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Florida lawmakers approve $93.2 billon budget amid COVID-19 protections

'I’ve never gone through anything like this'
Florida Legislature-Florida state capitol-tallahassee-fl leg
Posted at 7:38 PM, Mar 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-19 19:38:56-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida lawmakers had to contend with COVID-19 concerns while passing a $93.2 billion budget and officially ending an extended session, Thursday.

The capitol was closed to nonessential visitors. Members were questioned about their travel and exposure chances when arriving.

Medical staff even took the temperatures of representatives before they were allowed in House. Dr. Cary Pigman, who also represents the state's 55th district, helped administer the checks.

“I don’t want to say I’m thrilled or excited," the Republican said. "This is the kind of response I’m doing in my community. This is just another community of mine.”

Once on the floor, legislators wore gloves. They wiped down desks. Rep. Melony Bell, R-Fort Meade, said the precautions gave her an eerie feeling.

“I’ve never gone through anything like this before," she said. "I remember when my parents, back in the day, talked about when polio was rampant, but nothing like this.”

The budget was passed unanimously. It includes $500 million for teacher pay raises. A salary boost for state employees. Plus, bolsters state reserves, with $300 million to fight the coronavirus.

“Now we’re in a different world than we were a few weeks ago," said Gov. Ron DeSantis after the session's final vote. "We’re going to be looking at how Florida is able to respond.”

With the governor’s signature, the budget takes effect on July 1st, though lawmakers are considering a special session if the COVID-19 outbreak continues to worsen.

Legislative leadership hoped the fiscal protections lawmakers had just approved would keep them from needing to return.

“We’re several months out," said House Speaker Jose Oliva. "We’re sitting on strong reserves. We think there is enough of a buffer there to sustain.”