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Rouson answers to 50 people at town hall in Palmetto

PALMETTO — With issues ranging from the funding of the clerk of courts to rehabilitating outgoing prisoners, about 50 area residents attended a town hall meeting Thursday evening for State Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg.

Rouson, an attorney and newly elected to the House for his first full term, said he has filed six bills for the Florida Legislature regular session beginning Tuesday.

Some of those bills include establishing a bong tax bill to curtail marijuana use, a theft diversion bill to give shoplifters a court date rather than arresting them if the value of the items total less than $300, and a bill to combine the drivers license database with Florida Department of Law Enforcement criminal database to assist law enforcement in identifying suspects.

There were about 25 employees from the Manatee Clerk of Courts who attended the meeting at the Palmetto Youth Center.

Another Florida house member has created a bill seeking for the state to have tighter control over the clerk of courts’ budgets which are funded mostly through county dollars and fees, Rouson said.

“That’s quite a battle shaping up and I’m not decided at all,” Rouson said before the meeting.

When speaking to employees, he said, “It’s about money and the control of money, and it’s about the legislature, and to some extent it’s about ego. ... It’s the only agency in government that does not have to come to us for its pay, and they don’t like it,” he said.

Rouson said he believes most clerks of courts throughout the state are well managed.

The stimulus package and housing were on the minds of some residents.

Legislators will be briefed about the details of how it will affect Florida next week, he said.

Others expressed concerns about funding education and strengthening education programs in prisons to help inmates find jobs when they are released. Out of the state’s 53 prisons, three are faith- and character-based, Rouson said.

“A person who comes out of one of those is a third less likely to return to prison. It makes economic sense and public safety sense,” Rouson said.

Mackie Allen, 50, of Bradenton, was placed in the community in July when he was released from Everglades prison after serving a 26-year sentence for robbery and attempted murder.

Allen, who is now employed locally, attended the meeting and encouraged Rouson to have trade schools in prisons for inmates. He said faith-based isn’t enough. “They come out of there and they believe in God but they can’t operate a computer,” he said.

Rouson agreed to incorporating more education programs.

“We’ve come a long way. Let’s continue to work,” he said.

He can be contacted through his Manatee office at 302 Manatee Ave. E. Suite 304 or called at 708-8570.

Rouson’s district reaches from portions of north Sarasota County to southern Pinellas County.