Legislative session deemed productive

FLORIDA KEYS — State Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo, saw several of her legislative goals come to fruition in this spring’s session of the Florida Legislature.

“I can’t really complain about anything. It was a blessed session,” she said last week.

Meanwhile, Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay, had less success in the Republican-dominated Senate, but he too expressed satisfaction last week.

“I think it was a tremendously productive session,” Bullard said.

For both legislators, at least as it relates to the Florida Keys, the biggest achievement was securing a second round of $50 million in wastewater funding. In addition, Raschein shepherded four bills through the Legislature. They now need only the signature of Gov. Rick Scott to become law.

One toughens penalties for lobster trap poaching, especially for repeat offenders. Under the law that is still on the books, judges can’t sentence trap robbers to more than 364 days in jail unless they are deemed to be a threat to public safety. But Raschein’s bill allows four-time violators to be sentenced to as much as five years in prison.

Another Raschein-sponsored bill that is set to become law allows divers to use a buoy instead of a traditional dive flag. A third bill relates only to Key Largo. It allows the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District to give discounted rates to low-income disabled veterans and senior citizens. The bill would apply to just 324 people, according to Raschein.

A final piece of legislation that Raschein championed delayed for one year implementation of a law that will prohibit Citizens Property Insurance Corp. from providing coverage in some low-lying areas of the Keys.

Two other Raschein-sponsored bills were folded into other legislation that passed. One renames the Indian Key Channel Bridge in Islamorada after recently deceased historian Irving R. Eyster. The bridge will now be called the Indian Key Irving R. Eyster Bridge. That same bill also designates the 18-Mile Stretch as a portion of the Purple Heart Trail commemorating U.S. service members who have been wounded or killed in combat.

Raschein’s push to provide roadside protection to sanitation and utility workers is also headed for Scott’s desk. The Move Over Act will now require that motorists vacate the nearest lane for such workers, or if that’s not possible, slow to 20 mph less than the posted speed limit, just as they now have to do for police officers and emergency responders.

Not all of Raschein’s main policy initiatives scored successes this year, however. For the second consecutive year a bill she co-sponsored that would outlaw employment discrimination for reasons of gender or sexual orientation failed to gain traction in the conservative-leaning House. Raschein has vowed to bring the bill back next year if she wins re-election.

A Raschein bill that would have maintained tax incentives for movie and television series production companies who film in Florida also failed.

Much of Bullard’s liberal-leaning agenda never stood a realistic chance of passage in the Senate, where Republicans outnumber Democrats 26-14. Bills he sponsored to legalize recreational marijuana use, increase the minimum wage, weaken the controversial Stand Your Ground Law, end the death penalty and provide tax breaks to employers who hire convicted felons all failed.

But two of Bullard’s policy bills did get folded into legislation that passed. Most significantly, he was one of the champions of a successful push to allow the children of illegal immigrants who graduated from Florida high schools to receive in-state college tuition.

Bullard’s push to reduce the liability that schools shoulder when they donate food to charity has also made it to Scott’s desk.

Bullard said his biggest Keys-related frustration this spring was the lack of progress on windstorm insurance rates.

“The fact that another session went by with no real action is a disappointment to me,” he said.

Raschein said the session passed without any significant disappointments.

rsilk@keysnews.com

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