DeSantis Signs Special Session Bills
File photo: Lynchburg, Virginia USA – April 14, 2023 – Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaking at Liberty University on April 14, 2023.
Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday signed four bills passed during a special legislative session last week, including measures to provide hurricane relief, bolster security at Jewish day schools and expand school vouchers.
The special session came amid the backdrop of the war between Israel and Hamas, with state lawmakers taking steps to show their support for Israel. One of the new laws (HB 5C) expands state sanctions against Iran, a key backer of Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that attacked Israel on Oct. 7.
Two other bills passed during the session carried a total price-tag of $462 million.
The My Safe Florida Home program includes matching grants up to $10,000 to help homeowners pay for such things as reinforcing roof-to-wall connections, upgrading roof coverings and upgrading doors and windows. The money approved during the special session will cover more than 17,600 already-submitted applications to the program.
The bill also includes money to help people and communities affected by Idalia, which made landfall Aug. 30 in Taylor County before plowing across other areas of North Florida. The bill includes $75 million for a program that provides low-interest or interest-free loans to agriculture and aquaculture producers, $37.5 million to help timber owners and $50 million for hurricane repair and recovery projects in counties that received Federal Emergency Management disaster designations.
The bill also will provide $25 million to the Florida Housing Finance Corp. for what is known as the Hurricane Housing Recovery Program in the designated counties, while tax breaks will be offered on agricultural equipment that couldn’t be used in the two months after the storm; on the purchase of fencing and building materials purchased to make repairs after Idalia; and on fuel used for agricultural shipments and debris removal.
The Florida Senate website showed Monday that DeSantis had signed the bills, which took effect immediately. State Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, whose office oversees the My Safe Florida Home program, issued a statement praising the additional funding for the program.
“I look forward to working with the governor and Legislature next session to expand the program and provide more home-hardening funding so more Florida homeowners can benefit,” Patronis said in the statement.
That bill will expand a 2007 law that requires the State Board of Administration to divest from what are known as “scrutinized” companies with links to Iran’s petroleum industry. The new measure will also apply to such things as the financial, construction, manufacturing, textile and manufacturing sectors of the economy.
House and Senate sponsors acknowledged during the special session they do not know how many companies could be affected by the expansion. But supporters said it is important for Florida to show that it does not want state money supporting Iran.
Also, lawmakers passed a bill (HB 7C) that will provide $25 million to bolster security at Jewish day schools and preschools and $20 million for the Division of Emergency Management to set up a nonprofit security grant program that directs funding to organizations that, according to a House staff analysis “are at high risk of violent attacks or hate crimes.” Lawmakers said the bill was needed because of an increase in anti-Semitism.
Some Democrats also said historically Black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, need to be eligible for some of the money. House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, pointed last week to increased security concerns at historically Black schools.
“I will tell you that our HBCUs in particular have been working very hard with the (U.S.) Department of Homeland Security to conduct risk assessments and to understand where there are holes and gaps in security on their campuses,” Driskell said.
Another measure signed by the governor (HB 3C) is designed to make more school vouchers available for students with disabilities — as demand for the scholarships has exceeded supply. The bill, in part, eliminated a cap on participation this school year in what’s known as the Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities.
The limit had been just shy of 41,000 students. With the cap temporarily lifted, the measure will allow the Florida Department of Education and the organizations that administer vouchers for the state to determine the maximum number of available vouchers.
Next academic year, the Unique Abilities vouchers will revert to using a formula to determine the participation cap.