Both the Herald and State College of Florida thank Reps. Jim Boyd and Greg Steube and Sen. Bill Galvano for attending our Jan. 23 "Community Conversation" on the school's Bradenton campus. We also thank the many residents who witnessed the wide-ranging discussion about the upcoming legislative session and lawmaker thoughts on various issues. Finally, our thanks to the many Herald readers who submitted questions -- far too many, in fact, to wade through all of them.
Here are some of the evening's highlights, a prelude to the March 4 opening of the Legislature's 2014 regular session:
Medical marijuana: All three lawmakers oppose the proposed amendment to the Florida Constitution as being too permissive with weak controls that would invite abuse. The proposal has yet to be approved to appear on the ballot. But they all agreed that medical cannabis could be approved by the Legislature with very tight limitations, including targeted ailments.
None support recreational marijuana legalization.
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Medicaid expansion: Last year the Senate approved a bill to accept $51 billion over a decade fromthe federal government to supply health benefits to almost a million uninsured and poor Floridians, but the House refused. That appears to be the case again this year with Galvanno in favor but Boyd and Steube agreeing with House Speaker Will Weatherford's intransigent position, citing mistrust of the federal government over Medicaid allocations.
Steube did point out the House is working on legislation that would provide many uninsured residents with private health coverage.
Education funding: This should come as very welcome news to the Manatee County school, desperate to update its antiquated computer systems. Galvano, who chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, intends to increase state spending on technology.
On higher education, he also noted that the state should dedicate additional dollars to college and university infrastructure after years of austerity.
Home rule and local control: All three agreed that local governments should handle local issues, specifically in regards to the development of Long Bar Pointe and other projects. Developments of regional impact, though, are another matter.
Galvano brought the vacation rental issue, too, one that the cities on Anna Maria Island seek to regain some control over after a state law prohibited local governments from adopting certain limits. A bill allowing local governments additional control is in the works.
But, the senator said, this is also a private property issue and homeowners' rights must be a part of the discussion. A balanced approach should be sought.
Mental health funding: Manatee Glens will be happy to hear that Galvano puts great emphasis on mental health -- as a wise investment that keeps patients out of the far more expensive justice system. This point has been long argued.
Manatee's trauma center: All three legislators vow to protect Blake Medical Center's trauma unit from closure, noting its life-saving capabilities trump Tampa Bay centers' argument that focuses on business revenue and patient counts. This, too, is promising for the county and the region south.
For anyone who missed the political forum but want to watch it, Manatee Educational Television is broadcasting the event regularly on Bright House channel 614, Comcast channel 19 and Verizon FIOS channel 31.
Quote of the week
"Doing this in-season is crippling to our tiny family business. Our reputation is really important to us and our guests are important to us."
-- Alice Sutton of Bamboo Apartments, a beachfront vacation spot that is struggling through the major beach renourishment project on Anna Maria Island. Bulldozers, pipes and orange fencing clog beach access, and the work creates nighttime noise complaints.