Manatee County lawmakers poised to exert influence on hot issues

February 6, 2013 

In an impressive showing, Manatee County's legislative delegation scored some powerful committee assignments this year. Might Manatee become a key power broker in Tallahassee when the Legislature opens the 2013 session in March? Most decidedly in several key areas.

Public schools

Freshman Sen. Bill Galvano rose to several influential leadership positions during his eight-year tenure in the Florida House, and his reputation precedes his Senate service. His deep knowledge of state spending as a member of the House Full Appropriations Council and Joint Legislative Budget Commission and his passion for education make him an impeccable choice for chairman of the Senate's Appropriations Subcommittee on Education.

As such, Galvano will be sitting at the forefront of the spending decisions for public schools and the state university system. That promises to be a delicate task as legislative leaders express hesitation over Gov. Rick Scott's budget blueprint calling for an additional $1.25 billion for public schools.

The governor wants $480 million to cover an across-the-board $2,500 pay raise for teachers, another $297 million to prop up the unfunded liability in teacher pensions and $118 million to keep pace with the projected enrollment growth of 20,000 new students next fall.

State economists predict a revenue surplus of more than $1 billion for the next fiscal year's budget. Scott's budget proposal, the state's largest in history at $74.2 billion, boosts spending by $4 billion after years of massive cuts -- including public schools two years ago.

With the governor placing the highest priority on public school funding, Galvano will be in the spotlight by guiding Senate action on legislation. The education subcommittee will be deciding how to spend roughly 51 percent of the state's general revenue budget, or $27 billion.

Reinvestment in education is vital for the future of Florida, and the state's teachers are woefully underpaid -- ranking 46th in the country. As the leaders of the House and Senate question the governor's proposal, Galvano will be the center of attention as legislation moves forward in his chamber.

Election, campaign reforms

As chairman of the House Ethics and Elections Subcommittee, Bradenton Republican Jim Boyd will be shepherding one of the top priorities of House Speaker Will Weatherford.

With Tallahassee's poor record on ethics, Weatherford proposes eliminating candidate-controlled political committees, which are allowed to collect unlimited campaign contributions but have been abused as personal slush funds for travel, meals and entertainment. Candidates also use committee money to influence other candidates and causes.

Weatherford's 47-page bill also requires candidates for state offices to file weekly campaign finance reports upon qualifying for office, a welcome change in disclosure rules. But even better, in the final 10 days of the general election cycle, candidates would have to deliver those reports every 24 hours, giving voters valuable last-minute information on influence peddling.

But with some 700 Committees of Continuing Existence in place, this legislation faces high hurdles from some lawmakers. Boyd will have major challenges in committee hearings, but reforms are vital to accountability.

He will also be in the spotlight in another essential piece of legislation -- elections reform. Florida became a national joke with long lines and waits of up to seven hours during November's voting under an onerous law that reduced early voting days, and now officials want a do over, finally coming to their senses.

The restoration of 14 early voting days instead of eight is vital, as is the expansion in sites to vote. Manatee County only offered one -- with lines so long some voters needed medical attention because of the heat.

With two hot issues on his plate, Boyd should gain statewide attention.

Spending and regulations

Rep. Greg Steube sits on several important panels: the House Appropriations Committee, which sets spending priorities, and he's vice chair of two, the Health Innovation Subcommittee and the Business and Professional Regulation Subcommittee.

With his appropriations assignment, we expect Steube to be the target of an army of lobbyists and special interests.

In announcing his budget blueprint, Scott boasted that during his tenure the state eliminated more than 2,300 onerous regulations on business growth, and we expect that trend to continue with Steube's assistance.

Manatee County's legislative delegation is well positioned to exert great influence in the coming session and beyond. We anticipate major achievements, too.

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