Sen. Travis Hutson has clout during the 2019 Legislative Session.
The St. Augustine Republican is the Senate’s top economic development budget writer and sits on other major committees, including the Appropriations Committee, the Judiciary Committee and the Rules Committee. He is taking on local government regulations, from issues about sunscreens to attorney fees, and is looking to amend graduation requirements to give students a faster track toward vocational training.
On top of that, Hutson is in a tight race with Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, a Naples Republican, to become Senate president in 2022, a race he describes as “cordial,” unlike others in the past.
The News Service of Florida has five questions for Hutson.
Q: We’re midway through Session, and we have new leadership all around. How have things felt? How has it been so far?
Hutson: I think it’s great. It’s a breath of fresh air having a different approach to say it’s going to be a member-driven process. There’s not any one thing that’s linked to another, but at the same time, I know the (Senate) president is constantly talking to the (House) Speaker and the Governor. And if you look at it, there hasn’t been really lines drawn in the sand from either side, just conversations about priorities and the stuff that is starting to move on either side of the aisle to at least posture for some intense deal-making at the end, should the president or the speaker want to do that with the governor’s input.
Having a member-driven process is allowing members to put amendments onto the bill to get it to the proper posture. In the past, at times, things would … lose (committee) references or would pop as PCBs (proposed committee bills) in the last second, and it would be in exchange of something else and members were not fans of that, mostly because you wouldn’t see it or the amendment you wanted to get on it was too late.
Q: How has been the dynamic with Sen. Joe Gruters, who doubles as the Republican Party of Florida chairman, now that he is a member of the Senate?
Hutson: He has been great. I mean, he has not been using his party chairman status to weigh in on any issue in terms of how we should be as senators. He still wants us to take input from him, but I will tell you, this is the first time we’ve had a party chair in the Senate, (before) it was in the House or outside of the process. So knowing the big scheme of what the party is doing has been very helpful as we look forward to amending some of these bills and getting them through the process.
On top of that, there are some bills that he has that he may have wanted to push before and now he’s kind of backed off a little bit after hearing input from other senators as we talk around our leadership within our own local areas.
Q: Looking at the Senate budget proposal, there is a provision that has to do with one of your bills. It’s tied to VISIT FLORIDA spending rules and local regulations on the sale of sunscreens. Could you talk about why that has been included in the budget? Why link sunscreen bans to VISIT FLORIDA?
Huston: Number one, I am a big proponent of making sure people have sunscreen. I think it’s a little silly that local government want to do it (ban sunscreens), and I think it’s important that we look at the science and data behind it. Not only as it related to the corals because there are some studies out there saying there are some concerns, but also the dermatologists and the doctors who know the medicine and the FDA.
When I filed the original bill, it had to do with straws and some sunscreen. Most of the local governments said, you know, this is our area — stay away from it. And so what I did when I rolled out the Visit Florida (provision), I said fine, I’ll stay away from your local control, but here’s another avenue, and you’re not going to get state dollars because we are not going to spend millions of dollars inviting people down into South Florida areas and then they realize they can’t buy sunscreen to protect your children from harmful UV rays. However, (former) Sen. Dana Young (the head of VISIT FLORIDA) mentioned that it could have a larger devastating effect on their economy in terms of not being able to use those tourist dollars … so I’m going to move forward with the policy but pull back from the appropriations because the last thing I want to do is hurt those local businesses.
Q: Can we also talk about 2022? It’s out there that you and Sen. Passidomo are locked in a tight race. Is there an update on that?
Hutson: I think it is a very tight race between the two of us. I think at the end of the day, her and I will work this out. We have not had other presidential fights like you have seen in the past where there’s finger-pointing, jabbing and elbows being thrown. We are very cordial every day when we see each other. Big hugs, how are you doing and talking about our families. It is not the knock-down drag-out fights that you’ve seen before, but at the same time we are locked dead on a lot of the issues and at the end of the day we are going to figure this out over a nice cordial dinner. I couldn’t ask for anybody better as a friend and adversary at this time.
Q: Is there one wish you have for this Session?
Hutson: Going back to the budget. It’s a tight year, but I want to make sure that everybody gets a piece of the [Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development Appropriations] budget as best as possible. We have seen years before where budget chairs get in and all the money goes to one area, or two areas, and I want to make sure that everybody feels like they’ve gotten a fair share by the time we’re done and hopefully get full support from all my members.
Republished with permission from The News Service of Florida.