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Looking Ahead: The 2013 Florida Legislative Session


The 2-month-long legislative session kicks off Tuesday.

Every year, Southwest Florida sends representatives to the state House and Senate to propose and pass bills that will later be presented to the Governor to become law.

Among those local representatives is state Rep. Matt Caldwell, R- Lehigh Acres. Caldwell is a property appraiser who chairs the Florida House’s agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee.

This will be Caldwell’s third year representing Southwest Florida in Tallahassee.

As chair of a committee that oversees many of the state’s conservation programs, he said in the past few years the state has done a good job of restoring wetlands in the Everglades.

The state and the federal government have spent millions on water quality projects aimed at restoring the area to its historic water-flow, as well as other projects.

Caldwell said he thinks some of the big priorities for the Everglades are almost accomplished.

“We are very close already, currently, and this next round this 10-16 year vision may get us to a point that we can declare victory,” he said.

Freshman state Rep. Dane Eagle, R-Cape Coral, joins the legislature for the first time this year. He is a real estate broker in the Cape.

For his first year in the Legislature, Eagle was assigned to a subcommittee that oversees K-12 education, as well as another that oversees policy related to economic development and tourism.

However, Eagle said he most excited about the work he plans to get done in the business and professional regulation committee he was assigned to.

“One of the things I campaigned on is a one stop-shop—streamlining business regulations at the county level, the city level, the state level,” Eagle said.

Eagle said this will help businesses grow and help the state’s economy. He said his most important priority, though, is to do the most he can for his constituents back home in Cape Coral.

Southwest Florida will send another Freshman Republican state Representative to Tallahassee this year. His name is Ray Rodrigues.

Rodrigues, R-Estero, is a budget manager for the College of Arts and Sciences at Florida Gulf Coast University.

For his first legislative session, Rodrigues said he wants to pass a bill that allows public testimony at all public meetings.

“What my bill would do is codify the public’s right to enter input on agenda items,” he said.

Rodrigues explained that the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the state’s Sunshine laws do not necessarily allow the public to comment on any agenda item in a public meeting. He said that’s wrong.

Then, there's Southwest Florida’s lone Democrat— state Sen. Dwight Bullard.

Bullard, D-Miami, has one of the most expansive districts in the Florida Senate. His district includes parts of Hendry, Collier, Miami Dade and Monroe Counties.

He was a member of the Florida House representing Miami from 2008 to 2012.

Bullard is public school teacher and he says his extensive education background has shaped many of his priorities in the Legislature in the past. He said this year is no different.

Bullard’s main priorities this year will be getting his anti-cyber bullying bill passed-- as well as an in-state tuition bill for the children of immigrants.

But Bullard said he also wants to prevent some bills from passing.

This year, state lawmakers are pursuing the controversial parent trigger bill once again. Last year’s parent trigger bill—which allows parents to vote on whether to turn a public school into a charter school—was narrowly voted down in the state Senate.

Teachers’ unions and the state PTA were against the bill. Former Governor and now-education reformer Jeb Bush helped push for the bill during the last few days of session last year.

Bullard was one of the most vocal opponents of the bill. He says he will fight the bill again this year.

“I’m spending the early part, of course, make sure my colleagues in my party understand why this is no good for the state of Florida, and of course I’ll be spending a significant amount of time letting my colleagues on the other side as well as any other chamber understand that this is not the direction the state needs to take,” he said.

All Florida House and Senate members also face a decision about the Affordable Care Act. The 2010 health care reform bill has been wildly unpopular among conservatives, but now lawmakers will have to decide whether or not they want to enact a key part of the law.

Gov. Rick Scott has already announced he wants the Legislature to implement a voluntary provision that expands Medicaid to people making less than $15,000 a year.

However, Southwest Florida representatives Matt Caldwell, Dane Eagle, and Ray Rodrigues said they have serious concerns about expanding Medicaid. Bullard supports the health care law.

Ashley Lopez is a reporter forWGCUNews. A native of Miami, she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a journalism degree.