Public Policy Update
Hello everyone. The Special Session that Gov. Ron DeSantis called regarding vaccine mandates and other COVID-19-related matters concluded on Wednesday of this week, resulting in four bills being sent to his desk and then quickly signed the following day. Those bills are HB 1B – COVID-19 Mandates, CS/HB 3B – Public Records, HB 5B – Florida Occupational Safety and Health State Plan and HB 7B – Vaccinations During Public Health Emergencies.
The governor's bill signing announcement summarizes the new laws as follows:
- Private Employer COVID-19 vaccine mandates are prohibited.
- Employees can choose from numerous exemptions, including but not limited to, health or religious concerns; pregnancy or anticipated future pregnancy; and past recovery from COVID-19.
- Employees can choose to opt for periodic testing or PPE as an exemption.
- Employers must cover the costs of testing and PPE exemptions for employees.
- Employers who violate these employee health protections will be fined.
- Small businesses (99 employees or less) will face $10,000 per employee violation.
- Medium and big businesses will face $50,000 per employee violation.
- Government entities may not require COVID-19 vaccinations of anyone, including employees.
- Educational institutions may not require students to be COVID-19 vaccinated.
- School districts may not have school face mask policies.
- School districts may not quarantine healthy students.
- Students and parents may sue violating school districts and recover costs and attorney’s fees.
Prior to the governor signing the bills, Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson and Florida Speaker of the House Chris Sprowls released a joint statement that breaks down the new legislation in more detail as well as including commentary from the respective bill sponsors. You can read that here.
Now that Special Session is over, lawmakers have returned to their districts to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. They will resume their 2022 Legislative Session duties on November 29th for the final Interim Committee Week.
Environmental Budget Recommendations Announced
On Tuesday, Gov. DeSantis announced his environmental budget recommendations for the 2022 Legislative Session. The recommendations include more than $960 million for Everglades restoration and the protection of water resources, and more than $550 million to continue to support efforts to ensure that state and local communities are prepared to deal with the impacts of sea level rise, intensified storms, and flooding.
Highlights of the budget recommendations include:
- $960 million for Everglades restoration and the protection of water resources including:
- $660 million for Everglades restoration including the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), the EAA Reservoir Project, and the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project.
- $175 million for targeted water quality improvements, including the wastewater grant program which provides grants to improve infrastructure in BMAP areas.
- $40 million for the Alternative Water Supply Grant Program.
- $50 million for projects to restore Florida’s world-renowned springs.
- $35 million for increased water quality monitoring and to combat harmful algal blooms including blue-green algae and red tide. This includes $15 million for innovative technologies and $5 million specifically to aid in local government red tide cleanup efforts.
- $3 million to remove invasive Burmese pythons.
- $550 million to build upon historic funding in FY2021-2022 to increase the resiliency of our coastal and inland communities.
- $500 million for the Resilient Florida Grant Program for projects to make communities more resilient to sea level rise, intensified storms, and flooding.
- More than $50 million to close the gap in resiliency planning and to protect our state’s coral reefs.
Final Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual Announced
In late July, I provided an update on the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) efforts regarding their development of an updated Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM) which is used to guide the water distribution of the lake. On Tuesday, ACE announced that they have chosen the "optimized lake schedule model run" which is a major step in the process as the chosen model serves as the framework for the final operational plan.
Here are some highlights that I wanted to share regarding the chosen model:
- Eliminate lake releases to the St. Lucie under normal conditions, sending zero lake water to the East 95% of the time.
- Eliminate stressful releases to the Caloosahatchee River from Lake Okeechobee under normal conditions and provide lake flows that are compatible with estuarine ecology.
- Increase flows south to the Central Everglades.
- Provide better water supply for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the Lake Okeechobee Service Area, and the Lower East Coast Service Areas.
- Ensure the safety of the 9.3 million people of South Florida who rely on the Herbert Hoover Dike for flood protection.
- Provide compatible lake operations as the C-44 and C-43 reservoirs come online.
- Reduce damaging dry downs on Lake Okeechobee.
You can read more about this major step in the process in this article. A link to a summary of the issue and Florida Realtors® advocacy efforts on behalf of an equitable plan may be found here.
New Florida Jobs Numbers Announced
Governor DeSantis announced today that Florida continues to make economic progress with more job growth, labor force increases, and a decline in the unemployment rate. Florida’s economy continued to thrive in October 2021, with 18 consecutive months of private-sector job growth, adding 44,300 jobs over the month and increasing by 5.7% over the year. Florida has also experienced 12 consecutive months of labor force increases with a growth of 29,000 over the month. Florida’s labor force growth represents a 5.8% increase over the year, which is significantly higher than the national rate of 0.5%. Florida’s unemployment rate, currently at 4.6%, also decreased by 0.2 percentage points from the revised September 2021 rate of 4.8%.
In total, Florida has gained 1,111,000 private sector jobs since April 2020, which represents 89% of jobs lost during the pandemic that have been recovered. Florida continues to see significant increases in labor force, growing 579,000 over the year as Floridians gain confidence in returning to work. Florida’s unemployment rate has lowered over the year, decreasing by 1.2 percentage points. Data in the month of October indicates that there continue to be many job opportunities available for Floridians throughout the state, with more than 518,000 jobs posted online.
Florida's Credit Rating Better Than the Nation
Governor DeSantis announced late last week that Standard and Poor’s (S&P) confirmed Florida’s AAA Stable rating on Florida’s General Obligation (GO) bonds, the highest rating available, and established that Florida has earned a rating that is higher than the nation. Florida’s AAA rating places the state above the nation’s rating of AA+.
Florida is also outranking other high population states with California only earning a AA-, and New York only earning a AA+. The S&P report finds that Florida is in a superior position compared to the nation as a whole, asserting “Florida’s GO bonds are eligible to be rated above the sovereign because we believe the state can maintain better credit characteristics than the U.S. in a stress scenario.”
Important 2022 Session Information
As of today, 1743 bills have been filed for the 2022 session, with 448 coming from the Florida Senate and 1295 from the Florida House. You can track the bills impacting the real estate industry in our bill tracker.
Listed below are the remaining important dates associated with Florida's 2022 Legislative Session.
- November 29 – December 3, 2021: Interim Committee Week 6
- January 11 – March 11, 2022: 60-day regular session
- February 7 – 9, 2022: Great American REALTOR® Days event