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Lawmakers Strike Optimistic Tone Ahead Of Session

House lawmakers entering the chamber.
Florida Channel

Heading back to work or back to school after time away is never fun.  So, we asked some of Florida’s lawmakers how they felt ahead of this year’s regular session.

Bright and early Tuesday morning lawmakers filed into chambers decked out with tropical flowers and filled to the brim with guests and state dignitaries.  Last year was a long tough slog.  A fights over Medicaid expansion derailed the session, but lawmakers found time to fight over political boundaries, gaming, and handful of other issues.  As they return to the capitol, they’re looking to turn over a new leaf.

“I think it would be incumbent upon us as legislators to get our job done and to get our job done on time,” Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami) says, “and so we have one job and that’s to get a budget done.”

And with an early start date, Flores says other groups down the line will have an easier time getting their budgets squared away too.

“The state agencies, local agencies, groups, etc. that rely on state funds, it’s going to give them that much more time to plan for their upcoming fiscal year,” Flores says.  “So if I had one wish it would be let’s get a budget done and let’s get a budget done on time.”

Rep. Alan Williams (D-Tallahassee) is focused on the budget as well, but he’s pushing for a handful of specific issues.

“That we pass a budget that is responsive to the needs of education, responsive to the needs of those impacted with mental health issues, and responsive to our state employees by giving them the pay raise they deserve,” Williams says.

Others, like Sen. Bill Montford (D-Tallahassee) are concerned with specific threats.

“From a agriculture standpoint, as chairman of the senate agriculture committee,” he says, “citrus greening is an issue of great importance to this state, great importance to this country.”

And Rep. Lake Ray (R-Jacksonville) wants to protect the electrical grid from cyberattack or an electromagnetic pulse—whether from the sun or from a nuclear weapon.

“It’s very frightening if there were a nuclear explosion or a nuclear event that took place ten miles in the air it would have the chance or the opportunity to put out as much as one third of all electrical devices in the nation,” Ray says.

But while lawmakers dream of all the things they hope to accomplish in the coming year, last year’s fights loom large.  Here’s Fernandina Beach Republican Senator Aaron Bean.

“I’ll say it this way,” Sen. Aaron Bean (R-Fernandina Beach) says, “what I don’t foresee happening is the conversation and debate we had last year on any kind of Medicaid expansion—that’s one thing you won’t see.”

And Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) is skeptical of the governor’s new gaming compact.

“Well I’m not looking forward to the whole debate over gambling expansion and regulation,” Baxley says.  “I think that’s a very difficult conversation to have.”

In addition to the compact, the governor is bringing forward two other big lifts—a tax cut package and more cash for economic development.  Between the two, he’s looking for $1.25 billion. 

While putting your nose to the grindstone after a vacation is never easy—and there’s plenty of work to do—most lawmakers are as optimistic as Rep. Joe Geller (D-Aventura).

“Oh, I wouldn’t say I’m dreading anything,” Geller says.  “I just hope that we’ll be able to get our work for the people done in a timely fashion—make some things happen that’ll make a difference in the lives of average Floridians.”

They’ll have until March 11 to make that happen.