The Orange County legislative delegation met in downtown Orlando on Monday afternoon to listen to concerns from constituents and their fellow elected officials regarding this year’s Legislative Session and next year’s early Session with committee weeks beginning in September.
Lawmakers on hand included Senate President Andy Gardiner, State Sens. Kelli Stargel, Alan Hays, Geraldine Thompson, Darren Soto, State Reps. Bruce Antone, Mike Miller, Victor Torres, Bob Cortes, Tom Goodson, Jennifer Sullivan, Eric Eisnaugle, Randolph Bracy and State Delegation Chairman Rene Plasencia.
The meeting began on a humorous note, when Gardiner was asked to give the invocation in a moment’s notice. “‘This afternoon, I’d like to pray for the House,’ he said” in a nod to the rivalry between the two chambers.
Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs welcomed the delegation and thanked them for their service. She also urged the group to take action on the state level to help the region in its war against the heroin epidemic that has been on the rise in recent years.
Windermere Mayor Gary Bruhn voiced concerns over proposed legislation that he says passes on the costs of moving utility equipment to the municipalities for any non-highway-related work.
Orange County Clerk of Courts Tiffany Moore Russell addressed the $22 million budget shortfall her office along with clerks across the state are facing. She cited unfunded mandates as causing the financial challenges, and urged the delegation to allow the Clerk of Courts offices to keep more of the fines they collect.
The longest presentation of the afternoon came from Orange County School Board Chairman Bill Sublette, who said that when adjusted for inflation, per pupil spending remainsll at 2008 levels and that the state needs to continue its investment. He pushed for the flexibility of using paper-and-pencil administration of tests when needed, and a digital allocation for more computers in schools, which he contended would cost about $22 dollars per student. He closed by urging the delegation to review the merit pay system in relation to its end of course assessments.
At meeting’s end elections were held to pick new officers. Miller was selected as the new chairman, Sullivan was elected vice-chair, and Cortes will be the delegation’s new secretary.
Outgoing chairman Plasencia spoke with Florida Politics after the meeting and was positive about the progress the delegation could make in education.
“We’ve got to make sure we do something about paper-pencil testing and computer testing,” said Plasencia. “We are at the forefront in Orange County, in the next two years we’ll be all digital. We’ve made a lot of progress. We need to be rewarded by having less testing and spending more time in the classroom.”
Miller was happy to be elected chairman and said the delegation is serving a great purpose.
“We got to talk about education, transportation and other things constituents care about. For us it’s a great opportunity to get a pulse. The House and Senate doesn’t always get a chance to do that in Tallahassee.”