December 23, 2017 | originally posted on The Destin Log by Tom McLaughlin
As the year winds to a close, the Daily News asked local legislators to identify their greatest legislative achievements for Northwest Florida in 2017 and their top priority for 2018. We also asked for their thoughts on medical marijuana, an issue that continues to divide Floridians.
Mel Ponder, R-Destin:
Without question it was securing the funding for Triumph Gulf Coast. The victory of our regional House and Senate delegation in bringing those funds back home was a huge victory for Northwest Florida. It will impact not just today and this generation but the next one as well.
State Sen. George Gainer, R-Panama City:
Senate Bill 1094 authorizes the Department of Children and Families to implement a forensic hospital diversion pilot program in Okaloosa County in conjunction with the First Judicial Circuit. The purpose of the program is to provide competency-restoration and community-reintegration services in either a locked residential treatment facility when appropriate or a community-based facility based on consideration of public safety, the needs of the individual, and available resources.
Unfortunately, there was no funding in this year’s budget, but I remain committed to seek funding in the upcoming session.
State Rep. Brad Drake, R- DeFuniak Springs:
I was proud to help our local college, Northwest Florida State College, with much needed and timely infrastructure enhancements. In addition to the monies allocated for the college system program fund, we added monies from capital outlay and the lottery fund to total a nearly $21,000,000 investment into our local higher education system. As well, we funded nearly $30,000,000 in local transportation enhancements and construction for roads and bridges in Okaloosa and Walton Counties.
State Rep. Jayer Williamson, R-Milton:
Without a doubt Triumph was the most important legislation we will probably ever achieve. I would say from a personal standpoint the legislation I helped pass that will make the most impact on my district was the Florida DOT package that I ran alongside Senator Gainer last year. Not often does a freshman legislator have the opportunity to carry the DOT package and I believe the relationships we built with DOT while running their bill will serve to be beneficial for my district and Northwest Florida in the future.
State Sen. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze:
Bringing home the Triumph funds was easily the most important achievement from last year’s legislative session, but including the new language that directs all future payments be automatically transferred to Triumph was crucial to protecting our funding for the life of the agreement.
Greatest Legislative Priority in 2018
I believe one of our greatest priorities for Northwest Florida – outside of roads, infrastructure, and workforce development – should always be our military and doing what we can as a state and a region to preserve and protect its mission and presence here in our region. Florida is arguably the most military friendly state in the country and I want to do my part to continue that! Protecting and preserving the mission of the military is vital to not just my district but to all Northwest Florida. I am honored to be carrying HR 319 in the House this year which encourages Congress to extend the current moratorium on offshore drilling beyond 2022 for the area east of the military mission line in the Gulf of Mexico Range Complex. The current moratorium expires in 2022. This training range is larger than all other training ranges inside the continental United States combined and is a vital piece of the training mission of not just Eglin, but every base in Northwest Florida and many throughout the state. To allow drilling east of the military mission line (in the GOMEX) would mean a loss of Range areas and a tremendous negative impact on the training mission of our bases here in Northwest Florida.
I would like to secure additional funding for local transportation mobility infrastructure, allowing us to provide capacity alternatives that can alleviate traffic congestion in our high-traffic areas. We should be preparing to utilize self-driving car technology in some of our high-tourism communities.
I don’t think there is one glaring piece of legislation right now that is our greatest need. There will be a comprehensive package to help our military installations and mission which is beneficial to Northwest Florida and the whole state. I also hope we will work toward some type worker’s compensation reform. We tried last year but couldn’t get it across the finish line. Worker’s comp effects every business in the state from small businesses to large corporations. While we will see a rate decrease of around 10% this coming year, this comes after a 15% increase earlier this year. Worker’s comp reform would create the stability needed for small business owners to grow their businesses and create jobs.
Making Florida the most veteran friendly state in the country continues to be a priority since the military plays such a vital role in Northwest Florida. Protecting the military’s mission from encroachment in the Gulf of Mexico is important to the stability of our bases throughout the state.
Senate Bill 846 authorizes Sheriffs Offices to provide child protective investigative services. That one is important because DCF indicated they didn’t want it. Specifically, the legislation would authorize the Waton County Sheriff to begin conducting all child protective investigations in the county. What it does, when someone is in the system, it provides the authority to work with them, with their habits and problems. Recidivism rates have really declined with the sheriff in charge. We’re hoping we can get it into the hands of the sheriffs’ that want it.
Thoughts on medical marijuana? Do you think there’s the possibility that this legislative session we can resolve the issues and begin moving forward with distributing medical marijuana to those who need it? And do you favor it being distributed?
The Florida voters have said “yes” and the legislature took care of our constitutional responsibility of passing legislation last session and empowered the office of Compassionate Use within the Department of Health to carry it out.
We also empowered local governments to be part of the solution of how to address approval of local dispensaries. As for distribution, new dispensaries have opened up around the state which gives patients access. I know of dispensaries already here in Northwest Florida in Pensacola and in Tallahassee.
I do not sit on any healthcare committees, so with regards to specific ongoing issues, I am not fully aware. However, I do understand that committees within both the House as well as the Senate had the director overseeing implementation (within the Department of Health) in their committees already this year looking for answers and probing about any ongoing implantation issues. So, with that in mind, hopefully any lingering issues can be addressed.
Government has to work in concert among all three branches of government – legislative, executive and judicial. We, the legislature, have done our part. The people passed a statewide referendum asking us (the Legislature) to establish a framework of laws to govern the use of medical marijuana in Florida. We responded to that request and have directed the executive branch to establish the day-to-day rules. For some of the early licensees, many of the rules are already in place. However, there are some remaining governance questions that are being challenged in court that pertain to edible use, new licensees and other delivery methods such as smoking, that have stalled final implementation.
We find ourselves in a sit and wait mode to see what the courts decide on some of these rule developments.
I do not sit on any healthcare committees and have not heard from any constituents lately in regards to any issues on medical marijuana but I do know the people spoke at the ballot box last year in an overwhelming fashion. And I agree with them, the citizens of our state should have access to marijuana for medical purposes. They tasked us with an implementing bill and we got it done earlier this year. Any issues with the implementation of this bill should be worked through efficiently so we can help those in need.
Florida is moving as fast as it can right now. We should continue to study what other states have done to regulate medical marijuana and learn from their mistakes. This may be a painstaking process, but it is necessary in order to create a procedure that is both safe and effective.
Personally, I didn’t vote for us to come up with medical marijuana distributions, but the voters did. They saw value in medical marijuana and my job is to do the will of the people … some people say they should be able to grow medical marijuana and distribute it … that’s causing a lot of problems … our job, we’ve got to decide who we’re going to let distribute it and who we’re going to let grow it.