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Lawmakers recap legislative session
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Sen. Jack Latvala speaks about his efforts to bring tax money back to north Pinellas at a luncheon on June 20.
Rep. Carl Zimmermann praises the work of Sen. Jack Latvala and previews his agenda for next year, including revisiting condo laws and handicapped stickers on car license plates at a luncheon on June 20.
DUNEDIN – State Senator Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and Representative Carl Zimmermann, D-Palm Harbor, touted their successes over the most recent legislative quarter at a luncheon hosted by the Dunedin Chamber of Commerce on June 20.

To a crowd of about 50, Latvala talked about the $3 billion in reserves the Senate was able to write into the budget, as well as $500 million in reductions in taxes and fees, including a rollback in car registration and license fees.

“It’s always a lot more fun in Legislature when we have money to spend,” Latvala said.

The new budget allows for increased sales tax holidays: certain hurricane preparedness items could be purchased tax-free last month, August will feature its usual back-to-school tax-free holiday and from Sept.19 to 21, Energy Star and WaterSense energy-efficient products can be purchased tax-free.

Latvala also assured guests that he spent money, too, including funding for the Dunedin Fine Arts Center, Palm Harbor Historical Museum, Tarpon Springs Performing Arts Center, Clearwater Marine Aquarium and an expansion of the BMX park in Oldsmar.

“I’ve never been shy about trying to get our tax money back,” he said. “Part of my job is to make sure we get some of that money.”

He also spoke about the recent bill passed by Gov. Rick Scott allowing in-state tuitions for undocumented immigrants. Students shouldn’t miss out on a tuition break, he said, just because of their parents’ citizenship.

“We’re looking to the future, to the diversity of our state,” he said. “We want a trained workforce.”

The so-called “stadium bill” provides taxpayer help for Florida stadiums in need of repair or expansion or even help fund new stadiums. The law creates a pool of $13 million in taxpayer-supported subsidies that can be divided between teams, with no team receiving more than $3 million. A project would have to cost a minimum of $100 million to qualify.

Latvala praised Dunedin Mayor Dave Eggers for his continual work to keep the Dunedin Blue Jays minor league team and the Toronto Blue Jays spring training in town at the Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. Keeping a Major League baseball team in the area supports local communities and businesses, he said, but also serves as economic development.

The budget also includes $4 million in grant money for communities to help reduce homelessness, taking some of the financial burden away from sheriff’s departments.

Zimmermann thanked Latvala for all his work with the retirement system and education, then joked about his method of finding causes.

“When I file bills, my bills come primarily from people who have come to me,” he said. “But sometimes, I have to tell them ‘I think you need an attorney, not a high school teacher.’”

One bill that passed last session requires increased communication between the Department of Health and the police after a woman went to him about a convicted sexual felon who was still serving as a massage therapist.

He also began work on a bill that would allow a handicapped designation sticker to be added to a Purple Heart license plate instead of replacing the plate. Zimmermann was unable to pass the bill this session but said he would bring it back next year.

Zimmermann also spoke of his work to change the law regarding the conversion of apartments to condominiums after a woman asked him for help. By statute, a complex can be converted or terminated if destroyed by natural disaster, if the area has “run its course” or if 80 percent of residents vote in favor and less than 10 percent vote against. The woman he spoke to, whose condo at the Madison Oaks complex in Palm Harbor, said she was told she would be given $50,000 back toward her $130,000 mortgage when she vacated her house.

He originally proposed a bill that would require development groups to pay the greater of the fair market value or 110 percent of the purchase price to any resident who wanted to sell. He also wanted to restrict votes to once a year or every six months. The bill was presented too late in the session to be added to any votes but again, Zimmermann said he would bring it back next year.

Zimmermann also spoke about his support of the updated “Stand Your Ground” law that allows Floridians to threaten the use of a gun or to fire a warning shot to protect themselves without criminal prosecution.

“(Before this new bill), it was better to kill someone than to show your gun and back off,” Zimmermann said.

The bill, he said, is about determining whether a judge should be allowed to use discretion in rulings.
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