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Sen. Rodriguez talks state legislature business

Voting rights, vacation rentals, protests and Baker Act among most discussed items

By Nathan Mayberg - Editor | Apr 9, 2021

State Senator Ray Rodrigues (R-Estero)

State Senator Ray Rodrigues (R-Estero), in his first term representing Fort Myers Beach and most of Lee County following the completion of his tenure in the State House of Representatives due to term limits, has been highly active during a busy legislative session.

Sitting on nine committees, Rodrigues spoke with the Fort Myers Beach Observer this past week about legislation items which have been receiving attention.

With a month to go in the legislative session, a number of bills that have been talked about will ultimately not be signed as they need more work or lack support, Rodrigues said.

The following is a list of some important legislation and how Rodrigues has interpreted them or believes they are heading:

Vacation rental law: A bill that would give more power to the state in regulating vacation rentals while limiting local control has stalled in the State House after being “significantly altered,” Rodrigues said.

Vacation rentals are big business on Fort Myers Beach, with more than 1,700 properties in town considered short-term vacation rentals. Many of the homes that were once single-family properties are now controlled by companies that own dozens or in some cases hundreds of short-term rentals which are sold for weekends or weeks at a time. Owners of short-term vacation rentals are required to notify the town when the properties are booked.

“I think the bill is going to have a hard time,” Rodrigues said. “The two chambers aren’t on the same page.”

The Town of Fort Myers Beach Council passed a resolution Monday objecting to bills in the state legislature which would preempt the regulation of short-term rentals to the state.

Mayor Ray Murphy said “I am opposed to anything that erodes home rule.”

Elections

With the uproar and controversy over a law passed in Georgia which curtailed a number of voting rights while expanding the authority of the state over local election officials and the secretary of state, the Florida Legislature has been considering a number of changes of its own on elections.

Just as was passed in Georgia, Florida legislators are considering adding a provision which would ban the handing out of food and water to people waiting in line to vote. These limits have been labeled as an attack on minority communities in Georgia which have traditionally seen long lines due to a lack of polling places in urban center.

Rodrigues said his main concern with the voting legislation is to make sure that the drop boxes are manned and secured. He said some counties had cameras at the drop boxes instead of staff being placed at the drop boxes.

The voting laws currently being considered by the State Senate and State House would require voters to request vote-by-mail ballots each election cycle. Requests would need to contain a driver’s license number, Florida identification number or the last four digits of a social security number.

Each request for a vote-by-mail ballot would need to be checked to make sure the signatures match. Requests for mail-in-ballots and the signature on votes would be checked against the most recent signature.

Lee County Supervisor of Elections Tommy Doyle said he objected to the requirement of checking the most recent voting signature as people do not always sign their name the same way twice. He would like to be able to check against all signatures the county has on file from a voter from elections to driver’s license applications and other official documents. He believes the signature requirements in the proposed law will be changed.

“People don’t sign the same way every time,” he said.

Doyle also objected to the provision that would require the recording of digital images of signatures to be available for inspection, which he thinks would subject voters to a loss of privacy by making the signature records public.

Doyle is concerned that the added regulations on how many ballots can be dropped off at drop boxes will “slow down the process” of voting. “I think they are trying to eliminate ballot harvesting” where people collect multiple ballots of voters and deliver them to drop boxes.

In the 2020 presidential election, Doyle said Lee County did not have a single case of fraud.

Doyle said he believes the laws is being changed and several controversial measures will be taken out.

Protesting

The State House of Representatives voted to pass a bill urged by Gov. Ron DeSantis to institute criminal penalties on those who attend protests which turn violent.

Democrats and the American Civil Liberties Union had opposed the bill over what they said was the silencing and criminalization of free speech by criminalizing those who aren’t part of any violence that may occur.

Rodrigues said the bill is “not moving at all on the (Senate) side of the aisle.”

The committee to which the legislation was referred to hasn’t moved on it, Rodrigues said.

“Time is running out on that bill.”

Baker Act

The controversial Baker Act, which is used to conduct involuntary exams on more than 200,000 Floridians each year if there is suspicion of self harm or a danger of harm to others, could be changed in this session.

Rodrigues said he objected to the Baker Act being used against children. In the 2018-19 fiscal year, there were more than 37,000 involuntary exams of children through the Baker Act and the figures have been climbing each year.

“We’ve seen schools across the state Baker Acting children which is not the intent of the law. I think it’s not good for the children,” Rodrigues said.

Rodrigues wants to take away the power of schools to use the Baker Act to have children involuntarily committed to facilities to under psychological exams in handcuffs to facilities without parental notification. “They don’t notify the parents and they don’t get to see their parents for three days,” Rodrigues said.

“We’re seeing it so often in schools across the state,” Rodrigues said. “It’s a very traumatic experience.”

State Rep. Adam Botana (R-Botana Springs), whose district includes Fort Myers Beach, did not return messages seeking comment.