How local legislators view the key issues

Published: Sunday, March 3, 2013 at 5:47 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, March 3, 2013 at 5:47 p.m.

What do Alachua County’s representatives in the Legislature view as priorities as Tuesday’s 2013 legislative session nears?

Their agendas and their predictions for the upcoming session vary.

Gainesville Democratic state Rep. Clovis Watson Jr. says voting law changes, teachers’ issues, public retirement plans and drawing businesses to Florida are among his priorities.

Watson has co-sponsored legislation that would undo the more stringent voting regulations that the Legislature put in place in 2011. The bill would ease the restrictions on third-party voter registration organizations, eliminating the requirement that they turn in completed applications within 48 hours of collecting them.

It would do away with the requirement for registered voters who change their address at the polling place to cast a provisional ballot and restore early voting to 14 days.

“It is critical that we ensure that every citizen has the right and the opportunity to vote,” Watson said. “That should be, and hopefully will be, a bipartisan issue.”

Watson has also co-sponsored legislation that would set minimum salary levels for teachers and require that these salaries meet the national average by 2015. Watson also said he’d like to see more district-level autonomy over teacher evaluations.

He said any further pension reform should retain the option of a defined benefit plan to attract and retain good employees, including faculty members at the University of Florida as the institution pushes to be a top 10 public university.

Gainesville Republican state Rep. Keith Perry said ethics reform and Medicaid expansion will be significant issues during the session.

Perry said lawmakers often talk about the need for transparency in government but he feels the leadership in both the Senate and House are committed to seeing through ethics legislation this term.

The focus, he said, is on supposedly third-party political committees that have ties to lawmakers and the current obstacles in tracking how they are funded, particularly when money often flows between committees.

“On this particular issue, it is so murky how the money flows,” Perry said.

Now that the governor has reversed course and agreed to move forward with the Medicaid expansion under the federal health care overhaul, the Legislature will either approve or block the expansion.

Perry said he does not support that expansion under the current “expensive, broken, dysfunctional” Medicaid system, which he feels offers poor health care access.

Perry also expects that legislation to ban or restrict texting and driving will make it through the Legislature this session.

“I think this is the year it is going to pass in some form,” he said.

In addition to Medicaid expansion, ethics and election reform, state Sen. Rob Bradley R-Orange Park, who represents Alachua County, said the economy will loom large.

The main issue, Bradley said, is producing a balanced budget that does not raise taxes.

“The overriding concern is making sure the economy continues to improve in the state of Florida,” Bradley said. “It’s been a sluggish recovery. I’m concerned about the effects of sequestration on the Florida economy. The decisions that are being made, or not being made, in Washington, D.C., have an effect on the lives of Floridians and the state budget.”

Bradley also predicted a “very good session for education,” including UF.

“I’m encouraged by the governor’s support for the University of Florida. I’m encouraged that he wants to see the University of Florida become a top 10 university. That is a priority of mine.”

Bradley said he expected a vote on “significant” ethics and election reform legislation early in the session.

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