DAVIE — Fresh from the recently ended session, members of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus took time to reflect on their successes and disappointments during a reception Friday at Piano at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Davie.
At one extreme, the lawmakers celebrated their role in legislation that allows children of undocumented immigrants to pay in-state college tuition, saving them thousands of dollars.
“A lot of people saw that as a Hispanic or Latino issue but it is also an issue for young African Americans whose parents may be of Caribbean descent who may not be documented,” said State Rep. Reggie Fullwood of Jacksonville who sponsored the bill. The measure went into effect on Tuesday.
At the other extreme, they lamented that they could not persuade the Republican-dominated Legislature to back a bill to repeal the “stand your ground” legislation.
Miami lawmakers Sen. Dwight Bullard and Rep. Cynthia Stafford sponsored a bill for that purpose but it was met with stiff opposition from the GOP.
“The bill is not just dangerous but, as we see with Travon Martin, it is deadly,” Stafford said. “Our young people have a right to express themselves in the way they dress. Wearing a hoodie doesn’t give you a license to shoot someone.”
Trayvon, who was wearing a hoodie, was shot and killed in a scuffle with neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman while visiting his father in Sanford in 2012. Zimmerman was acquitted on murder charges a year later.
Another setback was failure to win approval for a bill, also sponsored by Bullard and Stafford, seeking to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. It is currently $7.93, which is below the poverty level, Stafford said.
“We shopped and lived on minimum wage for a week to highlight that we need to increase minimum wage in this state,” Stafford said, recalling she and Bullard were among eight legislators to undertake the brief change in lifestyle last spring. “Living on minimum wage, I ran out of money,” she said.
In Florida, more than a million people would benefit from an increase in the minimum wage, said Stafford. Studies have shown that three of every four minimum wage earners in Florida are women and often the head of the household.
“It is wrong for anyone to work full-time and have to still live in poverty,” Stafford said.
The Legislature would not convene a committee hearing on the proposed legislation, she said.
But the legislators expressed pride at what they could accomplish in and out of Tallahassee as they joined other black state lawmakers who were in town for the Florida Democratic Party Leadership Blue weekend. The events included a gala at the Westin Diplomat in Hollywood on Saturday at which former President Bill Clinton gave the keynote address.
“The weekend is the kickoff to the Florida Democratic Party’s election season,” said Bullard of Miami, black caucus chairman. “We wanted to be a part of the festivities and welcome people to South Florida.”
All 26 caucus members helped enroll people in insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act by holding enrollment events in their districts and coordinating with hospitals, healthcare associations and nonprofit organizations.
“We wanted to be in full support of President Barack Obama in his initiative,” Bullard said.
Caucus members also held food drives in their districts to help needy families, said Bullard, who recently partnered with Farm Share to sponsor a food drive in Overtown that benefited 300 families.
Caucus members also hold town hall meetings for residents to register to vote and to discuss ballot amendments, Bullard said.
“For members of the black caucus, we understand that sometimes our communities are underserved,” Bullard said. “We feel voter and civic engagement not only help elect more African-American members but it also better educates the overall community.”
Added Fullwood, “African-American legislators are an important voting bloc within the Democratic Party and the state Legislature as a whole,” Fullwood said. “Our goal is to make sure the issues that are important to African Americans get fully introduced to the Democratic Party.”