Florida lawmakers gaveled in for their seventh special session in the past five years on Monday.
One of the main priorities is relief to Floridians impacted by Hurricane Idalia.
Especially farmers, with agricultural losses from the storm, estimated as high as $371 million.
“We basically had to start over, replanting everything for the fall. Barnes were blown down, fences were torn apart. Just an absolute mess,” said Jason Chandler, a farmer from Mayor Florida who testified before a Senate committee on behalf of the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association.
Lawmakers are proposing $235 million in disaster relief, plus $182 million to help prevent storm damage on the front end by clearing the backlog of applications for the My Safe Florida Home Program.
The program helps homeowners pay for storm hardening and Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis told lawmakers it results in big property insurance savings for homeowners.
“The average participant in the My Safe Florida Home program is seeing their premiums drop by $1,000 a year,” said Patronis.
Lawmakers also plan to clear a backlog of more than 8,000 students with special needs who have applied for scholarships to attend private schools.
“A lot of these families are already on waitlists to see providers, access schools and testing and so much more,” said Amy Michaelis, co-founder of Upward Trend Acadamy.
The plan won’t require additional spending, as lawmakers have proposed using a $350 million stabilization fund to cover the cost.
However, some education advocates questioned how the issue arose in the first place.
“Did the scholarship funding organizations blow past the statutorily established cap? Were there more applicants than predicted, even just seven months ago?” said Dr. Nancy Lawther with the Florida PTA.
While the bills moving this during the special session will likely pass, likely even with bipartisan support, Florida Democrats argued many issues are still being ignored.
“While we are here in this extraordinary session, we must include Florida in our focus and deal with these extraordinary crises. We believe every Floridian deserves the freedom to be healthy, prosperous, and safe,” said House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell on the House floor Monday.
Democrats attempted to expand the call of the session so bills addressing gun violence, healthcare, and affordable housing could also be heard.
But the effort fell on deaf ears and was voted down.
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