Legislative Session Preview: Joe Gruters wants to bring alimony reform to law, reopen Midnight Pass
Joe Gruters takes an interest in Hillsborough party politics.

The former Republican Chair also still wants to see partisan School Boards.

When Sen. Joe Gruters arrived in the upper chamber, he tried to set records for the number of bills filed. The Sarasota Republican’s 24 bills in the hopper this year seem modest by comparison.

This comes even after Gruters heads to Tallahassee for the first time with no formal political role in the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF). He declined to run again for RPOF State Chair.

But he hopes to complete some yearslong efforts before the wrap of the 2023 Legislative Session. That includes finally bringing alimony reform across the finish line. A bill he sponsored last year passed in the House and Senate before being vetoed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“We’re bringing it back, and this time with no retroactivity,” said Gruters, citing a concern from the Governor’s Office. “We have got both sides to agree on language, so I think that’s going to pass.”

One area where Gruters is more sympatico with DeSantis is the desire to turn School Board races back into partisan campaigns.

He notably runs an accounting firm with Eric Robinson, a prominent Republican treasurer who was booted off the Sarasota County School Board in a highly partisan election in 2020, as candidates were expressly forbidden from campaigning as members of a party and neither candidate appeared with party affiliation on the ballot.

In a flip scenario, Sarasota voters elected three Republicans to the board in 2022 in a year when DeSantis endorsed favorites for School Board jobs across the state. And DeSantis again has announced School Board members that he wants Republicans to target in 2024, including Sarasota’s Tom Edwards, the candidate who beat Robinson.

All of this shows that regardless of nonpartisan status, campaigns are already party affairs, Gruters said.

The Sarasota Senator, who led the party to victory in 2022 on a law-and-order platform, also is filing an update to Florida’s law enforcement officer bill of rights (SB 1086). The bill limits when officers can be disciplined and ensures a process for appealing such decisions.

But Gruters said his home community, like many in Florida, needs a solution on affordable housing. Approving that package will be a tantamount goal.

“People can’t afford to live here,” Gruters said. “Anybody with employees knows. Everybody renting knows. These rates are being pushed to numbers nobody has ever seen, and it’s driving people further north and south.”

He said workers have to locate farther from their workplace, and argued the problem will worsen, in part because Florida, and Sarasota in particular, has a national reputation as the best place to live, work and play in the country.

That needs to be preserved with some focus on the environment. He has pushed in past years for red tide research, but algal blooms continue to disrupt the community. He’d like investment in restoration.

He also wants to rekindle a longtime local fight and restart plans to reopen Midnight Pass in the Siesta Key area. “I’m working with some of the Sarasota County Commissioners to bring that back,” he said.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


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