Orlando Sentinel | By Brendan Farrington, AP | February 17, 2022
TALLAHASSEE — Let the Florida budget negotiations begin.
The Florida Senate unanimously passed a nearly $109 billion spending plan Thursday with virtually no debate, the day after the House passed a $105 billion plan after two hours of contentious discussion over whether to punish schools that had mask mandates last summer.
The two sides now have until March 8 to agree on a budget to send to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis if they want to finish the annual 60-day session on time. The session ends on March 11, but lawmakers have to wait 72 hours to vote once the final budget is published.
One big difference between the spending proposals: The House, with support from DeSantis, wants to divert $200 million from 12 school districts, including Orange, that disobeyed the governor’s order to not impose mask mandates. The Senate budget wouldn’t punish the districts.
“I really want to thank you for not doing the $200 million punitive deduction from the 12, some of the largest public schools, which would really hurt students,” said Democratic Sen. Tina Polsky, the only member to debate on the budget.
Her district includes parts of Palm Beach and Broward counties, two of the largest in the state and both of which would be punished by the DeSantis-backed plan.
The House budget would distribute the $200 million in funding to the 55 other school districts that didn’t impose mask mandates.
The 12 districts imposed mask mandates at the beginning of the current school year as the delta variant of COVID-19 was still ravaging the state. The districts have since lifted the mandates. In November, the Legislature held a special session to put DeSantis’ order into law.
The Senate budget also calls for $1 billion in spending to raise the minimum wage to $15 for state workers, people who contract with the state and school employees. The proposal comes ahead of a voter-approved constitutional amendment that calls for a $15 minimum wage by 2026.
“I am thrilled to see the Senate lead the charge to implement a $15 per hour wage for those who serve the public, from our cafeteria workers to those who care for our elderly, well in advance of the constitutional deadline,” Republican Senate President Wilton Simpson said in a news release.
Corrections officers’ minimum salary would be raised to $20 per hour. The budget also includes money to build two new prisons and two new prison hospitals.