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All politics, all the time

Senator Christopher

Senator Christopher

All politics, all the time

From Florida Democrat Senator Christopher L. Smith, District 31

“All politics, all the time.” That about sums up the theme of this year’s legislative session. Unlike the past three years, much of what will dominate 2014’s gathering will likely be the prize less than eight months later: retaining the governor’s office. And so expect to see issues appealing to the Republican base with plenty of populist appeal, like “greater school choice” (expanding corporate tax deductions for vouchers), “more money for teachers” (by over-hauling theirs and other state employee’s modest pensions), and “tax cuts for the people” (finally reducing somewhat the fees on motorists jacked up 7 long years ago). Sounds good, but we believe our priorities are a lot more meaningful for a lot more people, such as changes to Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, reducing the mandatory minimum prison sentences for non-violent small time drug offenses, and pushing for real economic policies that create the kind of jobs that support families instead of tearing them apart.

The budget proposed by Governor Scott again reflects lop-sided priorities. Rather than dedicate this year’s expected surplus to finally boost school funding and fairly pay teachers for the hard work they do every day, Governor Scott is proposing big corporate tax cuts by reducing the number of corporations paying the low state income tax and eliminating state sales tax on commercial property leases.

Unfortunately, that same kind of advocacy isn’t on the radar for people without health insurance. But Democrats will try once again to get Medicaid expansion passed and put Floridians’ tax dollars to work for them. We’re also sponsoring legislation that would help Floridians who can’t get to a doctor, get the doctor to them through the technology of “telemedicine.”

On the education front, the governor is proposing to expand a corporate tax credit for companies that give private school vouchers to low-income students, i.e., using tax money to pay for private schools instead of spending it on improving public education.

Legislation to establish Common Core education standards for math and reading is being readied because the new standards are scheduled to take effect next fall, replacing the FCAT. Some conservatives are filing bills to delay or stop Common Core, because they see it as federal meddling. Mean-while, groups including the Florida PTA are urging more time to prepare before holding schools and teachers account-able for the results.

Throughout Florida, state employees – including teachers – are bracing for the latest attempts to privatize their pensions. While Republicans are eyeing new employees to implement the changes, the bottom line is they are proposing a risky revamp of one of the best performing and flush pension funds in the country. That’s why Democrats are wondering why the relentless push to move potentially billions of dollars to a 401K style or hybrid “cash performance’ system?  Why does the state need to “fix what ain’t broken?”

In gaming, look for the possibility of casino resorts in Miami-Dade and Broward, despite opposition from Walt Disney World Resorts and others. There will also be a focus on examining Florida’s gambling industry in general to clean up laws, tax policies and regulations that have been patched together over decades.

In the wake of the death of Trayvon Martin, I said then that the problems with Stand Your Ground didn’t start, nor would they end with his death. Look no further than Michael Dunn in the shooting death of Jordan Davis. The law needs to stop protecting angry people who provoke fights and kill someone because they suddenly felt “fear.” That’s why I re-filed SB 122 which would prevent individuals from escalating a conflict that turns violent and claim self-defense. It would also prevent someone from leaving a safe place and chasing someone down from using the self-defense shield.

Legislation is also moving to better protect our children from sexual predators by making it easier to civilly commit them once they’ve finished their prison terms. SB 494 also aims to eliminate the current 3-year statutory time limitation for prosecuting certain lewd, adult-on-minor offenses.


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