A comprehensive legislative package to address the opioid epidemic has been in the works since this summer, Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, said during Tuesday’s Manatee County Legislative Delegation meeting.
“It is a crisis,” the state lawmaker said after hearing from Drug Free Manatee’s legislative priorities. “We expect to have language of a bill in the next week to 10 days. We are on that piece with you.”
If the state Legislature is able to start to make a dent on the heroin epidemic, it would serve the community well, Boyd said of Manatee County, which is considered epicenter of the epidemic.
“I can’t think of one that is more important than that issue,” he said.
While Manatee County has had the highest per capita death rate due to the drugs in the last couple years, it looks like it is going to be the same or worse this year, said Melissa Larkin-Skinner, interim CEO of Centerstone behavioral health hospital.
“Our community has been particularly hard hit by the opioid epidemic that is sweeping our state and nation,” she said during the delegation’s meeting. “Our community is overwhelmed and our resources are overtaxed. Community members are banded together to look for solutions.”
The opioid crisis plaguing Manatee County was one of a multitude of issues and legislative priorities that agencies from Manatee County brought forward to the delegation on Tuesday. In addition to Boyd, Sen. Bill Galvano, Rep. Joe Gruters and Rep. Wengay “Newt” Newton make up the delegation.
“I think it went very well,” Galvano, who is chairman of the delegation, said after the meeting. “We heard a lot of important presentations representing many solid programs, programs many of which I’ve been involved with for many years and then the public testimony is always enlightening and I think it’s very important to give the public an opportunity to interact with us because Tallahassee is a long way away.”
Other legislative priorities presented during Tuesday’s meeting include funding for a stormwater and drainage improvement project in Rubonia, reducing the testing burden on Manatee County students, amending the teacher accountability system, traffic solutions for the barrier island and construction for a boathouse at Nathan Benderson Park.
In fiscal year 2018, Florida Department of Transportation has funding for a barrier island mobility study, Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said, adding that a consultant is almost selected.
“It’s in the proposed work program. The study can begin on July 1,” Baugh said of Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization’s priorities, which also includes replacement of the DeSoto Bridge.
Local colleges also presented to the delegation on Tuesday, listing issues ranging from graduation rate to importance of not changing the name of State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota.
After hearing from the colleges, Galvano said there will be a bill the second week of January that will address the issues.
“Hopefully you will like some of it,” he said. “You may not like all of it.”
During the nearly four-hour meeting, there was a cooperative feeling in the room, Galvano said afterward.
“Our job is to represent the people of Manatee County and the other parts of our respective districts,” he said. “When we are in Tallahassee too often we just hear from special interests or people specifically being represented by lobbyists. This gives us a local perspective to take to the state capital.”
Presentations made during Tuesday’s Manatee County Legislative Delegation meeting included:
- Manatee County government
- Manasota League of Cities
- Town of Longboat Key
- Manatee County School Board
- Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization
- Central Florida Public School Boards Coalition
- City of Holmes Beach
- State College of Florida
- University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee
- New College of Florida
- Peace River Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority
- Florida Life Care Residents Association
- Central Florida Behavioral Health Network, Incorporated
- Jewish Family & Children’s Service of the Suncoast
- ArtCenter Manatee County
- Visible Men Academy
- Drug Free Manatee
- Take Stock in Children
- Manatee County Habitat for Humanity
- Federation of Manatee County Community Associations, Inc.
- Senior Connection Center
- National Association of Social Workers
- South Florida Museum and Bishop Planetarium, Inc.
- Drug Free Florida Committee
- United Way Suncoast
- Turning Points
- Manatee County Technical College
- Nathan Benderson Park
- Florida Fire Marshals & Inspectors Association
- Mote Marine Laboratory