Some members of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, who represent Orange County districts, spoke of their legislative priorities for 2024 at a virtual roundtable discussion facilitated by a local news outlet Monday afternoon.
At the online event, Sen. Geraldine Thompson, District 44, and Rep. LaVon Bracy Davis, District 40, discussed legislation on Florida’s property insurance, support for Israel, and education, as well as some of the Caucus’ plans for the next legislative session.
The Legislative Black Caucus is a bipartisan subgroup, composed almost entirely of Democratic members. Members of the Florida Democratic Party are the minority in the Florida Legislature, as of 2022, with the Florida Republican Party holding supermajorities in both chambers. Both Davis and Thompson are Democrats.
The moderator, Norine Dworkin, editor-in-chief of VoxPopuli, an independent, nonprofit news organization based out of Winter Garden, guided the discussion.
Property insurance crisis
Dworkin included some of her own experiences, such as losing her property insurance provider, then dealing with price hikes in new coverage, which she said were nearly double what she was paying before. As private insurers leave the state, and the Florida Legislature holds special sessions to address property insurance woes, Dworkin asked about legislative measures for retaining these companies, luring them back in, or controlling insurance premiums.
Davis said that while legislators make law, they are not immune to it, citing her own home insurance issues, her rates also doubling, and navigating these as a working-class family. She said this is a priority for the Black Caucus and that the biggest issue with property insurance in Florida is the bailing out of companies without holding them accountable.
“There was one company that we bailed out in (a) special session that’s no longer even here,” Davis said. “(The House) proposed an amendment that if we are going to bailout these insurance companies they have to give us a guarantee that they are going to stay in the state of Florida, and if not then they have to pay us the money back. Now, that amendment didn’t fly, it didn’t pass, but that would’ve been a really good amendment with some accountability and some teeth into it.”
Davis said Rep. Jervonte Edmonds, District 88, filed a bill, House Bill 41, proposing a program for Florida homeowners to apply for grant money to help with insurance costs. She said that the bill would not fix the property insurance problem, it would at least help to relieve people from its impact.
“Granted, this money would go directly to your insurance company, so it wouldn’t put money in your pocket but it would help offset,” Davis said. “I would be 100% supportive of this because we need two things to happen at the same time — we need long term solutions but also short term solutions.”
Education and social issues
Another item to be challenged during next year’s legislative session will be the current school district rules regarding the teaching of race and history in classrooms.
According to Florida law, teachers cannot discuss race or history in the classroom in a way that makes students feel “discomfort” or “psychological distress.” Thompson said she encourages Black parents and students to contest the laws based on their own discomfort with their lack of representation and inclusion in the curriculum.
“I would like to emphasize that African American parents and their children are covered under the law to file litigation saying that they have felt emotional distress based on the law in the state of Florida,” Thompson said. “(The law) doesn’t say ‘white students,’ but if you read between the lines, who are the students, then, that you don’t want to make uncomfortable? Are African American students not already uncomfortable because they cannot get an accurate reflection of their history in this country?”
Thompson said she and Davis are also prioritizing laws regarding vehicular pediatric heat strokes, to fight preventable injuries and deaths of infants and children from being left alone in hot cars. The bill includes a proposal for a compulsory sensor that would alert the driver, as well as an education campaign to be run by the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. The Caucus will also be presenting legislation to make crosswalks safer for pedestrians.
Davis said she will be proposing legislation to support the returning citizens community, people who have completed prison or jail sentences and are reintegrating themselves into their communities, particularly for acquiring housing, SNAP benefits, and rejoining the workforce.
On Florida’s support of Israel, Dworkin asked about the House’s vote against a ceasefire resolution during a special session earlier this month, which had the overwhelming bipartisan support of 104 votes against the ceasefire, and only two yes votes.
Davis, who voted against, said resolutions involve no legal actions but would serve only as gestures of support, and that while these issues are important to Americans, they do not fall under the jurisdiction of the Florida Legislature. She also said the approach could have been more nuanced.
“As legislators, quite honestly, we don’t deal with foreign policy, and that’s per the Florida Constitution. It’s important to clarify that this (resolution) wasn’t a legislative bill, and I don’t know that the role of state representatives or senators, for that matter, is to call for a ceasefire because that’s not something we could do,” Davis said. “In my opinion, it could have gone further,” Davis said. “It needed more of a balanced approach, it could have been a little more comprehensive in addressing the complexities and atrocities committed by both parties involved in the conflict.”
Thompson said that special session was seen widely as a publicity stunt, but the Senate took the opportunity to pass a bill, House Bill 7-C, allowing $45 million in grants to increase security for Jewish day schools and any other educational institutions threatened by hate crimes or violence.
“The special session, in the minds of a lot of people, was political theater. That we were called into session to deal with things that state governments, state legislators have no authority to do, and this was all part of helping the governor to look presidential,” Thompson said. “A lot of people who went to the special session felt that we were there just spinning our wheels, but I’m glad that out of the session we did allocate money for institutions, for day schools or synagogues, etcetera.”
Davis said the special session missed an opportunity to address issues that affect Floridians.
“Right now, the concern of District 40, when I talk with a lot of my constituents, is their day-to-day — it’s having lack of resources, and not enough money, and how their property is going up, and their rent is going up, and their car insurance is going up, and their utilities,” Davis said. “I want to make sure that we are not remiss, and while our hearts go out to what’s happening in the Middle East, we are not remiss and dismissive of not focusing on Florida.”
The 2024 legislative session will begin January 9. A video of the full roundtable discussion can be found on the VoxPopuli website.
Lillian Hernández Caraballo is a Report for America corps member.
Based in New York, Stephen Freeman is a Senior Editor at Trending Insurance News. Previously he has worked for Forbes and The Huffington Post. Steven is a graduate of Risk Management at the University of New York.