Photo via Ron DeSantis/Twitter
On June 3, as Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the second phase of his economic reopening efforts, 58,764 people had tested positive for the coronavirus in Florida.
Just one day past a month later, that number has exploded to 190,052, with more than 11,000 new cases in one day on Friday.
Forget New York. Florida and other sunbelt states have become the face — at least for now — of the coronavirus pandemic.
DeSantis has generally downplayed the significance of the spike in cases. In part, he has focused on the numbers including many young adults, who aren’t as likely to suffer severe health consequences as seniors or people with underlying medical conditions.
The governor got backing Thursday from Vice President Mike Pence and high-ranking federal health officials who joined him for an event in Tampa. DeSantis and Pence tried to assure residents that Florida is responding effectively to the pandemic.
Pence said the state was in a “much better place” to respond to the surge in cases because of increased testing and availability of protective equipment, though he acknowledged that work needed to be done to “flatten the curve.”
“No one wants to see these numbers where they are or no one wants to see them go up,” Pence said.
Other people — especially Democrats — weren’t so calm as the surge of cases continued day after day. More than 3,803 Florida residents had died as of Saturday from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.
Many local governments have required people to wear masks in public to try to prevent the spread of the virus, and DeSantis has faced heavy criticism for refusing to issue a statewide mask mandate.
“For much of this pandemic, the governor's approach, like the President's (Donald Trump’s), has been hands-off,” Sen. Annette Taddeo, D-Miami, said during a conference call that Senate Democrats held with reporters this week. “We saw this in reporting transparency, in stay-at-home orders, in beach closings, in wearing masks and in bringing down these incredibly high numbers. It's like he's reluctant to take on a fight to stop the virus, always running after it instead of getting in front of it.”
MAYBE NEXT YEAR
When Florida lawmakers passed a $93.2 billion budget in March, the state was starting to feel the health and economic effects of the coronavirus. They knew the pandemic likely would cut into tax revenues, as businesses closed or scaled back. But at that point, the situation remained hazy.
No more. With revenues plummeting, DeSantis this week vetoed $1 billion in proposed spending and signed a $92.2 billion budget for the fiscal year that started Wednesday.
DeSantis stressed during a news conference that the vetoes did not reflect the merits of projects or programs. Indeed, DeSantis said he vetoed $550 million in items that he had included in a budget he proposed before the legislative session.
“We were operating under a certain set of assumptions. The Legislature was as well. As the reality changes (with the pandemic), I think we all have to recognize that none of us are going to get everything that we want. So, I thought it was important that I was stepping up to the plate on that as well,” the governor said.
DeSantis was able to spare from vetoes high-profile issues such as spending $500 million to increase teacher pay, providing $625 million for the Everglades and other water-related projects and giving 3 percent pay raises to state employees.
But some areas of the budget took big hits, including more than $140 million in cuts to health and human services spending. As an example, DeSantis vetoed $58.4 million that lawmakers included to increase the wages of people who provide services, such as adult day training, to people with developmental and intellectual disabilities.
“That one hurt the most,” Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Chairman Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, said. “These people who are making $9 an hour are taking care of our most vulnerable citizens. We all knew it was coming. Does that make it any less painful? No. However, I understand because of the times we are in.”
WRAPPING UP THE SESSION
While the legislative session ended in March, most bills remained unsigned for three months.
But in a flurry of action during the past week, DeSantis signed dozens of bills, including some of the highest-profile measures of the year.
For instance, he signed a bill that requires parental consent before minors can have abortions, a long-sought goal of abortion opponents.
“The serious and irrevocable decision to end a pregnancy involves undergoing a significant medical procedure that results, in many cases, in lifelong emotional and physical impacts,” Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said in a prepared statement after the bill was signed. “The parents of a minor child considering an abortion must be involved in such a substantial and permanent decision.”
But opponents contend the parental-consent requirement will endanger teens who could be subject to retribution or abuse if their parents find out they are pregnant or considering an abortion.
“This law will put already at-risk young people in even greater danger at the worst possible time,” Stephanie Fraim, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, said in a statement. “What’s worse, it could open the door to a reinterpretation of our constitutional right to privacy and the right to a safe and legal abortion in Florida.”
Among other bills, DeSantis signed a controversial measure that will require all government employers and some private businesses to use a federal electronic system known as E-Verify to check the immigration status of new workers.
STORY OF THE WEEK:
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a $92.2 billion budget for the new fiscal year and issued $1 billion in vetoes
QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
“I’ve been calling people all day and telling them where we are and in most instances that their community project didn’t make the final cut. We will fight again for almost all of the above next year. We’ll just do it again.” — Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Chairman Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, after Gov. Ron DeSantis issued $1 billion in vetoes.
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