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PolitiFact Florida: Looking into Rick Kriseman's time in the Legislature

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ST. PETERSBURG — Here's how St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster wants voters to think of mayoral rival Rick Kriseman: As Foster got down to business at City Hall, Kriseman was lobbing partisan bombs in Tallahassee and getting nothing done.

Foster used the recent Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9 mayoral forum as an opportunity to go after Kriseman's stint as a Democrat in the Florida House.

"For the years that I was mayor of the city of St. Petersburg, you were up there, and there was no legislation that passed the House that had your name on it," Foster said. "You were ineffective, and it was a waste of time."

Kriseman defended his record.

"For anybody who's trying to cross the street and has seen those signs that say you have to stop when pedestrians are in the crosswalk, that was a bill that I passed," he said.

We thought those claims merited more scrutiny, so we put both to the Truth-O-Meter.

Foster's attack

We'll start with Foster's attack on his challenger being ineffective in Tallahassee during the years Foster was mayor.

Kriseman, a former St. Petersburg City Council member, was first elected to the House in 2006. He served through the 2012 legislative session, so he was in Tallahassee for three of Foster's four years as mayor.

House rules limited Kriseman to filing six bills each year. A search of House records shows Foster is correct that no bills Kriseman sponsored became law, let alone passed the House. Kriseman proposed laws banning oil drilling in Florida waters, increasing term limits for Florida House and Senate members, and creating a recall provision for the governor and Cabinet offices, among other ideas.

Many of his bills were never even considered in a House committee, meaning lawmakers never debated them.

But is that a sign that Kriseman was "ineffective?" Not really.

As a Democrat in the GOP-controlled Legislature, Kriseman sat on one of the lowest rungs in the 120-person House. The House system rewards senior Republicans, then Republicans, and then with whatever little time's left over, maybe a Democrat or two.

It doesn't mean Democrats are unable to get bills passed, but prospects are slim. Members of the minority party in the House do not chair committees, so they cannot guide bills toward the floor. And they do not run the chamber, so they cannot demand a full vote.

Republicans have been the majority party in the House since 1996 and held an ironclad two-thirds majority in 2011 and 2012.

Kriseman described House dynamics in a 2011 interview with the Times/Herald. "If you go into the session with the understanding that your bills are dead," he said, "you will be free to speak your mind and vote how you feel like you need to vote because they can't do anything to you."

Part of his job was working "to make bad bills better," he said. He also worked as policy chairman for House Democrats, which meant he studied up on legislation scheduled to hit the floor and advised fellow Democrats on how to vote.

One more point: getting a bill signed by the governor is difficult for most everyone, Republican or Democrat. In 2011, lawmakers filed 1,850 general bills. Only 245 passed both the House and Senate, and a handful of them were vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott.

We're not passing judgment on Kriseman's job performance. But we were unable to find a direct correlation between Kriseman's inability to get a bill passed during Foster's time frame and his effectiveness as a lawmaker. We rate this claim Half True.

Kriseman's crosswalk

Now for Kriseman's claim about pedestrian safety.

Kriseman twice introduced a proposal requiring drivers to stop for, rather than yield the right of way to, pedestrians legally in or about to enter crosswalks.

In 2008, the idea (HB 89/SB 154) passed unanimously and became law, but it did not have Kriseman's name on it. The Senate sponsor, then-Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, got the paper credit. Kriseman's version barely budged through the committee process, with leaders advancing Fasano's version.

Why? Party politics. Fasano told us Kriseman came up with the idea and asked Fasano to help sponsor it knowing that he would have a better shot at getting it passed. "The chances of the minority member's bill passing is slim to none," Fasano said of the House.

Fasano's explanation shows that Kriseman deserves credit. But Kriseman wasn't exactly clear when he described the measure as a bill he passed. So we rate that claim Mostly True.

Read more at PolitiFact.com/Florida.

The statement

Says that while Foster was mayor, Rick Kriseman was "ineffective" in the Florida House of Representatives because "there was no legislation that passed the House that had (Kriseman's) name on it."

Mayor Bill Foster, Aug. 6, in a mayoral debate

The ruling

Kriseman did not have any bills pass the House from 2010-12, but we found no real evidence that he was "ineffective" as a result. Passing legislation, for anyone and especially Democrats, is difficult in Tallahassee. We rate Foster's claim Half True.

The statement

"For anybody who's trying to cross the street and has seen those signs that say you have to stop when pedestrians are in the crosswalk, that was a bill that I passed."

Rick Kriseman, Aug. 6, in a mayoral debate

The ruling

It was Kriseman's idea, but the bill that actually passed was from then-Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey. We rate Kriseman's claim Mostly True.

PolitiFact Florida: Looking into Rick Kriseman's time in the Legislature 08/13/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 12:07am]

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