Goin’ back to Tally Part II

 

The first part of the series explored how an entity such as Marion County exists in a space where it has the autonomy and agency to legislate on local issues but is also beholden to the state (and federal) legislature on larger issues.

The second part of this ongoing series highlights two members of the Marion County Legislative Delegation from the Florida House of Representatives.  The legislators give highlights of bills they have proposed, or plan to, as the session begins on Jan. 11.  They also touch on subjects such as how they navigate diverse districts that may have competing priorities, the importance of committee assignments, and the role they see themselves playing in the overall political picture.

While the delegate members have priorities outside of Marion County, for brevity and focus, only priorities dealing with Marion County, or its interests are highlighted.

If a bill is listed below has been formally filed, it will be identified by its number and will have the committee or subcommittee it has been referred to for discussion in the subheading.  If a legislator has a priority and hasn’t formally filed a bill, the subheading will simply be a title.

Florida House of Representatives[1]

 House members, unlike their counterparts in the senate, are limited to how many legislative bills they can sponsor.  Representatives are able to file seven bills (not counting appropriations, or funding, bills) where they are the lead sponsor.

While there is a limit on how many bills representatives can sponsor, there is no limit to the amount they can co-sponsor.  A link will be available for a complete listing of the bills each legislator has proposed.

Rep. Joe Harding speaks during the Marion County Delegation at the Klein Conference Center at the College of Central Florida in Ocala on Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]
Representative Joe Harding

Click here for a full list of bills sponsored by Representative Harding for the 2022 session.

Joe Harding represents District 22, which contains Levy County and parts of Marion County.  In addition to being a legislator, Harding lists his occupation as the owner of a landscape and construction business.  He attended the College of Central Florida from 2005-2007 and Florida International University from 2008-2010.

On Redistricting

“Obviously, [redistricting] is not necessarily individually a priority for me, but it is an important job we have this year,” said Harding.  and it will take a lot of the legislator’s attention.”

Harding said it’s crucial that they tackle the issue early, as the compressed timeline could have an effect on their potential re-election bids.

“So, we’ll get out of session in March, and then we’ll have new district lines we’ll be running in only three months later,” he said.

On HB 3039 – Dunnellon Trail (Now in Infrastructure & Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee)

Harding is seeking $2,537,000 from the State Transportation (Primary) Trust Fund for a pedestrian bridge over the Withlacoochee River.

It’s a project that Harding says has been needed for some time.

“I grew up going to the river there and it is extremely dangerous,” he said.  “There’s a shoulder on the road there, but it was never meant for pedestrian traffic. And so, you have a lot of folks that cross over because Blue Run Park is right there and parking is very limited.”

The state funding is only part of the fiscal equation, he said.

“So, what we’re trying to do is get funding from the state,” said Harding.  “There’s a county match and a city match as well, and so we’re trying to get the state funding piece for that as well.”

On HB779 – Offers and Sales of Securities (Now in Insurance & Banking Subcommittee)

Florida lags behind states such as Texas and Georgia in recruiting banks & financial institutions, said Harding and this bill is designed to work with the Florida Office of Financial Regulation to update the state’s investment laws.

“It can be really hard for an entrepreneur to start a business and go get a loan from a bank without capital,” he said.  “Typically, it doesn’t come with a startup company. And we have some burdensome regulations that really haven’t been updated for many, many years. And, and so this is a big important issue.”

Harding first proposed the bill last session, and it was one of only two of his bills that did not move along in the process.  This year, however, Harding says he believes it will get some traction.

On what he calls “The Right to Repair”

Harding believes farm equipment manufacturers are pricing out smaller agricultural operations with their expensive new models.

“What’s happened is the cost of equipment has gone through the roof, where you have tractors that cost half a million dollars now,” he said.  “And what is happening is in the name of trying to comply with EPA regulations and exhaust and emission regulations, these tractors have become extremely complicated and hard to work on.”

The bill, Harding says, would allow a larger pool of farm-equipment repair technicians to work on a piece of equipment.

“Farmers are being forced to only use manufacturer-approved repair people to even just diagnose their tractor and so, they can be in the middle of harvesting peanuts, and John Deere cannot get a repair tech to them for three or four days and they’re out of business,” he said. “

On right to life

 While he does not have any formal legislation filed on the issue, Harding says it is one of his core priorities.

“As a conservative, one of those the most passionate issues of the voters that elected me is the issue of life, said Harding.  “And I believe that Florida this year is going to kind of follow the lead. And actually…I believe that we’re going to excel past states like Texas that have some pretty strong pro-life legislation, I think Florida is going to do something even bigger and better.”

He’s unconcerned about what his formal responsibility will be on the issue, and Harding said he’ll do what he’s asked to in order to advance any legislation on the issue.

On concealed carry

On the topic of carrying a concealed weapon, while nothing formal is in yet, Harding says it will be soon.

“I’ve got some legislation that’s coming; I haven’t filed it yet,” he said.  “We’ve been working through the drafting process, really looking to reform our concealed carry process in Florida.”

He said the Department of Agriculture, the agency that oversees issuing concealed carry permits, isn’t being as efficient as it could be, and isn’t following the prescribed policy.

“Florida statute says it’s supposed to take 90 days, but we have we have constituents that are at 170, 180 days,” Harding said. The process is too lengthy, he said.

Harding believes the process is too lengthy, and would like to change it, or totally do away with it.

“But it should never be the case, something that’s your constitutional right, you shouldn’t have to wait six months to get a government permission slip.

“So I’ve got a bill coming that’s going to majorly look at reforming, and we’re going to go one of two directions…we’re either going to put some really stiff guidelines to the department on how they turn around those permits, or we’re going to repeal that all together and to say that if you’re legally able to carry or buy a firearm in the State of Florida, you should be legally able to carry that,” said Harding.

On limiting legislation

As a conservative, Harding said he favors a limited-government approach.  His committee assignments, including one specifically, he said, help him keep government answerable to the people.

“I sit on a regulatory reform, which is one of my favorite committees,” he said. “And any bill that deals with regulation is going to come to that committee, and we have really good leadership on the committee.

Passing laws, according to Harding, is only half of his job.

“Because frankly, I think we have enough laws,” he said.  “And we don’t necessarily need unlimited legislation.  I think the most important job of the legislators, most the time, it’s not the bills you pass, it’s the bills you work to make sure that they never pass.”

On the proposed toll road

On the subject of the proposed toll road that may run through Marion County, Harding supports the county being part of the process, a process he said some might not fully understand.

“I would say in my district, between Levy and Marion [counties], is the biggest misunderstanding from the constituents in our district, not all, just some, is that by the county passing or not passing a resolution for against toll roads, somehow, it’s going to affect the outcome of the toll road,” he said.

“It’s really not. FDOT is currently doing a study, they’re not building a road. And that’s probably been my biggest frustration,” said Harding.

The misunderstandings, he said, stem from a distortion of facts that some might look to benefit from, and in the process of doing so, put residents in a constant state of anxiety.

“There is a lot of misinformation that people will look to take advantage of, a lot of chaos. And then in the middle, you have constituents who have a road drawn through their farm that’s been on their farm for 30 years or they just built a house and there’s suddenly a study area that goes through their property, and they’re in a panic, and I get it.”

Harding said he’s heard from many of his constituents on the issue, and he would point out that the bill not only passed unanimously, but also that it was given high marks from outside advocacy groups as well as applauded by environmental groups because the right language was included to protect sensitive areas.

“I’ve had numerous, probably at this point hundreds of emails questioning why I voted for it [SB 100 repealing MCORES],” he said.  “Every member of the Florida House voted for it, including the Democratic caucus. And this bill was championed and was applauded by environmental groups because they said we had all the right language to make sure that we’re protecting the right environment sensitive areas.”

While he understands his constituents may feel strongly about the toll road, or any issue they’re facing, their energy, anger, and frustration are all part of the job.

“I think that a good leader, a good elected official is someone that, at some point, all sides are upset at,” said Harding. “That means that you truly are making measured decisions, you’re not just picking a side and choosing.”

[1] Interviews to Representatives Stan McClain and Brett Hage have been requested.

Rep. Yvonne Hayes Hinson speaks during the Marion County Delegation at the Klein Conference Center at the College of Central Florida in Ocala on Oct. 7, 2021. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]
Representative Yvonne Hayes Hinson

Click here for a full list of bills sponsored by Representative Hinson for the 2022 session.

Yvonne Hayes Hinson represents District 20, which contains parts of Alachua and Marion Counties.  In addition to being a legislator, Hinson lists her occupation as an educator.  She received her BA in Education from the University of Florida (UF) in 1971 and her MA Education from UF in 1972.

Hinson says her legislative priorities haven’t changed since she first ran for office many years ago.

“Education, the environment, which had better be on every Floridian’s priority because we can’t sustain ourselves in Florida without environmental sensitivity,” she said.   “Justice at large, I mean, not just criminal justice, but civil justice as well, and affordable housing”.

On affordable housing

Owning a home, said Hinson, is not something that should be reserved for a select few.

“I think everyone who wants to buy a home in America, but especially Florida, should be able to,” she said.  “And we should be building homes that every level of citizen can afford to buy.”

She realizes there is a business to building homes but says designers should recognize the range of potential home buyers and target them at all stages.

“When I talk to developers and builders, everybody’s looking for the bottom line of profit,” said Hinson. “And of course, if the if a builder wants profit, they should have profit, but they should understand that there will be different levels of profit for different levels of income and be willing to build for that level.”

“We all need the American dream; everybody wants to own a home,” said Hinson. But, her support on the issue does have its limitations.

“I’m not fighting for multifamily rental properties; those are for profit,” she said.

On HB 165 – School Teacher Training and Mentoring Program (Now in Secondary Education & Career Development Subcommittee)

Hinson first proposed the idea of teacher/mentors last session but said she didn’t have the language quite right in her initial bill.  She said they worked on the language, and now a bill creating a program aimed at helping new teachers, among others, is ready to roll.

“We want to offer it to all schools that need it, every school in Florida that wants it.  It’s three mentors who will be paid $2,000, a $2,000 stipend, to mentor and coach a new teacher on their staff, or a teacher who seems to be struggling with different demographics,” she said.

“We have that bill going, it looks like the chairman of that committee is interested,” said Hinson.

I’ve also talked to the Commissioner of Education, and he said if I’m proposing it for every school and the $2,000 ends up being something like $18 million, that’s not a big price tag for the whole state. I believe it’s going to get some traction this year. And I’m excited about that. So that bill is on the docket and ready to go,” Hinson detailed.

On HB 393 – Public Bathing Places (Now in Professions & Public Health Subcommittee)

Hinson says she is also excited about an environmental bill she is proposing aimed at alerting individuals that certain water is not suitable for swimming, which in statute language is called bathing.  Warning signs should be posted when fecal matter or other chemicals like phosphate and other nutrients gets too high in waterways where people often swim.

She hopes the proposed bill will lead to a larger conversation about clean water conservation.

“Truly, if it’s not safe swimming it’s not safe for drinking either,” she said

On HM 245 – National Infrastructure Bank (Now in Insurance & Banking Subcommittee)

This legislation, Hinson said, was designed at the federal level, and is intended to provide an alternate outside funding source for needed local infrastructure projects. The National Infrastructure Bank Bill, which is in Congress, is designed to set up a bank with investments from individuals, different corporations and investors.

“So, this National Infrastructure Bank is a bill that’s been filed in congress, but they’re asking for resolutions at every state level, and even in large corporations and some organizations,” she said.  “So, I filed it for the state of Florida, and I’m getting a lot of support from other legislators in terms of co-sponsoring.”

“They want to set up like $5 trillion so that states and rural communities, and anyone who needs it, can come to the bank, borrow the money, and pay it back over time so these roads and bridges and things that we’re not getting the money to fix can be fixed in a timely way,”

On HB 2319 – McIntosh Town Hall (Now in Infrastructure & Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee)

Hinson said this legislation is designed to assist the Town of McIntosh in updating their governmental building, something that is sorely needed.

“I have one that Macintosh Town Hall wants to tear down their building. It’s really falling apart…it’s an old portable building, if you’ve seen portable classrooms, that’s kind of what it looks like.”

On drinking water contamination in Lowell

As a result of soil contamination from chemicals used by the State Fire College, residents of the area have been supplied bottled drinking water since 2018.

Hinson says funds have already been allocated for the project, and while they have their differences, she applauds Governor Ron DeSantis for his commitment on the issue.

“There is a large pocket of money that’s already been put aside. And as much as I don’t always agree with our governor, this is one project that he has some real obligation towards. He’s very committed to clean water all over the state. They put this money in what they call a resiliency bill, and, yeah, I think we’re going to be able to get that passed,” Hinson stated.

On committee assignments

Hinson said that while she asked for committees that aligned with her priorities, what was requested wasn’t what was assigned.

I get nothing that I want; I get what I’m given,” she said.

At first, Hinson was wary of her committee assignments, but ultimately, she said she came to understand how valuable they were.

“Most of my committees are extremely important committees,” she said.  “I didn’t know that when I got them. I really thought I was being punished in some way. But what I realized over time is that these committees are extremely important to the overall operation of the state.”

On being the only democratic member of the Marion County Legislative Delegation

One area Hinson stands alone is being the lone democrat on the delegation.  She said there are times she sees a common goal with her GOP coworkers, but for some reason the differences in getting there stand out.

“I’m the only Democrat on both delegations, and I think our ideology is so different, but we all want the same thing. It’s the weirdest thing. Sometimes we miscommunicate so much that we end up fighting over things that aren’t even a fight.”

She said she feels an obligation as the sole member of the party opposite that in power to make sure she represents those who may not share GOP ideals and views.

“I do have to speak up though,” said Hinson. “I do have to speak for and be a voice for the different point of view. I do. I can’t sit quiet. Because otherwise, that point of view will never be heard.”

An example of the disconnect she sees is in how both parties view life.  Hinson said she’s proposing legislation to help save babies’ lives, and in the process feels like she gets pushback from across the aisle.

“Not only am I trying to do bail reform, but I’m also trying to make sure pregnant mothers don’t have to be incarcerated, especially if it’s a misdemeanor, until after they have their babies because these babies are dying in jail.”

And I’m saying [to my republican colleagues] ‘you guys know you’re saying I’m going too far with this bill. However, if you really care about life, and you say you do, this is a life that’s dying in jail’.

On the proposed toll road

Hinson did not comment extensively on the proposed toll road but indicated that she was keeping an eye on the situation.

“Let the process work itself out,” she said. “When, and if, I need to get engaged, I will certainly be there for the people,”

On redistricting

While Hinson attempted to engage in the process, ultimately, she was not selected.  But she says that she, and her party as a whole, will make sure the procedures are followed.

On legalizing recreational marijuana

Hinson is a big proponent of legalizing recreational marijuana and described how she has encountered barrier after barrier in getting movement on the issue.

“Last year, as with this year, I’ve had great struggles with not only filing and getting a companion bill filed, but I’ve been trying to get marijuana, recreational marijuana legalized,” she said.

Hinson doesn’t see much difference between alcohol or cigarettes and marijuana and feels what she is proposing is similar to how other states have approached the issue.

“It’s legal in quite a few states, over 20 now, and I’ve had issues and problems from both sides of the aisle, she said.

Rather than a party being the issue, Hinson says she knows what’s really behind the obstacles she runs up against.

“But I’m learning, from last session, really, there is so much money to be made from this,” said Hinson. “There are people on both sides of the aisle trying to control it. It taught me that this isn’t a Democrat or Republican thing. This is a money game.”

Despite the barriers she’s faced on the issue, Hinson remains determined to see it legalized.

“I mean, it ought to be legal enough that you can put it in a pot and grow it on your patio.” she said.

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