FORT PIERCE, Fla. (FLV) – Coming off a productive 2023 Legislative Session, Sen. Erin Grall, R-Fort Pierce, spoke with Florida’s Voice on what’s to come in the future, along with approved budget item projects for her district.
Grall led the charge on a number of high-profile issues that have statewide impact, such as legislation to crackdown on environmental, social and corporate governance investment, eliminate diversity, equity and inclusion departments from public universities, and mandate separate bathrooms as male, female or unisex for entities such as schools and government buildings.
Grall also championed the six week abortion ban, which includes exceptions for abortions up to 15 weeks for rape, incest and human trafficking. Other exceptions include if the mother’s life is at risk.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022, giving the states authority to regulate abortions.
“I didn’t think I would live to see the time in which I was able to present such legislation, but there’s a responsibility that comes with that, too – and I think that we all take that very seriously,” Grall said.
“Many times, Republicans are criticized that, we just care about life before it comes into the world, before a child is born, but we don’t care for life after, and I think that we have shown time and again, that that’s just not true,” Grall explained.
Grall said they have supported initiatives for maternal mortality in the past couple of years by extending the Medicaid benefits for mother’s up to a year postpartum.
In addition, Grall said KidCare expanded this year. The legislation expanding eligibility for children to obtain health insurance via the initiative.
KidCare implements the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program to subsidize health insurance coverage for children in families with incomes that are too high to qualify for Medicaid.
“That’s huge – so that it allows children to have access to health insurance, meaningful health insurance at a lower cost for families,” Grall said.
Going forward, Grall said she looks forward to tackling policies such as maternity leave and barriers to adoption.
“I think moving forward – how do we take a conservative approach to policies that support the family? What’s the government’s role in that? Are we really talking about maternity leave in a meaningful way?” Grall asked.
“We know that the bonded relationship that occurs, those first six weeks are critical, and, you know, even the state employees package does not allow for meaningful maternity leave in the use of all benefits,” Grall said.
Local district issues
Grall worked on a bill regarding school choice in athletics authorizing charter school students and Florida Virtual School full-time students to participate in extracurricular activities at a private school.
Grall said an issue came up at a private school that had been allowing charter school students to play sports. She said mid-season, they were told it would not be allowed anymore.
“Those students just wanted the option to go and play at schools that did have athletic programs had space on the teams, you know, still try out and everything. So that was really exciting,” Grall said.
Grall was able to work on another bill relating to adoption, along with local water projects, a jail in Okeechobee County, and helping a school in Glades County that was in need of being replaced.
The proposed Turkey Branch Water Storage and Treatment project will more than double the existing Nicodemus Slough project, utilizing approximately 19,000 acres to create more water storage and treatment in the Lake Okeechobee and Caloosahatchee basins.
Other water projects that were approved for funding include the Fort Pierce Utility Authority project on Relocating Wastewater Treatment Plant off of the Indian River Lagoon, the St. Lucie Village Residential Potable Water Service project, and the St. Lucie Village Septic to Sewer Phase 2 project.
The Okeechobee County Jail renovation improvements project will receive $7.5 million of the $15 million requested.
Funds are needed for project management and construction to expand the 66,000 square foot jail to 122,000 – from 232 beds to 444.
According to the request, this will “safely accommodate increased adult and juvenile female and male prisoners and protect first responders and employees.”
Grall said she was able to help secure over $17 million in funding for the first year of Moore Haven Elementary School. The new facility will replace a school that is over 50 years old.
She’s also working to help expedite widening State Road 60 and State Road 70.
“The district is really committed to widening State Road 60 and State Road 70 because it’s so dangerous, and I think that my focus is on how do we expedite that? Because it’s a huge project,” Grall said.
Instead of looking at the project in its entirety, Grall asked the Department of Transportation to develop a plan and cost for widening in phases.
Grall expects to receive the department’s plan later this summer.
Screen time and technology addiction in children
This session, DeSantis signed a bill into law will restrict access to social media websites on school district networks and district owned devices.
Grall said more needs to be done in this space and filed a broader bill aimed at addressing technology addiction in children.
“The advances in AI [artificial intelligence] in order to kind of, addict, a young child to different types of media, even beyond social media, it’s so pervasive,” Grall said.
Grall said children are able to “check out” for hours at a time on social media and completely “shut off” from their surroundings.
“It’s this conversation that I think is at the root of all of the mental health challenges that we are seeing in our youth,” Grall said.
Grall said if the root cause of what’s causing the mental health challenges isn’t addressed, then “we are just going to continue to throw money at something without any meaningful change in how our children are interacting with the world.”
“It’s such a big problem. I think that the way in which we address it, there’s not a there’s not a clear path right now. But, I think we need to be aggressive and bold and realize that this generation needs us to stand up for them, when the powers that are coming after them are so significant,” Grall said.