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Florida lawmakers still planning budget vote despite COVID-19 recommendations limiting crowd size

'I want to make sure we’re using every caution'
Posted at 10:20 PM, Mar 16, 2020

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida’s 160 legislators still plan to take a budget vote at the capitol, Thursday. That’s despite President Donald Trump warning against gatherings of 10 or more people.

The president issued that warning Monday afternoon in a continued effort to help stop the spread of the Coronavirus.

House and Senate leaders, however, remained committed to holding the vote. Leadership saying the state constitution doesn’t allow for lawmakers to rendering their opinions remotely and the budget is too crucial to delay.

“In addition to outlining a state budget for Fiscal Year 2020-21, which begins on July 1, the GAA (General Appropriations Act) contains significant current year funding the Governor has requested to help with ongoing efforts to prepare for and respond to the various impacts of COVID-19," said Senate President Bill Galvano in a statement on the vote. "Therefore, it is critical that we return to Tallahassee as soon as possible to vote on the budget and send it to the Governor."

COVID-19 protections are in the works. Public galleries will be closed. Staff will be limited. Lawmakers are encouraged to drive to the capitol instead of fly. The traditional Sine Die gathering following the conclusion of the extended session has also been canceled.

The House is still finalizing all of its measures but anticipates several members will not attend. Staff for House Speaker Jose Oliva said those that do arrive will be separated on the floor per CDC regulations.

The Senate will allow members to remain in their offices during debate on the legislation. Questions will be submitted in writing.

While precautions in Tallahassee continue to take shape, lawmakers at home say they’re doing all they can to prevent exposure before returning.

“This is something everyone is incredibly sensitive to,” said Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando.

Amidst a reelection campaign, Eskamani says she’s had to cancel events, move others online and halted door-knocking efforts in her district to protect against the virus. She felt being proactive would not keep her safe, but other parts of the state.

“I want to make sure we’re using every caution that we can," Eskamani said. ”Not only is it for our personal safety and the safety of our communities, and it’s just a model best behavior to flatten this curve and take on this crisis.”