MANATEE -- Local legislators Tuesday pronounced the recently adjourned legislative session as good as it could be, considering there wasn’t much money available to spend.
Still, the delegation was able to pry money out of a tight budget for some projects, such as the $5 million Florida Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, came up with to help build a world-class rowing venue in Manatee and Sarasota counties.
However, it and other measures passed during the 2011 Florida Legislature still require the signature of Gov. Rick Scott.
State Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, said Manatee Technical Institute could expect increased funding of about $2 million, due to changes in the way statewide technical school funding is calculated.
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Another bill that passed would send $1 million to Manatee, Sarasota, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties for jobs for at-risk youth, said state Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg.
The area is also well-represented among committees that will handle re-districting, based on the results of the 2010 census. Among those who have won coveted spots are Boyd and Rouson, with state Rep. Doug Holder, R-Sarasota, co-chairing one redistricting subcommittee.
The first public hearings are slated to start next month in the Panhandle, with those in southwest Florida tentatively set for Aug. 29-Sept. 1, according to the Florida House website.
Holder and state Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, jointly handled reform of the unemployment compensation system that was introduced early on in the session, but did not pass until the end.
Detert said it required a balance between what is good for business and what would help the state’s 1.1 million people, who are jobless through no fault of their own.
“My big one was unemployment compensation reform,” she said. “It was a compromise; I wrote very favorable language for the business community -- they should be thrilled with it -- which, for once, will have a level playing field when it comes to appeals. Any businessperson will tell you they lose 100 times out of 100.”
Bennett described this year as one with a “very, very tough budget,” of nearly $70 billion, but added, “But we got it done.”
Among his favorite measures was one that he said ended “duplication” in the state’s growth management laws, along with one that reformed Medicaid, the state’s health care program for the poor, he said.
Among the disappointments, he said, was the demise of a bill on immigration reform, he said.
State Rep. Greg Steube, R-Bradenton, was proud of bills he sponsored to help veterans, he said.
“I was real proud of all my bills I sponsored,” said Steube. “Six bills passed, two of which directly related to our veterans; I’m very happy as a freshman to have bills passed.”
One would allow wounded veterans the opportunity to hunt in designated areas of the state forest. It also provided for private donations for improvements, like wheelchair ramps, for instance, that would help the disabled, Steube said.
Boyd was disappointed that one of his bills, designed to address problems with Citizen’s Property Insurance Corp., the state insurer of last resort, was not passed, but added, “The highlights are: We didn’t raise taxes, which we promised we wouldn’t do, and managed a difficult budget cycle.”
“Cuts occurred that nobody was really happy about, we tried to be fair and judicious with those,” he said.
Boyd was pleased to see measures adopted addressing “pill mills” that attract prescription drug addicts to the state.
“We’ve gone a long way to alleviate this horrendous threat on this state,” Boyd said. “Database and prescription restrictions will help to fight that problem. It’s killing people and getting lots of our friends and neighbors addicted to those drugs.”
One change that would have an effect locally would increase funding for Manatee Technical Institute, he said.
“There’s been an inequity for some technical institutions across the state,” he said. “Manatee County, for years, has gotten less than they deserve.”
The net increase would be about $2 million over last year, he said.
State Rep. Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota, was happy about legislation designating Sarasota as an “energy zone,” similar to an “enterprise zone,” he said.
“Sarasota can create actual energy zones for economic development, dealing with alternative energy,” he said, adding that the program could go statewide if it is successful.
The high point of the session for him was the budget that passed, he said.
“The high point was -- we balanced the budget,” he said.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031.