State Politics

Manatee lawmakers left their mark on session

During the 2010 legislative session, members of the Manatee County Legislative Delegation played leading roles in legislation with statewide ramifications.

Rep. Bill Galvano was instrumental in negotiating a gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe, Speaker Pro Tempore Ron Reagan helped win passage of a bill to help deter red light running through the use of surveillance cameras, and a food safety bill supported by local tomato growers won passage and the governor’s signature.

Going into the session, members of the Manatee County legislative delegation declined new funding requests, citing a down economy and tight budget year.

Ironically, Manatee County government’s No. 1 request of the delegation was that it oppose allowing off-shore oil drilling closer to Manatee’s coastline.

With the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico on April 22, and the ensuing environmental disaster, the worst fears of drilling opponents was realized.

Nick Azzara, Manatee County information outreach coordinator, said county commissioners will receive a briefing Tuesday on the session.

“We were on guard for any cost shifting measures from the state to the counties. To my knowledge there have really been none,” Azzara said.

During the session:

n Gov. Charlie Crist signed into law a gaming compact that would produce an estimated $1.3 billion to $1.5 billion for the state over five years, beginning with $287 million that would be released immediately. The money is especially important given the scant revenues at the state’s disposal. The compact gives the tribe substantial gaming exclusivity.

n The Manatee County School District is expected to receive an increase in funding from the state of $3.3 million, but that is more than offset with the costs associated with anticipated higher enrollment, and increases in payments for retirement and healthcare, and implementation of the class-size amendment. The net result is $6 million to $10 million in budget cuts, essentially what district officials have been forecasting.

n A food safety measure, written with the help of local tomato growers, authorizes the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to inspect tomato farms, greenhouses and packing facilities. The bill is another safety net to help protect consumers and the industry. Several years ago, a salmonella scare cost local tomato growers millions of dollars. Ultimately, the salmonella was traced back to a Mexican pepper field. Crist has signed the bill into law.

n The Mark Wandall Safety Act was approved by the legislature, authorizing cameras to help deter red light running. The bill bears the name of a Manatee County resident killed in 2003 when another driver ran a redlight on State Road 70 at Tara Boulevard. His widow, Melissa Wandall, worked for years with the support of Reagan to win passage of the bills. Reagan has always said the bill is aimed more at discouraging dangerous driving habits more than seeking a new revenue source for local and state government.

n Officials at Manatee Glens worried that mental health funding cuts could be as much as 40 percent, going into the session. Deborah Kostroun, chief operating officer, said Friday that cuts actually amounted to about 1.5 percent. The relatively modest cuts helped preserve two at-risk programs: the walk-in center and the childrens crisis unit, she said. “We appreciate the support of our legislative delegation,” Kostroun said.

n Two bills in the Legislature that would have required stricter eligibility criteria for people to qualify for a pretrial release program died during the session. Passage of the bills could have led to significant overcrowding in the Manatee County jail, Azzara said.

n Senate Bill 2000 passed, which would be a benefit to Port Manatee and other state ports seeking to expand. The bill is awaiting the governor’s signature.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee Editor, can be contacted at 745-7021.

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