Summer of reading
Are your kids ready to load up their bedroom bookshelves with some new reads?
Beginning today, Saturday, Florida is lifting the sales tax on children’s books for the next three months. That’s part of the tax package Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law last week.
Per the exemption, children’s books are any fiction or nonfiction book primarily intended for children 12 or younger, including any board book, picture book, beginning reader book, juvenile chapter book or middle grade book. It does not include books intended for or primarily marketed to adults.
Parents can take advantage of the tax break until Aug. 14, around the first day of school for most Florida public school districts. The time period also encompasses the annual back-to-school sales tax holiday, which this year will run two weeks, from July 5 through Aug. 7.
The children’s book tax waiver will save Floridians an estimated $3.3 million, according to the Legislature’s economic analysts.
Outgoing House Speaker Chris Sprowls made early education and reading a priority during his two Sessions leading the lower chamber. In a news release, the Palm Harbor Republican thanked Ways and Means Committee Chair Bobby Payne, who led the effort to assemble the tax package, and Senate President Wilton Simpson for helping to implement what might be the largest cost savings for everyday taxpayers in Florida history — worth $1.1 billion.
“The Florida House’s tax package — the largest middle-class tax relief package in the history of the state — is now the law of the land,” Sprowls said in a news release. “A bill like this has never been more needed than it is right now. Reckless federal spending sent inflation rates spiraling higher than we’ve seen in generations, and Floridians are feeling the impacts. From tools to diapers to books for summer reading, this billion-dollar tax package includes something for every Floridian, and that’s what I’m most proud of.”
As Speaker, Sprowls has highlighted research showing the literacy rate is directly tied to future success — both for individual children and the state at large.
The tax-free children’s book event builds off of the New Worlds Reading Initiative, a $200 million program that was Sprowls’ brainchild last year. That free book delivery program has so far reached more than 135,000 students.
“Research shows us that 88% of high schoolers who don’t graduate were struggling readers in third grade,” Sprowls said earlier this year. “We looked at struggling K-5th grade readers in the state, and we found that many of them don’t even own a book in their homes. We knew that was the pressure point — that is where we are failing our kids.”
Coming up, the usual assortment of news, intel, and observations from the week that was in Florida’s capital city by Peter Schorsch, Drew Wilson, Renzo Downey, Christine Jordan Sexton, Tristan Wood and the staff of Florida Politics.
But first …
The “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:
Judge opposes Tallahassee-Jacksonville congressional district — Leon Circuit Judge Layne Smith ordered new district lines in North Florida this week, calling the maps drawn by DeSantis’ office unconstitutional. In one of her final acts before departing the DeSantis administration (read more below), Secretary of State Laurel Lee and her office appealed the ruling, putting the judge’s call for a new map on hold. Smith said that map clearly diminishes the ability of North Florida’s Black communities to control a congressional election. In its place, he wants officials to use a map Harvard professor Stephen Ansolabehere submitted for consideration Tuesday night. The order doesn’t impact other controversial districts in Tampa Bay and Greater Orlando.
Lee out, Cord Byrd in at Dept. of State — Lee will step down Monday as Secretary of State amid rumors she will run for Congress in Florida’s 15th Congressional District. In her place, DeSantis appointed Neptune Beach Republican Rep. Byrd will be the next to helm the Department of State. Despite being at the center of a number of political battles around election administration, Lee has been generally well-regarded on both sides of the aisle. In three terms in the House, Byrd has made enemies among Democrats. “Cord Byrd has been an ally of freedom and democracy in the Florida Legislature, and I am confident he will carry that mission forward as Secretary of State,” DeSantis said in a news release.
Ramon Alexander forgoes re-election after harassment scandal — Rep. Alexander, who was the Democratic Leader-designate for the coming term, won’t run for re-election after sexual harassment allegations surfaced against him. The Tallahassee lawmaker was accused of sexting and groping by a former Florida A&M University athletics employee who left the school in January after what the Tallahassee Democrat reported was an “ugly” staff shakeup. While Alexander, a husband and 37-year-old father of two, said it was a consensual relationship and something his family has been working through, accuser Michael Johnson Jr. filed formal complaints in February.
Judge dismisses Reedy Creek lawsuit — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit from Central Florida residents over DeSantis and Republican lawmakers’ decision to dissolve Disney World’s Reedy Creek Improvement District. The lawsuit asserted legislation to dissolve the district is unconstitutional and will significantly “injure” nearby taxpayers, who may inherit upward of $1 billion in debt. It also alleged the repeal is punitive and aims to punish Disney’s opposition to the Parental Rights in Education bill. In an email, DeSantis press secretary Christina Pushaw called the judge’s decision not at all surprising, saying Orange and Osceola counties won’t have to bear the burden of Disney’s debt. “There is no scenario where the state would inherit Disney’s debt — this is misinformation,” she said.
DeSantis signs juvenile expunction bill — One year after vetoing a similar proposal, DeSantis has signed a measure allowing juveniles to have arrest records for felony charges expunged from their record. The proposal will broaden minors’ abilities to expunge their arrest records in Florida, opening the door to removing lesser felonies and multiple misdemeanors from their records. Under the proposal, a juvenile may expunge felony arrests — except for forcible felonies — and multiple arrests from their record for completing a diversion program. Forcible felonies include crimes such as murder, rape and kidnapping, among others. State law currently limits expungement solely to minors who complete a diversion program after a first-time misdemeanor arrest.