Florida Governor Rick Scott signed three bills into law Thursday, the first round of the 2016 Legislative session. The smooth passage of the top priority bills could ease tensions at the State Capitol.
Flanked by legislative movers and shakers, Scott signed the bills in a ceremony in his office. The bills will set statewide water policy and expand education and job opportunities for people with disabilities. All three are top priorities for legislative leadership. After clearing the first hurdle, Scott says he’s optimistic about the months ahead.
"So it’s a great start to session, I know we’re gonna have a great finish to session, and I’m sure we’ll have a lot of fun all along the way," he said.
The most controversial of the three proposals, the water bill would set water flow levels for springs and guidelines for utility companies. Despite some friction, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli shepherded the bill through.
"You always have to evolve and ten or twenty years down the road will certainly be a whole different set of issues at that point. So, but I think for today we passed a good bill that modernizes Florida’s water policy and I think we’re in a good posture to move forward with water policy in the state," he said.
Scott signed the water bill without hesitation, though environmentalists and former Governor Bob Graham called for a veto. House Minority Leader Mark Pafford is one of those dissenting voices.
"This was always supposed to be a comprehensive water bill, and I don’t believe it was. And I think frankly it’s geared towards agriculture. And I think over the next number of years you’ll find how expensive it’s gonna be to the taxpayer," he said.
Senator Don Gaetz of Destin sponsored the education options bill, which will expand scholarships and pave the way to college for people with disabilities. While presenting the bill on the Senate floor, Gaetz called the proposal groundbreaking.
“If we pass this bill, Florida will be the nation’s leader in providing educational choice and opportunity for children with unique abilities. We’ll be the nation’s leader,” he said.
Ultimately the education bill passed unanimously, with the support of Senate President Andy Gardiner. The lawmaker’s son Andrew has Downs Syndrome, and the family is passionate about disability rights. Before the bill passed, Gardiner took the time to recognize his wife Camille.
“I’d love to sit here and say I sit around and come up with these great ideas. But as you guys know, there is one person that does. And I cannot allow this bill to leave this Senate without recognizing Camille,” he said.
Senator Jeremy Ring of Margate pushed the job opportunities bill, with support from Dorothy Hukill of Port Orange and Nancy Detert of Venice. By boosting financial literacy and job training, lawmakers hope to pave the way towards fiscal security for people with disabilities. Governor Scott calls jobs a stepping stone to independence.
“You just go back to think about any family. Our weakest, our poorest, our most disadvantaged. What do you want to do? Give them a job. It’s the most important thing we can do. I have not met one person in this state that didn’t want to be independent. And it starts with a job,” he said.
Capitol observers see smooth passage of these bills boding well for a legislature trying to stay on the same page.