Like may people in the Tampa Heights community that he represents, House District 61 Democrat Ed Narain was holding his breath when news broke on Tuesday that Governor Rick Scott had vetoed $256 million in projects from the just concluded legislative session.
The good news is that Narain’s request for $1.2 million to move what has become a beloved community center to another part of the area will go through. The facility, the former Faith Temple Missionary Baptist Church on Palm Avenue, appeared to be slated for demolition in the coming years to make way for the construction of the Tampa Bay Express project.
“I’m obviously pleased that it was able to remain in the budget. I think it’s the right thing for the Tampa community,” Narain told Florida Politics on Tuesday. “It was supported by Senator Joyner, Senator Lee, House Budget Chair Corcoran, and everybody in the Hillsborough Legislative Delegation. I think it’s a big win for our community.”
The Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association has invested lots of sweat equity and an estimated $1 million to rehabilitate the facility, and they were extremely disappointed to learn from the city last fall that they should stop working on new projects, since it was FDOT owned property, and they wanted it back.
Now the building will literally be picked and moved to a different part of the community.
Narain was also pleased that his request for $800,000 for the Hillsborough Homeless Initiative escaped the governor’s veto pen as well.
The 39-year-old second-term representative from Tampa had a very good session, as good as any member in the House Democratic caucus. Among his achievements include sponsoring a bill to remove and replace the statue of General Edmund Kirby Smith from the National Statuary Hall in Washington D.C. Smith was a Confederate army general. The law calls on the Florida Arts Council and the Department of State to estimate the costs of replacing the statue, including the costs associated with designing and creating a new statue, removing the current statue, and any unveiling ceremony.
He also sponsored the legislation in the House that finally addresses the legacy of the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna. The school was closed down in 2011 amid accusations by former students of physical and sexual abuse. The bill calls for providing up to $7,500 for funeral and burial expenses for each exhumed body. It also would require officials to preserve records, artifacts and remains found on the school site. And it creates a task force charged with devising plans for a memorial and figuring out what to do with any unidentified or unclaimed remains.
Narain served as chair of the Legislative Black Caucus during the just concluded legislative session. Among its victories this year include legislation requiring the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate all deadly police involved shootings. The Caucus was also instrumental in ensuring that a group of black farmers will be able to obtain a license to allow them to participate in the medical marijuana nurseries.
One disappointment for Narain was that his proposal that would protect witnesses from being harassed and retaliated against by criminals when cooperating with the police passed through several committees in the House, but died in the Senate. HB 475 provided an exemption from public records for the names of witnesses to a felony.
“When you look at the five shootings that started off 2016 in the Tampa area, and then the several you’ve had all across the state in St. Petersburg and Miami, there are people out there – they know what happened, but they’re afraid to come forward because they’re afraid of becoming the next victim. So what HB 475 would have done would have allowed witnesses information to be able exempt from public records until the end of that trial.”
The bill was supported by the Florida Sheriffs Association and the Police Benevolent Association. Narain says the PBA will highlight the bill as one of their highest legislative proposals in 2017.
If things go as he intends, Narain will be serving in the state Senate in 2017. Last week he made the somewhat surprising announcement that he will take on fellow Democrats Betty Reed and Darryl Rouson for the state Senate District 19 seat being vacated by a term-limited Arthenia Joyner later this year.
Narain has Joyner’s blessing, but it’s a bit of awkward in confronting Reed, who previously represented HD 61, and gave him a crucial endorsement in his tough as nails race against Sean Shaw in 2014 (Shaw, incidentally has recently announced his candidacy for the HD 61 seat).
Narain said from the time he started working in the House last year he’s been fending off requests that he run for the Senate.
“I didn’t even want to talk about it,” he says. “I didn’t think it was fair to Representative Reed, more than anybody else.”
But he says the call for him to enter the race “kept getting louder and louder with the more success that we had.”
“I do feel it’s about the future of the district. It’s the right thing to do, so after a lot of prayer, a lot of consultation, I decided to put throw my hat in the race. It’s definitely nothing personal, I have the utmost respect for Representative Reed, but I do think that it’s important that we have somebody that has a strong vision, not just for the future, but for the state.”