By LINDA CHION KENNEY
The Greater Riverview Chamber of Commerce at The Regent in Riverview on May 22 held its first legislative wrap-up session, which addressed some of this year’s most ambitious legislative actions.
Ron Pierce, founder and chief executive officer of RSA Consulting, moderated the chamber event, which featured three of the 14 members of the state’s Hillsborough County legislative delegation.
On stage at The Regent were Florida State Sen. Darryl Ervin Rouson, a Democrat, and Florida State House Representatives Mike Beltran (R-70) and Daniel Antonio “Danny” Alvarez Sr. (R-69). Because of redistricting last year, all three lawmakers were on the ballot in November, including Alvarez, who was elected to his first term. The nine-week legislative session ran from March 7 through May 5, preceded by months of organizational sessions, special sessions and committee meetings.
With a veto-proof supermajority in both the House and Senate, legislators easily advanced the agenda of Republican Gov.
Ron DeSantis, which included bills concerning immigration, abortion, guns, gender identity, education and the death penalty. Also passed, a bill that allows the Florida governor to retain his office in the event of a presidential bid, and a record-breaking $117 billion state budget that awaits review by the governor, who last year vetoed roughly $3 billion in approved budget spending.
DeSantis on May 24 officially launched his presidential bid, in a Twitter chat with Elon Musk, the social media company’s owner and self-declared “Chief Twit.”
Rouson said he was proud to be vice chair of the powerful appropriations committee, a position no Democrat has held in more than 20 years. “It gave me bird’s-eye view and sharp-knife capacity to help carve up the $117 billion budget, and I’m very proud of this budget,” said Rouson, whose district covers both sides of the bay, including large chunks of Apollo Beach, Brandon, Riverview and Ruskin.
This year’s record-breaking budget, “I’m not so sure that’s a great thing,” Beltran said. “It was, frankly, at the outer edge of what I was willing to vote for. At least we’re spending on infrastructure . . . Tens of millions of dollars come from Washington, and they tell us how to spend it and that’s a lot of what’s driving the [state] budget.”
Like Rouson, Beltran said he is concerned with sweeping tort reform bill that reduces the statute of limitations for filing civil suits from four years to two. “We’re trying to keep rates reasonable and preserve access to the courts for regular people, and this bill doesn’t do that,” said Beltran, an attorney by trade. “I actually have to file more cases more quickly, I have less time to try to work them out, all to meet that statute of limitations.”
In matters concerning immigration, Beltran spoke of the E-Verify stipulation that businesses with up to 25 employees will not have to use, in response to their concerns about worker shortages. “We need to have an economy, we need to have an immigration policy that allows significant legal labor and we need to do all of those things,” Beltran said. “But the Congress needs to do those things.”
With a rousing round of applause, Beltran addressed his concerns with a migrant transportation provision that had Florida pay for transporting people from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard in Boston, with a refueling stop in the Florida panhandle. “Texas can take care of Texas, we can take care of Florida,” Beltran said.
Also receiving applause, Rouson’s concerns with a provision that requires asking hospital patients whether or not they are in the state legally, “and I think that’s wrong,” Rouson said. “This will put a chilling effect on people getting help, and it will cost us more money in the long term.”
Calling immigration policy “one of those ultra-sensitive issues that gets very, very emotional,” Alvarez said he heard immediately from business owners in the restaurant, hotel and agricultural trade industries “the minute this [E-Verify] bill was filed.”
“Ultimately, my question to them was, do you want me to go out there and fight for [and not against] illegal immigration,” Alvarez said. “When I pushed the question back to them that way, all of a sudden it was, ‘No, no, no, absolutely not.’ ”
Using figures he cited for per student expenditures in Miami and Hillsborough County, Alvarez said the cost of illegal immigration includes educating students in public schools to the tune of $367 million in Miami and Hillsborough County collectively, with 30,000 and 12,500 students accounting for that sum, respectively.
In light of these and other costs, “to sit back and do nothing is no longer an option for us,” Alvarez said.
Many additional issues were covered by all three representatives, including a school safety mapping measure Alvarez successfully introduced to help in active shooting situations, and his assurances that he will “hound-dog” the drive to get a reimbursement to Hillsborough County of the $570 million collected in a now-defunct 2018 transportation tax.