Senate leaders named, panel to review COVID-19 response

Senate President Wilton Simpson announced leadership appointments last week.
Photo special to the Outlook

By Jim Turner

News Service of Florida

 A new state Senate committee will review Florida’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and plan for future emergencies, President Wilton Simpson announced last Wednesday as he made more leadership appointments for the next two years.

The Trilby Republican named Sen. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, to chair the Select Committee on Pandemic Preparedness and Response. Burgess was elected to the Senate in November after a stint as executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

“The select committee will review all facets of the state response to the ongoing pandemic, and identify, as necessary, areas where there may be a specific role for the Legislature to make improvements to benefit our state moving forward,” Simpson said in a memo to senators.

House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, made similar comments last month when he put Ormond Beach Republican Tom Leek in charge of a new House Pandemics & Public Emergencies Committee.

Simpson, who formally became Senate president on Nov. 17, began naming members of his leadership team last month, appointing Fernandina Beach Republican Aaron Bean as Senate president pro tempore, Naples Republican Kathleen Passidomo as chairwoman of the Rules Committee and Lakeland Republican Kelli Stargel as chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee.

He filled out committee chairmanships last Wednesday, which his picks including Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, as chairman of the Education Committee, Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, as chairman of the Ethics and Elections Committee, and Sen. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, as chairman of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

Helping Stargel oversee budget issues will be Sen. Ben Albritton, R-Wauchula, as chairman of the Agriculture, Environment, and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee; Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, as chairman of the Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee; Sen. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze, as chairman of the Education Appropriations Subcommittee; Bean as chairman of the Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee; and Sen. George Gainer, R-Panama City, as chairman of the Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee.

With the pandemic causing massive damage to businesses and tax revenues, state economists have estimated lawmakers will be working with a potential budget shortfall of about $2.7 billion for the 2021-2022 fiscal year and $1.9 billion for the following budget year.

Republicans firmly control the Senate, holding 24 of the 40 seats. But as has been common in the past, Simpson will have a few Democrats running committees: Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, will chair the Agriculture Committee; Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, will chair the Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee; and Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-North Miami Beach, will chair the Criminal Justice Committee.

Other leadership posts announced included Sen. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, as chairman of the Banking and Insurance Committee; Sen. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, as chairman of the Commerce and Tourism Committee; Sen. Jennifer Bradley, R-Fleming Island, as chairwoman of the Community Affairs Committee; Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez, R-Doral, as chairwoman of the Finance and Tax Committee; Sen. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, as chairman of the Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee; Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, as chairman of the Health Policy Committee; Sen. Tom Wright, R-New Smyrna Beach, as chairman of the Military and Veterans Affairs, Space and Domestic Security Committee; Sen. Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine, as chairman of the Regulated Industries Committee; and Sen. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, as chairwoman of the Transportation Committee.

Simpson noted in the memo that appointments will not be made to the once-a-decade Reapportionment Committee “until we get a little closer to the timeframe when the bulk of the committee work in this subject area will occur.” Redrawn districts will need to be in place for the 2022 elections.

In the memo, Simpson wrote that he expects chairs and vice chairs to begin setting schedules by the end of this week for pre-session committee weeks that start Jan. 11. The 2021 session will start in March.

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