State Politics

Bradenton-area lawmakers weigh in on abortion, arming teachers and ‘Galvano toll roads’

Rep. Will Robinson speaks on Florida’s $91 billion budget

Florida State House Rep. Will Robinson spoke to Manatee Tiger Bay Club members Thursday afternoon about the $91.1 billion 2019 budget lawmakers passed. He said the budget represents all Floridians and will position Florida for expected growth.
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Florida State House Rep. Will Robinson spoke to Manatee Tiger Bay Club members Thursday afternoon about the $91.1 billion 2019 budget lawmakers passed. He said the budget represents all Floridians and will position Florida for expected growth.

Three of the Bradenton area’s state representatives made their stances known on hot-button issues that came out of the 2019 Legislative Session at a Thursday afternoon luncheon.

Reps. Tommy Gregory, R-Sarasota; Wengay “Newt” Newton, D-St. Petersburg; and Will Robinson, R-Bradenton, discussed which bills they created, passed and supported to a crowd of about 100 at the monthly Manatee Tiger Bay Club meeting. Members came swinging with direct questions about abortion, arming teachers and Senate President Bill Galvano’s toll road plan.

The first question came from Liv Coleman, Gregory’s Democrat opponent in 2018 for the District 73 seat, who asked each representative if they’d like to see the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling overturned.

Unlike the states of Alabama, Ohio and Georgia, Florida lawmakers did not pass an abortion law that would shorten the allowed time span for doctors to perform the procedure. However, some of them did try, and the bill had the support of Gregory and Robinson.

Florida’s version, filed by Rep. Mike Hill, R-Pensacola, would’ve been similar to those that have gained national attention by preventing abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected. The bill passed in the House, but died in the Senate’s Health Policy Committee.

“Doctors and scientists now tell us that a baby in the uterus can feel pain and will move away from pain at 20 weeks, so to back up in Florida vs. now where it’s allowed now within 24 weeks,” Gregory said.

“Like any really important piece of legislation or issue, we’re not going to be able to legislate it until we can agree on the science and the morality of it,” he added. “So while I sponsored and co-sponsored bills like that, I would like to see Florida become a state that values life from conception to death, because I think there are things we do wrong on both ends of that.”

Robinson described himself as “a strong believer in the sanctity of life,” and said he thought another bill that would have required parental consent for minors seeking abortions was “very reasonable.” While men have come under fire for regulating away women’s reproductive rights, Newton suggested they may want to consider “regulating the seed.”

“We men got no problem putting laws on these women’s body — none at all, but without the seed, there won’t be nothing to go after,” Newton said.

According to Tuesday night's discussion, the entire School Board of Manatee County is against the arming of local teachers, an aspect of pending legislation in Tallahassee.

Representatives were also grilled on their support for the armed teachers bill, which the Manatee School District has already taken a stance against. According to Newton, the law is “a terrible idea.”

“They need raises, not guns,” Newton said, eliciting applause from the crowd.

At the same time that legislators were debating the bill on the House floor, news broke that a deputy in a Pasco County school cafeteria had accidentally fired his weapon. No one was injured in the incident, but Newton saw the potential for harm.

“The bullet could’ve ricocheted off the wall and hit the deputy. It could’ve hit a kid in the head, and this is a trained individual,” he said. “This happened during the debate and they explained it away like it was nothing.”

Rep. Wengay “Newt” Newton, D-St. Petersburg, spoke against abortion and arming teachers because of potential harm to students at Thursday’s Bay Club luncheon. He said he was in support of Senate President Bill Galvano’s plan for three new toll roads in the state, however. Ryan Callihan

It’s an issue that isn’t black and white, Robinson said in defense of the new law. He explained the requirements for training and how some counties may require teachers with guns to fill gaps in funding for actual law enforcement personnel.

“There are some rural counties out there that aren’t rich like Sarasota, that can’t have their own police squad, that frankly said, ‘We need this,’” Robinson said. “It might not be perfect, it might not be an SRO in every single school, which might be my preference, but some districts don’t have the financial capability to have that.”

“It’s not arming teachers,” Gregory added. “It’s arming heroes.”

If there’s one thing that each speaker could agree on, it’s that the three new toll roads spearheaded by Galvano, R-Bradenton, are an example of foresight that will be appreciated in the coming years.

“Galvano has the foresight to understand the challenges that our state has from an infrastructure standpoint. He could’ve picked any topic to work on. He could’ve asked for a huge museum in downtown Bradenton and gotten $50 million, but he choose, in my opinion, to be selfless,” said Robinson.

“I hope they’re called the Galvano Toll Roads or Expressways because of his leadership and his guidance and his ability to put our state first,” he continued.

Florida should be planning for the increasing number of residents who move to the state every day, according to Gregory, and the planned roads are one of the ways to do so.

“The best time for new roads was yesterday,” Newton said.

The next Tiger Bay meeting is scheduled for June 27, when local leaders will discuss whether Manatee County is growing too fast. For more information, visit