This bill names roads after fallen police officers — and an FPL lobbyist

The lobbyist, who is a former state senator, has a home just feet away from a bridge that would bear his name.
Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Elkton
Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Elkton
Published April 8, 2019

A bill moving through the Legislature has a nice idea: name roads after police officers killed in the line of duty.

There’s a stretch of I-10 that would be named after Highway Patrol Trooper Sherman Scott, who was shot and killed by an escaped convict in 1965.

A part of I-95 in Miami would be named after Trooper Owen Bender, who was struck and killed by a car while manning a roadblock during Hurricane Betsy in 1965.

And a bridge on Broward Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale would be named after former Democratic Sen. Chris Smith, a lobbyist for Florida Power & Light.

Wait, what?

Smith’s name wasn’t originally on the bill when it was filed by Sen. Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat.

Rather, Smith’s name was added by a Republican: Sen. Travis Hutson of Elkton, who is vying to become Senate president in 2022.

When Hutson amended the bill during a committee last month, it raised a few eyebrows, including from Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa.

“I thought we were trying to wait until people passed away until we did these designations,” he said.

Hutson replied that the person didn’t have to be dead. (Smith’s name was not mentioned during the meeting.)

“I think that this former senator has done a wonderful job for his community," Hutson said, "and I look to try and get his name out there so everybody remembers him and all the hard work he’s done.”

Smith is both a former House and Senate minority leader — a rare distinction — but has been out of office since 2016. He’s also a longtime lobbyist for Florida Power & Light, and he’s also registered to lobby for State Farm insurance this year.

When asked to elaborate on why Smith deserved a bridge be named after him, Hutson cited Smith’s time in the House and Senate and that other senators had tried to name the bridge after him.

But Smith said there’s a backstory to the potential naming, and it has nothing to do with his lobbying work. He said he’s never raised money for Hutson.

The bridge in question is on Broward Boulevard, and it goes over the North Fork of the New River, a canal that reaches the intracoastal.

Smith said during his time in the Senate, he repeatedly asked the Florida Department of Transportation to raise the bridge, because it was so low that people on the north side of the bridge — a predominantly black neighborhood — couldn’t easily access the intracoastal by boat.

“It was something that I pushed and pushed and pushed every year in the Senate,” Smith said.

FDOT replaced the bridge last year and raised it three feet, according to the Sun-Sentinel. Now, boaters can cross under the bridge without having to wait for low tide, Smith said.

Those boaters include Smith himself: the dock off the back yard of his home is just 1,100 feet away — on the north side of the bridge.

“I’ve lived there since ’98, and I guess for my homeowners’ group, it was a major issue for them,” Smith said. “It’s become a thing now. They’re talking about starting up a boat club for the first time in the black community.”

If Book’s bill (SB 100) passes, the new bridge would officially be known as the “Senator Christopher L. Smith Bridge.”

“I’m ecstatic. It’s a great honor,” Smith said. “If people have concerns about it, I understand. I’m just glad the damn bridge finally got done.”