By Isadora Rangel, firstname.lastname@example.org
Erin Grall may be a rookie in the Florida Legislature, but the personal injury lawyer said she has developed a thick skin to deal with the political wrangling that awaits her in Tallahassee.
“I’m used to an adversarial work environment, I would say,” said Grall, who was elected to the House in November. “I’m a litigator and … strategy is part of what I do for a living that I think will be helpful to me in Tallahassee. At this point, I’m doing my best to build relationships.”
Grall, 39, is the only freshman lawmaker in the Treasure Coast’s seven-member delegation to the Legislature. The Vero Beach Republican will replace Debbie Mayfield, who was elected to the state Senate, in a district that covers all of Indian River County and part of St. Lucie.
A mother of two young children, Grall has a passion for early childhood education and is working on a bill to raise state standards. She also wants to address the top issues her constituents approach her about: All Aboard Florida, the Indian River Lagoon and the Vero Beach electric utility.
Grall’s first two-year term comes at a pivotal time for the Legislature, when the House will be under new rules to curb lobbyists’ influence and to make the budget-writing process more transparent. Fellow Treasure Coast lawmaker and new Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, will push for the purchase of 60,000 acres south of Lake Okeechobee to build a reservoir to store excess water and reduce discharges into the St. Lucie River.
Grall said more storage of lake water might be part of the solution, but the state also needs to look at funding projects already on the books that lack money; and a massive land purchase under Negron’s plan can only happen if there’s a willing seller. The sugar industry, which owns most of the land Negron identified, has been critical of the plan.
“Without seeing the (plan) at this time, I can’t tell you where I am right now,” Grall said, “or what the whole picture is or what the overall financial impact will be. I know that water is No. 1 priority for our communities.”
Grall said she’s had a conversation about forming a lagoon House delegation with other members from the six counties along the lagoon, which stretches from Palm Beach to Volusia.
The Legislature is expected to decide in its March-through-May session how to regulate medical marijuana after 71 percent of Florida voters approved in November broadening the number of patients who qualify for it. Grall opposed Amendment 2 because the Legislature already passed bills in 2014 and 2015 to allow low-THC marijuana for medical purposes, although in a narrower scope.
“I don’t support the use of marijuana at all,” Grall said. “That, I’m sure, will affect the way in which I think it should be regulated when we start to examine that.”
Mayfield pushed several unsuccessful bills to help Vero Beach exit a contract with the Florida Municipal Power Agency and to create more state oversight of the agency. Grall plans to continue to pursue the issue in the session and said she’s looking at Mayfield’s past bills to choose which proposals she wants to keep.
One of the issues is 60 percent of Vero Beach electric customers live outside city limits and pay higher rates than they would under Florida Power & Light Co.; yet they don’t have representation before the city. Grall said the Legislature could allow those customers to take their complaints to the Office of Public Counsel — the public’s watchdog over investor-owned utilities such as FP&L. Another option, she said, is to bring the FMPA under oversight of the Public Service Commission, which oversees rates of investor-owned utilities.
Grall said she’s also looking at whether the Legislature could pass a law to require All Aboard Florida, and not local governments, to pay to improve rail crossings when the high-speed trains cut through the Treasure Coast.
She’s also doing research for a bill that would raise standards for early childhood education centers. She’s considering increasing the number of course hours educators must take and raising the number of federal standards those facilities are required to meet.
“What I want to make sure we do is that we are increasing the standards within our early childhood centers,” Grall said, “and making sure we are focused on quality and not just warehousing kids in a system that isn’t getting them ready for kindergarten.”