Florida continues to debate Iran, education, and hurricane relief policies in special session
More Funding for Hurricane Relief
Florida House Rep. Jason Shoaf (R-Dixie) serves Florida’s District 7, which includes a few coastal counties and parts of the Big Bend. Shoaf introduced on Tuesday HB-1C, a disaster relief package, and said if passed, the legislation would bring aid to both business owners and homeowners after Hurricane Idalia destroyed parts of the Big Bend.
It's been reported that Idalia’s category 3 winds caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damages and Shoaf said one way to bring assistance to the victims is by extending funding for the state’s popular wind mitigation program.
“The program is so popular that the waitlist has grown large enough that we did not allocate enough funds," said Shoaf. "We didn't realize how many people would want to take advantage of this, but we’re excited that we did so we want to make sure and fund all the people on the current waitlist.”
Shoaf’s proposal would bring tax exemptions for building material, grants, and recovery programs; as well as add an additional $181 million to the wind mitigation program that will help Floridians install stronger wind resistance windows. That measure passed unanimously 110-0.
Family Empowerment Scholarship Program
The discussion next turned to The Family Empowerment Scholarship program which the state uses to distribute vouchers to students with special needs. The bill (HB-3C) on the table was crafted by Rep. Josie Tomkow (R-Polk).
“We made a commitment last session that we would do everything in our power to get this thing right," Tomkow said during the special session. "I believe full heartedly that's what we’re doing.”
If the Governor approves, the measure would increase the number of students participating in the program for this school year while also placing a higher cap on the number of ESE or exceptional student education students, for next year.
Lawmakers shift focus to what’s going on in the middle east
HB 7-C, presented by Rep. Randy Fine (R-Brevard), gives members of the Jewish community or any group of people or institutions at risk of “violent attacks or hate crimes,” additional funding for security.
The bill was passed, but not until after Democratic Rep. Patricia Williams (D-Broward) and other Democrats knew for certain that historically black colleges will also be protected from said threats without being haggled.
“As we go over bills by bills, issues by issues; understand that we don't feel one life is more important than the other," said Williams. "As we debate, respect is due to anyone.”
“Scrutinized” Companies & Resolutions
Additionally, the House decided to move on HB 5-C that tweaks the State’s Board of Administration list of “scrutinized” companies with links to Iran's petroleum industry, before closing out the session with resolutions as means to show support for Floridians affected by the Israel-Hamas war.
“It says we stand with Israel," stated Rep. Fine, who's also Jewish. "It also says we stand with Florida’s Jews as we’re all going through frankly that none of us ever thought we’d have to go through again.”
HR 31-C: Call for Cease-Fire?
While the two Republican written resolutions, HR 11-C & HR 9-C, passed unanimous, a third crafted by Rep. Angela Nixon (D-Duval) did not.
“Honestly, it's about the babies...the Israeli babies and the Palestinian babies," Nixon said.
Nixon was blasted by Republicans and her fellow Democrats for suggesting Florida call for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.
More bills will be heard in the coming days before wrapping things up on Friday.