After Pandemic-Boosted Year, Keith Perry Refiles 10-Day Back-To-School Holiday – Florida Politics

The Gainesville Republican has also filed a school mask mandate ban.

After a successful Summer offering parents, students, and teachers a 10-day back-to-school sales tax holiday, at least one lawmaker wants to bring it back.

In most years, Gainesville Republican Sen. Keith Perry aims for a 10-day holiday making school supplies and related products sales tax-free (SB 500). However, it wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic and Florida’s unexpectedly quick economic recovery that the Legislature gave the holiday a full 10 days. In most years, the back-to-school sales holiday is just a weekend.

“We want to start out trying to go for the fences here,” Perry told Florida Politics.

Under Perry’s bill, filed Thursday, the proposed holiday would run next year from July 29 to Aug. 7.

Clothes, wallets, backpacks and other relevant items $60 or less would be tax-exempt. School supplies like pencils, paper, calculators, and lunch boxes $15 or less would also be tax-free. Computers worth no more than $1,000 — including video game consoles — and some computer accessories would also be included in the tax holiday.

With the revenue surplus available at the end of last Session, House Speaker Chris Sprowls noted the additional days would give families time to ensure they have everything they need. Senate President Wilton Simpson also highlighted the measure after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the broader $168 million tax package (HB 7061) in June.

“This last year has been quite a challenge for Florida families as they make decisions about how best to educate their children during the pandemic,” Simpson said. “This legislation provides tax relief for families purchasing supplies for the new school year, which will be great help for those returning to in-person learning, and also provides savings for computers and other supplies that would be helpful for remote learning.”

Providing the sales tax holiday isn’t an insignificant task. This year’s 10-day holiday reduced state revenue by an estimated $53.3 million and local revenue by an estimated $16.1 million.

But lawmakers, like Perry, don’t frame it as a cost. They frame it as savings for Floridians.

On Thursday, the Legislature’s top economist, Amy Baker, told the Senate Appropriations Committee that revenue continues to exceed expectations, but she remained cautious about several factors that could slow the rate of recovery.

Perry noted Baker’s presentation. He’s cautious, but maintains the state’s economic outlook looks a little better every month.

Ultimately, the decision whether to grant a full 10-day back-to-school holiday will come later, when lawmakers are finalizing the 2022-23 budget. That budget will kick in in July.

Both the House and Senate are holding committee meetings this week and next ahead of the 2022 Session. The 60-day Session begins Jan. 11 and ends March 11.

Most children are back to in-person learning this year, eliminating one incentive for legislative leadership to go for a 10-day holiday. However, health and safety in classrooms remains an ongoing concern.

On Wednesday, Perry filed a measure (SB 452) banning mask mandates in schools and prohibiting vaccine passports to enter public facilities or receive local services. He called the bill a good opportunity for debate and expert testimony on masking.

“I have not seen what I would call one legitimate study on masks and children,” Perry said.

From the few studies he has seen, he’s concerned about the cleanliness of masks students wear. They potentially go days without washing them, allowing bacteria to build up.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to recommend students wear masks in schools.

His office is also drafting a bill preventing local governments from requiring employees get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Both issues have been recent priorities of DeSantis. He has particularly ratcheted up opposition to vaccination requirements in recent weeks after Perry’s local Gainesville attempted to mandate vaccinations for employees. The city ultimately backed down following the state’s threats.

Perry is the first to file a masking bill, but he expects he won’t be the last.

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