Lawmakers face COVID-19 up close
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - After sitting on the sidelines for eight months, the Florida Legislature met for a one-day session Tuesday, but nine of the 160 lawmakers were absent because they tested positive or were exposed to COVID-19.
Both the human and financial toll of the virus will be front and center when lawmakers begin meeting in January.
The nine absent members, seven from the House and two Senators, hail from one end of the state to the other.
None came in contact with anyone who entered either chamber.
“I want to pause to recognize those who lost their lives as a result of COVID-19. Join me in a moment of silence,” said Senate President Wilton Simpson during the Tuesday organizational Session.
Both the House and Senate will have COVID-19 related committees.
House Speaker Chris Sprowls said the virus and related issues will occupy the majority of lawmakers 60-day session that starts in March.
“Making it easier to start a business out of their home. Many Floridians have now worked from home where they have never done that before. Making opportunities for barriers go down, such as occupational licensing,” said Sprowls.
The budget is going to get most of the attention when lawmakers come back.
They expect to cut up to $5 billion.
“What we’re going to do is review what the 08-09 Great Recession did through 2010. We’re going to review what is important to our budget to this current Legislature,” said Simpson.
But the co-leaders of House Democrats took aim at what they called a lack of specifics.
“I would say Coronavirus was pretty much glossed over in the House Chamber. The reality of the situation,” said Representative Evan Jenne.
Masks were not required for members or the several hundred visitors.
Afterwards few were paying attention to social distancing.
We have been told that everyone in the crowd had tested negative before entering, lessening the possibility of spreading COVID-19.
Only one of the nine lawmakers who were out Tuesday has been hospitalized, newly elected State Senator Ray Rodriguez of Ft. Myers.
A spokesperson said he is improving.