Last Updated: 4:54 p.m.
Here’s your chance to make a pitch for changes you’d like to see in state law: House Rep. Paul Renner and Sen. Travis Hutson, who represent Flagler and surrounding counties in Tallahassee, are holding their annual legislative meeting for Flagler governments and residents on Dec. 7 at 3 p.m. in the County Commission’s board chambers at Bunnell’s Government Services Building.
All local governments usually send a representative to the delegation to submit legislative poriorities. But the meeting is also an opportunity for local non-profits, business and individuals to submit their own proposals directly to the legislators, who then consider whether to turn the proposals into bills. Any bill’s chances of approval has long odds. But the odds narrow when a county’s legislative representatives have more seniority and more pull in committees.
That’s increasingly the case with Hutson and Renner, each of whom is angling for his chamber’s top leadership post. Assuming he continues to win races and the GOP remains in the majority, Renner is in line to be House Speaker in 2022. Hutson chairs the Senate appropriations subcommittee on transportation, tourism and economic development.
The legislative delegation has been busy on behalf of Flagler, securing millions of dollars for the lion’s share of the ongoing, $28 million dunes-reconstruction project along Flagler’s shore, money for sewer p, money for improvements to the the Mala Compra drainage basin, money for extra help for County Judge Melissa Moore-Stens, and, a few years ago, a bill that restored local government regulatory authority in vacation-rental rules–a bill that vacation-rental proponents have been trying to nullify since.
The 2019 legislative session begins March 5 and runs through May 3. It will be the first under a new governor in eight years. The new governor, Republican Ron DeSantis, is the first since colonial times to have direct ties to Flagler County, having been its congressional representative since 2012. DeSantis, however, was not very active locally nor as familiar with Flagler as, say, John Mica, who had represented most of the county for a few years before redistricting and DeSantis’s election in 2012.
Local governments hold their own legislative-priorities meetings weeks or months ahead of the meeting with legislators, and generally work from their previous year’s priorities as a baseline, with many issues recurring year after year.
Flagler government’s priorities still include renewing the financial help for an extra county judge: the current year appropriation was for one year only. Priorities also include securing more financial assistance to defray the cost of natural disasters (the county is still paying heavily for hurricanes Matthew and Irma), maintaining the status-quo with vacation rentals, protecting home rule, and keeping aviation fuel taxes at their current level, though it is a legislative goal to eventually eliminate those taxes. In that instance, Flagler’s goal runs against Renner’s, who favors the elimination. The fuller list, with rationales behind each priority, is here.
Palm Coast’s three priorities, discussed at a workshop in late July, are securing capital funding for the extension of a sewer main along with fiberoptic on the barrier island up to Marineland as part of a long-term goal to get barrier island residents off septic systems and broaden the city’s Fibernet reach; support the Flagler County school district’s classroom-to-careers initiatives; and secure capital funding for the next phase of the Palm Coast Arts Foundation’s planned cultural and performing arts center in Town Center. The priorities have not yet been formalized in a document. “We have been working on drafting the language of the specific requests with our partners,” Mayor Milissa Holland said.
Palm Coast discussed its regional priorities at the same workshop in July and adopted a formal resolution about them in August: protecting home rule–which has taken a beating in recent years with Tallahassee’s increasing appetite for “pre-emption,” the doctrine that a state law not only has precedence over local ordinances, but pre-empts local ordinances from diverging from state law–seeking state dollars for water and sewer projects, and seeking more dollars for beach protection. (The full list is here.)
But those priorities, Interim City Manager Beau Falgout explained, are intended to lend Palm Coast’s voice to more regional efforts with other local governments, through Flagler County and the Northeast Florida Regional Council, and differ from the more specific local priorities that will be presented to the legislative delegation in December. “When we get down to talking to our local delegation, we try to get specific items the city is focused on,” Falgout said.
Flagler Beach’s priorities mirror Palm Coast’s regional list, with one additional hope of accelerating reimbursements of disaster assistance. The Flagler Beach list is here.
The school board is focusing on seeking additional mental health funding to hire school counselors and expand mental health services in schools, ensuring that school choice is paired with continued local control of charter schools (the Legislature has been attempting to dilute or eliminate local school board’s oversight of local charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run), improving Flagler’s share of per-student funding, which remains among the lowest in the state, and help with its classroom-to-careers flagship programs. The full list is here.
After local elected officials address Renner and Hutson, the floor is turned over to organizations and individuals, about a dozen of whom usually make appearances and requests of their own. A speaker card is available here or below.
Interested citizens wishing to be placed on the agenda for the December 7, 2018 public hearing are asked to contact Representative Renner’s District Office staff (Samantha Story at (386) 446-7644), or fill out the form below. Those wishing to provide materials or handouts to the Flagler County Delegation members can mail them in advance of the public hearing to Representative Paul Renner’s District Office located at 4877 Palm Coast Parkway NW, Suite 1, Palm Coast, FL 32137.