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Sen. Audrey Gibson (D-Jacksonville) walks to the rostrum as the Florida Senate Democratic caucus met to elect her as the Democratic leader during the 2019 and 2020 legislative sessions at the Florida State Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. Nov. 19, 2018.

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2019 Legislative Session Preview: Focus on Northeast Florida

“The public will judge us as a whole on how did Jacksonville do compared to other areas.”

Northeast Florida legislators are well-positioned this Session.

There are budget chairs from Clay County atop both chambers, a Governor with regional ties, numerous committee and subcommittee posts, as well as the head of the Senate Democratic caucus.

However, among the Duval Delegation, there wasn’t a sense of triumphalism; members seem to be approaching the 2019 Legislative Session with the knowledge that it would be yet another 60-day war for priorities.

Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson contends that Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry has not communicated to her local priorities. Since 2016, when Gibson objected to Curry’s political operation and endorsed the city’s pension reform referendum, relations between the two have been frosty.

This has been a recurrent complaint of certain Delegation members.

Despite this disconnect, the Senator found workarounds.

I personally haven’t received any project requests from city hall. But as a worker bee, I can request some things like the sidewalks going in on New Kings Rd because another project was happening there,” Gibson said. “Or the sound walls at Edgewood & I-95 because I requested a sound study (just a couple of examples).”

She noted the Delegation met last year in Tallahassee to “review local projects so we all knew about them and could all push them. Relationships matter!”

The Senator, as is the case with most in the Legislature, has a number of budget requests, from higher ed and veterans to medical care and helping overage students and myriad issues in between. Eldercare issues, including Alzheimer’s, will also be a focus.

Gibson’s Senate colleague, Republican Aaron Bean, noted that the region is looking to “advance our opportunity and investment from the state to make sure we’re on par with everyone else.”

“The public will judge us as a whole on how did Jacksonville do compared to other areas,” Bean noted. “It’s bigger than that, though, as we’re advancing as a state.”

Bean said his experience with the new gubernatorial administration has been “great.”

“He’s getting praise from both sides,” Bean noted. “We’ve got challenges on how we can continue to do what we do and afford what we do.”

“We’ll figure that out together,” Bean said, noting that past “fiscal discipline” has left Florida well-positioned for challenges ahead, including the ongoing process of Hurricane Michael recovery to our region’s west.

State Rep. Travis Cummings, the Orange Park Republican running the House budget committee for the first time this year, necessarily takes the long view.

Cummings intends to “continue to soak up as much knowledge of the state budget as possible.”

“Such will allow me to perform more effectively in my role. I think it is important to not fall in love with any project or funding request. At end of day, I want to roll out a responsible House budget that brings satisfaction to our members and Speaker [Josè] Oliva,” Cummings said.

“However, with a growing economy and population in our region and state, I hope to identify purposeful funding in the areas of infrastructure, education and for our most needy and vulnerable Floridians,” Cummings added. “I also share Gov. [Ron] DeSantis’ commitment to tackle the issues facing our waterways and protecting the natural resources that make Florida so unique.”

Though he’s not a Duval legislator, Cummings understands Jacksonville’s importance.

“Mayor Curry has submitted some key funding requests relating to public safety, infrastructure and workforce housing. I look forward to continuing a strong partnership with City Hall to help Jacksonville and the First Coast reach its full potential,” Cummings said.

Rep. Cord Byrd, a second-term Republican representing Nassau County and Jacksonville Beach, ran for election in 2016 as a strict Constitutionalist.

In 2019, one of his electoral priorities addresses fealty to the state’s founding document.

Throughout the campaign, I heard complaints from Republicans, Democrats and independents about the bundling of Constitutional Amendments on the November ballot. My personal priority this session is to pass a House Joint Resolution to limit the Constitutional Revision Commission to single subject amendments,” Byrd noted. “Voters should know what they are voting on or not have to choose between the lesser of two evils when casting their ballot.”

Beyond this major issue, Byrd is focused on constituent needs.

“Water projects … for Nassau, Atlantic Beach and Neptune Beach. I have two veteran-focused projects in the 5 Star Veteran Center and K9s for Warriors,” he related.

Also a priority: combating human trafficking.

Two Byrd appropriations requests go to groups that would address that in the region. Byrd is also fighting for UF Health and Nassau County mental health services. And for money to expand Jacksonville’s Real Time Crime Center.

Rep. Clay Yarborough, a second-term Republican representing the Arlington area, said a “personal priority this Session is seeing HB 59 through to passage.

That bill, Yarborough said, would “help the uninsured and underinsured in Florida by creating the Prescription Drug Donation Program.”

“Currently, we have the Cancer Drug Donation Program, which allows uncompromised, unexpired cancer treatment drugs to be donated to individuals in need, but if the Prescription Drug Donation Program is signed into law by Gov. DeSantis, it would extend to all prescription drugs,” Yarborough added.

“This will go a long way to help those who might otherwise not be able to afford prescriptions and also reduce the amount of drugs that are flushed or placed in the trash outside facilities where they could ultimately end up obtained and misused on the street,” Yarborough said.

Yarborough is also carrying appropriations requests for the North Florida School of Special Education (HB 2479) and Wolfson Children’s Hospital Medically Complex Children Program (HB 3929).

“The first project would allow North Florida School to expand its campus and help begin to serve the backlog of interested students and families who would greatly benefit from the program,” Yarborough noted. “The state investment of $1 million would have [a] regional impact as the school serves at least six North Florida counties.

“The second project would invest $10 million to help Wolfson Children’s Hospital with its renowned Medically Complex Children Program.”

He continued: “For the City of Jacksonville, I am pushing the Rapid Response Flashing Beacon (RRFB) project that would match $800,000 in local dollars with an additional $750,000 from the state to place beacons at 30 designated crosswalks to increase pedestrian safety.

“RRFB’s in conjunction with high-emphasis pavement markings have been proven to increase pedestrian visibility, build driver expectancy, and ultimately reduce pedestrian crashes.” 

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for over two decades, with bylines in national and local publications alike on subjects ranging from pop music to national and global politics. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014, and has held a column in Jacksonville, Florida's Folio Weekly for two decades. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." Gancarski is a frequent presence on Jacksonville television and radio, including fill-in slots on WJCT-FM's award-winning talk show "First Coast Connect." He can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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