SEMINOLE – A recent meeting of the Pinellas County Legislative Delegation served as a stark reminder of how many agencies and groups turn to the state Legislature for funding to provide much-needed life-changing and life-saving services.
About 40 social service agencies and groups had three minutes to plead their cause before 10 local state representatives holding a hearing at St. Petersburg College Seminole Campus the morning of Dec. 18. Their hope is local elected officials will lobby fellow members of the state Legislature to support and fund projects during budget hearings.
Requests for assistance ranged from a group that asked hairstyling regulations be amended to a plea for officials to fund distribution of syringes to addicts to reduce the spread of HIV infections.
Most requests were from social service agencies that aid children or the most needy and ill in the community. Legislators were told there is a great need to provide funding that will allow senior citizens to reside at home rather than in nursing homes, along with funding assistance to provide relief for caregivers.
Agencies whose duty it is to better the lives of children in foster care and troubled homes told officials they are woefully underfunded as their caseloads grow; funds were also requested to assist family members that dedicate their lives to helping those who struggle with Alzheimer’s and other diseases.
Educators said the state does not do enough to fund education in all age groups starting with preschoolers, while at the same time it loses teachers due to testing methods that eliminate potentially good candidates.
Other agencies told of the many workers who earn around minimum wage and work in Pinellas but cannot afford to live in the county; legislators were told there is a dire need for more affordable housing.
Darryl Henderson, vice president of Clearwater Regional Chamber, told officials that the future of the county depends on how well it can provide multi-modal transportation, along with training programs to fill the need for electricians, plumbers and skilled workers.
Tonjua Williams, SPC president, told legislators the college needs $1.2 million to upgrade its “very vulnerable” cyber security. She said the college would also like to help more of its part-time students go to the university, but to qualify students must enroll full-time. The college will also ask the state for $4 million to provide scholarships, tutoring and advising to assist students who want to go to college fulltime and transfer to USF, she told officials.
Another group of senior citizens told legislators they support a bill sponsored by Rep. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, that allows seniors with advanced illness to work with their doctor to draft Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment and prescribe a patient’s end-of-life care as part of their medical record.
The only proposed bill on the agenda for discussion was a revision to Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board staffing requirements.
The board licenses and regulates construction and home improvement contractors and operates under county auspices at the Young-Rainey Science, Technology and Research STAR Center on Bryan Dairy Road in Largo.
In March, state officials and Gov. Rick Scott changed articles governing the then-independent licensing board to make it a county agency.
The change was precipitated, earlier this year, by an Inspector General’s report that found the 45-year old independent licensing board did not protect consumers from unscrupulous contractors, while reportedly not following state law and allegedly mismanaging its finances. In addition, Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri told investigators contractors accused of crimes were sometimes not referred to criminal court, but rather given fines they did not have to pay.
At the Legislative Delegation hearing, Brian Lowack, Pinellas County’s intergovernmental liaison, told lawmakers the board is having trouble filling its positions because of a residency requirement.
He asked the state to revise the requirement stipulating who can serve to exempt its members from having to live in the area.
Representative Nick DiCeglie, R-Indian Rocks Beach, who plans to sponsor the change, said it will help fill many unfilled positions and reinstate confidence in the board.
However, Rep. Wengay “Newt” Newton, D-St. Petersburg, said, just like city department heads, he feels members of the construction board should live in the community and be part of a community in which they serve.
The Legislature will decide whether to make the change during regular session in March.