Since Florida is having special legislative session, let’s do it right

The following editorial was published in The Daily Sun on April 3, 2022.

OUR POSITION: Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Legislature are planning a special session this month to settle differences on congressional voting districts, but they’re apparently unwilling to expand the agenda to take on other important business.

We’re going into overtime.

In a rare show of disagreement, Gov. DeSantis and the Republican-dominated Legislature could not see eye to eye on where Florida’s congressional district lines should be drawn. It’s been a long, drawn-out fight between the governor and his colleagues and it would not surprise us if, even after the special session, the courts might have the final word.

DeSantis made no bones about his intentions to veto the Legislature’s congressional maps long after he presented them with his own version of where lines should be drawn. And, he did. Tuesday, he called a special session for lawmakers to return to Tallahassee April 19-22 to work out a compromise the governor likes.

We think, as long as the team is getting back together, they need to go ahead and deal with a couple of issues they failed to address in the regular session.

The biggest elephant in the room would be property insurance rates. But, Friday, House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, put a damper on that idea when he said more time needs to be given to allow property-insurance changes made during the 2021 session to work.

“If you’re talking about the special session, the proclamation is for redistricting,” Sprowls said when asked about the issue.

“We passed one of the most expansive reforms to the insurance industry that’s ever been done in Florida,” Sprowls said, referring to the 2021 legislation. “One thing that happens, we talk about this all the time, is that it takes 18 months to see those (changes) reflected in the rates. We’re about six months out from that.”

Judging by the impact of the 2021 changes so far, we see little evidence another six months will make a difference.

Property insurance woes were, or should have been, high on lawmakers’ list again this year. Too many companies are fleeing Florida and leaving homeowners with few options and policy premiums that are going through the roof — sometimes literally as lawyers and roofing companies are making it easier to get a new roof at insurance companies’ expense.

Citizens Insurance, the supposed insurer of last resort in Florida, is being overwhelmed with new policy applications.

Another topic that should be ripe for this month’s special session would be a bill to increase requirements for inspections on condominium buildings after the horrible collapse of the Champlain Tower South in Surfside last year killed 98 people. A bill, which never made it to the floor this year, would have required inspections and financial reserves to make needed repairs to boost the safety of condos.

It appears, however, the Legislature will have its hands full just to get new maps drawn up, and that’s a shame.

Lawmakers knew the maps had to be completed and they had every opportunity, even before the 2021 session began, to get the job done.

The stalemate and the veto by DeSantis centers around redrawing District 5. The governor says the Legislature’s maps will violate the Equal Protection Clause by assigning voters on the basis of race. The district, which stretches from Jacksonville to west of Tallahassee, was designed by lawmakers to elect a Black candidate. Democrat Al Lawson, who is Black, holds the seat now.

Lawson has charged that DeSantis has a goal of cutting the number of Black and Hispanic-Americans serving in Congress. He said the argument used by DeSantis to favor a map the governor has drawn up will never be approved by a judge.

The Fair District constitutional amendment that Florida voters passed in 2010 to prevent gerrymandering should have taken care of the disagreement. But the governor argues the way legislators have interpreted that amendment does not comply with the U.S. Constitution.

The party begins April 19, minus two important guests — property insurance reform and laws requiring better oversight over the safety of condo buildings in Florida.

 Image Credits: Sun Coast Media Group