Local delegation prepares for 2022 Florida legislative session

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The 2022 Florida Legislative Session is slated to start early this year, on Jan. 11. With legislators returning to the capitol without COVID-19 restrictions, many are preparing to hash out some of the state’s issues – coronavirus restrictions and access to abortion among the most contentious. 

Among Gov. Ron DeSantis’ top priorities for the session are cracking down on immigration, implementing hiring incentives and bonuses for cops and reorganizing the state education system’s standardized testing procedures. These issues feature prominently in the governor’s $97.7 billion budget blueprint, which he released in the weeks leading up to Jan. 11. 

With approximately 2,952 bills proposed to date and 60 consecutive days to vote on them, Florida’s state representatives and senators are using the days leading up to their arrival in Tallahassee to prepare to have their priorities heard.

This preview includes some of the top budget priorities and proposals from the elected officials serving as the legislative delegation for Gulf and Franklin Counties.

 State Rep. Jason Shoaf

Jason Shoaf (R – Port St. Joe), the state representative over Gulf and Franklin counties, has sponsored 34 bills ahead of this legislative session, including House Bill 673, which aims to change the way bed tax dollars are allocated in coastal counties.

The bill would allow up to 20 percent of coastal counties’ tourism taxes to be available for public safety entities, namely law enforcement agencies, at each county’s discretion.

“I am seeing the increase in tourism in our coastal counties,” Shoaf told the Star in late November. “And while we have seen our millage, our property taxes go up when property values, we haven't seen a proportionate increase in funding for our law enforcement.”

Shoaf has also been vocal about his preferences in the state’s redistricting, which the republican-led legislature will vote on this year.

In December, he told the Star that had requested letters of support from both Franklin and Gulf Counties backing a proposed extension of House District 7, his district, to the south and east. 

The proposed boundary would allow District 7 to remain largely rural, where other proposed maps, while very similar along party lines, included portions of Tallahassee.

“When we start session, the commission will consider these two maps, as well as possibly creating a third map which is a mix of both,” said Shoaf. “Right now I’m focusing on getting feedback from constituents, so I can take that back to the legislature.”

“The county commissions have said loud and clear they want to keep the rural in one seat and the urban in another seat,” he continued. “That’s a powerful statement that we have completely different demographics but all five counties (in the district) agree on this issue.”

The majority of Shoaf’s other proposed legislation deals with infrastructure improvements or repairs within the counties he serves. However, the state representative has established a priority for bringing in higher paying jobs, filing several bills aimed at increasing access to workforce training and postsecondary education, like HB 991, HB 9063 and HB 9103.

State Senator Loranne Ausley

Loranne Ausley (D – Tallahassee), the state senator for District 3, which includes Franklin and Gulf Counties, has also claimed addressing workforce shortages as one of her top priorities in 2022. 

The state senator says she plans to accomplish this goal by supporting legislation that improves access to high quality childcare, like her own SB 710, and increasing access to broadband internet in the state’s rural communities. 

“The Florida Rural Economic Development Summit took place in St. Augustine where I joined DEO officials, county commissioners and industry experts for a panel on Rural Broadband,” Ausley wrote in a press release. “We had a great conversation about the status of the statewide mapping efforts, workforce shortages, and how to ensure that Florida’s smallest counties get our fair share of federal broadband dollars.”

Ausley has also declared an emphasis on conservation efforts. Two of her 11 proposed bills center around this topic – SB 1448, which establishes a board of tree experts who will designate licensure for arborists, and SB 864, which establishes a cost-share program for agriculture, shellfish aquaculture, and timber operations.

In December, SB 792, which was co-sponsored by Ausley and Iliana Garcia (R – Miami), was unanimously passed by a pre-session committee. The bill codifies a de facto bill of rights for children and young adults under the state’s custody by compiling laws that already grant these rights. 

“It’s really not about creating any new rights,” Ausley told the Star last month. “It’s not enforcing anything. It is simply taking all of the different pieces and parts that are the rights that have been given to these kids in foster care, putting them in one place and setting up a process by everybody that comes in contact with these foster kids – case managers, guardians ad litem, etc.”

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