The Florida Legislature will be holding committee meetings in January and February to hear bills that will be considered during its 60-day session starting in March. Now is the time to start paying attention and to let your elected officials know what’s important to you.
Voters unhappy with their state government need to take some responsibility by taking notice and communicating with state senators and representatives as well as the president of the Florida Senate, speaker of the Florida House and Gov. Rick Scott.
You can watch the Legislature in action on The Florida Channel. Call their office, email, tweet or write them a letter. My letter would look like this:
Dear Gov. Scott, Senate President Joe Negron and Speaker Richard Corcoran,
Never miss a local story.
I’d like you to consider the following requests, which I believe are in the best interest of our state and the 20 million Floridians who call it home.
Our budget will be the largest to date, but projected revenues will still not let you accomplish everything on your wish lists, so you’ll have to prioritize.
One place to save, as Speaker Corcoran has smartly pointed out, is in cash incentives and tax breaks to corporations to relocate or expand here. We have spent hundreds of millions, if not billions, on this wrong-headed approach with little success.
Taxes are intended to pay for basic services — not corporate welfare.
A better use of tax dollars is to train Floridians for jobs where businesses find a shortage of skilled workers — a proposal President Negron wisely outlines in his plan to invest in our colleges and universities. Investing in higher education and research is the best way to prepare students for meaningful opportunity in a changing world.
Speaker Corcoran has also found waste in the generous Visit Florida budget. Tourism is important, but we could cut that budget to about $40 million and still see record tourism numbers.
President Negron has shown leadership in tackling messes like Lake Okeechobee and the Indian River Lagoon. Follow his lead.
Environmental policy needs to address treating water close to its source before it becomes the much more costly clean up after it pollutes our rivers, lakes, estuaries and ground water supply.
Please stop any efforts to allow fracking in Florida, to allow more carcinogens in our water supply and to commercialize state parks.
Educating our children is an important responsibility. Value and prioritize our public schools. Treat teachers like the professionals they are, and allow them more autonomy to teach.
Get rid of Common Core, reduce the volume of high-stakes standardized testing and reduce state bureaucracy by returning control to the locally elected school boards.
Support school choice, but with the caveat that all schools receiving tax dollars are held to the same rules, regulations and requirements. Private choice and charter schools should be funded after our public schools are given the resources needed.
We need to clean up our prisons. We have a responsibility to care for those in our custody. We have failed.
Privatizing prisons is not the answer — as it leads to demand for more prisoners at an annual cost of $20,000 per inmate. Professionalize the Department of Corrections with more and better training, advancement opportunities and zero-tolerance for corruption.
Find less expensive ways to punish nonviolent offenders, particularly those incarcerated for drug possession or for driving on a suspended driver’s license. Rehabilitation and working off debt are more productive and less costly.
Get rid of minimum mandatory sentences, return discretion to judges, decriminalize some nonviolent offenses and focus on preparing inmates to be productive, law-abiding citizens after completing their sentences.
Follow Speaker Corcoran’s lead in cleaning up the political process by enhancing transparency and by reducing potential conflicts of interest.
The voters sent strong messages on constitutional amendments to purchase and manage lands for natural resource protection, to make marijuana available for medical use, and to stop gerrymandering legislative and congressional districts. Honor their wishes.
Thanks for your service to the people of Florida.
A concerned voter who will be watching.
After almost four years of writing a political opinion column, I am taking a sabbatical. I’m grateful to the 25 newspapers — like this one — that published my columns and not only allowed, but encouraged, me to express my independent views. Thanks to readers for considering my opinions.