Manatee legislators debate insurance rates, medicinal marijuana

skennedy@bradenton.comJanuary 24, 2014 

From left: SCF President Carol Probstfeld, state Rep. Jim Boyd, state Sen. Bill Galvano, state Rep. Greg Steube and Chris Wille of the Bradenton Herald at a legislative forum Thursday night at the State College of Florida.SAR KENNEDY/Bradenton Herald

MANATEE -- Everything from legalizing medicinal marijuana to high Florida insurance rates took center stage Thursday at a forum featuring local legislators.

Lawmakers weighed in on what they expect to be the Florida Legislature's top issues when it convenes March 4 in Tallahassee.

State Reps. Jim Boyd and Greg Steube, and state Sen. Bill Galvano, all R-Bradenton, expressed concerns over efforts to legalize the sale and use of marijuana -- recreational and medicinal.

"I'm not for its legalization," said Boyd flatly before an audience of about 40 at the State College of Florida, which co-sponsored the debate with the Bradenton Herald.

Galvano said the idea of legalizing marijuana for medical use concerned him; caution should accompany its consideration, he said. He said he opposed recreational use.

In answer to a question about high homeowner insurance rates, legislators acknowledged frustration.

Galvano said high flood insurance rates need attention, noting "unbearable premiums" along the state's coastlines.

Boyd mentioned auto insurance reforms passed in 2011, but said he was frustrated why property insurance premiums were not coming down more quickly.

"It's going to take a little time," said Boyd, who operates an insurance agency.

Property insurance and flood insurance issues constitute "the biggest problem

people want fixed," Steube said.

Noting insurance is a complex issue, he said: "We really need to figure this out this year."

Some questioners wanted to know legislators' educational priorities.

Galvano. who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Education Appropriations, predicted the Legislature will have more to spend on technology in the schools as the economy improves.

More dollars to maintain educational facilities will also be earmarked this year, he said.

One questioner asked whether the two legislative chambers could compromise in order to accept $51 billion in federal money available to expand Medicaid health insurance program for low-income families.

Noting House Speaker Will Weatherford was "very adamant" in opposing such a course of action, Steube predicted little movement in the House.

The prognosis for compromise in the Senate, which last year favored accepting federal Medicaid money, wasn't much better: "I don't see the Senate making a change" to accommodate the House position, said Galvano.

Audience members said they found the forum useful.

"I learned a lot, and it was very positive," said Gail Opper, 68, a Trailer Estates resident. "I'm very into education, so it's important to me."

Lindsay Wheeler, 18, a senior at Lakewood Ranch High School, said she enjoyed the evening.

"I thought it was cool," she said. "I like it a lot. We're hearing about it in government class, but it's much cooler to be here."

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.

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