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  1. Florida Politics

The Florida Legislature turned hard right. These 15 votes show how much. | Editorial

Here’s how your Tampa Bay legislators voted on 15 key issues in 2019.
The Florida Capitol looking east from the Florida Supreme Court. SCOTT KEELER | Times
Published Jul. 11

This post is written by the Times Editorial Board. Read more of the Board’s opinions here.

Arming classroom teachers and steering public money to private school tuition. Banning sanctuary cities and threatening local officials who help undocumented immigrants. Eroding local control on multiple fronts.

Now that Gov. Ron DeSantis has acted on all bills approved by the Legislature, vetoing a handful and signing the rest into law, here’s a look at how Tampa Bay legislators voted on 15 key issues in 2019.

It’s no surprise that with few exceptions the votes are along partisan lines. Remember how your legislators voted when you decide next year whether to vote for them.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, right, addresses a joint session of the Florida Legislature in Tallahassee on March 5. (SCOTT KEELER | Times)

1. Arming classroom teachers (SB 7030).

There are a number of good provisions that reflect the recommendations of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, including more resources for mental health services for students and for hardening campuses. But those don’t offset the provision allowing school districts to choose to train and arm classroom teachers, which teachers oppose and will not make schools safer. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it into law.

How your Tampa Bay lawmakers voted: In the Senate, all five Republicans voted yes and both Democrats voted no. In the House, 10 of 11 Republicans voted yes. One Republican and all seven Democrats voted no.

2.Tuition vouchers (SB 7070).

This legislation allows millions in public tax dollars to be spent directly on vouchers for tuition at unregulated private schools. A similar voucher program was found unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court in 2006. Expect another court challenge, and voucher supporters are betting the court will ignore precedent now that three new conservative justices have been appointed. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it into law.

How your Tampa Bay lawmakers voted: In the Senate, all five Republicans voted yes and both Democrats voted no. In the House, all 11 Republicans and two of seven Democrats voted yes, and five Democrats voted no.

3. Toll roads to nowhere (SB 7068).

The Florida Department of Transportation did not have these projects on its radar, but now it will be required to start planning three unneeded toll roads: An extension of the Suncoast Parkway to the Georgia line; a connection to the parkway from Florida’s Turnpike; and a formerly rejected toll road from Polk County to Collier County. Environmentalists are opposed, but this was the top priority for Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it into law.

How your Tampa Bay lawmakers voted: In the Senate, all five Republicans and both Democrats voted yes. In the House, all 11 Republicans and one Democrat voted yes, and six of seven Democrats voted no.

4. Sanctuary cities (SB 168).

There are no sanctuary cities in Florida, but this bans them anyway. It requires local law enforcement to hold suspected undocumented immigrants at the federal government’s request. It enables the governor to take action against state or local government officials who embrace sanctuary policies or do not provide immigration information regarding those who are crime victims or witnesses to a crime. This will make legal and undocumented immigrants less willing to cooperate with law enforcement, and it will not make Floridians safer. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it into law.

How your Tampa Bay lawmakers voted: In the Senate, all five Republicans voted yes and both Democrats voted no. In the House, all 11 Republicans voted yes and all seven Democrats voted no.

5. Amendment 4 (SB 7066).

The constitutional amendment enabling more than 1 million felons to automatically have their voting rights restored after they complete their sentences was approved by 65 percent of the vote. Yet lawmakers disregarded the will of the voters by passing legislation that requires felons first pay all fees and court costs as well as restitution before their rights are restored, suppressing the vote of hundreds of thousands. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it into law.

How your Tampa Bay lawmakers voted: In the Senate, all five Republicans voted yes and both Democrats voted no. In the House, all 11 Republicans voted yes and all seven Democrats voted no.

6. Citizen initiatives (HB 5).

When the Legislature refuses to take on issues the voters want, the voters can amend the Florida Constitution. So lawmakers voted for legislation to make it harder to get citizen initiatives on the ballot by adding unneeded regulations and penalties regarding gathering voter signatures. It’s another way to strengthen the legislative branch by silencing the voice of the voters as signatures already are being gathered for constitutional amendments to raise the minimum wage, ban assault rifles, expand Medicaid and open up primary elections—all issues Republican lawmakers refuse to address. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it into law.

How your Tampa Bay lawmakers voted: In the Senate, all five Republicans voted yes and both Democrats voted no. In the House, all 11 Republicans voted yes and all seven Democrats voted no.

7. Deregulating hospital construction (HB 21).

Hospitals are not car dealerships, but House Speaker Jose Oliva believes the same free market principles apply. He made it a priority to repeal the requirement for hospitals to get state approval of a certificate of need before they expand or build new facilities. Welcome to the wild west, which will be bad for Tampa General and other nonprofit hospitals. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it into law.

How your Tampa Bay lawmakers voted: In the Senate, all five Republicans and one of two Democrats voted yes, and one Democrat voted no. In the House, all 11 Republicans and one Democrat voted yes, and six of seven Democrats voted no.

8. Smokable marijuana (SB 182).

Even when citizen initiatives get on the ballot and are approved by 60 percent of the vote, legislators find a way to undercut voters’ intent. Voters approved medical marijuana in 2016, but lawmakers banned smoking it and were losing a court battle over that interference. To his credit, Gov. Ron DeSantis insisted smokable marijuana be allowed, and lawmakers approved it. The governor signed it into law.

How your Tampa Bay lawmakers voted: In the Senate, four of five Republicans and one of two Democrats voted yes. One Republican voted no and one Democrat did not vote. In the House, eight of 11 Republicans and all seven Democrats voted yes. Three Republicans voted no.

9. Banning local straw bans, gutting home rule part 1 (HB 771).

St. Petersburg is among the Florida cities that have moved to ban plastic straws to protect the environment. The Legislature responded by banning local straw bans. Fortunately, Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed it.

How your Tampa Bay lawmakers voted: In the Senate, all five Republicans voted yes and both Democrats voted no. In the House, all 11 Republicans and two of seven Democrats voted yes, and five Democrats voted no.

10. Affordable housing restrictions, gutting home rule part 2 (HB 7103).

Affordable housing is a critical issue in Tampa Bay and elsewhere, yet this legislation would prevent local governments from requiring developers to include affordable housing in their projects—unless the government compensated the developers. Never mind that lawmakers routinely raid the state’s affordable housing fund to pay for other priorities. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it into law.

How your Tampa Bay lawmakers voted: In the Senate, all five Republicans voted yes and both Democrats voted no. In the House, all 11 Republicans voted yes. Six of seven Democrats voted no and one Democrat did not vote.

11. Residential vegetable gardens, gutting home rule part 3 (SB 82).

This sounded like well-intended legislation to prevent local governments from outlawing residential vegetable gardens after Miami Gardens tried to ban vegetable gardens in front yards. It turns out the legislation also bans well-crafted local regulations in Pasco County and elsewhere that encourage urban food gardens. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it into law.

How your Tampa Bay lawmakers voted: In the Senate, all five Republicans and both Democrats voted yes. In the House, all 11 Republicans and four of seven Democrats voted yes. Three Democrats voted no.

12. Local school referendums, gutting home rule part 4 (HB 7123).

They do love charter schools in the Legislature, where this year they gave charter schools $158 million for maintenance and not a nickel to traditional public schools. Lawmakers also required the Pinellas County School District and other districts where voters have approved local property taxes to enhance student programs and teacher pay to share that money with privately run charter schools. That’s not what voters intended, and when the change faced resistance in the Senate it was buried in a big tax cut package that had broad support. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it into law.

How your Tampa Bay lawmakers voted: In the Senate, four of five Republicans voted yes and both Democrats and one Republican voted no. In the House, all 11 Republicans and five of seven Democrats voted yes. One Democrat voted no and one did not vote.

13. Prescription drugs from Canada (HB 19).

Here’s one encouraging sign. Lawmakers approved legislation that would help Floridians get access to cheaper prescription drugs from Canada by creating a heavily regulated importation program. Of course, the federal government has to approve it before it happens. But it’s something. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it into law.

How your Tampa Bay lawmakers voted: In the Senate, all five Republicans voted yes and both Democrats voted no. In the House, all 11 Republicans and two of seven Democrats voted yes. Four Democrats voted no and one did not vote.

14. Texting while driving (HB 107).

Legislators finally made texting while driving a primary offense so officers don’t have to pull drivers over for other reasons first. It’s not perfect; cell phones can still technically be used while the car is stopped at a traffic light or in a traffic jam. And only hands-free devices can be used in school zones and construction zones. But it’s a start. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it into law.

How your Tampa Bay lawmakers voted: In the Senate, four of five Republicans and both Democrats voted yes. One Republican voted no and one did not vote. In the House, all 11 Republicans and all seven Democrats voted yes.

15. Parental consent for abortions (HB 1335).

A requirement to force minors to have the consent of a parent or guardian before having an abortion passed the House and was never taken up by the Senate. But abortion restrictions are being passed in state after state, and abortion rights will be a key issue in the 2020 election. This issue will be back in Florida. Pay attention.

How your Tampa Bay lawmakers voted: In the Senate, the bill was not heard. In the House, all 11 Republicans voted yes and all seven Democrats voted no.

Graphics by Elizabeth Djinis.


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