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William March: Dana Young to push for statewide fracking ban again

By William March, Times Correspondent
Crew members work on a drilling platform at a Colorado fracking operation. Local lawmakers are trying to pass a bill that would ban the process in Florida. [Associated Press (2009)]

State Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa, has introduced another fracking ban bill for the coming legislative session.

But itís unclear whether it will have any better chance than last session, when it appeared ready to pass in the Senate but never got a committee hearing in the House.

Last yearís House sponsors were Reps. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, and Mike Miller, R-Winter Park.

This year itís Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-Treasure Island, whoís enthusiastic about the cause but has lost clout after conflicts with Speaker Richard Corcoran. Corcoran yanked Petersí subcommittee chairmanship and some legislative perks, and Peters plans to run for a county commission seat instead of re-election next year.

Young said she chose Peters because "sheís very passionate about this issue and I believe she will put her full energy into getting the bill to move.

"This is very sweeping legislation and it often takes several years to pass something of this magnitude."

Peters said the billís prospects will be tough again this year: "Iím not going to sugarcoat it."

But, she said, "Iím not afraid to be aggressive, and Iím going to be aggressive."

Asked whether her standing with leadership hurts the billís chances, Peters said, "Iím hopeful it wonít. If itís good for Florida it shouldnít matter who carries the bill."

Democrat Mariella Smith to challenge Victor Crist

Veteran environmental and community planning activist Mariella Smith, a Ruskin Democrat, says she intends to file early next year to run for the countywide District 5 county commissionerís seat against Republican Commissioner Victor Crist.

Smith has backing from Commissioner Pat Kemp, who won her own countywide seat last year.

The race already includes three Democrats, none well-known ó local party official Mark Nash, Jamela Passmore and Elvis Jamine Piggott.

Smith, 63, is a graphic designer from a prominent South Tampa family.

Sheís a first-time candidate, but has worked years as an advocate for environmental and community planning issues, including serving on citizen advisory boards and often opposing what she calls unregulated development. Her most recent cause was successfully opposing a plan for a sewage sludge dump near the Little Manatee River.

Her husband Tres Smith is active as a volunteer in disability and wheelchair sports.

She said itís been 30 years since a south county resident sat on the board of commissioners, and sprawling development has left it "choking with traffic."

"For more than 20 years, Iíve been bringing carloads and busloads of citizens to the county center to tell the commissioners what we need done. I finally decided I can do more good on the commission," she said.

"What we have now is career politicians who play musical chairs" to circumvent term limits, she said. Crist, term-limited in his District 2 seat, is running countywide to restart his term limit clock.

"Theyíre just doing what developers and lobbyists and corporate sponsors want. Theyíre not making development pay its own way, theyíre making the taxpayers pay for it," Smith said.

Commissioners to choose chairman on Wednesday

Four commissioners in the GOP majority are running for re-election next year, which raises the possibility of a fracas Wednesday when the board elects a new chairman.

The job is often described as mainly ceremonial, but it doesnít hurt on a campaign bio.

In 2015, unable to agree on a Republican, the GOP majority elected Democrat Les Miller, causing angst within the party. Republican Stacy White is the current chairman.

NAACP packs meeting on Ďturnaround schoolsí

More than 100 people came to a community meeting held by the Hillsborough school board this week on seven failing "turnaround" schools in response to a call by the local NAACP, according to NAACP President Yvette Lewis.

Lewis said the meeting was mostly cordial, but got heated in discussion over the causes of school failures ó teachers, the administration or parents.

Lewis said Superintendent Jeff Eakins "took ownership of the problem. I was taken aback in a good way. He let me know he was trying to resolve this problem."

Under state law, if their grades donít improve, turnaround schools must be turned into charter schools, or closed and the students transferred, or put under control of an outside operator by the 2018-19 school year. The school system is in the process of choosing an outside operator.

Contact William March at [email protected]