Legislative wins, losses for Manatee County

May 7, 2014 

Staff Photographer

State College of Florida graduates fill the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota during the college's Spring graduation ceremony on Friday, May 2, 2014. PAUL VIDELA/Bradenton Herald

PAUL VIDELA — pvidela@bradenton.com Buy Photo

The Legislature's impacts on a broad spectrum of issues across Manatee County won't be certain until Gov. Rick Scott reviews the $77.1 billion budget and various bills approved in both chambers.

His usual exercise of the governor's line-item veto power may be tempered this year thanks to his re-election bid. Still, nothing's certain.

On the other hand, the repercussions of legislation that failed can be measured now.

• Education came out the big winner on many fronts. The Manatee County school district will benefit from a $176 increase in per-student funding, pushing the total to $6,937. The district should also share in the $50 million set aside for traditional public schools for construction and maintenance projects.

Hopefully, this will help ease the district's financial difficulties what with state and federal penalties for overspending and mismanagement leveled last week.

• Students and parents should be pleased that the school grading formula has been simplified by stripping out penalty triggers and eliminating bonus points among other changes.

• State College of Florida won a $8.7 million allocation to begin building a state-of-the-art library long sought to replace an outdated facility that lacks modern technology.

• Unfortunately for Bradenton's burgeoning craft breweries, the bill allowing sales of their products in popular 64-ounce growlers did not pass. Florida permits brewers to sell 32- and 128-ounce containers, and the continuing ban on 64-ounce growlers makes no sense.

Fortunately for brewers, though, a separate bill failed. It would have required larger craft brew producers to sell their beer to distributorships and then buy it back in order to sell it to consumers for home consumption. That was nothing more than a mob-style shakedown and it deserved to die.

• IMG Academy won $2.5 million that will boost the West Bradenton sports empire's ongoing $36 million expansion. With 530 full-time and 170 part-time employees, IMG is one of the county's top economic drivers, attracting athletes from around the globe and helping to fuel our tourism industry.

• Blake Medical Center and two other HCA hospitals in Florida lost out when legislation protecting their new trauma centers from legal action and closure failed. The court and political battle over state approval of the units will continue.

• Manatee County government will likely pay a higher share of juvenile detention costs than hoped. Bills that changed the cost-sharing formula between the state and counties -- resolving a court order on state overcharges -- did not pass.

Now the county faces the worst of all possible outcomes. Under the old formula, the state burdened counties with 75 percent of the cost while the court found counties only responsible for 32 percent.

Under both House and Senate bills, the charge would have been 50 percent. Even that mark will cost Manatee County $900,000 more than officials expect to pay this year.

Gov. Scott's billing plan appears to be the only solution, but he favors a 57 percent rate with no reimbursement for past overcharges. He should reconsider. Manatee County taxpayers should not have to shoulder such a high bill.

• The county did win allocations of $1 million for a water project and $2 million for a beach renourishment venture.

• As we've noted time and time again, Anna Maria Island neighborhoods and others around Manatee will continue to be at the mercy of mini-hotels adjacent to residences. Lawmakers rejected a bill that would have restored some home rule in the regulation of vacation rental homes.

• Vacationers and local thrill-seekers finally have greater protection while parasailing with the approval of restrictions for going aloft in certain weather conditions. Plus, boat operators must hold liability insurance of $1 million to $2 million. This comes after several client deaths in windy conditions over the past few years.

• Manatee Glens, the county's nonprofit mental health and additions services hospital, expects to get $750,000 to continue a treatment team to serve seriously emotionally disturbed children and their families in the region -- in order to prevent another mass shooting at a school. This innovative program expands the hospital's reach into the community, a vital step toward reaching troubled youth.

• The Manatee County Boys & Girls Clubs will enjoy a portion of the $10.5 million allocated statewide, expected to boost anti-gang and after-school educational programs. Anything that helps youth merits applause, even if this allocation pie will be sliced many, many times.

Outside of juvenile detention costs, this was a fairly good session for Manatee County. Now we'll see how the governor judges all the spending and bills.

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