As Florida's Legislature enters another week of committee meetings in advance of the regular session's opening on March 3, lawmakers continue jockeying for position on legislative and political agendas. After November's election, Republicans remain firmly in control, advancing to a supermajority in the House and preserving a majority in the Senate.
While slivers of Manatee County are represented by Democrats -- a Tampa senator and a St. Petersburg representative -- Republicans hold sway here with new Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano and Reps. Greg Steube and Jim Boyd, the latter being House deputy majority leader and majority whip.
Steube, who resides in Sarasota County, has been one of the more active lawmakers in sponsoring legislation with seven to date. Galvano and Boyd have yet to file bills, but with six weeks remaining before the gavel falls, that will undoubtedly change.
In a wide ranging interview with the Herald Editorial Board last week, Steube outlined his legislative agenda as it stands now.
School safety, HB 19
He returns with a fresh and restrictive approach to allowing guns in elementary, middle and high schools. Since 2011, Steube has sponsored legislation to increase school safety by providing a strong framework for armed civilians on campuses. Today, law enforcement professionals, call school resource officers, walk the hallways.
Under HB 19, schools could employ former and retired military personnel and law enforcement officers with honorable discharges and clean disciplinary records. They must complete active shooter training and marksmanship courses annually, with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement tasked with developing course outlines. These mandates stretch beyond those required of SROs, Steube said.
Criminal background checks would be mandatory, which would have eliminated a number of private security guards that the Manatee County school district hired last year before the contract had to be terminated after only a month over a Sunshine law violation.
Three times a year, schools would hold three annual drills for active-shooter and hostage situations after designing safety and evacuation plans, which would be reviewed by law enforcement. This common sense provision should already be employed.
The measure is voluntary. School boards could decline participation, or they could write their own policies. But with board authorization, the superintendent could designate qualifying employees to carry concealed weapons or firearms on school property -- be they teachers, janitors, administrators or new hires.
With credentialed personnel and this high degree of training, Steube has come a long way from previous efforts by writing far more acceptable legislation. Whether this passes muster in the Senate, though, is debatable.
Still, we applaud the Sarasota representative's tenacity in improving school safety by fine-tuning his measure year after year.
Campus gun ban, HB 4005
Another Steube bill (HB 4005) repeals a current law to allow people with concealed-carry permits to carry firearms onto college and university campus. This reprises his failed 2011 bid for repeal.
It comes in the wake of the November shooting on the Florida State University campus, which left three injured and the gunman dead from police gunfire. One of the injured did hold a permit.
This plays into the idea that he or someone else could have stopped the shooter early in the incident had they been allowed to carry firearms on campus.
Steube's 2011 attempt got derailed after another shooting at FSU. At a campus fraternity party, a student accidentally discharged a gun, killing a 20-year-old coed friend.
Mixing guns with college students well known for reckless and drunken behavior is not a sound idea. If this bill is more restrictive like HB 19, then we'd take another look.
Malt beverages, HB 107
Bradenton's popular craft beer and brewpub scene, led by Motorworks Brewing and Darwin Brewing Co., both near Village of the Arts, will appreciate Steube's bid to scuttle an antiquated Prohibition-era law and unfair three-tier system governing alcohol production, distribution and retail sales.
That system prevents craft brewers from selling their products directly to customers for take-home consumption, forcing the businesses to first sell to distributors and then buy back their malt beverages in order to sell their packaged brews to the public.
Both Motorworks and Darwin currently enjoy a "tourism exception" that allows direct sales, but two new lawsuits challenge the state's decision to grant those.
Since tasting rooms attract visitors and promote tourism, Steube defends the sensible exceptions. Lawsuit proponents claim they only seek clear rules on issuing retail licenses. Passage of Steube's bill would void such lawsuits.
HB 107 also ends the indefensible regulation limiting craft distillers from selling only two bottles per year per person. Wineries do not suffer from such a bizarre rule, so why should distillers?
With Drum Circle Distilling producing the award-winning Siesta Key Rum, eliminating this business-stifling rule is important here.
Powerful distributors stand in the way, but this bill promotes tourism and commerce -- hallmarks of Republican business-oriented values. HB 107 merits passage.
On an issue that is paramount in many quarters, Steube told the Herald that medical marijuana legislation will likely be forthcoming. A bill has yet to be filed.
Since November's Amendment 1 almost reached the 60 percent threshold for adoption into the constitution, lawmakers would be foolish to ignore the issue and allow another, more politically palatable citizen petition initiative to proceed and likely win in 2016.
By producing legislation that offers tight restrictions and regulations, the Legislature would preempt an amendment, which lawmakers could not fine tune as issues arose. But with a bill, they would always have the opportunity to make adjustments to the law. This is the best approach for the state.
Steube stated his support for medical cannabis under these circumstances. The majority of lawmakers would be wise to agree, or lose control of the issue via an amendment.