MANATEE -- An annual review of the Florida Legislature hosted by the Manatee Chamber of Commerce included only outgoing state Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, on Thursday as prior engagements and fog kept other Manatee representatives away.
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It was Steube's last session as a member of the House and representative for Manatee: Steube has filed for election to a state Senate seat that doesn't include Manatee County.
"It's been an honor and a privilege to serve Manatee County," Steube told the crowd of about 100 people at IMG Golf Club.
Steube described this year's session as "luker-warm" than last year, when budget disagreements prompted the House to adjourn three days early, killing many bills and prompting a need for a special session on the budget and two special sessions on redistricting.
In a sign of good faith, Steube said the leadership of the House and Senate passed each other's legislative priorities -- the water policy and opportunities for those with special needs -- early in the session. He said that set the tone for a more agreeable session that ended with a budget on time.
State Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and state Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, were not planning to be at the panel due to unspecified obligations elsewhere. State Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, planned to attend but canceled at the last minute due to fog closing the Sunshine Skyway.
"So I guess you're getting the Greg Steube show today," Steube said, prompting laughs.
Steube spoke more on his personal priorities during the session. He sponsored 18 bills, triple the six-bill limit for representatives. Bills that passed the Legislature included providing discretion to hearing officers on whether to euthanize a dog that causes severe injury in cases of self-defense, making it easier for veterans to find available resources and requiring sensors at the bottom of residential elevators to prevent injuries.
The elevator and the dog bite bills passed both chambers unanimously.
"Unlike some of my bills, which are more controversial than others, that passed unanimously," Steube said. "It makes you wonder, why wasn't this passed before?"
Among Steube's more controversial bills is legislation that would allow concealed-carry license holders to bring firearms on college campuses. He has proposed it two years in a row, and both years it passed the House but died in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Chairman state Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, has refused to hear the bill.
Steube said though it died again this year, he plans to revisit the bill if elected to the state Senate. Since Diaz de la Portilla would no longer be chairman of the committee, Steube said he believes it would have a much better chance of passing.
Steube took a few questions from the crowd, which was filled with county commissioners, school board members and candidates, chamber of commerce members and other prominent members of the Manatee community. One question prompted Steube to talk about the controversial fracking bill, which passed the House but died in Senate.
Fracking involves pumping chemicals into the ground at great depths to extract oil and gas. The bill would undo fracking bans enacted by local municipalities and require fracking approval from the state. Steube voted against the bill in the House.
"We don't know what any of those chemicals do. ... Those chemicals they're using are known carcinogens," Steube said. "So one, I don't think we should inject that into our state's aquifer, and two, I don't think the state should pre-empt that over local municipalities."
Misty Servia, a candidate for the Manatee County School Board, said she meant her question for Galvano, but asked Steube if the Legislature would look at different ways of evaluating students besides standardized tests. The Legislature took no action on that front this year, after last year's tests proved troublesome to many Florida school districts, including Manatee. Servia's opponent in the election, school board member Dave Miner, was also at the breakfast.
Steube qualified his response by saying he wasn't highly experienced in education, but said he didn't know of any plans to change standardized testing.
"We in the Legislature believe there needs to be some kind of standardized testing to measure our students' growth," Steube said.
Galvano and Boyd are running for re-election to their respective seats and Rouson has also filed to run for a Senate seat in 2016.
Kate Irby, Herald online/political reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7055. You can follow her on Twitter@KateIrby