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Daisy Morales Named FNN News 2022 State Legislator of the Year

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Florida State Representative Daisy Morales in her district office in Orlando. (Photo credit: Rep. Daisy Morales)
Florida State Representative Daisy Morales in her district office in Orlando. (Photo credit: Rep. Daisy Morales)

ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN) – Florida National News (FNN) has named State Representative Daisy Morales (D-Orlando) Florida National News State Legislator of the Year for her unwavering commitment to the disability community in Florida and nationwide.

There are 120 members of the Florida House of Representatives, and 40 members of the Florida Senate which make up the Florida State Legislature. In November 2022, Republicans increased majority from 78-42 to 85-35 with control over the Florida House. As the minority party, Democratic legislators have an uphill battle in getting legislation passed through committees, on the House floor and signed into law by a Republican governor.

This year, the Florida National News highlights a House Democratic freshman state legislator with a proven track record of getting sponsored legislation passed and signed into law who has advanced the rights, dignity, equal opportunities, and choices for Floridians with intellectual and developmental disabilities during the 2022 Legislative Session.

2022 State Legislator of the Year

There are many ways to measure a lawmaker’s success. FNN News kept it simple: the Legislator of the Year is one who accomplishes both parts of their job: pass laws (in other words, draft bills that pass both Chambers of the Legislature and get signed into law by the governor) and balance the state budget. Given how difficult it is for a Democrat lawmaker to get bills passed and signed into law, the more sponsored bill signed into law that are under their belt, the better.

During the 2022 Legislative Session, Representative Morales sponsored bipartisan legislation that was signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis that had significant impact for disabled homeowners (HB 13), disabled veterans (HB 45), and the Down Syndrome community (HB 213).

In 2020, Representative Morales was elected to the Florida House of Representatives and served on the Education & Employment Committee, Post-Secondary Education & Lifelong Learning Subcommittee, Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee, Congressional Redistricting Subcommittee, and the Finance & Facilities Subcommittee. She also served on the Select Subcommittee for the Seminole Gaming Compact during her two-year term. During that time, the freshman state lawmaker made history in the Florida House by sponsoring and co-sponsoring over 100 bipartisan bills that were signed into law–more than any other freshman state representative during the 2020-2022 term.

Here’s a breakdown of Morales’ three sponsored bills in detail and the bills’ beneficiaries.

1. Disabled Veterans

Educational Opportunities for Disabled Veterans (HB 45)

Representative Morales sponsored House Bill 45, Educational Opportunities for Disabled Veterans, legislation which provides disabled veterans receiving certain federal educational assistance more benefits. They are eligible to receive a waiver for tuition and fees at certain institutions; the legislation provides calculation for the waiver amount; requires the amount awarded by the state to be contingent on application of specified federal benefits; requires institutions to submit an annual report to the Board of Governors and State Board of Education; and requires boards to adopt regulations and rules.

Florida lawmakers passed HB 45 earlier this year. The law provides an educational benefit to disabled veterans, allowing those who qualify as residents to attend state universities or career centers, and if they’re not qualified for the 100% eligibility tier federally, remaining tuition fees can be waived.

This law was so pivotal, it’s on a path to becoming a national model.

Florida and Louisiana Lawmakers Seek to Make Disabled Veterans Education Law a National Model – Florida National News

Democratic State Rep. Daisy Morales met virtually with Louisiana Republican State Rep. Beau Beaullieu (above right) about introducing legislation on educational opportunities for disabled veterans in the Pelican State.

Daisy Morales is lending a hand across the aisle, and across the Gulf. Image via Colin Hackley.

Morales hopes Florida could become a national model on veteran education.

“It’s great to work as partners to help disabled veterans who have sacrificed so much for our country with educational opportunities to eliminate challenges they face when they have given so much for our country and allow them to support their families,” Morales said when the bill was signed into law. “My office will work closely with other State Legislators looking to pass legislation for educational tuition assistance.”

2. Disabled Homeowners

In July of 2021, Rep. Morales and State Representative Michael Gottlieb (D-Broward) filed HB 13 – Property Tax Exemptions For Widows, Widowers, Blind Persons, or Persons Totally and Permanently Disabled, a 2022 bill increasing the homestead exemption for the widowed and disabled.

HB 13 proposes a 10x property tax exemption increase for residents who are widows, widowers, blind persons, or persons totally and permanently disabled from $500 to $5,000. The exemption would apply to tax years beginning on or after January 2023.

HB 13 was eventually amended into HB 7071, the largest tax relief bill in Florida’s history, offering $1.2 billion in tax relief to Floridians in the form of several tax holidays in addition to the 10x tax exemption increase for disabled homeowners.

3. Down Syndrome Community

Florida Representative Daisy Morales' Down Syndrome Specialty License Plate Signed into Law

In December of 2021, Rep. Morales drafted HB 213 – Specialty License Plates, proposing the sale of Down Syndrome specialty license plates, and breaking down where the proceeds would go:

  • Fifty percent would be used to build and maintain HOLLAND, an affordable housing project for independent living for persons with Down Syndrome and other intellectual disabilities.
  • Fifteen percent would be dedicated to World Changer scholarships provided by Our City Beautiful, a non-profit organization, for Florida residents 18 years of age or older with Down Syndrome who wish to further their education at Florida postsecondary educational institutions.
  • Thirty-five percent would be used for grants to other nonprofit organizations within this state to support housing, educational scholarships, and employment assistance programs for persons with Down Syndrome and other intellectual disabilities.

The Senate companion bill, CS/CS/SB 364, which included Rep. Morales’ bill as well as bills for several other specialty license plates, was signed into law.

Leadership and Commitment to Advocacy

As a former vice chair of the Orange County Disability Advisory Board and longtime caretaker for her adult sister with Down Syndrome, Rep. Morales used her real life experiences to author and support legislation benefitting Floridians with disabilities once she got to Tallahassee. In addition to the three key disability-related bills she sponsored, she also co-sponsored HB 15 – Children with Developmental Delays, HB 173 – Care of Student with Epilepsy or Seizure Disorders, HB 235 – Restraint of Students with Disabilities in Public Schools, and HB 475 – Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Forms of Dementia Education and Public Awareness.

Morales also brought that commitment to District 48.

FILE - (l-r) Orlando District 2 Commissioner Tony Ortiz and State Representative Daisy Morales at the Engelwood Neighborhood Center. File photo: Willie David/Florida National News.

FILE – (l-r) Orlando District 2 Commissioner Tony Ortiz and State Representative Daisy Morales at the Engelwood Neighborhood Center. File photo: Willie David/Florida National News.

With April being Autism Awareness Month, Morales teamed up with District 2 Orlando City Commissioner Tony Ortiz to host an Autism Awareness Day event at the Engelwood Neighborhood Center, located on South Semoran Blvd. The event featured vendors who serve the Autism community: attorneys, health care companies, small business owners, and even the arts community, all coming together to raise awareness of the services available in Central Florida for residents with autistic family members.

Rep. Morales proved herself a common sense champion over the past two years with a passion for helping one of Florida’s most vulnerable communities. The disabled community is the biggest winner of Rep. Morales’ legislative agenda during her time in the Florida House of Representatives.

That’s why Florida National News is proud to name Daisy Morales State Legislator of the Year for 2022.

“I’m honored to be recognized by Florida National News for this,” Morales said. “I also appreciate this media outlet for consistently reporting on the work my office was doing throughout my term. I fight to ensure the disability community is heard, because they need a voice in Tallahassee. As the sibling and caretaker of someone with Down Syndrome, I understand what the disability community needs and wanted to use the authority entrusted to me by the voters to give them what they need.”

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Governor DeSantis vetoed Housing for Legally Verified Agricultural Workers

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla.—Today, Governor Ron DeSantis vetoed CS/SB 1082 Housing for Legally Verified Agricultural Workers.

Florida’s agriculture industry was hoping a newly passed bill that would limit local regulations on farmworker housing will bolster efforts to bring in more non-immigrant foreign workers.

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State Attorney Andrew Warren Announces New Wave of Endorsements from Esteemed Legislators and Elected Leaders

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Tampa, FL – State Attorney Andrew Warren’s re-election campaign is proud to announce another significant round of endorsements from distinguished current and former legislators and elected leaders. This new wave of support highlights the broad and diverse coalition rallying behind Andrew Warren’s leadership and vision to make Hillsborough County safer, fight for victims, and improve the criminal justice system.

Among those endorsing State Attorney Warren are:

  • Hon. Betty Castor, Former Florida Commissioner of Education and State Senator

  • Hon. Pat Frank, Former State Senator and Hillsborough Clerk of Courts

  • Hon. Les Miller, Former State Senator and Hillsborough County Commissioner

  • Hon. E.J. Salcines, Former State Attorney and Judge of the Second District Court of Appeal

  • Hon. Rod Smith, Former State Attorney and State Senator

  • Rep. Dianne Hart, Florida House of Representatives

  • Rep. Susan Valdes, Florida House of Representatives

  • Hon. Ben Diamond, Former State Representative

  • Hon. Adam Hattersley, Former State Representative

  • Hon. Ed Narain, Former State Representative

  • Hon. Sean Shaw, Former State Representative and Insurance Consumer Advocate

Reflecting on his achievements and the collaborative efforts that have driven his office’s success, Warren stated, “I’m incredibly honored to have the support of so many distinguished public servants. They know I’ll reverse the alarming increase in crime over the past two years and make Hillsborough safer—just as I did before.”

During Warren’s time in office, crime dropped 32%, making Hillsborough the safest large county in Florida. Under Warren’s leadership, the State Attorney’s Office launched several groundbreaking initiatives that made our neighborhoods safer and protected victims, including:

  • Disarming Domestic Abusers, in which the State Attorney’s Office aggressively prosecuted domestic abusers to take guns from them and protect survivors of domestic violence.

  • The Victims’ Rights Amendment, a constitutional amendment that Warren championed and ultimately was passed by voters across Florida to protect the rights of crime victims.

  • The Conviction Review Unit, which exonerated an innocent man wrongfully incarcerated for 37 years and charged the actual perpetrators who had committed a spree of murders in the 1980s.

This announcement follows a haul of more than $210,000 raised during his first 45 days on the campaign trail and the endorsements received from Tampa Bay regional political leaders.

First elected in 2016 by defeating a 16-year incumbent, State Attorney Warren is seeking re-election to a third term as State Attorney for Hillsborough County, Florida. Warren, a Democrat, points to his proven record of reduced crime, increased public safety, and improvements to the justice system. Warren is a former federal prosecutor and a champion of effective criminal justice policy, focused on balancing punishment, accountability, prevention, and rehabilitation to maximize public safety.

For more information about the campaign, please visit AndrewWarrenFL.com

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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Endorses Gayle Harrell for Senate District 31

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STUART – Governor Ron DeSantis today endorsed Gayle Harrell for Senate District 31. Harrell currently represents the Treasure Coast district, which includes Martin County and parts of Palm Beach and St. Lucie Counties.
“Governor Ron DeSantis has admirably led our great state through a global pandemic, devastating storms and Joe Biden’s disastrous economy. I am proud of the work we have done together to keep Florida free, and honored to have our great Governor’s endorsement,” said Harrell.”

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