State lawmakers from South Florida are taking a cue from P. Diddy as they head to Tallahassee for the upcoming legislative session.
This year, it’s all about the Benjamins.
“The most important thing we’re going to fight for in Tallahassee is money,” said state Rep. Eddy Gonzalez, a Hialeah Republican and chair of Miami-Dade’s legislative delegation. “We want to protect everything we’ve gotten in the past and, if possible, bring back a little more.”
Broward lawmakers will focus attention on a trio of issues: school safety, elections reform and creating a special tax district in Broward County to fund senior services.
State Sen. Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale, the Senate Democratic leader, is optimistic. “The tone is a little different this year,’’ he said. “I think this is a good year to try and get things done.”
There will, as usual, be some high-profile bills that thrust South Florida into the spotlight, including a proposal drafted by the Miami Dolphins that would enable sports teams to receive state money for stadium renovations. Local lawmakers are split on the issue, signaling an uphill battle for sponsors Gonzalez and Sen. Oscar Braynon, a Miami Gardens Democrat.
Other bills, like a proposal from Miami-Dade delegation Vice Chairman Jose Felix Diaz to limit rate hikes by Citizens Property Insurance, will have the full support of the Miami-Dade delegation.
But by and large, when session starts Tuesday, Miami-Dade and Broward lawmakers will focus their energy on taking home the largest possible share of Florida’s $70-plus billion budget.
Their success will depend partly on their ability to cozy up to the people in power. There are no Miami-Dade lawmakers in top leadership roles, meaning the delegation won’t carry much clout early on. In Broward, Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, is among a few Democratic committee chairs in the Republican-dominated Legislature.
Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, named her to lead the Senate Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs, where she’s the moving spirit on a bill that would tighten protections for the residents of assisted living facilities. Sobel is also vice chair of Senate panels on Ethics and Elections, Health Policy and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
“[Gaetz] is trying to be different than the federal government,” Sobel told the News Service of Florida. “[He’s] trying to come up with solutions to very, very difficult problems and getting input from both sides of the aisle.”
Some individual Miami-Dade lawmakers will yield influence, including Rep. Erik Fresen, a Miami Republican, who chairs the House subcommittee on education spending. Rep. Jose Oliva should also see his star rise in the coming year; the Miami Lakes Republican has been tapped by his colleagues to serve as speaker of the house in 2018.
Gonzalez said that he will sit on a small leadership team convened by current House Speaker Will Weatherford.
“I don’t think we necessarily need someone with a leadership title to deliver,” Gonzalez said. “We just need someone at the table.”
The delegation must also stick together — a challenge, given its history of in-fighting among Republican members.
“We never utilize our power and strength from a numbers standpoint,” said Sen. Dwight Bullard, a Miami Democrat, who has served in the Legislature since 2008. “There’s always a contentious issue.”