Florida State Sen. Danny Burgess undoubtedly has a full plate of responsibilities as he settles into his new legislative role representing District 20, which spans parts of Hillsborough, Pasco and Polk counties.
Most notable for the 34-year-old Republican from Zephyrhills is tackling existing and lasting effects of the coronavirus pandemic. He is chairman of the newly created Select Committee on Pandemic Response and Preparedness — a role appointed by Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby.
The first-term Senate member discussed COVID-19 response and other topics as the featured guest speaker at The Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce’s Jan. 7 breakfast meeting at Golden Corral in Zephyrhills.
Burgess didn’t mince words regarding the magnitude of short- and long-term issues that need to be tackled by the 10-member pandemic committee.
“It’s a big responsibility ahead of us,” Burgess told the room of local business leaders. “We’re still learning as we go. We’re building this plane as we’re flying…because this is a new world we’re in and this (virus) has never existed before.”
The committee, Burgess said, will examine “every area that’s been impacted,” particularly in the way of business issues related to the coronavirus, including restaurants, retail, entertainment establishments and so on.
One such example is introducing liability protections if someone claims they contracted COVID-19 at a particular locale, he said.
Burgess explained: “As you’re opening up (businesses) again, you don’t need to be looking over your shoulder wondering if you’re going to get sued because this person said they got COVID at your place or your hand sanitizer machine was empty, right? That’s the kind of stuff that we’re looking at there.”
He continued with pro-business sentiments, adding “there should be a presumption that businesses should be open” through the pandemic going forward.
“You should be able to operate in an environment and not be told to shut down,” said Burgess, an attorney partnered in a full-service practice in Dade City.
“As long we we’re taking the appropriate (health and safety) steps and doing what you need to do as a business, you should not have to shut your doors because there are devastating impacts that could be just as bad as the virus, if you think about it.
“We have to make sure that people can earn a living, that people can stay on their feet and make a wage and not cripple our economy, and so there’s gotta be that balance.”
Aside from business impacts, surging mental health problems amid the pandemic will be a heavy focus for Burgess and other Senate leaders, too.
The lawmaker pointed out regional mental health crisis intervention calls “are up like 200% routinely” in parts of the state, and suicide rates already “are really high, but that’s going up, too.
“I think all of us are extremely worried about the second- and third-order effects of the pandemic,” Burgess said. “I believe there’s things that are coming down the road that we haven’t fully realized yet, and a lot of it has to do in the world of mental health, some of the economic fallout that we’ve seen from people who don’t have a job anymore or lost their business, maybe lost their home, so I’m really concerned about homelessness, and I’m really concerned about mental health.”
Youth educational disruptions because of COVID-19 figures to be another boiling point for the committee, Burgess said.
“There’s going to be a lot of kids left behind potentially because of what we had to do with barriers of being able to go to school,” said Burgess, who also noted COVID-19 school closures have inhibited the reporting of child abuse and neglect cases.
Burgess said the state legislature also will be navigating tough 2021 budget sessions because of unforeseen cuts and shortfalls from the pandemic. Despite that, he said, “we have to continue to push for our priorities and things that are important to us, and just work within the means, right?”
COVID-19 vaccine clinic in East Pasco
Furthering on the COVID-19 topic, Burgess said he’s been in communication with the Florida Department of Health to secure at least one vaccine clinic at an East Pasco location.
Since Burgess’ talk, a drive-thru vaccination site has been set up at Saint Leo University.
There also is a drive-thru vaccination clinic in Pasco, and it’s on the west side — at Sears in the Gulfview Square Mall, at 9409 U.S. 19, Port Richey.
Meantime, the senator said he and other state leaders are pushing for legislation to eventually make COVID-19 vaccines available at pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS, similar to how the flu vaccine is administered by a trained pharmacist at those respective locations.
Zephyrhills resilient through pandemic
Elsewhere, Burgess commended his hometown and surrounding areas for their resilience during the pandemic.
“I think the thing that always stands out to me about Zephyrhills and the East Pasco community is how much you support the community, and you would think in a time like this we’re all facing very financial constraining challenges you wouldn’t be able to do that as much, but it’s really incredible to see, despite the inward challenges that we’re facing that we didn’t stop supporting the greater community as a whole.”
Burgess made a point to praise growth and development of the city’s downtown main street corridor, and the varied activities and experiences the area now offers.
Those new attractions are drawing day-trippers from surrounding areas, such as Plant City and Tampa, he said.
He also tipped his hat to businesses popping up along Fifth Avenue, such as the microbrewery, axe throwing, billiards hall, a board game café, vintage crafts and furniture store, to name a few.
And all of this happening, despite the pandemic.
“I mean, I grew up downtown. I’ve been getting Slurpee’s at the 7-Eleven my whole life and it’s never been like this,” Burgess said. “It’s got like a life now, so this is becoming a little bit of a unique destination, so we need to capitalize on this.”
Published January 20, 2021