(The Center Square) – Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed several bills adopted during the recently concluded 2020 legislative session into law, most notably scope-of-practice expansions for pharmacists and advanced practice nurses, and a measure dissolving the state’s exclusive provider contract with the embattled Florida Coalition for Domestic Violence.
Bill signing has ceased while DeSantis acknowledges he is too preoccupied with managing the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic to review the handful of bills on his desk.
Still awaiting transmittal from the Legislature to the Governor’s Office are 196 of about 210 bills passed during the 2020 session, which saw 3,517 measures introduced, a similar ratio to last year when 192 of 3,494 bills filed were adopted.
Among those idling bills is the $93.2 billion budget, which sets aside $300 million to handle the coronavirus outbreak and boosts state reserves to $3.9 billion.
By state law, approved bills transmitted by the Legislature to the Governor’s Office go into effect 15 days upon receipt, meaning only those bills the governor vetoes don’t automatically go into effect. Bill signings are ceremonial.
Legislative officials admit they are deliberating the delivery of adopted bills during the coronavirus crisis.
Many concede the week-old budget already is obsolete because of the unanticipated, dramatic decline in sales-tax revenues and the unexpected, sudden spike in demand for services, including mushrooming unemployment benefits and expanded Medicaid enrollments. They expect to re-forge it in a special session before July 1.
DeSantis reported last week the state already had spent about $208 million responding to COVID-19.
On Wednesday, however, he said, with federal assistance Florida will receive under the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the state may not need to extract significantly from its $3.9 billion in reserves.
“I’m just going to let the budget sit for now. I’m not going to start vetoing everything, and I’m not going to sign it yet,” DeSantis said. “Let’s see where we are, and let’s kind of see how the situation unfolds. This is a constant thing where you are reassessing everything you know.”
DeSantis is no hurry to receive the budget from the Legislature.
“The hit to the budget will just simply be an effect of what happens with the economy,” DeSantis said. “How does this thing turn? When does it turn? So, we are going to monitor that and see how the next few weeks turn out. Then we’ll make a decision on that.”
The governor did say, however, he does not plan to veto or delay the budget’s $543 million in corporate tax refunds due in six weeks, noting lawmakers committed to issuing them by May 1 two years ago.
“The corporate taxpayers who are entitled to receive these automatic tax refunds under the law have anticipated these refunds and have likely made business decisions around them,” DeSantis spokesman Ryan Ash said. “At a time when businesses are being pinched with closures and reduced revenues, these automatic tax refunds will inject capital back to employers when they need those dollars to continue operations and employment.”
Florida TaxWatch, a Tallahassee-based tax watchdog, praised DeSantis’ resilience to trimming the refunds.
“Florida needs to worry about Florida and Florida’s business climate,” Florida TaxWatch Vice President of Research Kurt Wenner said. “A $543 million tax increase when there are other options out there doesn’t make sense.”
An unprecedented fall in sales tax collections and an unanticipated surge in demand for services are good reasons for DeSantis to rethink that, argue many Democrats and advocacy groups, including the Orlando-based Florida Policy Institute (FPI).
“This is $540 million we will definitely need,” FPI CEO Sadaf Knight told the Orlando Sentinel. “Corporations have been getting a break for many, many years. Families and individual Floridians really need the break now.”