The good, the bad and the ugly

Thank goodness our legislative session is only 60 days. I only know how to summarize those two months by categorizing it as follows.

The Good: A lot of the good is reflected in what didn’t pass — three restrictive bills on a woman’s right to choose, a campus concealed weapon bill, sexual orientation conversion therapy and, again, attacks on local rule.

There were a handful of good bills that passed, including an increase in the dollar amount of a felony theft from $350 to $700. Florida finally caught up with most of the country by banning texting while driving and us working-class people got a tax break, with a sales tax exemption for back-to-school supplies and for hurricane preparedness.

The Bad: The attack on local rule and public schools worsened with HB 7123, which requires school districts to share future referendum money with “unaccountable” charter schools. The Legislature also rolled back promises made in last year’s Guardian Program to allow school districts to arm teachers.

Our environment fared poorly, from funding to lack of restrictions. Florida Forever received only $33 million, a far cry from the $300 million the program received for decades and well short of last year’s $100 million appropriation and Gov. DeSantis’ budget recommendation of $100 million.

The biggest boondoggle of all: Toll roads to nowhere through the heart of Florida springs country and our last remaining rural and natural lands. Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars are included for a feasibility study and to create a “nest egg” to help pay for the eventual construction of the highways. A ban on fracking was on the radar a couple years ago and during 2018’s election campaigns. The legislature could care less about our geologic layers, and a ban on fracking died.

The Ugly: The attack on our public schools continued via the creation of another voucher program for private schools, this time for middleclass families.

When the Legislature fails to listen to its constituents, we have a backup by collecting petitions to get issues on the ballot — citizen initiatives. Revenge is a hateful tool the Legislature continues to wield when “we the people” trip them up.

November’s felon’s rights restoration amendment, which passed with nearly 65% approval, was “implemented” by adding a financial burden that many returning citizens will not be able to meet. Then to pour salt in the wound, the Legislature changed the rules, requiring amendments to now pass with 66% — was 60% — of the vote, paid petition gatherers now must register with the state and paid petition gatherers must be compensated as a set sum rather than per signature.

The ugliest of all is how our four legislators wasted the two-month session. It’s probably good news that our legislators have little, if any, sway.

Sen. Baxley filed 43 bills, and none made it to the governor’s desk.

Sen. Kelli Stargel filed 21 bills; three passed.

Freshman Rep. Anthony Sabatini filed 23 bills; only two passed. A third — a ban to ban cities from banning plastic straws — was picked up by another legislator, passed to the governor and was the first and only bill to date to be vetoed by the governor. Then there is Rep.

Jennifer Sullivan who filed the Family Empowerment bill. The bill died but was incorporated into other bills that became the new middle-class voucher program for private schools, taking $130 million from our public schools.

Seven of Sullivan’s 11 sponsored bills died in appropriations, so no dollars were brought home. Likewise, 11 of Sabatini’s bills died in appropriations. Obviously, all of our legislators need to take Obtaining Funding 101.

Our legislators can take note of how to work the system from newly elected AG Commissioner Nikki Fried. Per Fried’s email dated May 7, “Our legislature just passed a bill creating an industrial hemp program that will revitalize the agricultural industry — bringing in new farmers and offering relief to struggling farmers who may feel pressured to sell their families’ farms to developers. The impact of this budding industry could generate $30 billion annually to the state in the next 10 years to support our schools, infrastructure, and more.”

We are overdue in having legislators that work for us, not special interests. We have to endure the 2020 Legislative session before “we the people” have an opportunity to be truly represented.



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