Bruce Antone: Returning Freshman Focusing on ‘Stand Your Ground’ Reforms and Urban Development

By: Eric Giunta | Posted: February 21, 2013 3:55 AM
Rep. Bruce Antone, D-Orlando
Bruce Antone

Date of Birth: Nov. 1, 1960
Birthplace: Mobile, Ala.
Residence: Orlando
Education: Tuskegee Institute, Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering
Occupation: Consultant
Previous Public Office: Served in the Florida House from 2002 to 2006
Family: Wife, daughter
Did you know? Ran track in high school and college; is a self-professed "model railroad fanatic."

"Returning freshman" might sound like an oxymoron, but don't tell that to Rep. Bruce Antone, D-Orlando, one of the 2013 session's three "new" House members who have, in fact, served in that chamber previously. He's only filed two bills so far, but don't let that fool you into thinking he isn't busy.

“Most of my efforts will be focused on trying to insert money into the budget to address specific things,” Antone tells Sunshine State News. “My focus is going to be on creating jobs in the urban core neighborhoods, incentivizing companies to come back into the urban core.”

Having previously served in the Florida House of Representatives from 2002 to 2006, Antone is well aware that it’s sometimes easier to subsidize projects through the budgetary appropriations process than through bill-filing. One of his proudest accomplishments was securing $400,000 in 2006 for the establishment of an “urban teacher training program” in Orlando, which trained instructors in how to tackle issues unique to schools located in underprivileged neighborhoods.

“It wasn’t a bill, it was just some money we ‘hid’ in the budget,” he chuckles, priding himself on the fact that the appropriation was practically “veto-proof” because he earned the support of Republican Gov. Jeb Bush’s education policy adviser and education secretary.

The academy trained some 1,000 teachers in the course of its one-year existence. He will “try to resurrect the idea” this session, only this time he wants the academy to provide a year-long course of training, instead of just a series of workshops.

He also prides himself on being a “conversation starter” when it comes to shaping the state’s policy debates. For example, he credits himself with being the first legislator to address the “bed tax” liability of online travel agencies; his 2006 proposed legislation (co-sponsored by former Rep. Fred Brummer, R-Apopka, then-chairman of the Finance and Tax Committee) did not survive the committee process, but the liability of these agencies under existing state law is still being litigated.

That same year, he filed a bill that would have required local law enforcement agencies to adopt written policies governing the pursuit of fleeing drivers. That measure also failed in the Legislature, but it started a public conversation that led to him brokering an agreement with the Florida Sheriffs Association and the Florida Police Chiefs Association that led to their developing statewide model policies on their own.

These and other experiences of reaching across the political aisle to do what was best for his community were what led him to believe he was best qualified to run for his seat again after a six-year hiatus, which he originally took to unsuccessfully run for a seat on the Orange County Commission.

It is also that history, of effecting long-term change in the face of short-term failures, which makes the most sense of Antone’s latest apparent exercise in legislative suicide: HB 331, a “Stand Your Ground” revamp.

The House counterpart to Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith’s SB 136, Antone insists his bill is not an effective repeal of Florida’s newly controversial self-defense protections, but is simply a “common-sense clarification” of Stand Your Ground’s intended beneficiaries.

The bill requires the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to create a database keeping track of how often, and how successfully, the Stand Your Ground defense is utilized by homiciders. It also clarifies that the defense is unavailable to those who initiate violent altercations.

“This is more of a conversation-starter bill,” Antone admits, acknowledging that no House Republican wants to touch the measure with a 10-foot pole. “But at some point, we’re going to have to make some changes. Whether that happens this year, I don’t know, but at least this begins the discussion: Who is this law designed to protect?”

He’s more optimistic of earning GOP support for some of his other ideas. For example, he’d like to secure funds to implement a pilot vocational-technical program in an Orange County high school, “so the kids can function in a normal high-school setting,” and expand the program statewide through later legislation should the pilot prove successful.

He’d also like to implement a program that would incentivize the establishment and development of businesses in urban neighborhoods. His plan, which is still being drafted, is to give grants of $250,000 to businesses that pledge to remain in a community “for three to five years” while hiring workers at a wage of “$12 to $15 an hour”; companies which violate that pledge would have to return their grant money to the state.

“We have all sorts of incentives in place to create jobs in the nice areas of town,” he explains. “But if we don’t do something about the urban core, it’s going to continue to rot and decay and that economic wasteland will continue to expand.”

Antone ran track in high school and college, and still runs three to five days a week to keep fit and refreshed. Asked if some sort of athletes’ caucus might be in the works, he dismisses the idea, but soon reconsiders.

“Maybe I could try to appropriate some money to set up an exercise gym in the House,” he wonders aloud, with a wink. “If nothing else, I could get the discussion going ..."

Reach Eric Giunta at egiunta@sunshinestatenews.com or at (954) 235-9116.

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