Without a doubt, the best announcement coming out of Tuesday’s Manatee County Legislative Delegation meeting with numerous public entities and private organizations is the months-long work on a comprehensive package to stem the opioid epidemic plaguing the state. Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, gave hope that this effort will end the piecemeal approach that the state has been following for two years.
This is especially critical for Manatee County, the overdose capital of the state with the most deaths per capita involving heroin, fentanyl, morphine or cocaine. As of early December this year alone, the county’s three major law enforcement agencies report responding to more than 1,300 suspected overdoses and 98 deaths.
Without a miracle drug known as naloxone, the life-saving opioid antidote, the number of overdose deaths would be staggering. Manatee County EMS and fire districts has administered 3,200 doses combined.
Nobody can pinpoint a reason why this county is the epicenter for this scourge.
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This public health and safety crisis impacts just about every facet of society, thus making comprehensive legislation essential.
Melissa Larkin-Skinner, interim CEO of Centerstone behavioral health hospital, explained the urgency of the situation to the delegation, consisting of Boyd, Sen. Bill Galvano, Rep. Joe Gruters and Rep. Wengay “Newt” Newton.
“Our community is overwhelmed and our resources are overtaxed,” she stated. “Community members are banded together to look for solutions.”
Opioid legislation was among the priorities for a number of the 30 presentations the delegation heard, and rightfully so given the severity of the crisis.
The legislation is on a fast track now, Boyd explained: “We expect to have language of a bill in the next week to 10 days. We are on that piece with you.” Kudos to that.
Centerstone has been swamped with drug users seeking treatment, but can handle only a limited number of patients. Florida ranks last among states in funding mental-health services. An increase in state funding and legislation to improve access to behavioral health and related services, which is also one of the priorities of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce. This, too, is vital.
Among Manatee County’s primary legislative requests, the list begins with $2.8 million in state funds for the construction of stormwater and drainage improvements to mitigate the flooding that plagues Rubonia. Residents of that historic community have been hounding the county for years to address not only the flooding but also add sidewalks for safety’s sake.
The 2017 legislative session could be Rubonia’s time to finally celebrate victory after being rebuffed for so long. Their determined lobbying before county commissioners shows the power of the people.
The county also demonstrated support for partner agencies on two issues of great importance to many in the community. One is the Manatee County School District’s request for a state review of current requirements for End of Course and Florida Standards Assessments exams. The district wants lawmakers to carefully examine the number, type (online versus paper and pencil) and scope of testing at all grade levels. High-stakes testing and the number of exams have been the target of sharp public criticism for years, and the issue deserves thorough scrutiny.
Another hot issue, particularly on Anna Maria Island where vacation homes are taking over, the Manasota League of Cities requests legislation to repeal the state preemption of the regulation of short‐term rental properties to let local governments regulate such properties to protect the health and welfare of residents, visitors and businesses. Furthermore, the league wants changes in an inequitable element in existing state law relating to short‐term rentals — a provision that allows grandfathered local governments to modify existing short‐term rental regulations.
Those league priorities will require some heavy lifting as the Legislature has shown little inclination in the past to do any of this — as the league well knows after lobbying for these priorities for years.