Jacksonville State Rep. Jason Fischer is wrapping up his first year in the State Legislature, and a Friday morning conversation in a local coffee house saw the freshman Republican in a reflective mode – both about the just concluded Legislative Session, and about local politics.
One positive sign Fischer sees: the ascension of a political ally, Anna Brosche, to the Presidency of the Jacksonville City Council.
Fischer supported Brosche in her 2015 Presidential race, and is “excited to help her work her year” in the Council Presidency.
Fischer, who served on the Value Adjustment Board with Brosche’s opponent, John Crescimbeni, has a “good relationship” with him as well.
But Fischer couldn’t help but be excited by “new leadership,” including VP Aaron Bowman – who Fischer reflexively calls “Captain Bowman.”
Committee weeks are not all that far off for the Florida Legislature, with a start expected in early-September.
And in that context, Fischer plans to spend time with Council leaders, as well as representatives of Council districts in his Southside Jacksonville State House district, to determine their individual priorities.
Some of those meetings look likely to happen more quickly than others.
Fischer will meet with Councilman Danny Becton after Memorial Day.
However, one Councilman – Matt Schellenberg – may be a more difficult get.
Schellenberg wrote a letter to the Florida Times-Union a few weeks back saying that the Duval Delegation brought home “crumbs” and that they were slaves to House Leadership.
As well, Schellenberg has publicly and privately communicated his frustration with Fischer, including teasing a run for State House in 2016 and then not ruling out a run against Fischer in 2018.
Fischer relates that he heard from colleagues after Schellenberg’s latest shot across the bow of his fellow Republican, and they were surprised.
“Most of us thought we had a good, strong session,” Fischer said about “Team Northeast Florida,” with “great things all over the region,” especially in terms of water projects and transportation projects.
While it is unknown when Northeast Florida will have its next House Speaker, the delegation finds “strength in working together” to “make sure North Florida is taken care of.”
“Everybody got to eat,” Fischer said.
Fischer filed some ambitious bills in session, including two that would have offered meaningful pension reform.
House Bill 353 would have foreclosed enrollment in the Florida Retirement System’s defined benefit plan to any city not currently involved.
House Bill 603 would have put a check on the often optimistic rates of return on investments that create a rosier picture of solvency than actually exists in local pension plans.
Neither bill got through the legislature, and they especially struggled in the Senate, yet the filings of the bills were significant in themselves.
“Pensions are not a sexy topic,” Fischer said, but “if we don’t do something now, we will have to pay the piper.”
With just six bill slots, Fischer has to pick his spots – so expect to see another try for the rate of return legislation next session.
One bill that Fischer has messaged strongly on – and has gotten pushback as a former Duval County School Board member: HB 7069, the “Schools of Hope” bill that is controversial with many local-level policy makers.
The bill has yet to be presented to the Governor, and it is undetermined when that bill will land on his desk.
Yet Fischer contends that there would be unintended consequences to any veto, including a loss of teacher bonuses in the bill, and other “policies the Governor has shown evidence of supporting in the past.”
Ultimately, Fischer sees a cognitive dissonance among bill opponents, noting that “school choice”, as it stands now, is a concept some enjoy more of than others.
“If you’re wealthy, you can pick up and move anywhere, send kids to private schools. For the middle class, there is some level of school choice,” Fischer said, such as moving to a “better neighborhood school.”
For those in the working class, who may have been served by so-called “failure factories” for generations, Fischer summed it up.
“No choice,” said Fischer, equates to “no hope.”
Bad neighborhood schools can lead to generational learning deficits, and these necessitate the creation of options, both “lifting up traditional schools” and providing other avenues.
“It’s not ‘either/or’,” Fischer said. “It’s ‘and’.”
When considering dropout rates, Fischer notes that “disengaged kids can drift out long before they drop out.”