Local governments present their legislative agendas
Local governments, educational institutions, health agencies and private organizations listed their legislative priorities for 2011 — and aired their concerns — for lawmakers Wednesday.
From septic tank legislation to extending the school year, to issues tied to pre-platted communities and health care reform, the range of topics heard by local legislators was varied at the public hearing at Edison State College.
The Lee County Legislative Delegation, made up of three senators and five representatives, listened as each group presented its stance on the issues and voiced what it would like to see lawmakers focus on in the coming year.
District 21 Sen. Mike Bennett urged the speakers toward the start of the hearing to offer specific legislative suggestions, proposed changes to laws and statutes that would make the group’s job easier and more affordable.
“I would like to have some ideas from you all, specific ideas,” Bennett said. “You’re closer to it than we are.”
Commissioners Frank Mann and Ray Judah spoke on behalf of the Lee County Commission. Mann voiced opposition to the Taxpayer Bill of Rights concept.
“We’re not wild on that, as you might suspect,” he said. “It does kind of interfere with home rule.”
Judah pushed for support of Florida Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards. He said Lee County is trying to show that there are alternatives to offshore drilling, citing algae turned into ethanol and waste converted into biodiesel.
“There are tangible viable options to the use of fossil fuels,” Judah said.
The commissioners also voiced support for septic tank inspections. With “hundreds of thousands” of septic tanks in Lee, Mann urged legislators to proceed with caution though, not throw the baby out with the bath water.
“So just be gentle with that when you throw the whole thing out,” he said.
District 75 Rep. Trudi Williams confirmed that a septic tank bill is coming, but that the process had been deferred for six months because of a problem with the Department of Health’s interpretation of it.
Cape Coral Mayor John Sullivan said the city supports legislation that requires municipal charter school facilities to receive a portion of impact fees, as well as legislation that provides pre-platted communities with a mechanism to help them overcome challenges specific to their layout.
“Because we are a pre-platted community,” he said of the Cape.
According to Sullivan, challenges tied to pre-platted communities are environmental issues, abandoned developments, inadequate industrial and commercial tax base, an inability to supply adequate infrastructure, poor service delivery and non-compliance with growth management laws.
The city’s other legislative proprieties included support for legislation that provides increased lien superiority for municipal repair and maintenance liens on foreclosed properties, and support for legislation that enables the Cape to apply to the state for licensure of emergency management services.
One theme that ran consistent among the speakers was a concern over budget constraints and unfunded state mandates. Lee County School Board Member Jeanne Dozier, who spoke for the school district, acknowledged that times are still tough, from the local level on up to the state level.
“So what we are going to ask for are minimal things,” she said.
Dozier asked for an expansion of the school year to enhance curriculum and improve student performance, voiced support for local control when creating teacher performance pay schedules and requested the implementation of at least one option for non-diploma students to earn a “meaningful credential.”
District 37 Sen. Garrett Richter commented on the increased amount of curriculum being handled by Florida schools, but the lack of increase in time.
“We haven’t added a day to the school year or an hour to the day,” he said.
Dozier explained that a cost-analysis study was conducted on extending the school year by five days at one point. She said she would send legislators the the report and the results, broken down by estimated cost to add each day.
The district also supported removing monetary penalties for class size.
Jim Nathan, president and chief executive officer of the Lee Memorial Health System, spoke about Medicaid funding and Medicaid managed care. He pointed out that demographics and economics vary between communities, and urged lawmakers to ask questions and see how initiatives could impact the area.
“One size doesn’t always fit all,” Nathan said. “Don’t assume that everything fits.”
He voiced opposition to a proposal that would divide the state up into three districts and the local area into three parts. Nathan also supported looking at medical residency programs as economic development because students now are trained locally, take their residency elsewhere, but then do not return.
“We think it fits under the umbrella of economic development,” he said.
A representative from the Lee County Health Department spoke, as well as from Florida Gulf Coast University, Edison State College and Hodges. Several non-profit groups took the podium, including the AARP, Lee Mental Health and various youth and family organizations, and environmentally-minded groups.