Florida Keys News - Islamorada/KL Free Press
Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Little traction on senator's bills

State Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, has introduced a broad, mainly liberal-leaning slate of bills in Tallahassee this spring. Most of them, however, are languishing in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Bullard has introduced 27 bills so far this legislative session. Among them are measures that would repeal the death penalty and Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground law, protect debtors against losing their health insurance, establish a School Safety Trust Fund from taxes on gun sales and make it easier for immigrants to get resident tuition at Florida colleges and universities.

None of those bills were scheduled for a committee hearing as of late week. That spells trouble in Tallahassee circles, where the nine-week session of the Florida Legislature has now entered week five.

"Generally, a bill that has not yet had its first committee hearing is going to have a very difficult time passing the Florida Senate," Bill Peebles, Islamorada's Tallahassee lobbyist, said last Friday.

In addition to the School Safety Trust Fund measure, Bullard, a teacher at Coral Reef Senior High School in southwest Miami-Dade County, has introduced other school-related bills that have yet to gain traction in the Legislature.

One, for example, would create a public K-12 education commission in which a majority of the members would have to be public school district employees.

The struggles of the Democrat's bills shouldn't come as a surprise in the Florida Senate, where Republicans rule the roost, controlling 26 of the 40 seats.

Introducing the measures could have been a matter of principle for Bullard. It could also be good politics in his largely Democratic district, which includes most of southwest Miami-Dade County, as well as the Florida Keys and portions of Collier and Hendry counties. In last November's election, Bullard trounced Republican opponent Scott Hopes with more than 70 percent of the vote.

Attempts to interview Bullard for this story were not successful.

In addition to broader issue bills, Bullard has introduced local issue measures for the Keys and other parts of his district. Companions to his Keys bills -- one giving raises to Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District commissioners, the other making the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority an elected body -- were introduced in the Florida House of Representatives by Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo. Raschein's bills have both passed their first committee vote, but Bullard's bills have not been scheduled for committee hearings.

Bullard's legislative session was interrupted March 16 by the death of his mother, former state Sen. Larcenia Bullard. The loss has impacted his work output. His mother's passing kept Bullard in Miami for the past two weeks. Hearings for two of his bills, both pushing for mandatory labeling of the low-grade beef trimmings known as pink slime, had been scheduled for March 18 hearings but were postponed.

Three of Bullard's bills have moved forward. One, which was passed 7-1 by the Senate Education Committee on March 12, would incorporate cyber bullying into the definition of bullying in the public school system and require school districts to write policies prohibiting cyber bullying by next December.

Another Bullard bill, which has already been passed by the Senate Health Policy Committee and is on the Community Affairs Committee agenda, for Tuesday, April 2, would extend the expiration dates of building permits issued in the Keys between 2012 and 2015 by three years.

The measure would alleviate the burden of property owners who have to install private sewage treatment, called aerobic systems, even as central wastewater systems are under construction in Islamorada and the Lower Keys.

A similar bill is also making its way through the House.


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