Fla. Legislature should leave Port Manatee alone, side with voters on medicinal pot

December 12, 2013 

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One can view the Skyway Bridge from top of the observation tower at Emerson Point Preserve.GRANT JEFFERIES/gjefferies@bradenton.com

GRANT JEFFERIES — gjefferies@bradenton.com Buy Photo

Florida's Legislature has earned its reputation of both restricting the principle of home rule and ignoring the will of the people. And Tallahassee consistently wastes money on expensive studies to support politically motivated but locally unpopular polices.

Fortunately, Manatee County's legislative delegation -- Reps. Jim Boyd, Greg Steube and Darryl Rouson and Sens. Bill Galvano and Arthenia Joyner -- is more responsive to constituents and voters than others in positions of power.

Cases in point:

A bridge too low?

Seriously, a $151,488 study into raising the Sunshine Skyway Bridge or building a new port west of the apparently low bridge to accommodate gigantic cruise ships? Is the cruise business huge enough to warrant the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars in tax money when Florida's truly pressing needs lie elsewhere? Currently, only the Port of Tampa serves cruise lines with ships that clear the Skyway.

The study will address the ports in Manatee County, Tampa and St. Petersburg. Manatee County's officials fear it could be a move leading to the Legislature's seizure of Port Manatee, taking away local control in favor of merging it with Tampa's. Somebody appears to be empire-building.

Why is Port Manatee a part of this so-called "Tampa Bay Cruise Port Pre-Feasibility Study" -- unless some powerful interests want to commandeer control of our port? Home rule should be maintained.

Manatee commissioners put local control of the port on its legislative priority list, and our delegation is supportive -- after getting an earful during a recent meeting with local elected officials. Good thing, too. Commission chair Larry Bustle put it best: "We are uninterested in losing local autonomy and control over what will surely be an economic engine for our county."

Medical marijuana support

A new survey of Florida voters finds 82 percent in support of a constitutional amendment allowing the prescription of medical marijuana, yet GOP legislative leaders are tone deaf to the resounding chorus -- repeatedly blocking votes on bills the past three years. So much for representing the people.

Interestingly, the voter support for medicinal pot comes from all manner of political persuasions as well as ages and income levels. The 82-16 percent support for the amendment -- a new high, so to speak -- in the new Quinnipiac University poll is a remarkable development. Even Republicans endorse medical marijuana by a significant 70-26 percent margin.

But here again, the Legislature ignores its own constituents in favor of ideology -- even with the public debate lasting years now and the poll numbers show ever-growing support.

It is our hope the state Supreme Court will deny the state challenge to the wording of the amendment language, and proponents collect enough signatures to place the measure on the November 2014 ballot. Justices heard the arguments on Dec. 5.

These are but two examples of the Legislature's hubris in dealing with local governments and Florida voters. The 2014 regular legislative session opens in March.

We encourage Manatee County's legislative delegation to support the will of the people and the principle of home rule.

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