BY JUAN PEÑALOSA, Executive Director, Florida Democratic Party
STATEWIDE — The end of this year’s legislative session is one of the most shameful in our history. From Jim Crow-era voting laws to placing children of color in harm’s way — undermining the rights of people of color was a constant in nearly every major piece of legislation that passed in 2019.
As the political power of communities of color grows, conservative lawmakers in the Florida state legislature are doing everything they can to strip us of our power and our vote. While Democratic champions fought against arming teachers, dismantling our public schools and Jim Crow voting bills – Florida Republicans, under the direction of Donald Trump, betrayed all of us.
A modern-day poll tax: More than 65 percent of Florida voters cast ballots to amend our constitution and restore the voting rights of more than 1.4 million convicted felons who have served their time. As Democrats and Supervisors of Elections began to register returning citizens to vote, Florida Republicans passed a bill that says before casting a vote, returning citizens have to pay fines, fees and court costs.
Florida repealed poll taxes in 1937, but Republicans in the legislature understand the growing power of our vote, and here we are again.
Guns in schools: The National Rifle Association supports arming teachers. And now, Florida Republicans support arming teachers. Giving teachers guns avoids the real problem of gun violence, and it makes us less safe.
African-American Democrats in the legislature passionately argued that turning Florida schools into armed camps make us less safe and members of the NAACP, teachers unions, parent-teacher associations and black journalists have indicated that students of color are at greater risk by arming teachers.
But, these arguments fell on deaf ears to most Republicans in the Florida legislature, and they sent a bill putting more guns in schools to Governor DeSantis. Now, it’s up to us to stop arming teachers by making our voices heard at the local level.
De-funding Public Schools: Legislators who are in the pocket of unregulated private schools voted to take hundreds of millions of dollars from public schools and give those funds to private schools that profit off of our children and are unregulated by local school boards.
According to Florida NAACP President Adora Nweze, vouchers are “a tool of segregation.” And she is correct. There’s no disguising the effort to allow white and affluent students to exit the public schools to attend private schools at the expense of Florida taxpayers.
The charter schools legislation is yet another unconstitutional public dollar funding private schools effort that actually takes new property tax dollars authorized by taxpayers in certain counties and gives a portion of it to charter schools, many of whom donate millions to the Republicans in the legislature who passed the law.
Unfortunately, most people don’t find out about this kind of hurtful legislation until it’s too late. We want you to know Democrats are fighting and we ask you to join us to fight against the bills that defund our access to education. Florida Republicans keep making these moves because they recognize the power of our black and brown votes, and are passing bills that defund our access to education and restrict our rights to vote.
Florida Democrats are demanding change to make Florida a better state for ALL Floridians, not just those in power, and we will never stop working toward that end. We don’t fear the future. We will fight for it.
Juan Peñalosa is the executive director of the Florida Democratic Party. Florida Democrats have committed to registering 200,000 Democrats before the 2020 Presidential primary and are investing more than $4 million in 2019, in hiring and organizing communities of color. This investment includes new programs like www.organizingcorps2020.com, which will give 200+ Florida students of color paid fellowships to organize their communities and register voters in Florida.