On Tuesday, November 17, lawmakers gathered in Tallahassee for the 2020 Organization Session. During the ceremonies, Senate President Wilton Simpson (R-Trilby) and House Speaker Chris Sprowls (R-Clearwater) were formally elected by their respective bodies and assumed their leadership positions for the 2020-22 Legislative Term. Senate President Pro Tempore Aaron Bean (R-Fernandina Beach), House Speaker Pro Tempore Bryan Avila (R-Hialeah), Senate Minority Leader Gary Farmer (D-Ft. Lauderdale), Senate Minority Leader Pro Tempore Bobby Powell (D-West Palm Beach), House Majority Whip Michael Grant (R-Port Charlotte) and House Minority Leaders Evan Jenne (D-Dania Beach) and Bobby DuBose (D-Ft. Lauderdale) were also formally elected as legislative officers for the 2020-22 Legislative Term.
Newly-elected and reelected legislators were sworn in during Organization Session, with Governor Ron DeSantis and members of the Florida Cabinet present. The 2020 Organization Session protocols were significantly modified this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a precautionary measure, only current legislators were allowed to be on the floor during Organization Session. According to the Senate's Organization Session Protocols, only newly-elected Senators were allowed to bring one guest or a spouse into the chamber and each Senator and guest were required to take a COVID-19 rapid test and have a negative result before entering the chamber. The Senate gallery was closed to visitors, as friends, families and those involved in the political process watched virtually. In addition to testing negative for COVID-19, each Senator and guest were required to have their temperatures checked before entering the chamber.
The House followed similar protocols, with each Representative – newly-elected or an incumbent – allowed to bring one guest to watch the ceremony from the House gallery. Each Representative and their guest were also required to test negative for COVID-19 and pass a temperature check before entering the chamber or gallery. In addition to this measure, Representatives on the House floor were required to wear a mask during the day’s events.
Although COVID-19 is on the forefront of Floridians’ minds, President Simpson and Speaker Sprowls were able to share a vision for Florida’s future in their acceptance speeches. Speaker Sprowls covered many issues during his acceptance speech, including the connection between water quality and the quality of human life. Child welfare was also a theme of his acceptance speech, as he spoke about the importance of creating support systems for children in foster care and employing quality caseworkers. Speaker Sprowls also spoke at length concerning closing the achievement gaps in the education sector and implementing accountability measures in the education system. It is his hope that by increasing literacy rates among children and getting parents involved in their children’s education, students in our state’s school system will be able to meet employment demands in the future.
The scope of President Simpson’s acceptance speech was much narrower, focusing on the economic impacts of COVID-19 and the need for a structural change to the state’s yearly budget. President Simpson noted that while budget reductions must take place in some areas, investments in water quality, child welfare and infrastructure are needed. He also called on all Senators to examine past legislative priorities and determine which programs have not been successful.
In addition to the swearing in of officers and elected officials, the House and Senate passed their respective rules, as well as the Joint Rules Resolution. Senators and Representatives will now remain in their districts before reconvening in Tallahassee during the week of January 11 for the first Interim Committee Week.
Provided by Liberty Partners of Tallahassee