According to Ben Albritton, who was this month’s guest speaker at the July 15 Tiger Bay of Polk County gathering, the legislature this year did not do very much, which he said was a good thing.
“There were very few bills passed,” said Albritton, R-Wauchula, who is a member of the Florida House of Representatives and represents the 56th District, which includes DeSoto County, Hardee County, and southwestern Polk County. “But those that did were meaningful.”
He added that among those bills were ones that make Florida the most welcoming state to military veterans, as well as protective of children. Of the latter, there now is a 50-year minimum prison sentence for anyone convicted of child molestation.
Attention was also directed toward procurement reform, which Albritton said was about how taxpayer money is spent; agriculture; and a normalcy bill for youths in the Guardian ad Litem and foster care systems.
His concern for youth was most important, he said. The children in the Guardian ad Litem and foster care systems need things of a positive nature in their lives. Many of them, he said, come from very difficult situations and he pointed to a piece of legislation passed, “The Keys to Independence” bill.
That bill allows teens who are of driving age that ability. He asked for a guess how many teens in the system have a driver’s license. The consensus was zero percent.
“Three percent of kids of those in the foster system who are eligible have a driver’s license,” Albritton said. The “Keys” bill created an $800,000 fund that reimburses foster parents who cover the insurance costs of teens in their care that then allows them to legally operate a vehicle. This, he said, helps teens in many ways, such as allowing them to get a job.
Albritton recounted what it was like for him the day he earned his driver’s license. He was so excited that he insisted on taking the driving test the morning before school that day. He recounted how proud he felt when he drove his 1981 Ford Bronco onto the school parking lot after passing his test and related it to his audience the impact it has for teens in the system.
“We’re doing everything in our power for these kids to have a wonderful life,” he said. “They have enough problems as it is.”
During the question and answer session, Albritton was asked about matters such as the recent judge ruling regarding districting. Albritton admitted he questioned the judge’s reasoning and decision.
“I feel like the legislature did a good job of reconstituting,” he said. “You have laws and rules you have to follow when drawing maps.”
When it came to red light cameras, he left no doubt where he stood on the matter.
“Personally, I don’t like red light cameras. I think they’re an invasion of privacy,” he said. “I voted to repeal.”
Albritton’s response to what he believed will be the most pressing issue facing Florida the next 10 years was summed up in a single word before he elaborated upon that answer.
“Water,” he said.
The state has to do a better job and that included funding the rescue of its springs. He added his belief that with a new speaker installed that water will be among the top 3 agenda items. At a later part in the question and answer session, when asked what solutions would he propose, his reply was to get “People in the room who are smarter than you.” That means getting the right people with the right perspective and the right knowledge and communicate.
Also of great concern was the citrus industry, particularly citrus greening and the impact of the industry in Florida. Ten years ago 252 million boxes of fruit were boxed. Last year that number fell to 100 million. As a result, it meant loss of jobs and infrastructure. He said that was a major concern as citrus is one of the top three economic indicators in Florida.
“It’s going to be a very dark place in Florida if this industry leaves,” Albritton said. This is of particular concern in Polk County, which is the number one county in Florida for production.
In closing, Albritton said he want Florida to lead the nation, that others should compare themselves to Florida, not the other way around. To do this, Florida has to have a healthy economy, and that is determined by purchasing. To prompt that, the legislature has to come up with reasonable reductions that will free up capital and free up companies. That is how to build competition.
“This has to be the place in the country to do business,” said Albritton.