A Session With Lasting Consequences

Under The Hood

This session could be called the best of times and the worst of times.

First let’s get to the good. The legislative delegations for Sarasota and Manatee counties worked wonders in bringing home dollars on important projects. With a record $112-billion budget crafted by the Legislature, funded largely by federal rescue dollars embraced with equal scorn and enthusiasm, there was more opportunity to snag local benefits than ever. But even by that measure, lawmakers from this area absolutely overperformed. 

I can’t recall a Legislative Session when more millions of state dollars have worked their way to Sarasota for such a variety of goals. In coming months, the state will spend $23 million on a new state park at Rattlesnake Key, more than $25 million on various spending at the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, more than $5 million for STEM education at Mote Marine Aquarium and Laboratory and millions more on road improvements from Fruitville Road to Palmetto to Boynton Beach.

Structural improvements in state financing also took place from a change in formula that will grant Safe Children Coalition full requested funding for the first time in nearly a decade. Brena Clark, CEO of the social services agency, says the roughly 30% hike in state funding will ensure equity for children and families in this judicial circuit.

Every lawmaker living in the region brought significant investments home, including Sens. Jim Boyd and Joe Gruters and Reps. Will Robinson, Fiona McFarland, Tommy Gregory and James Buchanan. Expect a lot of applause as they get introduced at chamber events and Tiger Bay meetings and visits with local governments.

And then expect policy questions to begin. For this was a year for upsetting policies to pass and worthy causes to die. A condo collapse in Surfside couldn’t convince lawmakers to update building inspections in a year when there’s more urgency than ever before (and hopefully ever again). Massive consumer cost increases on property insurance couldn’t bring the House and Senate together around insurance reforms crafted carefully by Boyd.

Instead, lawmakers devoted themselves to a series of cultural war issues normally pushed away by state lawmakers during election years. Florida passed legislation known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ act, though they keep telling media not to say that because the bill actual says don’t talk about sexual orientation or gender identity in K-3 or inappropriately at any age (in other words don’t say gay in school).

Other important issues included making available lists of instructional materials so any member of the public can object to their inclusion in schools. During one hearing, an angry member of the public arrived with a good teaching to show respect and manners to transgender children, furious such smut could be on the shelves. Other bills allowing lawsuits against teachers who discuss critical race theory or even HR seminar speakers who teach employees about racial sensitivity managed to make it through the House and Senate. 

Some of these issues will stoke strong political reactions— on both sides of the aisle. But what none of them will do is address burning issues affecting any Floridian in direct ways. It aims to please an extreme viewpoint but like incites as many people on the other end of the spectrum. 

On top of it all, there’s still no resolution on a congressional redistricting map that needs to be in place this election season.

Cheer the dollars. When we use the term lawmakers to describe senators and representatives, it honestly undersells the most substantive part of the job. The accounting and rallying of public resources solves social problems in direct material ways, some of which will be directly visible in this community for years.

Much of the legislation, if we’re honest, won’t survive court scrutiny to ever go into effect. What survives will result in litigiousness and in some cases true emotional pain. Make sure elected officials know how you feel about all of it.

Jacob Ogles is contributing senior editor for SRQ MEDIA.

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