The Greater Plant City Chamber of Commerce’s annual Capitol Coffee event proved once again that intimate sessions with elected leaders help constituents better grasp how the mind of a politician works.
City constituents had a chance to check in with their elected officials Wednesday morning at the Greater Plant City Chamber of Commerce’s second annual Capitol Coffee event.
The scent of hot coffee floated through the air as the community gathered to mingle with four politicians early Wednesday morning. Representative Adam Hattersley (D), House District 59, Representative Lawrence McClure (R), House District 58, Representative Mike Beltran (R), House District 57 and Senator Tom Lee (R), Senate District 20 all chatted with the mingling guests over a cup of joe and fresh muffins.
For half an hour hands were shaken and topics voters held near and dear to their hearts were discussed in the lobby of the Trinkle Center before the doors opened and everyone headed into the main auditorium to take their seats.
Mayor Rick Lott welcomed the officials and listed off many of the things they have done for the town, including helping to secure the new court house, funding for McIntosh Park and aiding in getting funding returned to the historic Bing Rooming House Museum. Without cooperation there is no progress and Lott said he was looking forward to hearing them discuss several key issues the state was currently facing and promised they would all continue to hear from Plant City as help was needed.
“This is probably one of the most aggressive and progressive sessions we’ve had in Tallahassee in a long time,” Lott said. “I think that you’ve moved Florida forward in literally all areas, whether its water, conservation, the economy and all particular areas. All I hear is people from both sides of the aisle proud to see how everyone is working together and coming up with a bill that supports Florida and I think that makes this a better state.”
Rather than follow in the traditional footsteps of similar forums where politicians spend more than half of their time at the mic explaining who they are, the Chamber had former State Representative Rich Glorioso, emcee of the event, ask the officials to introduce themselves and then share their favorite bills that passed last year and which bills they want to revisit next session that may have failed.
Beltran said he was very successful this session and had nearly every single one of his bills passed. The one he cherished the most was spurred into action after a high school student named Emily Olson, enrolled at Newsome High, wore her military uniform to her graduation and was promptly sent home for failing to abide by dress code. Lee was the sponsor of that bill and Beltran sponsored the House version.
He plans to return soon with a bill regarding getting more school buses for children that are currently walking to school. He mentioned the hordes of children he passed on SR 39 when he was on his way to the event that morning and said it was crucial they keep them safe by having more buses available.
Hattersley, the only democrat in the room, said he was most proud of working on a bill to fight for first responders to have better access to care for job related cancers that come after fighting flames filled with burning chemicals and other harmful materials.
He plans to continue to fight for expanding 211 community care, especially targeting expanding help for veterans and working on improving services for veteran’s mental health.
Lee was proud of his work with a variety of projects, including working to find a compromise on re-regulating continued care retirement. He discussed the “glitch” with Amendment 4 and the work they’ve had to pour into it to ensure the changes didn’t leave loopholes in the legislation. He also was proud of the Attorney General Ashley Moody’s success in getting access to information crucial to her fight against the opioid epidemic via the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program.
“It’s a team sport in the legislature, or at least it is when it works right,” Lee said.
McClure was reelected last year and said the change has gone from drinking from a water main to a fire hose. c
He’s served on several committees he’s proud of this year and was most pleased with his ability to get funding for local agriculture programs like 4-H and IFAS. He joked he will be fighting to keep Florida strawberries ahead against imports for as long as constituents continue to send him to Tallahassee.
The most controversial topic, Senate Bill 7030, was discussed by every politician due to a 50-50 split on stage from their votes. The bill tackled safety in schools and discussed “requiring sheriffs to establish a school guardian program or contract with another sheriff’s office that has established a program under a certain condition.”
The law basically asked the question, “should we arm teachers?” Lee explained this year’s version of the bill was really the second edition and the real vote happened last session. This vote clarified who could be considered a volunteer for the program.
Lee voted for this year’s edition, but said he felt like it wasn’t doing much. Beltran partially agreed, echoing that the true meat of the issue had been addressed in the last session before he was elected. To him, arming teachers seemed dangerous and he wanted to see more of a track record proving it was helpful before he threw his support behind it. In Beltran’s mind, the question should instead have been, “how much do we need to fund having trained Sheriffs Deputies at every school?” He said he didn’t want to see any kids get killed and was willing to get the funding to pay for the official protection. Outside of the capitol he failed to see anyone, including his constituents, who thought the bill was good idea so he chose to not support it.
McClure leaned on his local roots and said in rural communities, more people were properly trained on how to use and operate a gun, so the issue was Tallahassee had to write one bill that would fit every community in Florida. He supported it, but admitted it was a difficult thing to put on paper. Hattersley voted in opposition of the bill. He explained he was the only person on the stage that had been in combat and carried two guns with him while on tour for a year in Iraq. He said his team was personally targeted by a terrorist group and he’s seen what firearms can do. Even with tens of thousands of highly trained military personnel, they still had a negligent discharge around once a week.
“I wanted to do my part to try and keep those firearms out of untrained hands around children,” Hattersley said. “When in a gunfight, confusion, adrenaline and fear rule beyond everything and without any experience you will shoot anything that moves and I don’t want that risk of having more casualties among children than possible. At Parkland, we already had the highest-trained school resource officer in the state and he failed at his task. Do you really think your 74-year-old English teacher that’s touched a firearm once is going to do any better?”
The candidates then answered questions from the public about what they planned to do with the rest of their term and to explain why they made certain choices they did. They closed by discussing what had surprised them the most over the course of their term in politics and what they had learned about the institution in general.