Duval Delegation reviews session

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  • | 12:00 p.m. May 6, 2010
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by David Chapman

Staff Writer

Both a balanced budget and a multitude of bills await Gov. Charlie Crist’s approval after the Friday conclusion of the Florida legislative session.

Since then, Duval Legislative Delegation members returned to Northeast Florida and had the chance to reflect on their 60 days in Tallahassee. Those reached Wednesday shared their views.

“It was an interesting session to say the least,” said State Sen. John Thrasher, who met with media Wednesday. “It’s probably the third year in a row in which we’ve had difficulties dealing with the budget. That is the first and foremost thing we have to do.”

Thrasher said the submitted budget is reflective of Florida’s economy and focused on needs instead of desires, given the troubled economy.

Thrasher said the focus on additional educational funding at both the lower and higher levels was a positive, as was a jobs bill (SB 1752) that will stimulate the economy.

Education was a focus throughout the session for Thrasher’s Senate colleague, State Sen. Stephen Wise, who said the session was positive despite budget shortfalls and perceived expectations.

“I think we got a lot of good stuff through,” said Wise. “I don’t go into a ballgame looking to lose. We didn’t get as many bills through this time, but sometimes these things take a couple years.”

On the education front, the teacher accountability and merit-pay bill (SB 6) proposed by Thrasher that passed both the House and Senate before being vetoed by Crist had some Duval Delegation members split.

“I’m really glad the governor vetoed it,” said State Rep. Mia Jones. “I was disappointed the authors who crafted it didn’t listen to constructive criticism for what could have been a good bill.”

Thrasher said Wednesday that while the bill was vetoed, he doesn’t look at “victories and losses” and instead said it was the start of a conversation about how to reward teachers who are performing in the classroom.

Jones called the session much different than last year’s in terms of pace and echoed Wise’s sentiment on the few bills that passed.

On the budget front, she said she was disappointed with some of the cuts, especially those to programs like Healthy Start, an infant care program. She said the programs benefit her constituents.

State Rep. Audrey Gibson, who served as 2010 Duval Delegation chair, said several aspects bothered her about the session, including the Healthy Start cuts, sweeping of the state’s Transportation Trust Fund and SB 6. While a tough budget causes a stressful session, she believes the Duval Delegation members rose to the occasion. She cited funding efforts for Shands Jacksonville as a local positive and the revenue-generating Seminole gaming compact as a statewide positive.

Differing viewpoints were to be expected, said State Rep. Ronald “Doc” Renuart, who described the last two months as “unique” in terms of crafting the budget and setting policy. Overall, he was pleased with the efforts to promote job creation through measures like the jobs bill, as well as continued education funding.

Time ran out on State Rep. Lake Ray’s ports bill, an issue he undertook that could have generated up to $100 million over 10 years. The measure wasn’t rolled into the jobs bill, yet the local legislator sees it as a blessing in disguise. Ray said after additional research, he believes the proposal can be improved to make the Northeast Florida the “logistics capital of the world” while adding up to 200,000 jobs.

Ray praised the session along with the ports policy bill that has been submitted and called it a first step toward port and economic improvement.

State Rep. Charles McBurney called the session the best in his career, as numerous measures he proposed, including a civics education bill (CS/HB 105) and automatic renewal of services bill (CS/HB 751), made it to the governor.

The civics bill, the “Justice Sandra Day O’Conner Civics Education Act,” require civics to be a requirement in the language arts curriculum in middle schools, while the services bill protects both consumers and providers by requiring sellers or those who lease services to disclose automatic renewal provisions in contracts.

While members settle back in Northeast Florida, most members expect they might be called back.

Speculation runs strong that Crist will call a special session to respond to topics such as ethics, the response to the Gulf oil leak and a vetoed or line-item slashed budget.

“I wouldn’t be surprised by that,” said Jones.

“I have a feeling there will be,” said Wise, “but I think it’s going to be because of insurance. I don’t believe he (Crist) will veto the budget, but I do think he will veto items within it.”

Renuart said it was in the governor’s hands to determine if and when the local members will be called back to Tallahassee.

“We’ll just have to wait and see,” said Renuart.

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