Ride herd on Tallahassee, remind lawmakers you’ll watch every move
By Paula Dockery
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 by communicating with their state senators or 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. Then schedule a visit, attend a town hall or legislative delegation meeting, call their office, email, tweet, or write them a letter.
My letter would look like this:
Dear Governor Scott, Senate President Joe Negron and Speaker Richard Corcoran,
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.
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.
Government should not attempt to pick winners and losers among competing businesses; the free market should decide. And government should not extract taxes from its hard-working citizens to give to for-profit businesses. 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 our students for meaningful opportunity in a changing world and to position our state for economic growth by attracting industry with good-paying jobs.
Speaker Corcoran has also found waste in the generous Visit Florida budget. Tourism is important but we could cut that budget to $40 million or $50 million and still see record tourism numbers if we keep our beaches clean and our parks pristine.
President Negron has shown leadership in tackling messes like Lake Okeechobee and the Indian River Lagoon. Please follow his lead on storing these outflows and treating them before release.
Our environmental policy needs to address treating water close to its source before it becomes the much more costly expense of clean up after it pollutes our rivers, lakes, estuaries and ground water supply.
Please recognize regulation serves an important public purpose for the health and safety of our residents and visitors. Stop any efforts to allow fracking in our state, to allow more carcinogens in our water supply and to commercialize our state parks.
Educating our children is an important responsibility. Please 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—which will save the state hundreds of millions of dollars—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 for instruction, transportation and facilities.
We need to clean up our prisons. We have a responsibility to care for those in our custody. We have failed. Whistleblowers in the Inspector General’s Office were punished for exposing abuse while those covering it up were rewarded.
Privatizing prisons is not the answer—as it leads to demand for more prisoners at an annual cost of $20,000 per inmate. Professionalize our 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.
Paula Dockery is a syndicated columnist who served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland. She can be reached at PBDockery@gmail.com.
A PERSONAL NOTE TO MY READERS
After nearly four years of writing a weekly political opinion column, I’ve decided to take a sabbatical. I’m grateful to the 25 newspapers … that published my columns and not only allowed, but encouraged, me to freely express my independent views. I’m honored to appear on your pages. Thanks to readers for considering my opinions. I’m blessed to have such intelligent, loyal and engaged readers and thoroughly enjoyed the thousands of emails—mostly positive—I received sharing your thoughts and reactions. Thanks too for allowing me to be a weekly presence in your political thinking. If you need a fix, all my past columns can be found at www.PaulaDockery.com.
P.O. Box 2646
Lakeland, FL 33806