of the state of Florida.
In 1990, Senator Gwen Margolis (D-Miami), a former realtor, became the first woman to serve as President of the Florida Senate. President Margolis retired from the Senate in 2016, concluding more than four decades of elected service in state and local government. She passed away last year on June 9, 2020, at the age of 85.
In 1996, Senator Toni Jennings (R-Orlando), a former elementary school teacher who later ran her family’s construction business, became the second woman to serve as Senate President in Florida. She later became the first woman to serve as Lt. Governor. President Jennings, 72, retired from elected office in 2007, upon the conclusion of her term as Lt. Governor. She continues to reside in Central Florida.
Presidents Margolis and Jennings were both inducted into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame.
Reapportionment and Redistricting
The Florida Constitution directs the Legislature to redraw district boundaries during the Regular Session in the second year following each decennial census. When the Legislative Session convenes on January 11, 2022, this once-in-a-decade process of updating congressional, state House and Senate boundaries will be on the agenda. The new maps will be completed in compliance with both the U.S. and Florida constitutions.
Senate President Wilton Simpson created three committees to conduct the redistricting and reapportionment processes: The Senate Committee on Reapportionment, chaired by Senator Ray Rodrigues; The Select Subcommittee on Congressional Reapportionment, chaired by Senator Jennifer Bradley; and the Select Subcommittee on Legislative Reapportionment, chaired by Senator Danny Burgess. These committees will meet during the 2022 Legislative Session and during the preceding interim committee weeks to discuss the process, consider maps and receive public testimony.
During this interim committee week, the Senate Committee on Reapportionment held a meeting to hear a presentation from legal counsel regarding redistricting law, to watch a walkthrough and demonstration of the new www.FloridaRedistricting.gov website and mapping tool, and to hear public testimony.
The 2022 Redistricting website is a joint website created in coordination with the Florida House of Representatives. Through this website, members of the public have access to all of the same data and map-drawing application used by the Legislators and staff, and after creating a free account can submit redistricting plans for Senators to consider. The website also provides extensive information about the 2022 redistricting process and how the public can get involved.
Each committee meeting can be watched live at www.TheFloridaChannel.org. If you wish to provide online feedback, you may do so at www.FloridaRedistricting.gov/pages/public-input.
Florida’s Long-Range Financial Outlook is Bright
Florida remained free and open for business in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. As members of the Senate Committee on Appropriations begin to develop Florida’s budget for the 2022-23 Fiscal Year, they are analyzing the effects of these data-driven recovery efforts on our state’s economy. This week, Amy Baker, the Office of Economic and Demographic Research Coordinator, presented Florida’s Long-Range Financial Outlook and Revenue Forecast.
Appropriations Chair Kelli Stargel and committee members received updates on Floridians’ personal income, unemployment, the housing market, sales tax and general revenue. Following an economic downturn in FY 2019-20, Florida has rebounded stronger than expected largely due to swiftly re-opening our economy.
Ms. Baker reported that Florida’s general revenue is on track to substantially surpass pre-pandemic economic estimates. The revenue forecast even received a significant increase from estimates made in April, with estimates revised upward to the tune of $2.6 billion over the next two years. Florida’s unemployment rate continues to remain below the national average, with approximately 77 percent of the 1.27 million jobs lost during the pandemic already restored.
Additionally, Florida’s personal income is expected to continue to increase as more Floridians find new opportunities in the workforce.
While some economic uncertainty and challenges still remain, Florida is in a far better position than other states.
Florida is Everyone’s Favorite Destination
Unlike other states, Florida remained open for business in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it shows. VISIT FLORIDA President and CEO Dana Young outlined to the Senate Committee on Commerce and Tourism, chaired by Senator Ed Hooper, the ongoing efforts that have generated record tourism numbers and a historic return on investment (ROI).
VISIT FLORIDA is Florida’s official tourism and marketing corporation that promotes our state around the country and internationally as a premier destination.
The presentation by CEO Young highlighted that following 10 years of consecutive record visitation in 2019, our state saw a 40-percent dip in visitations during the 2020 pandemic year.
Florida is now beating out destinations like New York, Hawaii, California and Las Vegas as a favorite destination among American travelers. At the onset of the pandemic in March of last year, VISIT FLORIDA began working on a comprehensive plan to bring visitors back to the state. This aggressive and well-timed marketing, while other states remained closed, resulted in Florida receiving a return on investment (ROI) of $3.27 for every dollar invested in VISIT FLORIDA according to the Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research —the highest ROI calculation for VISIT FLORIDA to date.
The presentation also highlighted that between April and June of this year, Florida welcomed 31.7 million total visitors, an increase of more than 220 percent from 2020. Florida also consistently outperforms the national average on key performance indicators including hotel demand, traveler spending and domestic air capacity. At the U.S. Travel Association’s Educational Seminar for Tourism Organizations, the president and CEO of Visit California admitted, “Florida is eating our lunch.”
Modernizing Florida’s Roadways
The Senate Committee on Transportation, chaired by Senator Gayle Harrell, is working to continue the modernization of Florida’s roadways. Soon residents will be able to download digital versions of their drivers’ licenses and identification cards to their mobile devices as an additional option for proof of age, identity and driving privileges. The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) updated the committee on the implementation of these electronic credentials, known as Florida Smart ID.
Last session, Chair Harrell championed the passage of House Bill 1313, Digital Drivers Licenses and Identification Cards. The innovative law directs DHSMV to establish a secure and uniform system to issue optional digital IDs to Floridians with verified IDs and builds on the department’s multi-phased program to make digital IDs contactless and secure.
The Smart ID serves as an identification “proof” with a limited profile, so only specific information will be available to requesters of a Smart ID through the electronic credentialing system. The law also protects the privacy of users by prohibiting private entities from storing, selling or sharing personal information collected by scanning a digital driver’s license or ID unless consent is provided.
The Florida Smart ID app will be available for use on IOS and Android phones and tablets. To ensure these digital IDs will be recognized and accepted throughout Florida and the country, DHSMV reported the Florida Smart ID meets American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) and International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standards.
The committee also heard updates from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) on the efforts to strengthen the resiliency of Florida’s transportation system, the backbone of our economy’s supply chain. The implementation of the resiliency policy will center on the ability to adapt to changing conditions, withstand and recover from natural disasters which will continue to build on the solid foundation of our state.
$5.8 Million to Collier County Public Schools
On Friday, Governor Ron DeSantis announced more than $5.8 million in Florida Job Growth Grant Funds to Collier County Public Schools to open iTECH Glades Technical College in Moore Haven, a new location of Immokalee Technical College.
I worked closely with Secretary Dane Eagle of the Department of Economic Opportunity to secure funding for the program.
The new iTECH Glades campus in Moore Haven will serve an area that does not have any post-secondary training programs within 30 miles. The $5.8 million award will cover five years of startup costs for the technical college and will allow the campus to offer 12 career training programs. Workforce training will be offered in high-demand fields such as HVAC, diesel systems, accounting, nursing, welding and healthcare, and will be available to Floridians in Glades, Hendry, Highlands, Okeechobee and Collier counties.
“I am proud to award $5.8 million through the Governor’s Job Growth Grant Fund to create a new technical college campus in Moore Haven,” said Governor DeSantis. “This new campus will provide the area with access to workforce education that actually helps Floridians find high-paying jobs without being saddled by debt. By investing in projects that make a meaningful difference to Florida’s workforce, we have been able to keep our economy growing month-after-month, and we are continuing to build an even stronger industrial base in our state.”