Eagle, Benacquisto address Republican Club
State Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto said the two-month legislative session felt more like a year and a half, but it was worth it with all they accomplished.
That is what she and State Rep. Dane Eagle told their Republican supporters during the monthly Republican Club meeting Tuesday at Duffy’s as they reviewed the happenings in Tallahassee and heard from their constituents on issues that concerned them.
Little, if anything, was said about the controversy surrounding the presidential race, as much of the focus was kept on local and state issues.
Benacquisto said they were able to balance the budget, put $3 billion in reserves cut taxes by $500 million, and doing things the GOP usually does, which is watch where money is being spent, while helping those who need assistance.
Benacquisto said one piece of legislation that got her attention was the crisis involving more than 13,000 rape kits in Florida that had not been examined. She got a bill passed that would have such evidence be submitted to law enforcement within 30 days, and would have to be tested within 120 days.
“Some of these kits have been sitting on the shelves for years,” Benacquisto said. “Imagine how it feels to be victimized and know there could be a serial offender among us, but the evidence was untested.”
She also passed bills making life insurance companies find beneficiaries of those who have passed and a bill not forcing members of the clergy to perform ceremonies that are against their religious beliefs.
With only two months to get things done, not everything gets passed. Eagle’s campus open carry gun bill did not get through in time, nor did a bill that would have made the SAT or ACT tests a substitute for the Florida State Standards Test.
But Eagle said if nothing else gets done, as long as they passed a balanced budget, the state legislature did its job.
“We have an $82 billion budget coming from a growing state, the fastest growing in the nation when it comes to jobs and population. We’re lowering taxes and our tax base has increased. More people are spending money and more sales taxes are coming in. We ask how to be responsible for that,” Eagle said.
Eagle added the state will spend $200 million in environmental restoration efforts through Amendment 1 legislation, which includes money spent on Lake Okeechobee, the overflow into the Caloosahatchee River and the resulting pollution into the Gulf.
“This year, $40 million will go toward the construction of the C-43 reservoir, which is one piece of the puzzle to solve our water issues. We will get the attention and infrastructure improvements we need,” Benacquisto said. “We got 2,418 acres in the Lake Hikuchee project and $16 million to purchase that land, and allocated $7 million to buy 912 acres at the Picayune strand. We came home with a serious investment in environmental spending.”
People also asked about education, especially Common Core and the ability for states to make those decisions, Alzheimer’s legislation, minimum wage, medical marijuana legislation which Eagle supported and Benacquisto voted against, and drinking water quality.
What wasn’t discussed was the controversy regarding the presidential race between Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich, though when an informal poll was taken, the crowd was split between Cruz and Trump.
As for moving forward, those there said they would support whichever candidate comes out with the nomination.
“It was good that they explained projects they brought home. It was a give-and-take situation and the governor is doing a great job,” said Gloria Tate. “The election is early in the game for this club. This concerned local politics.”
“I’m encouraged what they were able to accomplish. They worked with us to try to get funding. That didn’t happen in the end, but that’s OK. There’s next year,” said Cape Coral Councilmember Rana Erbrick.
For young Republicans, such as Lindsay Rider, vice president of the College Republicans at FGCU, the meeting was an education.
“It was good to be here because I didn’t know much about what they were working on,” Rider said. “It was very informative and I learned a lot. My group would love to hear what I heard.”