2013 Legislature

Despite differences, Miami-Dade lawmakers delivered

 

Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

Miami-Dade lawmakers had their share of differences during the 60-day legislative session. But when they came together, they almost always delivered.

The 24-member Miami-Dade delegation helped stave off rate increases for policyholders of Citizens Property Insurance Corp. They fought to protect the Home Rule powers of their county. And they made sure Miami-Dade’s cultural, civic and educational institutions were well represented in the state’s $74.5 billion budget.

Miami-Dade delegation director Alex Dominguez called this year’s budget successes “unprecedented” in recent history.

“The delegation set appropriations priorities and achieved all of them,” Dominguez said.

The Miami-Dade delegation is the state’s largest. Its members have a long history of infighting, particularly among lawmakers from the same political party.

There were a handful of issues that divided the delegation this year, including a closely watched bill that would have given the Miami Dolphins up to $390 million in taxpayer dollars for a stadium upgrade.

Delegation chairman Rep. Eddy Gonzalez, R-Hialeah, and Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, sponsored the proposal, but several of their fellow Republicans vehemently opposed it. Reps. Carlos Trujillo and Michael Bileca, both Miami Republicans, were among the most vocal critics of the bill, likening it to “corporate welfare.”

In the end, lack of support from the delegation was one of several reasons the Dolphins stadium effort did not gain traction in Tallahassee.

Equally divisive: a proposal to allow Miami Children’s Hospital to circumvent state rules and build a 10-bed maternity ward for women with high-risk pregnancies.

Gonzalez made the case that some babies ought to be delivered at Miami Children’s so they can have immediate access to the neonatal intensive care unit. But he met resistance from members of his own delegation, who painted the move as a cash grab by the hospital.

The debate on the House floor resembled a food fight among Miami-Dade legislators. But Gonzalez and other supporters prevailed, and the proposal is now headed to Gov. Rick Scott.

Despite those differences, Miami-Dade lawmakers were united when it came to the budget.

More than three dozen of the county’s priority items made their way onto the final spending plan, including $1.42 million for the University of Miami/Nova Southeastern University Center for Autism and Related Disabilities; $1.35 million for Our Kids of Miami-Dade and Monroe; $1 million for the Bay of Pigs Museum, and $1.2 million for the League Against Cancer. The medical school at Florida International University won more than $30 million — an increase of $750,000 over last year.

“The Dade delegation really did play a role in a lot of local projects,” said Rep. José Javier Rodríguez, a Miami Democrat

Miami-Dade lawmakers also played a major role in fighting rate increases for Citizens policyholders.

The Florida Senate wanted to jack up rates for new customers, including immediate hikes of up to 90 percent for people living in some parts of Miami-Dade County. But the Dade delegation worked behind the scenes to soften the measure, which eventually passed after the rate-hike provisions were stripped.

“The Miami-Dade delegation was pivotal in not having a rate increase,” said Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami.

Said Rodríguez: “It was our No. 1 issue. That was something that the Dade delegation was really flexing our muscle on.”

At the same time, Miami-Dade lawmakers worked to oppose state laws targeting local programs like Miami-Dade’s “wage theft” prevention ordinance and “living wage” mandates. Thanks to their efforts, the wage-theft bill was rewritten to explicitly exempt Miami-Dade County. It later died in the Senate.

Miami-Dade lawmakers weren’t able to deliver on a bill seeking to allow the county to levy a voter-approved half-penny sales tax. The revenue would have supported construction and maintenance projects at Miami Dade College.

Fresen, the House sponsor, said the proposal never received a hearing in the lower chamber because House Democrats demanded every bill be read in full for two days last week. The filibuster-like technique was meant as a protest over healthcare reform.

But local Democrats said it wasn’t their fault.

“The fact is, this bill should have been heard long before the last week of session,’’ Miami-Dade Democratic Party Chair Annette Taddeo-Goldstein said. “This is a colossal failure of leadership by Erik Fresen, who should have pushed Speaker [Will] Weatherford to hear the bill during the last two days of session, like so many other bills were.”

Still, delegation chairman Gonzalez said he was pleased by his colleagues’ overall showing.

“We were obviously on different sides on a few issues,” Gonzalez said. “But overall, it was a great year for Miami-Dade. We weren’t able to get 10 out of 10, but nine out of 10 isn’t too bad.”

Miami Herald staff writer Kathleen McGrory can be reached at kmcgrory@MiamiHerald.com.

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