Darryl Rouson has been a champion for justice reform and voting rights

Darryl Rouson
For Democrats like Rouson, it's not just about introducing good policy, it's about blocking bad.

As the Legislative Session gets underway, Sen. Darryl Rouson, a Democrat representing Florida’s 19th district, is not naïve. This isn’t his first trip around the Tallahassee block.

A Democrat in the Republican-controlled Legislature always must fight like the dickens to keep a good bill from dying in committee, let alone on the Senate floor.

“My first priority is always to pass good policy because that’s what the people sent me to do. The second priority is to stop bad policy,” he said.

If that doesn’t work, addressing good or bad policy through the budget becomes the third priority.

Rouson has a plate full of ideas and proposals to address community concerns, particularly in criminal justice and policing, and he will fight against proposals that could lead to the suppression of minority voters.

“Believe it or not, I feel good about it. It’s good policy, and I should feel good about good policy. Some of these things I’m talking about are neither Republican nor Democrat, but good policy,” he said.

“We begin each Session with a willingness to work across the aisle, to work together. I just happen to be crazy enough to believe it.”

He’s not thinking outside the box. He will stomp on the box if need be and smash that sucker flat to turn his ideas into law.

That’s the motivation for his SB 1148.

The bill would require an officer to intervene if another officer uses excessive force, like what happened last summer with George Floyd‘s death.

“They should have a duty to intervene. What if those police officers who observed Derek Chauvain’s knee on George Floyd’s neck had interceded at one minute, two minutes, instead of eight minutes and 46 seconds?” Rouson wondered.

Under his bill, officers also would have to report a criminal act by another officer by the end of their shift.

“We tell people in our communities if you see something, say something,” Rouson said. “We impress on them they should feel a duty to speak if they see criminal conduct. It should be the same standard for police officers.”

He addresses the sticky issue of sentencing reform with SB 328.

“It would create retroactivity in sentencing on drug trafficking and attempted aggravated assault,” Rouson said. “It’s along the lines of Amendment 11 in 2018.”

That amendment, approved by 62% of Florida voters, ensures that people who committed the same crime at different times serve equal sentences if the laws change.

The Legislature moved toward reducing mandatory minimum sentences to deal with prison overcrowding, but that wasn’t far enough. Lawmakers need to stipulate when that change applies, Rouson argues.

“The sticking point has been the Legislature must make it clear whenever retroactivity applies,” Rouson said. “We have done things that reduce sentences but haven’t done it retroactively.”

Rouson also is on board to address the chronic issue of food insecurity within his district. That’s the idea behind SB 628, the Urban Agriculture bill.

It would remove some restrictions that limit where and how food is grown and distributed in high-population centers. For instance, the bill would eliminate a requirement that all power-driven or self-propelled farming equipment be located at least 50 feet away from a public road.

“It has become increasingly important that we allow people access to food. Access means encouraging them to even grow, in some instances, their own food,” he said.

“As we grow out, we need to grow up, and allow urban farming to take place in non-traditional communities.”

He means business about this issue because it’s that important.

“If there’s a vacant lot, we should use it for farming to help feed people,” Rouson said. “The need is great.”

Rouson filed the legislation after St. Petersburg City Council member Brandi Gabbard approached him about solutions for food shortages in lower-income areas.

Rep. Michele Rayner filed a companion bill in the House.

Andy Oliver, the pastor at St. Petersburg’s Allendale United Methodist Church, faced some local opposition when he wanted to start a community garden that would offer free produce to the needy.

Rouson quickly offered his support, and after nine months of bureaucratic entanglements and reviews, the St. Petersburg City Council approved the project.

“I think Sen. Rouson is amazing,” Oliver said. “I have taken part in community events with him, and the passion he brings to these issues is inspiring.

“When we needed help getting our garden started, Sen. Rouson made some phone calls for us and weighed in on the need to make this work. Considering the challenge he faces in Tallahassee, he is doing valiant work.”

His agriculture bill has a chance for bipartisan support because it wouldn’t seem to be a particularly contentious issue. That’s important for Democrats like Rouson, who always face an uphill trudge to get priorities approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature.

He puts SB 404, which would strengthen the Office of Minority Health and Health Equity, in the “good policy” category. It would require one representative from each county health department to serve as a minority health liaison, along with other tweaks.

“This pandemic has ripped the scab off the wound in communities of color,” he said. “Even though the Office of Minority Health was created more than 20 years ago, it has not kept up with the critical need.”

All of those aims are against the backdrop of proposals that could change the way people vote in Florida. In the name of reducing non-existent voter fraud, Republicans have targeted drop boxes, mail-in balloting, and so-called ballot harvesting. That’s all in the name of secure elections, of course.

Rouson is not surprised.

“We work hard to educate the people to elect people who represent their values. What we see happening now should be an example to people. It’s no secret that African Americans and Democrats voted in record numbers by mail. Ray Charles could see there was going to be an attack,” he said.

“We need to continue to stress that barriers are not roadblocks. They just make it a little harder, but they can’t stop people from voting.”

Joe Henderson

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.


  • Ron Ogden

    March 1, 2021 at 10:14 am

    Nine months to approve a garden??? Ya know, maybe if it had been more vegetables than social science it would not have taken so long.

  • Josh

    March 2, 2021 at 1:43 pm

    “All of those aims are against the backdrop of proposals that could change the way people vote in Florida. In the name of reducing non-existent voter fraud, Republicans have targeted drop boxes, mail-in balloting, and so-called ballot harvesting. That’s all in the name of secure elections, of course.”

    The click-bait title finally justified in the last few paragraphs. I Like your assertion that assertion that fraud is non-existent. Can you prove that assertion? Or are you just going to appeal to authority or appeal to ignorance? There is an awful lot of anecdotal evidence of voter fraud out there, if you were not such a biased ideologue you might find it interesting to investigate, but then you can’t score cheap partisan points by doing so. Hack.

    All that said I admire and respect Senator Rouson. Hack politics writers like the author? Not so much.

Comments are closed.


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