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Florida House Panel To Take Legislative Look At COVID-19

The Florida Channel
Incoming Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, sent a memo to House members that outlined the creation of the Pandemics & Public Emergencies Committee.

Ormond Beach Republican Tom Leek was appointed chair of the state House's Pandemics & Public Emergencies Committee.

Incoming Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls on Thursday rolled out a leadership team and committee changes, including a new committee that will be directed to look at the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and plan for future emergencies.

The Palm Harbor Republican, who takes the gavel on Nov. 17, sent a memo to House members that named a dozen leaders for the next two years and outlined changes such as creation of the Pandemics & Public Emergencies Committee.

Ormond Beach Republican Tom Leek will chair the Pandemics & Public Emergencies Committee and the Redistricting Committee, which will oversee the once-a-decade reapportionment process for legislative and congressional seats. Redrawn districts are expected to be in place for the 2022 elections.

“The Pandemics & Public Emergencies Committee has been created to explore not only some of the issues related to COVID-19 but also to look more broadly at emergency management and how we can prepare Florida today for future threats,” Sprowls wrote in the memo to House members.

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, tweeted that a legislative look into the pandemic is long overdue.

“Well, well, well. Eight months into a deadly pandemic that killed 16,961 Floridians, shuttered 1 in 5 small businesses and pushed millions into poverty, the GOP Florida House finally forms a committee to begin dealing with it ... in January,” Smith tweeted. “Where have they been all year?”

Democrats have pushed since spring for lawmakers to be called back to Tallahassee to address the economic and health impacts of the virus. 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.

The Democrats’ calls for a special session have been rebuffed by Republican leaders, who in part have repeatedly said the state budget is bolstered by federal assistance, expanded budget reserves approved during the 2020 legislative session and cash-conserving vetoes by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Sprowls’ announcement of his leadership team and the committee changes came two days after Republicans added to their overwhelming House majority in Tuesday’s elections. Lawmakers will hold an organization session Nov. 17 to formally swear in members and leaders, with the 2021 legislative session starting in March. Committees are expected to meet in the weeks leading up to the session.

Sprowls appointed Miami Springs Republican Bryan Avila as speaker pro tempore, Port Charlotte Republican Michael Grant as majority leader and Panama City Republican Jay Trumbull as chairman of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee.

Sprowls’ committee changes also involve a newly named and expanded Education & Employment Committee, which will be chaired by Clearwater Republican Chris Latvala. Sprowls also expanded what has been the Public Integrity & Ethics Committee into the Public Integrity & Elections Committee, which will be led by Vero Beach Republican Erin Grall.

Palm Coast Republican Paul Renner, who is in line to succeed Sprowls as speaker in November 2022, was named Rules Committee chairman. Spring Hill Republican Blaise Ingoglia will chair the Commerce Committee, and Lakeland Republican Colleen Burton will chair the Health & Human Services Committee. Miami Republican Daniel Perez, R-Miami, will take over as Judiciary Committee chairman; Lecanto Republican Ralph Massullo will serve as State Affairs Committee chairman; and Palatka Republican Bobby Payne will be Ways & Means Committee chairman.

Jim Turner - News Service of Florida