Paul Renner reflects on successes of 2019 Legislative Session

by A.G. Gancarski
Special to Historic City News

House Member Paul Renner, a Palm Coast Republican on track to serve as Speaker of the Florida House in 2022, currently helms the House Judiciary Committee.  On Monday of last week, with the Legislative Session in the rearview mirror, Renner talked about its aftermath and what’s next.

Renner noted that, in terms of Judiciary priorities, the budget passed Saturday included statewide “data transparency” via HB 7109, the Criminal Justice Data Transparency bill.

“We are the first in the nation,” Renner said, looking at sentencing in “every circuit.”

Paul Renner, FL House of Representatives District 24

For Renner, a proponent of the “rule of law,” that is key to ensuring the integrity of the system, especially considering potential over-sentencing and racial disparities that Florida and other states have attempted to remedy in the carceral process.

Another key to the health of the overall system pointed out by Renner: pay raises for public defenders and employees of the various State Attorney’s offices around the state. This was a priority of the Florida Bar, and it was an important sell to the Legislature given attrition challenges created by low pay.

Another key criminal justice measure taken up by the Legislature was somewhat more controversial: Amendment 4 implementation.  Though advocates said that the amendment, restoring suffrage to reformed felons, was self-implementing, that was not the legislative view.

Renner asserted that the implementation bill “hit the mark” and “struck the right balance,” adding that the amendment itself contemplated full restoration, including the payment of fines and fees, before voting rights restoration.

“Bluster about poll taxes,” Renner said, missed the point, as the Legislature was as “generous as we could be.”  However, the read was that “completion of the sentence”, including paying monetary penalties, unless specifically waived by a judge.  Renner envisioned a more “full restoration” eventually being possible, including potential jury service and even candidacies for office.

Some of course asserted that the Legislature had no role in Amendment 4 implementation, part of a larger argument that suggests that because maps favor Republicans as they do, amendments are the sole recourse available to impose the popular will.

“Win more elections,” Renner advised. “There are elections every two years. Voters have spoken, are speaking.”

Renner noted that at least one batch of maps (that of the 2016 Congressional reapportionment) were “drawn by the League of Women Voters and a very Democrat-friendly Supreme Court.

Beyond criminal justice, environmental spending, including on “water quality,” was something Renner described as having been “attended to with urgency.”

Indeed, there were a lot of wins there: money for septic to sewer conversions, red tide research, springs protection, and water projects such as the EAA Southern Reservoir and storage and treatment north of Lake Okeechobee.

Renner noted that a “change in Governors” helped to make these moves a reality, another indication of the philosophical shift as the Rick Scott era recedes into history.

In a previous interview, Renner lauded the Ron DeSantis administration’s straightforwardness during negotiations with the Legislature this session.

Now that it’s all over but the member project vetoes, Renner still sees it that way, describing the 2019 Legislative Session as the “most successful” since he’s been in Tallahassee.

Also successful: Renner’s fundraising ahead of Session. He raised more than $854K between the November election and the March start of Session per a Tampa Bay Times analysis — more than any other House member.

Renner takes a practical approach, saying, “When we can explain our side, we win”.  “I raise money so we can continue down this path,” Renner said. “More freedom, not more government solutions. Low tax, low regulation, smart policies.”

From a Northeast Florida base initially, Renner notes the “vast needs and vast diversity” of the state. �

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