Leon County lawmakers will consider a local bill to allow B.K. Roberts’ name to be stripped from the main building of Florida State University’s law school.
The COVID-19 crisis and the closing of the Leon County Courthouse amidst threats of violence this weekend have caused the annual pre-session meeting of local lawmakers and constituents to be held online next week.
State Sen. Loranne Ausley, D-Tallahassee, will chair the meeting. Attending will be state Reps. Jason Shoaf, R-Port St. Joe, Ramon Alexander, D-Tallahassee and Allison Tant, D-Tallahassee. (Shoaf’s Panhandle district includes part of Leon.)
Legislation under review includes a bill on Roberts, a late Florida Supreme Court justice. The building name issue was one of many rallying cries for protesters this past summer after the deaths of Black people at the hands of police around the country, including George Floyd in Minneapolis.
A 30-member Task Force on Anti-Racism, Equity, and Inclusion, appointed by FSU President John Thrasher, has recommended the removal of the name from what is now B.K. Roberts Hall on West Pensacola Street.
But that would require legislative approval because lawmakers designated the building’s name through a state law in 1973.
Roberts, who died in 1999, authored the court’s 1957 majority opinion to deny law school admission to Black student Virgil Hawkins.
As Thrasher said in 2018, that makes a “more troublesome legacy” than his “instrumental role” in helping to create FSU’s College of Law. University officials have previously said they would support any bill that would OK a renaming.
Alexander, who typically opposes the Legislature’s meddling in local affairs, favors letting FSU’s Board of Trustees act on the task force’s recommendation.
“I am confident in the next deliberative steps being taken by Florida State University to establish a formal process to address the critically important renaming of the FSU law school,” he said.
In other planned business, a brief survey of the delegation and local officials shows the COVID-19 crisis is expected to dominate next week’s discussion.
“What is next in all of this COVID experience will certainly be a topic of conversation,” said Jeff Sharkey of the Capitol Alliance Group, the lobbying firm that represents the county’s interests before the Legislature. “Leon County prides itself on open and transparent access to policymakers and this delegation meeting gives citizens an opportunity to talk to their legislators.”
Questions about the state’s response to the ongoing health crisis, the vaccine distribution plan, the interaction between the state and county health departments, performance of the state’s unemployment compensation system in the crisis and efforts to boost the local economy all loom in advance of the 2021 session, which starts March 2. Lawmakers already have begun meeting in committees.
In past years, a crowd of more than 200 people would gather in a Leon County Courthouse courtroom, with social service agencies, environmental organizations, neighborhood groups and local education and business entities asking lawmakers to prioritize their legislative wishes.
How to watch
The delegation meeting will be held online at 5 p.m. Tuesday. Details and a sign-up form to speak at the meeting are at forms.gle/uNGEDLXfiTjngNGq5. People can also contact Ausley’s office via email: [email protected].
James Call is a member of the USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow on him Twitter: @CallTallahassee
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