Guest Column
Tallahassee needs to get its priorities straight | Column
Legislators should be focusing on helping Floridians recover from the pandemic, not on passing bad legislation.
Gov. Ron DeSantis greets lawmakers as he walks into the House chamber at the Capitol in Tallahassee during Opening Day of the Florida Legislature on March 2.
Gov. Ron DeSantis greets lawmakers as he walks into the House chamber at the Capitol in Tallahassee during Opening Day of the Florida Legislature on March 2. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published March 15, 2021|Updated March 15, 2021

I have never seen more tone-deaf leadership than what we’re witnessing in Tallahassee right now. And I’m not new at this. For 13 years, I have worked with communities to advocate for change through legislation at every level of government.

After the last 12 months, Floridians might guess that our state leaders would focus on a COVID relief package to uplift and help people and small businesses who have faced unprecedented hardship during the pandemic. Nope.

Eunic Ortiz
Eunic Ortiz [ Provided ]

In the Legislature, this year’s top priority legislation is an anti-free speech bill, shepherded by Gov. Ron DeSantis. House Bill 1 could protect a person who attacked — or even killed — someone practicing their First Amendment rights.

And this bill is not an anomaly: The governor and state Republicans are making it clear that protecting all Floridians is not their priority. They are prioritizing legislation that includes: a package of bills that would give massive tax breaks to corporations like Disney, American Express and Hilton Hotels (without requirements for job growth or a mandate to halt layoffs during the pandemic); a set of bills that would make it even harder to vote; bills that would severely limit the merit-based Bright Futures Scholarship program; and a proposal by Pinellas County’s own Sen. Jeff Brandes that would make the minimum wage lower for those who are young or “hard to hire” (which has no formal definition). This is just a snapshot of the more than 2,500 pieces of proposed legislation.

For many of us living in the Tampa Bay area, the last 12 months have been hard, whether it was navigating the reality of remote work or schooling, adequate access to health care, facing unemployment or even simply trying to make ends meet each day. Where is the state leadership to recognize this?

In 2008, I graduated from the University of Florida amid the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. In the months that followed, lawmakers worked across the aisle and developed a path forward through legislation. Although Democrats and Republicans didn’t always agree, our government’s ultimate priority was coming together for those facing unprecedented hardship.

As someone who grew up in Florida and cares deeply for my community, I just don’t comprehend how elected officials could make decisions and build policy that make it harder for Floridians to live. For the last 20 years, Republican lawmakers have led our state, and currently hold the state House, state Senate and governor’s office. They have not set a single comprehensive piece of legislation that would help with COVID-19 relief. There is no comprehensive plan for vaccine distribution, and no plan to adequately protect essential workers, including teachers.

We need a government that is going to govern and set real priorities for Florida’s families, not make it harder for the majority of us to succeed and thrive. We need to pass the existing legislation that brings relief for small businesses, expand access to health care programs like Medicaid, and a package like the People’s Budget, which closes corporate tax loopholes to balance the budget without cutting essential services Floridians need. The unnecessary legislation set by Republican leaders and the governor sucks time away from developing a comprehensive plan for needed relief. We were able to come together in 2008, and in 2021 we should be able to do it again.

Spend your days with Hayes

Spend your days with Hayes

Subscribe to our free Stephinitely newsletter

Columnist Stephanie Hayes will share thoughts, feelings and funny business with you every Monday.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

Floridians deserve elected leaders that will fight for them rather than elected representatives who waste time on attention-seeking tactics that solely benefit their No. 1 priority: themselves.

Eunic Ortiz is an adjunct professor at the University of Florida, currently teaching Ethics in Communications. Ortiz has spent the last 13 years advocating for communities through legislation, policy and working with different levels of government. She lives in Pinellas County.