State Politics

Lawmakers review legislative session

MANATEE — Close to the halfway point of the 60-day Florida Legislature session, some local lawmakers have already scored a few successes, while action awaits on other bills important to the area.

A bill sponsored by Florida House Speaker Pro Tempore Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton, that would set statewide guidelines for the use of high-tech cameras to catch red-light runners is still under consideration in the House, supporters said Monday.

For years, Reagan has sponsored bills that would create a more uniform system of enforcement and penalties. Each year, they have been named in honor of Mark Wandall, a Manatee County resident who was killed by a red-light runner in 2004.

“On April 8, we’re expecting to go to the final House committee,” said Neil Spirtas, vice president of the STOP Red Light Running Coalition of Florida, a non-profit organization lobbying for the bill.

Two similar bills are under consideration in the Senate, one sponsored by state Rep. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, and the other by Sen. Thad Altman, R-Melbourne.

During a press conference Monday reviewing the session’s first half, state Rep. Keith Fitzgerald, D-Sarasota, was critical of Republicans for what he called their domination of debate and unwillingness to work with Democrats.

“We have not seen a very open process or a very inclusive process,” said Fitzgerald, who is the Democratic Caucus Policy Chair, charged with keeping his minority party colleagues abreast of what’s happening.

“Many good suggestions we’ve had on job creation, open government, alternate energy and education have never been considered for partisan reasons,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re ready to participate and offer constructive ideas; we’re not taking the ‘Party of No’ approach, but none of our bills have been considered.”

Republicans have ignored “good government” reform bills, such as a measure that would make it easier to vote, or one targeting public corruption, Fitzgerald contended.

State Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, sponsor of a measure that would revise requirements for middle school promotion and raise graduation standards for high-schoolers, was proud of its nearly unanimous passage last week in the Senate.

“Except for one vote, it would have been unanimous,” she said. “It shows bipartisan support of the issue itself.”

She gave it good odds in the House, along with another bill sponsored by state Rep. Doug Holder, R-Sarasota, banning electronic texting while driving.

That bill won early approval in a House committee, and its Senate counterpart won approval last week in committee.

Bennett is among the co-sponsors of an economic development bill, which he said is designed to create jobs, that passed in the Senate last week.

“We’re looking to do anything we can to help create a better job market,” he said. “The unemployed, we’ve got to do something there, find out ways to speed up the process, get government out of the way of progress.”

Provisions streamlining environmental permitting, which had drawn protests, were removed, Bennett said.

“There was so much discomfort with it, people felt it was too far-reaching,” he said. “It’s nice for a developer, but maybe wouldn’t create that many jobs.”

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031.