Given recent events, including the horrific attacks against Israel in the Middle East and devastation to the Big Bend caused by Hurricane Idalia here at home, there were several issues that warranted our attention in advance of the Regular Session. Last week, the Florida Legislature convened for Special Session C to demonstrate our support for Israel, provide critical hurricane relief and expand the capacity of the Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities.
We passed four bills with overwhelming, bipartisan support, and Governor Ron DeSantis signed these measures into law this week. I am grateful for the strong partnership we have with Governor DeSantis and House Speaker Paul Renner, which enables us to act quickly to address urgent needs of our state and nation. Unlike the dysfunction we so often see in Washington, when challenges come our way here in Florida, our Governor, Cabinet, and Legislature work together.
House Bill 1C: Disaster Relief by Senator Corey Simon
As demonstrated after Hurricanes Ian and Nicole, the Florida Senate is committed to helping Floridians rebuild from devastating storms in every manner possible. In response to Hurricane Idalia, the Florida Senate passed House Bill 1C, providing necessary funding and tax relief to the communities who need it most. The Florida Senate is meeting the challenge to support our rural and agricultural communities that have been devastated by Hurricane Idalia.
HB 1C provides over $30 million to address the gap in federal funds, ensuring that Floridians who have been devastated by Hurricane Idalia are not left behind by the federal government.
HB 1C grants tax relief to Floridians on building material purchases, provides refunds of motor fuel taxes used for agricultural shipments and debris removal and lowers farmer’s tax bills on agricultural equipment that they cannot use due to the impact of the storm.
The legislation expands funding for rural infrastructure in impacted counties, ensuring that small towns and communities across the Big Bend are able to rebuild their farms, roads, schools, and economies.
It also expands the My Safe Florida Home Program through an additional appropriation of over $170 million. This program empowers Floridians to make their houses more resilient to natural disasters, potentially lowering insurance costs.
House Bill 3C: Family Empowerment Scholarship Program by Senator Jay Collins
Since House Bill 1 passed in the 2023 Regular Session, Florida has seen record numbers of families benefit from enhanced school choice opportunities now offered to every Floridian. House Bill 3C expands opportunities to Students with Unique Abilities, ensuring that all Florida students have access to a full array of school choice opportunities that meet their unique needs.
A record number of families have been able to receive the Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities (FES-UA), a critical program that ensures students with unique abilities have access to school choice opportunities tailored to their needs, as determined by their parents.
HB 3C allows for a greater number of students and families to receive funding under the FES-UA program and removes the cap on funding that families can receive, increasing access and opportunity for those students with unique abilities.
To address the demand for the unique abilities portion of the Family Empowerment Scholarship, families will now have until December 15, 2023, to apply for scholarships in the current school year, in order to be funded by February 1. Ensuring adequate time to apply for and receive scholarship funding.
HB 3C provides critical support to some of our most vulnerable student populations. This legislation builds upon HB 1 passed during the 2023 Legislative Session to ensure access to quality education options, regardless of income, zip code, or circumstance.
House Bill 5C: Scrutinized Companies by Senator Bryan Avila
Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism and played a critical role in the horrific terror attacks on Israel by Hamas. This legislation takes a strong stance against the Iranian regime and makes it clear that Florida in no way will support corrupt, tyrannical, and terroristic countries who diametrically oppose American national security and seek to wage proxy war through radical terrorist groups.
The Biden Administration’s unsteady leadership and failure to implement sanctions, most notably, their decision to unfreeze $6 billion to the Iranian regime, has empowered Iran to further support Hamas and other terrorist groups in the region.
With House Bill 5C, Florida is stepping up to hold the Iranian regime accountable for their support of terrorism. As is the trend, when Joe Biden falters, Florida stands up and delivers.
HB 5C expands upon current sanctions maintained by the State of Florida by requiring the state to divest all assets with companies in certain sectors that receive even a tenth of their revenue from or invest a certain dollar threshold into the listed Iranian industries. These restrictions are the strongest allowable under federal law.
This legislation ensures that the State of Florida will not invest in any companies that support the Iranian regime and their sponsorship of terrorism in the Middle East and around the globe.
House Bill 7C: Security Grants by Senator Alexis Calatayud
Through this legislation, the Florida Senate makes it clear that anti-Semitic violence has no place in Florida and we are committed to protecting Jewish Floridians from threats of violence. As the threat of anti-Semitism grows following the horrors of Hamas’ attack on Israel, the Florida Legislature is providing critical funding to keep our Jewish community safe.
Following the horrific terror attacks on Israel, there has been an increase in anti-Semitic violence across the country and even here in Florida.
The Jewish people have historically faced persecution and horrors that most can never imagine. The Florida Senate cannot stand by and let our Jewish friends, neighbors, and loved ones be in harm’s way.
No Floridian should feel scared to attend their place of worship or school. The Florida Senate is committed to protecting our Jewish neighbors from violence.
House Bill 7C appropriates $15 million to full-time Jewish Day Schools and preschools for hardening security measures and $10 million for non-hardening security measures. Funds can purchase and install security infrastructure, perimeter lighting and fencing, materials for door hardening, security cameras, barriers, blasé-resistant film, and shatter-resistant glass. This legislation also includes funding for increased security personnel and training.
Florida Leads the Way in Supporting Families and Communities
On October 7, 2023, Hamas launched an unprovoked attack on Israel and brutally murdered, tortured, and raped over 1,400 innocent civilians, including women, children, and the elderly.
Florida stands firmly with the people of Israel and our own Jewish communities across the state. This resolution makes it unquestionably clear that Israel has every right to defend itself from the threats facing their people and country, and Florida will stand arm-in-arm with them as they seek victory and peace.
Senate Resolution 8C supports the right of the State of Israel to exist as a sovereign and independent nation, including the right and obligation to defend itself, with the full rights and privileges afforded to all nations under international law.
SR 8C demands the immediate end of any direct or indirect financial support of Hamas, Iran, Hezbollah, or any entity that publicly supports these attacks and other terrorist activities.
This resolution rejects and condemns threats against Jewish people, institutions, and communities in Florida, the United States, and abroad.
SR 8C states that the State of Florida is proud to have the third-largest Jewish population in the United States and continues to cherish a long-standing bond and alliance with the State of Israel.
The Florida Legislature has returned to Tallahassee this week for additional committee hearings.
As always, please do not hesitate to contact my office any time that I can be of assistance.
Kathleen C. Passidomo
State Senator, District 28