Surfside condo collapse, gun safety: Issues for Florida legislature

OPINION AND COMMENT

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A student trains for state-mandated Florida standards assessments, which Governor DeSantis wants to end.

Miami Herald

Florida’s 2022 legislative session has been defined by emotionally charged cultural issues that Governor DeSantis is advancing ahead of his re-election bid and rumors of presidential aspirations: banning critical race theory, removing ” unauthorized aliens” of the state and electoral fraud.

But these made-up crises have little, if any, impact on the lives of Floridians. To DeSantis’ credit, he offered solutions to real problems, but they’re often overshadowed by his inflammatory rhetoric on topics like teaching racism in public schools.

The 60-day legislative session began on Tuesday and the Herald’s editorial board identified five issues lawmakers need to address. We doubt they have the political will to work on all of them, but we’re on the same page as DeSantis and Republican leaders on at least some.

affordable housing

Florida has seen the highest rent increases in the nation, up 29% since the start of December last year Loan Tree Report find. Miami has become the fifth most expensive city in the country with a median rent of $2,280, according to Zumper’s 2021 Annual Rent Report. In Hialeah, residents of an apartment building face a monthly rent increase of up to $650.

Buying a home is just as difficult if you don’t have the money to compete with out-of-state buyers. Miami-Dade County has set a historic median sale price for single-family homes — $515,000 in May.

Given these huge numbers, you’d expect lawmakers to make affordable housing a priority in 2022, but there’s no comprehensive plan offered to address the issue — at least not yet.

The Herald’s editorial board and housing advocates have for years advocated for lawmakers to fully fund Florida’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which helps residents make down payments and funds housing construction. rentals, among other projects. Instead, lawmakers last year robbed Peter to pay Paul by splitting that money with projects to combat sea level rise and improve stormwater systems, challenges important who themselves deserve full funding without begging for affordable housing.

DeSantis is proposing to spend the biggest amount in more than a decade on existing affordable housing projects. It’s a good start, but, as the Herald reported, experts say these projects favor future homeowners over tenants. A Republican bill to give local governments more control over how that money is spent and to transfer more dollars to housing assistance needs to be heard.

School test reform

DeSantis is right on target with his vision to reduce high-stakes testing in Florida schools. Teachers and parents have been saying for years that standardized tests are ineffective at measuring student achievement and force teachers to teach for an exam.

The question is whether students will be better off once lawmakers find a replacement for Florida’s standards assessment.

DeSantis promised to cut testing by 75%, but a bill introduced by Hialeah Sen. Manny Diaz Jr. is actually increasing testing, the Herald reported Wednesday.

The legislation is still a work in progress, as Diaz told the Herald, and contains some good ideas, such as creating a computer-based “progress tracker” tool that would come out in the fall, winter and spring to give students and parents real-time information on their progress.

Lawmakers have time to get it right before the session ends in March — and they’re doing better.

Surfing side

After the collapse of the Champlain South Towers killed 98 people in June, we expected condo and building inspection reform to be the theme for the 2022 session. But so far we have seen no sense of urgency from the legislature. Contrast that with three groups — a Miami-Dade grand jury and task forces from the Florida Bar and state engineering associations — that met shortly after the disaster to offer recommendations to elected officials.

There are additional bills, such as three filed by Miami-Dade GOP Senator Ana Maria Rodriguez regarding the creation of a statewide online condo database, condominium fraud and training of condominium board members.

Lawmakers have been reluctant to toughen regulations for fear of making condo living, often touted as affordable living, too expensive. At the same time, the ability of condo associations under Florida law to waive maintenance reserves allows them to defer repairs to the point that they become too costly (residents of Champlain have faced a maintenance estimate of $15 million). Experts have advised lawmakers to seek to make it harder for them to give up reserves and create a mechanism to help residents fund repairs with low-interest loans. It’s a good starting point.

These three groups have already done the leg work for the Florida legislature. All we need is the political will to translate their recommendations into law.

Gun Safety

Accidental shooting deaths among children have jumped 31% since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic compared to a year earlier, according to a study by the rights group Everytown for gun safety.

Asking a Conservative legislature to pass gun control measures would be an exercise in futility, but gun safety should be common sense to even the strongest supporters of the Second Amendment.

For four years, Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, introduced a bill to toughen requirements for secure gun storage. She also introduced legislation to close a loophole in Florida law by requiring background checks on ammunition purchases and banning “ghost weapons”, unfinished frames that cannot be found and can be turned into working firearms with kits purchased online.

It’s hard to argue that these measures would violate anyone’s right to own a firearm, but his bills have not gone through a hearing. That’s a shame.

The teacher raises

Finally, an issue that both Democrats and Republicans support: DeSantis is asking for $600 million to maintain his goal of raising teachers’ starting salaries to $47,500 a year. He also wants to give $1,000 bonuses to teachers and principals as well as first responders and law enforcement officers.

The plan has its flaws, but we’ll call it a step in the right direction. Raising the minimum teacher salary does not help veteran teachers; bonuses are non-recurring and do not count toward employee retirement. Lawmakers must then focus on experienced teachers, who need to be incentivized to stay in classrooms, as well as school staff – like guidance counselors and bus drivers – who are excluded from the program. state bonuses.

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