State Politics

Manatee delegation holds some aces for this legislative session

MANATEE -- Two powerful senators -- Florida Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Bennett, and state Sen. Nancy Detert -- are among local lawmakers at today’s opening session of the Florida Legislature, aided by state Rep. Doug Holder, who holds important House committee posts, and a cadre of freshmen state reps just learning the ropes.

Bennett is also in the news because his Bradenton office is to be the site of an “Awake the State” rally beginning at 3 p.m. today, one of 21 statewide protests against what organizers say are draconian budget cuts proposed by legislative leaders and Gov. Rick Scott.

Bennett, R-Bradenton, as the senate’s president pro tem, presides over the legislature’s upper chamber when Senate President Mike Haridopolos is otherwise occupied.

Bennett, an electrical contractor who also holds an M.B.A., is also among the most prolific of bill-filers, with 68 already proposed this year.

The subject matter of his bills runs the gamut from bedding materials to enforcement of immigration laws; growth management; nursing home diversion; renewable energy, and even one addressing specialty license plates.

Also wielding clout this year is Detert, R-Venice, chair of the Commerce and Tourism Committee, and vice-chair of the Rules Subcommittee on Ethics and Elections.

Detert, a former Sarasota County school board member, also holds a coveted seat on the Committee on Reapportionment, which will shape new political districts based on 2010 census results.

“I think it’s probably one of the most focused sessions I’ve ever seen, and the most committed to change,” Detert said Monday of the session in Tallahassee. “My personal philosophy for the year is: To reform and rebalance.”

Noting that unemployment compensation has not been revised since 1937, Detert said her bill on the subject “will make government work in a different way for the same amount of money.”

“We have to go back to our core mission -- the unemployment mission is to find people a job,” she added.

Also important to Detert this year is an education reform bill, she said.

“The system needs reform, and all the research says so,” she said.

Carrying a few aces of his own is State Rep. Doug Holder, R-Sarasota, vice-chair of the Economic Affairs Committee; chair of the Economic Development and Tourism Subcommittee; and a member of the Rules and Calendar Committee, which sets the lower chamber’s agenda.

The small business owner is already running hard, as his bill on unemployment, which is similar to Detert’s, may come up in the House as soon as today, he said.

“I think this session will be a very interesting session,” he said Monday. “There’s a lot of big changes that are coming down the pike, and I think it’s going to be a session where we’re really focused on making sure that Florida is known as a business-friendly state.”

Also part of the local delegation are state Reps. Greg Steube and Jim Boyd, both R-Bradenton; and state Rep. Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota, all freshmen lawmakers. Others include state Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, and state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa.

The Bradenton rally today is slated for 3-6 p.m. today at Bennett’s office, 3653 Cortez Road W. (Wildwood Professional Plaza).

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