Civic Duty

Editorial

55

Remember to vote in the March 7th Town Council election!

Most people believe that if they vote, they’ve done their civic duty as Americans. There’s more to it than that. Once elected officials head to Tallahassee or Washington, DC, they are supposed to be representing their constituents back home. All too often we’ve watched as they vote to benefit lobbyists or special interests that have financially supported their campaigns.

If Americans want to wrest control of their government from the hands of lobbyists and special interests, they hold the ultimate power, their vote. We know that those special interests spend millions to sway voters. That only works with unengaged voters. If voters are aware of how their elected officials actually vote, they will see through the haze of what the political action committees spew.

The last election made it real clear that Americans are tired of business as usual by our elected officials. But any lasting change requires effort. Citizens must keep track of what their representatives are doing in Tallahassee and Washington, DC by following the action and votes via online and print resources. Sit down at any computer and search “Florida Senate” or “Florida House” for starters.

This Tuesday, our representatives begin the two-month Florida Legislative session. They’ve been meeting in committees for weeks and have over 2,000 bills to consider. We thought you might want to keep track of a few of them that could have an impact on your life.

 

Water Quality SB 10/HB 761

These identical bills outline Senate President Joe Negron’s proposal to buy up to 60,000 acres south of Lake Okeechobee to build a 120 billion-gallon reservoir. They tell the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) to seek willing sellers in the Everglades Agricultural Area, but if not enough are found by the end of 2017, to hold U.S. Sugar to its 2010 agreement to sell the land.

 

Government in the Sunshine HB 843 and SB 80

HB 843 would allow two members of any board with five or more members to meet in private to discuss public business, gutting the Florida Sunshine Law. The Florida Legislature previously exempted itself from much of the state’s Sunshine Law. Now it wants to put a huge hole in the assurance the public has that local elected officials must make decisions in public.

SB 80 would block plaintiffs from collecting legal fees in public record cases. If a public entity fails to provide public records, is sued and loses, they would not have to pay the legal fees of the person that had to sue them to get the records. Currently, if the government loses, as Governor Rick Scott did not so long ago, the government pays the legal fees of the person who had to go to court to get the records. The practical result of this is that few individuals will challenge the government on public records cases, with the end result being that fewer public records will be available to the public.

 

Stand Your Ground SB 128

One of the National Rifle Association’s priorities, this bill would put the burden of proof that a shooting was NOT in self-defense on the prosecutor. The bill is in response to a 2015 Florida Supreme Court decision that set trial rules for stand-your-ground cases and placed the burden of proof of self-defense on defendants.

 

Guns

Multiple gun-related bills have been filed this year. Here are a few: SB 622 would allow licensed concealed carry at Florida’s public colleges and universities. SB 908 would expand the areas where gun owners could carry, including public schools, government offices and airports. SB 610 would allow concealed carry licensee victims of gun violence in private businesses that don’t allow guns, to sue the business for failing to protect them.

 

Supreme Court HB 1

House Speaker Richard Corcoran wants to “rein in” the State Supreme Court, after decisions that he and other legislators didn’t like. When the legislature passes a law, it is subject to review by the court if a lawsuit is filed. If the court finds the law or a portion of it unconstitutional, it can block the law. Corcoran calls this “legislating from the bench.” Others see it as one of the checks provided by the three branches of government. Currently Supreme Court justices must step down after they turn 70. HB 1 would limit terms to 12 years and require justices to file reports to the Governor and Legislature.

Also on the agenda over the next two months are fracking (SB 442), gambling (SB 8), medical marijuana (SB 614), health care (HB 7) and education (SB 808) and that just scratches the surface.

To share your thoughts on any of these subjects, reach out to your elected representatives and let them know. They work for you. See our list of phone numbers below for our state and federal elected representatives.

 

Missy Layfield

 

Florida Legislature Contact Info

Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto

Fort Myers Office

239-338-2570

Tallahassee Office

850-487-5027

 

Representative Ray Rodrigues

District 76

Fort Myers Office

239-433-6501

Tallahassee Office

850-717-5076

 

Representative Heather Fitzenhagen

District 78

Fort Myers Office

239-533-2440

Tallahassee Office

850-717-5078

 

U.S. Congress Contact Info

Senator Bill Nelson

Fort Myers Office

239-334-7760

Washington, DC Office

202-224-5274

 

Senator Marco Rubio

Tampa Office

813-287-5035

Washington, DC Office

202-224-3041

 

Representative Francis Rooney

Cape Coral Office

239-599-6033

Washington, DC Office

202-225-2536