40ºF

Florida Legislature shifts power as lawmakers return for session

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida lawmakers return to Tallahassee on Tuesday after an eight-month hiatus.

The constitution requires they return to organize and select new leadership, but nothing else is on their agenda.

The senate president and the house speaker are the two most powerful people in Florida behind the governor. Both exercise total control in their chambers.

Prior to the mid 1960′s, most presiding officers were from north and north central Florida. Because of a poorly apportioned Legislature, which was later fixed, the majority of voters lived in north Florida’s rural areas.

This time, the presiding officers both hail from the Tampa Bay area.

The last time lawmakers were paired geographically was in 2011. And before that, it happened in 1983, which may have led to an agreement on the Moffit Cancer Center.

That both presiding officers come from the same area is very rare, but so is legislators being tested for COVID-19 before they can enter the building. No lobbyists will be allowed in the Capitol on Tuesday. Reporters must also be screened before entering the building.

At age 36, former prosecutor Chris Sprowls will be handed the House Gavel on Tuesday, knowing it is one of the most difficult times in state history.

“So we are going to have significant budget challenges that we are going to have to work through to get Florida back on her feet," Sprowls said. “And a priority is going to be making the the tough choices now so we can recover faster than the rest of the country.”

Senate President Designate Wilton Simpson, 54, hails from Pasco County. Simpson is a successful egg farmer with a net worth of $25 million.

“People say, ‘You’re so nice, how are you going to be a legislator? Because you have to be mean or sometimes you have to be tough,’ so I tell them, ‘Don’t mistake my kindness for weakness,’” Simpson said.

What lawmakers won’t do on Tuesday is look at Florida’s unemployment system or the state’s virus response.