Jose Oliva is the first Florida House of Representatives speaker from Miami since Marco Rubio. Tomorrow, as he gavels in the state’s legislative session, the 46-year-old Hialeah Republican faces some of the thorniest issues in state history: pot, guns in school, and felon voting rights, to name a few.
But even before he gets started, Oliva is embroiled in controversy after repeatedly calling pregnant women “host bodies” in an interview with Channel 4 reporter and former Miami New Times columnist Jim DeFede. The comment evoked a firestorm of criticism, largely because Oliva has said he supports a waiting period for abortion.
There are also seriously controversial bills related to abortion on the table starting tomorrow, one of which would prohibit the procedure when a fetal heartbeat is detected. That proposal by Rep. Mike Hill cannot reach the House floor without the support of Oliva, who is in effect Florida’s second most powerful politician.
Then there is the question of smokable marijuana. Oliva says he wants to be “careful” — though Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has signaled support of smokable pot for those who qualify for medical marijuana and a majority of Floridians support it.
And Mike Grieco, the controversial Miami Beach representative who left office as a Miami Beach commissioner amidst scandal, has proposed legalizing marijuana for recreational use. While that could provide the state with quite a bit of desperately needed money, it’s unlikely to get the speaker’s support.
Oh, and how about the report of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas review committee that recommended teachers get guns in class? Oliva sponsored the measure approved last year that gave nonteaching employees the ability to accept training and carry guns — but also banned sale of bump stocks, which help guns to fire at quicker rates — thus potentially killing more people. The PTA and teachers unions oppose extending the measure. Oliva? We will see.
Finally, there’s the question of restoring felons’ voting rights. Though voters overwhelmingly approved giving a million felons the opportunity to have their rights restored if they were not convicted of certain violent crimes, DeSantis suggested that supervisors of elections hold off until the Legislature enacts “implementing” laws. His predecessor, Rick Scott, was vilified for passing laws that made it harder for poor and minority voters to cast ballots. Though some supervisors have gone ahead, the mess is now in Oliva’s hands as well as those of Republican Senate President Bill Galvano.
Abortion has already engulfed the beginning of Oliva’s session, though. After calling women “host bodies” five times during the interview with DeFede, national media went bananas and many women said they found the comments demeaning.
Florida Rep. Jose Oliva Calls Women the ‘Host Body’ While Supporting Restrictive Abortion Legislation
Happy Women’s History month, everyone! https://t.co/rXtbbxTI4y
— Kate Kelly (@Kate_Kelly_Esq) March 1, 2019
The leader of the Florida House, Jose Oliva, referred to women as “Host Bodies” – not once – but five times during this interview. Not the kind of language you would expect from the leader of a legislative body. https://t.co/6ao4Rq7aFQ
— Florida Democrats (@FlaDems) March 1, 2019
Oliva then issued an apology in which he said he was trying to use a “public health term” so people wouldn’t become emotional.
That drew even more criticism, which he will likely face starting tomorrow. Stay tuned.