Focusing on issues

Town hall meeting sheds light on bills in legislative session

Despite chilly conditions, a crowd started to form before the start of last Wednesday’s town hall meeting.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine
Rev. James Morris, president of Council of Florida Churches, chats with Rev. James Golden and Rev. Joe Parramore last Wednesday night following their town hall meeting.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer

In what amounts to putting Florida legislators on blast, a group of faith leaders and education professionals promised to monitor legislation during the current session.

They ask for communities around the state to join their effort during a Wednesday night town hall meeting.

Speakers zoned in on measures pertaining to education, but also expressed concern about affordable housing and LGBTQIA among a laundry list of issues. About 45 individuals, some from out of town, showed up for the Town Hall and Legislative Review.

The Council of Florida Churches put on the meeting at Bethel Family Life Center a week after the Jan. 9 start of this year’s legislative session.

Rev. James Golden, a member of the Council of Florida Churches, closed the two-hour meeting by urging attendees to get engaged with what’s happening at the Capitol.

The bills are “matters of importance to each and every one of us,” Golden said. “We are concerned about our state and we want the best for those who live in Florida. 

“There is so much before us and this legislative session is pregnant with possibilities but there seems to be a breached birth going on and those of us who are concerned and care about this state have to try and turn the baby around.”

The town hall meeting was part of a two-day gathering by the faith leaders that culminated with a prayer breakfast. Pastors for Florida Children were host of that event.

“As a group of faith leaders, one of the things that we look at when we look at legislation is how does it affect the individuals that sit in the pews,” said Rev. Joe Parramore, leaders of New Journey Ministries and director of the Council of Florida Churches. “When we affect those that sit in the pews, the effectiveness of that grows exponentially through family. This is one of the ways we have to grow our message across the state.”

Indeed the Council of Florida Churches plans to go statewide with its message, said its president Rev. James Morris. Town hall meetings are planned for Naples and Jacksonville.

Legislations in this session are too important not to take them statewide to communities, Morris said.

“This is a Seminole moment for Florida and for the nation,” he said. “The issues that have been brought tonight are bread and butter kitchen table issues that are often kept in the halls of the Capitol as if they aren’t issues that affect people’s lives. We want the people to know how these bills adversely affect our children, how they adversely affect our communities and how they adversely affect our state as a whole. It’s important that we drive those issues now rather than later.”

Each person on a five-member panel took turn discussing education issues, including school voucher and HB 49 that could change child labor laws in the state.

The child labor bill was approved out of committee just hours before last Wednesday’s town hall meeting. The measure proposes allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to work on residential construction sites, limiting the projects to lower than six feet. 

If passed, it would revise the original wording that sought to allow the teens to work on roofs.

The bill got push back from panelist Crystal Etienne, President of the Democratic Public Education Caucus of Florida.

“There is nothing safe about a 16- or 17-year old working on a construction site,” said Etienne, a teacher and one of the panelists. “They should have thought about this before they created a labor shortage in this state that would require children to make up that labor loss.”

Parramore brought affordable housing into the discussion.

“Affordable housing is one of those issues that affects everybody’s kitchen tables,” said Parramore.

He questioned why an apartment with less than 400 square feet is rented for $3,000 monthly.

“There is something wrong and there is something that has to be addressed,” Parramore said.

Gun regulation was also on Parramore’s agenda. He made his case for tighter requirements for purchasing a gun, pointing to agony he endured when he met with students from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas School in Parkland and survivors of a shooting at Pulse night club in Orlando.  

Forty-nine lives were taken at the Pulse and 17 were killed in the mass shooting in Parkland.

“Those issues are real,” Parramore said. “The pain is real. The hurt is real. If we can’t get our legislative body to address our issues, then we need to address our legislative body and that is done at the ballot box.”

Using the ballot to make changes in the legislature was also suggested by Cecile Scoon, president of Florida League of Women Voters. She pointed to change in the ways to vote by mail and the location of drop boxes as major concerns in this year’s election.

“Write your legislator,” Scoon said, “tell your neighbors (and) speak out against that.”

Community organizer Malik Ready lauded the faith leaders for brining the bills to light, saying that town halls meetings are necessary.

“I think we need to have a lot more of these,” Ready said. “It serves the purpose (because) a lot of us are not educated on the bills that are coming. My hope is that folks will rally and let’s get to the poll and make sure our voices are heard in the community.

“We have a long way to go. It’s a marathon; not a sprint.”

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