This afternoon, State Legislators met in Downtown Orlando to listen to constituent concerns, just a few weeks before the busy legislative session begins and sets the table for an election cycle where many of these lawmakers will need support from the voters to stay in Office.
The Delegation meeting Chaired by Darren Soto D-Orlando, included his local colleagues from the State Senate and members of the Florida House. Those present included State Sen. Andy Gardiner R-Orlando, Alan Hays R-Umatilla, Geraldine Thompson D-Orlando and Kelli Stargell R-Lakeland, State Reps. Present were Bruce Antone D-Orlando, Randolph Bracy D-Orlando, Linda Stewart D-Orlando, Joe Saunders D-Orlando, Karen Castor-Dentel D-Maitland, Victor Torres D-Orlando, and Tom Goodson R-Cocoa.
Bryan Nelson R-Apopka was an excused absence and Florida House 44 is vacant due to the resignation of Stephen Precourt.
The 2 and a half hour meeting included a discussion about many of the issues. These are the top 5 take-aways from the meeting.
1. There could be some changes coming to the Delegation, including a possible Executive Director, Meetings in Tallahassee, and clarification for absences: Thompson led the charge for these possible changes but was quickly challenged by Gardiner. “Who would pay this director?” Gardiner asked Thompson in one of the more tense moments of the meeting. There was a short silence before Thompson replied that a director would be picked only if it was needed. There was concern for holding meetings in Tally because it would be out of reach for local public comment. Thompson said she was emulating rules in other county delegations. Response for excused absence was mum. This move could have been motivated by Republicans opting out of the Obamacare townhall late last year. Senator Thompson was publicly upset that her colleagues across the aisle did not attend. A 3 person ad-hoc committee was established to investigate the possibilities. Those appointed were Tom Goodson, Joe Saunders, and Geraldine Thompson herself.
2. Legislation for victims of Domestic Violence found support from the delegation: Former State Representative Dick Batchelor addressed the panel promoting legislation that would keep the victim’s names of Domestic Violence crimes confidential. There was also another push that would allow prosecution of Domestic Violence perpetrators who threatened victims from out of the area such as phone calls from prison and other communications. Karen Castor-Dentel is sponsoring the former measure in the House with State Senator David Simmons R-Altamonte Springs and Torres sponsoring the latter.
3. Immigration Issues will be on the radar of most of the delegation this session: There was public comment from a member of the Hispanic community who’s life was personally being effected by certain Immigration Issues that failed last session. Driver’s licenses, health care, and in state tuition for “Dreamers” or children of the undocumented gained verbal support from Bracy, Saunders, Castor-Dentel, Soto, and Torres.
4. Protecting Student Athletes: The most emotional public comment of the hearing came from a mother who lost her child due to a heart condition that was not detected until he passed away during a school sporting event. She asked the board to please support regulation that would make an inexpensive EKG test a mandatory condition for participation in school sports. Her comments were well received by the board.
5. Keeping the Governor’s Veto Pen Away: There were a large amount of speakers that wanted to avoid the line item veto from Governor Rick Scott on the final budget. Education programs that allow the government to match private sector donations, pedestrian overpasses that protect the public, and Kidz Zones projects that had documented success in keeping juveniles out of trouble were all represented.
Bonus- Attendance was still low: With a dozen State Lawmakers in listening mode, turnout was still poor. With only about half the chamber full at the beginning of the meeting and about 20 people in attendance when the meeting was adjourned a half hour early, clearly these events are being promoted well enough.
I spoke with Representative Goodson after the meeting and he was positive about what he heard. He pointed out the Kidz Zone programs “I think it’s a worthy cause and I think the Governor will be more receptive this year”. He also continued to promote his goal of making revenge porn illegal in the state. “It’s not just from younger people, you see it more prevalent with older people and it just kills people lives”
Delegation Chair Darren Soto took time to talk afterwards and spoke about possible rule changes with the delegation “We wanted to make sure that if we passed any bylaws, everyone would agree with them. We didn’t want to ram anything through. We’re going to make sure this thing is cooked the right way before going forward” He also voiced his support for in-state tuition for Dreamers “It’s an important issue in our district”.