OUR POSITION: The 2020 Florida Legislature opens for business Tuesday with 60 days to tackle a myriad of concerns that impact constituents.

When lawmakers take their seats Tuesday for their annual session in Tallahassee, they will carry with them a bevy of bills and promises important to the people who voted them into office. With hundreds of bills awaiting a hearing in committees and eventually maybe in the House and Senate chambers, the individual victories will always be tempered by disappointments.

We believe there are a few critical areas the Legislature must attend to this year. Those include the environment, specifically water quality. Health care is always a contentious issue yet one so important to Floridians. Other topics where we need to see progress include improvements in our state prison system and more attention to the threat from rising sea levels that threaten our beaches and waterfront communities.

Lawmakers representing Charlotte, Sarasota and DeSoto counties have filed a number of bills we believe are worthy of passage. Knowing how the Legislature works, and that Gov. Ron DeSantis has final say with his veto power, we realistically cannot expect to get everything our representatives ask for. But there are a few bills they have filed, or will file, which we have high hopes for.

Coming under the heading of clean water, there are a couple of issues that are a priority. Those include a bill by Sen. Ben Albrittion (R-Bartow) that would protect 400,000 acres of seagrass habitat and create the Nature Coast Aquatic Preserve. Albritton is also positioning to pass SB 690 which would require the Department of Environmental Protection to conduct a comprehensive needs-based overview of the state’s water resources.

Rep. Michael Grant (R-Port Charlotte) seeks money for the Peace River regional reservoir No. 3 which would just about guarantee an adequate water supply for decades to come. He also asks for money for the Countryman Ackerman septic-to-sewer project in Charlotte County and Punta Gorda Boca Grande Area water quality improvements.

Sen. Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota) is once again mounting an attack on cigarette butts on our beaches. To do this, he filed SB 670 that would allow counties and municipalities to ban smoking on beaches and in parks. Right now, local governments cannot ban smoking on beaches or parks because they lack the home rule to pass such an ordinance.

Our prison system is decayed and unsafe and a couple of lawmakers have promised to address that this year. Too many staffers charged with oversight of prisoners are working 12-hour shifts. The state has also cut back on programs to rehabilitate prisoners. Sometimes you can’t just throw money at a problem, but in this case money is needed to hire more prison workers, increase their salaries and reinstate rehabilitation programs so inmates can leave with hopes of a new life, free of drugs and crime.

We could go on about the needs and wants of Floridians. For instance, Florida Gulf Coast University could use some cash for its program that will train students to investigate Florida’s watershed and issues pertaining to water quality.

We’ll address other issues as the legislative session continues.

For now, we’ll embrace the optimism that most delegates take to Tallahassee. They have 60 days to make our wishes come true.

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