State lawmakers came away from a recent meeting with Gov. Rick Scott without being able to announce any agreement on initiatives to improve the lives of black Floridians.
“We are at a time when African Americans are facing staggering unemployment and our black men who have been incarcerated are often being released with few options for gainful employment once released. It is safe to say that our communities are in crisis,” the Florida Conference of Black State Legislators said in a statement following the Nov. 1 meeting.
A key agenda item was judicial appointments. The caucus said it wanted Scott to make “judicial and other appointments representative of the entire state and not just those that look and think like him.”
The Associated Press reported after the meeting that Scott said he won’t appoint judges who think differently from him to achieve diversity. Since January, there have been just two blacks among his 36 appointments to Florida’s courts.
Scott put some of the blame on the state’s judicial nominating panels, saying the 158 names the group gave him included eight blacks, 20 Hispanics and two Asians.
He also said that he was not going to appoint judges unless they shared his viewpoint that it was not their job to pass laws.
But Scott told the more than 20 black members of the Legislature who met with him that he was willing to reconsider a controversial move he supported in the spring to restrict the
voting rights of former felons who had finished their sentences.
“I’m not stuck with one way of doing things,” Scott said. “If there’s a better way of doing it I’ll look at it.”
Topics discussed in-cluded Historically Black Colleges and Universities, public education, restoration of civil rights, the Florida Parole Commission, closing the gap on
health disparities, judicial and gubernatorial appointments, the Black Business Investment Board, the Office of Supplier Diversity, State Small Business Credit Initiative, and the Cultural Trail Preservation Network.
State Rep. Dwight Bullard of Miami set out priorities for the state’s education system, including restoration and increased funding for K-20 public institutions, maintaining Florida Resident Access Grant funding at Independent Colleges and Universities
of Florida schools, maintaining postsecondary tenure, developing proviso language to ensure struggling and formerly struggling schools to improve without fear of closure, and maintaining compliance with the state constitution in regards to maintaining high-quality public education.
“We are a part of this great state and we want the governor to not only understand our communities but to proactively work to ensure that we get our fair share of the pie,” the lawmakers said in their statement. “We are united and steadfast — our constituents pay taxes and we want our money spent for our children, our families and our communities.”
Photo: Rick Scott