Dozens of speakers signed up to draw attention to topics they think are important at Pasco County’s annual legislative delegation meeting.
The topics ranged from fracking to Medicaid; the opioid epidemic to immigration; medical marijuana to homelessness; and, scores of budget requests.
Some requests were for items vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott last year.
Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco, for instance, asked legislators to renew his request for $4.3 million for the Thomas Varnadoe Forensic Center for Education and Research.
The Adam Kennedy Forensics Field, also known as a “body farm,” opened in May on land next to the Land O’ Lakes Detention Center, off U.S. 41. The facility is the seventh of its type in the nation.
Construction money is needed for the indoor forensic center. The complex is planned jointly with the sheriff’s office, Pasco County, Pasco-Hernando State College, and the University of South Florida’s Institute for Forensics and Applied Science.
“It is a critical piece for us,” Nocco said.
The sheriff also noted that there already are international inquiries regarding training opportunities.
The city of Zephyrhills also had a big-ticket request. It’s asking for $3.25 million to help build the Sarah Vande Berg Memorial Tennis Center.
The planned tennis center includes eight soft courts, two hard courts and nine pickle ball courts.
The city of Zephyrhills already has hired Pennsylvania-based Tennis P.R.O. LLC to operate and manage the complex.
A pro shop, a multipurpose community room and two offices also are planned.
“It’s gaining a lot of momentum,” said Todd Vande Berg, the city’s planning director. “It will bring in players from around the world, and Zephyrhills really will be a destination in the sports arena.”
The complex is named for Vande Berg’s daughter, a tennis scholarship student at University of South Carolina, who died in a car accident.
The annual legislative delegation meeting is a ritual that gives lawmakers a chance to find out what is on the minds of their constituents for the coming legislative year.
This year’s session was on Nov. 27 at the Wesley Chapel Center for the Arts, at Wesley Chapel High School.
More than 60 people signed up, with each allotted three minutes to address the legislators, who were seated at a table on the arts center’s stage.
Rep. Danny Burgess, the delegation’s chairman; Rep. Amber Mariano; and Sen. Wilton Simpson attended the entire meeting. Sen. Tom Lee and Rep. Richard Corcoran attended portions of the meeting. Sen. Jack Latvala was absent.
Afterward Burgess described the meeting as a fact-gathering session to help legislators deliberate on issues during the 2018 legislative session in Tallahassee.
“It’s important — with a state this big and statute books so voluminous —it’s impossible to know every issue,” Burgess said.
He also said people’s presence and participation are important.
“It’s a truly collaborative thing,” he said, noting, lawmakers will have more information “because people from our areas decided to take the time to come here.”
Along those lines, Debra Golinski asked lawmakers to provide funding for screening programs at Sertoma Speech & Hearing Foundation Inc.
She said about $750,000 is needed for a program to help hearing-impaired children, ages 3 to 6 years, “begin to listen and talk.”
Golinksi also asked legislators to support a bill to provide hearing aids for children.
Timothy Beard, president of Pasco-Hernando State College, said the college is expanding rapidly and needs about $3.7 million in additional funding for operations.
He said school enrollment has increased from about 1,800 three years ago to about 4,000 students now.
“The growth there has really been phenomenal. We really, really need the dollars,” Beard said.
Other agencies and nonprofits seeking state funds included the Gulf Coast Jewish Family & Community Services, the Area Agency on Aging of Pasco-Pinellas Inc., the Reach program with Pasco’s PACE Center for Girls, and the Pasco County Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention, or ASAP.
Hot button political issues also came up.
James Brown, of the nonprofit Farmworkers Self Help, sought support for “DACA kids”, the children who are part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
The federal program could be ended soon, leaving these children subject to deportation. They and their families harvested crops for years, Brown said.
“They did nothing more than work hard. We need to give these longtime families a place in the county. We’re not asking for budgetary concerns. We’re just asking for your compassion,” Brown said.
Several people also spoke on fracking, asking legislators to ban the practice in Florida.
Fracking is a process for pumping chemically treated high pressure water into a drilled pipeline to break through rock formations to tap into oil or natural gas reserves.
“Our message is simple,” said Brooke Errett, of Food & Water Watch. “Fracking doesn’t make sense.”
Legislators also got updates on initiatives under review at the federal level by U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis.
His aide, Summer Robertson, told them that Bilirakis is seeking
a balanced approach toward addressing the opioid crisis.
He wants an approach that helps people with opioid addiction but still gives people “with legitimate pain” access to medications, Robertson said.
Published December 6, 2017