Heading into his final Session before he’s term-limited out of the House, Democratic Leader Kionne McGhee has a lot he’s looking to accomplish.
Whether Republican leadership will play ball is another story.
“This is an election season,” McGhee noted in a talk with Florida Politics. “For political gain, what they would do, to be honest with you I don’t know. But I am expecting that a lot of red meat will be used this Session in order to turn out political bases.”
Among the more controversial Republican-backed proposals are bills requiring parental consent for abortions and a push for employers to begin using the E-Verify system to reduce hiring of undocumented immigrants.
Democrats are expected to offer significant pushback on those proposals. But in addition to leading his party into the fight, McGhee has some goals of his own, one of which seems to have bipartisan support.
One goal is a measure (HB 251) that would allow college athletes to make money off their likeness. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which regulates those athletes, has rules barring students from doing that.
“It’s a fairness bill,” McGhee said. “It’s also my personal priority.”
McGhee says there’s still work to do on the final legislation, but he’s confident lawmakers will move forward on the measure.
“I’ve had a conversation with Rep. LaMarca. There’s going to be a workshop on these bills Monday the 13th,” McGhee said. That meeting will include members of the House Education, Commerce, Judiciary committees.”
“It’s going to be a priority for the entire Legislature, along with the Governor, to bring fairness to college student-athletes when it comes to their name, their image, and their likenesses being used.”
Late last week, McGhee also filed legislation to raise salaries for existing teachers and support staff.
“This is the year of the teachers,” McGhee said.
The push comes after DeSantis proposed a $603 million package to increase salaries for new teachers. McGhee is seeking to ensure current staff is also compensated, a concession current teachers and unions have been demanding.
“Our bill would deal with the crisis of the understaffed, underpaid current teachers,” McGhee said. “But it will also go toward helping individuals who are support aides, like teachers’ aides and things of that nature.”
McGhee said he has received positive feedback from educational staff about the proposal.
“They freakin’ love it. They think this is what they’ve been waiting for and they believe this is going to be the language that can possibly get everybody on board.”
But “everybody” may not include House Speaker José Oliva. Oliva has already balked at the price tag of DeSantis’ original pitch. It’s unclear where the money would come from to fund McGhee’s add-on.
But it does demonstrate the difficulties in the Governor’s proposal. DeSantis is seeking to raise starting teacher salaries to $47,500 per year throughout the state. But some veterans make less than that and wouldn’t be affected. Other teachers who make just over that figure would also miss out on a pay bump. It would mean a veteran teacher with several years experience under their belt could ostensibly earn less than a new teacher fresh out of college.
One area where there hasn’t been much progress as of yet is in the gun control debate.
Democrats have said reforming the state’s gun laws will be a top priority during the 2020 Legislative Session.
That’s after a trio of mass shootings in August in Texas and Ohio that left dozens dead. Democrats even pushed for a Special Session after those shootings. But that effort was rebuffed by Republicans.
McGhee also tragically lost his uncle in a shooting during the holidays.
But while McGhee wants to see the issue addressed in 2020, he says there hasn’t been much movement thus far.
“I haven’t spoken to any Republicans as of yet as to the direction of the gun debate, but I do know that there’s a conversation that’s going to be had with leadership about the gun debate, that I’m going to personally have with them.”
With the gulf between the two parties on that and other issues, expect there to be some battling in the next two months.
That doesn’t mean there’s no hope for bipartisanship, McGhee said.
“Nothing surprises me about what happens. But what I can tell you is, right now, we do know when it comes down to the teachers, that’s being addressed. College athletes, that bill is going to be addressed. Environmental issues, we believe that is going to be addressed.”
But the House Democratic Leader says he’s still seeking more cooperation from the majority party.
“I haven’t seen as much as I would liked to have seen,” McGhee said.
“But we still have 60 days left.”
The 2020 Legislative Session officially kicks off Tuesday.