The 2022 Florida legislative session ended with the traditional hankee drop on Monday afternoon, three days after it was supposed to wrap up, as the state House and Senate worked overtime to settle on a final state budget.
It funnels money to myriad issues, including higher funding for public schools and pay raises for state employees.
The session, which featured debates on some of the state’s most contentious issues, including abortion, immigration and elections, culminated with the passage of a record $112 billion budget, including $37 billion in federal funding.
Only three lawmakers voted against the election-year spending plan, which was about 10.4 percent higher than last year’s, supplemented by federal stimulus money and higher-than-expected state tax collections.
Gulf County’s legislative delegation was able to push many of their priorities with state budgeting. Tens of millions of dollars were budgeted by both legislative chambers for projects along the forgotten coast, including funding for airport improvements in Gulf County and for the improvement of Rish Park on Cape San Blas.
This preview includes an overview of some of these legislators’ top priorities and where the legislation ended up.
Last week, Shoaf’s “No Patient Left Alone Act” passed through the Florida House with 115 votes and was sent to the Governor’s desk.
It aims to prohibit the restriction of essential caregivers from visiting loved ones in long-term care facilities during times of pandemic.
Essentially, the bill differentiates between two types of caregiver – general visitation, which can still be limited in some circumstances, and essential care, which is to be allowed on a daily basis, no matter what.
The legislation makes clear the facilities cannot require visitors to submit proof of any vaccination or immunization for visitation rights. The policies and procedures must allow consensual physical contact between a visitor and resident.
It is expected to be approved by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“I’m proud of what we accomplished this session for our great, free state of Florida,” Shoaf told the Star. “We passed legislation that protects the rights of Florida parents, strengthens the economy and prevents health care facilities from locking out a patient’s loved ones.”
Shoaf also fought hard for the passage of a tourism tax bill that would allow a portion of bed taxes be made available for public safety in fiscally constrained Florida Counties, including Gulf County.
The legislation was first proposed after an October Gulf County Board of County Commissioners meeting, in which the commissioners voted to have County Administrator Michael Hammond reach out to the local legislative delegation to see if 10 percent of the county’s Tourism Development Council tax dollars could be allocated to underfunded public safety offices, namely the Gulf County Sheriff’s Office.
The bill was passed through several House Committees, but ultimately did not make it through the legislative processes in time for the entire chamber to vote on it this session.
However, Soaf told the Star last month that he does not plan to drop the issue in upcoming legislative sessions.
“I don’t plan on dropping this issue in future years,” he said in February after House committee processes had led to significant changes with the original filed legislation. “And if I can pass this this year, with this 10 percent, and get the ball rolling… then next year, I intend to come back and go after the workforce aspect and increase it to 20% on both sides.”
Shoaf is up for reelection this November.
Ausley declared that broadband expansion was one of her top priorities going into this legislative session in January.
Lawmakers allocated $400 million in federal Covid relief funds to fund a statewide broadband expansion program. However, because this money has not arrived yet, lawmakers stripped the dollar amount from SB 1800 itself, instead passing a framework through which they can distribute these funds at a later date.
“Finally seeing it in print, $400,000,000 for Broadband in the state budget,” Ausley wrote in a Facebook post March 10. “If you know me you know that broadband for all has been my priority. We are seeing results.”
Further, lawmakers allocated $320,000 in operational funds so that the Office of Broadband, which was expanded greatly by a bill co-sponsored by Ausley in 2020, can hire a full time employee and contractors.
However, broadband legislation sponsored by Ausley this year that aimed at creating a broadband deployment task force within this office died in committee processes.
“It was, I think, a really good session for North Florida,” Ausley told the Star. “Number one there will be a 5.3% pay raise for all state employees… Everybody in the state and state government supports so much of our economies.”
“Then, $400 million for broadband. That’s something I’ve fought for for the last couple of years, and $25 million for small county infrastructure funds, and a significant amount of increase for the small county roads and bridges,” she continued.
The state senator went on to say that almost $1 million was budgeted for the airport in Gulf County, an effort prioritized by both Ausley.
Last year, funding for the airport, which was budgeted by both legislative chambers, was vetoed by Gov. DeSantis.
“So, I hope that that’s not going to happen this time,” Ausley said.
Ausley and other legislators also advocated for the allocation of state funding to go towards the newly reopened Rish Park, a fully wheelchair accessible park located on Cape San Blas.
There was $6.7 million set aside for the facility in the budget sent to DeSantis.
Ausley has been a large advocate for the park since disability activists began calling for its reopening late last year.
“(The funding from this year’s budget) is going to really enable them to get the upgrades and get the residential pieces,” Ausley said at the Coastal Community Association meeting on Feb. 5.
The state senator is also up for reelection in November.