The search for answers is on

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Save Siesta Key begins process of trying to find out what happened to its incorporation bill in Tallahassee

By John Morton

The Friday before Memorial Day, the Save Siesta Key Board of Directors gave these marching orders to its two lobbying groups: Go find out what happened to House Bill 923 – the measure calling for the incorporation of the island that died mysteriously at the state capitol.
“The residents of Siesta Key deserve answers,” Tim Hensey, chairman of Save Siesta Key, said. “These people helped us raise $265,000 and delivered an 87% approval for incorporation in a straw vote. The community has come through and, again, all it wants is the right to vote on this.”
The lobbyists will be interviewing both members of the legislature and those close to the scene, Hensey said. Their findings could play a role in whether the incorporation group applies again by Sept. 1 for a third shot at its endeavor, Hensey added, but he noted that the makeup of the legislature in January of next year (when it next meets) would be mostly the same, which could prove daunting. Elections and/or term limits don’t come into play until next fall.
Still, the search is on for an explanation.
“That’s all we want,” Hensey said. “We have no idea what happened.”
The incorporation bill stalled during the recent meeting of the Florida Legislature in the hands of the second committee to which it was assigned, not even making the agenda of the Ways & Means Committee during a span of the final five weeks of the session.

And not once were Save Siesta Key representatives given any type of communication or progress report.
That perceived snub came on the heels of a March 29 favorable vote by a 17-0 count by the Local Administration, Federal Affairs, & Special Districts Subcommittee. The bill appeared to have momentum with the Ways & Means Committee up next.
State Rep. James Buchanan, who is chairman of the Sarasota County Legislative Delegation, serves as vice-chairman of the Ways & Means Committee. Twice locally he voted against the bill reaching Tallahassee – in January of 2022 when a 3-3 tie halted the process, and again this January as the only no vote in a 3-1 win for Save Siesta Key.
It was Buchanan who suggested the incorporation group conduct the straw vote, which took place in December of 2022 among registered voters residing on Siesta Key and saw a 42% response rate. It cost Save Siesta Key in excess of $40,000.

Answers hard to come by
The Siesta Sand asked Buchanan if he played any role in keeping the bill off the Ways & Means agenda. He did not directly answer the question, but did say: “It wasn’t a secret I was not in favor of it, because I am not in favor of more government and the higher taxes that come with it. I opposed the bill in the legislature and my position is unchanged. I am, and will continue to be, against adding layers of government to the lives of Floridians.”
In a follow-up question, the Siesta Sand asked Buchanan exactly how he opposed the bill in the legislature, seeing as there was no committee vote. He did not respond.
A similar question to state Rep. Stan McClain, chairman of the Ways & Committee, about his role in the process was also not answered.
So, how does the committee process work and how could a bill be swept aside without even a vote? Andres Malave, communications director with the Florida House of Representatives, said such matters are up to the discretion of each committee.
“It’s a methodical process,” he said, but noted that no internal votes are required when avoiding a bill, and no documentation is required. Further, any decision does not necessarily have to come from the chairman and specific name or names do not need to be attached to it.
State Rep. Fiona McFarland, who sponsored the measure, has said that the massive number of bills presented this year left many unaddressed as time got away from lawmakers. Indeed, more than 1,600 bills were pitched by the House and Senate combined, with only 356 reaching Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk for final approval.
However, a closer look at the particular situation with the Ways & Means Committee may cast doubt, as far as House Bill 923 is concerned, on the relevance of that overview. Malave reports that 66 bills were referred to the committee, with 62 receiving a favorable vote. That means only four bills were either voted down or ignored, possibly eliminating the notion that a time crunch played a role in the Siesta Key bill not reaching the agenda.
Malave wasn’t certain if any other bills failed to reach the committee’s agenda.
Not that the path would have likely been easy had the bill received consideration. Of those 62 bills that got a green light from the Ways & Means Committee, only eight passed through both the House and Senate.

Views from those at the capitol
Meanwhile, McFarland and state Sen. Joe Gruters, also a member of the Sarasota County Legislative Delegation and a proponent for incorporation, addressed the Siesta Key matter at the June 15 meeting of the Sarasota Tiger Bay Club, where local political issues are discussed.
“I will keep trying,” said McFarland, assuming Save Siesta Key wants to make another attempt come September. “Siesta Key and child care will be my priorities in the new session.
“One of the reasons the Siesta Key legislation didn’t pass was the opposition to adding another layer of government.”
Gruters agreed. “We’re seeing a reduction in the return of rule to to local governments,” he said.
He was also skeptical of the potential for any progress in 2024.
“Save Siesta Key did a great job, but I think we’ll have a better chance in two years,” Gruters said. “There’s a change in leadership every two years.”

John Morton
Author: John Morton

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