TALLAHASSEE | The members of the Florida Legislature were all smiles during the first day of the session, but they have just 60 days to accomplish their individual goals.
Rep. Jay Fant said his No. 1 priority is to convince colleagues that economic development incentives targeted by Speaker Richard Corcoran should not be eliminated. The House is scheduled to vote later this week on legislation that drastically reduces the size of the Visit Florida tourism marketing agency, shuts down Enterprise Florida and phases out incentives used to lure businesses to Jacksonville.
“I’d like us to come back off our position,” Fant, R-Jacksonville, said Tuesday. “Scrutinize the program, but keep it alive.”
Fant is one of a few House Republicans to say publicly that he disagrees with eliminating incentives, a proposal that has drawn statewide attention.
Sen. Audrey Gibson identified another statewide issue as her main focus: disparities in the criminal justice system. She is sponsoring a bill that would require the state to collect statistics about sentences imposed by judges in order to highlight imbalances when it comes to race and other factors.
“I think there are some opportunities for improvement in the system that sentences more African-American males and minorities to prison,” Gibson, D-Jacksonville, said.
She also mentioned budget requests that aim to improve transportation, infrastructure and opportunities for small businesses in Northeast Florida.
Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Travis Cummings both said funding for local waterways is their top priority.
“I’ve sponsored some significant budget legislation related to the septic tank issue that we heard a lot about during the hurricanes with the partnership of JEA and the City of Jacksonville,” Cummings, R-Fleming Island said.
It addition to that $15 million request, Cummings also plans to introduce legislation in the House that mirrors Bradley’s plan to set aside $35 million in water conservation dollars each year for projects that benefit the St. Johns River and its tributaries and lakes in the Keystone Heights area.
Bradley, R-Fleming Island, also identified a second priority: serving as the Senate’s point person to reform workers compensation insurance. Florida Supreme Court rulings last year led to a 14.5-percent rate hike, and lawmakers want to find a fix that brings costs back down.
The budget is also where Rep. Kimberly Daniels, D-Jacksonville, is focused. She said her top priority is a request for $1.5 million to expand the Johnson Family YMCA in Northwest Jacksonville. She is working with Cummings and Rep. Tracie Davis on the proposal.
“It’s strategically placed between Cleveland Arms and Washington Heights (apartments), which are high-crime areas,” Daniels said. “And in my district young people are dying every day due to violence. So that project, which is going to build a facility for youth, is a high priority for me.”
Davis, who is also a Jacksonville Democrat, and Rep. Clay Yarborough, a Republican, took a more circumspect approach to outlining session priorities. Davis said that building relationships with colleagues, especially Republicans, is her main goal.
“I think that’s the biggest part of what we’ve seen being a part of the minority party is that we have to understand that relationship-building or maintaining our relationships with colleagues across the aisle is very important to getting things passed and getting things worked on,” she said.
Yarborough, also a freshman from Jacksonville, said he doesn’t want to rush in identifying what his priorities will be after just one official day in session.
“My primary goal is to learn how to best serve the needs of my constituents in District 12,” he said. “It will take a little bit of time to learn the process of crafting policy on a statewide basis, and I plan to pay attention to how that works.”
Tia Mitchell, (850) 933-1321