With the opioid epidemic continuing to hit Florida, especially Manatee County, state lawmakers are hoping to start making a dent in addressing the problem this legislative session.
Working with the Florida Sheriffs Association and the statewide prosecutor for drug crimes, Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, has put together a bill to help address the epidemic.
“It’s not going to solve the problem, but it strengthens penalties for the dealers and traffickers,” Boyd said during the Manatee Chamber of Commerce’s Pancakes & Politics Legislative Session Preview on Monday. “It schedules some of these substances at a higher schedule rate. It allows penalties to apply more appropriately.”
But even if signed into law, the bill is not going to fix the problem, Boyd said at the breakfast at IMG Academy Golf Club where the local legislative delegation addressed the upcoming legislative session.
Manatee County, part of which is in Boyd’s district, is the epicenter of the crisis in Florida, as measured in drug-caused deaths per capita.
“We’ve got to have education,” Boyd said. “We’ve got to just have a variety of things and our communities have to be engaged because at the end of the day, it really does affect all of us. It’s not just a law enforcement problem. It’s not just a medical care problem. It’s a community problem.”
The opioid epidemic is a “big problem,” Boyd said.
“It’s something that together I think we can make a big difference in and we will do our best and I know our communities will do their best as well,” he said.
In addition to Boyd, Sen. Bill Galvano, Rep. Julio Gonzalez, Rep. Joe Gruters and Rep. Wengay “Newt” Newton highlighted priorities for the upcoming session as well as answered questions from the attendees, which included elected officials and members from the business community. Sen. Greg Steube and Rep. Alexandra Miller were invited but did not attend.
With Boyd and Galvano as two of the senior members of leadership, Manatee County is extremely well served, Gruters said.
“Of all the counties in the state, Manatee County is probably best positioned to do the best this legislative session and the next,” Gruters said.
The local delegation in both the Senate and House are “working together to do what you expect us to do and that’s the work of the people,” Galvano said.
“It’s a new day in the Florida Senate and I’m really optimistic,” he said. “I’m very optimistic about this delegation. We got some real talented members here.”
Boyd added: “The House is kind of like the Senate. We’ve had a lot of changes this past year.”
During Monday’s breakfast, the legislators talked about a series of upcoming issues ranging from a gaming bill to a bill prohibiting abortion after 20 weeks to workers compensation.
With the passing of Amendment 2 last November, the legislators are also working on implementing medical marijuana in Florida, which is a “big issue, too,” Galvano said.
“It’s my belief that we are getting a little too far down the road a little too quickly without the proper research that is necessary,” he said.
That is why marijuana should be included in the higher education package so this research can be done, Galvano said.
“The idea is that we have facilities that do research on the impacts of marijuana from a health standpoint so that we can know going forward what steps to take and to be measured in our approach,” he said.
As Manatee County continues to experience growth, the No. 1 issues are transportation related and they have to be unified and have a plan, Manatee County Commission Chairwoman Betsy Benac said Monday morning.
“We cannot continue to just talk about replacement of the DeSoto Bridge,” she said. “We cannot just continue to study the issue. We have to have projects ready to move forward so we are going to be looking to you for leadership for how we get this done, for how we get our fair share of the federal dollar because we cannot continue to have a growing economy if we are in gridlock and that’s what we are experiencing.”
Looking ahead to the upcoming session, Boyd said it’s going to be a good year.
“There is a long way to the finish line,” he said. “We’ve got a lot to do. We’ve got a lot of work to do but there is a great chance, I believe, that as they say in the process up there, we will land the airplane on time, on schedule.”