OPINION| Guest Column Ben Diamond ‘Because we can’ is the wrong way for Florida Republicans to govern | Column
Republicans controlled the legislative agenda and passed bills that too often appealed to their most extreme supporters rather than mainstream Floridians seeking common-sense solutions to our greatest challenges.
Because we can. That is how a key Republican legislator inappropriately responded to one of my Democratic colleagues last week when she asked him why a particular provision was included in legislation on education. Unfortunately, the exchange sums up the legislative session that ended Friday. Republicans controlled the agenda and passed legislation that too often appealed to their most extreme supporters rather than mainstream Floridians seeking common-sense solutions to our greatest challenges.
In my view, here are 10 areas where we could have accomplished so much more: Ben Diamond:
♦ We could have finally required out-of-state, online retailers to collect state sales taxes and used the $1 billion in additional revenue to invest in families, small businesses and public schools. Instead, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law legislation that used the money to provide tax breaks for businesses. It’s smart to collect sales taxes due on on-line sales, but it’s unwise to waste the tax paid by ordinary Floridians on unnecessary tax breaks to corporations. ♦ We could have joined 38 other states and expanded Medicaid to cover an additional 800,000 low-income Floridians who don’t have health coverage. As an incentive, the federal government would have sent an additional $3.5 billion to Florida. Instead, Republicans remained unwilling to discuss it.
♦ We could have invested in affordable housing to help teachers, police officers and other working Floridians afford to live in the communities where they work. Instead, Republicans permanently cut affordable housing money in half and diverted the money to flooding and wastewater programs. There is enough money to do both.
♦ We could have made it easier to register to vote and to vote by mail. Instead, Republicans passed legislation that could suppress the vote by making it harder to vote by mail — despite no evidence of widespread voter fraud.
♦ We could have reasonably increased unemployment benefits from $275 per week, which are among the nation’s lowest. Instead, DeSantis opposed a modest $100 increase approved by the Senate but rejected by the House.
♦ We could have finally passed meaningful criminal justice reform. Instead, DeSantis signed into law a dangerous attempt to crack down on protesters that will infringe upon free speech rights of peaceful protesters.
♦ We could have used federal money from the American Rescue Plan to provide grants to individual Floridians and small businesses struggling to recover from the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, Republicans put more than $3 billion in federal stimulus money into state reserves. ♦ We could have passed legislation to encourage local governments to embrace clean energy, reduce carbon emissions and protect the environment. Instead, the Legislature prevented local governments from limiting the use of fossil fuels and made it harder to hold big polluters accountable.
♦ We could have put into state law that it is illegal to discriminate against LGBTQ people in Florida. Instead, the Legislature discriminated against transgender athletes by banning them from women’s and girls’ sports.
♦ We could have passed commonsense gun safety reforms. Instead, the Legislature approved even tougher rules to prevent local governments from enacting gun safety ordinances — and allowed guns to be carried in churches with schools. To the governor and his allies who supported an extremist agenda, this will be considered a very successful legislative session. For the rest of us in Florida, not so much. State Rep. Ben Diamond is a Democrat from St. Petersburg.