In a virtual legislative update on May 13, lawmakers discussed the future of state programs in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. The Winter Park Chamber of Commerce session, moderated by Orlando Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell, focused on arts funding, education, and the state’s unemployment crisis.
Florida state legislators on the panel included:
- Sen. Linda Stewart, District 13
- Sen. Victor M. Torres, Jr., District 15
- Rep. Anna V. Eskamani, District 47
- Rep. Joy Goff-Marcil, District 30
- Rep. Amy Mercado, District 48
- Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, District 49
- Rep. David Smith, District 28
Reflecting on this year’s state legislative session, lawmakers cheered the announced funding of $19 million for arts and culture programs. Although well below the approximately $60 million requested by groups statewide, lawmakers were encouraged by the outcome. “We worked really hard to boost arts and culture funding to its full potential,” touted Carlos Guillermo Smith. “For every dollar we invest [in the arts], we get nine dollars back. That’s a very good investment.”
Senator Stewart shared the sentiment, but reflected on the challenge of allocating the money in the state budget with so many competing priorities. “It’s always a struggle every year as it was this year.” There is some fear that the governor will veto the arts funding in the budget, especially in light of the coronavirus pandemic. “With the next budget not signed yet, arts funding could be on the chopping block,” noted Eskamani. She also pointed to the need for federal funding in the wake of state funding challenges.
Legislators also called out other successes in this year’s session, including allocations for the environment and teacher compensation. “It’s refreshing to see that we were able to allocate a huge amount of money to education and teacher pay.” Carlos Guillermo Smith concurred: “I’m most proud that we were able to invest a substantial amount of money in teacher pay.”
The session also focused on the state’s unemployment crisis, including many complaints around the state’s electronic system and its lack of capacity and user-friendliness. “This is a total disaster,” Senator Stewart explained. “No one could get online to even apply.” Legislators described the many faults of the system, complaints received, and efforts to help constituents file for and secure benefits. “We’re all dealing with hundreds of calls,” Mercado explained.