Some Pinellas County state Legislators defend the 2012 session, others slam it

04/25/12 Janelle Irwin
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This year’s regular legislative session resulted in an boost to public education funding and paved the way for the creation of Florida’s 12th public university. Legislators representing Pinellas County recapped all things good and bad to come out of Tallahassee this year at a Suncoast Tiger Bay Club luncheon Wednesday.

Both chambers of the Florida legislature have a Republican super-majority. Democratic State Representative Rick Kriseman, who has announced he won’t be running for another term, doesn’t like that. He said government is more effective when political parties can compromise and that is not happening. In his announcement, Kriseman wrote that while he’s holding out hope that the dysfunction in Tallahassee will improve, it’s not a good enough reason to stay.

“Now, I say the same thing almost every year in my Florida bates, budgets are about choices. Budgets reflect our values. So, what does this budget of this past legislative session say about our state’s values. I think that it says that the values of state leadership are out of wack.”

Before answering questions from Tiger Bay members who are known to throw out some tough questions, Senator Jack Latvala cautioned the group to play nice.

“I won’t let the Tea Party abuse me or my colleagues and I’m not going to let Tiger Bay abuse me or my colleagues either.”

His warning was a response Tiger Bay member Linda Osmundson’s cantankerous introduction. Last year’s legislative session dealt a huge blow to the funding of public education. That loss was adjusted this year, but Osmundson argued that Tallahassee lawmakers were stretching semantics by calling it new funding.

“If 1.3 billion was cut last year from public education and 1 billion was added back this year, simple math says that we are still $300 million in the hole and yet this year is being billed as an education budget. See what happens when you cut education spending. Basic math skills suffer and negatives become positives.”

But Republican Representative Ed Hooper defended the efforts to better fund public schools.

“Yes, a billion dollars is not as much as 1.3. I’m not a math major, but someone gave me a cheat sheet on that. It’s less. I think next year will be more.”

Hooper added that both the House and the Senate did the best with what they had to work with while still balancing the budget – one of the few things they are required to do – on time.

“You make your budget look like what you can afford to do and you drop a lot of things that were nice to do, but they were not always necessary things to do. The government process in Tallahassee has to take the same approach. I think the legislature had, with what they were dealt and where they were going, a better year than last year.”

The budget has been signed by Governor Rick Scott and included $400 million dollars in cuts to the state university system. The University of South Florida suffered more of that loss than any other university. And they will also have to part ways with their Polytechnic campus to make way for Florida Polytechnic which will be the state’s 12th public university. The measure was heavily pushed by Senator JD Alexander. Representative Jeff Brandes said he voted for the measure because it seemed to be an already done deal. But that doesn’t mean he’s happy with it.

“For us to have one individual that decides that he wants to break off a campus and not go through the normal process, it’s just something that is absolutely what is wrong with this process.”

Tiger Bay member Linda Osmundson, during her roast-style introduction, poked fun – line by line - at bills that were passed and subsequently signed by the Governor. One of them, touched on the emotional debate about whether a law that could be used as a defense for the admitted shooter of teen Trayvon Martin.

“Now it was a stroke of genius to reduce the cost of a concealed weapons permit. Now it will be cheaper to stand your own ground.”

On this, the party lines dropped. With the exception of Rick Kriseman, each of the nine legislators agreed that there wasn’t enough to repeal the so-called Stand Your Ground law. And Representative Darryl Rouson said he didn’t think the law applies to the Trayvon Martin shooting.

“I do not believe the support is there amongst either the African-American community or the Hispanic community or the white community for a total repeal of the bill. A person should be able to defend themselves fully and completely in their castle, in their home. I think what will happen is that it will be clarified and it will be made clear when it applies and it doesn’t apply and that’s for the benefit of both law enforcement as well as for victims.”

Also in attendance was Republican Senator Dennis Jones who has reached his eight-year term limit. Representative Jim Frishe said that he won’t be running for another term in the House and instead will begin campaigning for Jones’ seat in the Senate.

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