MANATEE -- Election and ethics reform, and more money for education are among the hot topics local lawmakers are predicting will dominate the Florida Legislature session this year.
Members of the area's legislative delegation are also sensing a more upbeat mood as they prepare to convene Tuesday in Tallahassee for the three-month session.
"The spirit in Tallahassee has been cooperative," said state Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton. "I sense a lot of bipartisan excitement, an effort to do the right thing -- that's what we should do, and I'm excited about that."
State Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, noted that effects of the deep recession that has led to serious budget dilemmas over the past few years seems to be easing.
"Going into this session there is optimism because the budget issues we've had in the past ... are not present," Galvano said Friday.
"We will have, by all accounts, some additional dollars to spend, and I hope to see a lion's share going to our education system."
However, he added a caveat: "But by no means do we have unlimited resources, so we'll still have to make some very difficult decisions."
Election reform is slated for consideration the first day of the session, said Boyd, who chairs the House of Representatives' Ethics and Elections Subcommittee.
"We're taking up the elections bill the first day of the session," said Boyd, who added that the bill, House Bill 7013, had already won unanimous support from two House committees.
Lawmakers have already put a lot of time and energy into fixing some of the problems that marred the November election,
during which some Floridians waited as long as six hours in line to vote.
"It's a bipartisan bill that is going a long way to fixing the few problems in the last election," Boyd said. He predicted it would "get us back in shape as far as our elections process goes."
He was "very encouraged" that both political parties had agreed on reforms, adding that it is a tribute to House Speaker Will Weatherford's leadership and work by both parties.
Among Galvano's main priorities are serious ethics reforms that have already begun, he said.
"At this point in our nation's history, I think people want more than ever to have the public trust restored, and that would also include working across the aisle," he said, referring to cooperation between Republicans and Democrats.
That would also provide a good example for Congress in Washington, D.C., he said, on a day when political budget squabbling at the national level had produced the jarring debacle of sequestration.
Another of Galvano's major priorities is a focus on education, since he chairs the Senate's Appropriations Subcomittee on Education.
"With my chairmanship, education is a major priority for me this year, to not only make sure we create a budget that is very effective and efficient, but also to implement policy changes and tie what we do in our K-12, as well as college and university system, to real opportunity for students," he said.
State Rep. Greg Steube, R-Bradenton, is excited about a bill he has filed that is aimed at guaranteeing at least one armed person on every school campus, he said Friday. The bill will require Florida educators to provide a security officer or a resource officer for every school, or designate one or more school employees to carry a concealed firearm while fulfilling their regular duties on campus.