Members of the democratic caucus met Thursday in two back-to-back conferences, one on pensions and the other on environmental policy.
The first was a meeting opened to the press in the capital building, where minority leader Mark Pafford and Daytona Beach representative Dwayne Taylor laid out a plan to fight state lawmakers on pension reform.
“The main issue is to be in opposition of any kind of reform that’s presented for FRS,” Taylor said as he summarized the issue. “And our local pensions 175 and 185, I think they’re doing extremely well as far as FRS. I think they’re doing extremely well.”
Basically, as you may have heard, lawmakers want to dissolve state pensions due to a projected $500 million dollar a year payment, which democrats say is drummed-up over an illogical fear of having to pay it all at once. All that fervor over a hypothetical, as democrats say, is no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Taylor and Pafford responded to the press’s questions, but the meeting was over fairly quickly.
As that meeting closed, the press shuffled out with their equipment and headed down to the senate building. Senate Democratic Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner, was joined by other members of her caucus to discuss the state governor’s attitude towards climate change, as well as reveal their plans for an environmental policy packet.
Joyner was more than a little direct in her response to reports about Governor Rick Scott’s recent position on the phrase “climate change.”
“As we know, Governor Scott appears to be afraid to acknowledge climate change OR global warming,” she said, “much less allow those words to be spoken in public.”
Scott denies ever banning the term, but fellow Democratic Sen. Darren Soto wasn’t shy about his position, either.
“We saw, back in 2013, illegal fracking happening in Collier County, under the watch of Governor Scott and the department of environmental protection,” he said, “It was happening under their noses, in the everglades region, and what did we see? Denial, followed by attacking, followed by a final admission only two months ago that, yes, it did happen.”
Soto has a proposal that bans fracking in Florida. He's also considering a bill to spark production of hydro-electric cars in the sunshine state, by removing sales taxes pertaining to that industry.
“We wanna send a message to all those manufacturers of high-tech vehicles that we in Florida welcome you, and that you are going to be a critical part of the economy in this state,” he said. “Because that’s the kind of clean technology that we believe, going forward, expresses our values to the future.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Dwight Bullard’s bills would place regulations, or even a ban, on plastic bags. He also wants Florida to compete with states like New Jersey and North Carolina on harnessing solar power, and focusing that effort on low income families who could use a break on their electricity bill.
“We see too often electric companies take advantage of low income to middle income families,” Bullard said, “but, much to my surprise, there’ve been a number of municipalities back home in my district that have banded together to say, ‘listen, we’re going to make sure that middle income families are protected.’”
Meanwhile, Senators. Geraldine Thompson and Audrey Gibson have proposals dealing with water conservation. Gibson wants to concentrate on the issue of water distribution, while Thompson is focused on pollution. She uses the ecological fallout from local farming activity in her district as a launching point.
“We had fish kills, we had birds that died, we had alligators that mutated,” Thompson recalled, “and so, if we’re talking about eco-tourism, and we’re talking about economic development, we’re gonna have to look at our water. That’s one of the things that people come to Florida for.”
Soto says the bills are slated to be put forward as soon as next week, and just like the representatives from the meeting prior, he and his fellow senators have their eyes on the prize.
“Our policy’s very clear,” he said. “If it doesn’t relate to conservation, if there isn’t a nexus to helping out environmentally sensitive areas, we’re gonna be opposing it as a caucus.”