SARASOTA – Members of the Sarasota County Legislative Delegation focused on hot topics such as insurance reform, how race is taught in schools and the Parental Rights in Education Bill – dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by critics – at the Sarasota Tiger Bay Club on Thursday afternoon.
In other words, the legislative summary reflected the session itself.
Former State Senator Lisa Carlton, moderator of the roundtable, noted that this year’s legislative session saw 285 bills passed, as well as a $112 billion spending plan, with a surplus of $8.9 million pending signature by Governor Ron DeSantis.
She also pointed out that state senator Joe Gruters finally saw passage of his bill restoring beach smoking regulations to local governments.
“Will this season be remembered as the year of the family…or will it be marred by ‘Don’t say gay? ‘” Carlton said.
Time will tell, but attorney Sherri Johnson started by asking whether lawmakers would support a special session to deal with rising property insurance rates.
“I think that’s the most important thing you should be spending your time on,” said Johnson, who noted that all of his neighbors have had to deal with rate increases, dropped policies or demands. new roofs.
Insurance reform is complex
Representative Tommy Gregory countered that it was complex legislation.
“Our biggest disappointment is that we haven’t made additional reforms to the insurance market,” he said.
He later added that there was no quick fix to issues such as insurance reform or condominium construction, repair and safety regulation in response to the Surfside collapse.
“When you talk about changing the insurance industry in Florida, it’s just not a 60-day conversion,” Gregory said. “It’s a two or three year conversation.”
“It’s the same thing when you talk about changing the condominium associations and inspections and transferring that money in and out of general revenue and how that money is going to be spent,” he added.
Walter Gilbert then asked about education.
“There was a bill passed that limits how history is taught in public schools now,” Gilbert said. “If you read the bill now it says pretty much anything a child feels hurts their feelings equals a problem – I wonder how that’s going to be enforced.”
Gruters answered his former youth football coach Ringling Redskins’ question about HB 7, dubbed the “Stop WOKE Act” by Gov. Ron DeSantis, which pushed the legislation. The bill governs how schools and businesses address racial issues.
“Specifically, if you’re of one race or the other, you shouldn’t be taught that one race is superior or you should be ashamed or feel bad because of the race you are,” Gruters said. about the legislation.
He said the legislation does not address the feelings of any particular student, saying: ‘It is about instruction, what is actually taught by individuals in schools.’
Critics have argued that the legislation will prevent teachers from dealing candidly with the country’s history.
Representative Will Robinson said: “Our history is littered with warts and ugly times – of course that should be taught; absolutely, it must be taught.
“Subjects that students have traditionally learned will still be taught,” he added. “We just wanted to make sure there was no perspective that overrode the historical aspect.”
Rep. Fiona McFarland agreed that these “warts and uncomfortable truths” should be taught and equated the issues the legislation is trying to address with the bigotry she suffered in the US Navy, due to her gender.
Parental rights in education
Phyllis Kirtley finally asked about HB 1557, the Parental Rights in Education Bill.
“I’m concerned about all kinds of laws that seem to prevent problems that may not be problems in the first place,” Kirtley said of the legislation that critics called the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill. . “Where did we gather the evidence that this was happening in kindergarten and third grade in Florida?”
Gregory described an example of a middle schooler “James” in North Florida, who developed a transition plan with teachers and school officials that intentionally left his parents out of the loop.
“That was the genesis of the bill,” Gregory said.
Robinson, who voted against the bill, said, “I think some of the issues could have been resolved in a different way.”
“I was okay with about 80% of the bill; I just disagreed with four lines of the bill,” he added. “For example, there’s no definition in the bill of what classroom instruction is, there’s no definition in the bill of what a major decision is. ”
“The sponsor of the bill admitted that a school district’s family should be notified if a student changes their eating habits – which would be a bit odd.”
Gruters stressed that parents have a fundamental right to raise their children.
“Ultimately, we’re talking about kindergarten, first, second, and third graders and teaching them the proper information,” Gruters said. “It’s the parents’ right to teach them and basically it doesn’t matter if their gender identity or gay or straight, it shouldn’t be taught in those classes.”
“You want to start in the fourth grade, by all means, school board members have the ability to do that,” he added. “But these younger grades, the parent should have the final say on what is taught.”
The four-member panel covered a variety of other topics, including legislation that reduces payments made by power companies to those who have solar panels on their roofs. Gregory argued that people with rooftop solar panels were subsidized when companies bought power back from them at the same rate they charged consumers.
McFarland defended his decision to vote to cut funding for schools that had mask orders in defiance of the governor’s order, which included Sarasota County.
Mary Dailey, president of the Democratic Women’s Club of Sarasota County, asked her, “How could you vote to withhold $12 million from the school district?”
McFarland, who admitted to being thin-skinned, noted, “Some people were very upset with an early version of our education budget,” then added that while it was an unpleasant choice, she anticipated further cracks in the legislation.
“I think we ended up in the right place,” McFarland said. “That money you’re talking about has been restored to the budget and Sarasota will not lose that $12 million.”
The final state budget allows districts that did not mandate masks to access additional funding, but does not reduce existing funding for districts that needed masks.
Changes for the next session
While McFarland, Gruters and Rep. James Buchanan will still be part of the Sarasota state delegation, the redistricting will see district lines change to Robinson and Gregory.
Robinson’s seat was redrawn to remove Sarasota County, while Gregory and Buchanan were both in a reconstituted District 74.
Gregory said earlier he would be moving to run in a reconstituted District 72 that would cover eastern Manatee County.
Gruters jokingly addressed this, as part of a response to a question from Tracy Jackson, vice president of Save Siesta Key – the group interested in incorporating part of the key as its own municipality, a question that would require the support of the legislature and the governor. .
“Two invalid votes on this bill are gone,” Gruters said after referring to the redistricting.
The bill failed to make it out of the local delegation in a 3-3 vote, with Buchanan, Gregory and Robinson in opposition.
Gruters anticipated that he, McFarland and Rep. Michele Rayner would still be in favor.
He added that he was having discussions with Rep. Michael Grant — who got part of southern Sarasota County back, as well as western Charlotte County.
“Hopefully we will get past the local delegation next year,” Gruters said.
Earle Kimel primarily covers southern Sarasota County for the Herald-Tribune and can be reached at [email protected] Support local journalism with a digital subscription to the Herald-Tribune.