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Broxson Looks Back At 'Unique' 2021 Legislative Session

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After the Florida Legislature adjourned its 2021 regular session last week, members are now gearing up for a special session on a gaming deal. 

Amid the hundreds of bills proposed each session, only one is a mandatory pass – the state budget. State Sen. Doug Broxson says as time progressed, things began looking better and better for the spending plan.

“We started out in January with a $2.5 billion hole in our budget, and by the time we got to the middle of the budget through an estimating conference, we were about a half a billion short,” said Broxton. “And then on top of that, you have these three rounds of stimulus that came from Washington.”

The first check went to Florida’s public schools and university system; round two, says Broxson, carried a little more flexibility in how it was spent. An example: the universities were able to do things which had been put off for years, such as some maintenance projects. The third round, he calls “money from heaven.”

“Thirteen billion dollars to the educational system; and then Florida got a bump of $10 billion just to add to the back of our budget,” Broxson said. “These are one-time funds, so we are warning everyone that gets that money: don’t create a 10 or 15-year program, because we’re not going to fund those things you create in upcoming years.”

Lawmakers were also able to plug the holes in the budget created by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Panhandle, says Broxson, did phenomenally.

“We had more projects that were funded this year, I think, since I’ve been over here,” said Broxson. “Many of these things that we funded were in serious trouble because of the pandemic, from hospitals to universities, to government; other programs we felt was necessary for us to look at – including the private sector.”

All measures passed now go to Gov. Ron DeSantis for his signature or veto. His administration has received $1 billion to be spent outside legislative oversight. Broxson says there would be some consternation from the legislature if he vetoed projects they believe are important.     

“And we did not have the veto power to do some of the things that he did – many of them we agreed to – but we had no say in it,” said Broxson. “We’re hoping that the veto pen will stay in his pocket, and he not be as robust as he was last year and vetoing over $1 billion of spending that we appropriated.”

The 2021 regular session was the first held in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, and some changes had to be made to how lawmakers did business in what Broxson calls “the worst penalty ever” for a politician.

“We were separated from the people that brought us over here; the Senate side of the Capitol was shut off for the entire session [and] committee weeks,” Broxson said. “And that meant we had no in-person testimony; it was all by Zoom. We had no interaction on people that know a lot more about issues than we do.”

It was, he says, it was the “most unique” session in Florida history, thanks to COVID.

“Unprecedented precautions; we were tested every week, we had to go through extreme protocol, in many ways separated by the staff,” Broxson said. “This was a peculiar session and we had some very serious issues that we dealt with.”

One of the more controversial bills – and one for which Broxson voted – would allow guns to be brought into some houses of worship. In effect, it abolishes the ban on carrying firearms on properties shared by religious institutions and schools.

“Guns are already in churches; but they have a right to have them on their person,” Broxson said. “We know statistically that people that have a license to carry are the least likely to be involved in an altercation.”

The “sine die” call last week did not mean the legislature’s public work is over for this year. They return the week of May 17 to decide the fate of a 30-year pact between Gov. DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe on gambling. State Sen. Doug Broxson says a constitutional amendment gives voters – and only voters – the authority to expanding gambling.

“The question would be, is this an expansion? I, frankly, have a problem with expanding,” says State Sen. Doug Broxson. “We know the downside of gambling; it creates hardship for a lot of people who cannot afford it. We’ll see how that looks and I’ll try to get the temperature of my region and try to represent them as well as I can.”

If approved, the agreement would create a $2.5 billion revenue-sharing guarantee over the next five years.