Updated: Mar 17
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (March 15, 2020) — HB 5001, the 2020-21 General Appropriations Act (GAA) was published online this evening. In coordination with the Florida Senate, the House will convene at noon on Thursday, March 19, 2020, for the exclusive purpose of a vote on the following: HB 5001; HB 5003, Implementing the 2020-2021 General Appropriations Act; and, HB 5005, Collective Bargaining.
In response to the novel Coronavirus, the Florida House of Representatives will take proactive steps to mitigate risk when members return to the chamber to debate and vote on the statewide budget on Thursday. These steps include:
closing the House galleries to all visitors
encouraging all members of the public and House staffers to watch the proceedings live at thefloridachannel.org
canceling the traditional sine die ceremony to limit large gatherings
encouraging members to travel alone -- without their district staffers -- and by car instead of plane, and also advising social distancing to protect themselves and others
“The Florida House has a constitutional obligation to vote on the budget; we are also obligated to do so in Tallahassee,” Speaker Jose Oliva said. “We will take recommended steps to mitigate the danger of any exposure to members or staff to Coronavirus. This includes closing the gallery, granting excused absences to any member who is showing symptoms back home, not dropping the hanky, encouraging the lobby corps to watch online or TV, and reminding all in attendance of the CDC recommendations. We are confident we can conduct a budget debate and vote safely.”
In addition to outlining a state budget for Fiscal Year 2020-21, which begins on July 1, the GAA contains significant current-year funding that Governor Ron DeSantis has requested to help with ongoing efforts to prepare for and respond to the impacts of Coronavirus. Therefore, it is critical that lawmakers return to Tallahassee to vote on the budget and send it to the Governor as soon as possible.
The budget bills have been read three times in both the House and Senate; all that remains to be done on Thursday is to explain the conference report, debate, and adopt the conference report and bill. The conference report can only be voted up or down; it cannot be amended (House Rule 7.22(c)), and there is no requirement to read on separate days or roll to third reading.
The Florida Constitution does not contemplate a remote debate and vote. It directs the Legislature to conduct its business within a 60-day window, and if needed, vote to extend. On Friday, the Legislature adopted Senate Concurrent Resolution 1936, which extends session through March 20 — or sooner both bodies finish earlier.
The Florida Constitution’s Physical Presence Requirement for Legislative Session
Under Article II, Section 3, the Constitution provides that the Legislature shall “convene” to conduct business and is in session only when a “quorum” is present, and the provision contemplates a mechanism by which a lesser number of members may compel the “presence” of “absent” members.
Those words may take on a broader range of meanings when used in 2020, but their original and fixed meaning — in 1968 — was necessarily limited to physically “conven[ing]” a “quorum” of members physically present and the compulsion of members’ physical “presence” when physically “absent.”
The Constitution specifically allows the Joint Legislative Budget Commission to meet telephonically in Article 3, Section (19)(j). If the Legislature could meet telephonically, the Constitution would say so.
House and Senate rules plainly reflect the understanding that physical presence is required. There are at least 15 examples in House Rules.
Press: The press gallery will remain open for those who wish to attend in person; however, a post-budget-vote media conference call will be held in lieu of an in-person gaggle. Call-in information is forthcoming.