Andrade Previews 2020 Session
As Florida lawmakers head back to Tallahassee this month for the 2020 legislative session, they can look forward to the thousands of bills that will be filed and the, perhaps, hundreds they will actually consider.
Bills being considered will pertain to hot-button issues like guns and abortion, as well as education, criminal justice reform and septic tank removal.
“The big things are going to be budget issues,” said District 2 Rep. Alex Andrade.
The Northwest Florida Republican was referring to the legislature’s mission to locate the necessary money to fund Gov. Ron DeSantis’s stated goals of increasing pay for both teachers and prison staff. Andrade recently took a few a minutes with Inweekly to preview the 2020 legislative session, discussing items such as funding the governor’s budget, as well as other efforts he hopes to see move forward this year.
Where to Find the Funds?
Last November, Gov. DeSantis released his $91.4 billion proposed budget, which was a few million higher than the previous year. Some of the requests in the proposal are new, such as a billion dollars for the governor’s initiative to increase pay for teachers around the state to a minimum of $47,500.
“It’s going to be a really heavy budget year, I think,” Andrade said, allowing that questions remain as to how the governor’s proposed budget would be accomplished. “I’m confident something’s going to be done; I’m just not sure exactly what yet.”
“You know, it’s always kind of tight when we start increasing guaranteed budget line items that are going to have to go forward every single year,” Andrade continued, “but I’m confident something’s going to get done. I personally believe that something needs to get done.”
The legislator said that the governor’s request regarding teacher pay made sense in market terms.
“This, granularly, is market driven. Our economy has done so well we have this incredible unemployment rate right now,” Andrade said. “Anyone in Florida who wants a job can find one, and that means that a teacher that hasn’t seen a raise in a while can go look for other opportunities for employment. Same for the men and women that work in our prisons. They can go find better employment right now in Florida because the economy is doing so well.”
Medicaid in Schools
One bill Rep. Andrade is sponsoring this legislative session concerns Medicaid school-based services.
“I’m probably most excited about that bill,” Andrade said.
The bill, HB 81, revises provisions relating to reimbursement of medical services so that students eligible for Medicaid may receive such services at school. The bill would allow for federal reimbursement through the American Health Care Act (AHCA).
“We as a state right now are leaving approximately between 80 and 100 million dollars on the table from the federal government to provide things like mental health and speech pathology and physical therapy to Medicaid-eligible students in schools,” Andrade said. “This bill would not cost the state anything, or local government anything, but it would mean about a 100 million more dollars in services going to students in schools around the state.”
Last year, the state rep said, his colleagues in the House were supportive, and he’s hoping to get a similar reception in the Senate this session.
“The Florida House has been incredibly supportive of it, and now we just need to see if the Senate will move it this year and get it across the finish line with us,” Andrade said.
Another 2020 bill that Andrade is attached to as sponsor pertains to alimony. The so-called Dissolution of Marriage bill revises legal provisions relating to alimony. The representative said that the bill will alleviate current restrictions that in certain cases result in individuals not being able to retire upon retirement age.
“Alimony in Florida hasn’t really been fundamentally altered in about 30 years,” Andrade said. “We’re one of eight states that still has what’s called ‘permanent alimony,’ meaning a judge can decide if someone is able to retire when they reach retirement age in Florida.”
While he said he was confident his alimony bill would find support in the House, Andrade acknowledged it’d likely get revised.
“The bill as it stands right now is not probably how it’s going to end up, and there’s going to have to be some, you know, not compromises, but adjustments to the policy, and I’m still waiting to see kind of how the Senate feels about it to see if it will actually become law,” he said.
Improving Criminal Justice
The issues facing Florida’s prisons are many, and Department of Corrections Secretary Mark Inch is asking for both budgetary and legislative fixes. On the legislative front, lawmakers will be taking a look at reducing the populations in the state’s overcrowded prisons.
“We have some issues in Florida right now with our prison population,” Andrade said.
A bill Andrade is sponsoring this session in the House is aimed at helping to reduce the state’s prison population. The bill, HB 339, revises mandatory minimum and maximum sentencing particulars related to certain drug trafficking offenses. The bill allows for a court to reassess such mandatory sentencing and depart from adhering to such sentencing.
“We’re kind of at a point right now where we have to do something in our prison system,” the representative explained his rationale for the bill.
Preserving the Affordable Housing Trust Fund?
Affordable housing, or, rather, the lack thereof, is an issue in communities across Florida. The state has money set aside to help address this issue in the form of the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
In his budget this year, Gov. DeSantis has proposed using $387 million from the trust fund on affordable housing efforts throughout the state. Problem is, legislators typically raid the fund to use the money for other purposes.
“I believe there was about $100 million swept from the Sadowski Trust Fund last year,” Andrade said. “But it was swept for a good reason. It was used to help recovering counties that were hit by Hurricane Michael.”
When state lawmakers re-appropriate funds from the affordable housing trust fund, it results in less money being available to address the concern at the local level. The Northwest Florida rep said he understood this but also understood the difficulties of funding other needs.
“Every single year, the Sadowski trust fund is a discussion and a concern. You know, I know that citizens from Pensacola and Escambia County benefit from funds being left in that trust and being used for its intended purpose. The question is, how do we make ends meet,” Andrade said, explaining he was unsure if the legislature would use the money for affordable housing. “It’s all going to be part of a balancing act that me as a first-term legislator doesn’t have too much say in.”