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Andrade: COVID and budget concerns to highlight session

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Florida’s 2022 legislative session gets underway this week and WUWF is checking in with our local representatives to see what their priorities are for the new year. Today, we check in with District 2 representative Alex Andrade.

This will be Andrade’s fourth regular session after first being elected in 2018. He says he goes to Tallahassee each year with both local and state priorities.

“Your job as a representative is in the name, right? You’re supposed to represent the community you’re coming from. (But) a lot of times the same issues you’re dealing with are the same issues your friends in Miami and central and eastern-north Florida are facing as well. So it’s a combination. You have your list of priorities (and) some of them are generated directly from folks in your hometown, and some are not. But, again, you always have to look at every single law that you vote on, every single bill proposal, every single budget proposal with an eye towards how this will affect the people back home, the people that put me here in this position to represent them.”

And right near the top of the list as the session begins is still the pandemic and the government’s reactions to it.

“The big issue’s right now for a lot of folks are still ‘Is there going to be any kind of government interference in my life related to COVID? Are my kids’ schools going to be open? Am I going to potentially lose my job based on my vaccine status? What’s the federal government doing right now, how is that going to affect my life?’ Those are the things that I’ve been hearing a lot more about lately.”

There are several federal government vaccine mandates that are being challenged by Florida and other states. Many of those have been stayed by the courts while they are being litigated.

“The federal government contractors mandate was stayed, OSHA’s still being battled in court, and then the Medicaid mandate requiring hospitals to vaccinate all employees was stayed. So they’re not about to kick-off and start affecting employers, but the federal government still is pursuing those in the future so it’s incumbent on states like Florida that disagree with that type of government intervention to continue battling them in court.”

Andrade says he supports the governor’s stated priorities including an overhaul of the Florida Standards Assessments, the creation of an Office of Election Crimes and Security within the Department of State, and another pay raise for teachers across the state. He also supports the proposed suspension of the state gas tax provided it does not cut into funding for roads and other transportation projects in the state.

Going into the session Alex Andrade has filed over a dozen appropriations bills for local projects including funding the local Brain Bag project for new mothers, renewing funding for the National Flight Academy’s STEM programs, increasing funding for the Pensacola & Perdido Bays Estuary Oyster Restoration Program and infrastructure improvements at Pensacola State College and Gulf Breeze Hospital.

He also filed several general bills, including one involving cash bail or bond. “In the state of Florida, if you post a cash bond for a friend or a family member who has been arrested, you are likely not going to get that cash bond back, even if you make sure your friend or family member shows up to court.”

That’s because the state can deduct the defendant’s fines and fees from that cash bond. Andrade says his bill would end that practice. “This year I’ll be working hard to try and make sure that fines and fees aren’t being taken out of anyone’s money or anyone’s account other than the defendants themselves.”

Other bills from Andrade include developing uniform safety standards for existing buildings in the wake of the Surfside condo collapse in Miami last year, regulating the sale of the supplement Kratom, and providing transparency in prescription drug pricing as well as some transportation bills.

And, as always, crafting the state budget will make up a major part of the legislative session. Last year lawmakers were worried about a revenue shortfall during the pandemic, but it didn’t quite turn out that way. “Last year the main concerns was because we’re such a sales tax dependent state, our sales tax revenue was down but we had all of this federal money a lot of which was going towards agencies in the state that really didn’t suffer too much economic harm. (So) last year was the first year that we actually broke that 100 billion dollar mark for our state budget. The year before we had I believe a 92 or 93 billion dollar budget. We went all the way beyond 100 billion last year with all that additional federal money coming down.”

Alex Andrade is the district 2 representative in the Florida State Legislature. This year’s legislative session runs through March 11.