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What Happened in Tallahassee?

Senator Jason Pizzo, Representative Cindy Polo, Representative Dotie Joseph, and Senator Annette Taddeo spoke at LWVMD’s 2019 Legislative Debrief.

Senator Jason Pizzo, Representative Cindy Polo, Representative Dotie Joseph, and Senator Annette Taddeo spoke at LWVMD’s 2019 Legislative Debrief.

About 30 attendees joined LWVMD at the Miami CIC for a 2019 Legislative Debrief on May 18. Guest speakers included several members of the Miami-Dade delegation: Senator Jason Pizzo, Senator Annette Taddeo, Representative Dotie Joseph, and Representative Cindy Polo. Candidates for several local offices also attended.

The elected officials expressed frustration at the lack of bipartisan cooperation in Tallahassee.

Senator Taddeo noted that, when bills that are positive for the people of Florida could not be enacted, the potential dangers of harmful bills could sometimes be minimized. “Our purpose,” agreed Polo, “is sometimes a matter of giving a voice to those who were not represented on the Senate floor.”

The anti-immigration initiatives advanced in the legislature are out of step with Miami-Dade, by many measures the most diverse county in the nation. “In such a diverse community,” said Polo, herself the daughter of immigrants, “we need to hold our delegations accountable.”

A former assistant state attorney, Pizzo explained why the bill passed to require returning citizens to pay court costs, restitution, fines, court costs, and monitoring fees amounted to a poll tax. He and colleagues plan to set up a “rocket docket” to help expedite the return of voting rights to felons who have paid their debt to society.

The gathering concluded with a talk by Valencia Gunder, criminal justice coordinator of New Florida Majority and herself a returning citizen. She helped to spearhead the Dignity for Incarcerated Women bill, which was cosponsored by Pizzo and passed in both floors with unanimous bipartisan support. “When you become a felon, you feel devalued,” Gunder said. Noting that the personal stories shared with lawmakers by both returning female citizens and currently incarcerated women helped to highlight the importance of the bill, she said, “We need more legislation based off people’s stories.”

The key to helping ensure a responsive state government, said Polo, “is for more people to run for office—every type of office. All positions matter; all politics is local. All decisions are being made right in front of us, and they affect our lives and our children’s lives.”

Highlights of the session as summarized by the League of Women Voters of Florida include the following.

Bills Passed by the Legislature

SB 1306 Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commemoration Committee (Sen. Lauren Book, District 32, Co-Sponsored by Sen. Jason Pizzo, District 38 and Sen. Kevin Rader, District 29): Creates a Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commemoration Committee, of which the League of Women Voters of Florida will be a member, for the purpose of ensuring a suitable statewide observance of the centennial of women’s suffrage in 2020.

SB 7030 Implementation of Legislative Recommendations of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission (General Bill by Senate Education Committee): This bill is commonly known as the “Guardian” bill and intends to arm teachers.

SB 7070 School Choice (General Bill by Senate Education Committee):This bill pertains to various existing voucher programs, including creating a new one entitled the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program. The League opposes the funneling of general revenue dollars to private and religious schools as clearly unconstitutional.

SB 1400/1159 Private Property Rights (Sen. Ben Albritton, District 26/Rep. Mike La Rosa, District 42): Regulates various aspects of local governments. The League opposes these bills because of the preemption of home rule.

SB 366 Infectious Disease Elimination Programs (Sen. Oscar Braynon, District 35/Rep. Shevrin Jones, District 101): Authorizes certain eligible entities to establish sterile needle and syringe exchange programs. The League supported this bill, which had very strong bipartisan support.

HB 281 Public Records/Voters and Voter Registration (Rep. Cyndi Stevenson, District 17): Protects the privacy of minors who choose to pre-register to vote. It also protects the privacy of returning citizens to assure that voting records do not reflect their prior voting status.

SB 7068 - Transportation (Infrastructure and Security Committee): Creating the Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance Program within the Department of Transportation; specifying that projects undertaken in the corridors are tolled facilities and certain approved turnpike projects, and are considered as Strategic Intermodal System facilities. The League opposes this bill and asks voters to urge Governor DeSantis to veto it.

SB 7066 - Election Administration (Ethics and Elections): Requires the Secretary of State to provide signature matching training to certain persons; revising the voter threshold necessary to require the reporting of certain precinct-level results by ballot; authorizing certain individuals to serve as witnesses during the ballot duplication process; revising requirements for vote-by-mail ballot instructions. The League supported this bill.

However, Sen. Jeff Brandes proposed an amendment adding language that requires returning citizens affected by Amendment 4 to pay all court fees, fines, and restitution before voting. The amendment does allow a judge to waive costs or convert them into community service hours, but does not allow a returning citizen to vote if a judge has converted any outstanding financial obligations into a civil judgment. The League does not believe the bills’ language is in line with the 5 million voters who voted for Amendment 4.

SB 1470/HB 7095 School Choice (Sen. Manny Diaz, District 36/Rep. Vance Aloupis, District 115): The bills allow community service organizations and Houses of Worship to house charter schools without rezoning. It would expand the areas in which School of Hope funds can be used and allow them to be built in Florida Opportunity Zones. Passage of these bills would shift control over charter schools away from the locally elected school board and would allow charter schools and Schools of Hope to be housed within religious institutions.

HB 403 Safety of Religious Institutions (Sen. Debbie Mayfield, District 17/Rep. Erin Grall, District 54): Authorizes religious institutions to allow concealed weapons or concealed firearms licensee to carry a firearm on property of an institution and gives private schools authority to designate someone to carry a weapon on the school property in accordance with the schools adopted policies and procedures. The League opposes this bill, as we do not support guns being on any school campus. The bill would infringe on home rule and does not address the common practice of religious institutions renting space from public institutions such as schools.

HB 1197 Charter School (Rep. Jason Fischer, District 16): Authorizes state universities and Florida College System institutions to sponsor charter schools; revises reporting and accountability requirements; provides for funding; authorizes career and professional academy to be offered by charter schools. The League opposes this bill.

HB 1335 - Abortion (Rep. Erin Grall, District 54): Would require young people to obtain parental consent prior to receiving an abortion. Most young people already seek the counsel of their parent or guardian when making this health care decision, but when they don’t there is usually a good reason. This legislation puts those already vulnerable young people in harm’s way or forces them to go to court. The League opposes this bill.

Valencia Gunder, who spearheaded the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, spoke at the Legislative Debrief.

Valencia Gunder, who spearheaded the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, spoke at the Legislative Debrief.

HB 587 Medicaid School-Based Services (Sen. Bill Montford, District 3/Rep. Alex Andrade, District 2): Revises provisions relating to reimbursement of school-based services by AHCA to certain school districts and private and charter schools; specifies that U.S. Department of Health & Human Services is authorized to waive certain school-based provider qualifications. This bill aligns state law with federal requirements concerning Medicaid sharing the cost of providing school health services to students who are Medicaid recipients. The League supports the bills.

HB 49 and SB 332 - Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act: Requires correctional facilities to provide incarcerated women with necessary feminine hygiene products, including tampons, sanitary napkins, toothpaste, and no-lye soap at no additional cost. The proposal would also restrict male correctional facility employees who work in women's facilities from conducting pat-down searches or body cavity searches on incarcerated women or entering spaces where incarcerated women are in a state of undress. It passed with unanimous bipartisan support.

Attempts to make it more difficult for citizens to amend the state constitution by referendum, which the League opposed, and to require charter school officials to meet certification requirements, which the League supported, did not pass.