The Florida legislative session just finished this past week. What a crazy week it has been. The Coronavirus has taken over the focus of all Floridians, including state legislators who were finishing up their work for the year. There is a good chance that legislators will be making their way back to Tallahassee in the coming weeks to try and get some sort of deal with the Seminole Tribe finalized and to provide some relief for individuals and businesses affected by COVID-19.
I want to start by praising Florida lawmakers for coming together and lining up an additional $300 million in reserves to bring the state’s total reserves to nearly $4 billion. This crisis has shown that Florida lawmakers are willing to set aside political differences and get something done for the people of Florida when presented with a challenge like COVID-19. This, along with the 3% raise for state workers and increased funding for teacher pay at Florida public schools, were the top accomplishments of this year’s Florida legislative session. I hope that COVID-19 does not end up being a bigger challenge than expected and causes the state to reconsider all of its spending priorities.
There was plenty of bad stuff that came out of Tallahassee this session. For example, Florida is continuing down the path of giving tax dollars to for-profit private and charter schools, even though these schools are not required to follow the same guidelines and testing regimen as Florida’s public schools. They continue to siphon away more and more money that could be used to improve the public schools that still educate the lion’s share of Florida’s students. Another extremely unfortunate turn of events is a lack of any sort of gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe. I first wrote about this issue in May 2019 when the Seminoles stopped making their payments of roughly $25 million dollars each month to the state of Florida because the state did not uphold its end of the bargain. We were told before the start of this legislative session that leaders in both the Florida House and Senate were working on a deal that would provide more revenue than the original deal with the Seminoles. Well…where is this magical deal? There is no deal, and state lawmakers are probably glad that this virus has taken the spotlight away from their colossal failure to yet again to secure any funding from the gambling that is currently taking place in our state.
Maybe the Florida Legislature could get something done to improve the state’s fiscal situation and get some of those millions of dollars that state residents and visitors are spending at the Seminole Casinos if they weren’t spending time on truly ugly and counterproductive measures that do nothing to help the lives of Floridians. The ugliest thing this legislature did was passing more onerous regulations on the citizen initiative process after already making the process more difficult last year. Why are they spending any time on this? Who is writing their state representative asking for this? No one. Florida has just made one of the most restrictive policies in the nation for getting citizen initiatives in front of voters even harder. When you add this on top of the foolishness that was contained in HB1, you have to wonder if they think no one is watching their actions. Thankfully, HB1 did not pass because few senators wanted to waste their time in Tallahassee making the extremely small number of Floridians who are in a union jump through more hoops to stay in that union.
We will all be paying to send our state senators and representatives back to Tallahassee in the near future. I hope they spend their time focusing on what is important to the residents of Florida and not on their own agendas or further silencing the voice of the people.
Eric lives in Suwannee County and is a public school educator. He is an independent contractor. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.