FL 2012 Legislative preview: Pinellas delegation hears from public

09/14/11 Janelle Irwin
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Pinellas County’s Legislative Delegation hosted a public forum in Pinellas Park this morning to hear recommendations and requests from citizens and groups. Most organizations were asking either for more funding, or to avoid cut-backs. Some individuals came with requests for policies on homelessness, redistricting and reproductive rights.

BJ Star ended her 3-minute speech to delegates with one word: Uterus. As she said it, she raised her arm in triumph. The one-word proclamation became popular among reproductive rights activists last spring after Speaker Dean Cannon warned House members to watch their language. That was in response to Orlando Representative Scott Randolph saying “if my wife incorporated her uterus, you all would say hands off.” Star likened regulations on women’s reproductive rights to an invasion of privacy.

"The Republicans here preach small government, all regulations take away from the right of self determination. What about a women's right not to be regulated? A visit to the doctor's office for most of you is private. Your records are protected and what you say to your doctor is guarded by a specific privilege. But when it comes to women, we don't get that privilege. When we go to the doctor and our legs are up in stirrups you want to be in there and you want to decide what the patient and the doctor can do."

By a stroke of what can only be described as irony, Star was followed by a pro-life advocate. Sol Pitchon, president of New Life Solutions, said his non-profit provides services to women that give them alternatives to abortion in a crisis pregnancy.

"We take Medicaid to help these women who have the unplanned pregnancies and for less that $200 they receive excellent per-natal care and ongoing support. And lastly is our residential program that's just coming under our umbrella and it's an outreach to single parents. And they can stay with us for up to two years to really transform their lives. And last, if I may say, thank you again and please continue to pass legislation that protects the family unit and rewards responsible behavior."

Reproductive rights weren’t the only women’s topics addressed. Peggy Goodale of the Equal Rights Alliance called on delegates to reform equal rights regulations. She said any progress made toward sexual equality will need an amendment to the constitution, not just a law. She added Senator Mike Haridopolos and Representative Dean Cannon have stated an equal rights amendment would hurt business.

"Women are tired of being disrespected, of being on the menu. We want to have a seat at the table. We are done being told women are already guaranteed equal treatment. The constitution's 14th amendment is for men only. Florida's constitutional ERA was made mute in 2001 and 2004. Gender equal laws are ignored because they are only laws and not written into the US constitution. Example: the equal pay act of 1964. The only thing that will stop sex discrimination is the ERA. That it will bring about same sex marriage or abortion or women drafted are the same old smoke screens used to keep women from the vote."

The League of Women Voters wants the Pinellas delegation to support fair districts. The League was instrumental in passing the amendments to require that new districts don’t favor incumbents or political parties. Senator Jack Latvala asked the League spokesperson, Judy McSwine, why the group was reluctant to draw a sample map for the re-districting committee as they did ten years ago.

"We've been working on this for many years, that our maps were totally disregarded and we do not feel it is our job to do that."

"Well, don't you think there's a little difference in the timing this time as opposed to previous years where it was strictly a legislative issue, where there were no restrictions, no guidelines, whatever? Don't you think it's a different scenario where everyone can get on the computer and everyone has access to be able to draw maps? Why would you not want to help us interpret what you've put on the ballot and what the people have voted for?"

"We believe that is putting the cart before the horse. We would like to see the maps first and have a chance to comment on them."

Suggestions about how to reduce unemployment, poverty and subsequently homelessness were also tackled. Pinellas Low Income Housing member and Safety Harbor Vice-Mayor, Nina Bandoni said there were a staggering 5800 homeless individuals in a recent census taken by the homeless coalition. Of those, 40 percent were children. She asked the delegation to continue funding the Sadowski Act, which increased doc stamps on real estate transfers and allocated 70% of the funds to affordable housing.

"A high percentage of our homeless population are families with no where else to go. Many of whom are being turned away from shelters because they don't have adequate facilities to house a whole complete family. Or the family is being separated and the male members of the family will be placed in one property and the others will be placed elsewhere. What we would like to have you do is support the Sadowski Act rather than sweeping the funds so that we can once again use those funds to support affordable housing throughout the state, but also in our area."

Next year’s legislative session will begin in January. In the past, sessions didn’t begin until March, but the re-districting process forced a change in schedule.

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